THE GYPSY IN MY SOUL, PART ONE

FIRST STEPS:   PART ONE.

As a child, I became a gypsy at Halloween almost every year.

As a young adult, there was still some gypsy spirit that remained lurking within.

This cool tune provided a background theme song for my life in high school and college. During high school, I fancied myself a wanna- be free spirit, trapped in a dull conservative, blue-collar, New England mill town that was on its way downhill.  Intuitively, I knew I needed to get the hell out if I didn’t want to go down with the ship.

abandon

I eagerly left grim Western Mass. behind me for a new and more glamorous existence in college at the University of Miami.  I quickly fell in love with the carefree sunny tropical vibe of South Florida. I’d spend weekends on Miami Beach with few thoughts of the future.  It took determination and focus to acquire a good tan.  Gypsy in my Soul continued as a part of my musical sing to self repertoire. 

On rare occasions, I’d convince a current boy friend to hit the road for a long and leisurely drive to the then, exotic, unspoiled Florida Keys. That improbable two lane highway floats between the aquamarine waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the turquoise Gulf of Mexico.  Driving that road at sunset, I gasped at Nature’s extravagant display as the still waters reflected the  towering clouds of a late summer Florida afternoon . That experience bordered on the spiritual.

keys sunset

My parents used to tell  me I had “shpilkes,”because I stayed on the move whenever the opportunity presented itself..

For my yiddish-challenged readers:

DEFINITIONS

  • nervous energy, restlessness. Lit. ‘pins’

EXAMPLE SENTENCES

  • “Sit still!”, said Gwen. “I can’t, I’ve got the shpilkes,” responded Marti.

NOTES

Pronounced SHPEEL-kuhs, SHPEEL-kiss, or SHPEEL-keys. Made famous within English by Mike Myers in the Saturday Night Live skit “Coffee Talk.”

 I think my parents were correct.

tuchas

The Broadway song that celebrates shpilkes is a tune from the show Gypsy. I sang Some People with the same enthusiasm and vigor as Ethel Merman or Patti LuPone.  I sang it as if it had been written for me. Every once in a while, I roll it out for an enjoyable, if dated, reprise.

At one point in my college life, as I listened to Ravel’s Bolero blasting on my  hi-fi, I read a Life magazine cover story about the allure of Big Sur, I tried to convince my best friend that she and I should ditch school and hitch to the West Coast.  She convinced me it wasn’t the best plan. As a young woman of that era, I did not have the guts to take that adventure by myself. That was a road not taken. The truth is, I hung somewhere between my desire to be a wild child and the reality of my conservative, nice Jewish girl upbringing.  Big Sur remained out of reach.

big sur

MOVING ON

I moved from the NorthEast to Athens, Georgia, in the 1970’s, when my husband accepted a position on the faculty at the University of Georgia. For the nine years that I lived in Athens, I was  cautious about venturing outside of the city limits. Experience had taught me that in rural Georgia, as soon as anyone heard me speak,  I’d immediately be branded a damn Yankee and a Jewish one at that. In the eyes of a certain kind of suspicious Southerner, I imagined they expected me to sprout devil horns at any moment. I went so far as to announce to my husband, that if I were to die in Georgia, he must promise not to bury me there. I needed to make another move.  Far away.

jerish devil 2To be cont’d:  Part Two

TUNING OUT, OR, HOW I LEARNED THAT IGNORANCE MIGHT LEAD TO BLISS

ignorance

Can ignorance be bliss?  For the last several decades, I was a news junkie.  I prided myself in keeping up with the latest news, be it from NPR, The NY Times, PBS, The New Yorker, or any other progressive media outlet.

When in conversation, if people “got” my news references, I’d give them a positive ranking for being  informed.  If they looked blankly at me, or openly admitted that they didn’t follow the news, I would give them an automatic downgrade.

Now I am rethinking the role of ignorance as an essential self protective device for maintaining sanity in a crazy world.

During political campaigns decades ago, I could be counted on to call strangers while phone banking, to walk unknown neighborhoods and to write letters in support of causes and candidates I backed. During the 60′ and 70’s I’d eagerly join in demonstrations. I telephoned for Eugene McCarthy between breast feedings.

mccarthy200-6b384d4a0c2682cfa0e79a4529e90d3a8e26a70a-s700-c85  In the 1980’s I sat for hours, with supporting materials, at a table in front of the post office in order to engage uninterested people in understanding the importance of voting for the Nuclear Freeze.  I regularly gathered people together in my living room to talk about the urgency of living in a world Beyond War.  I was on a mission. Each day offered an opportunity to save the world from destruction. But, after several years of activism, I burned out.  Our collective efforts did help bring about change, but somehow the issues seemed simpler then. The fervor with which we worked was difficult to sustain.

nuclear freeze

At some point, my penchant for political activism ebbed.

I continue to keep myself relatively well-informed, but no longer have the energy or desire to work for a specific cause.  Crisis Fatigue has set in. Climate change, refugees, Syria, gun control, Isis or Isil, droughts, the Mideast, mass shootings, idiots running for president, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Taliban, fracking, oil spills, bee declines, etc.etc.etc.; all my internal warning lights flash “OVERLOAD!”

It’s obvious that some crises are cynically hyped, if not openly manufactured, to drive listeners, voters  and sales.  After the selling of the first Iraq War, I began to feel loathing for most talking heads as well as many news anchors and politicians. By the beginning of the second Iraq War, my distaste was complete.  I’d lost my taste for most causes.

cnn

Maybe, in the beginning,  it was ignorance that allowed me  to believe that I/we could continue to effect change in our complex world?

One of the joys of traveling to Japan is that I can shut out the drumbeat of crises more easily than I can at home.  I’ve found it pleasant to “tune out” for a while.  To my surprise, the world goes on, with or without me.  My semi-detached state of mind continues now , even after I’ve returned home.

Because of the language barrier I have in Japan, I cannot understand what their politicians or media talk about.

And, at least for now, I’m liking it!

How to BE REALLY POLITE

Japanese are noted worldwide for their politeness to each other and to their guests as well.  If you’re not prepared for this tradition, it can catch you a bit off guard and make you feel as if you’re just a step above a barbarian, in terms of manners.

It took very little for me to fall in love with Japan.   On my first visit there, in 1983, I didn’t travel far beyond a covered shopping arcade in the large business- oriented city of Osaka. The visual explosion of color, pattern, and sights in that commercial tunnel immediately beguiled me. I slowly snaked my way through the long arcade because I felt compelled to look at absolutely everything.  It was a new and exotic world.

shopping arcade

japanese anime

gamecenter01_thumb

The arcade terminated at the spotless glass doors of a Japanese department store. A friend and I arrived a few minutes before opening.  We watched dozens of clerks, in immaculately tailored uniforms, bustling around in preparation for this event. At precisely 10 AM, with a great sense of importance, the manager of the store unlocked the doors, warmly greeting all the waiting customers.

My friend and I were the first to enter. We were not quite ready for our experience as Exceptionally Honored Customers.  Being the first in line, we began to make our own way past the gauntlet of welcoming sales people .  It seemed as if suddenly, we had become royalty.

A clerk stood silently in front of every single counter. To our great surprise, as we passed them, each salesperson bowed and wished us welcome.  It seemed as if suddenly, we had become royalty.

woman bowingsalesclerks bowing

As a foreigner, I try not to offend.  Unprepared for this show of politeness, my friend and I made a split second decision that the right thing to do was to bow back.  We slowly inched our way through the large first floor main aisle of the store, bowing  in response to each clerk on our right and then our left.  When at last we reached the escalators where there was no more bowing possible, we turned around to note that the Japanese customers who had entered behind us performed no such exchange of bows, they’d just strolled on in!

japanese types of bows

Our bowing performance had  probably held up the rows of other customers behind us, because no one had passed us.  They were probably having too much fun watching us.  All I could think of was that we were like the toy drinking birds of my childhood, who would bow formally and incessantly at the waist towards a glass of water.  All we were missing were the bowler hat and tail feathers!

drinking birdAs I looked over my shoulder, I expected to see everyone in the store erupting in laughter, but I think everyone was far too polite to show their amusement. My friend and I quickly were overtaken by our own laughter and embarrassment.

I did suspect that our foolishness must have made a great tale around many supper tables that evening!  Sometimes, the eager – to – please and uninformed can be TOO polite!  Lesson learned.

BEING FOOLISH

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.    Abraham Lincoln

You can easily fool yourself about the fact that you’re aging in appearance.  For a while.   I did it for many years.   Today, there are multitudes of cosmetic peddlers who are more than happy to convince you that their products will truly reverse time or make it stand still. They suggest that life will be happier and better if youth remains your obsession as it is theirs. Living in this bleeped up culture, we all drink some of the Kool- Aid, consciously or otherwise.

kool aidWe lived in an academic community when I was in my thirties.  I was certain that I fit right in with students and that anyone seeing me  in a dance class with these college age kids could easily mistake me for one of them.  I never did a fact check on that belief, but was more than happy to live with the illusion of prolonged youth.

danskins

By the time I was in my mid-fifties, there was no escape.  I confronted my personal moment of truth when my first granddaughter was born. Initially I felt pure excitement.  Then followed the inevitable assessment that my new life category carried some weightier significance along with it.

young grands

I understood for the first time, what had heretofore been an incomprehensible response from my father when I told him I was pregnant with my first child.

“That’s funny,” he said when given the news.   He didn’t mean funny ha ha. He wasn’t laughing.  He understood that an invisible line had been crossed.  He’d been bumped up a generation.  Mortality loomed larger.

The first time I pushed my granddaughter around in her McClaren stroller in her gentrifying, hip Brooklyn neighborhood, I was quite convinced that people would think she was my late-in-life daughter.  Didn’t happen. When I did interact with others on that first stroll, they would immediately say something to the effect of, “Isn’t is great to be a grandparent?”

No one ever considered me the mother of this infant.  Not for one minute.

pushing stroller

Busted.

Last night, my husband and I took our youngest two and a half year old granddaughter to swimming class.  My husband smiled a loving smile at her as she bravely floated on her back and gamely jumped into water over her head.  I realized I had the same sort of adoring smile on my face.  We were surrounded by energetic, youthful parents and their exuberant toddlers.  My energy level and sprightliness were no match.

There is no denial of our place on the aging hierarchy anymore.  Replacing it is something better perhaps; an acceptance and gratitude for the sweetness and many pleasures of our continuing role in the continuum of life.  And, at last, I can honestly say, no more fooling!

CHAPTER ONE CONCLUDES

iris

The first chapter of Living Life in Kyoto came to a sweet conclusion yesterday.  Upon returning home after too many hours of travel, I immediately hit my bed.  Hours later, the sweet voice of my youngest granddaughter shook me out of my stupor to regain a few hours of daylight consciousness. Sleep called again as soon as it turned dark.

When I’m happy, I tend to gush.  My husband is typically more restrained unless he’s got a fishing rod in his hand with a big struggling fish on the end of it.  I held back from telling him how successful I felt our trial run in Kyoto had been because he rarely “feels it” like I do.  However, my need to share my delight got the best of me.

me:  Wasn’t it any amazing two weeks? him: Yeah, it was fun.

emotional options

Ok, that’s what you get when you marry two people whose emotional responses to events are on opposite ends of the spectrum. But, I’ll take it. From my point of view,  our Kyoto trial was a great success and the truth was, my husband seemed happy too.

kaiseki 2
kaiseki, the Ultimate in Japanese haute cuisine.
izakaya, Japanese pub cusisine.
izakaya, Japanese pub cuisine.

Dan takes his restaurant hunts and discoveries very seriously and I happily relied on him to find a place for us to eat each night.  With literally dozens and dozens of wonderful options right our our front door, he relished the task of checking out every restaurant entry we passed that looked intriguing. He made lists and even a map. That to me says, Engagement.

Kyoto is a gourmand’s heaven and our apartment is at ground central.  From tofu to soba to kaiseki to izakaya to french pastries, pizza and home made green tea soft serve, it’s all there at our eager fingertips.

Japanese French bakery
Japanese French bakery

Of course, enthusiastic indulging does have it’s downside.  blowfish

We did have a few challenges but nothing that wasn’t overcome with the help of some  very dear friends who remained close by to speak and translate Japanese and explain the system to us as needed.

Physically, my biggest challenge is the development of painful blisters on my feet that begin to plague me after a few days of heavy duty walking.  This unfortunate situation happens a lot to me.  This trip, I broke down and bought myself a pair of crocs, but even that didn’t prevent the blisters from getting worse.  I’m going to have to find a solution for that somehow, because by the end of these last two weeks I was walking  like a VERY old woman.  I’ve got about one month to heal and locate a better pair of walking shoes until my feet will be put to the test on a return visit yo Japan in mid-June!  Bring it on.old woman walking