Friday, August 5, 2016

Au Revoir #Paris!

Soon we will be closing the window in our hotel room in order to begin our journey out of France and back to Germany. Through this window the sounds of Paris rushed toward us - the relentless shrill of traffic which began anew each time the light below turned green, the intermittent ringing of church bells, the hammerings of men working in the church across the street, and the voices of humans calling out to one another.

For me, Paris has been brutish. In two days we climbed the heights of the Basillica of the Sacred Heart; witnessed the graceful lines of Arc de Triomphe, the splendor of Versailles, the incomparable grandeur of the Lourve and the beauty of Notre Dame. We ate somewhere along the Champ Elysees. We sailed along the river Seine and walked across its bridges. We rode buses and subways and trains. But most of all we walked.

For miles we walked until my feet felt both swollen and deformed. We walked until my side and my chest hurt so much it became too difficult to breathe, and I thought I would die here in this beautiful, ancient city which seemed at times to be angry with its residents and with its hordes of invading tourists who take so much and leave so little.

But now it is time for us to leave. Au revoir Paris. I salute you, if for nothing else, for your ability to endure and to keep moving forward - through time and war, passed the capriciousness and greed of humans and through the sometimes illogical and seemingly inconsistent love of the God or gods who conceived of you.
It is time for us to leave. Au revoir Pari, until we will meet again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In Celle

I am in Germany. This is probably my fifth or sixth trip to Germany and I am happy to say that for me it has lost all of its “foreignness.” I love it here. I am, after all, both visiting my son (who lives here) and on vacation.
Today we are in Celle, a tiny town north of Hanover. At this moment I am sitting on a park bench outside the castle where King George I of England (from the House of Hanover) exiled his beautiful wife, Sophie Dorothea, because she was having an affair with (a really good looking) count named von Konigsmarck. In reality however, Sophie Dorothea did not initiate her affair until after her husband abandoned her.

Celle is such a beautiful old town. Much of its history and many of its half-timbered architectural style buildings date back more than 700 years. PS. That's me standing in the middle of the picture.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Can't Wait for Summer

I have only one more day of driving before I hang up my school bus keys for the summer. Last year, I was as excited and delighted as I am now. But last year, after I backed my bus into its parking spot and turned off the ignition, I started to cry. Not because I was unhappy about leaving, but because I suddenly realized driving my bus was helping me stay connected to someone I lost the year before.   

This year however, I have a lot to look forward to since I’ll be travelling even further than I did last year when I went to Mississippi and Tennessee, where I did research for the book I’m writing, a follow up to my memoir Rude Awakening. This year I am flying to Europe to visit my son in Darmstadt, a city just south of Frankfurt. From there we are heading north to a quaint little town called Celle, where we will visit his wife’s mother, one of the loveliest women I’ve ever met.

I also intend to visit two of my favorite sites - Heidelberg and Lichtenstein. (Did you know that during World War II there was an agreement between the British and the Nazis, one in which the British agreed not to bomb Heidelberg and the Nazis agreed not bomb Oxford?) 

Whenever we’ve gone to Heidelberg in the past, we’ve parked the car and gone down a whole lot of steps, actually descending into the city. Last time we went, we had lunch in a tavern under a great big stained-glass dome that looked and felt like sitting beneath a Tiffany lampshade. In Lichtenstein, which is located at the top of a mountain, there is a beautiful old museum and a cafĂ© from which you can look down and see the cars - which look like ants - as they move along the country road below.

Then, while my son returns to work, my daughter and I will be travelling to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Louvre, to walk along the Seine and to drink coffee on the Champs Elysees – a place I’ve read and dreamed about since I was a child. I am so excited!

Then it’s back to the airport in Frankfurt, where I’ve the feeling I’ll be shedding more tears before I return to my  bus once again in September.

Monday, June 6, 2016

On Writing

I read this book, Stephen King’s On Writing, years ago when I started my memoir and now I’ve started reading it again because I knew that reading it would give me the swift kick in the pants I needed to finish my second book. 

I learned a lot from this book. For instance, I learned that Stephen King has a wicked sense of humor. I learned how to spell a word, which despite my Italian heritage, I would never have learned how to spell. Fuhgeddaboutit! (That’s the word!)  And I learned that Stephen King sometimes thinks the way I do (parenthetically!)

But the most important thing I learned how to do while reading On Writing for the second time was to turn off the TV, which I have always turned on in the evening for company and for noise. I’ve been trying to turn it off for ages and finally, at his suggestion, I succeeded.

It’s been five days since I last had it on and I’ve experienced no tremors, no DTs! Just peace and quiet and lots of time for writing and reading. And guess what else I learned. I learned that instead of keeping me company, the TV was actually making me feel more lonely and that reading has the exact opposite effect.

In his book, which is part memoir and part how-to-write guide, Stephen King says that despite being a slow reader  (Really Stephen?!), he manages to read at least 70 books a year. So I’ve decided to challenge myself and see if I can match that. (Game on!)

Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air - A Review

     When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir by Paul Kalanithi who, as an undergraduate with a deep love of both science and literature, sets out to find the “intersection between the mind and the brain,” and who, after becoming a neurosurgeon with only one year of residency left, is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

     Yes, like many other bestsellers of late like Sherwin B. Nuland’s How We Die, and Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, When Breath Becomes Air is a book about dying.  But unlike other books about dying, this one is so lyrical and so unforgettable it is as if, like author-physician Abraham Verghese writes in his Foreward, “Out of his pen he was spinning gold.”
     But don’t take my word for it. Or Verghese’s either. Not when you can take it from the doctor himself who, about the morning of his diagnosis, writes:
     “I received the plastic arm bracelet all patients wear, put on the familiar light blue hospital gown, walked past the nurses I knew by name, and was checked in to a room – the same room where I had seen hundreds of patients over the years. In this room, I had sat with patients and explained terminal diagnoses and complex operations; in this room, I had congratulated patients on being cured of a disease and seen their happiness at being returned to their lives; in this room, I had pronounced patients dead…I had even, in moments of utter exhaustion, longed to lie down in this bed and sleep. Now I lay there, wide awake.”

     Then upon hearing the words, “The doctor will be in soon,” he writes: “And with that, the future I had imagined, the one just about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.”

     “In the context of Paul’s diagnosis,” Verghese wrote, “I became aware of not just his mortality but my own.” 

     But if you, as reader, find any of this amazing, it is what Dr. Kalanithi does after his diagnosis (while trying to find "the intersection between hope and acceptance") that will truly amaze you. 

     In When Breath Becomes Air, Dr. Kalanithi will take you with him as he moves toward death with integrity, vulnerability and courage.

     I loved this book. It strengthened my soul and helped me answer the question we must all ask in the face of death: What is it that makes life meaningful? 

Thursday, May 5, 2016


I saw a post yesterday on my Facebook feed which read:

“He said, ‘Books or me.’  
I sometimes remember him when I’m buying new books.”

The post was from Writerspace and of course, I loved it and shared it and when she saw it, one of my friends wrote:

Sometimes as I quickly scroll down my wall, I see a post and have passed who posted it. Instead of going right back up, I first read it, and then try to guess who posted it. I always know yours. I know you my friend.

I read that first thing this morning and smiled and felt just like someone in a Jack Nicolson movie. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was the one in which he “woos” (for want of a better word) a waitress who has a sick child and a neighbor whose dog he hates.

Anyway, when I read what my friend wrote, I felt just like the waitress who,  after receiving a compliment from Nicholson’s character, says “That’s just about the best compliment anybody’s ever given me.”

Friday, April 8, 2016

Goodbye American Idol - for Now!

I don’t know about anyone else, but I shall miss American Idol, which I have been watching for the past fifteen years. As I watched it over the two-night finale, sometimes through tears, I enjoyed every minute of it. It did not disappoint. 

Everything - from the words of President Obama saying that Idol has taught our young people the importance of voting, to new idol Trent Harmon's performance of Chandelier, to Jessica Sanchez singing The Prayer - was breathtaking. And, as I watched the parade of familiar faces and listened to their unforgettable voices, memories came back to me, memories not just of American Idol, but cherished memories from my own life too. 

So thank you American Idol for teaching me what I’d always suspected – that talent, when it is nourished and cherished can grow and grow until it becomes not just super, but idolic.

  But most of all thank you for all of the music, new and old, because it is music that gives us wings.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Anna's Question

     It was early when I woke up this morning. And cold. I looked at the clock. I had another hour before the alarm would go off. Too bad. Once I’m up, I’m up, but not necessarily out of bed.
     It’s another workday, I thought. (Back in September, I decided not to retire after all. I decided I’d work one more year. Maybe two.) What am I looking forward to? I wondered as my seventy-four year old body burrowed itself deeper under the bright new comforter I bought just a couple of days ago. It’s the softest comforter I’ve ever owned, although I am already taking its softness for granted, but not its warmth.
Today is Friday, January 8. It’s a new day, I think. A new week in a new year. But it’s winter. Oh god, why can’t I just skip winter this year? So far the winter’s been mild, but how long will that continue before the snow, ice and frigid temperatures begin?

     I let my thoughts about the future slide and thought about the Christmas that just passed. (Funny how once it’s passed, Christmas always seems so far behind me.) It was a quiet Christmas this year. Pleasant and satisfying. Then, two days after Christmas, I took my youngest granddaughter to a toy store. “Pick a toy,” I told her. “Any toy.”

     She picked two dolls – the girls from the movie Frozen, Anna and-

     “What’s that one’s name?” I asked, pointing to the blond.

     “Elsa,” she told me.

     “Oh, right. Elsa. Anna and Elsa.”

     “No Mom-mom,” she said. “It’s not Ann-a. It’s Ahna.”

     “Oh, right,” I said again. 

I thought about the sisters, about their interactions in the movie. And about the little one asking, “Do you want to build a snowman?”
     Yes, I thought, finally pushing the covers away. I want to get up. I want to build a snowman!