Saturday, January 30, 2010


One question James Lipton always asked famous actors on the Actors’ Studio is “What is your favourite word?” Not that I will ever be talking to Lipton, but should the 80+ year old actor/writer/director/teacher drop in to Corsier or Argelès and he asked I would say “plash.”

I first ran into plash at university in the poem Pattern (see below). I always loved story poems like Browning’s Last Duchess. Being at university during the Vietnam War, when certain rigid dress codes and other rules didn’t make much sense, the poem resonated that life didn’t change through the centuries, same old, same old.

Plash has more or less been replaced by splash, so much so when I used it in a novel, my editor changed it. I changed it back and the next editor changed it again.

Fast forward to Italy over two years ago in Collodi, the Medieval town where Pinocchio was written. I walked in the garden with a former neighbour. And the waterdrops were plashing in the marble fountains and I said, “And the plashing of waterdrops In the marble fountain…”

Patterns, he said.

“You know it?” I was amazed. For all our conversations when we each had a condo at 394 The Riverway and some visits after he and his wife moved to Maine and I moved to Europe, I had never seen his poetic side. Friends, who have peelability those who after years and years you discover new depths in them, are really valuable.

I have not run into the word since then until this week, when waking early I started to read Alice Hoffman’s The Story Sisters, there it was. Snow fell outside the window, not plashing or splashing, but slipping softly to the ground.

Maybe I will try and work the plash into my next novel.

From Webster’s
Main Entry: plash
Function: verb
Date: 1542 (Splash appeared 1715)
intransitive verb: to cause a splashing or spattering effecttransitive verb : to break the surface of (water) :
I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon –
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
"Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se'nnight."
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
"Any answer, Madam," said my footman.
"No," I told him.
"See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer."
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, "It shall be as you have said."
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mixed feelings

I miss my rose bedroom in Geneva, I miss my studio in Argeles, and beginning Monday is the month where I will be in both. I miss fruits and vegetables that taste like fruits and vegetables.

I want to be back in a bilingual environment.

I want my normal (whatever that is) schedule back.

I want to see my housemate, her son, her cat, and friends I haven't seen too long in Argeles.

I don't want to leave my daughter now knowing when I will see her again. Yesterday we went to Mt. Vernon, ate TexMex and watched a Chaucer documentary. We joked about me not wanting to walk to CVS (not true) and role reversal of her picking up after me (he he he revenge).

I am grateful for electronic communications where we can keep up with the small details of each other's lives.

I have been accused of being a cake eater. I want it all. I get more than most.

Howard Zinn 1922-2010

Thank you

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Feline Fountain

My daughter's almost coon cat, the Lady Guinevere, AKA The Lady Gwen, refuses to drink still water. No, we don't have to buy bottled fizzy water. A dripping faucette used to solve the problem, but that can add to the water bill and the drip, drip, drip is crazy producing. Plus the Lady Gwen no longer thinks to check out the sinks. She is a specialist in beauty not brains.

Then my daughter found the solution, a kitty fountain. It rotates water silently.

My daughter left for work leaving the fountain off. The Lady Gwen would walk by the fountain and stare it. The water did not starting running. She sat by it and either had a real mini-simulated asthma attack or a real one, hoping to produce a guilt trip. By now she shuld know our family doesn't do guilt trips.

No matter how thirsty she was, she was not about to take sip, although I am sure she was wondering if I would believe her if she fake-fainted from thirst.

I tried to turn the fountain on. I ran my hand over inch of it. Nothing.

As soon as my daughter walked in the door, I asked my daughter. There was tube that had slipped out of sight. She attached and the Lady Gwen took a long drink.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An encounter

My daughter had dropped me at the Vienna VA library while she took her cat Gwen to the vet ($300 to confirm that the cat's asthma is worse). I browsed around and then headed back to the house about 1.5 mile walk.

The houses in the area could just as well be in Reading MA where I grew up: Cape Cods, ranches, split levels with front lawns, some landscaping, trees and sidewalks.

My sense of direction is minus zero. I had no cell phone and I wasn't sure I was walking the right way. Unlike when I was growing up there were no children outside playing although it was a beautiful day.

I saw a man, probably in his sixties come out of a house.

"Am I going in the right direction?" I asked.

"I don't know. I live in D.C."

"I live in Switzerland," I said.

"I am Swiss," he said. "From Canton Vaud."

We finished the conversation in French and he went inside to ask his daughter for directions.

He was the only person I saw on the street for the entire walk. It felt good to speak French and see a countryman.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Penguin Day

"Hi – if you are on-line right now and can turn on a TV, turn on channel 4. It is national penguin day and they have penguins on the set. " A message received on email today.

Now that is a good friend who tries to alert me to something I enjoy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Goodbye Spenser

Goodbye Susan Silverman
Goodbye Hawk
Goodbye Jesse
Goodbye Sunny

I will miss walking the streets of Boston with you.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My mecca

A DYI fanatic friend used to kid his mecca was Home Depot. As a news junkie that checks news sources all over the world, I have now been to my mecca, a place I wanted to visit since it opened--Washington D.C:'s Newseum.

In every gallery there were volunteers to give in-depth information. Thus I did not miss the highlights, although one could spend months there and not see it all.


A 1500 newspaper which was in paperback book format.

The newspaper reporting on the coronation of James I in England in 1603.

Tom Paine's case where he held his writings.

Papers showing the hunt for Lincoln's killer.

I was taken into the studio where ABC broadcasts its Sunday interview show. The TV cameras have come a long way since I took television production courses in grad school.

Even the women's rooms were interesting with tiles with double-meaning headlines.

Even comedy news such as Jon Stewart and Jay Leno monologues were shown a stark contrast to the bullet-ridden news truck from the Iraq war.

Walking through the galleries, let me relive history and gave credence to the words on one of the walls..."News is history's first draft."

Monday, January 11, 2010

My daughter and money

When my daughter was still pre kindergarten, and we were struggling financially, shopping was a nightmare of "I wants." (My babysitter had trained her to keep her hands behind her back so we could walk through the most expensive crystal with no worry of breakage).

One payday I brought home my meager paycheck in $1 bills and put them on the table. Her eyes lit up. "Let's go shopping."

"Not so fast I said. First we need money for rent." I took out the weekly portion towards the rent. I continued with food, lights, telephone, daycare, my big allowance of 25 cents per day for a Coke to go with my home-packed lunch and bus fare into Boston where I had my first professional job as an underpaid copywriter. We had something about $1.32 disposal income.

From then on she never asked if she could buy, but if we could afford. As the years went by and my salary went up so did our disposal income.

I always thought I was good with money. However, my daughter is wonderful with it. And I was really impressed when she did the food shopping this weekend. Her $107 purchases came to a total a $57 outlay between coupons and buy one get one free deals. Nothing in her bag was unneeded or unwanted.

Some of it may be because of those early days of tight money, but I suspect more is just wisdom on her part.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Ballad of the Green Berets

In Pat Conroy’s new book, which I am reading, he mentions “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” a song I hadn’t heard since the Vietnam War. On, Barry Sadler stands in his uniform, his arms at his side, the Green Beret logo beside him, singing.

Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret

He is ramrod straight. My country has been at war most of my life. I’ve two memories of WWII.
The first is that if I were good I could push the red circle in the package of Oleo making the table spread yellow. Only later would I taste butter, what the Oleo replaced.
My other memory is my family being more joyful than I ever remembered telling me that the war was over. I didn’t know what a war was, but I was happy everyone was happy.

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men,
America's best
One hundred men we'll test today
But only three win the Green Beret

“Old Soldiers Never die, they just fade away.” My parents were glued to the small screen, black and white set. Solid Republicans, they hated what Truman did to MacArthur. Eisenhower got us out of Korea.

Trained to live, off nature's land
Trained in combat, hand to hand
Men who fight by night and day
Courage deep, from the Green Beret

I jump out of my car at the Seventh Army headquarters in Möhringen, Germany where my husband is the Army band.
It is 17:00 hours.
“Taps” is playing.
The flag is being lowered and I must stand by our Spitfire until it is over.
My German Shepherd pup escapes from the car, and a young soldier in pressed fatigues, spit-polished boots watches,but can do nothing during the daily ceremony. As the last note dies away he helps me catch the dog. I don’t question anything.

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best
One hundred men we'll test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Vietnam, which tore the country apart, was our next war. In D.C. there is a long, black wall with 50,000+ names of dead boys unlike Sadler, who lived to glorify war. One of those names belonged to a boy I went to kindergarten with. My mother later dated his father.
Now I am questioning.
The boy’s remains were found years after the war ended. A friend in California called me to tell me she’d read an article in paper where a few pieces of bone has been found where his plane had gone down. They were later identified. I called his father to express my condolences. I was in Europe and could not attend the Massachusetts funeral where those bones in a tiny box were buried. His family finally knew what had happened, but what was lost was a very intelligent man, that could have given much to others. Yet this young man believed what his country had told him.
I had an answer to my questions. Vietnam was for nothing. It created death and war profits.
The US has had lots of military actions, some like Granada in the open, others covert in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her this last request

I wonder what has happened to Sadler. Wikipedia tells me the song was a number 1 hit for five weeks in 1966. Sadler was a high school drop out and that he was a good solider.
That clean-faced young man became a writer, shot and killed someone in 1970s, was sentenced to four+ years in prison, suspended.
He dies in a taxi in Guatemala City with a bullet to the head in 1989.
My thoughts drift to the young soldier on leave from Iraq and travelling on the same Geneva bound train in France as I was.
“I’m making the streets of my country safe by fighting on the streets of Baghdad,” he tells me proudly. I know he’s sincere, and I feel sorry for him because of the mantra he is espousing. He has not questioned.
I think of the patriotic claptrap of CNN at the beginning of the Iraqi War, Operation Freedom flashed on the screen under green skies alit with bombs and music playing to arouse the spirit. It does not show the people dying underneath or those quaking in fear. The attacks do not last the few minutes of 9/11 but for night after night after night after night after night after night after night after night after night after night after night…

Put silver wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret

As I write this Michael Scheuer, Former CIA Bin Laden Unit Chief (1996-99), talks about the wars that we are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen and our foreign policies. Other young men, like Sadler are out there, giving there lives, as others did before them. For nothing.

I am crying.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Nothing special

Everything special...

When one is separated from their kid by the France and the Atlantic, spending a weekend hibernating against the windy cold, watching DVDs, eating welsh raebbit, popcorn, etc. being able just to talk was the greatest weekend I could have had.

I am sooooooooo guilty of liking my kid.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Was it worth it?

As of 2:45 Jan 2nd the cost of our two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was $949,657,921,321 and growing by the moment. I don’t know if our attacks on Pakistan and Yemen are included.

US Soldiers Death in Iraq 4372

US Soldiers Death in Afghanistan 949

Deaths of Iraqis have been estimated from 30,000 to 655,000 as of the end of 2006\

Estimates of the number of Al Quaida members is impossible to obtain but they have shown up in most countries. Will we attack Germany, England? Even if there were 1 million in the world that means we have spent $94,965 792,132.10 to catch each one.

Only we haven’t caught and/or killed 1 million terrorists. We have killed many innocent people and more of our own people than died in 9/11. This sounds like a bad deal.

I don’t think it was worth it. Do you?


1. To do for my Mom all I can without destroying myself.
2. To continue to try and be a good and supportive daughter, mother, friend, housemate and hope that they all have such a good year that they don’t need support just friendship
3. To bring my German level up to functional
4. To continue to improve my French
5. To submit Murder in Argelès, finish the Experiment and begin Murder in Geneva which is playing more in my head than Murder in Damascus which will be next.
6. To continue to develop .
7. To be prudent financially
8. To be less anal about neat…but not completely.