Craig Healing Springs (this excerpt from my memoirs is about aging)

See if you agree with the editor who, though he published other work of mine in the New York Times, rejected this piece.  (Written long ago, it’s now part of Craig Healing Springs, the title I’ve given my memoirs.)

CHS

THE GOLDEN YEARS

When I moved to Long Island the first neighbor to introduce herself was an elderly woman living alone.  She fussed over my 18 month old, asked after my husband, and delighted me with her dry humor.  Of all my new neighbors, she was the one who made us feel our new house was a home.

I’d tear about the yard like a crazy person, figuring I had five minutes to finish clipping before the baby woke, and see my neighbor lovingly caress each rose.  I’d race to the car to make a run for milk and juice…and spot my neighbor leaning on her rake to watch the sun glint gold off Northport Harbor.

She worked a lot “on the grounds.”  It gave her the opportunity to commiserate with passers-by on how a homeowner’s work was never done.  It didn’t take long to decode her complaints:  her house was her pride and joy.

Then one day she fell down the stairs.  Something was broken.  I forget what because what happened afterwards struck me as much more important.

Her daughter, whose distinction it was to be talked about even more than the house, came to care for her.  It was decided that my neighbor was senile.  Anyway her eyesight was bad, and sometime while recovering from her fall she signed, without realizing it, a power of attorney.

After that the daughter, who loved her, was afraid of her living alone.  The stairs were steep, and the next fall could have been a lot more serious, but my neighbor didn’t want to sell her house.  “For her own good” it was put on the market anyway.

My neighbor, full of rage and hurt, moved to her daughter’s home.  She felt her own home had been stolen and hated to see her possessions transplanted into someone else’s.  Her glass collection didn’t look right on a modern bookcase.  Her son-in-law mistreated her “color TV.”  She felt caged in someone else’s world where she had no function…no life.

The next stop was the nursing home.

Meanwhile the 18 month old my neighbor used to make yarn octopuses for was soon to enter kindergarten.  Remembering how this neighbor fussed over my firstborn, I was sorry she wasn’t around when I was pregnant with my second.  She would have told me to eat my vegetables and would have predicted the child’s sex.

My second child was six months old when I dressed her in a hand-embroidered dress we only used for picture taking and took her to see my ex-neighbor.

I found the nursing home at the end of a short street marked “dead end.”  (Better an occasional driver curse his/her way through a U-turn than to leave that sign posted!)

The building itself was beautiful…a shaded, once-graceful home.  But it smelled of urine.

The living room was actually many rooms, poorly lit.  People lined the walls in an assortment of odd chairs.  Well-meaning nurses talked pleasantries to people who rarely responded.

I wondered if I should disturb this sepulchral setting with a gurgling, giggling, squirmy baby, but just then said baby was discovered.  It wasn’t just by my ex-neighbor.  Looking down, I found gnarled fingers holding each pink hand, plump foot, and every accessible roll of baby fat.  Whether hobbling, in wheelchairs, or clanking along in walkers, each of that nursing home’s inmates was making it over to ooh and ah and coo and tickle.  I couldn’t leave until everyone had had their turn.

I’d just brought my baby for my neighbor to see but left with a bittersweet feeling of discovery.  Had my infant daughter been a fountain of youth in a place that, no matter how well-intentioned, was little more than a gentle person’s death row?  The people in that nursing home were put there because loving relatives were willing to pay for what would appear to be most important:  top-quality care.  I wonder.  Maybe there are things worse than finding your death at the bottom of a staircase in your own home.

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Another Top Five Films Available (as of today) on Netflix Streaming

But, in case March is still too blustery, you can always dive back underneath that down throw to watch another of my personal top films currently available on Netflix streaming:

  1. IMPOSTER (2001). I think this haunting, moody, complex Bladerunner-esque masterpiece…with a sexy Gary Sinise…deserves a lot more than 2 ½ stars.
  2. VEHICLE 19 (2013).  On the other hand, 4 ½ stars aptly rewards this neatly plotted action thriller.
  3. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN:  THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003).  Always fun to watch, or re-watch, Johnny Depp calmly stepping onto the dock as his ship sinks beneath the waves.
  4. TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH (1949).  Classic WWII flyer flick, starring Gregory Peck.
  5. BUS STOP (1956),  Whatever all else, Marilyn Monroe deserves real credit for her acting in this somewhat off-beat tale of an innocent cowboy and an out-of-luck showgirl.

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My Personal Top Five Books Available (as of today) in Kindle or Paper Editions on Amazon

Twisted (new author's edition 2015)

Almost time to celebrate spring by wandering outside for long enough to need a good book to read.  The following are currently available on Amazon in either Kindle or paper editions:

  1. SWANN’S WAY BY MARCEL PROUST.  Remarkably ornate sentences, dripping complex phrases that require multiple re-readings, do not make this an easy read.  But, savored in small portions like some sinfully delicious dessert, no higher heaven of delicately sensual feeling exists.  Personally, I prefer the translation by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin.  While it may not technically be the word-for-word closest to the original French, I believe it translates Proust’s extraordinarily elegant mind into English the best.
  2. HEART OF DARKNESS BY JOSEPH CONRAD.  Alas, no one has ever been so painfully unaware of their own genius as Joseph Conrad, when he summarizes the eight hours a day he spent writing by saying, “I write three sentences, which I erase before leaving the table in despair.”  This from a writer capable of, “The idleness of a passenger, my isolation amongst all these men with whom I had no point of contact, the oily and languid sea, the uniform sombreness of the coast, seemed to keep me away from the truth of things, within the toil of a mournful and senseless delusion.”
  3. ALL THE NAMES BY JOSÉ SARAMAGO.  This man did not win the Nobel Prize for literature for nothing.  No one else could write a believable scene in a mainstream novel in which a lonely, lowly clerk talks to the ceiling…and the ceiling talks back.
  4. THE SHELTERING SKY BY PAUL BOWLES.  Bowles’ seamless marriage of the exotically mysterious and the crushingly mundane is oddly and consistently spellbinding.
  5. TWISTED BY SUE HOLLISTER BARR.  What?  You question my objectivity in making this last recommendation?

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Istanbul: My Personal Top Five Remaining Things To Do

Continuing with my fondest memories of Istanbul last summer, I offer my final recommendations:

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IN ADDITION TO THE USUAL SIGHTS, I ALSO SUGGEST…

  1. HIPPODROME.  Dashing between bigger sights, I almost missed the ultimate in antiquities.  Several monuments, already unbelievably ancient when imported to decorate Constantine’s Constantinople, grace the space between the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, and the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet III (Blue Mosque).  For an American with few traces of civilization left that go back more than a few hundred years, I could hardly contain my wonder. Please don’t miss the original Serpents’ Column.  Melting down the weapons strewn over the battlefield by the defeated Persians under Xerxes I, the victorious Greeks made it in 478 B.C.
  2. RAQQA.  Housed in the kind of major sight I’m not generally describing here, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, is a truly haunting room dedicated to this ancient, exotic city that still witnesses more than its share of heartbreak today.  Don’t miss this exhibit with the mournful calls of birds so strange you can’t believe they could have ever flown through an impossibly orange sky.  (The rest of this museum is also excellent.)
  3. LIBRARY IN THE OLD PROCESSION KIOSK.  You must ascend a long ramp on the side of Gülhane Park opposite Topkapi and the archaeological museums, and leave all your worldly possessions in a locker, when visiting this gem.  Still, for those of us who glory in the past, it’s well worth it just to leaf through the huge red books with sepia photographs of an Istanbul long gone.  And, if you’re lucky, someone will be playing the baby grand on the ground floor.
  4. HAYDARPASA STATION.  Admittedly not that much to see in exchange for a trip over the water to the Asian side of Istanbul, but the ferry ride itself has charm and is cheap.  (Sit outside!)  And the now-defunct station is a must-see for any romantic with reverence for a time when it was the entry point to all the exotic cities of the East.
  5. GRAND OLD HOTELS.  You can also dream of the past when visiting some grand old hotels north of the Galata Tower.  One, the Pera Palace, perhaps suffers from over-renovation.  But its magnificence is certainly worth seeing.  Another, the Grand Hotel de Londres, perhaps suffers from under-renovation.  Still…sitting in its somewhat shabby lobby, listening to an elaborately caged canary sing behind me…I can so easily imagine Hemingway in the next wing chair.

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Istanbul: On a Lighter Note

Continuing with my fondest memories of Istanbul last summer, but giving the purple prose a rest.

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YOGURT AND PRICELESS ANTIQUITIES

My diet in Istanbul wasn’t the healthiest.  At least in the beginning of September, I found it a tough town to get any vegetables.

At a fork in the road I passed every day was a charming open-air restaurant, resplendent with dark wood, hanging beadwork, and rug-covered benches.  (Okay, maybe just a little purple prose.)  But what attracted me most was finding, amidst the usual meat and seafood, a dish that actually included green beans.  I picked a lovely table next to the railing and ordered it.  I was told they were out of green beans.

Since I passed every day, and there was always someone out front promoting the place, I’d ask, “Any green beans today?”  The answer was always no.  Eventually, when they saw me approaching from half a block away, they took to calling out, “No green beans.”

In my room I had a kitchenette so I wouldn’t have to pay to eat every meal out.  But even after I located all the local supermarkets, some quite big, all I could find was the occasional, weirdly anemic-looking zucchini.

On the other hand, Istanbul was a great place for anyone, like me, who eats plain yogurt, which was sold everywhere.  I kept thinking I’d found the biggest tub of it imaginable, when I’d find one even bigger.  Plus every time I saw on the streets that someone had reused an even bigger plastic tub…perhaps to catch rainwater, hold the fish caught from the bridges, or as a cement mixer…it turned out to be an even more gargantuan yogurt container that I thought possible.  I tried to find a reused plastic tub so big that it couldn’t possibly be a yogurt container…in vain.

Another amazing reuse of things applied to what I, at least, considered priceless antiquities.  Like outside the third version of Haggia Sophia, built in 527.  The “rubble” of the previous version, built a century before, was left around the garden next to the café for people to sit on while eating and wedge their empty water bottles between the incredible hand-carved details of its cornices and column tops.

I was prepared, at some point, to discover that what I thought was old sheetrock in a huge construction dumpster was actually priceless fifth-century hand-carved stone in the mother of all reused yogurt tubs.

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