vendredi 29 août 2008

Animal House update

Here, by popular request, are recent photos of a little known group called The Animals. Some of you may recall that Munchkin (the runt) weighed 8 ounces when we took her in and started feeding her with a dropper. That was on the 4th of July. Earlier this week, Munchy and Pushy went to see the Neighborhood Animal Tormenter. He stuck a thermometer up their little behinds and told us they had no fever. He listened to their terrified hearts beat; he examined their ears for mites. Most important, he weighed them. Pushkin: 3 pounds, 5 ounces, with her socks on. Munchkin: surprisingly close at 3 pounds, 3 ounces. Since I last weighed in, Munchkin has made enormous progress for a special needs kitty. She has litter-box trained herself, with a little help from Pushkin, I think. This is an extraordinary accomplishment for a kitten with limited motor skills. I was frankly wondering how I could keep my day job and follow her around all day with a paper towel. She even knows how to cover her tracks. And the sweetest thing is that Pushkin watches her and then, once she has climbed out of the litter box, goes in and puts the finishing touches on. Sisters are doing it for themselves!
Here they are, post-litter box, playing in their favorite basket. I put the thesaurus in the basket in an attempt to offer a scale of comparison for their size. A July post shows Munchkin leaning on the thesaurus. In it, she is barely taller than the book lying on its side.
And Neko is Neko. Maddening and lovable. Wednesday night, I put on my friend Dahli's cashmere sweater (which I wore on the flight home from Paris) because it was close to hand and I was cold. I thought she was coming by to pick it up. When I donned it, Neko took this to mean we were going out. When that did not happen immediately, she started tugging at the bottom of the sweater (which comes down to my knees). Damned if she didn't tear a hole in it! In fact, her stupid owner is forced to admit, she tore two holes in it because her stupid owner did not take the sweater off immediately. Neko, not understanding the words "No!" and "You little bitch troll from hell!" came back for another game of tug-o-war. So that 200 dollar cashmere sweater from Barney's is now good for taking the trash out. But I find it impossible to stay angry at the little study in beige, brown and grey above. Speaking of Neko, her namesake is coming to Seattle. A long trek from Tacoma, I know. Neko Case will be at Bumbershoot tomorrow. I want to be there, for sure. I want my Neko to meet her match, at last.

jeudi 28 août 2008

Madonna leaves me speechless

When I saw this photo, my gut instinct was to avert my eyes. I looked around to make sure no small children or other impressionable beings were in the room. What's with the five o'clock shadow around the crotch region? You would think that someone with Madonna's unlimited resources and vanity would have found a way to fix that! And is that a microphone stuffed down her panties or is she just glad to see us (looking at her)? [Thanks, Walt, for your input.]
I can't decide if Madonna looks like a scuba diver here or a human frog, but isn't frogman a slang term for scuba diver anyway? What is with the knees-out, bent leg pose? Does she want us to dissect her? In her case, this hardly seems necessary since she has shown us so much of herself over the years. She has shown us that there really is such a thing as a human chameleon. She has tried on and discarded almost every look imaginable. My personal favorite (not!) was her Brunhilda look. Some may think this look went no further than the Gaulthier breast cones she sported for awhile, but I know better. I happened to see her on a weekly program called Sept sur Sept, hosted by Anne Sinclair. For many years, Anne was routinely named as the woman Frenchmen would most like to spend the night with. Some mistakenly believed this had to do with her looks or keen intelligence. Mais non! She had (and probably still has, given the wonders of modern science plus money) a very nice face but a short and squat body, like so many talking heads on television.
I believe people wanted to spend the evening with her to fulfill their fantasy of being on television and being interviewed. What is more flattering than being interviewed, after all? It means you are somebody, and that what you think matters. But I digress. Anne Sinclair usually interviewed politicians, although she sometimes strayed into the realm of pop culture or extreme sport. In fact, she had to end her program (dashing the fantasy fulfillment wish of so many Frenchmen) when she married Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a career politician and Socialist who was named Minister of the Economy (I think) under Jospin. He later had to resign, but that's another story. In light of this possible conflict of interest, Anne had to stop her political show.
But not before interviewing La Madonna. Madonna was in Europe promoting that big book of hers called Sex--or something like that. The one filled with photos of Madonna simulating a taste for sex. Mad Donna arrived for the interview wearing what looked like a dress that Heidi (of Austria) had discarded, with her hair in braided pigtails. She looked utterly ridiculous to me, and that was before I noticed her pure gold front tooth. It has long since disappeared. I guess even she realized how bad that looked, or maybe she just moved on and it no longer fit with her new look.
I seem to recall an earlier incarnation of her true self where she had the chiseled muscle-bound thing going on. But I think her hair was short back then. This current hair-do is just horrible. It looks as if it was designed to showcase the new post-surgical face in all its lack of substance. I wonder if cheek implants move around, like contact lenses. Actually, I'm not sure what she has had done, but it amounts to a great deal of work. And about the gloves: my guess is that she is either channeling Michael Jackson or has wisely decided to hide them until such time as "hand lifts" become readily available as a surgical option. There is nothing worse than an implanted, botoxed, fill-in and lifted face on the same body as an age-appropriate pair of hands. Unless it is a non-rejuvenated vagina.

mardi 26 août 2008


It isn't that I am apolitical, but I have not followed American politics as closely as I should have in recent years. In my defense, I would put forth the fact that for most of the last 25 years I have not lived in the United States. I have watched US politics from afar, and got quickly absorbed in French politics. It was easy to be drawn in, living in Paris. I actually saw many of the big name career politicians going about their daily business. Maybe people who live in Washington DC feel the same way about their "local" politicians.

For instance, I once saw Sarkozy (photo from when he was the young mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine) jogging around Parc Monceau. It was my neighborhood park and the place where I took my daily walks. At the time, he was the rising star in Chirac's government (actually, Dominique de Villepin's government, presided over by Chirac), much to Chirac's dismay. He was Minister of the Interior, and lived at Place Beauveau, which is just next door to the Elysée Palace, the White House of French Presidents. Incidentally, the US and British Embassies are the nearest neighbors. How cozy. Anyway, Sarko and several of his bodyguards were jogging around the path that encircles Parc Monceau (about 1 kilometer around). It was a brilliantly sunny Sunday morning; naturally, the entire 8th arrondissement was out and about. Nobody bothered him, but everyone was aware of his presence. He would have been mobbed in the US or anyplace else. But the French, and more specifically the denizens of the 8th, left him alone but cut him a wide swath. They had to, given the size of his entourage. What fascinated me was how short he was (a fact apparently discovered by the rest of France only after he was elected) and what a big butt he had. A womanly butt and hips. I thought to myself, it's a good thing he has political power because otherwise he would have trouble getting laid. And now look at him. Cécilia leaves and is replaced a couple of months later by La Belle Carla Bruni. She is several inches taller than he is, even in flats, and had a long career as a top model back in the days when that meant something! She said it was love at first sight (un coup de foudre). It must have been those womanly hips. As David Byrne once sang, the world moves on a woman's hips. I guess so!

On a more prosaic note, I saw the Corsican elephant Charles Pasqua going into what I took to be his Paris office one day. But he deserves a whole blog entry devoted to his person. Suffice to say at this time that he and his actions apparently inspired the film The French Connection. And not in a good way.

There have been others over the years. Lionel Jospin, in the final days of his stint as Minister of Education. Jack Lang (Langue de Blois), near La Place des Vosges.

But I digress. I really wanted to write about the Democratic Convention, which uncharacteristically had me glued to the telly last night. Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg was a huge disappointment as a speaker -- bad delivery, no substance. Her Uncle Teddy was simply amazing: the man has brain cancer, after all. He was forceful, eloquent, on fire even. It could just be the medication but, if so, then everyone in this country really does deserve decent health care! Then came Michelle Obama. It was the first time I had heard her speak. She was absolutely phenomenal, and I am not saying this as a groupie or a Democratic partisan (even though I would rather vote for a Democratic psychopath than any Republican, because they're all sociopaths). From a public speaking point of view, she was perfect. Tone, substance, delivery, eye contact, sincerity, timing, you name it, she had it going on. Maybe the bit with the kids at the end was a little cheesy, but who cares? I was eating out of her hand by then. Not a dry eye in the house. I realized watching her that the real reason the fat cats--the ones who vote Republican, send their kids to private schools and don't want to share any of their wealth with people like her--want to maintain the status quo is that people like her, who start out without the advantages, just make people like them look like pampered woosies who could not make it out of the starting gate if the playing field were really level. The fat cats need that built-in advantage because they are mediocre. And the success of someone like Michelle Obama is so much more satisfying and meaningful.
People with money wonder why their kids are spoiled and unmotivated. I think there is no real mystery: Why reach for the stars when everything that glitters is handed to you on a silver platter? Why take risks when you know that you won't be allowed to fail because it would look bad? Food for thought, fat cats. Think about it. And in the meantime, take a chance on change. Vote for Obama.

lundi 18 août 2008

Eli's coming; hide your heart, girl....

Eli's coming, hide your heart girl. But this is not Eli, who was born on August 6, 2008, making Walt a grandfather. No, this is Hanna Marie Eyres and her parents.

She was born at least three weeks before Eli, but when I saw her on my last night in Paris, she weighed in at 3.6 kilos (about 7.92 pounds). Eli, on the other hand, weighed 8.8 or 8.9 pounds at birth, and when I met him last Friday (ten days later) he had already gained a pound. Hanna seems to eat as much and as often as young Eli, but she spits a lot of it up. She apparently cried non-stop for some time, which worried her parents silly, but when I saw her she just slept, well, like a baby, and only got in a foul mood towards the end. We were waiting for Lara to come back from the doctor's office and feed the poor thing. None of us was equipped to do so. So we had cocktails.
I have to admit that, while I am as intrigued as the next person by the miracle of life and all that, I don't find newborns particularly.... interesting. They don't do much, for one thing. While they are awake, their actions can be summed up in the three e's: emote (cry), eat, emit (poop, farts, burps). And the rest of the time they sleep. I realize that their parents find them fascinating, and can tell you (and do tell you) much more about the minute details contained in what I have dismissed in three little words. But that is as nature wishes it to be, for otherwise newborns would be ejected and then forgotten. For some deep and biologically apt reason, parents are programmed to find the little creatures fascinating. And they do; they aren't just pretending.

I can't fathom this mystery, not having become a parent myself. The closest I have come is owning a dog. I hope you parents out there are not shocked to read that I am likening dog care with child care, but too bad if you are. I am doing just that. Of course, Neko is like a baby who will never acquire speech or learn to walk on two legs (although she can stand on her hind legs for several seconds). This means she'll never sass me. Nor will she ever go to school or move out of the house. She'll never make me buy her the latest fashions. Thanks to Walt, she'll never even wear clothes. He thinks it is silly to dress a dog up in clothes and I agree with him. Have you ever noticed how much dogs hate to be dressed in clothing? They loathe you for it. They also feel shame because they know how silly they look and don't understand why their master would do this to them.
But anyway, children. No, I never had any. And never will now. I am too old, even though I suppose it is anatomically still possible. I am not menopausal (to anyone who feels this is TMI, I apologize), after all. But if I had a child, I would be 62 when he or she turned 10. From a moral or ethical point of view, I don't see any problem with older people becoming parents. Other older people, that is. There is just no way that I, as a 62-year old woman, would want to be going to parent-teacher meetings and driving junior all over town to play soccer, baseball and water polo; learn to dance and play several musical instruments; study French, Chinese and Arab; etc.
Do I feel regret that I never had children? My friend Christelle, who just turned 39, asked me that one night when we were having dinner together in Paris. She is wondering if she will ever marry or have a family, and whether or not that is something she wants. It is a choice. That's what I told her. I have no regrets about the choices I have made. Had I opted to become a parent, I would certainly not regret that choice. Would my life have been different? Of course. But in what way? One cannot ever know. Would I have lived in China and France? Possibly, but probably not. Have I lived selfishly? Some parents fervently believe that not having children is selfish; some non-parents are equally convinced that the selfish ones are those who people the planet and expect the world to care for their offspring. It is a sterile debate. Parenthood brings its unique joys and largely unspoken frustrations and disappointments. Non parenthood also offers unique experiences, good and bad.
When I was 16, I told my mother I did not want to have children. She was shocked and hurt. She had produced six, after all. What I was telling her was that I did not want to follow her path, or so she thought. My mother told me once that everything in her life had been a disappointment, except having children. So that's where she was coming from.
When I was 26, I told another woman--the wife of one of my graduate school professors--that I was not planning to have children. She too was shocked, and also somewhat angry. She told me that I would be missing life's greatest moment, and that I would be missing out on all the things that only parenthood provides. Like what, I asked her. She had a hard time answering me, but then said her daughter was hosting an exchange student from Japan for the summer and without the daughter this experience would not have come about. I told her that the experience of going to Japan would be different from, but no less exciting than, hosting an exchange student. Shortly after that evening, I left for China and ended up in Paris. I learned to speak Chinese and then French. Do I regret this? No. Would this have happened if I had stayed at home and had children? Probably not. But many other things, both expected and unexpected, would have happened. In my case, with or without children, I would have been one of those people who doesn't have a life plan that requires passage through a defined set of milestones or events. This doesn't mean I have been rudderless or purposeless or utterly lost. It means that my life course has been traveled on a sailboat rather than a motorboat. I have changed tack and responded to the elements. I have tried to remain open to possibility. I have tried to stay focused on what is important and forget about the rest. And it isn't over.

jeudi 14 août 2008


Look at the color of these geraniums, how it explodes against the cold stone and white shutters. This is the house where the little old man who makes the wooden animals lives.

And here's little Neko, coming around the corner in search of her big friend Sammy: I missed Neko the whole time I was in France. I found myself taking photos of dogs, and making conversation with their owners. I talked briefly with a Belgian couple who had brought their miniature chihuahua with them to Paris because they could not bear to be away from it. So here's this tiny dog -- I know chihuahuas are all tiny, and I bet the word means teeny tiny in Chinese -- with a rather portly Belgian couple (they were Flamand and not Wallon, so more Flemish than French), against the backdrop of Les Invalides, which is such a WIDE monument. Just one of many encounters with dogs and their owners. All suckers, sucked in by the easy adoration.
Then there's little Munchkin, the brown blob blending in with her favorite decorative item. She loves to sit on this rug. I missed Munchkin, too, and spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about her, even though I knew she was in capable and loving hands. I was worried she would not get past the twelve-week mark, but she did. She still lurches around, but she has more weight to hurl in the general direction of where she wants to be. She trained herself to use the catbox while I was away. You have to see how she gets around to appreciate what a feat this is!
And then there's the big guy, pictured here with my niece Mary Clare. I missed him most of all.
But someone had to take care of the animals, and was waiting for the much-anticipated birth of his first grandchild. So now we can call him the Big Old Guy. It was so strange to be in Paris, which feels like home to me, and not have my family close at hand. I was riding in a taxi on the last night, after visiting friends who had just had a baby (Hanna Marie, possibly a future love interest for Elijah Francis?), and it seemed so odd that the taxi wasn't taking me home--to Walt, Neko, Munchkin and BB. The feeling may have been exacerbated by the fact that I stayed with a friend who lives a couple of blocks from my last apartment in Paris, which I lived in for seven years. I really felt like I was at home. We went to my old gym, shopped in my old grocery stores, went to my old movie theaters, even went to see my old hairdresser. When we went to the gym for the first time, the receptionist greeted me with "Hey! I know you." This may not seem odd, but I have not been to my old club since May 2005. She even let me have the first visit as a temporary guest for free. We took a class that mixed pilates, yoga and stretching with Annie, who was an instructor there when I was a member. She remembered me, too. How odd and comforting.

Back home

This is a steer carved out of tilleuil. (I don't know the word for that in English. It's a shady tree that produces leaves used to make tea. The wood is lightweight and yet very solid.) This figurine was made by an old man who lives in a village near Saugues, a slightly larger village in the Haute Loire. There was something about the simplicity of his little creations that made them very compelling to me. I got one for my friend Monique as well; hers is a donkey because she's working on a new and exciting professional project that will require all of her tenacity and ability to see things through. I'm sure she'll succeed. More about that later. This steer is for Walt; he's solid, dependable, patient and strong.

This bad ass is the kitten formerly known as BB, for Big Brother, before we discovered that he is a she. Actually, we knew BB was a female but our neighbor Luda, who grew up on a farm in the Ukraine and killed kittens for fun (just kidding, Luda!), insisted BB was a he. She saw what looked like tiny balls. Look at her, though. She does have balls, and would kick my ass if she heard me refer to them as tiny. We may not have to change her name, though. How about BB for Brigitte Bardot, who incidentally LOVES animals and once had her neighbor's donkey castrated because she felt it was coming on to her horse? I'm not sure I want my cat named after a once beautiful starlette who has gone on to champion right-wing politics (except for the animal rights thing), however. So we're working on other names: Pushkin, to go with Munchkin; and Dora the Explorer, which was bestowed on her during my absence, because she apparently leaves no knick-knack unturned in her endless quest for the Holy Grail or the Hidden Nail or the half-filled Pail. We'll see. For now, she's Bad Ass Kitten with Attitude.