Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year...You’ve been Hacked!


On Wednesday, at 7:00 a.m., a  phone call from my niece woke me up.  “Are you planning a trip to Scotland?” she asked. 

It took me a while to digest this question, but I soon learned that my niece—and evidently a large number of contacts from my Yahoo mail account, had received the following e-mail from “me”, sent  at 4:06 in the morning.  (I received it too. So did my doctors’ offices and my Pilates instructors.) The subject line read: “It’s Urgent, Please Respond”.

The text read:
 It's me, Joan. I really don't mean to inconvenience you right now, I made a trip to Scotland and I misplaced my passport and credit cards. I know this may sound odd, but it all happened very fast. I've been to the embassy, they're willing to help, but I'm short of funds to pay for my passport fees and other miscellaneous expenses. Please can you lend me $900? I'll pay back, as soon as I get home.

Please respond as soon as you get this message, so I can forward you my details to send funds to me. I don't have a phone to speak with you right now.

I await your response
Joan Gage

When I opened my computer, I saw that many friends and e-mail acquaintances –especially those who lived in Europe—had already e-mailed me with subject lines like: “You’ve been hacked”.  I got more phone calls and a whole lot of e-mails from U.S-situated acquaintances as the country woke up.

In the past I had received very similar e-mails when some friends were hacked—but I think it used to say that they were stranded in London and needed $900.  (Is there even a U.S. Embassy in Scotland? I wondered. )

So I, and most of my contacts, knew immediately that this was a hacker pretending to be me.  And most of my friends (and I) realized that the return address he was writing from was identical to my e-mail address except for one letter missing  (His e-mail address  read “Joan Gag” instead of “Joan Gage.”)

I immediately did what Yahoo Help advised—changed the password to my account.   I also managed to find under “Yahoo Help” a place where I could detail my problem to “Yahoo Customer Care”.  I was given an “incident number” and told that Yahoo would get back to me within 24 hours.

But it’s been over 48 hours now and I still haven’t heard from them.

Since I am, as my blog says, a Crone—over seventy last time I looked—the mind and idiosyncrasies of a computer are a foreign language to me.  Whenever I have a tech problem I look for a member of a younger generation. 

First I called a friend who had been hacked with the same message (but allegedly stranded in London, although I knew she hadn’t left Massachusetts.)

She told me she immediately changed her password, but soon realized this wasn’t enough.  Eventually she had to close down her Yahoo account completely, switching to G-Mail.

A college-age relative, who seemed very computer-savvy, told me that I’d have to immediately change every password I had and probably have to lose the Yahoo account as well.

My daughter Marina, who was visiting for the holidays, exclaimed in horror when she saw that my Yahoo account had over 8,000 stored e-mails. “Don’t you ever delete them?” she asked.

Well I do, but these e-mails—going back to 2008—allow me to contact, say, a fellow vintage-photographs collector in Europe whom I long ago communicated with –thanks to the Yahoo Search Mail function-- by simply typing “daguerreotype” into the search box.  Yahoo knows the e-mail addresses for all my friends, if I just type in their first name—so of course I’d never written all those e-mail addresses down.   While gathering biographies from my Minnesota classmates for the 50-year High School Reunion book in 2009, I relied completely on my Yahoo account’s ability to store e-mail addresses.  Now I had to say good-bye to all this information.   Would I ever get those addresses back?

My daughter and I tried to find a list of my contacts on my Yahoo account before closing it down, but Yahoo listed only 15 contacts for me.  One of my European correspondents suggested that the hacker must have  “wiped out” most of my contacts.

I wonder why my hacker went to all this trouble.  Does he ever find people naïve enough to think they must immediately send him $900 to save me from my plight in Scotland?

I suspect that the door used to get into my Yahoo  account may have been my Facebook account.  My computer teacher, artist Andy Fish, closed down his Facebook account long ago, saying that it brought him so much spam.  But I don’t want to lose my Facebook account as well as my Yahoo account—it’s the only way I can stay in touch with far-flung friends and my kids’ generation.

Another friend thinks my Linked-in account may be the vulnerable spot.

When I think of how many times I’ve given my Yahoo address as the way for a new acquaintance to reach me, I shudder.  I’ll have to get new business cards printed.  I’ll have to inform the various airlines, the credit card companies, every organization I belong to—the mind boggles.

And the same day I was hacked, I received that startling e-mail from the New York Times saying that my home-delivery subscription was being cancelled.  Like over 8 million other people, I tried to call the Times or reach them through their web site to say, “Don’t cancel my subscription!”  But when all lines were tied up and the Times site was unavailable, I began to realize it was all a huge computer glitch.  I guess Mercury was retrograde on Wednesday.

Oh well, here’s to a New Year, a new e-mail account and new ways of  being tortured by my malevolent Mac Power Book.   I think I can hear Steve Jobs, from somewhere in internet heaven, laughing.


Joan Gage --    A Rolling Crone


(P.S. --To my friends and contacts--I haven't closed my Yahoo account yet -- will let you know my G-Mail address when I do.  To tech-savvy readers--I really would appreciate your advice on what I should do next.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Worst-Taste Christmas Decoration Ever?

The first time I drove by the decorations on the roof of this house in Shrewsbury, MA, I thought--"Nahh!  That's not what I thought it is."  The next time I drove by, I took a good look and realized it WAS!  Santa peeing a lighted stream across the roof into a puddle of lights.
I went back in the daytime to make sure--but without the lights, I'll bet no one noticed anything odd about this Santa standing next to a chimney.
I just read last week that a homeowner in nearby Westborough MA., who got carried away with filling his front yard with lights, was receiving warning letters from an anonymous neighbor who threatened to tear down the display if he didn't winnow it out to make it more "tasteful."  But at least the guy in Westborough didn't have Santa peeing on his front lawn!

Meanwhile, daughter Eleni, who's spending Christmas with her husband Emilio in his native Nicaragua, says that touring the  Christmas displays in Managua means going from one creche scene to another.  She's got photos of the Nacimientos on her latest blog post "Away, In A Manger."  Every home has a Nativity scene, I gather, and in public spaces the figures are life-sized.  But the Christ Child, which is the centerpiece of the scene, cannot be placed in the manger until Christmas day, when he is born.  Before he's placed in the manger, the children touch the Christ Child for a blessing.

Here in Worcester, MA and its suburbs, there are a lot of giant inflatable Santas and Snowmen in front yards, but there is nary a Christ Child or manger scene around.  I think I read that it is now illegal to have a representation of the Nativity in a public place.

But I'll bet there are no laws on the books in Massachusetts against having a peeing Santa on your roof.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Christmas Card Crunch


My pals at the North Grafton post office received me with hoots of derision when I walked in on Tuesday holding 150 Christmas cards all stamped and ready to go.  “Not already—you’re early this year!” They remember well the several past years when I’ve sent out my cards AFTER Christmas, referring to them hopefully as “New Year’s cards”.

The following day I came back with another 60 cards, and declared myself finished. This year I designed the cards, plus a newsletter with text on one side and, on the other, a collage of small photos illustrating the highlights of the year.

The highlight of 2011 for us, of course, was the arrival in August of Amalía, our first grandchild, so we included a lot of shots of her, despite the suggestion of one acquaintance: “Go easy on the baby photos.  We’ve all seen enough by now.”

Not a chance!  I just cut the critic off my list.

Why do I spend a big chunk of my precious pre-holiday time designing cards and newsletter and photo collage, addressing 200 cards, stamping them and sending them off?  Well, for one thing, I love getting cards with news of all those friends I haven’t heard from in a year.  Because we lived in Greece for five years and Manhattan for 14, because I grew up in Minnesota, went to college in Wisconsin and Berkeley, we have friends spread around the world.  About 35 percent of our cards need overseas stamps. 

I love opening holiday cards and reading them, especially if there are photos.  One couple always sends a poem, to be sung to music—usually Gilbert and Sullivan.  Two couples always feature a painting by one of them. One couple  photoshops themselves and their dog into cartoon-ish situations.  A gutsy female friend manages to stalk a celebrity every year and get her photo taken along with said celebrity.  Last year it was James Gandolfini who played Tony Soprano.  The text of the card said:  “Hanukah, Xmas, Kwanzaa…Fuggedaboutit!  From Bada-Bing and Lotsa Bling.”

(Some of my more tech-savvy friends send animated E-cards—even ones they’ve animated themselves, but it isn’t the same.  You can’t store them in a closet in a shoebox to revisit next year.)

Since childhood, daughter Eleni has reveled in the cards we receive, sitting by the tree, studying them all.  This is the first year she sent out her own family card (featuring, of course Amalia—it served as a birth announcement as well.)

Eleni wrote a blog post on “The Liminal Stage” about holiday cards, called “The Ghosts of Christmas Cards Past”  and included some rules for senders of newsletters. (I know that people like Miss Manners think family newsletters are tacky, but  even so, I adore getting them and sending them.  It’s the only time of year I actually “correspond” instead of e-mailing.)

Eleni’s rules for Christmas-card writers can mostly be summed up as “Don’t embarrass your children”

Eleni wrote:  I’ve read cards bragging about stellar SAT scores (a delight for proud parents, a nightmare for shy kids). But the worst text I’ve ever seen described a seventh-grade boy’s multiple accomplishments and then added, “and yes, he has discovered girls.”
          Which leads me to the first rule of holiday card and newsletter writing, which I’d like to offer as a public service: Puberty has no place in your holiday newsletter. If you have a pre-teen, it is already all over your photos. Please, do your sensitive child a favor and ignore any references to a social life and/or physical developments. This will not only save your relationship with your child, it will spare me, the reader, from flashbacks to my own awkward years.
         In a similar vein, vacation shots on holiday cards are great. Bikini photos, not so much. I say this as a person who finally had to tell her mother I didn’t want to see my breasts on any more holiday card newsletters...
         While we’re on the topic of body image, you should know that if I receive a photo of just your children, not you and your children, I’m going to assume it’s because you don’t want me to see how much weight you’ve put on. (That’s harsh, and not in the spirit of Christian charity and lovingkindness, but I’m telling it like it is.) Your kids are adorable, but you’re the one I went to college with; I want to see your smiling face, too! Of course, this year, our own Christmas card features just the delightful baby Amalía, but that’s because it’s doubling as a birth announcement. And because I don’t want you to see how much weight I’ve put on.
         But the biggest faux pas you can make holiday cardwise, as far as I’m concerned, is not sending one at all.

Here are some rules of my own from the viewpoint and wisdom of a senior citizen:

Omit any mention at all of any significant others in your child’s love life—until they’re officially engaged.    Lines like “Susie and Oscar Vanderbilt seem to be getting serious” can look awfully embarrassing in a year, after Oscar has come out of the closet and married Rodney Thistlewaite and Susie is back on the dating market.

No matter how fascinating your year has been, even if your last name is Obama, you don’t get more than one page to tell about it.  Okay, this year I had to take my Arial 12 point font down to 11 point, but I sternly adhere to the one-page rule.

This is a biggie for senior citizens—whatever grim medical procedure you’ve undergone, do NOT go into detail.  No one wants to know.  Just sum it up in a cheery matter: “Despite having a knee replacement, Cedric will soon be back on the golf links.”

Of course if Cedric passed away in the past year, you owe it to your friends who may not have read the obituary to tell them.  In fact, I suspect the entire newsletter would be Cedric’s obituary, with a line or two from you, the widow, thanking everyone for their support and condolences.

(One more thing—if your pet passed away, please make it clear that it was a PET.  Otherwise we get sentences like, “We are still grieving the loss of our beloved Lancelot”—which leads to scrambling through old Christmas cards to try to remember the names of your children.  Better you should say, “our beloved Golden Retriever Lancelot” )

I second Eleni’s remarks about photos—we don’t just want to see photos of your adorable grandchildren, we also want to see YOU in photos, so we can judge how well that last facelift is holding up.

That’s all the rules I can think of as I recover from this year’s Christmas card crunch and await what the next few days will bring into the mail box. The only final rule I have is:

Send that holiday card.  I want to know about your kids and grandkids and the hip replacement and the 50th high school reunion.  And if you don’t send me a card this year, you're off my list next December.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

R.I.P. George Whitman—We’ll Always Have Paris


Photo by Simon Nofolk for The Telegraph

Today’s New York Times carried the obituary for George Whitman, who died yesterday, Dec. 14, in Paris in his apartment above his bookstore “Shakespeare and Company” at the age of 98. There was even a small photo of him on the Times’ front page saying “Heir to a Paris Legacy—George Whitman, owner and operator of the postwar Shakespeare & Company bookstore and a beacon, mentor and provider to generations of young writers.  Page B 17.”

I was immediately transported back to 1969, when, as a single “career girl” in my 20’s, I took two years off, quit my magazine job in New York and traveled, visiting friends from Vienna to Paris to Morocco to Rome and then settled into an editing job in London.

Like every writer of my generation (including Woody Allen) I harbored fantasies of being part of the Paris writers of the twenties, hanging out with the Fitzgeralds and the Hemingways.  I knew all about Sylvia Beach and her famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company, and I had heard it was now owned by a New England eccentric who was continuing Sylvia’s legacy and would offer food, board and books to anyone who wandered in off the street.

I was eager to write an article about him, but the first day I walked into the store, he refused to be interviewed.  When he finally did grudgingly agree to answer some questions, he mixed fantasy with fact, because he liked enhancing his legend.  He told me he was the “illegitimate grandson of Walt Whitman”, but the twinkle in his eye hinted that we both knew how unlikely it was that the poet left any progeny.

Looking today on Google for photos of George and his famous  bookstore on the Left Bank’s Rue de la Bucherie, facing Notre Dame, I discovered that dozens, maybe hundred of writers of my generation visited Shakespeare and Company and had experiences similar to mine and are now reminiscing on their blogs about the man who devoted nearly a century to carrying on Sylvia Beach’s store and her encouragement of writers.  (It's not the same physical store, but Sylvia  late in life gave George the right to use the name.) 

My article on George Whitman was eventually published in the April 1970 issue of the late, lamented Holiday Magazine. As I wrote in the lead, “Between the two world wars, a minister’s brown-eyed daughter named Sylvia Beach owned a famous bookstore called Shakespeare and Company on Paris’ Left Bank. She provided encouragement criticism and occasional handouts to struggling American writers …She published Joyce’s revolutionary Ulysses when no one in New York or London was willing to take the risk…Ernest Hemingway, in "A Moveable Feast", wrote about her:  ‘She had pretty legs and she was kind, cheerful and interested and loved to make jokes and gossip.  No one that I ever knew was nicer to me.’”

In the 1970 piece I chronicled the troubles Whitman had been having with the French Government, which had closed down the second floor of the store because he was using it as a free hostel for young people who wanted to crash there.  I quoted the sign in the window on the day I first entered the store:  To Those Who Cherish Freedom, Practice Equality and Seek Justice –WELCOME.  We wish our guests to enter with the feeling they have inherited a book-lined apartment on the Seine which is all the more delightful because they share it with others.”

In the article I compared Whitman to “a modern Don Quixote.  He is the image of the knight of the woeful countenance—tall and painfully thin, with watery blue eyes in a doleful, hollow-cheeked face, unkempt red hair streaked with gray and a gray Van Dyke beard that juts out at the world like a defiant Brillo pad.”  (And that was 42 years ago, people, when I was very young and he was already an old man. Twelve years after I visited him the first time, George Whitman produced his only heir, a lovely blonde woman named Sylvia Beach Whitman, who has taken over the running of the store.)
 I found this photo of Whitman, posing with  his daughter Sylvia and  Bill Clinton on a blog  with the unlikely name of Palavrasqueoventoleva 

In “The Paris Magazine”, Whitman’s  attempt at a “poor man’s Paris Review” he wrote, “Why do people always come in and ask me is this your bookstore?  I consider it as much yours as mine ...Go ahead and kick off your shoes and lie in a bed and read…”

Here’s how I described my first meeting with him:   I was peering into the window when a bleary-eyed, bearded figure unlocked the door and, squinting at the sun, asked me what time it was. “Noon,” I replied.  “Come in and I’ll make us some coffee,” he said.

Soon I was drinking coffee at a table outside the door of the shop, gazing at what must be one of the most lovely views in Paris, while my host opened his mail.  I felt I should explain myself, but when I began he snapped, “No interrogations at this  time of the morning,” and went back to his mail.

Some  customers wandered in and he motioned me aside “I have some good news for you, dear.  I’m going to let you run the store while I take a shower.”  He handed me the cash box, warned me not to sell any books that didn’t have the price written on them and nailed up a “Black Power-White Power” poster on an outside wall.  Then he scrabbled around the messy desk looking for his soap, towel and a candle.  “To cut my hair.”  He lit the candle, ignited his hair, then beat out the flames with his hands, muttering,” Better than a haircut.”  Finally he donned a red-plaid sports jacket, leaped onto his bicycle and rode out the door to the public showers, leaving me with 25,000 second-hand books and the odor of burned hair.

 He never asked me my name and I never got a chance to ask his.

During the next seven hours, Whitman returned two times—just long enough to unload piles of books from the baskets of his bicycle. To my protests that I had to go, he’d mumble, “Lots of important errands to do, lots of people to see. Haven’t paid the tax on my bicycle.” And off he’d ride, red coat flapping behind him.  Meanwhile I sold about $150 worth of books in five languages and refused to sell what were worth about $100 more because they weren’t marked.  The most popular books that day were Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire, L’Anarchisme and anything by Ezra Pound.

By the time the sun was going down, I had been joined by two mini-skirted English girls who had run out of money, a starving French boy who wanted to sell his art books, a young American couple who couldn’t find the friends they were supposed to stay with, a fiery Frenchman with a broken leg who wanted to talk to Whitman about publishing his poetry, and Gerard, a soft-spoken American who had been on the road for seven years and was currently sweeping up the store in exchange for food.  Whitman himself popped in for a minute to say he was going to make potato salad—we must all stay for dinner—and he was just going to the grocery store. Much later, when he hadn’t returned, we raided the refrigerator, ate bread, sausages, cheese and yogurt on the table outside and watched shadows cover Notre Dame while the good bourgeoisie of the neighborhood looked at us with curiosity.  I handed the cash box to Gerard and set out on my Métro trip back to the Right Bank.”

Eventually, of course, I came back and eventually I got the chance to interview George.  One thing he said that I quoted in the article: “My favorite customers are seventeen-year-old girls.  I can’t think of anything more wonderful than  being seventeen and in Paris.  If a girl comes in on her seventeenth birthday, she can pick out any book she wants, free.”

That interview took place in 1969 when I was 28 years old, not seventeen.  When I turned 60 in 2001, I returned to Paris with my two daughters (both of them over 17 by then) and dropped by Shakespeare and Company to find it being tended by a young British schoolteacher.  She assured us that George was in fine health, reigning over his small kingdom as usual.  He just wasn’t in at the moment.

Now George is gone, but I suspect his ghost will still be sitting in the shadows of his dusty, overcrowded store which, according to the Times he called, paraphrasing Yeats,  “my little Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart.”

George Whitman lived a remarkable life.  I’m just sorry I never got a chance to thank him for one of my favorite Paris experiences.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Her Lost Saints

I have mentioned before daughter Eleni’s blog, which she began this year, called “The Liminal Stage.”  Having studied Folklore and Mythology in college, Eleni writes about traditions, rituals, and liminal stages—the  “psychological thresholds, times of transition when we stand ‘betwixt and between’ one state and another. The biggies are birth, marriage, death”.

The blog post she wrote yesterday, inspired by the fact that it was St. Anna’s day, just blew me away.  She makes it look so easy.   Her writing is always funny, conversational, yet full of wisdom. (A proud  mother’s plug: her second book, first novel “Other Waters” is being published in February by St. Martin’s Press).   By the end of yesterday’s essay, I had a lump in my throat.  So I asked Eleni’s permission to reprint the post here, because I think it deserves the widest possible audience.

My emotional reaction to this blog post was not unique.  A dear friend who lives in Israel wrote her yesterday:  “Each blog post is more – better – awesome – terrific….My grandmother (who died in Auschwitz) was named Anna.  One of the few photos I have of her is sitting outside on a stone or something very low and reading. And here we have Anna teaching Mary how to read.  My mother’s name had a bit of Mary in it, as did many females in Hungary at the time.  See—your blog make my memory electrons move rapidly.

You touch my heart.”  


My Lost Saints

Saint Anne teaching the Virgin Mary to read from the church of San Giuseppe alla Lungara in Rome
Today is Saint Anna’s day. You may know her as Jesus’s grandma, as Anna and Joachim were the parents of Mary. Anna is not a flashy saint. She’s no Mary Magdalene (hubba hubba!) or John the Baptist. But for people named Anna, she’s a patron saint. And there may be others who choose her as their patron as well, because they feel a special fondness for her, or were saved from a tragedy on her nameday (it’s sort of like a spiritual Big Brothers/Big Sisters mentoring kind of thing). She’s not my absolute favorite (that’s the Virign Mary), but I do have a soft spot for Anna, partly because of a wooden santos from Puerto Rico I was given by a dear friend, which depicts Anna reading to a child Mary. I love this image of her; a mom like any other, reading to a child, a commonplace event made exceptional  because of the people involved and the tenderness of the moment.
Tuesday, December 6th, was St. Nicholas’s day. Now that’s a saint who’s a headliner, having been turned into Santa Claus because of his generosity. A fourth-century bishop in what is now Turkey, he was the original perpetrator of random acts of kindness, known for giving secret gifts to people, including throwing gold coins down the chimney (or through the window) of a poor man who had three dowryless daughters who would otherwise have had to follow the career path often ascribed to Mary Magdalene. (In the chimney version, the youngest daughter has hung her stockings in the fireplace to dry and the cash dropped right in, ka-ching! Thus stocking stuffers were born to the delight of retailers everywhere.)
  St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of single women (there was a particular icon of him at Holy Trinity in New York I often venerated in the days before he sent me my beshert), thieves (not sure why, maybe it has to do with all the sneaking around chimneys), and fishermen (he’s often depicted saving sailors from shipwrecks and is sort of conflated with Poseidon in Greek folklore, maybe because of the beard, but that’s my own little theory). He was also the patron saint of an uncle-figure of mine, Themis, whose life was saved twice on St. Nicholas Day.
The first time, Themis was a 17–year-old policeman in Athens when the Nazis occupied the city and rounded up the entire police force in the station. Nature called and he excused himself. While in the bathroom, wondering what the Germans had in mind for the policemen, and sensing it wasn’t anything good, he noticed an open window. A skinny teenager, he climbed out the window, pulled himself up onto the rooftop and jumped from roof to roof of the neoclassical buildings in the Plaka neighborhood until he reached his own home, where he hid under the bed. The Nazis proceeded to march the policement to a nearby hill, shoot them, and leave their bodies in a ravine.
The second time, he was driving on a winding mountain road on St. Nicholas’ Day when he rode off the edge. The car flipped, but he was able to walk out of the twisted wreckage unscathed, leaving the car’s remains on the mountainside. Whenever I see a mangled auto carcass on the side of a mountain road in Greece (which is surprisingly often) I think of St Nicholas.
I know some would argue that these are tales of luck, and the date is coincidence; why would St. Nicholas choose Themis instead of all of the other policement or mountain drivers? But that’s the nature of patron saint relationship; they’re mystical and faith-based, they’re about feeling and belief not demonstrable knowledge. And above all, they’re personal, a connection between saint and supplicant and no one else.
I once wrote a paper for a nonfiction class that investigated an icon of the Saint Irenein Queens that was said to be crying (a not-unheard-of phenomenon among icons of female saints; some icons of male saints have been observed to emit a sweet myrrh-like scent, but there arren’t any cases of crying St. Nicks or his brethren, at least none of which I, and the priest I iterviewed for the paper, are aware). The priest I spoke with told me that he fears the furor over miracle-working saints or crying icons could detract from a worshipper’s belief in Christ Himself, which is the main event of Christianity. (Perhaps the multiplicity of saints feels too familiar to polytheism for this particular priest’s comfort.)
I see his point, but I sort of like the idea of having a personal relationship with a saint who looks out for you, one to whom you can confide your smaller problems when you don’t want to break out the big guns. Just like I like the idea of a saint who once read to her baby daughter before she grew up and became the Virgin Mary. I’m all for awe and wonder, the splendor of a cathedral. But I like my religion to have room for coziness too, the intimacy of a small chapel.
That’s what I think Elizabeth Barrett Browning was referring to when she wrote that she loved Robert with “a love I seemed to lose/With my lost saints,” a love that mixes simple fondness with profound faith that someone is watching out for you.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Confessions of a Christmas Nut – Part II


I’ve got my (four) Christmas trees up early this year—because, when daughter Eleni and her husband Emilio and our brand new granddaughter Amalía came for Thanksgiving, we knew that they would not be back for Christmas. (They’re going to Emilio’s family in Nicaragua.) So, under Eleni’s direction, they bought a Christmas Tree the day after Thanksgiving and decorated it the same day so we all could take “Christmas photos.” 

Here are some shots of three-month-old Amalia gazing at her first Christmas tree in wonder.  We stuck to a mostly silver color scheme this year for the “real” tree, with some spots of red. The other trees—the “antique ornaments” tree, the “shoe tree” and the porch “cookies & candy” tree are pretty much the same as last year, so I thought I’d reprise last year’s blog post and photos below.
 (The happy family--E, E & A, and in the 2nd photo, Aunt Marina, better known as Tia Marina, trying to stuff Amalía into her stocking.)

It’s great that the Thanksgiving deadline spurred me to get the trees done early, but about now, I suspect that my Christmas cards are going to turn into New Year’s cards  (or Valentines!) if I don’t get them designed, printed, addressed and sent out this coming weekend.

How’s your holiday to-do list coming?  Any secrets for streamlining it?

Here's last year's post.  Click on the photos to enlarge them.

A Christmas Tree Nut

Right now I should be addressing Christmas cards but I'm in the grip of my seasonal craziness which involves decorating...lots...of...trees.

I also decorate doors and chandeliers and kitchen shelves and the grand piano and of course the mantel piece, but what I do most is trees.  Each with a theme.  In every room.  Well, not EVERY room because my husband has started to crack down on that--especially in his office, despite the lovely all white (sprayed snow and icicles and pine cones) tree I did one year.  It shed.

I think this is a genetic thing inherited from my mother.  At Christmas time she decorated so much that you couldn't find a flat surface available to set down your cup of eggnog.

So far I've only put up, um, four.  And I'm going to show them to you now.

On the day after Thanksgiving came the Real Tree, which goes in the living room.  I realize that's much too early and it will soon be very dry, but daughter Eleni and her brand new husband Emilio, with some other elves, insisted on dragging it home and putting on the lights as soon as the turkey was digested and the cranberry sauce was gone.  I usually pick a color scheme, and this year went with silver and white, with the only color coming from some crazy peacock ornaments I got from Pier One (which has great ornaments!  Have you seen the under-the-sea collection?  Squid and fish and lobsters and crayfish and mermaids.  Now there's a theme I haven't tried.)

With the peacocks, I also used lots of white butterflies (from the Dollar Store) and white birds and angel wings, so I guess the theme of the wonderful-smelling Real Tree this year would be wings.

In the dining room I always put a wire tree to show off my antique ornaments.  And I put a wire from the tree to the window latch so that it (hopefully) can't get knocked over.  You can see that we don't have snow yet in Massachusetts, unlike Minnesota, but we will soon.


Some of these ornaments are reproductions, but most are the real thing.  My grandmother had a whole tree decorated with blown-glass birds with those spun glass tails and often a metal clip to hold it on the tree.  I still have a few of hers.  I really love the fragile teapots once sold at every Woolworth's for pennies. They cost a lot more now.  The blown-glass ornaments usually say "West Germany" on the metal cap.  The  glass ornaments that were once screw-in lights were made in Japan between 1930 and 1950 and are a lot less likely to break.

In the library I always put my Shoe Tree, which started when the Metropolitan Museum in New York first started selling ornaments based on shoes in their collections.  

This became a kind of mania and now I can't afford to buy the newest ones from the Museum, but I've added lots of cunning real (baby-sized) shoes, and people keep giving me more.  My favorites on this tree are the Chinese baby shoes that look like cats and the fur-lined baby moccasins and the tiny Adidas sneakers.
On the porch I've put the  Kitchen Tree, or Cookie & Candy Tree.  This was inspired by some friends who live in a tiny apartment and decorate their tree only with cookies and candy and pretzels and candy canes.  Then, when Christmas is over, they put it all outside for the birds and other New York fauna to enjoy.
As you can see, I've cheated quite a bit--adding ornaments that look like kitchen utensils and non-edible gingerbread men and peppermints.  An authentic Kitchen Tree should have chains of real popcorn and cranberries (which we did back when I had children small enough to enjoy stringing them.)

Last year  Trader Joe's sold little gingerbread men with holes already punched in their heads so I could string them on the tree, but this year the gingerbread men are frosted but the holes are missing, so I just  stabbed them with the wire hooks and it worked fine (and any that broke, I ate, of course. They taste better frosted.)
That's four trees so far and counting--I still haven't started decorating the tree in my studio that holds my stash of ornaments from Mexico and India, but that will come soon, and I haven't  shown you my Santa Claus collection and the miniature town in the bay window in the kitchen and the many creches we have from around the world....But let's face it, I have to get back to those Christmas cards.



Saturday, December 3, 2011

Roseanne Barr Celebrates Crones and Cronehood


 Illustration by Sean McCabe from Newsweek, Nov. 28, 2011

Back in September 17, 2009, when my blog “A Rolling Crone” was a year old, I wrote a post called “What is a Crone, Anyway?” 

The reason I wrote it, as I said, was that several friends of mine – especially some  from the Midwestern states where I grew up—objected to the word “crone”  in the blog’s title because they found it  offensive and insulting to women.  So I did some research to find out the origins and true meaning of the word “Crone” and found a wealth of information. As I said then, it’s a topic for a PhD thesis, not a single blog post.

Many women have written eloquently about cronehood, including a woman called “ZBudapest” in an essay called “Crone Genesis”. Read it!   She says, “We are one block of herstory, one savvy chain of generations, one strong and active generation that is going to continue to change the world. When we are done, being old will be fashionable, stories and movies about old people will be normal, and we will live a long time.” 

It made one proud to be a crone.

Now a sharp-eyed friend of mine, Barbara McCarthy, brought to my attention the essay written by Comedienne and actress  Roseanne Barr  in the  Nov. 28 issue of Newsweek.  It originally appeared on the web site “The Daily Beast.” The subject of her essay, titled  “Roseanne, the Pirate Queen” is menopause, but at the end, she considers the meaning of “crone.”

I’ve always considering Roseanne to be a wise and witty woman.  (And have you noticed how much livelier Newsweek has become since its editor-in-chief’’s chair was taken over by Tina Brown—who is also editor in chief of “The Daily Beast”?)

So, although Roseanne tends to write in a more profane style than I do, I love what she has written and want to quote part of it below.  Having discussed the  subject of menopause-- “Menopause is the victory lap over the curse of being born a female,”--Roseanne concludes:

Ah, OK, I’m in full Crone mode now.
Depending on who’s defining the word “crone,” it can be a really wonderful gem of language. Crone got saddled with the role of synonym for hag, an old grizzled woman who’s often bitchy at best, malicious at worst: the sinister, old, gossipy type who sometimes had magical or supernatural associations. Luckily, intelligent women, and some men, have begun returning the word to its rightful definition: an experienced, mature woman who’s arrived on the north shore of the raging seas of this largely corrupt planet.
We’ve run the gauntlet and we stand, battered, bruised, and perhaps even worse, some of us, but we’re consciously here and mostly intact.
And, with a little luck, we have some time to affect things. Some sources cite Crone as the third stage of goddess formation: Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Well, I like the goddess part, but I don’t mean to insult or diminish women who aren’t mothers. In fact—after holding the world up to the light and subjecting it to a quick exam I call “Do the math!”—I’m here to say, we could use a lot more women who don’t become mothers of their own offspring, but instead Mother the world in a more expansive way—and help to alleviate some of the misery and need of countless millions of people who are here already.
But, let’s get past the idea of things we have to do, breathe a sigh of relief, and remember that there’s probably more time to do things we want to do. Form or nurture a few good and real friendships, and silently observe the world. You don’t need a young athletic body or piles of money to read some of the world’s great books; or to soak up brilliant music and art; or to grow something beautiful (and edible?) in a little garden spot. May your uterus remain relatively undisturbed during these, your glorious turban years!
Now that you’ve read Roseanne’s take on crones, (and I hope you’ll read mine, as well), please share your thoughts on this important and challenging phase of life.  But only if you’ve sailed through the sea of menopause and entered the relatively calmer harbor of  crone-hood.
You can leave a comment below or e-mail me at: joanpgage@yahoo.com