Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Brightest Colour

The Brightest Colour

There comes a day in February when all the world is grey. The sky hangs leaden over silver grass. Sparks fly from the chimney’s mouth and disappear into a swirl of ashen air that dims the holly berries and mutes the fiery lamp post flame into a drab and cheerless triviality. Colour is wiped from the landscape as even the hemlocks and magnolias, brave as they are in their cloaks of green, fail to pierce the dusky landscape. Care must be taken to ensure one’s thoughts and emotions outwit the monochrome necrosis that envelops the garden like a fever. No wonder it is the shortest month of the year.

It was into this grisaille mural that I ventured on a morning last week. Locking my door behind me, pulling the collar of my coat up against the damp, I made my way down the drive. Still, silent, the street out front was barren of walkers on this muted morning and my head was as empty as the pavement. Sighing a sigh of ennui, I was passing by the sleeping flower bed when I saw it. Just off to my left, at eye level, on the iron cold limb of a winter pine. A flash of red as bright as a ruby. I froze stone still and stared, face to face with the largest bird ever to grace the confines of my garden. A bird rarely seen by human eyes in my part of the world and one whose sheer outlandishness has inspired both legend and cartoon. With a yard long span of black feathered wings and a red hat on his head of extravagant proportions, I was looking into the ebony eyes of Woody Woodpecker himself. A rare and magnificent Pileated Woodpecker.
He graciously waited till my heart calmed a bit, gingerly hopping from limb to limb, never taking his eyes off my own as he soaked up my gobsmacked admiration. He gave me the briefest of nods then suddenly, with all the grand theatrics of an eagle, he lifted up into the oyster air and flew, wings stretched knife-straight, head aflame with an otherworldly red. I watched him recede into nothingness, his ruby hat slowly evaporating into the grey.
Perhaps, I thought, he chooses this month to be seen.
A holy reminder that in the darkest time, the brightest colour.


Friday, February 17, 2012

The Joke

The Joke

On the very night after one of music’s most gifted voices was found forever silenced in a Beverly Hills hotel room, a remarkable performance pulled the jaded corporate audience up out of their seats in a whooping, hollering ovation at the Grammy awards across town. It was a performance that needed no desperate theatrics to obscure a paper-thin talent. No tumblers nor levitators, no marching gladiators, no fire. The singer did not wear a dress made of meat, nor did she swing from a rope in a cowboy hat. She simply stood on the stage in a fetching black dress and a swath of red lipstick, and sang. Such is the powerhouse talent of the British songstress, Adele. The world is now at her feet. May God protect her.

It was especially difficult not to consider the comparison between this fresh faced, naturally charming girl and the one whose meteoric rise and tragic descent hung like a blue mist over the festivities of that night. The lusciousness of the smiling Adele contrasted painfully with the memory of the ravaged Whitney Houston of latter days. Both had been blessed with an undeniable gift; a gift that, despite all the hoopla and hype of the music business, comes along only rarely. I sat watching Adele drink in the well-deserved adulation of the audience on Sunday, saw her grinning with glee at it all, and I prayed fervently that she has people around her now who will tell her the truth, people who will help her get the joke. For make no mistake, fame is nothing more than a joke. A cruel joke usually played on the very young when they are so certain it’s the one thing in life they desire above all others. Little do they realize, it is a bell that cannot be unrung, a present that cannot be returned when the recipient finds it frighteningly unwelcome. It is incredibly meaningless, yet it has the power to change people in ways they would never have dreamed possible prior to its arrival at their door.
Only the most self-aware amongst us dare shake its hand.

Due to The Songwriter’s occupation, I have seen a bit of fame up close. I have stood beside heart throbs who are oddly shorter that their photographs suggest. I have taken note of the ones who look you in the eye when they speak to you and the ones whose eyes roam the room in search of someone more important. I have learned how to spot those who get the joke of fame, and sadly, those who do not.
I myself have never wished to be famous. When I went to the movies as a little girl, I wanted to be Guinevere, not Vanessa Redgrave - Mary Poppins, not Julie Andrews. It was the characters the actors portrayed that caught my imagination, not the actors themselves. I adored The Beatles, still do, but I would never wish to be one of them. The notion of being hit with flashbulbs on exiting a restaurant fills me with absolute horror and I loathe being photographed the way some loathe a trip to the dentist. However I fear I’m in the minority, for so often today it seems being famous is the ultimate goal. Famous for what? No matter... that doesn’t seem to figure into the fantasy. As long as one can score magazine covers and a few paparazzi, one has hold of the brass ring. Modern television has shown us that merely by sacrificing one’s dignity and grace, fame is actually quite easy to attain and it seems there are many willing to try. Fame doesn’t care if one merits its attention or not, it is more than capable of damaging the one with true talent as it is the one famous for nothing.

There is every reason in the world to be hopeful for Adele, despite her newly colossal fame. She is one of the rare ones who appear to own both a witty intelligence and the ability to revel in the happy ridiculousness of this media comet she is now astride. Her interviews are delightfully self-deprecating and candid, and she seems to know her own mind which can only help her stand firm when she needs to. And she will need to. She has just announced that she intends to take five years off to concentrate on enjoying her life, a decision that will seriously displease some suits in the industry. As much as I love her music, this delights me no end.
Give her a good thought, and wish her well.
I am.

“Don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.”
Erma Bombeck

“I won’t be happy till I’m as famous as God”.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Best Thing in the World

The Best Thing in the World

What’s the best thing in the world?
June-rose, by May-dew impearled;
Sweet south-wind, that means no rain;
Truth, not cruel to a friend;
Pleasure, not in haste to end,
Beauty, not self-decked and curled
Till its pride is over-plain;
Light, that never makes you wink;
Memory, that gives no pain;
Love, when, so, you’re loved again.
What’s the best thing in the world?
Something out of it, I think.

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Valentines and chocolates.
Flowers and foot rubs.
A day devoted to love.
Such a good idea.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012



When I was a little girl, London was the place to be. The Beatles had already unlocked the cage of American culture, releasing all sorts of strange and wonderful changes that flew far beyond the ones we heard on the radio. Eyes turned to London for fashion and design as we followed Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, David Hicks and Mary Quant. Carnaby Street took on the magical mystery of the yellow brick road. And through it all, there in the background in head scarf and tweed, encircled by a moat of corgis, was the Queen. Circumspect and enigmatic, she stood on the unbroken line of history, linking past and present in a way those of us in the States could only imagine. I found her fascinating. And I still do.

For someone like myself who possesses a lifelong love of all things British, this is a banner year. The painterly production of Downton Abbey, the amazing performance of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, and just this week, the start of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee year, have all served to reawaken my love of history and, just as when I was little, I find I want to read everything I can. It seems as one gets older, and hopefully gains that precious modicum of wisdom denied to the young, history gains a sharper focus, a greater clarity. We begin to see shades of grey on the great canvas we were once so certain was painted entirely in stark black and white. It all becomes even more interesting.

No matter where one starts in British history, all roads lead to the Queen. Already Sovereign long before I was born, she vowed to devote her life, “whether it be long or short”, to the service of her country when she was just twenty-five years old. She has held fast to that vow, which she took before God, for sixty years. A remarkable feat, particularly when one considers that had her uncle not abdicated the throne when she was a child her life would have been entirely different, her head unburdened by the crown she now wears.

I recently finished a marvelous new book by British journalist, Andrew Marr, entitled The Real Elizabeth and I can solidly recommend it to anyone with more than a passing interest in this woman who has served Britain for sixty years now. The book is revealing, but mercifully not salacious, and it is obvious that Mr. Marr had unparalleled access to those who know Queen Elizabeth II well. He shows us a woman with biting wit and cleverness, fun-loving and caring, who is imbued with a remarkable stamina and devotion to her country that has never waned. It is a history lesson that reads like a novel and it kept me reading when I really should have been doing other things. The Real Elizabeth left me with even more respect for the woman on the throne than I possessed at its start. I had the strong desire at its finish to say to her, “Well Done”.

Living in a country as young as mine, I sometimes long for the depth of history and tradition that permeates the home of my ancestors. I know full well that there are wildly divergent opinions on royalty in Britain, and Lord knows, some of the antics of her children have been questionable, if not downright cringe-worthy. But I can only say, from my side of the pond, I find the Queen to be a wonderfully stabilizing figure. When I compare the malignant circus currently taking place here in my country in this, another election year, I long for someone standing above it all, with enormous dignity, wisdom and grace, who represents the past, present and future of her country in a way we in the states can only dream of.
Britain has a reason to be proud of this woman and to revel in this celebratory year.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Power of No

The Power of No

Open your eyes! Open your eyes!

This exhortation has been bellowed at me by every partner I’ve ever had on a ride at the fair as I sat folded in on myself like a clam, eyes shut, white-knuckled hands gripping the cold metal bar that held me in place. Knowing full well that I deplore thrill rides, I have nonetheless allowed myself to be coerced into their little metal death cars more times than I care to admit. School friends talked me into The Scrambler once, with disastrous results that involved the loss of my dinner behind one of the livestock display tents. Several years later, I was talked onto Space Mountain at Disneyland only to have it break down midway through the excursion, leaving me hanging like a side of beef, half upside down in total darkness.

The Songwriter himself has been successful in using his considerable powers of suggestion to place me squarely onto some of these rides, once sending me plummeting thirteen stories in the all too appropriately named Tower Of Terror. As my stomach relocated itself somewhere near the vicinity of my collar bone I made a decision.

Never again.

I didn’t say anything about it. I just calmly stood in line for the next loopdeloop with a smile on my face. But when the roller coaster cars came roaring into the station and everyone climbed aboard, I simply stepped into, and right back out the other side of, my car. I turned to see the startled face of The Songwriter as he flew off into oblivion, seated next to a tow-headed six year old boy. Sighing a peaceful sigh, I purchased a cool drink, took a book out of my straw bag, and sat down under a palm tree to await his return. Thus ended my thrill seeking career.

The power of “no” is a marvelously liberating one, but one most of us seldom employ. We trot off to lunches we’d rather not attend. We join committees we loathe. Now of course we all must do things we’d rather not, perhaps every day of our lives. There are dentist appointments and tax returns. We all have to muck out the stable sometimes. But I speak here of those extracurricular activities that we are no more bound to participate in than we are to fly. Why do we say yes, when we want to say no? I was once invited to a cutlery party by a neighbour. She was a very nice woman but try as I might I simply could not warm to the idea of sitting in a room full of ladies sipping wine and buying knives. So I called her up and told her I could not make it. She asked me why, a question I was unprepared for. So I told her the truth.

To be perfectly honest”, I said, “it just isn’t something I care to do.”

To my surprise she laughed a hearty laugh and praised me no end for my candor saying, “Good for you! If only I’d been so brave, I wouldn’t be having this damn thing at my house. I just didn’t know how to say no!”

It was my uncle who got me on my first ferris wheel when I was just a toddler. As the car we were in rose higher and higher in the air, swaying malevolently all the while, I became more and more terrified until I was too scared to scream. Then I noticed my father on the ground far below. His expression was grim and highly determined as he faced down the operator of the ride. I could read his lips as they formed the words,

Get Her Off This Thing. Now”.

Ignoring the line of riders waiting to board, the ride slowly, slowly, lowered until my little feet could touch ground and I ran like a bullet to Daddy.

You don’t ever have to do that again”, he said.

Such a valuable lesson.

It just took me awhile to learn.