Tonight is both the New Year and a blue moon, so I am eager to lurk in dark parks peering skyward. I dress with care; I’m treating myself to dinner at Chow, and then plan on taking an after-dinner constitutional stroll for blue moon watching. I dress fastidiously for the changing of the decade from 2009 to 2010. I am wearing a white starched linen shirt with gold horseshoe cufflinks, a dove grey velveteen three piece suit with a vest that has gold and black stripped metal buttons, red leather boots, a red velveteen cape lined in black china silk, and charcoal grey suede gloves and cap. I put on a little mood music by the Cowboy Junkies as I straighten my grey on grey polka dotted tie. Margo Timmins’ hauntingly beautiful voice croons:
“Blue Moon, you saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own
Blue Moon, you knew just what I was there for
You heard me saying a prayer for
Someone I really could care for”
(By Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, 1934)
It is mid-afternoon on a wintery Sunday. I have not left the house today, and am slogging about in my painting overalls with bling-tastic Italian rhinestone buttons, old shapeless orange and blue flannel shirt, and thick wool rainbow-stripped socks. Because it is a cold day, so I’m staying in cooking mushroom-barley soup, and reading Christopher Isherwood’s Diary, Part I. In this volume, he talks about his daily life including his struggles with learning to meditate, petty gossip at cocktail parties, and his journey towards developing a pacifist consciousness’s in the late 1930s and early 1940s. I am reminded about how one rarely realizes one’s involvement in history until years later.
“I will be king
You will be queen
Though nothing will
Drive them away
We can beat them
Just for one day
We can be Heroes
Just for one day”
(By David Bowie)
It is mid-week, and I am shopping at Tartine for a birthday cake for my friend. He prefers fruity desserts, so I have chosen a Passion Fruit Lime Bavarian cake. Even though it is complete overkill, I trek on down to Bi-Rite for roasted banana ice cream; all birthdays need cake and ice cream and lots of sparkly candles. I am wearing a worn leather jacket that I have relined in a mish-mash of tie silk remnants, blue denim 501’s, a purple and mustard hounds tooth corduroy vest with French Lucite engraved octangular buttons, a tie I’ve sewn of Liberty of London cotton, and my favorite threadbare cream cotton shirt, which I have starched to a delightful crispness. I feel dapper…as it I should be swinging an elegant hand-carved walking stick. Instead, I swing a bag with a boxed cake, as poetry from Mary Oliver glides through my mind.
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
Love what it loves.”
(By Mary Oliver)
It is one of the first days of spring, and the air is light and green with a new season. I am wearing my new rust-colored corduroy jacket with glaring pirate buttons and paint-splattered jeans, and you are wearing your old blue wool cloak with riding breeches. We are by the river, sitting at a winter-stained picnic table, and sharing a piece of leftover Cardamom Coffee Cake that you brought wrapped in an old dinner napkin. I show you how I used to skip stones as a child, and you demonstrate elaborate napkin folding techniques that you learned at your mother’s organza apron strings. As the sun sets, a chill settles, I start playing “Waltzing Matilda” on the harmonica, and we both button up for the walk back.
“Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me
Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong
Up got the swaggie and grabbed him with glee
And he sang as he stowed that jumbuck in his tucker-bag
You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me”
(By Banjo Paterson)
I have been practicing my mad accordion skills, and finally feel confident enough with a few songs to play in public. I shine my bronze Russi until it is gleaming, and don the suit that I completed sewing last night at 2 am. I have made a Glenurquhart check double-breasted suit that I copied from an advertisement in Esquire magazine, 1937. The suit is made from a luxurious ocher, cream, and twilight mohair wool, and four tortoise and faux snakeskin suit buttons set off the fabric colors. I’m wearing a twilight silk tie adorned with a carnelian stickpin carved into the shape of a bulldog, and a cream broadcloth shirt with a stiff semi-wide collar. I lean against my living room wall and go through my repertoire before setting out. My new songs are “Falling in Love Again”, “Anything You Can Do”, “After Hours”, and “Delilah”. I make sure that I wear big black boots, because “Delilah” really calls for some vigorous stomping to accentuate the lyrics.
“I saw the light on the night that I passed by her window
I saw the flickering shadows of love on her blind
She was my woman
As she deceived me I watched and went out of my mind
My, my, my, Delilah
Why, why, why, Delilah
I could see that girl was no good for me
But I was lost like a slave that no man could free.”
(By Les Reed and Barry Mason)
It is the violet twilight, I am walking down a narrow lane in a town near Pompeii, and the air shimmers with everything I ever wanted. My plan is to take the train into the ruins tomorrow. I don’t want guidance, but I’m looking for clues. Hearts are strange organs, easily swayed by poetry, food, and music; a middle-aged woman in stripped pajamas sits in a green metal chair on a balcony overlooking the cobblestoned street. She is playing a concertina to a recording of Tom Waits singing “Somewhere”. I’m still wearing my travel clothing of an espresso brown rough linen suit with sienna horn buttons, a slate silk knit shirt, caramel and cream spectator shoes, and a sand colored straw porkpie hat.
“There’s a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we’re half way there.
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there
(By Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim)
The air in your sitting room smells sultry, with a bite of sandalwood and spice. The lights are pinkish and low, but I can’t tell if the dusky dimness is deliberate, or if you have forgotten to make sure your light bulbs are in working order. I wait for you nervously, my damp green felt fedora balanced on my flannel-clad knee. I keep fiddling and twirling the Italian gunmetal lion and unicorn crest buttons on my jacket; I feel underdressed and slothful. I’ve never visited you here before, and it always makes me antsy to be in new places. The loveseat is upholstered in chocolate faux pony skin, and your Isfahani carpet is worn through on the edge of the diamond-shaped center medallion. The walls are lined with bookshelves crammed with well-read volumes, but I do not feel comfortable or reassured. I hear you coming before I see you; you are softly whistling “Over the Rainbow”.
“Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Birds fly over the rainbow.
Why then, oh why can’t I?
If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can’t I?
(By Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg)
It is a chilly, winter Sunday morning, and I’m taking the bus across town to Ocean Beach. I’ve spent much of the morning snuggled in bed with my cat and the New York Times, and am now ready for a little outdoor expedition. It is always colder near the ocean, so I am wearing a heavy woolen pea coat with red and gold anchor buttons, a long brick red cable knit scarf, and red striped fingerless gloves. I buy a hot chocolate with whipped cream at the café next to the beach entrance, and then cross the highway to the dunes, and meander up to the Sutro Baths. Once there, I scramble over the ruins until I find a sunny rock alcove to rest. I unwrap the farmhouse cheddar and sourdough roll that I’d stashed in my pocket, and start eating to Koko Taylor belting “Queen Bee” on my iPod. Ships sail past gently, and all is well with the world.
“Well, I’m a queen bee,
Buzzin round your hive
I’m a queen bee, buzzin round your hive
When you hear me buzzin,
You better come inside.”
It is a romantic night, awash in cool blue moonlight. The air feels alive, and the foggy evening mist wraps itself around me. I am meeting friends to check out Saha, a new Arabic-French restaurant. If we adore the food, we want to eat here in April during the fundraiser, Dining Out For Life. I plan on trying the Mansaf, a stew of lamb, cauliflower, yogurt, pearl onions, and mint served over rice. I decide to wear my new bespoke plum-colored velveteen suit. It is reminiscent of mod looks from 1969; the fitted jacket is double-breasted with a Nehru collar, and glorious black and gold starry snowflake-looking Czech glass buttons. My slacks are bell-bottomed, and drape gracefully over my red alligator Beatle boots. I listen to a little Bryan Ferry as I starch and iron my front-ruffled black shirt.
“In every dream home a heartache
And every step I take
Takes me further from heaven
Is there a heaven?
I`d like to think so
Standards of living
They are rising daily
But home oh sweet home
It only a saying”
(By B. Ferry)
Following in the footsteps of writers Jane and Paul Bowles, I’m living in Tangier. I took the ferry over with my scooter, and now am strolling along Souk Dakhli eating a chickpea cake sprinkled with salt and paprika. I picked up some glue to add some bling to my old cracked brown cowboy boots; I have a packet of red starburst pattern rhinestone buttons, and plan cutting off the button’s shanks, then gluing them into a nine button “V” shape on each pointed boot toe. After, I am meeting a cohort at the infamous Café Hafa to drink mint tea.
“Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind
Had to get away to see what we could find
Hope the days that lie ahead
Bring us back to where they’ve led
Listen not to what’s been said to you”
(By G. Nash)
It is a bleak Tuesday; only one day past Monday, but too far from Friday. I’m dressed up to go to a poetry reading, listening to music at the corner pizzeria as I wait for my order, and wondering about romance; is romance our clasped hands in the dark? Is it a bouquet of periwinkle thistles, or sweet whispered words in the night? When I was 23, I thought I knew all about romance, and that it was love notes and damp palms. Now this has changed. Sometimes kindness seems like romance, but sometimes all I want is a nonsensical sweep of something big. I’m waiting for the pizza gal to heat up my slice while sipping a glass of water. I am wearing a deep leaf green suede vest with a black satin collar, and a pride of antique silver lion rampant motif buttons, black velveteen jeans, short buckled boots, and an iridescent green and black brocade jacket. She brings me hot pizza, and I take a bite.
“Just a drop of blood floating in the air
And nothing but the angles of my future
What are we to do? Where are we to go?
With all this beauty stretching out behind us?”
(By George and Kurstin)
I am meeting you at the théâtre des marionettes in the Jardin du Luxembourg, and am running late. Hurriedly, I button my shirt made of flowered Liberty of London lawn with mother of pearl diamond shaped buttons, pull on my button-front French blue corduroy jeans, orange and blue stripped socks, and green leather high-tops. Throwing on an orange suede newsboy cap and navy leather jacket, I run out of the pension. On the way, I stop at the tiny pink and yellow corner pastry shop for a small package of langues de chat au thé vert. As I breathlessly round the corner, I see you leaning against a large chestnut tree, and as I come closer I hear that you are humming “Too Darn Hot” from Kiss Me Kate.
“I’d like to coo with my baby tonight
And pitch the woo with my baby tonight.
I’d like to coo with my baby tonight,
And pitch the woo with my baby tonight.
But sister you’ll fight my baby tonight
‘Cause it’s too darn hot.
(By Cole Porter)
They told me that playing tennis is like riding a bicycle, and after a few months of practice I am happy to report that my forehand is as good as before. We played a sweaty, vigorous game earlier in the day, and I’m a little sore and smelly. Feeling smug with my game, I run a hot bath, and add some homemade bath salts. The scent of amber wafts up in puffs of steam, and I loosen my dove grey quilted rayon velvet dressing gown with silver French buttons, hang it on the door-hook, and sink into my bath. I sigh contentedly, hum “I Get A Kick Out Of You”, and relax.
“I get no kick from Champagne
Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all
So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick
Out of you”
(By Cole Porter)
It is 3 pm on a Saturday, and I’m bicycling to the wharf. The gulls and urban pigeons circle restlessly, cawing for food. It is a breezy day, and always cooler near the ocean, so I’ve dressed for warmth in black 501’s, loden green desert boots, a black turtleneck, and a long wide-collared coat of Campbell plaid tartan wool with large square navy blue vintage buttons engraved with a diagonal feather motif. I park my bike, reach into my pocket for my bag of bready, salty garlic knots that I baked last night, and sit on the wooden dock overlooking the Pacific. I pull my copy of “Hafiz: Fifty Poems” from my other pocket, and broodily open it. Hafiz is frequently used to foretell fortunes, so I open it randomly to see what is ahead:
“Not all changes that thy days unfold
Shall rouse thy wonder; Time’s revolving sphere
Over a thousand lives like thine has rolled.”
Make room for BBQ! It is another relentlessly rainy day. The rain is soothingly dismal, but it seems that I can never get my cold feet completely dry. My socks are dank, I keep on sniffling, but I am stoked for smoky, spicy meat. I’m thinking that a pulled chicken sandwich with a side of vinegary greens would be just that thing to revive me, and a dripping, hot sweet fried peach pie to see me home. I button the silver sparkly buttons on my Japanese print grey and black cotton voile shirt. The fabric is printed with roaming black foxes, deer, and dogs. I’m wearing silvery grey velveteen pants, with silver monk-strap low boots. I feel very dandy-esque, and also very famished. I turn up the music as I fasten my black rhinestone covered boot buckles.
Call them the Diamond Dogs
Call them the Diamond Dogs
(By one of the most fabulous dandies from the ‘70’s, David Bowie)
Googoosh is playing “Geryeh Konam Yaa Nakonam” on the stereo, and the winter sun is setting. I’m almost done with my spiced hot chocolate, and am dressing to meet you at the corner Italian restaurant. I’m mulling over the past two weeks and thoughtfully fastening the copper faux antique coin buttons on my indigo and persimmon windowpane check wool waistcoat. I take my grandfather’s gold pocket watch from its velvet-lined ebony box, attach my timepiece with a T-Bar chain, and slide the watch into my silk lined vest pocket. There is a soft rustling, and I withdraw a piece of carefully folded yellow notebook paper. It appears to be either a shopping list or a mash note, and reads “one pear galette, three pounds of fine salmon, a bag of brown sugar, five assorted chocolate bars, one pound of mixed stars”
I am closing the square scalloped-edge vintage buttons on my threadbare, white, pleated front tuxedo shirt as I hurry to reach Hauser & Wirth Gallery where the Ida Applebroog exhibit just opened. I’m running through Central Park to reach the show, when I slide around the corner with my black woolen coattails flapping, only to skid to a stop in front of a gloriously rambunctious flash mob tap-dancing to a song from “Kiss Me Kate”. I wish I was wearing my shoes with the Ultratone toe and heel taps.
“If a custom tailored vet
Asks me out for something wet
When the vet begins to pet–I cry Hooray.
But I’m always true to you, darlin’, in my fashion
Yes, I’m always true to you, darlin’, in my way.”
(By the Mr. “Gold-Standard-of-the-Twist-of-a-Word” Cole Porter)
I’m sitting on a painted red vintage metal stool at my kitchen counter, with my cat on my lap and drinking a rapidly cooling mug of ginger tea. I‘m throwing a Mediterranean themed potluck next Friday evening, and think I want to serve butternut squash and prune khoresht. I turn up the music; I’m listening to Big Country while compiling my grocery list, gnawing on my pencil thoughtfully as I plan my menu. Typically, I end up making more than necessary; cooking until deep in the night the day before, and knee-deep in leftovers for a week. I mull over also making a Lima Bean and Dill Kuku, as I add butternut squash, dill, lima beans and lamb to my list. Taking a final swallow of my lukewarm tea, I brush the cat off my lap, fetch my moth-eaten espresso brown wool coat with Italian tortoise buttons, and throw it on over my black ribbed turtleneck pullover, with 501 blue jeans, and black boots. I am hoping that the crowds will not be too thick at the co-op.
“I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime
In a big country dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
(By M. Brzezicki, B. Watson, S. Adamson, T. Butler)
I invented a day just to be with you. It was overcast and a bit nippy, so I wore my brown checked wool cap, a pumpkin cotton shirt, brown leather jeans, cordovan boots, and a brown suede pea coat with black horn toggle buttons. We took the bus to North Beach, and strolled down the main drag towards the bookstore. By the time we’d browsed the travel and anthropology sections of City Lights, we were famished, so we hopped on over to Molinari’s for monster deli sandwiches, across the street to Stella’s for a cannolo and éclair for dessert, then traipsed to Washington Square Park for our picnic. Pigeons scattered at our feet, and you smiled as I took a picture of you by the statue of Ben Franklin.
“Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It’s such fun.
Just a perfect day
You made me forget myself
I thought I was
Someone else, someone good
Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on
You’re going to reap just what you sow”
(By L. Reed)
It has been a time of slow moving change; 2009 was the kind of year where we trudge along grimly wondering sadly if the past is any indication of the future. I’m overjoyed to say I’m beginning to see the light now, and that it is composed of delicate pink party lights, and washes of warm yellow moonlight. Tonight, I am celebrating by going out La Sirène in Soho. I plan on eating an excessive dinner of Salade de Betteraves Fraiches Roties au Four (roasted beet salad, with pistachio, apple & brie), Aile de Raie Charlotte (pan seared skate fish with mango, caper non pareilles, & lime), and Iles Flotantes, Crème Anglaise et Caramel aux Amandes (meringue, caramel and almonds, & vanilla custard). I am dressed for the occasion in a midnight green and charcoal grey hounds-tooth double-breasted jacket with flat green buttons, a 1970s tie in evergreen and orange with the Golden Gate bridge on it, a grey silk shirt, burnt orange fine-wale corduroy slacks, and midnight green oiled suede side-zip ankle boots. I toss on my grey wool fedora, kiss my cat goodbye on her furry little head, grab a copy of “To See and See Again: A Life in Iran and America” by Tara Bahrampour, and leave my apartment for La Sirène.
“Well, I’m beginning to see the light.
Some people work very hard,
But still they never get it right.
Well, I’m beginning to see the light…
I met myself in a dream,
And I just want to tell you,
Everything was alright.”
(By L. Reed)
I am at the Smithsonian Natural Museum of American History, entranced and gawking in front of Faith Bradford’s dollhouse. It is six stories, 23 rooms, and 20 pets worth of miniature delight. There are goldfish swimming, dirty laundry, weird packages stored in the attic trunk room, a bathroom shaving stand, and hundreds of other wee delights. After standing in front of the display for an hour, my tummy reminds me that it is time for lunch. I adore eating at museum cafés, so I make my way to the museum‘s Constitution Café for Brazilian black bean soup and a chocolate with sea salt cookie. After eating, I retrieve my chestnut cable knit heavy wool cardigan with vintage faux 3-D plastic buttons from the coat check, and stroll outside.
“Forget love, I’d rather fall in chocolate.” (Anonymous)
I am a passenger on the ricketiest bus imaginable. We are queasily bumping along on a dusty, rocky road traveling through some nameless county; I have passed through so many border stations that now I’m only aware of the continent. I am restless, traveling to fill my eyes and heart. I lean back on my ratty, cracked lime green vinyl seat, and poke at the spring that is half undone directly under my left hip. Night is coming quickly, along with a chill. I button my black herringbone wool duffle coat with grey half barrel toggle buttons, and wrap my stripped wool Breton scarf more tightly around my neck. The woman next to me offers me a salted hard-boiled egg, which I accept gratefully.
“I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods,
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,
I have no chair, no church, no philosophy,
I lead no man to a dinner-table, library, exchange,
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooking you round the waist,
My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents and the public road.
Not I, not anyone else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.”
(By W. Whitman. Song of Myself, Part 46)
I have been volunteering at the Cartoon Art Museum, by helping them catalog their comic and cartoon collection. There is something momentous about being part of preserving historical artwork. I remember reading Brenda Starr in the Sunday funnies when I was a child, and thrilling to Brenda’s adventures. I stride down Market Street to catch the F-Line streetcar, my coat tails flapping as I hit Van Ness. The orange Peter Witts tram is clanking down the street with much racket, and I just make it. Once on, I look down to see that the silver and gold metal buttons on my collarless black moleskin waistcoat are buttoned crookedly, and I have accidentally put on one blue-stripped sock and one pink polka-dotted sock. I’ll just make believe that I meant to look clownish.
“One`s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes … and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Soon, it will be Valentine’s day; Get ready for a week of good love and bad love, broken hearts and mended ones, love on the upswing and love in the depths. How many ways can I convey a message about my naivety in regards to matters of the heart? Sometimes, it seems best to be conspicuous. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I have sewn a band of 15 bronze heart buttons around the upper sleeve arms of my favorite maroon herringbone cashmere jacket. For contrast, I used dull copper thread, and alternated upside down and right side up hearts. Topsy-turvy sums it all up!
“I wear my heart on my sleeve
I’m not afraid
To say what I mean
Mean what I say
Set myself up
Let myself down
I may be a fool
To spread it around”
(By the ever-suave Bryan Ferry)
Sometimes I like to think of my heart as the most fragile of organs, but it is not all that delicate; it is a blood-thirsty bit of well-used muscle that I am fond of throwing to the ground in exasperation. Tonight is no exception, and I anticipate more than one temper fit from my little heart. I dress carefully in a pleated front cream linen shirt with closely spaced pale blue frosted glass heart-shaped buttons, lightweight black wool pants and frock coat, blue and black stripped silk socks, and black wingtip shoes tied with blue velvet ribbon laces. I am meeting you on the corner at 7:30pm, and am bringing a pink and silver checked box filled with homemade caramels. “Blind them with sugar” is my new motto.
“Say what you will, and scratch my heart to find
The roots of last year’s roses in my breast;
I am as surely riper in my mind
As if the fruit stood in the stalls confessed.
Laugh at the unshed leaf, say what you will,
Call me in all things what I was before,
A flutterer in the wind, a woman still;
I tell you I am what I was and more.”
(From “Eight Sonnets” by Edna St. Vincent Millay)
I canned several quarts of English Morello heirloom cherries last year, and am baking 27 cherry frangipane tarts for all my very special friends. As roll out the buttery pastry, I vigorously cackle “Off with their heads!” It is most satisfying, but it startles the cat and so she scuttles off to leave me to my adventures. In order to get into the necessary special loving spirit that making 27 cherry frangipane tarts entails, I’m wearing a red leather double-breasted vest fastened with six gold heart buttons over my worn white lawn shirt. I’ve turned my shirt sleeves up to facilitate the delicate task of rolling out the crust, am wearing old patched 501 jeans, and am barefoot. The smell of cherries and almond paste fills the air.
“The Queen of Hearts she made some tarts all on a summer’s day;
The Knave of Hearts he stole the tarts and took them clean away.
The King of Hearts called for the tarts and beat the Knave full sore
The Knave of Hearts brought back the tarts and vowed he’d steal no more.”
I am in Alexandria, Egypt seeking Alexander the Great’s tomb. Alexander the Great was a spectacular fighter, but he died young, and oddly enough, not in battle. After burning down Persepolis, with Hephaestion dead some eight months earlier, he returned to Babylon, and he died violently after drinking poisoned wine. The location of his burial remains a mystery, but I am visiting the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to study the history of the search for this infamous man’s grave. I’m in my corner room at the Hotel Acropole gazing out of the glass and wood doors over Raml Square. I tighten my vintage Art Deco rust and purple geometric patterned tie over my dusk colored cotton shirt with small shell buttons, take a last bite of my breakfast of bread smeared with quince jam, step into my grey and black lizard skin cowboy boots, and get ready to take off for the library. The maid is making the rounds in the hotel hallway while singing “Heart of Stone”.
“There’ve been so many girls that I’ve known
I’ve made so many cry and still I wonder why
Here comes the little girl
I see her walking down the street
She’s all by herself
I try and knock her off her feet
But, she’ll never break, never break, never break, never break
This heart of stone”
(By K. Richard & M. Jagger)
It is 4 am, and I’m sitting at the counter of my favorite all-night coffee shop….the one where they put metallic sprinkles on their chocolate frosted donuts. I’ve been up all night, and am attempting to fight impending heartburn with a glittering gold donut. It isn’t working, so I loosen the enameled red heart buttons on my black velveteen vest. I notice gloomily that the pile is wearing thin, and I have orange cat fur scattered across my chest. Suddenly the door swings open, and a tall, portly woman holding a ukulele stands there, framed by the faded chartreuse streetlight behind her. She beckons to the waitress, leans over the pink Formica counter, and asks for a small cup of coffee. Sitting on a stool she starts to sing.
“Some people like to stay out late, some folks can’t hold out that long,
But nobody wants to go home now, there’s too much going on,
This night is gonna last forever, last all, last all summer long,
Some time before the sun comes up the radio is gonna play that song,
There’s gonna be a heartache tonight, the moon’s shining bright,
So turn out the light, and we’ll get it right,
There’s gonna be a heartache tonight, a heartache tonight I know”
(By The Eagles)
I sneeze because of the dust and old leather book smells that are wafting up from the mismatched, wooden shelves. The floorboards smell faintly of wax, and creak as I shift my weight from foot to foot. It is dark in this bookstore, and I am the only person in the Weimar culture section. I sit on the splintered rungs of a painted green stepladder, open a first edition copy of “Christopher and His Kind”, and leaf through the finely drafted illustrations by Don Bachardy. My wine-colored corduroy jeans are smeared with cobwebs, and my black velveteen jacket’s domed gunmetal buttons are sewn on clumsily with red embroidery floss. It has been a long and lonely few weeks, this time before the start of spring. I fumble in my packet for a date scone, the words of “The Harder Ships of the World” dancing in my head.
“We sail the harder ships of the world
To the greater grips of the land
And we get closer to nowhere
You know we ran to the shores
And lost in the race
But they’re all standing tall, humble and brave
Then I had dreams of you here
You were rockin’ the place
Begging to save what’s left to save
I hear voices sing
Close to me, close to me”
(By Keren Ann)
I’m at a downtown department store, meeting you for civilized luncheon of chicken salad and iced tea, where we’ll be dishing about our mutual friends’ convoluted and often dramatic love lives. I dress carefully, as befits a leisurely few hours chit-chatting with you. I’m wearing a camel-colored gabardine safari suit with a red silk bandana print cravat. I have replaced over 15 buttons on my suit with black Lucite faux alligator skin buttons. On the way down to the restaurant, I see you coming up, and decide to play catch-up. How difficult could it possibly be to run up an escalator? Hooting, grubby eight year old boys do it often enough to irritate me. As it turns out, it is more difficult than it looks, but with much laughter I make it.
“Here’s your ticket pack your bag: time for jumpin’ overboard
The transportation is here
Close enough but not too far, Maybe you know where you are
Fightin’ fire with fire
All wet hey you might need a raincoat
Shakedown dreams walking in broad daylight
Three hun-dred six-ty five de-grees
Burning down the house”
(By J. Harrison, Jerry, D. Byrne, T. Weymouth, C. Frantz)
It is a beautiful overcast foggy Monday morning, and I am sitting in my red velveteen armchair drinking strong coffee from my favorite cracked mug. Rosemary scented steam wafts into my sitting room from my shower, as I pull up my mustard yellow and violet stripped socks, fastening them with olive green garters. I can hear my next-door neighbor practicing her accordion; she is playing “Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup”, and I sing along as I finish dressing, making up the lyrics as I go along. I am wearing a single-breasted ochre flannel jacket with gold double griffin crest buttons, ankle-grazing cuffed grey flannel pants, and mahogany penny loafers. We are meeting at the entrance of the Cartier exhibit at the Legion of Honor museum, and after viewing the diamond and platinum jewelry created for the courts of Europe and Americans of the Gilded Age, we will replenish our bedazzled selves with a Cartier Brunch in their café.
My love for you is très, très fort
Wish my French were good enough
I’d tell you so much more
But I hope that you compris
All the things you mean to me
Darling, je vous aime beaucoup”
(By A. Sosenko)
I’m in Prague, and want to roller skate to Wenceslas Square, past the Stavovské divadlo, where “Don Giovanni” had its premier performance in 1834. I’m staying at the historical Unitas Pension, which was originally a 17th century convent. I finish my breakfast of buttered hard rolls, spicy mixed fruit compote, and strong, sweet, milky coffee, and rise to fetch my skates. I don my skating adventure outfit, feeling exceedingly spiffy in a mod paisley velveteen three-piece suit with swirls of cerulean and persimmon, a tomato colored shirt, and a cerulean and dark brown striped tie. I have accessorized myself with a teardrop pearl stickpin, and suede tomato spats with matte gold domed metal buttons. As I fly forth, I sing “Catalog Aria” from Act I, Scene 2.
“Madamina, il catalogo è questo
Delle belle che amò il padron mio;
un catalogo egli è che ho fatt’io
Osservate, leggete con me.”
It can’t seem to stop pouring a cold spring rain, the clouds are silvery grey, and it is chilly. I am holidaying in Amsterdam, and have decided to visit The Museum of Bags and Purses. I particularly want to see the period room with its painted ceiling depicting a six part female allegory of the City of Amsterdam flanked by Minerva, Reason and the four continents: Europe, Asia, Africa and America. I am wearing a cream and rust stripped oxford shirt with pearlized orange and rhinestone buttons, a cobalt blue and tangerine dotted tie, blue denim 501 jeans, a belted black leather jacket from 1956, and black leather wellington boots. At the museum, I am amazed by the beaded coin-purse showing the arrival of the first giraffe in France (1827). Afterwards, I wander outside to discover that the rain has slowed to a drizzle. I make my way to Gartine to meet you for a high tea of leek soup, salmon profiterole, quiche, savory sandwiches, lemon-lavender pound cake, and a pot of warming tea, all served on their eclectic collection of antique china. Strolling, I unfold my umbrella while humming.
“When my love
Stands next to your love
I can’t define love
When it’s not love
It’s not love
It’s not love
Which is my face
Which is a building
Which is on fire – on fire”
(By D. Bryne)
From Amsterdam, I am traveling via the Thalys to Brussels. I have been staying at The Hotel New Amsterdam on Herengracht Street in the room with the frolicking painted monkey standing on the headboard and leaf green faux bed curtains. I pack my brown leather bag, and take a final sip of coffee. I’m wearing traveling garb consisting of a wool jacket which has been cut on the bias, in a large plaid of blues with salmon accents, and a white starched cotton shirt with French cuffs. My cuff links are made with gold and black coiled glass buttons, and I’m also wearing butterscotch canvass jeans, brown ankle boots, and an orange mohair fringed scarf. It is only a brief two-hour trip, but like a good Scout, I like to be prepared! During the 10-minute walk to the train station, I stop off at Cafe Buffet van Odette for wrapped sandwiches to take on the train. I hum “The Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife”
“What was sent to the soldier’s wife,
From the wealth of Amsterdam?
From Amsterdam, he got her a hat,
She looked sweet in that,
In her little Dutch hat
From the wealth of Amsterdam.
What was sent to the soldier’s wife,
From Brussels in Belgian land ?
From Brussels he sent her the laces so rare
To have and to wear,
All those laces so rare
From Brussels in Belgian land.”
(By Kurt Weill)
I have made it to Brussels, and we are meeting by the Manneken Pis at high noon. This week the statue is looking very officious in his Ecole Royale Militaire costume. I am sitting outdoors at a nearby café wearing 13-button espresso corduroy sailor pants fastened with gold and brown enamel buttons, a weather-beaten Schott Brothers Perfecto leather jacket, a black ribbed cotton turtleneck, a black bandana print voile fringed scarf, and polished monk strap low boots. I lean back, crossing my ankles and eating my frites while watching the pigeons flit about on the worn cobblestones, squabbling for crumbs of pain au levain. I hear you come around the corner, whistling a silly tune.
“First daffodils and long excited cables,
And candle light on little corner tables,
And still my heart has wings…
These foolish things remind me of you.
The park at evening when the bell has sounded,
The ‘ile-de-France’ with all the gulls around it,
The beauty that is spring’s…
These foolish things remind me of you.”
(By E. Maschwitz & J. Strachey)
We are still in Brussels, and have decided to spend an afternoon at the Musical Instruments Museum. You are entranced by Tielke’s viola da gamba with its fine inlay work, and I am mesmerized by detail in the reproduction of a violinmakers’ workshop. Afterwards, we catch the train back to our pension to bathe and get dressed for dinner. You picked up some ginger-honey cookies from Biscuiterie Dandoy to tide us over until we have a real meal. I am ravenous to try the kafte kebab at Al Barmarki, and you are lusting for the dolma. I am wearing a violet and grey herringbone jacket with patch pockets, a grey shirt, a rust and violet dotted bow tie, a double-breasted rust Melton vest with silver ornately rimmed buttons, grey suede jeans, and a dark silvery-grey leather cap. The sun has already set, and the moon is a shining white sliver in the deep, dark blue sky. We set the iPod onto play as we get ready.
“May the wind that blows from haunted graves
Never bring you misery
May the angels bright
Watch you tonight
And keep you while you sleep”
(By S. Macgowan)
You are staying in Brussels for a couple of days to purchase some antique maps, however I am on the train to Luxembourg. The motto of Luxembourg is “Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn” or “We want to remain what we are”. This seems like a fine intention, and puts me in a jolly mood. I have my orange moleskin diary opened on my lap, and am planning out our Luxembourg visit. I take my fountain pen, and in black ink start writing; 1) Mudam Luxembourg: Brave New World exhibition with works by Cindy Sherman and Tina Gillen in 1744, 2) Les casemates du Bock, a long dank honeycomb of rock galleries and passages carved under the Bock by the Spaniards in 1744, and 3) Confiserie Namur, patisserie shop extraordinaire for chocolate cakes. The steward comes by, offering me a pot of hot mint tea. I put three sugar cubes in my cup of tea, blow across the top and take a sip. Reaching into the pocket of my vintage maroon and black hound’s-tooth wool jacket with black leather piping and maroon, square buttons, I find a hard-boiled egg wrapped in waxed paper that you have packed for me. You knew that if it were up to me, I’d lunch on tea and shortbread. I take a bite.
“Toute une vie pour ta vie
L’éternité pour un jour
Je donne tout pour un rien
Pour te revoir faire un détour
Par le jardin du Luxembourg
Toute une vie pour ta vie
L’éternité pour un jour
Pour un sourire, un regard
Pour le délire d’un espoir”
(By Joe Dassin)
I’m in a hurry as I depart from the train at Gare de Luxembourg, and accidentally snag one of my black deerskin leather waistcoat’s copper coin buttons on a railing. The button rolls away, and despite crawling about on the pavement and peering into cracks like a cranky would-be archeologist, I cannot find it. I grumpily lift my vintage pebbled black leather suitcase, grab a taxi, and ask to be taken to the Hôtel Parc Beaux-Arts. After checking in, I shower and rummage about in my bag for a needle and thread. Luckily, I have a spare button and some twist. I’m staying in the Tranquility room; it is difficult to remain cranky with the afternoon light pouring through the windows like sweet, yellow honey. I call room service for a Tarte Tatin aux pommes and a cappuccino to tide me over until dinner, and start my mending. When you arrive tomorrow, we are planning on renting scooters to play tourist. Peggy Lee sings huskily from my iPod, and I am content again.
“Sun lights up the day time,
Moon lights up the night,
I light up when you call my name,
And you know I’m gonna treat you right.
You give me fever,
When you kiss me,
Fever when you hold me tight,
In the morning,
Fever all through the night.”
(By E. Cooley and J. Davenport)
My drawing finger is itchy, so I have decided to take a little trip to the Mullerthal Region to sketch clouds and unwind. I have booked a couple of nights at the Bungalowpark Hondsbierg, and am looking forward to unabashed solitude. If I don’t feel like drawing, I have Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Ripley Under Ground” to keep me company. I pack a basket of food, including a Swiss chard galette and a carefully wrapped box of Neuhaus chocolates with Truffe Beurre, Truffe Champagne and Truffe Amer, Truffe Paillette Café, Truffe Cognac and Truffe Tiramisu. Juggling drawing tablets, pencils, erasers, chocolates, and suspense novels, I barely make it to the bus station on time. Once settled into my seat, I lean back and unfasten my slate grey wool duffel coat with chunky black and grey “feathered” buttons, loosen my rust, turquoise, and mustard stripped knit scarf, put in my ear buds, and unwrap the first truffle of my trip. Yes, it is a 42-truffle trip.
“And the skies always had little fluffy clouds
And they were long and clear
And there were lots of stars, at night
And when it rained it would all turn
It — they were beautiful”
(By M. Glover, Martin, A. Paterson, and S. Reich)
The morning air is fresh and soft. I don’t have to walk far from my wee châlet to find a grassy knoll filled with meadow grasses and lavender, so I spread out a blanket, and sit with my back resting against a handy rock. Opening my hand-sewn canvas carryall with its cherry red vintage button fastener, I remove my sketchbook, pencils, and eraser. Drawing is a meticulous craft, consisting of careful observation without making visual assumptions. What color is a shadow? Is it a blue-grey “shadow” color, or does the reflection of the leaf give it a green cast? I think about this as I start drawing. An hour later, I am not unsatisfied with my results, and I am hungry. The elegant Persian propriétaire has provided me with a luncheon of fried trout, Gromperekichelcher, and a hefty piece of apple pastry. I can hear someone picking out “Freight Train Blues” on the guitar.
“Aeroplanes and autos always leave me cold
The moaning of a steamboat never stirs my soul
The only thing that makes me want to navigate
Is a wildcat whistle on a south bound freight
I know I’m old enough to quit this running round
I’ve tried a hundred times to stop and settle down
But every time I find a place I’d like to stay
I hear a freight train holler and I’m on my way”
(By John Lair)
I’m on my way to Cavagnago Switzerland. I have reservations at Azienda agricola e di servizi di Bertazzi Giorgio, where I plan on spending my evening hours playing solitaire in front of the rough, stone fireplace, morning hours in the meadows of Leventina Valley searching for fairy rings, and the afternoons in the villages of Cavagnago, Anzonico, and Sobrio. You telegrammed that you may meet me there; you have had very little luck finding the specific antique Russian map you’re looking for in Brussels, but have an appointment with a shady Turkish antiquarian on Friday. She claims to have a first rate copy of The Russian Discoveries, from the Map Published by the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg  which she is willing to part from for a mere $500. I’m feeling very Heidi-esque as I pack for the train, and have dressed for my Swiss countryside adventure in a soft, dusky violet linen shirt with mother of pearl buttons, a rust and grey wool plaid topcoat, denim jeans, and tall scruffy brown boots. I plan on spending the first night there lolling in front of the fire and shining my boots, while finishing off the remaining Neuhaus chocolates. Someone is playing music on their gramophone in another room, and I hum along.
“A fine romance with no kisses
A fine romance, my friend, this is
We should be like a couple of hot tomatoes (to-mah-toes, dear)
But you’re as cold as yesterday’s mashed po-tah-toes (potatoes)
A fine romance, you won’t nestl
A fine romance, you won’t even wrestle
You’ve never mussed the crease in my blue serge pants
You never take a chance, this is a fine romance”
(By D. Fields and J. Kern)
My plan was divine perfection; It is 11pm, and I am stretched out in front of a gentling slumbering fire on a poufy feather comforter, that I’ve laid down to soften the wooden plank floor. Occasionally, a spark flies out from the logs with a soft pop. I’m warm from a steaming shower with L’Amande Mediterranean Cologne soap, and am wearing a full-length black quilted satin dressing gown, with a wine velveteen shawl collar, and a row of black and gold glass buttons adorned with charming chirping blackbirds. I open the leather box of Neuhaus Liqueur Chocolates you sent me via courier, pop a Truffe Cognac into my mouth, and hum a sugary, happy tune. Suddenly, I hear a teeny tiny squeak. I stop, and listen closely; it is coming from outside. I open the door to find a wee ginger tabby kitten shivering in the light night rain, and looking up with sad amber eyes. I scoop her up, bring her inside, and wrap her like a turban in a tea towel to dry.
“Most people live on a lonely island,
Lost in the middle of a foggy sea.
Most people long for another island,
One where they know they will like to be.
Bali Ha’i may call you,
Any night, any day,
In your heart, you’ll hear it call you:
“Come away…Come away.”
Bali Ha’i will whisper
In the wind of the sea:
“Here am I, your special island!
Come to me, come to me!”
Come to me, Come to me.”
(By Rodgers and Hammerstein)
It is 5am, and I am dreaming about trains roaring through tunnels as they make a snorting racket. Tossing my head to one side, I awaken to a mouthful of orange fur. The stow-away, ginger puffball kitten is stretched across my neck like a fox wrap and purring. I sputter, and bring the kitty under the duvet. We both drift back to sleep for a bit, until I wake up again to find her gnawing on the canary yellow, vintage knob buttons of my grey and black pinstriped cotton lawn pajama top. I rise, tuck the mouser under one arm, and toddle towards the kitchenette for our morning coffee and cream. The wee one devours sardines in a white china saucer, and I eat a leftover brioche.
mehitabel the cat
has been passing her
time in the dubious
a ragged eared tom cat
with one mean
eye and the other
eye missing whom
she calls francy”
(By don marquis)
It is time to leave Azienda agricola e di servizi di Bertazzi Giorgio and travel onwards. I am packing my bag, stuffing books, chocolate, my boot blacking kit, and playing cards into my leather valise. I’m down to only one clean shirt; I’m wearing brown 501s, a Swiss dot cream on grey shirt with French cuffs, a faded brown linen jacket lined with grey and pale yellow stripped silk and fastened with four rough looking Italian silver buttons. Bryan Ferry comes on my iPod, and I croon along while Francy looks bemused. I take a final bite of my Brioche Façon Pain Perdu, and a last gulp of my rapidly cooling lattè. Francy, the kitten has planted all four tufted little paws in her dish of herring. What will I do? Is she up to a trip around the world? Will she fit in my valise?
“Yesterday is dead and gone
And tomorrow’s out of sight.
And it’s sad to be alone.
Help me make it through the night.
I don’t care what’s right or wrong,
I don’t try to understand.
Let the devil take tomorrow.
Lord, tonight I need a friend.”
(By K. Kristofferson)
I love riding on trains at night; the soft clatter of the wheels and the night sky as it whizzes by is soothing. Towns become mysterious blurs of lights. People talk in whispering tones, if they talk at all. It is almost like being in a library, if libraries were filled properly with reverent silence broken only by the rustle of turning pages, instead of chattering teenagers and querulous technophobes. I was dreaming in my seat, and woke suddenly at 3am. I pull my lightweight navy blanket up over my shoulders, snuggle down, and feel for Francy in my jacket pocket. She is curled up into an impossibly small ball, the collar I made of a black velveteen ribbon fastened with a Lucite and rhinestone button fastened lightly around her neck. I nibble a creme brulee pistachio macaron, and drift off again listening to Keren Ann singing.
“Send me offshore
It’s a cold-blooded world
I can’t win, I give in, I give in
In the field of my fight
We can wonder all night
Why we have all the snow, all the snow
You and I we will drawn in the break of my dawn
With the pouring wind
Where begin is begin
But we can’t change the world
No we can’t change the world
It’s been done
By someone long ago”
(By K. Zeidel)
I have arrived at my destination, Saarbrucken. I want to hail a cab, but in the interest of frugality, catch the local tramway instead. I’m staying at the nearby Kirchberg Hotel garni. Once I get into my room, I disrobe, send my travel-dirty clothing out to be laundered, and step out for shopping and dinner. I am overdressed, but this is all that I have right now that is clean. I am wearing a 1920s black tail-coat with natural bone buttons, matching straight-legged pants, a white pleated tuxedo shirt, a black leather bow tie, mustard yellow and grey dotted socks, and silver leather sneakers. I stop off at the propriétaire ’s desk to ask for directions to a fish shop. I plan on buying Francy a little treat.
“Fish heads fish heads,
Roly poly fish heads,
Fish heads, fish heads,
Eat them up yum
Roly poly fish heads are never seen
Drinking cappuccino in Italian restaurants,
With oriental women, yeah”
(By R. Haimer and B. Mumy)
I have decided that if Francy is to be my world tour companion, then she needs to learn the ins and outs of hotel living, and what better instructor than Eloise….a much more civilized role model than Mehitabel. I start on my Professor Henry Higgins-esque campaign to train Francy in the ways of the world. We conduct our first lesson is sitting up in bed over Gambas a la Parrilla that I sent out from Oro Restaurant. I am wearing my new pajamas made of rust and aqua stripped lightweight cotton lawn with cream mother of pearl buttons, and midnight blue velvet monogrammed slippers. I slice a bit of prawn for Francy and start reading “Eloise in Paris”, as Francy licks sautéed prawn from her whiskers and listens thoughtfully.
“One teatime this telephone was ringing its head off
so I picked it up
and oh my Lord it was the front desk saying
Eloise there’s a cablegram down here for you
do you want us to send it up?”
By Kay Thompson (Author), Hilary Knight (Illustrator)
Francy is shaping up into quite the worldly kitten, and I feel that she is ready to be left alone for the evening while I toddle off to more adult activities. The gentlemanly and elaborately mustached hotel valet has agreed to look in on her, and I leave them with a little gold-rimmed Qing Dynasty plate, painted with a scene of two bulls in a landscape, and piled high with pike and mullet gefilte fish. Buttoning the antique silver buttons marching up my espresso brown velveteen frockcoat, I step into my highly polished riding boots, and leave the Kirchberg Hotel garni. Whistling a tune, notebook under one arm, and my Knirps umbrella under the other, I make my way towards a little café, where I plan on whiling away a few hours drinking chocolat chaud, eavesdropping, and composing poetry. There is a sullen guitar player leaning against a grey stone wall on the corner opposite the café, wearing red and silver stripped socks, dungarees, and a tattered black fisherman’s sweater.
“De toutes les chansons celles
Que tu retiens
Ne sont rien qu’amours cruel
C’est la raison pour laquelle
Tu n’aimes rien
Rien de ce qui me rappelle
Tous ces refrains”
(N’écoute pas les idoles by Serge Gainsbourg)
And how do I end my midnight constitutional? With one more meander past majestic and crumbling late-19th century villas, or do I linger while staring out over the dark river Saar? I find a green painted metal bench and lean back, mulling over possible futures. How can anyone tell what will happen; we are given a basket of dreams, only to discover that each symbol is obscured by our past. I fiddle with my fedora as I look up at the silvery moon, and the cobweb wisps of clouds rushing by in the night sky. I have tacked on a perky yellow and brown feather with a mischievous yellow monkey button to my striped silk hatband. A gypsy houseboat floats by with flags fluttering, and an accordionist leaning at the brow playing “You Can’t Get a Man with A Gun”.
“If I went to battle
With someone’s herd of cattle
You’d have steak when the job was done.
But if shot the herder,
They’d holler “bloody murder”
And you can’t shoot a male
In the tail like a quail
Oh you can’t get a man with a gun.
I’m cool, brave and daring
To see a lion glaring
When I’m out with my Remington
But a look from a mister
Will raise a fever blister
Oh you can’t get a man with a gun.”
(By Irving Berlin)
I have returned to my room at the Kirchberg Hotel garni, to be treated to the comical sight of Francy and the mustached valet both asleep on my bed, and both snoring lightly. The plate of pike and mullet gefilte fish has been licked clean, and Francy’s lightly furred orange tummy is happily rounded with her recent dinner of fishy delicacies. I spy my ebony walking cane next to the valet’s outstretched hand, with a string tied around the end and a sparkling bling-tastic crystal rhinestone button tied to its end, and am charmed by this impromptu kitten toy. I sit in the suede leopard side chair, and eat a slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte while watching Francy sleeping with her exhausted sitter. Francy with her seafood, and I with my chocolate cake….we are happily gluttonous.
“The seven deadly virtues, those ghastly little traps
Oh no, my liege, they were not meant for me
Those seven deadly virtues were made for other chaps
Who love a life of failure and ennui
Let others take the high road, I will take the low
I cannot wait to rush in where angels fear to go
With all those seven deadly virtues, free and happy little me
Has not been cursed”
(By A. Lerner and F. Loewe)
If I am going to take the Grand Tour with a feisty ginger kitten, we must experience the rustic delights of camping. With this in mind, I buy a blue and white vintage 1968 Volkswagen van, and christen her Avalon. I spend a couple of days getting her road-ready and buying foodstuffs. I have sewn Avalon curtains of rust and aquamarine stripped canvases with tabs fastened with starry black and blue buttons, and edged with rust colored pompoms. I’ve replaced the worn and mildewed carpet with reproduction Persian Kurdish kilims, and bought a couple of propane lanterns, a green folding picnic table with attached stools, a rather too elaborate stainless steel two-burner camp-stove, and a little canopy that fits over the side doors. I have some leftover ball fringe, so I in a fit of accessorizing, I trim the canopy too. I set in a store of chocolate, coffee, eggs, a flourless Gâteau à l’Orange et au Gingembre, and sour cherry jam. We take off towards the Black Forest, with Francy happily batting ferociously at the ball fringe, and the music blasting.
“When the samba takes you
Out of nowhere
And the background’s fading
Out of focus
Yes the picture’s changing
And your destination
You don’t know it
(By B. Ferry)
Francy and I pull into Sägmühle, located in the “Tal der Liebe” in the Palatinate Forest. She has played herself out, and is curled up on the dashboard like a pair of snoring fuzzy dice. I’m tired, grumpy, and have eaten too much cake. The sun is starting to set, and the cool forest night air is blowing in over the lake. I put Francy on her leash, cook myself a leek and goat cheese frittata, eat, make up my bed with air-dried cotton sheets, and then settle down to relax with a little Marlene Dietrich on my accordion. I do not eat any more cake. I’m wearing worn denim overalls with antler horn buttons, a long sleeved black waffle knit shirt with holes in the elbows, sienna home-knit socks, and orange high-tops. Tomorrow, the plan is to play on the outdoor ping-pong tables. Yeah, ping-pong!
“You do something to me
Something that simply mystifies me
Tell me, why should it be?
You have the power to hypnotize me
Let me live ‘neath your spell
Do do that ‘voodoo’ that you do so well
Oh, you do something to me
That nobody else could do.”
(By Cole Porter)
Into the gloomy German night I will go. It is 3am, and I’m woken by my dreams. I roll over on my narrow cot inside my van, momentarily disoriented and tangled in soft bed linens. When I fell asleep, it was to the sounds of sad Lebanese folksongs from two campgrounds over, and now all I hear are dark rustlings. The night brings many worries, slinging them like mud pies splattering inside my anxious heart. I gather my voluminous cloak about me, and fasten the gold metal spider-web button. Is my cloak the red wool one of a little one bravely tramping through the woods, or does it have a be-eared hood of grey fur? Perhaps both.
“To think of the acorn it is necessary to become the tree. And the tree of night is the hardest tree to mount, the dourest tree to scale, the most difficult branch….think of the night all day long, and of the day the night through, or at some reprieve of the brain it will come upon you heavily – an engine stalling itself upon your chest, halting its wheels against your heart; unless you have made a roadway for it.”
(From Nightwood by D. Barnes)
It is morning. A thin, clear, sparkling yellow mist is in the air, and a hint of dew is on the ground. I feel refreshed despite my nighttime roaming, and stretch, breathing deeply of the piney forest air. I’m wearing torn 501s, an Italian olive green and ocher wide striped wool cable-knit turtleneck sweater, and green suede low boots with side fasteners of antique gold Medusa head buttons. I brew some French roast coffee, grab a leftover cherry tart, and sit at my folding table to wake up and plan my day’s activities. I have a notion to teach Francy to walk with a kitty harness and leash. The sleepy Lebanese folks are starting to stir, and one is plucking out a sad folk song on a mandolin.
“In Scarlet town where I was born,
There was a fair maid dwellin’
Made every youth cry Well-a-day,
Her name was Barb’ra Allen.”
All in the merry month of May,
When green buds they were swellin’
Young Willie Grove on his death-bed lay,
For love of Barb’ra Allen.”
Child Ballad #84, from Francis J. Child’s five volume work, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1898)
It is a lazy day, perfect for cat walking lessons. Francy is in an unusually placid mood, and for that I am grateful. After breakfast of Italian herring for Francy, and cherry pie and hot coffee for me, we amble down the empty campsite lane. It is quiet now, as everyone else has taken off for complicated hiking expeditions involving mysterious gear such as compasses and trekking poles. Francy’s leash is made of teal striped French silk ribbon, and aside from a brief period of bewildered slinking while cutting her amber eyes at me, she seems to be handling the concept of walking outdoors on a leash with grace and dignity. I am wearing thread worn black corduroy sailor pants adorned with 13 silver sailor buttons, a grey ribbed cotton turtleneck sweater, black harness boots, and a blue raffia straw fedora. With the scattering of white edelweiss across the forest floor, the towering pine trees, and brilliant blue sky, I feel very rustique.
I wanna be Teacher’s Pet
I wanna be huddled and cuddled as close to you as I can get
(That’s the lesson we’re guessin’ you’re best in)
Mm, teacher’s pride
I wanna be teacher’s pride
I wanna be dated, paraded, the one most likely at your side
(Ya got a burnin’ yearnin’ to learn)
(By Joe Lubin)
I have decided to rent a little wooden rowboat and have a water adventure. Francy is tuckered out from prancing on her leash, and I need some quietude. I pack myself a light snack of gnocchi alla romana, sparkling pink lemonade, a simple spinach salad, and a dark chocolate bar in my wicker picnic basket. The azure lake is calm, the clouds float by, and I daydream while watching the fish swimming under the water’s surface. I am wearing patched dungarees, an orange and cream striped flannel shirt, silver leather high-tops, and a denim jacket with square bamboo buttons. I remove my volume of Hafez to read my Ghazal, and it opens to number 449:
“Listen fly; Phoenix’s flight-path is not your air
You ruin your own name, and us you tire and wear.
Through your own deeds, you are now poor and bare
From complaints and your cries, I beg you, us spare.
Even kings, through their service fill their chair
Hope for nothing, if you will not do your share.”
It is 7am, and the campground concierge is rapping on Avalon’s window. You have sent me a wire saying that you found the sought-after Russian map, have left Brussels, and are traveling by train to Heidelberg. Francy and I pack up, and get on the autobahn to meet you in Heidelberg. We are rendezvousing at the Philosophenweg near the Neckar River. I have dressed for sophisticated driving in a vintage 1936 grey flannel four-buttoned double-breasted jacket with Italian antique silver buttons, cream flannel trousers, a light-weight polo shirt, a violet silk foulard white dotted muffler, sienna crocodile shoes, and violet silk socks. My hamper is crammed with Southern deviled eggs, baby red potato salad, and roasted asparagus. The only thing I’m missing is sugar (and as we all know, sugar is a vegetable!), so I stop off at a Bäckerei for a blackberry lemon meringue pie. I have Blondie blasting as I zoom down the freeway, and Francy is dancing along on her little ginger paws.
“I had to interrupt and stop this conversation
Your voice across the line gives me a strange sensation
I’d like to talk when I can show you my affection
Oh I can’t control myself
Oh I can’t control myself
Oh I can’t control myself
Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone”
(By J. Lee)
I have arrived in Heidelberg, and made my way to Der Europäische Hof Hotel Europa where I have reservations for a room with a jacuzzi. After strenuously roughing it at the campground, I am ready for a bit of relaxation. Although the concierge seems taken aback by Avalon’s dusty state, he recovers quickly and offers to send the camper out for a through wash. Once in my room, I change out of my traveling gear into a casual outfit consisting of a sienna brown tweed jacket with cobalt blue stripes and antique silver worn-looking buttons, a rust Mariano wool v-neck sweater vest, a white broadcloth shirt, and an ocher and blue 1970s tie with a pattern of prominent French bridges, 501 jeans, cream ribbed wool socks, and a pair of dilapidated brown full brogues. As I tie my shoes, I mull over the meaning of life. Is life the taste of salt dissolving on my tongue? Is it the ruffling of the morning air on my cheek? Is it that gulp my heart makes when I hear your voice? After all, I will be visiting the Philosophenweg tomorrow, so need to be prepared for Goethe’s ghost and any discussions that may ensue. Whistling a Tom Lehrer ditty, I leave my room for dinner.
“I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevski.
In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics:
Let no one else’s work evade your eyes,
Remember why the good lord made your eyes,
So don’t shade your eyes,
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize –
Only be sure always to call it please ‘research’……
I am never forget the day my first book is published.
Every chapter I stole from somewhere else.
Index I copy from old Vladivostok telephone directory.
This book was sensational!
Pravda – well, pravda – pravda said: (Russian double-talk)
But izvestia! izvestia said: (Russian double-talk)
Metro-Goldwyn-moskva buys movie rights for six million rubles,
Changing title to ‘the eternal triangle’,
With Brigitte Bardot playing part of hypotenuse.”
Stepping into the deepest blue starry German night, I discover that it is chillier than I anticipated, so I run upstairs to fetch a hat. Grabbing my burnt umber felt pork pie hat with its square black horn button accent, I saunter down the street looking for an inviting place to eat. The streets are lined with trees and the sidewalks are cobblestoned. Even with a light drizzle shining mistily through the streetlights, there are flocks of people chattering and walking arm in arm. I pass Kaffeehaus after Kaffeehaus before finding the green-doored restaurant Zum Güldenen Schaf. Once inside I order shrimp in spicy garlic-olive oil sauce, lamb steak with goat cheese au gratin, and ratatouille and waffle potatoes. It is the beautiful night…perfect for Kurt Weill.
“Meine Herren, heute sehen Sie mich Gläser abwaschen
Und ich mache das Bett für jeden.
Und Sie geben mir einen Penny und ich bedanke mich schnell
Und Sie sehen meine Lumpen und dies lumpige Hotel
Und Sie wissen nicht, mit wem Sie reden.
Und Sie wissen nicht, mit wem Sie reden.
Aber eines Abends wird ein Geschrei sein am Hafen
Und man fragt: Was ist das für ein Geschrei?
Und man wird mich lächeln sehn bei meinen Gläsern
Und man sagt: Was lächelt die dabei?
(Words by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill)
I am sitting on a worn and wobbly wooden bench on the Philosophenweg near Hölderlinanlage, a garden erected in memory of the German Romantic poet, Friedrich Hölderlin. I am surrounded by Japanese cherries, cypresses, lemons, bamboos, rhododendrons, ginkgo, and yucca trees, and the warm sun beats upon my uncovered head. Despite the three cups of coffee that I drank earlier in the morning, I am getting drowsy in the springtime warmth. I unbutton the mustard-colored coconut shell button on my green, rust, cream, and black striped ribbed muffler, open my book of poetry, and take a bite of a madeleine . You are running late, but with butterflies flitting about, the scent of flowers, and Herr Hölderlin, I have little reason to fret. And then I see you strolling down the grass-lined walkway.
“Even though when I called to you then
It was not yet with names, and you
Never named me as people do
As though they knew one another
I knew you better
Than I have ever known them.
I understood the stillness above the sky
But never the words of men.
Trees were my teachers
And I learned to love
I grew up in the arms of the gods.”
(Friedrich Hölderlin -1770-1813)
We sit side by side in the Philosophenweg in the late morning sun. The bench slats are warm and splintered. We talk and laugh and lick chocolate buttercream from our fingers. Mark Twain, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Victor Hugo all walked upon these paths, and I am sure that they had weighty conversations; all we talk about is food. Can one bake genuinely delectable pastry without using butter? Is there an advantage to adding rice flour when making shortbread? What is the best way to boil an egg? I catch a sparkle out of the corner of my eye and look down; a preening, plump brown pigeon is walking in figure eights at my booted foot with something in its beak. With a wink of its black eye, the bird drops the glittering parcel, and flies off. It is a blush-colored glass button.
“Anything you can do, I can do better
I can do anything better than you
No you can’t, Yes I can, No you can’t, Yes I can
No you can’t, Yes I can, yes I can, Anything you can be I can be greater
Sooner or later, I’m greater than you
No you’re not, Yes I am, No you’re not, Yes I am
No you’re not, Yes I am, yes I am
Anything you can buy, I can buy cheaper
I can buy anything cheaper than you
Fifty cents, Forty cents, Thirty cents, Twenty cents
No you can’t, Yes I can, yes I can
Anything you can dig, I can dig deeper
I can dig anything deeper than you
Thirty feet, Forty feet, Fifty feet, Sixty feet
No you can’t, Yes I can, yes I can”
(By Irving Berlin)
The sun is setting as I wind my way down the Philosophenweg towards the bridge leading to Der Europäische Hof Hotel Europa. There is a discordant clash of noise coming from the bridge, as a motley but brilliantly decorated parade of musicians round the corner. There are twirling drummers, hopping stilt-walkers, clashing percussionists, tossing jugglers, and swaying accordionists. It is a cacophony of music and colors! With a joyous scream, I throw myself into the fray. A short, round copper-haired concertina player with a molting green feather bolero fastened with a fuchsia rhinestone button grabs me by the waist, and we do-si-do across the bridge.
Un amor vivi
Llorando. Y mi decia:
Las palabras de Dios,
Llorando por tii-iiii-iii,
es con amor.”
(By the Gipsy Kings)
I am on my way to Karlsruhe, home of the Museum beim Markt, Karlsruhe Palace, and Museum in der Majolika. I plan on several days of cultural immersion, so I’m busy clearing my brain to allow for the grand influx of beauty and ideas that I’m sure will be involved in a week of museum hopping. My mental cleansing involves many chocolates, a ginger cat snoozing upon my lap, a respite from driving in the form of a first class train trip, and hovering attendants with pots of hot tea and fresh tea cakes. The Museum beim Mark alone is over 1,600 square metres of handicrafts, including Germany’s most impressive collection of Art Nouveau artifacts from renowned artists, artisans and designers so I must be sharp! I lean back in my seat, unbutton the polished gold metal buttons on my dusty violet and charcoal grey wool argyle double-breasted vest, and sigh deeply, looking out of the window at the rural landscape rushing past. I’m not feeling particularly brilliant, but train trips always cheer me up. I hum a bar from the famous train folk song, “John Henry”, and feel better already.
“John Henry was a railroad man,
He worked from six ’till five,
“Raise ’em up bullies and let ’em drop down,
I’ll beat you to the bottom or die.”
John Henry said to his captain:
“You are nothing but a common man,
Before that steam drill shall beat me down,
I’ll die with my hammer in my hand.”
John Henry said to the Shakers:
“You must listen to my call,
Before that steam drill shall beat me down,
I’ll jar these mountains till they fall.”
I am staying at the Pension Stadtmitte, a charming pension within walking distance of the museums. It is quaintly beautiful, and after settling Francy into a pigeon-watching perch on the windowsill in our room, I change into a comfortable cream three-piece linen suit with warm sienna classic horn buttons, a grey and cream seersucker shirt, rust-colored silk socks, and pair of Italian monk strap wingtips. I make my way downstairs to the dining area. The dining room is cozily festooned with crystal chandeliers, red velvet valances, and a clamor of clay pots of climbing plants. I order a light meal of Risi e Bisi, fennel and red pepper trout cakes, and a crème caramel for desert. Some kind of folksy music is playing and I open my book, My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki.
“Holding love at a distance
The fogs rollin’ in
I’m shuttin’ down
Maybe things’ll be better next time around
Maybe things’ll be better next time around.
All the arrows are pointing sideways
All the lights are shining up
Crying with a smile since time began
Crying with a smile since time began.”
(By J. Puryear)
It is 1am, and I am in my bed nestled up with Francy. When Francy is very happy, she sleeps with her pink tongue tip sticking out, and with an orange fuzzy tummy full of chicken liver, she is a very happy cat. There is a new moon and the night is very dark. I’ve left the balcony’s French doors opened to let in the fresh, cold night air, and I can hear a band of roustabouts riotously reciting The Canterbury Tales in the narrow cobblestoned street below. I pull my lightweight black wool robe around myself tightly, fastening my silver metal button, engraved with a relief of a spider-web, spider, and unlucky fly. I take another sip of my sweet chamomile-mint tea, and pet Francy’s head.
“Here begins the Book of the Tales of Canterbury
When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.”
(By Geoffrey Chaucer, 1340?-1400)
I am packing the presents that I bought, wrapping each gift in delicate, crackling golden sienna colored tissue paper that I got at the stationären Geschäft around the corner. I am giving you nine intricately ornate curved seashells, five small red leather books with gilded page-edges, a box of antique Marbo heel dance taps, and three pieces of chocolate from the chocolatier Marie de Bruges cast in the shape of swans. I have “Suffragette City” playing on the gramophone, the sheer white linen curtains are blowing into the room, and Francy is helping by sneakily batting at the tissue paper. I’m wearing a rough linen shirt in shades of soft mossy green with engraved cream mother of pearl shell buttons, a grey and black tweed herringbone vest, loose black linen slacks, and am barefoot.
“Oh don’t lean on me man, cause you can’t afford the ticket
I’m back on Suffragette City
Oh don’t lean on me man
Cause you ain’t got time to check it
You know my Suffragette City
Is outta sight…she’s all right”
(By D. Jones, 1972)
I adore being decisive; I have booked a compartment on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train, and will be traveling by train from Paris to Istanbul. I have rented dove grey vintage Morris Minor 1000 2-door saloon to drive to Paris. I have piled my worn leather valises into the boot, and installed Francy on a black velveteen cushion on the passenger’s seat. After strenuously shopping for provisions to sustain me until Paris, I finally set off at 10pm. The moon is full, and is colored a watery violet with a pale yellow halo. I am wearing a espresso brown and tan tweed riding jacket with slanted pockets and domed gunmetal buttons, a tan flannel shirt, a red ground foulard tie, red, black and white checked Tattersall waistcoat, tan jodhpurs, and triple-strapped knee-high brown boots. With a tip to fate of my brown light-weight felt fedora chapeau, and a sip from my thermos of hot Velouté de Lentilles aux Marrons , I turn up my iPod to some traveling music, and drive off pointing towards Paris.
“The night is young, the skies are clear
So if you wanna go walkin’, dear
It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely
I understand the reason why
You’re sentimental, ’cause so am I
It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely
You can tell at a glance what a swell night this is for romance
You can hear, dear Mother Nature murmuring low “Let yourself go”
So please be sweet, my chickadee
And when I kiss ya, just say to me
“It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s delectable, it’s delirious,
It’s dilemma, it’s de limit, it’s deluxe, it’s de-lovely”
(By the ever clever Cole Porter)
I spent the night in a meadow outside of Blieskastel. Awakening, I roll over to snuggle Francy. She is curled into a tight creamsicle-colored bundle between my chin and my neck, but as I stir she stretches, each tuft of orange fur between her pink toes springing forth like little mohawks. There is a light sprinkle of glittery dew over the meadow grass, herbs, and wildflowers. I rise to make some coffee, and to fetch Francy a china saucer of clotted cream. It is still a bit nippy, so I button my vintage v-neck cardigan over my Liberty of London striped pajamas. My sweater is a cable knit pattern accented with four stripes of suede chamois leather, in four shades of cinnamon toast brown, with faux wood primitive buffalo design buttons. I luxuriate in my solitude and the beauty of the countryside, and hum a little song while drinking my candy-bar coffee from a Clarice Cliff designed cup in the charming ‘Red Autumn’ design.
“If I invite a boy some night
To dine on my fine finnan haddie
I just adore, his asking for more
But my heart belongs to Daddy
Yes, my heart belongs to Daddy
So I simply couldn’t be bad
Yes, my heart belongs to daddy”
(And once again….Cole Porter!)
Francy and I have packed up, and are on the road again. She has taken to standing on her hind legs and resting her front paws on the Morris Minor’s passenger window edge, orange ears flapping in the breeze as we zoom down rustic country back roads on the way to Paris. After stopping in a nearby village for a matcha, lemon and chocolate opera cake, some dried figs, goat cheese, a baguette, and a few meters of velvet ribbon, we’ve pulled over for a wee picnic. I am sitting under an oak tree making Francy a little collar with a length of silk velvet ribbon in luscious shades of plum purples and algae greens, and fastened with a little curved dark grey Tahitian mother of pearl shell button. Francy is excitedly chasing cream and blue butterflies, but not catching any. And through the warm haze of the early afternoon, I can hear music in the distance.
“Non, Rien De Rien, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien
Ni Le Bien Qu’on M’a Fait, Ni Le Mal
Tout Ca M’est Bien Egal
Non, Rien De Rien, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien
C’est Paye, Balaye, Oublie, Je Me Fous Du Passe”
(By C. Dumont and M. Vaucaire)
Francy and I are near Paris, but we are lazily meandering; the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train does not leave the station for a few weeks. I have decided to take a minuscule side-trip to Nancy. I had a cousin named Nancy who put themselves through law school by dog-walking. She amused herself, and horrified the other very serious torts students, by coloring her hair an unusual vibrant color every four months. By the time she took her bar examination, her hair was a riot of royal blue, shocking fuchsia, grape purple, Kelly green and squashed apricot. Nancy, the city proves to be as gaudy as my cousin’s coiffure, with opulent, gilded Art Nouveau gewgaws strewn about like confetti. Driving into town, we are corralled by a group of uniformed musicians playing a concert of hunting horn and organ tunes. Francy looks stunned by the commotion, and I am grateful that I had the forethought to wear my orange and silver brocade double-breasted waistcoat with classic gunmetal rhinestone buttons, white washed linen shirt, maroon and rust striped silk ascot, brown leather jodhpurs, and black riding boots. I take a swig of tamarind soup with chickpeas, chard, and spices from my thermos, and sing as the band vigorously plays La Fête de Saint Hubert.
“Ich bin die fesche Lola, der Liebling der Saison!
Ich hab’ ein Pianola zu Haus’ in mein’ Salon.
Und will mich wer begleiten da unten aus dem Saal,
dem hau’ ich in die Saiten und tret’ ihm aufs Pedal!
Lola, Lola – jeder weiß, wer ich bin
Sieht man nur mach mir hin,
Schon verwirrt sich der Sinn.
Männer, Männer – keinen küß ich hier
Und allein am Klavier,sing die Zeilen mit mir.”
(By F. Hollander, R. Liebmann, R. Rillo)
The motto for Nancy is Non inultus premor or “No one touches me with impunity”, which I feel is appropriate for any around-the-world adventure involving a small ginger cat and a dapper dandy. We make our way to Nancy’s old town, and the 16th century mansion with flamboyant Gothic sculpture that is now the Hôtel d’Haussonville, where we have booked a short stay in the yellow and French blue decorated Haussonville suite, with its large windows with floor-length striped curtains, white marbled fireplace, oak floors, and cream-colored Persian carpets. Walking down the narrow stone hotel steps, through the paved courtyard, and opening the elaborate wrought iron gate to the street, I wander off to find a place to grab some refreshment. While meandering, I ponder the mysteries of the world. I find L’Excelsior on rue Henri-Poincaré, and order a light meal of breaded roast monkfish, creamy risotto with Reggiano parmesan cheese and a Valhrona chocolate crusty soufflé with a caramel sauce. After such a glorious meal, I saunter happily into the dark night, wrapping my black cotton bandana print scarf around my neck, and buttoning the hammered silver Medusa head buttons on my dove grey and ocher tweed Norfolk jacket. Passing a shadowy corner on the way back to the hotel, I am delighted by a stooped, tipsy busker with an accordion playing a romantic tune.
“Strangers in the night exchanging glances
Wond’ring in the night
What were the chances we’d be sharing love
Before the night was through.
Something in your eyes was so inviting,
Something in your smile was so exciting
Something in my heart,
Told me I must have you.”
(By C. Singleton, B. Kaempfert, E. Snyder)
It is 7am; the pale sun is barely breaking through the violet-silvery grey clouds, but I’m sitting on the worn oak floor in front of my hotel room’s marbled fireplace, propped up by a pile of feather pillows, with my engraved silver breakfast tray on the floor by my side. Eloise knew about the delights of room service; Francy and I both heartedly approve of uniformed waitpersons bearing hot food and beverages. I am eating the last bit of my eggs poached in buttery sorrel sauce, and Francy is licking sardine oil from her long white whiskers. I stretch, unbuttoning the ivy-shaped silver and rhinestone buttons on my black quilted silk satin smoking jacket, and then get up to start running a steamy morning bath, supplemented with herbal bath salts. I always hum in the tub, and do so now.
“You do something to me
Something that simply mystifies me
Tell me, why it should be,
You have the power to hypnotize me?
Let me live ‘neath your spell
Do do that voodoo that you do so well
For you do something to me
That nobody else could do”
(By…I should not have to say this again…Cole Porter!)
We have bundled up for the last leg of our trip to Paris. It is raining and gloomy, with murky looking, low nimbostratus clouds hanging over the fields and roadways. Even Francy looks chilly; she is fluffed up, and curled into a tight ball, with her paw covering her face. I have layered my navy wool duffel coat with black horn toggle buttons over a heart red turtleneck sweater, brown leather pants, and knee high black riding boots. I’ve wrapped an orange, marine blue, and cream ribbed wool muffler three times around my neck and chin, and am nibbling on Scotch eggs and sipping matzo ball soup. I like round food. Leno Horne comes on the radio, with her achingly beautiful voice.
“Don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky
Stormy weather, since my man and I ain’t together
Keeps raining all the time
Life is bare, gloom and misery everywhere
Stormy weather, just can’t get my poor old self together
I’m weary all the time, the time, so weary all of the time”
(By H. Arlen and T. Koehler)
It is mid-morning, and I’m on my way to a corner café for breakfast and brooding. As I stroll blearily, I think. There are always questions to ponder; when is it appropriate to utilize a semicolon? What is proper tea time etiquette? What is the difference between the pleasure of love and the pleasure of seduction? Francy the kitten has no need to philosophize, and is still slumbering at the Pension Stadtmitte. I’m wearing a suit of Shetland wool in an olive green and coffee brown broken herringbone pattern with classic bone buttons, a starched white shirt with a paisley bow tie, brown cable-knit cashmere socks, and brown Blücher shoes. I sit down at one the table-cloth covered round tables at the café, and order hard rolls with fig jam and strong hot coffee; deep thoughts require sufficient caffeine. A musician sits a few tables away tuning their guitar.
““We talk of parks and simple places,
Sense the thickness of the air.
Highly strung like nervous guitars
My fingers make waves in you.
We’re afraid to call it love,
Let’s call it swimming…”
(By Martha and the Muffins)
At long last, we are driving wearily into Paris. The Morris is muddy and rain-soaked, and Francy and I are not much better. We are nothing more than bedraggled orphans in our fur and finery. I am driving around what seems like the same scenic French block, and finally pulling up in front of Ladurée. I tell Francy to wait in the car, and dash in for a box of one blackcurrant-violet Religieuse, two coconut sponge cake Ladurée Baiser, and an outrageously pink, tiered L’Entremet Marie-Antoinette. I buy a bouquet of Jack-in-the-Pulpits and ferns wrapped in blue star-sprinkled tissue paper, and turn to get into my car. I am startled; there is a chocolatier leaning against the driver’s side door, a Pâtisserie box dangling from one grubby finger like a yo-yo, and a chef’s jacket buttoned haphazardly with root-beer red buttons. It seems that I accidentally left my sweets in the store.
“I love Paris in the springtime.
I love Paris in the fall.
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.
I love Paris every moment,
Every moment of the year.
I love Paris, why, oh why do I love Paris?
Because my love is near.”
(By you know who…..Cole, baby)
We barrel down the narrow streets towards 15 rue de Jacob and the Millesime Hotel, a 17th century city mansion in Saint-Germain des Prés and near Jardin du Luxembourg. Even Francy has perked up. Once in our hotel room, we unpack our pile of worn leather valises and travel sticker-covered trunks, strewing dirty laundry and cake boxes about. I need to find something clean and dry, and settle upon a dove grey boat-neck ribbed pull-over, a pair of 13 button sailor pants with square plaid Lucite buttons, and red, square toed, Italian ankle boots. I make my way to the courtyard patio restaurant for a hot beverage and a small dish of rejuvenating herb strata with ramps and Gruyere cheese. I hear “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris” in the distance.
“On dit qu’au dela des mers
La-bas sous le ciel clair
Il existe une cite
Au sejour enchante
Et sous les grands arbres noirs
Vers elle s’en va tout mon espoir”
(By J. Baker)
It is an enchanting violet morning in Paris, and I order room service. Breakfast is a couple of pastel candy mice from Ladurée, a warm croissant and hot café au lait on the hotel’s balcony. I’m only in Paris for a few days before the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express leaves for Istanbul, so want to make the most of my time in the City of Light. I am irrationally despondent, and dress accordingly in a black wool frockcoat with olive green glass buttons, a black lawn shirt, an olive paisley cravat, black wool peg-legged pants, and black monks-strap low boots. I stroll to the Fontaine de l’Observatoire at the Jardin du Luxembourg, only to find a band of ratty des artistes de cirque singing Carmen. The one dressed in sea blue and dove grey striped socks looks directly at me and belts:
“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle
que nul ne peut apprivoiser,
et c’est bien en vain qu’on l’appelle,
s’il lui convient de refuser!
Rien n’y fait, menace ou prière,
l’un parle bien, l’autre se tait;
et c’est l’autre que je préfère,
il n’a rien dit, mais il me plaît.”
What does one do in Paris besides find sidewalk cafés to sit at, and so I do. I have decided to sit in 26 cafés while I wait for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express to leave for Istanbul, one café for each letter of the alphabet. I will sample le chocolat chaud in each, keeping careful note in my. On the first day of my finely tuned scientific survey, I set forth in a grey and violet mohair checked frockcoat with rhinestone and Czech glass buttons, grey velveteen jeans, a violet linen shirt, a black and silver polka-dotted ascot, and black and silver lizard-skin cowboy boots. The corner busker plays an Edith Piaf tune on her violin and I am content!
“Allez, venez, Milord!
Vous avez l’air d’un môme!
Laissez-vous faire, Milord,
Venez dans mon royaume:
Je soigne les remords,
Je chante la romance,
Je chante les milords
Qui n’ont pas eu de chance!”
I am onto the letter “D” in my sidewalk café study, so am sitting outdoors under a green umbrella at Les Deux Magots. It is a warm, bright day; the sun is shining and people at the surrounding tables seem interestingly frisky. I’m looking forward to a long afternoon of eavesdropping and noshing. I have dressed inconspicuously, in order to listen in with greater discretion. I am wearing a black silk knit shirt edged with silver velvet piping, and a dark grey linen three piece suit with silver fouled anchor buttons, red and plum striped silk socks, and grey suede low boots. Francy is sitting on my lap, looking about with a nonchalant air, her tail swishing calmly and slowly. I order Sevruga caviar with toast and cream, white asparagus, fried green beans, crème brûlée, and macaron Ispahan Pierre Hermé. One can never have too many sweets. Just then the corpulent Swede at the next table stands up, knocking over his metal chair, and hoarsely croaks out more from Carman, then flees down the street sobbing.
“L’amour est enfant de Bohême,
il n’a jamais, jamais connu de loi;
si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime;
si je t’aime, prends garde à toi!
Si tu ne m’aimes pas, si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime!
Mais si je t’aime, si je t’aime, prends garde à toi!”
Sated with caviar, I decide to take the long way back to the Millesime Hotel. Outside of 20 Rue Jacob, I am accosted by a slovenly, yet beauteous clairvoyant. I can tell that she is a fortune-teller by her buttons; a double row of die running up her antique Sergent de chasseurs military tunic. She grabs me by my grey linen jacket, and murmurs Algerian destinies intermixed with e e cumming verses into my ear. Is this the Paris that I have been traveling to discover?
“being to timelessness as it’s to time,
love did no more begin than love will end:
where nothing is to breathe to stroll to swim
love is the air the ocean and the land
(do lovers suffer? all divinities
proudly descending put on deathful flesh:
are lovers glad? only their smallest joy’s
a universe emerging from a wish)
love is the voice under all silences,
the hope which has no opposite in fear:
the strength so strong mere force is feebleness:
the truth more first than sun more last than star
– -do lovers love? why then to heaven with hell.
whatever sages say and fools, all’s well”
Preparing for sleep, I wonder if the surfeit of caviar and muttering clairvoyants will lead to misshapen dreams. Lately my dreams have been strewn with mysterious floods, stilt-walking ballerinas, flying, and lost musical instruments. I button the olive green Italian buttons on my plain, coffee brown, worn lawn pajamas, and start a bedtime ritual that I hope will bring a night of pleasant and deep sleep. There is a thin china cup of warm sweetened milk, a stack of soft snickerdoodles, and a copy of the complete works of Dorothy Parker.
“Back of my back, they talk of me,
Gabble and honk and hiss;
Let them batten, and let them be-
Me, I can sing them this:
“Better to shiver beneath the stars,
Head on a faithless breast,
Than peer at the night through rusted bars,
And share an irksome rest.”
Francy and I will be leaving by train in a few days, so need to cram in as many days of cafés as possible. We are in a mad caffeine and sugar-fueled rush to reach “z”, and have divided our days and nights into segments in order to fulfill our Herculean task. After dandifying myself in a three piece double-breasted, mustard yellow gabardine suit with mottled, espresso brown horn buttons for our marathon café pilgrimage, we arrive at Au Vide-Gousset. I am serenely sipping a café au lait and nibbling on mulberry, cherry and pistachio clafoutis, while watching people and pigeons congregate around a statue of a soldier and horse dedicated to the victories of Louis XIV. Statues with soldiers and horses fascinate me; I think of the amazing action photographs of renowned artist, Edweard Muybridge and ponder the horse’s stance. Francy becomes suddenly alert as two long-haired, bushy-tailed cats slink around our wooden café chairs. She jumps down, and soon the three cats are batting at one another playfully through the chair legs.
“Ambling madly all over the town
The call to arms you liken to a whisper,
I liken to a radio.
You were a brickbat, a bowery tuff, so rough
They culled you from a cartoon
Pulled out of your pantaloons.
My brother in arms,
I’d rather I’d lose my limbs
Than let you come to harm.”
(By C. Meloy)
I grin at the spectacle of the three cats, twirling like dervishes through the legs of the wooden café chairs chasing one another’s tails. A short, somewhat stout man in dungarees and a black and white sailor’s pullover ambles over calling the other two cat’s names, “Maxi and Jojo, come along!” We watch them play; Francy’s tail a gingery orange, Maxi’s tail a plume of black with a few white hairs, and Jojo’s tail, dark with umber stripes along the sides. If life consisted only of sitting in the warm sun, drinking café au lait and watching cats gambol, it would be fine. But life is not this simple, so I rise and button my thin black silk ribbed knit vest’s mother of pearl buttons, turn up my iPod, and reluctantly leave the café.
“All my loves are
Hidden in pieces
All my loves are
Within a wild night”
(By Yeah Yeah Yeahs)
Just then, Francy lays her ginger paw upon my leg and delicately extends one pinprick of a claw to get my notice. The three cat’s ears stand at attention at the sound of thundering paws in the distance, and we all turn to see a wild herd of cats rounding the corner of the lane. It is the annual Running of the Cats! In the center of this mélange of howling alley and housecats, is a brilliantly colored wooden cart harnessed to, and pulled by two shaggy Poitou donkeys. A dark, short-haired woman stands wide-legged in the cart, playing a silvery mother-of-pearl accordion and bellowing pop songs. She is wearing baggy, brown striped Kurdish trousers, a red and brown paisley sash, and a dingy metallic blue lamé shirt fastened with multi-colored rhinestone buttons. We are awed.
“I can turn the grey sky blue
And I can make it rain whenever I want it to
And I can build a castle from a single grain of sand
And I can make a ship sail on dry land
But my life is incomplete and I’m so blue
‘Cause I can’t get next to you
I can’t get next to you, babe
I can’t get next to you
I can’t get next to you, babe
I can’t get next to you”
(By N. Whitfield, Norman and B. Strong)
It is will be time to board the train tomorrow, and I am packing my valises, knapsacks, and steam trunks. I am a fashion magpie and a dandy, so have accumulated a wee bit of a wardrobe during my travels. I am almost embarrassed as I wrap my 43rd waistcoat in tissue paper, and add it to the staggeringly tall pile of corduroy, woolen, suede, velveteen and leather vests. In a flash of debonair brilliance, I realize that packing all my spare buttons in one case would make things much simpler during lost button fashion emergencies. I close my locked metal case of 250 spare buttons, gather a stray enameled fleur-de-lys button, place the button case into my cordovan-colored leather sewing valise, and relax into the hotel’s black chenille overstuffed armchair. Sipping hot black tea and munching upon a slice of warm sweet pear and almond tart, I hear the mad Kurdish accordionist singing under my balcony.
“Glitter and be gay,
That’s the part I play;
Here I am in Paris, France,
Forced to bend my soul
To a sordid role,
Victimized by bitter, bitter circumstance.
Alas for me! Had I remained
Beside my lady mother,
My virtue had remained unstained
Until my maiden hand was gained
By some Grand Duke or other.”
(By L. Bernstein)
There is little more soothing than the rustling of waxed paper as one opens a packed snack on the train. It is 1am, and I am finally on board the Orient Express. I lean back onto my lace-covered pillow, and raise the blind to stare moodily out of the window. I cannot make out details; scenery consists of deep blue shadows that are dimly lit by the slivery moon. I pull my red voile bandana print neck scarf more tightly around my neck, and fasten the bone buttons my coffee brown heather wool cardigan. After spreading my pimento cheese sandwich out upon the waxed paper wrapper on the oak side table, I carefully unfold some more crinkling paper to discover a hard-boiled egg. A fortune flutters out; “Man’s chief moral deficiency appears to be not his indiscretions but his reticence: Hannah Arendt.” Bowie comes on my iPod, and I start eating.
“Oh no, not me
We never lost control
You’re face to face
With The Man Who Sold the World
I laughed and shook his hand
And made my way back home
I searched for form and land
For years and years I roamed
I gazed a gazeless stare
At all the millions here
I must have died along
A long, long time ago”
(By D. Jones)
We have passed the border into Hungary, and I wash up in the lavatory, changing into a clean lavender scented, starched blue Oxford shirt with white mother-of-pearl buttons. I have dozed, and then woken to watch the verdant greens of summer, mountains, scattered yellow wild flowers, and the clear blue sky clatter by. Nature sooths me like a blanket of innocuous clouds. Afternoon tea arrives; a pot of English Breakfast tea, a plate of tea sandwiches and cakes, and a covered blue and white china dish of kippers for Francy. She has managed to doze through France, Germany, and Austria, but warm smoked herring has her pink nose twitching. I turn up my music and eat upside down pear teacake.
“When the stars, and the moon
And the sky, fall through
I’d throw them all away when I’m hollow
Deep as the sea goes, all I know is
I would throw it all away…away”
(By B. Carlile, Brandi and J. Timothy)
Francy and I have arrived in Budapest, and with the Danube River, the Buda Castle Quarter, the Széchenyi Baths, the Millennium Underground Railway, and gigantic thermal water cave system, I am tempted to settle down and live here. After washing up at the Ábel Panzió, I get dressed in a white dress shirt with French cuffs and gold horseshoe cufflinks, a violet and black silk dotted ascot, a black lightweight wool double-breasted suit with antique silver lion passant buttons, violet and mustard striped silk socks, and black wingtips. I then attach Francy’s rust colored velvet collar and leash to take a twilight dinner-seeking stroll. The streetlights come on one-by-one in the waning light, and there are buskers on every corner. One puts her violin to the side and caresses Francy’s ginger head. We duck into Kárpátia Brasserie for dinner, where kittens are always welcome. Lena is playing in the distance.
“There’ll be no one
Unless that someone is you
I intend to be independently blue
I want your love
But I don’t want to borrow
To have it today to give it back tomorrow
For your love is my love
There’s no love for nobody else”
(By Walter Donaldson and G. Kahn
Francy and I are in a cozy walnut and stained glass enclosed booth at Kárpátia Brasserie. Chatter wafts lazily over the booth walls; there are Russians to our left and Persians to our right. The Persians are either discussing pink fairies or rose petal jam, I cannot tell which. The tall globe lights cast a pale, romantic glow over us both reflecting off of my shirt’s clear glass rhinestone buttons, and Francy’s whiskers tremble with excitement. We order smoked trout with peppered avocado, venison fillet with balsamic strawberries and maize polenta with black truffles, and a slice of blood orange tart with chocolate mousse. Hungarian gypsy quartet’s violins playing “Zigeunerweisen” cause me to gasp with pleasure, then they suddenly break into a swooned out version of “Blue Moon”.
“Blue moon, you saw me standin’ alone
Without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own
Blue moon, you knew just what I was there for
You heard me sayin’ a prayer for
Someone I really could care for
(By L. Hart and R. Rodgers)
We are on our way to Bucharest, with another night on the train. I have decided to slumber in the top bunk this time. I climb the stepladder carefully, and swoosh back the monogrammed bed linens. I have raised the window blind so that I can let the stars, darkened scenery and rocking of the train lull me to sleep. I’m wearing my favorite well-worn, dusky turquoise and black striped lawn pajamas with planetary buttons, and have grabbed “e.e. cummings: a selection of poems” to lull me into the sweetest dreams. As I drift off, my midnight snack of a hunk of seed cake falls to the floor.
“your little voice
Over the wires came leaping
and i felt suddenly
We are at Peleş Castle, a neo-Renaissance palace built between 1873 and 1914. It is overcast and drizzly, the grey clouds touched with violet, and a nip in the coniferous scented air. I’m wandering about the courtyard, dragging my heels on the cobblestones, and contemplating sticky matters of the sullen heart. I sit on the icy marble parapet, and stare at the surrounding Carpathian Mountains. I’m bundled up against the unexpected chill in a dense steel grey wool cloak with olive green glass buttons, a black turtleneck sweater, black leather Jodhpurs, and scuffed riding boots. Taking a sip of chickpea and rosemary soup from the thermos that the night steward had graciously packed for me, I glance down to see that someone has left a book of poetry opened on the stone next to me. Is it a sign, or is it just carelessness?
“Ah poverties, wincings, and sulky retreats!
Ah you foes that in conflict have overcome me!
(For what is my life, or any man’s life, but a conflict with foes—the old, the incessant war?]
You degradations—you tussle with passions and appetites;
You smart from dissatisfied friendships, (ah wounds, the sharpest of all;)
You toil of painful and choked articulations—you meannesses;
You shallow tongue-talks at tables, (my tongue the shallowest of any;)
You broken resolutions, you racking angers, you smother’d ennuis;
Ah, think not you finally triumph—My real self has yet to come forth;
It shall yet march forth o’ermastering, till all lies beneath me;
It shall yet stand up the soldier of unquestion’d victory.”
(By W. Whitman, 1900)
We have arrived in Bucharest or “Little Paris”; the city where the soldier in “Und was bekam des Soldaten Weib?” bought that embroidered and pert Romanian shirt. I’m wearing silvery lizard-skin cowboy boots, 501 denim jeans, a white Oxford shirt, and a gold wool argyle knit vest with butterscotch-colored horn buttons. I am sitting in Cafenea Ramayana, propped up by embroidered brocade cushions, drinking steaming sugary Darjeeling tea, and nibbling on honey cake. I will be in Istanbul in a couple of days, but am uncertain where I will go to after my trip is completed. What is “home”? Is home the place where I rest my heart? Is it where I am embraced by a community of compatriots? Is home the touch of your hand on my leg as we say good-bye? Is home my apartment filled with art, food and music, and so far away right now? Do I even have a home at all?
“Home is where the heart is, home is so remote
Home is just emotion sticking in my throat
Home is hard to swallow, home is like a rock
Home is good clean living, home is – I forgot”
(By L. Lovich)
I am in my suite overlooking Revolution Square at the Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest Hotel. Castle tours and long train rides lead to excessive brooding, so I’m relaxing my jittery mind by lolling in a bubble bath, while vigorously swigging sweet, hot Touareg tea and munching on Meyer lemon and pistachio shortbread cookies. Francy sits on the commode, wide-eyed and fascinated, and swings at the gossamer froth with her damp paw. I have my black quilted satin dressing gown with gold and black ombre Czech glass buttons draped over the towel warmer to heat up all that slippery, cool silk. My iPod is blasting Tammy Wynette, and I’m wailing along, wondering how it would sound played on an accordion.
“Satin Sheets to lie on
Satin pillows to cry on
Still I’m not happy don’t you see
Big long Cadillacs tailor-mades upon my back
Still I want you to set me free.”
(By J. Volinkaty)
How can anyone resist the Orient Express? Jules Verne didn’t. Am I only a Phileas searching for my Passepartout? The peanut gallery thinks not, as I travel with considerably more battered trunks and leather valises. Perhaps I am just a Nellie Bly reporting for the newspaper in preparation for writing my novel. It is my last day on the train. We are meandering towards Bulgaria; the instant we start to cross the great River Danube’s Friendship Bridge, I make my way to a restaurant car, L’ Oriental, for a modest snack. I have dressed dandishly, wearing a cream linen pleated front shirt, a silk brown paisley ascot, a rust velveteen double-breasted waistcoat with silver Roman coin buttons, brown leather pants, and my favorite scruffy riding boots. I am using the silver plated collar stays that I bought on the train, and feel very spiffy. I order a dish of Pakistani ginger chicken with basmati rice, a pot of black tea, and a slice of cardamom almond cake with raspberry coulis. A musician is playing “Just for Now” on the baby grand piano, and looks over at me with a glorious sideways wink.
“It’s that time of year,
Leave all our hopelessnesses aside
(if just for a little while)
Tears stop right here,
I know we’ve all had a bumpy ride
(I’m secretly on your side)
How did you know?
It’s what I always wanted,
You can never have too many of these
Will ya quit kicking me under the table?
I’m trying, will somebody make her shut up about it?
Can we settle down please?”
(By I. J. Heap)
It is the last night on the train before arriving in exotic Istanbul. I am restlessly wandering the isles, my copy of The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life by Tom Reiss tucked under my arm. The night seems endless, even with the kindly stewards asking solicitously if they can bring me a hot toddy to settle my heart. I decline, asking for spicy coconut red lentil soup instead. I wrap my vintage black velveteen smoking jacket around, fastening the antique silver Czech glass Turkish knot buttons, tucking my cashmere throw around my hips, turning up Marie Adams on my iPod, and opening my book. Would Essad travel past Constantinople?
“So you lie awake just singin’ the blues all night – goody goody
So you think that love’s a barrel of dynamite –
Hooray and hallelujah, you had it coming to ya
Goody goody for him – goody goody for me –
And I hope you’re satisfied you rascal you!”
(By M. Malneck and J. Mercer)
I have meandered through seven countries via the Orient Express, and now I am across from Istanbul, founded in 660 BC as Byzantium, then renamed Constantinople in 330 AD, and sworn in formally as Istanbul 1930. I am staying on the astonishingly picturesque Princes’ Islands, car-free paradises with transport provided by horse-drawn carriages. I’m lodging at the Splendid Palace Hotel, a crisply white, crimson red-shuttered Art Nouveau building built in 1908. Changing from my traveling clothing into a pair of cream linen pleated trousers, a black and grey paisley shirt in Liberty of London cotton lawn with diamond-shaped mother-of-pearl buttons, lemon yellow silk socks, and Spanish fisherman’s sandals, I grab “Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey” , and walk down the red-carpeted marble stairs to find the Büyükada Patisserie, whistling all the way.
“And I know when time
Will pass by slow
Without my heart
What can I do
You’re in the halls
The bell gives way to a larger swell
Without my heart
What can I do, oh”
(By Z. Condon)
There is a rambunctious colony of island cats living in the nooks and crannies of the Büyükada Patisserie. I see a pair of grey stripped tails flowing from behind an earthenware pot of sweet lavender, and three black and white kittens ricochet between my rickety green wooden table and the orange table nearby. The sun warms me and makes me drowsy, so I toss back three glasses of hot sweet tea and eat three sticky pieces of diamond-shaped Revani. I stand, button the curved antler buttons on my shapeless grey linen jacket, fling my rucksack over my shoulder, and prepare to take off down the dusty road. My plan in to spend a week in the Turkish island countryside, sketching, reading, and reciting poetry to the shimmering stars.
“we would rather be rowdy and gaunt and free
and dine on a diet of roach and rat
than slaves to a tame society
ours is the zest of the alley cat
fish heads freedom a frozen sprat
dug from the gutter with digits frantic
is better than bores and a fireside mat
mehitabel us for the life romantic”
(By Don Marquis)
My donkey, Pauline, and I have ridden a couple of lazy miles down the narrow dusty lane, and have stopped for the day. The air has a dry sweet grassy smell, and my skin is a rosy pink from the Turkish sun. There are some towering boulders near a grove of piney trees in the yellow-flocked flowered meadow, and I settle in, tethering my donkey to a lone shade tree with a thick patch of grass for her to munch upon, spreading a worn wool kilim on the ground, and propping myself up against the largest rock to eat a well-earned dinner. I have prepared a simple hamper of local chow, and unpack my provisions with….anticipation. I wipe off my turquoise pottery plate with a linen cloth, and lay down dinner; some Turkish feta-potato rolls (Fırında Sigara Böreği), purslane tomato salad (Pirpirim / Semizotu Piyazı), and a goblet of sparkling pink lemonade. I need to unfasten the domed copper buttons of my faded black linen waistcoat before desert.
“Feed me with the horror of the past
with the juice and sap of the future.
Hang cherries on my ears as earrings wash
my kerchief with basil herb.
Impress on my memory the crazy thunder
let the echoing nights close on me.”
(By Nihat Behram)
The sun is setting in the west in a soft haze of brilliant orange and violet dusk. I have been playing a long game of cards; laying the deck out with happy-go-lucky precision, and feeling like a rustic goat-herder turned sly croupier. Pauline twitches her long tawny ears, snorts and brays behind me. For a minute I sigh and wish that she had opposable thumbs, as this game of Solitude is becoming tiresome. Finally I spread out my blankets for sleep, unbuttoning the antique gold metal button on the outer pocket of my rucksack to retrieve a metal container of falafel, feta cheese, flat bread, mint leaves, and la tarte au fromage blanc . After a most satisfying dinner, I lean back and play a little cowboy song on the recorder for Pauline.
“Last Saturday evening
I came to the old oak tree
It stands beside the river
Where you would a-meet me
On the ground your glove I found
With a note addressed to me
And it read “Dear love, I’ve done you wrong,
Now I must set you free”
(By G. Price)
It is a beautiful day; the sun is a shiny lemon-drop, and the clouds are pale wisps of puffery scooting their way across the shimmering turquoise ceiling of the Turkish sky. I have woven a wreath of goat’s-thorn, seapinks, and leafy weeds for Pauline, fitting it over her silky ears and tilting it rakishly to the left. We meander; I perched on her soft, furred back like a Kurd traveling homewards. I’m wearing loose dark brown and ultramarine blue striped cotton trousers, a brown well-washed linen shirt with 15 buttery oak wooden buttons, and a ratty wide-brimmed straw hat. Between swigs of hot sweet tea from my metal thermos and nibbles of a rolled up anchovy kaygana, I am light-hearted, and soon find myself whistling a song.
“In the jungle, the mighty jungle
The lion sleeps tonight
In the jungle, the quiet jungle
The lion sleeps tonight
Near the village, the peaceful village
The lion sleeps tonight
Near the village, the quiet village
The lion sleeps tonight
Hush my darling, don’t fear my darling
The lion sleeps tonight
Hush my darling, don’t fear my darling
The lion sleeps tonight”
(By L. Creatore, H. Peretti, L. Solomon, G. Weiss, D. George)
I am laying belly down in the grassy, fragrant meadow. There are over 400 varieties of butterflies in Turkey, and I am slowly being covered with a flock of Blues. I see an Ionian Emperor and a Camberwell Beauty flutter by languidly, and roll over to one side. A long blade of dried grass has stuck to my cheek, curling under my chin and tickling me lightly. Several Blues express their discontent with my movement by taking off without even a backwards glance. Sheltering my eyes from the early afternoon sun, I sit up for lunch. It is getting warm, so I unbutton the dark grey Tahitian mother of pearl shell buttons on my natural linen French artist’s smock. Wearing a ribbed singlet, loose linen trousers and barefoot and humming folk songs, I unpack my hamper of blue cheese and red potato tart, chocolate and matcha green tea cakes, and the ever-refreshing hot sweet tea.
“The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdul Abulbul Amir.
If you wanted a man to encourage the van,
Or harass the foe from the rear,
Storm fort or redoubt, you had only to shout
For Abdul Abulbul Amir.“
(By William Percy French – 1877)
Should I follow the example of explorers before me? Shall I set my sights eastwards, over the green mountains, lush fields, narrow pockmarked roads, and across treacherous border crossings? I am tempted to follow the ways of Dame Freya Stark and travel onwards. This is the nature of my musings as I watch the moon and clouds. A midnight breeze brings the scent of cooking, goats, and the salty ocean. I feel like a nomad, wandering without a home. Pauline doesn’t agree, and nuzzles my elbow with affection. I fasten the black carved wood buttons on my frayed and worn black sweater. It has a dusky bonfire smell, and comforts me. Sugar and poetry at midnight is a sure fire cure for homesickness, so I take a large bite of my chocolate cake with fleur de sel ganache and open a tattered, yellow leather-covered book.
“All the way in the dark,
A somber breeze was flowing in the air,
And lonely crickets were yearning:
“Hey moon, generous moon…”
All the way in the dark,
A row of the trees with their full of desire sighs,
Like devotees of mysterious gods
Were constantly pleading:
“Hey moon, generous moon…”
(By Forough Farrokhzad, 1935 – 1967)
I am spending the morning sketching. Pauline will not stand still, and Francy frolicking at her hooves is no help whatsoever. Finally I pluck the rambunctious ginger kitten up by her cream-filled belly, and lay her atop of Pauline’s head. Nestled between Pauline’s drooping ears, Francy nods off, her head rolling forward and whiskers twitching in response to kitty dreams of sparrow chases. I’m wearing a navy and white striped singlet, 13-button blue denim sailor pants with black enamel fouled anchor design buttons, and rope sandals. My hamper sits on a tribal kelim beside me; I take a rejuvenating mouthful of scrumptious oven-roasted peaches and cream, and then lean forward pencil in hand and whistling a sailing tune.
“Come, come, my jolly lads, the wind’s abaft,
Brisk gales our sails shall crowd;
Then bustle, bustle, boys, haul the boat,
The boatswain pipes aloud.
All hands on board, our ship’s unmoored,
The rising gale fills ev’ry sail,
Our ship’s well manned and stored.
Then sling the flowing bowl..
Then sling the flowing bowl…
Fond hopes arise, the girls we prize
Shall bless each jovial soul;
Then the can, boys, bring,
We’ll drink and sing,
While the foaming billows roll.”
I am leaving the island tomorrow, and am packing. It is 2 am and I have thrown the red shutters of the Splendid Palace Hotel open, letting in the soft night air and silvery moonlight. No one else is awake except for scrambling compound cats tussling in the courtyard below. Francy dozes through it all, her tufted ears barely pricking up at the rowdy cat’s yowls. I’m matching socks, rolling them up pair by pair, and scowling at the orphans. Wearily, I collapse in the gold velvet over-stuffed club chair; how did I accumulate so many hose and waistcoats, and how ever will I manage to stuff them into my steamer trunk again? Ruefully, I look at my Liberty of London bird-adorned pajamas with denim blue vintage buttons, realizing that this is my 7th pair of lawn jammies. I take a desolate bite of my mushroom tart with smoked Gruyère as I survey the fashionable disarray. Are those raucous ally cats actually singing now?
“You don’t remind me of the iris in spring,
Or of dawn on the mountain when the bluebirds start to sing.
You don’t remind me of the breeze on the bay,
Or a star in the fountain where the silver fishes play.
Through the moonglow in September,
You reveal no resemblance of the first snow in November,
You’re not even a semblance.
No, you don’t remind me of the world around me,
For behind me for so much such,
My love for you blinds me,
That my darling you only remind me of you,
Of you, of you.”
(By the indomitable Cole P-o-r-t-e-r)
Riding the choppy waters back to the Turkish mainland, I was reminded of another watery trip. It was one of those summer days in San Francisco when the fog spits at you, as if to remind you that even if it is summer elsewhere, here is remains dank. I was trying to escape the chill and my troubled heart by sailing on a ferry to Sausalito. I stood over the boat’s stern, and watched the city recede, thermos of hot chocolate in hand. Brooding is uncomplicated when leaving something, and I carried a one-way ticket to a well-deserved solitude in my cold and cramped little hand. I buttoned my navy wool pea coat’s silver buttons and shivered. A rousing sailor’s song will be my company in this peevish leave-taking.
“Le corsair “Le Grand Coureur“, est un navir‘ de malheur,
Quand il se met en croisière, pour aller chasser l’Anglais.
Le vent, la mer et la guerre tournent contre le Français!
Allons les gars, gai, gai, allons les gars gaiment.”
I buttoned my light blue Oxford shirt, and stood over my streamer trunk looking at the wild jumble of trousers, waistcoats, cravats, hose, jackets, and other fashionable riff-raff. A natural and black striped linen waistcoat caught my eye, and I freed it from its prison. I shook out as many wrinkles as I could, and fastened the eight flashy gold fleur-de-lys buttons. If I don’t return home soon, some of my excessive belongings must do so in my stead. Hearing a raucous commotion in the alley below, I rushed to the balcony only to see a solitary gypsy standing boots spread on a mound of dirt and playing the accordion. Sitting at the little red painted metal table on the geranium festooned baloney, I ate garlicky Çılbır and drank mint tea while being serenaded.
“Ich bin die fesche Lola, der Liebling der Saison!
Ich hab’ ein Pianola zu Haus’ in mein’ Salon
Ich bin die fesche Lola, mich liebt ein jeder Mann
doch an mein Pianola, da laß ich keinen ran!
doch an mein Pianola, da laß ich keinen ran!”
(By F. Hollander, Frederick, R. Liebmann, R. Rillo)
Where and what is home? Is home the collected sweet memories of childhood; the smell of celery salt as I help my grandmother season potato salad, or the feeling of icy creek water as I dive in naked to swim to the rock in the middle. Is home contained in the soothing, warm space formed by the love of my family and friends? Is home my apartment, my past and my present signified by mementos, the walls painted with my favorite colors, the spicy scent of Luxo Banho sandalwood soap in my shower….my home a beautiful cave which shelters and comforts me. The nature of home is what I contemplate as I ponder whether to travel east or west. As I walk down the dark alleys of Istanbul, I wrap my black full-length leather cloak tighter and fasten its black conical horn buttons to ward of the chill of indecision. I see a pale yellow light spilling from a pink painted doorway, and enter into a tiny full teahouse. Soon I have a cup of steaming mint tea, a plate of rolls, and a pot of cornalian cherry marmalade to spread upon the bread.
“They call it stormy Monday,
But Tuesday’s just as bad
They call it stormy Monday,
But Tuesday’s just as bad
Lord and Wednesday’s worse,
Thursday’s oh so sad.”
(By the legendary T-Bone Walker)
I have now spent 12 days in Istanbul mulling over whether to turn east or west. I feel unreasonably fortunate that at least I have eliminated the directions of north and south. I am drifting down a narrow alley, bound on both sides by crumbling old houses and shops. Dragging my boot heels, I turn left and run into a gentleman wearing a British banker’s suit, a bowler hat, and carrying a leather briefcase in his left hand and a tall black umbrella in his right. We bounce off of one another in astonishment, me in my leather cloak, and he in his black flannel suit. A classic black horn button flies off of his cuff, and rolls into the doorway of another teahouse. We follow the button’s pathway, and sit down at a worn wooden table together, ordering a dinner of Salep and Adana kebab on flat-bread. He twirls his grey handlebar moustache, and says, “Let me tell you about the time I walked around the world. Once I visited an archeological dig near the border. ” The strolling accordionist comes closer, and I listen.
“When I was just a child in school
I asked my teacher what should I try
Should I paint pictures
Should I sing songs
This was her wise reply
Que sera sera
Whatever will be will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera sera”
(By J. Livingston, Jay & R. Evans)
The British banker leaned back against the kilim-covered bench, unbuttoned the matte gold double unicorn buttons on his black flannel waistcoat, took a slurp of sweet Salep, and began his tale. This is what he told me; “it was 1968 and I had taken a year off to walk the world eastwards from London. It was late afternoon, and I was on my way to the Kelishin Pass to study Urartian-Assyrian artifacts. I was tired and muddy, having tramped across the lush Qadar River Valley and through several buffalo wallows. I hoped to spend a rejuvenating evening at the archeological excavation Hasanlu before taking off to the pass. Straightening my felt bowler hat, I strode past the dusty trenches, asking for Dr. Dyson. That night found me contentedly sitting at a long table lit with kerosene lamps, eating spicy yogurt dip on dried flatbread crackers, drinking icy beers, listening to Mick Jagger sing “Wild Horses”, while playing five card stud with a motley group of academics.”
“Childhood living is easy to do
The things you wanted I bought them for you
Graceless lady, you know how I am
You know I can’t let you slide through my hands
Wild horses couldn’t drag me away
Wild, wild horses, couldn’t drag me away”
(By K. Richards and M. Jagger)
He continued with his adventurous tale; “The next day, I awoke at dawn, dressed in my white broadcloth shirt, navy and yellow regimental necktie, navy flannel suit with navy blue enamel and gold metal blazer buttons, ate a simple breakfast of feta cheese, naan, green herbs, fruit compote, bracing hot tea, and took off for Kelishin Pass. Although there were small hordes of Kurdish brigands firing at one another, they appeared sufficiently taken aback by the sight of a British banker striding through the mountains to leave me alone. The Urartian-Assyrian inscription was magnificent, and I reflected on Friedrich Eduard Schulz’s unhappy fate as I dodged bullets during the return trip.” He took another sip of Salep, brushed a few stray crumbs from his otherwise immaculate moustache, and smiled across the table at me. I ruminated on danger and beauty, and waved for some rejuvenating hot tea as the teahouse’s musicians fired up another tune.
“Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Denn das ist meine Welt.
Und sonst gar nichts.
Das ist, was soll ich machen,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.”
(By F. Hollaender)
I thought carefully about the British banker’s tale as I boarded the plane. I wanted to follow in his footsteps, but I also wanted my life of baking a gloriously simple yogurt cake at 3 am with an insomniac cat winding her way impatiently between my ankles. I wanted to wander in the desert singing sailor shanty tunes to Pauline, occasionally stopping to dance with dusty nomads at night under the silvery stars. I wanted adventure, and I wanted solitude, and I wanted comfort, and I wanted company. All my worries led back to my definition of “home”, and I wondered where my heart would rest. The cabin lights dimmed, and I watched Istanbul disappear as we took off. I fastened the oak buttons on my oatmeal cable-knit fisherman sweater, and turned on my iPod.
“You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground”
Water dissolving and water removing
There is water at the bottom of the ocean
Under the water, carry the water
Remove the water from the bottom of the ocean
Water dissolving and water removing”
(By B. Eno, J. Harrison, D. Byrne, T. Weymouth, C. Frantz)
The airplane carries me forward. If I grew wings, this is how I would fly; slicing through fat, silvery clouds and occasionally swooping, one wing dipping down gracefully while the other wing shoots upwards. I open “Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark” by J. Geniesse, and find my dog-eared marker. The person snoozing next to me is wearing a cocoa brown herringbone jacket with antique gold metal buttons, and every time they shift, the wool jacket releases the heady, seductive smell of amber and lavender. I remember and sigh, then skip forward to another wistful song.
“Sunday morning and I’m falling
I’ve got a feeling I don’t want to know
Early dawning, Sunday morning
It’s all the streets you crossed, not so long ago
Watch out, the world’s behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all”
(By L. Reed and J. Cale)
The plane is flying low enough over the Alps so that I can glimpse verdant backyards with swimming pools set into them like Lapis Lazuli. My left calf cramps, and I shift in my seat uncomfortably. I feel a soft wiggling in my pocket, and Francy’s ginger head pokes out as she shakes the sleep from her ears. Just then the stewardess arrives with a metal pot of hot Lahijan Spring tea for me, a plate of Schrafft’s butterscotch cookies, and a tiny saucer of rich cream for Francy. She leans over and asks solicitously if we need anything else, so I ask for a needle and thread to replace the mother-of-pearl shell buttons on some shirts, and get out my maroon velveteen mending kit. The tea is a wee bit strong, so I add a little sugar from my bowl to sweeten it up.
“I want a little sugar
In my bowl
I want a little sweetness
Down in my soul”
(By N. Simone/B. Smith)
I stagger off of the airplane, a little woozy from too little sleep and too much sugar. It has been a long ride home. I wander over to baggage claims, and have the good sense to be chagrined at the volume of steamers, hatboxes, and valises that await me. A dashing porter in a marine blue suit with gold epaulets assists me, piling my bags and boxes up carefully, and whistling for a cab to ferry me home. I look out of the window grateful to be on land once again; at this very minute, San Francisco feels like home, with the silvery damp fog rolling in over Twin Peaks, the Sisters soliciting donations in front of Café Flore, and bicyclists of all ages whizzing by me with their handlebar streamers flowing in the wind. I fasten the deep navy vintage buttons on my midnight blue velveteen wide-lapelled jacket, wrap my white silk scarf around my neck tightly to keep out the evening chill, and wonder how my cat at home will take to Francy. A song comes on the radio, and I doze.
“It is an odd thing, but everyone who disappears is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be a delightful city, and possess all the attractions of the next world.” – Oscar Wilde
I fit my key into my apartment’s front door lock, and turn it slowly and deliberately. I want to draw out the moment of homecoming, savor each second of reuniting myself with my splendid cave. I open the door a three inch crack, and hear Lulu’s persistent welcome chirps and meows at my feet. She rubs her head against my black boots and oxblood leather spats and gazes up at me reproachfully, while gnawing on my spat’s Italian bronze metal buttons. I scoop her up, and she relaxes in my arms, her limbs limp with adoration. After dragging my voluminous baggage into the hallway, I put on a kettle for tea, and hunker down with Lulu in my arms and Francy peeking out cautiously from my jacket pocket. I take a nibble of a sliver of tangy lemon torte, and lean back happily as Bryan Ferry belts out a welcome home song.
“They asked me how I knew
My true love was true
Oh, I of course replied
Something here inside cannot be denied.
They said someday you’ll find
All who love are blind
Oh, when your heart’s on fire
You must realize
Smoke gets in your eyes”
(By J. Kern, O. Harbach)
It is swell to be home, where I can sleepily shuffle my way into my kitchen at 2am to snack on hot goat cheese stuffed tomatoes, or languish in my worn ruby red velveteen récamier until 1pm listening to folk songs. I have not ventured outside yet, content to slumber and nosh. The cats are uneasy housemates, Francy waiting until Lulu is asleep to ferociously pat at her bushy, twitching grey striped tail. It is noon, and I am channeling Oscar Wilde, while reclining on my récamier in my grey tone-on-tone striped cotton lawn pajamas, vintage orange velvet smoking jacket with black and gold striped buttons, and sipping Darjeeling tea and eating buttered toast.
“There was an old man and he lived in the West,
And his trade was a-cutting of broom, green broom;
He had but one son and his name it was John,
And he lied abed till ’twas noon, bright noon,
And he lied abed till ’twas noon.
The old man arose and to his son goes,
And swore he’d set fire to his room, his room,
If he would not rise and unbutton his eyes,
And away to the woods from green broom, green broom,
And away to the woods for green broom.”
(English folk song. Sharp’s One Hundred English Folksongs, Boston, 1916)
I’m lazy. Some people call it procrastination, but in my little black heart, I know better. If I had my way, I would spend day after day in my pajamas, with only occasional outdoor forays to ensure that my rudimentary social skills are up to par. Telephones, texting, chat, and email were invented for introverts and loafers like myself. My friends disagree with my hermit ways, so I’m dourly dressing to meet the gang at Alaturca in the Tenderloin. I am wearing a cream cotton button-down shirt, red and mustard foulard bow-tie, red suede waistcoat with silver and gold anchor buttons, an espresso brown lambskin leather jacket, blue denim 501s, red socks, and brown monk strap wingtip shoes with perforated spiral detailing. It is difficult to feel cranky when wearing a bow-tie, and while anticipating havoc kizartmasi, and lamb Adana kebab with my lovely pals. I leave my apartment, while whistling a Turkish tune.
“Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night
Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you’ve a date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul”
(By J. Kennedy, N. Simon)
Francy and Lulu are deep in the middle of The Frisky Hour, that time of morning after they have eaten their kitty kibbles and feel driven to chase imaginary creatures about the apartment. I am drinking strong sweet coffee and eating warm chocolate bread pudding in bed, wearing brown tone-on-tone striped pajamas with a stampede of black Scottish Terrier horn buttons up the front, and reading the book review section of the Sunday New York Times. Suddenly the wacked out felines scamper in all wild and gleaming-eyed, and leap onto the bed. Francy misjudges, and falls back with an ungraceful thud. I lift the paper up a few inches so she can’t see me snicker, and hum a tune as if nothing had happened.
“In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows, anything goes”
(Who else….Cole Porter)
Sometimes it is necessary to run around town in the cool of the night; grab some grub, slouch in a dark theater getting lost in a flick, and then broodingly meander home in the damp fog. I feel coolly insolent tonight, so decide to go out for Turkish food and then to the Castro Theater for Tennessee William’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Stanley has nothing on me, so I dress in a tight white tee-shirt, flat-front slacks, low black scuffed boots, and a black leather bomber jacket. I shove on a loden green Harris Tweed hat that I have accented with an Italian bronze button engraved with an arabesque motif, then take off for Troya in the Inner Richmond for plate of mezas, and a swingin’ time.
“I’m gonna keep on the run
I’m gonna have me some fun
If it costs me my very last dime
If I wind up broke up well
I’ll always remember that I had a swingin’ time
I’m gonna give it ev’rything I’ve got
Lady luck please let the dice stay hot
Let me shout a seven with ev’ry shot
Viva Las Vegas, Viva Las Vega
Viva, Viva Las Vegas”
(By D. Pomus, M. Shuman)
Public transport is a crap-shot, but usually I like surprises. Tonight’s ride is no different; I’m on the 38 Geary chugging towards Troya with a bus full of boisterous, lanky teenage boys, weary middle-aged office workers, and package-laden grannies. I am sitting behind someone yapping on a cell phone, with an extravagantly feathered headdress atop a cascade of bright blue ringlets, and wearing an electric blue silk suit adorned with square rhinestone festooned amber Lucite buttons. I’m torn between the pleasures of eavesdropping, and the desire to grab some privacy. My love of crass gossip wins, and I pluck my ear-buds from my ear just in time to hear them burst into “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”.
“After one whole quart of brandy
Like a daisy, I’m awake
With no Bromo-Seltzer handy
I don’t even shake
Men are not a new sensation
I’ve done pretty well I think
But this half-pint imitation
Put me on the blink
I’m wild again, beguiled again
A simpering, whimpering child again
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered – am I”
(By Rodgers and Hart)
I’m sitting on a cold concrete park bench at night, not thinking about much of anything. The moon is out, and shining with a white gleam through the Ginkgo tree branches. The midnight air is sodden with San Francisco dankness – a mixture of salty ocean and fog. I shiver, buttoning the triple crown engraved silver buttons of my vintage black velveteen Nehru jacket, and wrapping my red mohair scarf around my neck thrice to ward off the chill. It is the beautiful night, full of promises and wishes.
“If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do
Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true”
(By L. Harline and N. Washington)
There is a restaurant around the corner from my apartment that serves only round food. It is called Alimentaire Ronde, and has a soothing circular outdoor patio that is paved with a spiral of mossy granite stones, and it is sheltered under an arbor of grapevines. It is Friday night, and I have dressed for dinner in a three-piece natural and charcoal grey herringbone alpaca wide-lapelled suit, a worn cream-colored linen shirt, a grey tone-on-tone polka-dotted bow-tie, black brogues, and silvery snakeskin spats with antique silver metal button fasteners. I start with an appetizer of spicy baked mozzarella ciliegine Arrabiata, then order a wee round orange ceramic pie dish of soothingly yummy shepherd’s pie. I have warm cherries Jubilee over scoops of melting vanilla-specked ice-cream for dessert, and feel very roly-poly as I stroll home by the light of the round, full moon.
“Moon River, wider than a mile,
I’m crossing you in style some day.
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,
Wherever you’re going I’m going your way.
Two drifters off to see the world.
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end–
Waiting ’round the bend,
My huckleberry friend,
Moon River and me.”
(By H. Mancini and J. Mercer)
I’ve been feeling like the world’s most boring slacker, my brain as flaccid and interesting as a cold, wet noodle. In my quest for self-betterment, I have enrolled in the Fortune Flag Book making course at the San Francisco Center for the Book. It is 2 am and I’m sifting through my collection of fortunes; my favorite is “You are prefect in every way”, and although I believe they meant “perfect”, I’m not buying it. I toss the less flattering fortunes to the cats, and then disrobe, leaving my navy and wine Liberty paisley pajamas with black etched horn buttons hung over my cherry bedpost. Bubble baths and scones split with melting butter often cure melancholy, and I’m hoping they will do their magic tonight.
“Every cloud must have a silver lining
Wait until the sun shines through
Smile my honey dear, while I kiss away each tear
Or else I shall be melancholy too!”
(By E. Burnett and G. Norton)
It is the night of the slivery, cool moon…..a sad moon hanging low and glistening with lover’s hopes, but not mine. I am sitting on my black horsehair-covered récamier in the bay window, worn golden velvet drapes pushed to one side, and one cat posed upon each knee like the lions in front of the New York Public Library. I’ve been reading “The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them” by the illustrious Elif Batuman, and have my copy turned upside down and dog-eared beside me. The timer goes off with a long low buzz, causing both cats to spring forth with alarm. I rise, fastening the feathered looking black and silvery grey plastic buttons on my grey cable-knit old man’s v-neck cardigan sweater with brown suede panels, and amble to the kitchen to remove a luscious strawberry rhubarb crumble from the oven. Red, warm crumble with soothing, white cream in a pottery dish is perfection for even the gloomiest.
“They’re writing songs of love, but not for me,
A lucky star’s above, but not for me,
With love to lead the way,
I found more clouds of grey,
Than any Russian play could guarantee.”
(By G. Gershwin)
I have bought an assortment of lustrous Liberty of London cotton lawn to make a new quilt, as my old one is a tattered collection of motley looking rags. I am making a quilt of swirling five-pointed stars, on an inky blue-black background. I have my fabric out on the Balouch carpet in my living room, the Liberty colors spread out over the center medallions like wing feathers. I am wearing navy wool pleated pants with a matching double-breasted waistcoat with five rows of gunmetal blazer buttons embossed with Royal Engineers crowns, and a softly worn white cotton button-down shirt with holey elbows.
“And now…Now I’m busy…Busy again
I feel like sitting down but
I’m still thinking…Thinking about my friends
In my guarded moments
But now I’m speaking out
Speaking about my friends
Now I’m speaking out
Thinking about my friends”
(By D. Byrne)
Sometimes the day exists for the clothing, and this is one of those days. The sun is shining valiantly through the fog over Twin Peaks, and I am strutting down Sanchez, twirling my ebony cane in time to music. There is a silvery grey tabby sitting on a windowsill of an Edwardian flat, delicate cream-colored lace curtains framing her furry bulk, and peering at the world sleepily. I’m heading for Samovar Lounge for one of their bracingly delectable Russian snacks consisting of tarragon-marinated beets, smoked whitefish with horseradish, paprika devilled egg with a sprinkle of black caviar, crackers, fruit, a chocolate brownie, and samovar-brewed house-blend black tea tempered with cream and sugar. My deep brown Glenn plaid three-piece suit has a touch of ultramarine blue and ocher woven into it accessorized with brown enamel and gold metal blazer buttons, and I am wearing a crisp white cotton shirt with French cuffs, an ocher silk knit tie, ultramarine blue striped silk hose, black highly shined blüchers, and a brown wool felt bowler hat.
“They seek him here, they seek him there,
His clothes are loud, but never square.
It will make or break him so he’s got to buy the best,
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.”
(By R. Davies)
I’m up baking at 3am. There isn’t a full moon. I’m not unhappy, dissatisfied, or cranky. I’m not even slightly moody, however I am absolutely awake. I’m making a batch of banana coconut bread pudding, with a handful of candied ginger for bite. Sashaying to “Ladies Who Lunch”, I whisk the eggs and sugar together until they are thick and creamy, and then add melted butter, cinnamon, Madagascar vanilla, and whole milk. I toss in a teaspoon of ground nutmeg, because I adore nutmeg. I’m barefoot and wearing worn denim overalls, with a tattered wool and cotton blend Campbell plaid shirt fastened with vintage engraved navy buttons. The kitchen smells deliciously of spices, black tea, and Ethiopian food from dinner earlier, and the cats are sleeping on the bed, waiting for me to join them.
“Here’s to the ladies who lunch–
Lounging in their caftans
And planning a brunch
On their own behalf.
Off to the gym,
Then to a fitting,
Claiming they’re fat.
And looking grim,
‘Cause they’ve been sitting
Choosing a hat.
Does anyone still wear a hat?
I’ll drink to that.”
(By S. Sondheim)
I believe that it was once said that a little Gershwin is good for the digestion. Or perhaps I’m not remembering that correctly at all, and they said that Gershwin was good for a little soft-shoe in the living room. At any rate, I have decided to get an early start making gifts for my pals who have birthdays this winter, so have garnered scraps of fabric from my stash, and am sewing herbal eye pillows. Gershwin is playing, the cats are plying me with furry ankle hugs in hopes that I will relent and make a pillow filled with catnip, and the air smells of soothing lavender and spicy sandalwood. I’m wearing black 501s, a black ribbed cotton turtleneck sweater, a mustard-colored suede waistcoat with seven closely spaced hammered gold and silver buttons, and black and mustard stripped socks. I feel as industrious as a bee, and as sweet as a honeycomb.
“I’ve just finished writing an advertisement
Calling for a boy.
No half-hearted Romeo or flirt is meant;
That’s the kind I’d not employ.
Though anybody interested can apply,
He must know a thing or two to qualify.
The movies he must avoid,
He’ll know his Nietzsche and Freud.
I said a boy wanted
Trousers well pressed.
He must have wonderful eyes;
He must wear wonderful ties.
I want a boy who’ll always look as though
He’s only just come out of Savile Row.
So if some Paris wants a Helen of Troy-oh!
Just tell him that
I’m wanting a boy.”
(By the illustrious G. Gershwin)
I have decided to take up a sport; I don’t want anything too unseemly and sweaty, and would prefer an activity requiring a uniform, as I’m always interested in a fabulous change of clothing. After a friend invites me to a game of table tennis or “wiff-waff” at the Sunset Recreation Center, I’m decided; any game which has been played with paddles made of cigar box lids and balls made of champagne corks, is my kind of sport! There does not seem to be a standardized outfit, and I am forced by propriety to invent one. I am wearing a dark grey wool beret, a grey and olive green narrowly striped knit top, black heavy cotton knit sailor pants fastened with 13 Italian silver fouled anchor buttons, grey ribbed cotton socks, and black and natural canvass Vivienne Westwood casual shoes with silver side and heel buckles. Whistling “No Strings”, I saunter down the street to meet my friend for a rowdy game of ping-pong.
“I wake up every morning with a smile on my face
Everything in its place as it should be
I start out every morning just as free as the breeze
My cares upon the shelf
Because I find myself with
No strings and no connections
No ties to my affections
I’m fancy free and free for anything fancy”
(By Irving Berlin)
Later on tonight, I am having guests over for snacks and board games. I stack the games on top of my Limbert oval library table, and survey the bounty; I want to cover all bases, so have Chutes and Ladders and Candyland for the young at heart, Monopoly for the blood-thirsty, and Scrabble for the intellectuals. I am making chilled sesame squares, baked brie with sweet caramelized onions, cornmeal-coated fried smelts, and chewy rice crispie treats. Francy and Lulu find the smelts inveigling, invigorating, and intensely interesting, so for everyone’s good have been temporarily shunted into the bathroom. I turn up the music and dress, clipping my doggie-print brocade bow tie to the collar of my cream cotton lawn shirt, and fastening the striped mother of pearl shell buttons on my butterscotch-colored leather vest.
“Les escaliers de la butte sont durs aux misereux
Les ailes du moulin protegent les amoureux
Petite mandigotte je sens ta menotte qui cherche ma main
Je sens ta poitrine et ta taille fine
J’oublie mon chagrin
Je sens sur tes levres une odeur de fievre de gosse mal nourri
Et sous ta caresse je sens une ivresse qui m’aneantit”
(By G. Van Parys and J. Renoir)
It is bedtime for Lulu, Francy and myself. It is an unusually chilly summer in San Francisco; the fog settles damply, and the moon and the street lamps cast a romantic glow over the boulevard. I draw the velvet drapes shut against the cold night, and call the cats to bed. I’m wearing red and white striped flannel pajamas with vibrant red pig silhouette buttons. We snuggle under my threadbare quilt, Lulu curled tightly next to my knee, and Francy sprawled lengthwise against my ribcage. Despite the soft kitty snores, I read them a Hilaire Belloc cautionary tale as I eat my in-bed midnight snack of a handful of crispy sablé cookies and a cup of hot, warming spiced anise tea.
“Matilda told such dreadful lies,
It made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes;
Her aunt, who, from her earliest youth,
Had kept a strict regard for truth,
Attempted to believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not she
Discovered this infirmity.
For once, towards the close of day,
Matilda, growing tired of play
And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe to the telephone
And summoned the immediate aid
Of London’s noble Fire-Brigade.”
I am spending the afternoon in the secret fairie garden at Golden Gate Part, so have packed a picnic basket of food from heaven and below; there are deviled eggs, angel food cake and devil’s food cake, and the garlic-infused Turkish eggplant dish İmam bayıldı, or And the Priest Fainted. Stretched out on my striped wool Hudson’s Bay point blanket, I unbutton the funnel-shaped gold button on my slate grey corduroy jeans, nibble cake, and read poetry to the capricious Monarch butterflies.
“With seed the sowers scatter
The furrows as they go;
Poor lads, ’tis little matter
How many sorts they sow,
For only one will grow.
The charlock on the fallow
Will take the traveller’s eyes,
And gild the ploughland sallow
With flowers before it dies.
But twice ’twill not arise.
The stinging nettle only
Will still be found to stand:
The numberless, the lonely,
The thronger of the land,
The leaf that hurts the hand.
It thrives, come sun, come showers,
Blow east, blow west, it springs;
It peoples towns, and towers
About the courts of Kings,
And touch it and it stings.
(By the ever proper A. E. Houseman)
It is 3 pm on an overcast, breezy Sunday afternoon, and I’m off to meet my favorite trio of international sailors at Stella Pastry and Café in North Beach. I’ve eaten nothing since an early Southern breakfast of Virginia ham sandwiched between two halves of beaten biscuits, peppery scrambled eggs, and a carafe of hot, sweet candy bar coffee to wash all that goodness down. In honor of my nautical crew, I am wearing a navy wool pea-coat with gleaming silver rope-entwined anchor buttons, black leather 13-button sailor pants, a black ribbed pullover, a 5’ long red and white striped muffler, and scuffed black lace-up ankle boots.
“In the navy
Yes, you can sail the seven seas
In the navy
Yes, you can put your mind at ease
In the navy
Come on people, fall an’ make a stand
In the navy, in the navy
Can’t you see we need a hand”
(By those sea-faring folks….The Village People)
Like so many before, it is another night of nocturnal wandering. I have managed to snag a hot chocolate at Tartine Bakery before they shuttered down for the evening, and am making my starry way to Delores Park. The palm trees wave under the half moon, and the silvery fog over Twin Peaks splatters into town promising to hide all imperfections and beauty alike. I make my way to a green bench near the picnic area, and sit with one spats adorned leg crossed over the other, sipping my beverage. My spats are fastened with five domed Italian silver metal buttons on each side, and my plumy purple vintage Nehru suit is a perfect foil to the spats’ spicy mustard yellow leather. A vagrant stumbles past, strumming a wooden ukulele and singing “Bohemian Rhapsody”; I mull over Asian music star Freddie Mercury, reinvention, and the oddness that is San Francisco.
“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see
I’m just a poor boy (Poor boy)
I need no sympathy
Because I’m easy come, easy go
Little high, little low
Any way the wind blows
Doesn’t really matter to me, to me”
(By the dearly departed Freddie Mercury – 1975)
It is another autumnal weekend, and I am preparing for winter like a rusty red Chickaree squirrel…by canning peach jam with vim and vigor. I have buckets of fuzzy peaches from the Civic Center Farmer’s Market, and am swinging my hips to the music as I merrily stir a sugary mixture of peaches, sugar, fragrant cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, and tiny sour lemons from my pal’s backyard. Barry White is crooning lustily in the background, and my sweaty black and white striped button-down shirt with iridescent mother of pearl buttons is askew. Even Lulu and Francy look disconcertedly disheveled.
“Oh no, babe
My darling, I can’t get enough of your love babe
Yeah, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know why
Can’t get enough of your love babe
Oh my darling, I can’t get enough of your love babe
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know why
I can’t get enough of your love babe
(By the luscious, B. White)
Food and love…what else is there? I suppose there is also music, fashion, and poetry. This is the list of the objects of my affection that I have swirling in my head as I cross the boulevard on the way to meet you, and I am particularly enamored of Hafiz today. Chinese Elm and Flowering Pear trees shelter me, and I step off the curb onto the path of a rusted forest green Volkswagen Beatle. The car clatters to a halt, and I’m grateful to be spared an accident. The lattice-topped cherry pie that I made you starts to tumble, but I nonchalantly set it upright, dust off the cuffs of my leaf green and turquoise cotton paisley shirt with ivory bone buttons, wave insolently at the VW driver, and continue onwards.
“I beg thee that to no one else thou showest
These words I send in such a hidden way
That none but thou may cipher what I say ;
Read them in some safe place as best thou knowest.”
When in her heart these words of mine thou sowest
For Hafiz, speak in any tongue thou knowest;
Turkish and Arabic in love are one
Love speaks all languages beneath the sun.”
(Hafiz, Ode 566)
And was a day like any other day, and now it is a night like any other night. It is cooler now, the moon high and full of silvery sweetness. The fog is back, with a damp whispery drizzle that dissipates before it even reaches the sidewalk. Rosemary and lavender grow bushy and wild alongside the crumbly pavement, and I pick sprigs of each to thread through the lapel of my espresso brown wide-wale corduroy jacket with silver equestrian buttons. Rosemary is for remembrance and lavender for drowsiness, but together they make me think of the scents of garlicky soup in steamy kitchens and luxurious candle-lit bubble baths. And as always……you.
“I go out walking after midnight
Out in the moonlight just like we used to do
I’m always walking after midnight searching for you
I walk for miles along the highway
Well that’s just my way of saying I love you
I’m always walking after midnight searching for you
I stopped to see a weeping willow
Crying on his pillow maybe he’s crying for me
And as the skies turn gloomy
Night blooms will whisper to me I’m lonesome as I can be”
(By written by D. Hecht and A. Block, and sung by the melodious Patsy Cline)
Francy and Lulu, what a pair of unrepentant feline hobgoblins they have become! I have come home after a long evening slithering about the darkened park playground, scooting down cold metal slides and flying into the night air on swings, only to find them skulking nervously in the kitchen, and a trail of loose white goose feathers from the entrance hallway all the through to the living room. In the center of the living room Persian carpet is their mauled prey….a deflated and thoroughly dead pillow with feathers scattered over the carpet like blood. I remove my taupe suede waistcoat with square black leather buttons, and my black Frye lace-up boots, and then return to the kitchen for a fortifying 2 am snack of crusty Italian bread topped with garlicky marinated anchovies, accompanied by some soft-shoe with my wee kitty delinquents.
“Everybody loves a lover
I’m a lover, everybody loves me
Anyhow, that’s how I feel
Wow, I feel just like a Pollyanna”
(By R. Allen and R. Adler)
I have succeeded in growing a stunning avocado plant from just a slimy pit, shortening the sleeves of a lined vintage caramel and black hounds-tooth jacket (including moving the placket and re-sewing the lovely oxblood woven leather buttons), cooking luscious and sticky baklava from scratch, and getting my sometimes elegant prose published in sundry minor publications…..yet the waltz of friendship sometimes escapes me; my words and feelings stumble as we talk, and I curse my two left feet. My most recent fortune read, “Your loyalties are clear when it comes to friends”, which leaves me I’m wondering if fate knows something that I don’t, because my loyalties feel muddily unclear right now.
I can fly like a bird in the sky
I can buy anything that money can buy
Can turn a river into a raging flood
I can live forever if I so decide
Ain’t happy am I with all the powers that I possess,
Oh, you’re the key, ’cause
I can’t get next to you, babe
Can’t get next to you.”
(By N. Whitfield and B. Strong)
It is a breezy morning, with the sweet smell of the changing seasons in the air, so I’m bicycling to the beach for a meditative walk along the sand. It is a straight stretch to Ocean Beach, and I’m flying….my coat-tails flapping behind me like dove wings. I’ve unbuttoned my cream-colored linen jacket’s organically-shaped bone buttons, and feel delightfully well-ventilated. Once I reach my destination, I dismount, chain up my bike, and amble to the shore; I want to wet my feet in the salty Pacific Ocean. I’m looking for answers, but perhaps the answer is the feel of icy water on my toes, the rolling clouds overhead, and the delicately hopping sandpipers. I take a sip of deep green, velvety Soupe aux Orties from my thermos, and pick up the scattering of sand dollars that are nestled at my feet. Is this another answer?
“Went to the fortune teller
To have my fortune read
I didn’t know what to tell her
I had a dizzy feeling in my head”
(By A. Toussaint)
I’m feeling feverish; my forehead is sweaty and my eyes are gritty. Is it an end-of-summer cold, with little germs worming their way through my body? Is it allergies? Or maybe it is love. I cannot tell the difference at this point, so have decided not to take any chances and to recline in a darkened room sipping hot spiced chai, nibbling buttered and toasted home-baked bread with fragrant homemade strawberry jam, and reading mysteries. I’m wearing a rust-colored quilted velvet smoking jacket with a row of faux Roman coin buttons, and black silk pajama pants. Lulu and Francy are sleeping with me, Francy across my knees and Lulu by my right ear. I keep finding strands of stray kitty fur stuck to my jam, and finally exile Lulu to the end of the récamier.
“You give me fever
When you kiss me
Fever when you hold me tight
In the morning
Fever all through the night
Sun lights up the daytime
Moon lights up the night
I light up when you call my name
And you know I’m gonna treat you right”
(By E. Cooley and J. Davenport)
I’m getting prepared to go out dancing; listening to a scratchy version of La Tupungatina and drinking a glass of iced Orangina while getting dressed. I am wearing a black velveteen suit with wide lapels, a starched white linen shirt, a red silk paisley ascot, red and black brocade waistcoat adorned with faceted, matte metallic gold Czech glass buttons, red silk socks, and black patent leather shoes. I have been taking classes in tango milonguero and feel resilient enough on my feet to meet you at the local dance hall for the evening. Holding you while we move our bodies to the seductive sounds of tango is the only thing I want tonight.
“De noche, con la luna, soñando sobre el mar
el ritmo de las olas me miente su compás.
Bailemos este tango, no quiero recordar.
Mañana zarpa un barco, tal vez no vuelva más.”
(By L. Demare and H. Manzi)
I’m tramping through the Tenderloin tonight, looking for Thai food. I want something that will make my lips tingle, and finally wander into Sai Jai Thai Restaurant. After eating a dinner that has left my mouth dancing with burning happiness, I order soothing and sweet banana roti for dessert. The roti is a plate of fried sugary goodness that nestles in my belly like a kitten on a wool sweater. Walking back to my apartment, the moon smiling her blessings down at me, I feel poetic and content. The night has a chill to it, so I button the Italian honey-colored, topstitched leather buttons on my caramel and tan hounds-tooth jacket, and whistle a tune to keep me company.
“Baby, do you understand me now
Sometimes I feel a little mad.
Don’t you know that no one alive can always be an angel.
When things go wrong, it seems so bad.
I’m just a soul whose intentions are good.
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”
(By B. Benjamin, G. Caldwell and S. Marcus)
It is 10 pm, and I’m taking a hot, sandalwood-scented bath while watching Guys and Dolls. I’m not sure if there is anything finer than wafting in a deluge of bubbles, while singing along with roust-about Nicely-Nicely Johnson and eating a hugely decadent slice of coconut and pecan laced German chocolate cake. Francy and Lulu have scampered to the kitchen to get away from the mad bathroom ruckus. The movie is almost over, so I pull the plug, dry off, and get dressed for a little stroll around the neighborhood. I’m wearing black 501s, my favorite green Docs with black and fuchsia stripped socks, a black ribbed wool turtleneck sweater, and a black suede wide-lapelled waistcoat fastened with black and rhinestone sparkling buttons. I figure the buttons will help me stand out in the dark.
“I dreamed last night I got on the boat to heaven
And by some chance I had brought my dice along
And there I stood
And I hollered “Someone save me”
But the passengers, they knew right from wrong.
For the people all said sit down, sit down, you’re rockin’ the boat
People all said sit down
Sit down you’re rockin’ the boat.
And the devil will drag you under
By the sharp lapel of your checkered coat,
Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down,
Sit down you’re rockin’ the boat.”
(By F. Loesser)
My motto for the upcoming season is, “When in doubt, make shoes!” I have a deep lust for a pair of wing-tips with hand-done brogueing, and have spent night after night restlessly awake, reading “Handmade Shoes for Men” by Laszlo Vass and Magda Molnar, listening to Etta James, brushing crumbs of roasted tomato, ricotta and mascarpone tart from my drawing tablet, and sketching shoe design patterns. I have finally settled on an arabesque motif with feathery swirls surrounding fat-cheeked squirrels. These bespoke shoes will be stunning. I fasten the oak buttons on my chocolate brown cable-knit cardigan and shuffle into the kitchen to make a cup of ginger tea before retiring to bed.
“Something told me it was over
When I saw you and her talkin’
Something deep down in my soul said, ‘Cry, girl’
When I saw you and that girl walkin’ around
Whoo, I would rather, I would rather go blind, boy
Then to see you walk away from me, child, no”
(By E. Jordan and B. Foster)
You are visiting, so we are eating at Greens tonight. The panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin headlands, combined with the scrumptiousness of our dinner have almost stunned us into silence, however it takes more than the fulfillment of two senses to keep our verbal calisthenics down. I am eating a masa harina crepe filled with corn, crème fraiche and other yummy goodness, rainbow chard and kale with pumpkin seeds, and grilled squash with chipotle lime butter. You are eating a delectable squash and eggplant gratin with asiago and goat cheese custard, and grilled polenta and beans. Our quips are flowing like spring water, with just an occasional drought. Finally, gluttonous me leans back to unfasten the bottom iridescent mother of pearl shell silver rope rimmed button of my dove grey crushed velvet waistcoat; the peach blueberry galette with wildflower honey and vanilla ice cream has arrived and my happy belly needs room.
“The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.”
(From Prufrock and Other Observations by T. S. Eliot)
It is a graceful Saturday morning; the sky an unlikely periwinkle blue, wisps of smoky fog surrounding Twin Peaks, and only minor weekend errands to run. I’ve visited the local library and picked up Les Misérables by Victor Hugo to occupy my time, and returned The Persian Boy by Mary Renault and O Jerusalem by Laurie King. I’ve bought prickly thistles and velvety pussy-willows at the florist stand at Market and Noe, and am ambling to The Castro Coffee Company for some Midnight French Roast beans. I whistle a tune and unfasten the funnel-shaped, matte gold metal buttons on my care-worn burnt orange velveteen jeans jacket. The jacket pile is so soft that I want to surreptitiously pet myself, but hold off, open my crinkly striped bakery take-out bag, and take a nibble of bittersweet chocolate and cardamom cupcake instead.
“You promise me this, you promise me that
You promise me anything under the sun
Then you give me a kiss,
And you’re grabbing your hat
And you’re off to the races again
When I think of the time gone by”
(By F. Loesser)
Night is falling; a dusky violet blanket covering the city tenderly, smoothing out all of my troubles. With a night like this, all I need is a graciously tilting busker playing Falling in Love Again on the accordion, a thermos of hot sweetened tea, and a pocket-full of caramel au beurre sale wrapped in waxed paper to keep them from gathering packet lint. I have everything I need in spades. I lean jauntily against a metal lamppost in my navy wool sailor pants with 13 shiny wine-colored leather buttons, black ribbed turtle-neck, and pea-coat, and let the intense burnt sugar caramels melt softly in my mouth.
“Failing in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
Can’t help it
Love’s always been my game
Play it as I may
I was born that way
Can’t help it”
(By F. Hollander and S. Lerner)
It was the type of early evening that made one glad to find a quiet seat on the bus. I rested my weariness next to a man of an uncertain age who was silently reading Immortal Queen: Mary Queen Of Scots by Elizabeth Byrd. Night was starting its early autumn descent, and even the normally rambunctious teenagers were quiet, knowing that winter’s chill and rain would soon arrive. I got off at Laguna, and stumbled the five long blocks home. Once inside, I walked down my apartment’s long narrow hallway, with its deep apricot-colored walls to the living room, to where you were sitting in a leather recliner, absinthe cocktail in hand and Maine Coon cat on lap. I hung up my rust and grey hounds-tooth wool jacket with sienna horn buttons, and collapsed on the récamier with a hearty groan. You leaned over to pop a chocolate into my mouth, and hand me a pottery mug of hot spiced cider. Nina Simone is singing in the background, and my sock-clad feet are cradled in your lap next to the cat, and all is peaceful now.
“I loves you, Porgy,
Don’t let him take me
Don’t let him handle me
And drive me mad
If you can keep me
I wanna stay here with you forever
And I’ll be glad”
(By I. Gershwin, D. Heyward, G. Gershwin)
Something about today’s morning light makes me think of Morocco in the 1950s. The sun feels like it has been filtered through some bohemian expatriate’s desires and literary yearnings. I swear that I smell cumin and ginger as I walk down the alley, and white flowering jasmine hangs over the sidewalk filling the air with its beautifully cloying scent and scattering petals in the 10 am breeze. A tiny petal drifts down, falling on the toe of my black monk-straps. I lean over to pick it up, and straighten up to the sounds of ‘The Garden’ drifting from an open window. It is starting to drizzle, so I fasten the Italian taupe buttons on my trench coat and mull over the voice of Paul Bowles. I turn left in search for a coffee shop; I want a giant warming mug of spicy hot chocolate with marshmallows.
“We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”
Paul Bowles (novelist, composer, and poet)
Will I ever stop worriedly mulling things over? Could I spend my nights holed up in my steamy kitchen, baking galettes while listening to Marlene Dietrich? That is my new goal; an oblivious and content mind full of cookery and music. This is my first night of my resolution; the apartment reeks of baking pastry and I am eating a warm slice of blackberry and apple galette with burnt sugar ice-cream. I am not, peaceful though, but rather sulkily peevish. I tilt the bowl to slurp the last of the melted ice-cream, and wander off to my bed. I’m wearing dark paisley Liberty of London pajamas with navy piping and engraved vintage navy buttons. Once covered with sheets and quilts, I grab Lulu and Francy for feline company.
“I can’t give you anything but love, baby.
That’s the only thing I’ve plenty of, baby.
Dream a while, scheme a while.
We’re sure to find,
Happiness, and I guess
All those things you’ve always pined for.”
(By J. McHugh and D. Fields)
I’m wandering the TechnoCRAFT exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts looking for the ubiquitous Eames hack high chair that has been seen about town as the feature image for the show. I finally find it, knee holes intact, but minus the spaghetti strewn toddler. I stand in front of the chair thoughtfully, wondering about building a window-seat out of my collection of vintage dusty encyclopedias from the 1960s. Finally my belly growls in cultural rebellion, so I fasten the ebony knob buttons on my deep ocher full-length velvet cloak, and then walk in the fall drizzle to the Samovar Tea Lounge. Once there, I order a pot of Lapsang Souchong tea, a creamy curried egg salad sandwich, a small salad with tart tarragon-balsamic vinaigrette, and some sweet chocolate chip brioche bread pudding to round things out. Turning up my iPod and stirring cream and sugar into my tea, I resist singing along with B. J. Thomas.
“Raindrops keep falling on my head
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothin’ seems to fit
Those raindrops are falling on my head, they keep falling”
(B. Bacharach and H. David)
I’m hurrying to meet you, running in hopes of avoiding too much of the coming rain. There is something about the approaching silvery drizzle that reminds me of rushing home after school, with my canvass book-bag filled with tattered notebooks, class textbooks, lunch remains, and my recorder thumping against my back. If I arrived home drenched from an icy autumn downpour, my mother would serve me steamy hot chocolate with miniature marshmallows dissolving on top, and buttery, crunchy cinnamon toast. I make it to the café just as the storm hits, and duck in gratefully, unbuttoning my tan leather jacket with two-toned quadrilateral vintage buttons. I order luscious sweet potato gnocchi with brown butter thyme sauce from the black-haired waitress with the embroidery scissors tattooed upon her wrist, and she brings it to me in a turquoise blue rough pottery bowl. She whistles as she walks away.
“When I was young, I fell in love
I asked my sweetheart what lies ahead
Will we have rainbows, day after day
Here’s what my sweetheart said.
Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.”
(By J. Livingston, Jay and R. Evans)
It is 4 am and my small apartment smells of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, allspice, and coffeecake from the front hallway, through the living room, and into the library and bedroom. A gang of literary ne’er-do-wells is due here in six hours for a brunch potluck, before we take off for a raucous afternoon street fair. I love baking in the middle of the night; roaming the halls with nagging insomnia. I’m in my coziest peacock feather patterned Liberty pajamas trimmed in narrow black velvet piping, and fastened with French blue vintage buttons. In a moment of swooning high drama, I sing along with Bryan Ferry.
“Tonight you’re mine completely,
You give your love so sweetly,
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes,
But will you love me tomorrow?”
(By G. Goffin and C. King)
It is Wednesday, and the day has stretched along endlessly, with foiled project after foiled project piling up in my workroom like a particularly unsightly Midwestern state fair bumper-car crash. I have left each wreck as-is while my frustration mounts, and am ready for something simple and comforting. A plate of hot, creamy fried turnip cakes sound like just the cure…but only if someone else cooks and serves them to me discreetly, generously, and sweetly. I throw my battered black leather jacket on over my worn and paint-splattered work overalls and my ombre rust and ochre plaid lightweight wool shirt with Italian tortoise-colored lucite buttons, nuzzle Francy and Lulu good-bye, and stroll over to Big Lantern for some fried rejuvenation. It is good to walk away from my heaps of half-finished projects, and I whistle as I turn the corner.
“I don’t want you, be no slave,
I don’t want you, work all day,
I don’t want you to be sad and blue,
I just wanna make love to you.
I can tell by the way that you baby talk,
I can see by the way that you switch and walk,
I can tell by the way that you treat your man,
But I could love you baby, it’s a cryin’ shame.”
(By W. Dixon)
The sun is a nothing in the sky; palely trying to shine, but only managing a thin, runny yellow. The clouds are white turning to slate, and hold the promise of dankness. This in-between weather annoys me. I either want storms filled with pouring rain and winds that whip my umbrella inside out, or I want honeyed sunshine and breezes smelling of greenery. Francy, Lulu and I share the windowsill in our discontent, counting crows, pigeons, and clouds respectively. Finally, I throw on my torn, velvet-patched denim jeans jacket with domed gunmetal buttons, grab a blue batiked napkin filled with shortbread, apricot and walnut bars and stomp outside to wrangle the weather into a decision. It is unlikely that I will be successful. I turn up the music in my iPod in hopes of dispelling my black gloominess.
“Birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love
In Spain, the best upper sets do it
Lithuanians and Letts do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love
The Dutch in old Amsterdam do it
Not to mention the Fins
Folks in Siam do it – think of Siamese twins
Some Argentines, without means, do it
People say in Boston even beans do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love”
(By Mister Cole Porter)
I’m on my way to meet you for dinner, and am hurrying from BART to the escalator, when I walk past a woman sitting on a pile of coverlets, strumming some nameless song on an out-of-tune guitar. Homeless folks make me sad; I yearn to be able to hand them energy and healing, but feel inadequate. Whenever I see someone huddled on the city ground, I open my heart, shine love at them, and imagine wrapping them in a soft quilt of graciousness with golden heart-shaped buttons sealing in all that radiance. Does my tiny blessing help? I do not know the answer, yet I continue. And so I run to you, my heart an open shell full of grainy sand, gleaming pearls and salty tears.
“i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apar
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)”
(By ee cummings)
I’m walking home from a leisurely excursion to the library and the farmer’s market with a full knapsack of books, CDs, garlic, broccoli, and kale. Fall is approaching, and I’m feeling the need to coddle myself with garlic-laden pasta, musicals, and late nights reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and Les Misérables by Victor Hugo while nestled under piles of worn hand-made quilts. Leaves crackle under my boots and crows squawk ceaselessly as I pass folks rushing to catch the symphony matinee. Once home, I hang up my vintage rust-colored suede and knit cardigan sweater with camel-colored woven leather buttons, set my red teakettle on to boil, put away vegetables, and start peeling the garlic for dinner.
“It’s a long, long lane that has no turning
And it’s a fire that always keeps on burning
Mister devil down below
Pitchfork in his hand
And that’s where you are going to go
Do you understand?
Devil’s gonna git you
Devil’s gonna git you
Oh, the devil’s gonna git you
Man, just as sure as you’s born”
(By Porter Grainger, and sung by the indomitable Bessie Smith, 1928)
I miss summer nights lolling in Greek meadows, surrounded by wildflowers and the lovely, slumbering floppy-eared Pauline….her soft donkey snores a melody that lulls me to sleep every evening. I am packing to go to the rough Steep Ravine cabins in Marin. The crashing Pacific Ocean beneath our wooden cabin will sing my lullaby. I’m wearing brown wide-wale corduroy jeans, black lace-up boots, thick red and violet striped socks, a softly threadbare linen button-down shirt, and a red boiled wool waistcoat with metal pirate buttons. My cooler is filled with delicacies; it is the kind of camping trip that entails the sensual pleasures of gasping at beauteous nature while snacking on fabulous food. My culinary delights include roasted red pepper soup, an assortment of goat milk cheeses from Redwood Hill farm, heirloom tomato and olive tarts, and a towering three-layer banana cake in the shape of a grinning monkey head, and covered with fudge and vanilla butter-cream frosting. Hank Williams seems apropos……
“Hey, hey, good lookin’,
Whatcha got cookin’?
How’s about cookin’ somethin’ up with me?
Hey, sweet baby,
Don’t you think maybe
We could find us a brand new recipe?”
(By H. Williams)
I have taken an after-dinner stroll to sit at the edge of the cliff over-looking the Pacific Ocean. “Stroll” is a bit of a stretch, as the path from our cabin to the ground where I’m seated is only three yards long. It is twilight; the sky is a soft violet, the wind from the water surrounds me with the sharp smells of salt and sand. I inhale the ocean’s scent gratefully, my skin tingling with this overload of sensory pleasure. I pull my grey cable-knit sweater closer, and button its turban’s head black leather buttons against the early evening chill. I can hear you strumming your ukulele, and know there are oatmeal cookies with brown-butter frosting and hazelnut praline waiting for me on a be-birded china platter, so I wander back for the night to the gentle warmth of our cabin.
“Who is the man
That would risk his neck for his brother man?
Can ya dig it?
Who’s the cat that won’t cop out
When there’s danger all about
(By the uber-cool I. Hayes)
It is 2 pm and I have just returned from my credit union, where I have withdrawn $100 in crisply new one dollar bills. I am sitting cross-legged on the wool Kurdish kelim in my bedroom, listening to Neko Case , nibbling on a warm basil-adorned fig and mozzarella sandwich, and folding money into one hundred paper airplanes. The weather has finally cooled down again, fog is stealthily creeping across the tallest buildings, and I’m dressed for warmth in Kelly green fine-wale corduroy jeans, worn black harness boots, a thin cotton black long-sleeved tee-shirt, and a black suede waistcoat with quadrilateral-shaped hammered antique gold metal buttons. I want freedom; the swift flight of urban birds as they travel from one end of town to the other, resting and jabbering in trees and on telephone wires. I will fly this money away to new homes, scattering the paper airplanes like seeds.
“I have lightning
If the stars dry out to guide me
I have soft clay
To knit my bones astride
What a miracle they say
Dark clouds gather
Gaping wide oh
And they pour it down
And they sing to me
(By N. Case)
There are 31 days in October, but the only question I have is, “How many kinds of birthday cake can I eat within one month?” If I fall under one cake type a day, I will be despondent….or at the very least suffer from angst and culinary disappointment. It is my month to stomp my feet and demand cake petulantly, not something that I am wont to do normally, and it is undeniably swell that I like very little better than to beat butter and sugar together until they are sweet and light. I’m in my warm kitchen with Lulu and Francy underfoot, wearing a black singlet and denim overalls with vaguely Roman-looking gold buttons, and with Patti Smith blaring. I have been collecting birthday cake recipes for months and am starting my month of birthday celebrations with flaming cherries jubilee over pound cake. I’ve always loved a little flambé at the table, but when I grab the bottle of Grande Marnier, the cats cut their eyes sideways nervously.
“Ask the angels who they’re calling,
Go ask the angels if they’re calling to thee
Ask the angels while they’re falling
Who that person could possibly be
Everybody got the feelin’
You know the feeling and it’s stronger each day
Everybody wants to be reelin’
And baby baby I’ll show you the way”
(By I. Kral, Ivan and P. Smith)
I have just gotten out of a particularly satisfying hot and soothing sandalwood-scented bath, and am pad-padding to the kitchen for an ubiquitous cup of strong black tea. I fill the teakettle, and as I set my left foot down, I feel something sticky under my bare foot. I look, and see dark brown goop slipping between my toes. There are two sets of glittery feline eyes peeping out from under the step stool, and the cocoa-buttermilk birthday cake that was on the counter looks a little disturbed. Fastening the silver honeycomb Czech glass buttons of my brown corduroy dressing gown, I swoop down to gather the cake-eating rascals into my arms. I have two very naughty kitties!
“Jellicle Cats develop slowly,
Jellicle Cats are not too big;
Jellicle Cats are roly-poly,
They know how to dance a gavotte and a jig.
Until the Jellicle Moon appears
They make their toilette and take their repose:
Jellicle Cats wash behind their ears,
Jellicle dry between their toes.”
(By T. S. Elliot)
The pearlescent moon is floating over city hall, a gleaming orb radiating possibilities and renewal. I am getting ready to bicycle to a friend’s home where we are having an October birthday bash and am looking forward to the moonlit ride. My celebratory contribution is a marvelously decadent chocolate Guinness cake baked in a castle cake pan. I have scattered powdered sugar mixed with edible glitter over the turrets and am smugly pleased that it looks like a sprinkling of snow. I’m wearing Kelly green corduroy jeans with brown leather braces fastened with purple, iridescent Czech glass buttons, knee-high brown riding boots, a violet suede double-breasted waistcoat, a cream-colored linen French cheesemaker’s smock, a red and violet paisley silk neckerchief, a green Glenn plaid newsboy cap, and my tattered black leather jacket.
“Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do
Wait a while
Till a little moonbeam comes peepin’ through
He’ll get bored
You can’t resist him
All you’ll say
When you have kissed him is
Ooh, ooh, ooh”
(By H. Woods)
Can I really and truly eat birthday cake every single day this month? It is a noble calling, but it is only day six, and already I’m a little queasy with all the sugar. No matter; I am going to rally around and make a ginormous, big berry birthday cake. I’m delighted that I get to use real vanilla beans, and am hunched over scraping vanilla bean pods for the cake. Baking on a rainy day is a wonderful solitary pleasure, which I am dressed for in jeans, a well-worn soft turtleneck, and a mocha-colored linen apron, fastened with coconut shell buttons, with Keren Ann singing in the background.
“Close your eyes and make a wish
Under the stone there’s a stonefish
Hold your breath then roll the dice
It might lead the run road to paradise
Don’t say a word, here comes the break of the day
And wide clouds of sand raised by the wind of the end…”
(By K. Zeidel , B. Biolay)
And this is the quintessential birthday cake; a lofty vanilla delicacy with creamy chocolate frosting. Even the word “frosting” has a luxurious feel, like a sugary bubble bath that envelops you in frothy sweetness. I have baked and frosted my cake, and it is standing in wait on a cake platter that I made from a chipped pink translucent Depression glass candle holder glued to an antique, Ashworth Bros Oriental bird-embellished china plate. My pals will be arriving tonight at 8 pm for tea and cake, and I’m listening to Bowie and I put on my finery. I will be wearing my new plum-colored velveteen suit with a Nehru jacket, a deeper plum suede waistcoat with très modern silver and metal wire buttons, a silvery grey voile ruffle-front shirt, and silver cowboy boots with cutouts of navy ginkgo leaf silhouettes and black feathering.
“Put on some clothes, shake up your bed
Put another log on the fire for me
I’ve made some breakfast and coffee
Look out my window what do I see
A crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me.”
(By the Thin White Duke himself, D. Jones)
I need a break from excessive cakery, so am virtuously tackling my stack of mending while listening to Jonathan Richman. First up are a wooly heap of brown and grey moth-colored tweed jackets whose sleeves need shortening. I’m a sucker for the tawdry professorial look of tweed jackets with woven leather buttons and suede elbow patches, paired with jeans, a ribbed, slightly stretched-out black turtleneck sweater, violet dandified socks and scuffed brogues. In lieu of sweet birthday cake, you have baked me a platter of spicy broccoli cupcakes, with a wee green broccoli tree bisecting each cake. I am grateful for health, broccoli and well-fitted tweed jackets.
I’m in love with modern moonlight
128 when it’s dark outside
I’m in love with Massachusetts
I’m in love with the radio on
It helps me from being alone late at night
It helps me from being lonely late at night
I don’t feel so bad now in the car
Don’t feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner
(By J. Richman)
I am determined to eat a different type of cake daily for this fine birthday month, so am preparing to bake that most iconic of Southern specialties, a red velvet cake. According to my surly pastry chef pal, the best red food coloring for red velvet cake is red dye #32. Unfortunately, this culinary aid has been banned, and we must depend upon less toxic substitutes. I’m dressing to fetch red food dye from Chinatown, so am wearing massive swaths of wine-colored velvet for my mission. My double-breasted velvet suit features exaggerated lapels, deep cuffs, and fastens with six gold metal double griffin buttons. My dapper finishing touch is red and black pointed-toe cowboy boots and Keren Ann on my iPod.
“He was a sailor
A sailor at sea and a sailor of love
And he thought he could save her
Save her from innocence up and above
’cause he never knew freedom and under the duvet
He stayed for a lifetime without any government
Help or assistance”
(By K. Ann)
I am having a moment of ‘les papillions noir; a melancholic languishing of my nerves. It may be due to an excess of cake, and there are 18 more days to October. This bodes ill for my waistline, the fit of my pants, my queasy tummy, and my despondent nerves. What else is there to do, but lurk at a corner table at the local café. It is night and the paper lanterns that are strung overhead flutter as softly as my heart and tummy. I am wrapped in my favorite black velveteen cloak lined with midnight blue and ocher stripped silk, and fastened with a black and gold glass Czech buttons that are embossed with cawing birds. I trudge bravely forward into the culinary night, and have ordered a slice of three-layer Italian Cream Cake and a pot of ginger tea.
“Aux lueurs de l’aube imprécise,
Dans les eaux troubles d’un miroir,
Tu te rencontres par hasard
Alors tu vois sur ta chemise
Que tu t’es mis tout près du cœur
Le smoking des temps de rigueur,
Un papillon noir
Un papillon noir…”
(By S. Gainsbourg)
I am virtuous, older and wiser, and for those stellar qualities, I get a chocolate cake. A cake a day is my very simple birthday rule for the month of October. You have noted my brush with virtue and have baked me a cake, substituting yogurt for sour cream and applesauce for oil. Since I only have accumulated a dusting of that acclaimed quality, the frosting is packed full of non-virtuous butter and cream. I’m at the table and waiting for the magical moment when you bring me the cake. I’m wearing a violet linen pleated-front shirt, a red suede double-breasted waistcoat with clear Czech glass and rhinestone spider web buttons, brown leather pants, and tall riding boots. You walk solemnly into the room carrying the cake, candles alight, and humming a song. I love the moment when I blow out the candles and the flames are extinguished in a puff, with the smell of burning wax lingering in the air like a love letter.
“When the earth was still flat,
And the clouds made of fire,
And mountains stretched up to the sky,
Folks roamed the earth
Like big rolling kegs
They had two sets of arms.
They had two sets of legs.
They had two faces peering
Out of one giant head
So they could watch all around them
As they talked; while they read.
And they never knew nothing of love.
It was before the origin of love.”
(By S. Trask)
I am sentimental, and so I wistfully remember the afternoon that we went boating in Hampstead Heath Park on Leg of Mutton Pond. The dark pond gleamed, tree branches drifted lazily over the shore, and water-bugs skated across the water’s surface. You wore your dark navy 13-button sailor pants with four-hole, silver metal buttons, a black heavy cable knit sweater, and low black boots. I had a lemon cake, rich with lemons, rum and berries, packed in a gold bakery box and tied with a violet and leaf green striped ribbon. I fed you cake as you industriously rowed and sang sailor shanties, the pond water making a soft noise as the oars cut through its surface.
“A is the anchor that holds a bold ship,
B is the bowsprit that often does dip,
C is the capstan on which we do wind, and
D is the davits on which the jolly boat hangs.
Oh, hi derry, hey derry, ho derry down,
Give sailors their grog and there’s nothing goes wrong,
So merry, so merry, so merry are we,
No matter who’s laughing at sailors at sea.”
(Anonymous, traditional sailor shanty)
My mantra for this week is “no more cake!”…repeated as needed. I am willing to concede to pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap pecan crust, as it is packed that most delicate of proteins, cream cheese. I have decided to visit the park, and sprinkle slices of cheesecake along the pathway from the fall mums to the fading roses. Channeling a persona somewhere between the Pied Piper and Hansel and Gretel, I talk off with my wicker hamper of creamy cheesecake. Who can resist a sly seducer in a black suede cloak with black horn toggle buttons, Kelly green elfin shoes, and an armful of goodies?
“We’re off to see the Wizard
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
We hear he is a Whiz of a Wiz
If ever a Wiz there was
If ever, oh ever, a Wiz there was
The Wizard of Oz is one because
Because, because, because, because, because
Because of the wonderful things he does
We’re off to see the wizard
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!”
(By H. Arlen)
Billows of silvery fog are wafting over Twin Peaks, brings a dank fall chill to the evening air. The moon is but a sliver the size of the smallest fingernail, casting a thin light upon me as I walk towards the café. I’m not pensive tonight, merely scatterbrained. Although I’m dressed warmly in a black wool Breton fishermen’s sweater with four flat, black leather buttons along the left shoulder, mustard corduroy jeans, a worn black leather jacket, a black and cream knit bandanna scarf with corner tassels, and Kelly green desert boots, I’m still cold. Once I get to the café, I order a pot of hot English breakfast tea and a slice of creamy nettle quiche. The café violinist is playing a Paul Anka number, the windows are steamy, and I begin to feel myself unwind.
“Havin’ my baby
What a lovely way of sayin’
How much you love me
Havin’ my baby
What a lovely way of sayin’
What you’re thinkin’ of me
I can see it, face is glowin’
I can see in your eyes
I’m happy you know it”
(By P. Anka)
It is a rainy Friday, and I’m on my way to the “Walk Like a Man” flash mob. Heavily inspired by a combination of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons and Isaac Hayes, I am wearing a black zoot suit, black shirt, black snakeskin pointy-toed boots, and very dark sunglasses. My major concession to color and glamour are my snaky silver shirt buttons. I practice my sideways, two-step moves first, causing Francy and Lulu to chase my shoelaces with vigor.
“(I’m gonna) walk like a man
Fast as I can
Walk like a man from you
I’ll tell the world to forget about it girl
And walk like a man from you”
(By B. Crewe and B. Gaudio)
It is midnight, and I am happily awake with Lulu and Francy. Rain is pouring down; I can hear cars splashing by beneath my apartment window and see the reflections of their headlights cutting through the inky night and the storm. I am fashioning bicycle handlebar tassels for my compagnon spécial, and to this crafty end, I am repurposing discarded and hole-ridden inner tubes. I’m wearing my favorite vintage cardigan, the one with the sky blue suede front panels, matching elbow patches, and square brown leather buttons. Pet Clark is wailing “Downtown” on the stereo and I have a pile of fancy-schmancy salted brown buttery rice crispy treats by my elbow.
“When you’re alone
And life is making you lonely,
You can always go downtown
When you’ve got worries,
All the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown”
(By T. Hatch)
I am a cranky-pants; why do people stop at the very top of the escalator to chit-chat? I bumped into one such gossiping and lingering pair while departing from BART this morning, and disliked the disruption in my routine. I am at the corner café to readjust my attitude, sitting at a Kelly green painted metal table, topped with a tiny, pear-shaped clear blue glass vase of flamboyantly orange musky-smelling marigolds. I wait for my latte and bébé financiers, tapping my wing-tips, my rust and violet argyle merino socks clearly signaling my impatience. I’m wearing a plum three-piece velveteen suit with a Nehru jacket and red-gold wire buttons, a rust and black pin-striped shirt, a narrow fuchsia brocade bow tie, and a black bowler hat. The sly café busker sidles over to lift my spirits with a song, the sparkling serveur sets a periwinkle blue china plate of wee cakes and a steaming latte on my table; perhaps all will right itself after all.
“Why, she’s the fisherman, I’m the fish you see?–PLOP!
I flinch, I shy, when the lass with the delicate air goes by
I smile, I grin, when the gal with a touch of sin walks in.
I hope, and I pray, for a Hester to win just one more “A”
The sadder-but-wiser girl’s the girl for me.
The sadder-but-wiser girl for me.”
(From The Music Man and by M. Willson)
I confess, it is all about the kitties. Lulu and Francy have ganged up to inundate me with suggestions regarding their food. My apartment is awash in meows and feline chirps; Lulu wants fishies, and Francy wants chicken, Lulu wants it crunchy, and Francy wants it the consistency of mashed potatoes….the complaints linger like cheap cigar smoke. I try reading them some poetry to settle their nerves, but they are having none of it. Finally, I throw up my hands, wave the white flag, and prepare to disembark on a grand cat dinner buying spree. Fall has arrived, so I wear my faux fur lined grey and black herringbone wool car coat with stout, carved, two-hole, horn buttons, black 501s, a grey turtleneck, black and green striped socks, and my favorite green Docs.
“The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money.
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are, you are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’
Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose, his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
‘Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon, the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.”
(By Edward Lear)
It is night and I am between projects. I am lolling about in my Arts and Crafts recliner, wearing rust and black striped cotton pajamas with Tahitian dark grey mother of pearl buttons and black velveteen slippers, and with Francy making gentle bread and purring upon my lap. A scrumptious red currant and poppy seed tea cake has been baked, my dog-eared mysteries have been stacked by the door to be returned to the library, and my apartment has been dusted within an inch of its life. There are no dust bunnies under the bed, nor are there any crumbs between the sheets. This lull gives me space for vapid philosophizing; did I ever mention the sometimes circuitous course of love? I really don’t need to as Puck has said it so well.
“Then will two at once woo one;
That must needs be sport alone;
And those things do best please me
That be fall preposterously.”
(By Wm. Shakespeare)
Later this afternoon, I am having friends over for tea, dainty sandwiches, and cakes. Sometimes one needs guileless pleasures, and this week is one of those moments. I have set the slate-topped side table with my vibrant ‘Red Autumn’ Clarice Cliff Art Deco tea serving set, and my favorite embroidered vintage tablecloth. I have scattered star-inspired Art Deco crocheted doilies over the arms and backs of my chairs and sofa. I am wearing a lightweight black and cream wool hounds-tooth smoking jacket with black satin lapels and triangular, black and gold Czech glass buttons, cream pleated wool slacks, black and blue striped silk hose, and velveteen slippers. I’m feeling a bit Henry Higgins as I sing along to The Rain in Spain.
“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!
By George, she’s got it! By George, she’s got it!
Now, once again where does it rain? On the plain!
On the plain! And where’s that soggy plain?
In Spain! In Spain!
The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!
The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!
In Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire…?
Hurricanes hardly happen.”
(By A. Lerner and F. Loewe)
I am meeting you at the wharf, and we are taking the ferry across the bay. It is just the kind of morning for such a trip, with the fog enveloping San Francisco like a much-adored, but thinly-spun mohair wrap. There is a flower-seller on the corner, so I stop to buy my favorites, prickly stems of periwinkle blue thistles. Once on the ferry, we stand arm in arm at the bow drinking hot vegetable, ginger/garlic, and rice noodle soup and yakking quietly. The chill blows across the water, but you’re warmed by your grey double-breasted cable-knit sweater with embossed Italian leather buttons and cobalt blue wool scarf, and I am kept toasty by my navy pea coat with mustard and violet stripped scarf. I recite a poem to amuse you.
“The Pobble who has no toes
Had once as many as we;
When they said “Some day you may lose them all;”
He replied “Fish, fiddle-de-dee!”
And his Aunt Jobiska made him drink
Lavender water tinged with pink,
For she said “The World in general knows
There’s nothing so good for a Pobble’s toes!”
The Pobble who has no toes
Swam across the Bristol Channel;
But before he set out he wrapped his nose
In a piece of scarlet flannel.
For his Aunt Jobiska said “No harm
Can come to his toes if his nose is warm;
And it’s perfectly known that a Pobble’s toes
Are safe, — provided he minds his nose!”
(By E. Lear)
I have taken up metal etching, and am industriously working on decorating a large brass samovar. I have decided to inscribe it with verses and prose from my favorite writers. Rumi, Natalie Barney, Stevie Smith, Hafiz, Jane Bowles, and Cole Porter are represented, with room for more. The air smells comfortingly of metal, burning and chemicals, and Brigitte Bardot is crooning in the background. I am wearing my work clothing of tan denim overalls with faux Roman coin silver button fasteners, a white V-neck tee shirt, and heavy cobalt blue and ocher striped socks. I have a wee gold-rimmed china plate of salted ginger molasses cookies and a cup of spiced chai to fortify myself.
“Tu n’es qu’un appareil à sou-pirs
Un appareil à sou-rires
A ce jeu je ne joue pas
Je n’aime pas
Cet opéra de quatre sou-pirs
Cet air que tu as de sou-rire
Je ne pourrai qu’en sou-ffrir”
Everything changes. It is mid- November, and 2010 is swirling down the drain like so much dirty bathwater. It is midnight in my dark apartment. Both cats are sleeping on the leopard throw and the usually noisy outside streets are silent. I lay supine in my enamel tub; the scent of sandalwood and amber diminishing, and the water becoming cooler and cooler. I stand up, cold water dripping from my shriveled fingertips on down to my toes, fetch my worn, soft brown corduroy full-length bathrobe with oversized espresso leather buttons and wrap myself in its comforting warmth. A steaming pottery mug of ginger tea and two cats to snuggle with will insure that I am prepared for the remaining 45 days of this year.
“I still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test
Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace I’m going through”
(By D. Jones)
I need understated elegance. I need the swoosh of dapper gents tap-dancing, glittery moonlight and the sound of you sweetly whispering Tom Lehrer lyrics in my ear. I swiftly tie my taupe and bronze polka-dotted silk ascot as I prepare to step out for the evening. I’m meeting you at the local Persian café for a fine homey repast of Persian khoresh-e ghaymeh. To complement my shimmery ascot, I’m also wearing an espresso brown velveteen three-piece double-breasted suit with lion-embossed copper blazer buttons, a black silk shirt, and crocodile cowboy boots in shades of taupe and brown. Once at the café I order tea, and sip the steaming beverage through a sugar cube clenched between my front teeth.
“Since I still appreciate you,
Let’s find love while we may.
Because I know I’ll hate you
When you are old and grey.
So say you love me here and now,
I’ll make the most of that.”
(By the always brilliant satirist, T. Lehrer)
I am baking Solstice fortune cookies for my pals, as we all need words of beauty and luck. I’m hunched over my library table with a neat stack of cut Italian hand-marbled paper, a quill pen and inkpot, and a toppling heap of reference books. This project calls for the dusty smell of leather volumes of poetry, the soft glow of oil lamps, pots of steaming English tea, and cats slumbering at my feet. I fasten the clear Czech glass buttons of my threadbare black quilted satin smoking jacket and the scent of your cologne wafts gently into the night air; each fold of smooth fabric holds memories of your body. I open The Speed of Darkness to find a poem.
“To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake. “
(By Muriel Rukeyser)
I like the intense frothiness of crushes, and how magical ones beloved appears, each of their attributes testimony to their fascinating newness. What does this feeling segue into? How long will this swooning last? Is the transition from puppy love to something else always a rough road, or can it be traveled smoothly like a waxed ride down a playground slide? I wonder about love as I stand over a cutting board strewn with Swiss chard leaves that I’m chopping up for spicy tamarind soup with chickpeas, and think about us as I remove each tough rib and slice the chard into strips. I stir in the tomatoes, chickpeas, vinegar, tamarind, brown sugar, and broth, and then wander into the living room to read a book while the soup simmers. The chill of winter is upon us, so I grab my new brown cable-knit wool sweater with grey suede elbow patches and embossed grey leather buttons to keep me warm. Patsy Cline’s sweet singing keeps me company during the quiet evening.
“Crazy, I’m crazy for feeling so lonely
I’m crazy, crazy for feeling so blue
I knew you’d love me as long as you wanted
And then someday you’d leave me for somebody new
Worry, why do I let myself worry?
Wond’ring what in the world did I do?”
(By W. Nelson)
It is a cold and nasty wintery night, so unexpected after the warm snap a few weeks ago. I’m hardly ready for the chill, and have spent the past few days with my icy paws jammed into wool blazer pockets while desolately sipping hot beverages. Tonight, I have an excuse to brave the sideways gusts and pouring rain; I am rendezvousing with you at a dancehall. I am wearing a vintage charcoal grey quilted worsted wool smoking jacket with silver engraved buttons and matching slacks, a white heavily starched shirt with a detachable wingtip collar and French cuffs, a grey and mustard foulard print ascot, black rubber gaiters, black dancing shoes, and a waterproof Inverness cape. I have a handful of decadent chocolate brownies in my pocket for dancing fortitude.
“I won’t dance, don’t ask me
I won’t dance monsieur with you
My heart won’t let me feet do things that they should do
When you dance, you’re charming and you’re gentle
‘Specially when you do The Continental
But this feeling isn’t purely mental
For heaven rest us, I’m not asbestos
And that’s why
Je ne danse pas, je ne peux pas
Je ne danse pas, je ne veux pas
Je ne danse pas, merci beaucoup
Vous êtes gentil et je vous aimes
Mais je n’peux danser quand vous êtes si près
I won’t dance, don’t ask me”
(J. Kern, D. Fields, J. McHugh)
The winter solstice is coming up on December 21st, so I’m conducting rehearsals. It is important to be prepared for festivities; I’ve invited a group of compatriots over for a pie and Cole Porter extravaganza this Sunday. I want to wear wintery clothing, so have sewn a black quilted velveteen lounging suit with snowy ermine cuffs and faceted glass buttons that are reminiscent of the Art Deco period. Lulu and Francy are determined to deposit brown tabby and ginger fur across my pristine attire, and I have pies to bake. Cat fur, velveteen, divinely naughty Cole Porter, and pastry are a tricky mix. I survey my countertop pie kingdom; chess pie, sour cream raisin pie without meringue, apple pie with a lattice top, pear-raspberry flan tarts, and a golden tarte au fromage frais.
“Before you leave these portals
To meet less fortunate mortals,
There’s just one final message
I would give to you.
You all have learned reliance
On the sacred teachings of science,
So I hope, through life, you never will decline
In spite of philistine
To do what all good scientists do
(By the illustrious C. Porter)
I’m meeting you at the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at SFMOMA. In honor, I am wearing the attire of the dignified gentleman from a photograph taken by Monsieur Cartier-Bresson in Marseille, France (1932). My brogues are immaculately shined, my chapeau is meticulously blocked, and my charcoal wool tweed cape with classic black horn buttons falls to my knees in folds, however I am sans cigar. I’m riding the F towards downtown, and even the leafless trees on Market Street are reminiscent of the barren trees in the photograph. I overhear a wash of languages on the streetcar, but no French. When I get off at 3rd, a slyly winking mustached tramp accosts me on the corner with a rousing chorus of I Get A Kick Out Of You.
“I get no kick from champagne
Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all
So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you
Some like the perfume from Spain
I’m sure that if I took even one sniff
It would bore me terrifically too
But I get a kick out of you”
It was a day of culinary debauchery; the hit of the 10 foot spread was a pecan-topped sweet potato extravaganza containing maple syrup, nutmeg and almost two sticks of butter. It was served in an oblong red vintage pottery casserole dish, barely making it from one end of the table to the other and finally being zealously guarded by a gleeful and bearded gnome of a guest. After the feast, I immersed myself in the outdoor hot-tub and floated in the steamy water under the dark night sky and shining stars, sipping lemon-water and watching soft snowflakes fall gently through the shadowy fir tree branches. Relaxing into a dreamy, drowsy state, I got out at 1 am, wrapped myself in my worn brown corduroy dressing gown with striped horn buttons, and sleepily pad-pad went to my down-covered single bed.
“Mister Sandman, bring me a dream
Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen
Give him two lips like roses in clover
Then tell him that his lonesome nights are over
Mister Sandman, I’m so alone
Don’t have nobody to call my own
Please turn on your magic beam
Mister Sandman, bring me a dream”
(By P. Ballard)
This rain has been endless, with an icy drizzle pouring from a dismal grey sky. Everything is dank, limp, and chilly. When I slip myself into bed, my clean, lavender-scented cotton sheets are cold and unwelcoming. I wish I was better prepared for the change in weather, but the drop in temperature seems sudden this year. To keep warm, I am baking a delectable Chocolate Walnut Fig Cake with Grappa, but have unexpectedly run out of semisweet chocolate. A dearth of sweets is what comes of spending the wintery nights of my discontent nibbling chocolate bars in bed wearing my black flannel pajamas with red piggy buttons, and covered in as many cats as I can wrangle for furry warmth.
“I got a heart full of trouble, a house full of sin.
And things are bad as they ever been.
If trouble were money,
I’d have more money than any man should.
I’m open for business in your neighborhood,
The blues is my business, and business is good.”
(By K. Bowe, T. Cherney)
I remember the train ride, and meandering through the Swiss Alps right after sunrise. The morning sun warmed my lap as it poured through the small square passenger window, and the pristine snow sparkled blindingly in the early morning light. I sleepily buttoned the forest green vintage buttons on my ocher and green striped cable-knit cardigan, straightened my dark green and navy foulard bow tie, and prepared to depart for the dining car for a light breakfast. I ordered a café au lait with some plain rolls with butter and quince jelly, and thought about my journey as I ate.
“Oh that is nice work if you can get it.
And you can get it — if you try.
Strolling with the one girl
Sighing sigh after sigh…
Oh nice work if you can get it.
And you can get it — if you try.”
(By G. Gershwin)
I am staying in the romantically disheveled pensionne that Ms. Natalie Barney is rumored to have stayed at while pining away for one of her loves. As I bed down between the delightfully squishy down comforter and the worn starched linens, there comes a faint knock at my door. It is the concierge holding a tarnished silver serving tray upon which perches a telegram blessed with a single word, “Yes”. I wonder for a minute if you have been channeling Caresse and Harry Crosby, and toss the telegram aside in bafflement. Fastening the wagon-wheel antique gold rhinestone buttons on my quilted rust silk dressing gown, I order a plate of roasted plum and muscavado sugar cakes and a squat pot of rich black tea. In my opinion, tea and cake assuages many cares.
“Blue Champagne – purple shadows and Blue Champagne,
With the echoes that still remain I keep a blue rendezvous.
Bubbles rise like a fountain before my eyes
And they suddenly crystallize to form a vision of you.”
(By G. Watts and F. Ryerson)
It has been pouring for days, and is prime dozing weather. Lulu and Francy are snoozing on the deep brown faux fur throw, wrapped around one another so that it is difficult to tell where one fur-monster ends and the other begins. Their tails are the major clue; Lulu’s a bushy striped raccoon tail, and Francy’s a ginger feather duster. Occasionally, Francy opens one eye half-way, peers at the throw in bewilderment, and starts to groom it. I wonder if she thinks the throw is a huge amorphous kitty mom in need of a bath. I feel the need for sustenance, so I wander into the kitchen fastening the Abalone shell buttons on my ratty grey cashmere sweater. Once back on the red velvet sofa, I settle down with a shallow pottery bowl of steaming Cavolfiore e Penne al Forno, the seductive voice of Marlene Dietrich on the stereo, and Laurie King’s The Language of Bees.
“Vor der Kaserne
Vor dem großen Tor
Stand eine Laterne
Und steht sie noch davor
So woll’n wir uns da wieder seh’n
Bei der Laterne wollen wir steh’n
Wie einst Lili Marleen.”
(By H. Leip and N. Schultze)
I remember the night before the Running of the Cats. The sky was some shade of periwinkle, or perhaps it was cerulean. The moonlight flowed down on the treetops like fairy dust, or maybe smoke from a junior high science experiment gone bad. You turned my tea cup over to read the leaves, and pronounced that there were two sides to every story…to which I added under my breath, “more like a dozen, but who’s counting”. Later, we strolled along the stone walkway by the dark river, looking for narrow bridges to cross. I fastened my fouled anchor gold buttons of my navy wool, moth-eaten pea coat, wrapped my 5’ long striped mustard and violet scarf securely, and nibbled on a piece of spicy stout gingerbread.
“Tu me fais tourner la tête
Mon manège à moi c’est toi
Je suis toujours à la fête
Quand tu m‘prends dans tes bras
Je ferais le tour du monde
Ça ne tourn‘rait pas plus qu’ça
La terre n’est pas assez ronde
Pour m’étourdir autant qu’toi”
(By J. Constantin and N. Glanzberg)
It appears that Francy had a skirmish with the feisty Samuel Whiskers; she is covered from one tip of her pointed ear to the end of her ginger tail in cookie dough, with crumbs sloughing off in crumbling sheets. She has the common sense to appear chagrined as she sits at the end of the bed bathing herself to try and hide the evidence of her indiscretions. I am torn between a fierce scolding and laughing at her. In the end, I remove my black velvet double-breasted waistcoat with knotted antique silver Czech glass buttons, and help her clean all that hardened sweetness off her orange fur. I taste the dough clinging to her back; it appears that Francy has a sophisticated penchant for cornmeal lime cookies.
“”Anna Maria,” said the old man rat (whose name was Samuel Whiskers),–“Anna Maria, make me a kitten dumpling roly-poly pudding for my dinner.” “It requires dough and a pat of butter, and a rolling-pin,” said Anna Maria, considering Tom Kitten with her head on one side.”
(From The Tale of Samuel Whiskers: The Roly-Poly Pudding by B. Potter)
There is a Persian saying, “yeki bood, yeki nabood”, which loosely translates into “once upon a time”. I believe that this is an excellent way to start a journey, and to express yearning for a past or future trip; Yeki bood, yeki nabood I sailed across the Bay to a small fishing village. I stood on the ship’s bow, letting the morning fog surround me and sipping hot vegetable soup from my loden green metal thermos. Francy squirmed as she tried to settle down in the pocket of my brown and grey tweed jacket with brown suede elbow patches and oxblood leather buttons. Finally she fell asleep with a tiny sigh, a deep purr, and one tiny paw peeking from my pocket corner like a ginger-colored flower. Resting my boot on the ship’s railing, I watched the water rise and fall. I yearn for something, but don’t know the latitude and longitude of the country of my desire.
“I courted a sailor for six months and many,
I courted a sailor, now he’s far from me.
I courted a sailor for six months and many,
I courted a sailor, now he’s far from me.
On a fine summer’s evening he said his heart was grieving
On a fine summer’s evening these words he said to me”
(Sung by K. Rusby)
The longest night of the year approaches, and I have invited pals over for an evening of relaxation and play. The parlor is softly lit with tall, ocher beeswax candles, and I have strewn fragrant pinecones in the fireplace. The wool Kurdish saddle-bag covered cushions on the divan have been plumped, with Francy and Lulu feeling the love by slumbering in one tidy fur-pile on the carpet next to the heat of the fire. I am almost dressed, and am multi-tasking; running from the kitchen to remove baking sheets of Fig and Blue Cheese Savouries from the oven, and then back to my bedroom to fasten the iridescent mother of pearl buttons on my starched white dress shirt. I am wearing a dark red silk cravat, a wine-colored velveteen suit, red silk hose, and black velvet slippers and listening to Nico’s smoky, Germanic voice as I arrange tidbits on serving platters.
“My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart.
You’re looks are laughable
Yet, you’re my favorite work of art.”
(By R. Rodgers and L. Hart)
I’ve been rereading A Little Original Sin: The Life and Work of Jane Bowles by M. Dillon; Ms. Bowles had a penchant for nuzzling in her companion’s arms while at parties, loving the hugs and attention. Like Jane, I have a not-so-secret desire to be passed around like a new kitten. I want to snuggle in their arms, feeling my friend’s affection, and with a kiss on my forehead let them hand me over to the next person. Tonight, I am doing just this. The pavé rhinestone buttons on my wine-colored velveteen waistcoat with a black satin shawl collar twinkle in the candlelight, and love shines as I make my passage from pal to pal. A tinkle of laughter and soft banter and a delicate china tea-plate of delicious Garlic Butter Roasted Mushroom tidbits follow me like fairy dust; it is a magical night.
“The evening breeze caressed the trees tenderly
The trembling trees embraced the breeze tenderly
Then you and I came wandering by
And lost in a sigh were we
The shore was kissed by sea and mist tenderly”
(By Gross and Lawrence)
Last night there was a total lunar eclipse, with the moon shining silver, and then amber. I awoke from the winter solstice in the mood to tap-dance around public squares. I imagine gently clicking out a tune with my feet against large pottery planters and along low wall-tops. I’m getting ready to go out dancing; I’m listening to Let’s Misbehave, have tacked bright copper pennies to the worn soles of my brogues, and am dressing for sartorial success in a midnight blue velveteen three piece wide-labeled suit adorned with a dozen Italian bronze buttons, a jaunty wide mustard, deep blue, and Kelly green stripped bow tie, a white starched shirt, a Kelly green and mustard hounds-tooth fedora, and Kelly green socks.
“If you want a future, darlin’,
Why don’t you get a past?
‘Cause that fateful moment’s comin’ at last…
We’re all alone, no chaperone
Can get our number
The world’s in slumber–let’s misbehave!!!
They say that bears have love affairs
And even camels
We’re men and mammals–let’s misbehave!!!”
(By the illustrious Monsieur Cole Porter)
I am a most fortunate person; three blocks from my home is a wee café that serves exceptionally spectacular tarts and tea. The pie crust is meltingly flaky, and the fillings are just sweet enough to allow the rich flavors to glow. The café walls are decorated with blue and yellow Middle Eastern tile work, the booths are carpeted with wool Kurdish kilims and saddlebag cushions, worn coarse linen cloths cover the wooden table-tops, hanging brass lanterns cast a soft glow, and the tea is served from antique engraved samovars. I arrive at the café, unfastening the Italian four-hole buttons of my espresso brown tweed Norfolk jacket and depositing my drenched umbrella in the pottery stand next to the door. Consulting the framed blackboard, I decide upon a slice of Pear-Almond-Cherry Tart and minted black tea. Siavash Ghomayshi is crooning in the background, and the windows are steamed up, keeping the dank weather at bay.
“You’re sleeping without hearing any stories or lullabies
Sleep without any pain or sorrow
You won’t have any nightmares about winter any more
And you won’t have any regrets in your sleep”
(By S. Ghomayshi – The Last Letter or Akharin Nameh)
It was 5 pm in Amsterdam, and the sun was quickly descending. The dusky violet of twilight wrapped around the sturdy metal chairs by the outside mural at La Tertulia, and I fiddled with my phone. We were planning on meeting for tea; every time I received a text, my heart jumped in anticipation of a message from you. I poured another cup of English Breakfast tea, sweetened it with two spoonfuls of demerara sugar, took a nibble of Salted Caramel Apple Pie and refastened the marbled grey and black buttons of my vintage tuxedo jacket. American Music Club played in the background, with Mark’s voice crooning delicately. I dislike waiting, but I adore anticipation.
“An empty heart is like an empty house
Filled with old ghosts and little else
And secrets that everyone but me knows
That without love nothing grows”
(By M. Eitzel)
It is snowing everywhere, so to commemorate the dreamy, flaky whiteness that is blanketing much of Europe and the East coast, I have entertained myself by constructing a snow-covered gingerbread Eiffel Tower. I have even finagled to sneak wee tinkling blue lights inside of my architectural and culinary marvel, and am feeling smugly pleased. I carefully carry the Eiffel Tower into my candle-lit living room; this is way better than a pine tree covered in glass swag and tin foil! Francy, Lulu and I stand back admiringly. I’m wearing a festive maroon quilted wool smoking jacket with satin collars and bling-tastic pave Italian rhinestone buttons, black wool pajama pants, and monogrammed maroon velvet slippers. The cats are wearing halos made of metallic gold pipe cleaners, but this angelic disguise doesn’t fool me for an instant!
“My friends are gone and my hair is grey.
I ache in the places where I used to play.
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on.
I’m just paying my rent every day in the tower of song.
I see you standing on the other side.
I don’t know how the river got so wide.
I loved you, I loved you way back when –
And all the bridges are burning that we might have crossed,
But I feel so close to everything that we lost-
We’ll never, we’ll never have to lose it again.”
(By L. Cohen)
Sometimes I feel so expansive that I want to fly, but of course I have not managed that stunt yet except in my dreams. In those dreams flying is as easy as lifting my arms and pointing my yearning body upwards to the sky. Tonight, I’ve decided to invite dreams of flight; I’ve eaten airy angel food cake and am wearing cumulus cloud colored lawn pajamas with cooing dove buttons. I am snuggled beneath a fluffy feather down comforter and reading that children’s classic, “I Can Fly” by R. Krauss (illus. by M. Blair) to Francy and Lulu.
“Well, I’m a little airplane now
I’m a little airplane now now
I’m a little airplane now
I’m a little airplane now now
And wangity-wang wangity-wang
I’m a little airplane now.
I fly in the dark, over the baseball park.
Well, I fly late at night. I got my little red light.
And wangity-wang wangity-wang
I’m a little airplane now.”
(By J. Richman)
It is a lonely Wednesday; the sky is a dismal shade of slate with tendrils of storm, Francy and Lulu are avoiding me and are curled up together under an armchair in the furthest corner of the sitting room, I need to go grocery shopping so cannot sooth my moodiness with pastry or kale, none of my sewing projects interest me, and although I’m expecting an armful of books through interlibrary loan, nothing has arrived yet. Most of my clothing is out at the laundry, and I’ve resorted to wearing a black turtleneck, black 501s, and a teal argyle knit vest with faux leather plastic buttons. I reek of doddering hip grandparent. Unlocking my mailbox, I find an aérogramme from Pauline the Poitou donkey. This unexpected message makes me click my velvet-clad heels together like Dorothy, and I rip open the letter to read, “We all miss you and want you to return. Bring Francy and Lulu. xoxo – Pauline”
“Love letters straight from your heart
Keep us so near while apart.
I’m not alone in the night
When I can have all the love you write.”
(By K. Lester)
I’m deluged in a flurry of preparation for the Upcoming Year. I want to make firm resolutions, yet I’m drawn to my soft bed and slumbering cats like a heat-struck moth to a wavering, deadly candle flame. To counteract my lack of rectitude, I am stomping up and down the hall carrying towering boxes of unwanted clothing and knick-knacks to give away as I clean my home. Each lap down the long hallway is punctuated with a heart-felt intention for 2011; I will finish writing my memoir; I will travel Sognefjord, I will successfully tailor a Federal officer’s single-breasted frock coat with classic gunmetal buttons, and I will expand my repertoire of baked sweets. In the meantime, I take a break in my rust velvet upholstered Eastlake recliner to eat a slice of Crispy Mushroom, Potato and Blue Cheese Galette and drink a tall glass of sparkling mineral water.
“Climb every mountain,
Search high and low,
Follow every highway,
Every path you know.”
(By Rodgers and Hammerstein)