For Women Only

Three cheers for women wearing pants and all that signifies!  hurrah, hurrah, hurrah.

Watching Hillary Clinton accept the presidential nomination last week made me truly appreciate how times have changed since my youth!  Beyond her political and policy acumen, she has claimed the right to be Queen of the Pantsuit, demonstrating daily that it can be a colorful, versatile and seemingly indestructible partner in life.

pant suits for hilary

When I was growing up,  it was skirts only for girls at school.  Even in college, at the University of Miami (1958-1962), women were not allowed to wear slacks anywhere on campus.  What was provocative to a  college administrator about young women wearing pants?

Other restrictions for women only  included a rule against wearing sandals on campus (this, in a tropical climate), living off campus, as well as adhering to a nightly curfew.  My feminine consciousness at that time was so underground, that it never occurred to me to organise with other women on campus to protest that regulation.We grumbled about the double standard, but were too ignorant and felt too powerless to do anything about it. I am very grateful for the women who came after me and blazed the trail for the rest of us to wear whatever we damn please.

My generation lived on the cusp of the women’s movement. So near, but yet so far.  In a span of just a few years, the rules came tumbling down. We weren’t happy with the status quo, but hadn’t yet understood how wrong  and damaging the double standards of the day were.

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By the time the movement really kicked in, I and most of my contemporaries were married and having children, as we’d been encouraged to do. It had never occurred to most of us to do otherwise.   Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, hit me like a bolt of lightning. Suddenly, everything I’d been taught was suspect.  I understood it was too late for some things, but not too late for others.   I immediately knew that my daughters would be brought up in a changed and less repressive environment.  Of course, wearing pants was just the tip of the iceberg.

The pill was released in 1960, but I wasn’t aware of its existence for several years after that. My mother’s stern message to me, repeated frequently in case I hadn’t paid attention, was “Nice girls DON”T!”  Female sexual liberation was on the horizon, but not close enough to grasp. If I’d been born five years later, my choices would have been dramatically expanded.  I’ve never been sure whether that was a good or bad thing!!

But just to share how far we’ve come in a lifetime, here’s advice to women from a 1939 Vogue magazine:

1939 vogue

‘SLACKS: Whatever else you have, you’ll want—if you weigh under a hundred and fifty—a pair or two of slacks. They’ve come a long way from their early duck-pants beginnings, they’re an accepted part of nearly every wardrobe to-day…Eminently wearable at any hour—and in deluxe versions—on the American Riviera, slacks should be ‘more conservative’ for English country weekends; similarly, while ‘smart women wear them on Palm Beach golf courses’, those belonging to more formal clubs ‘might think twice before playing in them’; and, welcome attire on beaches and small boats, slacks are ‘usually restricted to the sports deck on ocean liners.’

I Must Have Flowers!

“I must have flowers, always, and always.”
― Claude Monet

Certain strands of passion follow us through life.  One of them, for me, has been my love affair with flowers.

As a child, I loved the drive- by thrills of spotting masses of jaunty daisies, exotic orange tiger lilies, frilly purple asters, and delicate Queen Anne’s lace on a New England country road.

The scent of wild roses at Nantucket beaches was more intoxicating than it’s flower, but oh, what a scent!  IMG_7459One of my early memories is that of gilding deep red roses with metallic paint that my mother used to gild my ballet slippers.  I was convinced they were the most beautiful objects I’d ever seen.

Living in Georgia, spring was about the scent of wild honeysuckle, the flaming colors of azaleas and the raucous glory of redbud and dogwood trees.  By the hot Southern summers, nothing much survived except marigolds.

“If you pass by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it, God gets real pissed off.”
– Alice Walker

I traveled to Surrey, England ,when in my 50’s, to take a month long course at the old-fashioned Constance Spry School for flowers.  We picked our greens and branches from the  abundant English hedgerows.  Fabulous and natural, but definitely of the school that more is better.

constance

It wasn’t until I began to look at Ikebana in Japan that I began to understand that less can be more.  A lot more.  It fascinated me to watch the attention given to a single blossom. How best to show it?  Learn to find it’s “best” side, just like a movie star. Learn to celebrate its season, by placing it in an appropriate container and adding plant material that compliments it . Become aware,that once you pick a flower, you have begun its decline toward death.DSC03535

I tend to like flowers that do things.  I love to watch them unfold, change colors, and shapes.  I  tire of brazen sunflowers who grab center stage.  Same goes for marigolds. Their jolt of pleasure has no nuance.  But then, how to explain the thrill of a garish water-lily?

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Did I mention my love of morning glories?  Always moving,  climbing, opening, closing and always a  little wild.   There’s a market just devoted to showing, buying and selling morning glories in Tokyo!

morning glory

Flowers always fill me with joy.  They offer welcome distraction from unpleasantness and sorrow. They add beauty and a piece of the natural world to my surroundings and make special celebrations even more special.   They bring out my creativity and demand that I focus on what’s in front of me.  They practically shout at me, ” Pay attention!  Life is glorious and the earth is a  miraculous place.  I, like you and all living things, will not be here forever.”

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Don’t Fly with Me

fear of flying

 

For many years,  I was truly terrified of flying,  particularly if there was a threat of turbulent air.  If it became turbulent during a flight, I’d initially scan the faces of the flight attendants, to determine if they showed any fear. Surprisingly, they never did, even when instructed by the pilot to remain seated.  Suspicious of their equanimity, I’d then convince myself they knew they were being watched, so their composure was all an act. I’d continue to observe them for any signs of a breakdown. One time, after a rough patch of air, I did overhear an alarming conversation between flight attendants, “Today’s my birthday,” one told the other.  “I’ll sure as hell never forget this flight as long as I live!” Aha!  The truth revealed.  Maybe my terror was an appropriate response.

I’d also silently assess the attendants’ perceived competence to empty a plane and save my life in the event of an emergency evacuation.  Using  gross assessments, I’d generally count most of them out.  Too young, too old, too heavy, etc.  There were only a few who seemed to me to be up for the job, if it got beyond passing out food and drink.

In recent years, other than in really turbulent skies, I’ve calmed down a lot.  A few little bumps don’t bother me anymore, whereas, years earlier they’d set off immediate alarm bells in my fight/flight system.  No longer do I scan national weather maps up to a week before my flight to determine my chances of a smooth flight, nor do I count down the days before the flight, like a woman going to the gallows.  I learned early on that alcohol doesn’t help  for long.

When my sweaty palms finally popped  their first Xanax, however, it did truly help.  Insane thoughts diminished. Not foolproof though. In extreme circumstances, for example, if turbulence lasts for more than 5 minutes, after taking a Xanax, I might resort to cranking up my iTunes music and singing  along loudly to distract myself and everyone else on the aircraft.  Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

This would be a good day to fly from LA to NY!
This would be a good day to fly from LA to NY!

I had to rely on my daughter several years ago to guide me off the plane after I decided I needed more than one Xanax to calm my delicate nervous system during a particularly rough flight from Tokyo to LA.  I knew I was in trouble, when, after takeoff, the pilot announced that we were flying into typical late November  weather, indicated by a series of storms lined up across the Pacific.

As a teen ager, I loved to fly.  Then, one year, flying the East Coast corridor from Miami to NYC, I was a passenger on the Flight from Hell. It frightened me so deeply, I’ve never totally recovered.  From the moment we were airborne, until we touched down in NYC, we experienced extreme turbulence. Immediately after takeoff, flight attendants were instructed to stay strapped in for the entire flight.  Meals were never served. It was far too rough to attempt a bathroom run. An ambulance met us at the airport upon landing to remove a few very sick passengers.

The plane flew on and on through endless dark and stormy clouds. It was like a bad dream that I couldn’t awaken from.  The plane constantly lurched from one side to another, dropping altitude and recovering it, doing everything except a perfect somersault. It might have made a good amusement park ride for daredevils.

The rosaries were out for most of the flight. I briefly wished I were a Catholic.  After about an hour of this, I lost the ability to think. I felt trapped and hated having no control to bring the that aircraft down from the sky immediately. My mind was in turmoil. Dear God, I prayed, if I survive this flight, I will never, never, ever get on a plane again.

rosary

Of course, I survived the flight, but it took years to climb back on board an aircraft with any semblance of composure.  For many years, I’d take a dreadful passenger train from Miami to NYC, rather than a flight. As bad as train travel was in the early 60’s, it was an alternative that I was grateful for, the coward’s way out. Finally, as this method of travel continued to deteriorate,  I couldn’t stand it anymore; the snoring, the lack of air conditioning, the long waits in the middle of nowhere waiting for god knows what.   I think the train was called the Silver Meteor.  Hah. The 24 hour trip was always a minimum of 3-4 hours late in arrival. I came to the conclusion, as most friends and family had done years before, that it was crazy of me to continue traveling the rails.

the silver meteor

In the 1980’s my husband and I approached Kennedy airport for a late afternoon flight  to California.  The weather forecast, which I’d been listening to intently, was for severe thunderstorms in late afternoon. The day dawned with clear blue skies,  but as I watched the skies intently throughout the day, the dark clouds began to gather. I become an obsessive sky watcher on days that I fly. By flight time,the sky  was an advancing, ominous black wall.  At the airport, I kept waiting to hear that our flight had been delayed, but there was no such announcement.  Then, to my shock, there was a boarding announcement.

I could feel my husband getting increasingly irritated with me, as my fear got increasingly out of control, but  I nevertheless approached the desk agent at the gate to inquire about the wisdom of taking off in such bad weather. She curtly let me know the decision to take off was up to the pilot, and they intended to go ahead and board the plane.

I didn’t like that at all. My husband looked at me and said evenly, “The pilot doesn’t want to die.”   Not enough.  I wanted it in writing. I wanted to know that it would be impossible, even for a strong-willed pilot with an overpowering death wish to take off before the weather cleared.  I bid farewell to my husband at the gate, he boarded, and I checked into an airport hotel, to leave the next morning.

storm clouds

I’ve been on planes that have been struck by lightening and planes that had to make emergency landings.  I’ve come to understand that it’s not a simple thing to destroy a plane, but I guess you still might not want to book a flight with me.

 

My Magnificent Obsession

Unless you’ve visited a place first hand, you can’t know what it’s like.  You might have some vague images floating around in your head, but they’re unlikely to match up with reality.

So it was with me, the first time I went to Japan, in the early 1980’s,  I’d been unimpressed by the few cheap kimono I’d seen brought to the US as souvenirs.  I’d seen pictures of tortured bonsai trees. The Sony Walkman was making waves and the first Toyotas were shaking up the American automobile scene. There was lots of talk about the Japanese way of running businesses, but the spotlight on Japanese culture was in its infancy. I had no expectations of what awaited me; nor could I have known that my discovery of this foreign country would shape and influence the remainder of my life.

On that first trip, no more than 8 days long, I was introduced to the wonders of the Japanese department Store and the nighttime, dazzling neon transformation that occurred in otherwise unremarkable cities, adding layer of mystery and fascination to the urban landscape. I stayed in a Japanese hotel where everyone greets you and smiles, and is eager to be of help. I came across my first Japanese flea market and became acquainted with green tea in all its variations.  The excellence of and reverence for Japanese craft and particularly for ceramics, hit me hard. The beauty of presentation, whether it be in restaurants, for gifts, or just display, opened a whole new visual world.  I rode my first on-time, impeccable Japanese train, and was driven in immaculately clean taxis, in which the drivers wore white gloves and kept their cars gleaming. I was able to leave a heavy shopping bag in the middle of a department store and return to it, always untouched.  Naturally, I was touched by the famous Japanese hospitality towards visitors and the warmth of Japanese friends.

I left Japan in awe, knowing that I’d been deeply moved, but never realizing it was just my first step in uncovering a way of life that resonated with me on many levels, and continues to intrigue, inspire and fascinate, three decades later. A few have called it an obsession, and I agree.

Continuing on the visual theme, begun last week, I’d like to share some short videos I’ve taken over the years that exemplify some of the aspects of Japan that I’ve found so appealing.

Gardens, Temples and Shrines

A hydrangea garden in Uji on the grounds of the Mimurotoji Temple contains more than 10,000 blooming hydrangeas during June.  It’s pure bliss, if you like blue  There are a myriad of gardens known seasonally for their plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, wisteria, azaleas, iris, or autumn colors.  Whatever the season, Japanese gardens sheltered and cared for in temples and shrines take it to the next level.

Expecting the Unexpected

This installation of birds and trees is in the lobby of the Ikenobo building in Kyoto.  It defines the word delightful.  It’s like taking a walk in a magical woods.

I stumbled upon this old timey amusement park in the middle of the great city of Tokyo.  Let’s agree it doesn’t get more charming.

Extraordinary Food

I was surprised to learn that Japanese tend to eat only what’s in season.  Most of their restaurants have less than a dozen seats, making the preparation personal and from the heart. Specialization and training go hand in hand.

There are no amateurs.  There are restaurants that specialize in noodles, in ramen, in tempura, in sushi, in grilled foods, in temple foods, and in tofu.  Here’s a sample of a distinguished tempura chef.

It’s in the Details!

 

Kusari doi, or rain chains, are a traditional alternative to a closed gutter downspout.  Aesthetic attention and appreciation is paid to rain.

Notice the care taken as a Kyoto ceramics master signs a handmade wooden box that will contain a ceramic purchase, in this case, a tea cup.

 

How to Respond?

questions

Like many of us, I suppose, I have more questions about the world we live in than answers.  In fact, I have only questions.  The majority of answers provided by the experts are unsatisfying and incomplete to me, because they don’t appear to “know” either. From where I stand, no one seems to get the big picture. This recent round of violence is a complex, fucked up mess.  My guess is if you think you have the answers, you most likely don’t.

I’ve been reading lots of opinions about our current state of affairs, nationally and internationally.  So far, nothing has helped me to come to terms with it or show a sensible and possibly effective direction out of this.  Do we accept the fact that this might be the new normal or do we fight (somehow) to see that it isn’t?

How do we fit this current state of affairs into our lives?  What is an appropriate response?  Is there an appropriate response?  Is ignorance bliss?  Do we ignore it at our peril or will it help keep us sane?  I think it’s important to try to keep the violence in perspective.  It doesn’t represent the bulk of our humanity.

Some shout, “strength! and war with Isis!” That might provide a knee jerk short lived solution, assuming that we hit a knock out punch. But, wars only create misery and the repercussions from them come back for generations to bite you in the ass.  If one part of this monster’s head is cut off, I imagine it wouldn’t be long before a new and uglier head appears.

monster

Is it realistic to strive for a world where the kinds of vicious attacks on the innocent can be prevented?  It seems to me that if someone is demented and determined, opportunities for acting out one’s demons can be found pretty easily.

More weapons and guns?  I think the more gun scenario aka arm everyone has helped get us into this mess.  Moreover, it sure ain’t helping those who have been targeted, so fortunately, that’s one theory down.

It’s unfortunate that several of the shooters in recent attacks have been in the military and served in war zones.  In order to kill anyone, most individuals have to be hardened.  In war, it’s kill or be killed.  It might not be easy for some individuals to turn that training off, particularly if their mental stability is off, possibly, because of war.

It’s tempting to just retreat from the media all together, but that seems cowardly.  And yet, the imagery and the feed that we get can be distorted and unrealistic in its intensity and desire to drive viewers and readers. Where does the truth lie?  In some truly awful way, these acts of violence can bring excitement to a dull day, as long as it doesn’t touch too close to home.  We all become voyeurs, as we shake our heads in sadness.

The instruction to “love” has almost become a cliché.  As has the consolation ” our hearts and prayers go out….”  That alone ain’t gonna do it.

There’s no magic wand we can wave to have everyone agree to the Golden Rule, although it’s the basis of every religion. I do believe that acts of kindness beget other acts of kindness and vice versa.  That might be a start.

the golden rule