Monday, April 30, 2012

Picture This

Having a GREAT hair day in Dublin!
After a friend posted gorgeous photographs from her trip to Alaska, she stated that she was eager to see my photographs of our recent trip to Dublin.  The thing is, there’s only about a dozen or so, and that includes the photos of a bound pork leg and wax figures of Bob Geldof and Liam Neesom, pictures that serve no purpose except for momentary amusement.  I’m awful about taking pictures.  I generally don’t like being in photographs but I’m also bad about recording events with photography. 

It’s not that I don’t want to remember moments or locations, but at the times when I should be “preserving the moment,” I’m usually so wrapped up in participating that I forget.  For example, while we visited the Dead Zoo (an excellent name for the Dublin Natural History museum), there were various scientists posted throughout the museum offering hands on displays.  One scientist brought giant bugs.  While I wasn’t about to hold the tarantula, I did hold the giant millipede.  Later, it occurred to me that people usually photograph moments like that.  I’m not sure if it’s to celebrate bravery or just to preserve an encounter with a rare creature.  Of course, it was too late at that point.  Still, I’m not likely to forget the sensation of a foot long creature’s hundreds of legs creeping along my hands and arms.  But later, I photographed a shop display of meerkat figurines dressed in various costumes.  They weren’t even taxidermied meerkats, but they were cute.

Generally, there are three items I deem photo-worthy:  architecture, plants, and animals.  People rarely make an intentional appearance.  My husband only appears in one photograph from our trip.  I don’t appear in any.  There is, however, a photograph of a knife and fork burnt into a tabletop at Avoca, something I thought would be an interesting idea should I decide to re-do our kitchen in Irish country chic.  There’s also a photograph of the front counter for the same reason.  Somewhere, there’s a similar photo of Balthazar’s counter in New York, also as inspiration should I ever get around to redoing our kitchen.  But there aren’t any pictures of us on any of our New York visits, although I’m pretty sure I was there.

Another reason why I don’t take many photographs is that I don’t know what to do with them afterwards.  I’m not big on hanging personal photographs on the wall.  I have some photo albums, but the last time I organized my photos in an album was for our first trip to Ireland 15 years ago.    Even with digital technology, out of roughly 200 photos, I’ve only bothered to print maybe 10 images and of those, only perhaps 5 are framed, three of which were from my sister’s wedding.

I do like photographs, per se.  I post a photograph almost daily on my private FaceBook page that I call “Beauty of the Day,” which mostly consists of flowers and leaves that I encounter while walking my dogs, some of which appear in the Gallery portion of this blog.  I view my photographs as a form of artistic expression, like painting or music rather than a way to record a memory.  And then there are the occasional forays into “photo as proof,” as if Photoshop doesn’t exist.  But I’ve pretty much given up on photos of a personal nature.  Even photos with friends.  I’m incredibly un-photogenic.  Back in the day when one actually had still photos taken of their wedding, my sister raved about our photographer because he was able to get at least a few photos with my mouth shut and both of my eyes open.  In group photos, I’ve taken to positioning myself on the ends so that I’m easily cropped out, thereby preserving the moment and esthetic appeal for the rest of the group.  Thank goodness for video still shots.  That’s how I manage the self-portraits taken for this blog.  I film five or ten minutes of footage, and no joking, I go through it frame by frame to get what appears “in print” – and sometimes things don’t appear, which are the entries without portraits.

I think part of the reason why many people take photographs is to share them with the next generation, to prove to them that indeed we were young at one point and led a rather interesting life pre-parenthood.  It’s one of the things we missed with my mother.  Her family destroyed their family photos because they feared repercussions during World War II, so I’ve never seen my mother as a child.  The oldest photo we have of her was taken in her 20s, when she was a model, and she looked hot.  But when she regales tales of her childhood, I can only imagine what she and the places looked like.  My nephews and nieces have grown up seeing photographs of their parents at all ages and laugh about their fashion choices and how they’ve lived their lives.  But my husband and I don’t have children so photographic documentation is mostly for our own amusement and nostalgia, and even so, we never look through old photo albums together.
Meerkats in Dublin - at least they're not as creepy
 as the tea party kittens in Potter's Museum of Curiosities.

Still, I’ve one upped an idea from Nicholas Sparks’ sappy story, The Notebook.  I’ve started putting together scrapbooks of pretty pictures cut out from magazines and postcards.  I figure, if I ever get Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia, my husband or maybe even my nieces and nephews could just grab one of those scrapbooks as fits their fancy for the day.  We can flip through the pages together in the convalescent home and they can tell me about my life as one of King Henry VIII’s wives, or how I lived as a courtesan in the demimonde of 19th Century Paris.  I also have one as a noted member of The Algonquin Table.  How would I know the difference?  It certainly would make for an intriguing past, and no one would have to worry about getting the story “right,” not to mention the pictures are lovely.  Why not? Over time our memories of the origins of actual photos fade anyway, and frankly a picture of the Tower of London, where I awaited my execution makes much more sense than a photo of a meerkat figurine display in Dublin shop.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bag of Illusions

Travel is a great way to tweak first and only impressions.
“I’m going to Ireland for work,” my husband announces.

I can’t help it.  My lower lip automatically protrudes and I glower.

You don’t even like Guinness or Smithwicks, or steamed mussels or jigs or - -

“Want to come along?” he asks.

I’m just about to scream “yes,” but then I realize I’m tight on cash and I have appointments.  My car needs some repair work and we don’t have a dog sitter who lives close by anymore.  Such is the price of modern married finances.  Separate is not equal – although it keeps spending arguments to a minimum.

My lip starts to quiver.

“I figure since it’s our 15 year anniversary, we can relive our honeymoon,” he continues.  “It can be our anniversary gift.”


My lip pops back in and the glower turns into a grin.  My husband laughs.

“I guess that means, ‘yes?’”


I find a dog sitter.

I pull up the old edition of what needs to be done, emergency contacts, and maps. Much has changed over the couple years since we last traveled together.  I’m adding, adjusting … and deleting.  My finger pauses, hovering over the delete button each time it’s something that relates to Uber Hund.  I feel guilty about erasing him, declaring him irrelevant. Is it foolish that I save the old copy?

I clean house like a madwoman.  Nothing makes me realize my lax cleaning habits more than having guests over, and having someone living in our house while we’re gone makes me even more aware.  I even vacuum the box springs.

I get the Euros.  I haven’t seen them before.  I spread them out and my husband and I study the various denominations.  We hold them up to the light, looking for “secret” watermarks.  We gripe about how dull our monochrome money is, despite the portraits getting their facelifts.  I still have Irish coin from when we went to Ireland for our honeymoon. I kept it in hopes we’d go back someday.  Who knew they’d completely change currency?  They’ll make nice charms.

Now the fun part.

I look up things to do in Dublin, make a list and add restaurants.  I probably won’t go to any of them, preferring to be inspired by serendipity, but it provides a good starting point.

And then, there’s the “travel wardrobe.”  My husband doesn’t understand, but I’m pretty sure most women do.  It’s like preparing for the first day of school. A fresh travel wardrobe is about making a good impression, putting a best foot forward, creating a fantasy.

“You’re not going to see these people again, in fact, you’re not even going to really be meeting anyone at all,” my husband says. 
There's more to Ireland than Guinness and craic.  At least,
that's what people tell me.

“True, but that makes it all the more important to make a good impression,” I say.

In a strange way, because I know I won’t be seeing any of these people again, a vacation wardrobe grants creative leeway in my sartorial selection.  Vacation attire (not to be confused with “resort wear”) allows me to project a fantasy image of who I would like to be during that time – someone who doesn’t have to worry about muddy paws, potential dog bites, and dog treat bags. 

I check the weather for Dublin.  Not surprisingly, it’s cold and rainy.

I opt for the spending-the-week-at-the-country-manor look:  sweaters, boots, my overcoat, scarves, tweed and cashmere.  I don’t want to scream tourist, but it’s not like I can blend with the native population any way.  Still, I’ve traveled enough to know that tennis shoes, especially white tennis shoes, baseball caps and shorts are typically American. I can also spot German tourists, especially male German tourists. 

“What you should do is pack really old stuff,” my husband says.  “That way you can throw it out after you’ve worn it so it you’ll have more room in your luggage for souvenirs on the way back.”

I stare at him.  It makes complete sense, but it’s a disturbing image.  Somehow, borderline homeless never figured into the wardrobe fantasy.

That’s really what vacation is about, isn’t it?  Fantasy?  It’s not just the clothing, but the lifestyle as well, staying in hotels, eating out, exploring, living a life of leisure.  In a way, vacations also give our imagination a break.  That’s what makes vacations magical.  They  make our dreams reality.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A House Is Not a Home

Not every man's home is a castle.
“We need to move,” my husband said as he walked into the kitchen for his morning coffee.

I’d like to think he’s saying this because he’s done something slightly shady, and we need to leave town before some dangerous (but not really dangerous) people figure out our whereabouts.  Or maybe because Chevron has discovered vast amounts of black gold under our house and is willing to pay three times as much as what we’d paid for the house, just to keep up appearances rather than slant drilling a couple miles away.  But I know that’s not the case.  He’s got itchy feet.

“You know we lived in the townhouse for 4 years, the other house for 5 years, and this house for almost six and a half years,” he offers as explanation.

What makes it weird is that even though we’ve lived in this house the longest, it’s felt the least like “home.”  In fact, each residence has felt decreasingly like “home” even though we’ve been living in them increasingly longer.

Perhaps it’s a California mentality.  I watch shows like “House Hunters,” and marvel that there are young couples looking at houses that they anticipate being their first and only house, or “forever home” as we say in the animal rescue world.  They talk about attributes that will be great for raising their children (of which they have none), how rooms will be adjustable as the children grow and how the couple will be able to sit on the porch in their rockers watching their grandkids.  The house they purchase is often over 2,000 square feet with a good sized yard and nice school district.  Even with professional couples earning double incomes, the first property most coastal Californians wind up purchasing is a townhome or condo, which they anticipate selling and moving up as the market improves and the family expands.  It’s just not possible for young people to buy “forever homes” on their first real estate venture.  Although, for many couples, their first purchase becomes their unintentional final purchase, especially when the real estate market takes a dive, as it did recently.

I like exploring new places, but in my mind, I’m counting down to The One, the “gentleman’s farm” where I can have a horse, some chickens and room for my dogs to play and bark without annoying our neighbors and our neighbors don’t annoy us.  It needs to be close enough to a major city for my husband to find work and to keep me amused.  “Major city” for both of us translates to San Francisco, New York City, Boston, possibly Chicago or Seattle/Vancouver.  We’re “done” with Los Angeles.  We understand that’s a tall order and we’re willing to bide our time.  We try not to ask ourselves if there will be enough time to get there.

As a child, I moved once, when I was six months old, from the Marine Base to the house where my mother currently lives.  After I left for college, the moving bug struck, and I haven’t remained at one residence for any more than the six and a half years we’ve been here.  Still, I’ve always “nested,” decorated everything from my dorm room to the houses in a manner that made me comfortable and expressed my taste at the moment, trying to make each place feel like home.  But the “decorating” and the settling were never complete.  In the back of my mind, I was and am always thinking about what if I have to move?  With the houses, it’s a question of resale value.  We can’t afford to put in the personal quirks that would make things more enjoyable for us, the things that made us look in disbelief and wonder “what were they thinking?” when we were looking at other people’s former “forever homes.”

But I’m getting older and tired of living in limbo.  I’m relating to my father’s stance that “The only way I’m leaving this house is in a pine box,” although there still isn’t anything that ties me to this particular house.  So I guess that means I’m not really “there.”

The idea of permanency doesn’t appeal to my husband.  He doesn’t form the same connections that I do to co-workers, community, or abode.  I don’t know that he wants outside connections. He moved several times as a child and adolescent and likes the idea of novelty and illusiveness.  Since we’ve been together, he’s seen each place as a mini-life, an opportunity to slip into a new and different lifestyle.  I suspect, in his perfect housing world, he’d be one of those people who buys houses completely furnished, designer perfect, but having the personality of the house, rather than of the people who live there.  He’d remain for a couple years, then sell, furnishings intact, and move on to the next new thing.  Kind of like really grand hotel rooms.

Being "under water" isn't as fun without the singing crab.
It’s all moot now.  We’re so far underwater that we can’t afford to move.  We can’t even afford to rent out the house. That makes the house strangely uncomfortable, as if it’s holding us hostage.  In retaliation, we have a grudge against it.  We’re slow to do things to make the house more pleasant because we keep hoping we’ll escape soon.  And every time something goes wrong with it (and since it’s an old house, many things go wrong), there’s a feeling that it’s acting out of spite.

Then again …

We are in an ideal proximity to a major city (and our favorite one).  This portion of the city where we live is zoned for chickens (including roosters) as well as horses, although we don’t currently have sufficient yard space.  However, the property behind us is owned by an elderly couple.  The house itself is the right size, with the right number and arrangement of rooms, despite its quirks.

So, maybe the house isn’t holding us captive, so much as biding its time. Maybe it’s like the storyline of several romantic tales.  Maybe this house is just patiently waiting, while offering all the best it has.  Maybe it knows that someday, we’ll realize we’ve been living in the perfect home all along.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Public Health Announcement

You are not alone.
Do you frequently find yourself running into walls, chairs, tables, or footboards?  Are your shoulders, hips, buttocks and knees constantly riddled with bruises and you can’t remember why?

It’s not your fault.

You might have Floating Eyeball Syndrome (FES).

FES is the inability to recognize the existence of one’s body beyond the immediate viewing area.  Common signs of FES are the inability to negotiate corners, raise one head under objects, or walk more than three blocks without personal injury.

The symptoms of FES should not be ignored as they can be potentially fatal.  People with FES have been known to die by hitting low hanging objects at high speed or falling off curbs into traffic.

People with FES should not operate heavy or light machinery, ride bicycles or any other wheeled object, or brandish sharp utensils.  Wearing headphones, hats, or sunglasses can exacerbate FES and it is highly recommended that people with FES not be given cell phones, especially text capable cell phones, as they can significantly increase the fatality rate of people with FES.

If you don’t have FES, but you know someone who does, the following is recommended:

·         Step loudly or announce your presence before rounding corners or approaching an FES person from behind to prevent injury to yourself or to the person suffering from FES.

·         Do not open cabinet doors above people with FES or allow people with FES to reach for objects under tables or cabinets.  It is especially hazardous if you call out the person’s name while they are in these positions.

·         Keep cats and other small animals away from people with FES as significant damage can occur to both, such as squishing, tripping, and asphyxiation by sitting.

While there are some documented cases of FES resolving on its own, it is predominantly a chronic illness and should be treated as such.  With proper care and attention, people with FES have been known to live relatively normal lives, albeit with occasional setbacks, such as periods of sudden black-outs, cuts, and contusions generally associated with collisions with stationary objects.

While it might be tempting to wrap people with FES in significant quantities of foam rubber or to at least convince them to wear helmets, it would be more helpful to provide FES sufferers with devices that create awareness beyond the eyeballs.  A recent study suggests that implanting antennas all over the body of those with FES, not unlike those on caterpillars, holds much promise.  These antennas would emit sounds as objects near the FES sufferer.  The FES sufferer would then be alerted that danger was approaching, encouraging slower movement and caution.  There is much research yet to be done, but the current results are hopeful.

Finally, keep in mind that people with FES want to be treated like everyone else, with sensitivity and caring.  If you see someone you suspect might have FES, clear the path for them and offer them your hand (slowly) in friendship. They will appreciate your effort.

If you have FES, you are not alone.

How do I know this?  Because, I have Floating Eyeball Syndrome. It’s time that FES sufferers stand, very carefully, and be counted. 
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