29 October 2008

A farewell to Autumn, and recent developments

It snowed! Yes, snow. In October. And, yes, I did have washing out on the line as the snow began to fall. I can not believe that winter is upon us, already. Perhaps, this is just a fluke and autumn will return.
Can't believe with how cold it is now, that the D.E.B. and I were out having a lovely, sunny, autumnal trek through Elliot's Meadow just this past weekend. 
Our "walking license" had just arrived in the post (I applied for it about 6 weeks ago), and we were keen to use it! With our license, we are free to take our darling hound, Lucy, and range about the south side of the River Avon, through Elliot's Meadow, around Sherbourne, to Ogg's Farm. Of course they tell these detail in the letter that accompanies the license, but do they provide a map? Of course not. So along the way, we were sure we were in danger of trespassing, and very possibly upsetting poor Mr. Ogg ...    
Road sign in Sherbourne Village

The D.E.B. and the Princess Puppy about to cross the stream
(I had dashed across right before them, only to discover my Western Chief wellies had sprung a leak!)

Another interesting development this weekend - we attended All Saint's Church in Sherbourne, very nice indeed. Especially as services there start at a reasonable hour (11:00 am), and next Sunday they will be using the Book of Common for the Sunday service. This could be it! And as an added bonus, the All Saint's Church-warden is a lovely American woman called Gayle who has lived here over 20 years. Funny how those American connections keep happening in such wonderful ways.

 All Saint's Church (C of E), Sherbourne

The Barford Village Shop is set to open this coming Saturday!!!! The official ribbon cutting ceremony (bring your own scissors) is set for 12 noon, 1 November. 

This is the best and biggest news ever for us Barfordians. The new shop is fabulous! (Those in the know have already had a sneak peek and a preview.) They carry a wide selection of fresh veg, produce and diary, baked goods – all local. Newspapers, greeting cards, and the new post office will be there. But, with the same hours that Jane was doing when the post office was in the Memorial Hall: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 2:30-5:30 p.m. (Yes, you have to be very organized with your mailing and other post office business in these parts.) There is a loverly selection of wines and beers on offer, including my new favo(u)rites: Ubu (a local Warwickshire brew), and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord – Madge’s (Madonna’s) brew of choice.

Beer is not only a national obsession in this country, it is a national hobby and pastime. And a pastime I have come to enjoy. Immensely. There are few things finer than a yummy fish and chips dinner washed down with a pint (or two) of Ubu. Carbs, with a side of carbs. Heaven, absolute heaven. My waistline and the training ambitions for my “Women’s 5K Fun Run” in Helsinki, Finland next May have all fallen by the wayside.

Did I mention that the new village shop will also have a coffee bar with wireless internet!!! That’s even better than our super Sainsbury’s in Warwick. They have a Starbuck’s, but without wireless internet. I think that it is possibly the only Starbuck’s on the planet that doesn’t have wireless internet.

The D.E.B. and I have done our civic duty as upstanding community members and purchased a share each in the shop. In addition to being “shareholders,” many of my W.I. chums are also volunteering to help run the shop. I have been thinking about it, and perhaps I should. I will certainly support it as a customer.

Other big news in Barford includes: the U.S. Presidential election, and the whereabouts of my absentee ballot, which has yet to arrive. “Remember us when you exercise your right to vote,” someone said to me the other day. It is a privilege that I don’t take lightly.

Chilly days and heady times

October has practically come and gone, and while I did spend much of this month in the throes of angst and dread over my lecture, I also enjoyed some fun times...

Harvest Festival, St. Peter's Church - C of E, Barford -
Harvest Festival preparation and decoration day

The Altar Window, St Peter's Barford

Local events in our village and Sherbourne, the village 'next door' -


...and, no. I didn't go.

A Weekend Day Trip to Oxford -

The ruins of Godstow Abbey

The outer wall of Godstow Abbey ruins at sunset

Rider, horse and dog

Claridge's Night, Stratford-upon-Avon College -

Cheers, Darling English Boy!

No, that's not Posh Spice, its our lovely friend, Fiona

Andy and Tabs!

Charity Performance for Ruby at Newbold Comyn -

 D.E.B. and "Mr. Whistle" performing a tune

Diane Ponzio - Live in Concert! -

The Dynamic Duo with Diane (she's hold a copy of their demo CD!!!)

Diane Ponzio's priceless Martin Guitar

The D.E.B. gets a guitar lesson

I think I know what the D.E.B. wants for Christmas...

Folk Night Jamboree at The Denbigh Arms in Monk's Kirby -

"Mega-Diva" Chele rocking out with her man, Pete "The Music Man" Willow!

28 October 2008


Dwell in possibilities.”  – Emily Dickinson

Today (28 October) is the Feast of St. Jude. Known as the “Saint of Last Resort,” St. Jude is the patron saint of the impossible and/or hopeless causes. I could not let this day go by without a public acknowledgement of thanks to Blessed Jude for his gracious intercession. 

It was a very dark time during which I reached out to the saint. A little over two years ago, I sat alone in tears, in my tiny New York apartment, facing the future with what I thought was my sole prospect of becoming yet another “eccentric old woman with a tribe of cats.” As I sat crying into my wine glass, I did what any reasonable, quasi-Catholic girl would do, I prayed to St. Jude.

For at that time, it felt to me that my life could not get more “impossible,” or more in need of a miracle. I prayed for hope, I prayed for love, I prayed for the man that is now by side each and every day. I did not pray from him by name, because back then he was only an idea, a dream, a fantasy. But I knew that he was and could be real, and that I could/would one day find him. There were many mountains to climb, and obstacles to be overcome, but still I believed. It took time and tempests before the D.E.B. arrived into my life, but I always knew he was on his way.

Yesterday, I quoted from Hamlet: “the readiness is all.” Today, I think it would be better to surmise: “the faithfulness is all.” Digging deep and finding the courage to believe in things that are only, and at best, hoped for and not yet—if ever—seen. I have learned the value of holding on to your dreams, even in the face of impossibility (ridicule, disdain, &etc.). And holding on to whatever helps you to hold on. 

Liz Trotta has written as an extraordinary book on St. Jude and those who have received miracles through his aid. Like many of them, I too made a vow to the saint that I intend to keep. As I tearfully whispered the words of the Jude novena, on that lonely night in New York City, so many weary, sleepless months ago, I promised then, that if this “dream man” arrived, and if we were so blessed to one day have a son, I would name him Jude. It is a lovely name after all, and, thankfully, a name that the D.E.B likes as well.

More than just a “thank offering,” I think that naming our future child after St. Jude would be a tangible reminder to me of where I’ve been, and how far I have come, as if I could ever forget.

p.s. I may not have dodged the eccentricity bullet, but I still only have one cat. 


Friday, 24 October 2008

There are moments in each person's life that on the surface appear ordinary and mundane to others, but for them hold the significance of finding the Holy Grail, or like Frodo finally being able to let go of that blasted ring! The D.E.B.’s wise, sage older brother, “The Guru,” refers to such moments as “passing through a doorway.”  Yesterday, I passed through just such a doorway.

I delivered the “Thursday Seminar” lecture at The Shakespeare Institute. This was the most significant lecture of my life.  More than any snarky conference, or snarly gathering of surly scholars in New York City, this lecture at the Institute meant everything to me.  I was a student at The Shakespeare Institute some 12 years ago. And I as said to the assembled scholars and students, back all those years ago I never ever imagined that I would ever even finish my Ph.D. successfully, let alone become a “Shakespeare scholar”, nor could I have dreamt that I would have my Ph.D. research published, and certainly never fathomed the possibility of returning to my alma mater, and being invited to give a guest lecture there.

The big day came and went, and not without much trepidation. I procrastinated for weeks, uncertain as to what I should speak on. My goals were quite simple: I wanted to impress, and, I didn’t want to be publicly humiliated. My NYC chums: “Boy Genius Playwright” and “She Who Must be Obeyed” emailed me routinely to remind me of the importance of my recent experience with Shakespeare in Alaska, and how I should speak on that. They were of course absolutely right.

Last April, I went to Alaska in search of Shakespeare. (A recurring theme in my life.) I was teaching an undergraduate seminar on Shakespeare in America, when I came across details about a provocative, touring production of Othello in Alaska, wherein the play was being re-visioned with Othello as a Native Alaskan. Before I knew it, I had written the theatre company a letter, and booked a round-trip (return) ticket to Yakutat, Alaska.

In Yakutat, I re-discovered Shakespeare. But not only this, I was adopted by the Eagle clan of the Tlingit tribe; and met the most amazing people on the planet, who I am proud to call much beloved friends. How could I not talk about this? How I could not share this with the Shakespeare community here in Stratford-upon-Avon? How could I doubt this? Quite easily, actually.

I panicked. I doubted the “scholarly worthiness” of what I had to say, then, two days before my lecture, I had a rather unfortunately conversation with a leading Shakespearean who off-handedly dismissed the Alaska production I’d intended to speak about as, “absurd.” More panic.

I fretted, I sweated, I cried. It was too late to switch, and develop another topic. I considered my options, I could feign illness and cancel, or, I could feign illness and cancel. There was no way I could cancel, so I resigned myself to the fact that it was too late, I had see this through as I had planned, come what may. I sent out frantic SOS messages to my friends in NYC and to my friend/mentor/hero, Cicely Berry.

On Wednesday evening, the D.E.B. rushed home from work to cheerlead me through the eleventh hour. After the lovely dinner he prepared, we sat at the table, and I read my lecture aloud to him. Darling English Boy that he is, after I struggled through and finished reading, we both fell silent. He took a deep breath, gathered me into his arms, and said softly: "Darling Girl, I don't know whose voice that is, but it's not yours. Just talk to them. Tell them what you saw." I, of course, reacted just as one might expect: I flipped out, burst into tears, and went to bed.

The wee hours of the next morning found me laying on the bathroom floor and dry heaving into the toilet. And I wasn't hung over. I have never, ever been dizzy like that, even when I have been hung over! It is completely ridiculous that I had gotten myself into such a state over this lecture. On the bright side, I thought, I did now have a somewhat plausible excuse for canceling…

The D.E.B. helped me back to bed, and I did sleep for a short while. He woke me before he left for work, and left a card for me on my bedside table that said: "I am always so proud of you. Just be yourself.”

I slept for a few more hours and was then awakened by the phone. It was Cicely Berry urging me to remember that Shakespeare can and does change lives, regardless of what some scholarly-types would like to think. Then, I checked my email, more messages of support...and then, BANG! The clouds broke, and with new zeal and fresh resolve I shouted, well, swore, actually, very loudly. I grabbed my laptop and started lacerating my lecture. I cut pages and pages of academic crap. I re-typed the entire thing. I was still re-typing my lecture up to the moment that the D.E.B. came back home to drive me into Stratford-upon-Avon for the lecture.

With guns a'blazing I walked right into The Shakespeare Institute, and yes ... I ROCKED, THEIR, WORLD!

I finally realized I had nothing lose. So, I went for it. And the response was overwhelming positive. I had to, in the words of Polonius, be true to myself, and to my friends in Alaska (who are getting quite a beating in the world press just recently, due to their controversial Governor).

In many ways, my talk was just an open love letter to them, and to Alaska. Amazingly, after a night on the town to celebrate my success at surviving my lecture (which included a dinner of Fish’n’chips from my favo(u)rite “chippy” in Stratford), when the D.E.B. and I made it home, we discovered that a parcel had arrived for me earlier in the day. It was from Alaska. A care package from Yakutat.  My dear, dear, cheeky friend, Kris, had filled a box full of (would you believe it?) Tylenol!!! Benadryl and…Nyquil (oooooohhhh!!!!). God, bless her! There were Snickers bars, granola bars, assorted other American goodies, and a freshly canned jar of Nagoon berry preserves. (That smells and tastes of Alaska.) I could not help but see this precious gift as a great reward for holding faith with the remarkable work that I had had the good fortunate to experience in Alaska.

I spent the rest of that blissful, victorious night, strung-out on Nyquil and chocolate, and high on a post-traumatic-stress adrenalin rush. Before bed, I checked my email, and found another incredible reward. An email from my Tlingit Eagle clan sister—who had had no foreknowledge of my intended talk, nor the angst I’d experienced around giving it. She wrote:

“Hello my dear friend. It is so cold out. As I was walking home, I looked up in the sky and saw a young, graceful eagle soaring in the sky, so lovely and free. It reminded me of you.”

(Cue soundtrack: "Theme from the film 'The Magnificent Seven'")

27 October 2008

Kindred Spirits

Suddenly, I seem to be surrounded by amazing American women photographers who have followed their hearts and dreams to England. To be sure, there is something powerfully creative in the British landscape, in the very air here.  It is here that I feel most connected to my creative self. I can’t describe what it is about this place, I have tried (unsuccessfully) on more than one occasion to capture it in writing on the page. But I can see it in their photography. For me, "word-herder" that I am, it is language/syntax/sound (obviously manifested in the works of Shakespeare) that drew and continues to me to this place creatively. I like to walk where he walked. Some days, I look up at the sky, or walk by the River Avon, and wonder to myself: “Perhaps, on a day like today, Shakespeare went for a walk along this path, and was been inspired to write: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?'”

The very landscape of England breathes poetry. I always have that sensation when I am traveling by train through Warwickshire, the trees are poetry on the landscape.  My new-found friend (though I feel like I’ve known her forever!) Chele Willow shares this sensibility, and has an incredible eye for visual poetry. Through her lens, I see what I fail to express through words  on the page. Here’s one of my favo(u)rite photographs of hers:

 The D.E.B. and are planning a short “holiday” in November to visit “the rellies” (relatives) up North in Yorkshire. I am soooo thrilled to have a chance to finally make it up to “Brontë Country” in the Lake District. And, I really love the D.E.B.’s rellies, so the Brontës are a bonus. Looking forward to experiencing the landscape that inspired Emily, Charlotte and Anne; and of course having a tour of Castle Howard – which I am claiming as my ancestral home!

Elizabeth Harper is another American photographer transplanted to the UK, in Cornwall. To me, Harper seems to possess a warm and sensitive eye that capture’s the very heartbeat of the moment she is shooting. This one of hers struck me to my core. 

Guess I need to acknowledge that day-by-day I am growing increasingly more and more “broody”.  And, as I am often  reminded by one or two of my friends (?) here, the clock is ticking, and I will soon be running out of time. (Comforting.) I look at this picture, and wondered what I’m doing with my life...

The D.E.B. wants to be a Dad, and I really want to make him a dad. He would be a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful father -- I don’t think I have ever met a man more pre-disposed to fatherhood than the D.E.B. As for me, I think I would make a good, if somewhat zany, mother.

As Shakespeare wrote: “the readiness is all.” Are we ready? Am I ready? Will I ever be “ready”? Like Hamlet (big leap here, but go with me), I choose to think and over think, to hesitate, debate with myself, consider all the options &etc., where a more brash and ‘Fortinbras-like’ person would just act and do. And think later. Maybe, I should try harder to channel my inner “Angelina Jolie.” 

Post script –

The tempter washing line has had the ultimate last laugh. Bright, gorgeous, sunny, WARM, late October day.  Spent all morning laundering every item of washable clothing we owe. Got everything on the line before the peak of noon. Feeling triumphant, only to sit here now, some two and half hours later to watch as buckets of hailstones and rain descend upon the nearly dried laundry. Curses! Fooled and foiled again!

22 October 2008

Beauty’s where you find it

If, as Madonna (or ‘Madge’ as she’s called here) so wisely instructed us in the 1990s, "Beauty's where you find it," I’m in trouble. I’m struggling to find it here in the wilds of South Warwickshire.

Recently, I came across a rather interesting piece by Tad Safran (“American Beauty?” 11 December 2007) in The Times--my new favo(u)rite newspaper--that really made me think.

Okay, yes, there is no doubt that he was more than a wee bit harsh on the general female populace of Great Britain by labeling them (all) as: “unkempt and lazy about grooming.” Indeed, the words “sweeping” and “generalization” come readily to mind, as do the words “gross” and “exaggeration.” 

However--stay with me--however, Tad’s provocative essay did make me think about US-UK cultural differences in relation to beauty.

First, I hasten to add, I am not referring to the manic, extreme, irrational approaches to beauty that we Americans are (in)famous for. I’m just talking about the standard, runoff the mill, girlie-girl, “nothing-else-to-do-on-a-Saturday-so-let’s-grab-some-sushi-and-get-our-nails-done” approach to beauty, or, as I like to call it “maintenance.”

In his critique, Safran acknowledges, that one source of the US-UK beauty divide is the high cost of beauty treatments in the UK. I say, “Amen, brother!” 

And I would add to that the lack of choice or selection of salons and/or places to have beauty stuff done is another deterring factor. Pull up a chair, sister, I have a laundry list of examples, and I’ve only been here two months!

First off, outside of London and other major cities, as the Italian New Yorkers say, “Forget about it!” 

In the past two months I have been fleeced, ripped off and any other word you can think of to describe being stripped of copious amounts of cash and getting very little in return. 

In New York, in my former little enclave on Bleecker Street, there were 4 nail salons in a 5-minute radius. At my favourite, Gigi Nail (oh girls, how I miss you!), you can get a wonderful manicure and pedicure, what really amounts to a two hour royal treatment, including a short back massage, for $25.00 USD. (That’s a mere £14.96 GBP)

I’d walk away from Gigi Nail feeling like a queen AND a Good Samaritan for leaving a $10.00 tip! So, all in, $35.00 (£20 GBP and change!) 

For the love of Isis, you are lucky – at least in this part of Britain – to find a “nail salon” that will only charge you £35.00 GBP ($57.00 USD) for a slap-shod pedicure, and a haphazard manicure that looks like it has been completed by a 3 year-old! An angry, colo(u)r-blind, 3 year-old.

I'm not exaggerating. A few weeks ago, the D.E.B. and I were going to see David Tennant and Patrick Stewart in Hamlet at the RSC, and I decided to treat myself to a “salon day” (nails and waxing) in lieu of the big evening. 

First, it was a Monday, so most of the salons in the area were closed. Closed? Closed?! What’s that? I’m sure that somewhere in New York City there is at least one nail salon that is even open on Christmas Day! Or at least Christmas afternoon.

I trudged desperately about the town, like a homeless person looking for a place to sleep, and I found one salon that was open. The staff were all very friendly and nice. I really liked them. They made me a cup of tea. 

The only problem was the lack of what in the US would be standard beauty equipment. For my “pedicure” I was placed in an ordinary armchair, and instructed to soak my feet into a Rubbermaid plastic sink bowl. I thought they were joking. 

No electric massage chair, no heated Jacuzzi/whirlpool tub in which to soak my feet and cares away. This was not a “salon pedicure.” This was letting your best friend give you a pedicure in her kitchen, because she’s in her sixth week of Beauty School and needs the practice. That is all well and good, and as a good friend I would do that, if I had a friend who were a Cosmetology student, but I would do it as a favo(u)r, with lowered expectations, and certainly not expect to pay that friend $127.00 USD (£78.00 GBP) for the privilege of being her guinea pig!

I cannot even describe the shambles that was the manicure I received on this occasion. No electronic drying devices were available to dry my nails? Suffice it to say, when the manicurist started blowing on my wet nails herself, I asked for a hair dryer. They, in turn, looked at me in disbelief, and thought I was insane. Of course, my nails were smudged and ruined before I even left the building. What a complete and utter waste of time and money.

I can’t even begin to decry the saga of trying to find someone to do a decent wax job! And I don’t just mean waxing of the "Brazilian" or "Hollywood" variety, I mean I can’t even find someone to do my eyebrows decently! 

Back in NYC, I would go to Gigi Nail for a wax treatment (eyebrows, bikini, & etc.) once every four weeks. For some reason, here, I go, get waxed and then need to go back in less than two weeks. So, either, my hair has suddenly and miraculously started growing at a rapidly increased and alarming rate, or the waxers I’m going to are just not up to snuff.

So, two months in and I am well and truly ready to throw in the towel. I am tired of throwing away money, and walking away disappointed. But, I refuse to become in Safran’s words a “lazy, unkempt frump.” Oh no, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went to Boots, and spent £12.00 GBP on self-waxing product by Veet.

I was giddy at the prospect of liberating myself of my UK beauty salon nightmare, and trying something new. In this, my new Veet “home waxing and individual crucifixion kit” did not disappoint. It was a new experience, to say the least.

I coached myself somewhat unconfidently through the strange directions: “Heat waxing strips with hands.” Ponderous. I have always had notoriously cold hands, so how does this work then? Should I go and use someone else’s hands? After successfully heating my hands, then heating the strips, I proceeded to smooth the strips into place. Always one to go for a leap into the deep end, I started with the most sensitive area first. 

Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer, blinding pain of trying to rip off the Veet, duct tape-like, waxing strip that was now permanently affixed to my bikini area by what could only have been cement glue. Shedding a single tear, I rolled over in silent, utter agony, with the hope that I would not lose consciousness.  The only thing worse than the pain I was experiencing was the complete humiliation of having to call out for help after finding I had subsequently laminated myself to the bathroom floor.

Beauty is indeed where you find it. And the pursuit of beauty is anything but trivial, for it comes at great price and sacrifice. 

21 October 2008

Dreams and visions

Survived my first lecture of the week. 
Forty 16 year olds from Aberdeen at 9:00 AM. 
(Thank God for Starbucks.) 
Prepped for days (okay, hours) to give a bang-up presentation on the stage history of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and all they wanted to do was talk about the fact that David Tennant's performing in Stratford this season -- and who, I might add, is not even in this season's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream...
But heck, what's not to love? And if it gets the kids excited, why not?

David Tennant as Berowne in Love's Labours Lost

Tennant as Berowne with love-interest Rosaline 
(in her gorgeous, gorgeous dress)  played by Nina Sosanya.

20 October 2008


Busy weekend in Barford …

Thursday: Saw an amazing production of Love’s Labours Lost on Thursday night, at the Royal Shakespeare Company, with the very dishy David Tennant as Berowne. This production reminded me why I love, love, love Shakespeare. And, why I love, love, love David Tennant.

Friday: The big Claridge’s culinary evening at Stratford. We had a super time. I have decided that we need to add a new word to the English language - we need a term for the food equivalent of a hangover. I guess we could say “food hangover.” Well, whatever you call it, that’s what I had. After all that rich food and drink (braised lamb, champagne sorbet, foie gras, cognac and wine with each course) the next day my body felt like my blood was made of treacle/syrup. I couldn’t move. Thankfully, the D.E.B. and I –and our “mates” (Tabitha & Andy and Fiona & Gavin) had all arranged to stay overnight at The Stratford. So we all limped back to the “Strat” and amazingly managed a nightcap before collapsing comatose in our rooms.

Saturday: Even after a Full English Breakfast around noon, I still felt like I was going to die. D.E.B. and I went and collected the Princess Puppy from her overnight stay with our friends, Ewan and Melissa, and their two adorable angel-children, Hannah and Rachel. Came home and crashed. We woke around 7:00 PM, exhausted and STILL “food hungover.” We make a valiant effort to go to Sainsbury’s to gather sensible food, all attempts fail, when I realize and declare that the only real cure to a food hangover is Kentucky Fried Chicken. And I was right. (Just need to add that the thought, let alone the actual sight of a gorgeous English Boy holding a bucket of chicken is enough to make any Southern girl weep for joy.)

Sunday: Panic setting in. Clock running out on prep time for my “Midsummer Night’s Dream Lecture” on Tuesday morning. Too tired to work, want to spend un-comatosed day with D.E.B. Make vain attempt to look like I’m working. Too distracted by D.E.B.’s cute-ness and Classic FM. In the afternoon, 3 PM - off to Newbold Comyn where D.E.B. is performing at a Charity event, “Ramble for Ruby” a benefit for 13 year old Ruby, who has cancer. Sunday evening, back to Stratford College for Diane Ponzio concert.

Diane Ponzio is fabulous! She has this incredible gift of making each person in her audience feel like she is singing to/for them. And she never forgets a face/name. It was so good to hear her last night. She’s a proud, Italian, New Yorker. That accent. It’s been a while since I’ve heard it. But, It didn’t make me feel sad, it made me feel proud. The D.E.B. is a huge Diane Ponzio fan, and the feeling seems mutual. She gave him a huge hug, and let him have a go on her priceless, mahogany Martin guitar. She hugged me, and said: “You did it!”

Diane and I had spoken on the phone while I was still living in NYC. Oddly, though I’d never met her, during our phone call, I felt that I knew her. That she was someone I could confide in and lean on. I’d told her about my then dilemma (soon to be plans) about leaving NYC, leaving NYU to join the D.E.B. in England. “Honey. Do it.” She’d said in that warm, comforting voice. “Do it. He’s a doll. And love is all we got. The rest is just illusion.” There are conversations that change us, and this was one of them for me.

Seeing Diane last night, all I could do was hug her and say, “Thank you.” “Why are you thanking me,” she smiled, “you did it.” With a twinkle in her eye, she teased me: “You homesick? Of course you’re not, you got your 'home' right here next to ya.”

16 October 2008

"We all love the Sexist Alpha Male"?

“Be honest: we all love the sexist alpha male.” – India Knight, Sunday Times, 28 Sept 2008

Finding myself newspaper-less in Barford, (I used to get The New York Times delivered to my apartment every weekend…sniff, sniff.)  I started flirting with The Times (same name, different paper). In it I discovered a very intriguing weekly column by India Knight


Far be it from me to deny anyone the right to have their opinion; and be it even farther from me to agree with one such as this. Oh, India, India, India. How wrong you are!

There is no way that India Knight has formed her conclusions based on personal experience. If she were, surely, her brutish Alpha Male would have her chained so tightly to her cooker, it would be impossible for her to produce her engaging weekly column. 

No, India must be dreaming. Fantasizing about someone dragging you by hair into a cave is one thing – living with a Caveman is quite another. Take from me, India, love in “Neanderthal Land” is not all that it is cracked up to be!

Reading this piece, I began to wonder how my opinion could differ so markedly from India’s. We are roughly the same age, have similar education and life backgrounds (Thank you, Wikipedia – how did we live before Google?), so we are generationally, educationally and socially similar. 

Could this be yet another US-UK cultural difference? Quite possibly. I don’t mean to suggest that the US holds exclusive rights on the Neanderthal man – certainly bone-headed oafs come in all national varieties.  What I mean is, well, the grass is always greener, and we often hold in disdain things with which we are most familiar.

An example. My junior year of college, I had an English friend, Meggie, who grew up in what she described as a “very English” household. Every morning, her father would get up, and make cups of tea for everyone: Meggie, her brother, her mum and himself. 

He would then take tea to each person’s room, and leave it for them on their bedside table. What a lovely way to start the day! I was so fascinated by this ritual. So tender, loving and domestic. 

Then, I will never forget, I spent the weekend at Meggie’s parents’ house. Early each morning there was a light knock on my door, and after I answered, Meg’s dad came in, and brought me a cup of tea. He placed it gently on my bedside table and whispered softly, “Good morning.” 

What’s not to love about that?! That was a pivotal moment for me. I have no doubt that that experience shaped my attitude about men, and Englishmen in particular, and although I had no intentions towards Meg’s dad (!!!) I knew that he was the kind of man I wanted to eventually find.

By contrast, though she loved him dearly, Meg viewed her father, and men like him, as “wet,” and avoided them like the plague. She preferred what she called “the rough, tough, silent types,” and thus began her countless tales of “love-'em-and-leave-'em” woe. Maybe it’s a matter of what you are used to, what you grow up with, &etc.

“Mister Rogers." That is where my love of the Beta Male began. (PBS has a lot to answer for.) He was neat, caring, tidy (always took off his outdoor shoes, hung his coat up neatly on the hook, and put on a fresh cashmere sweater/jumper every time he came into the house). 

He shared. He was loving, and personified gentleness: “Won’t you be my neighbo(u)r?” Brainwashed at the age of 5. Mister Rogers and cashmere. My life would never be the same.

After years in the wilderness, I have finally found this sort of man in real life, and now that I have, I could never, ever be without him! 

But, it is more than the fact that he wakes me each and every morning with a kiss, and a cup of tea on my bedside table. Or, that he brings me flowers when I’m feeling “poorly” or ‘just because’; or, that he still thinks I’m sexy, even when I’m wearing Vick’s Vapor Rub instead of Victoria’s Secret; or, that he confidently wears pastel colo(u)rs and makes them look masculine (and hot); or, that he cuddles me, as I cry during the sappy part of the chick flick I’ve chosen for us to watch; or, he when I knows that I have waited until the very last possible minute to meet a project deadline, he rushes home from work, cooks dinner, walks the dog, and does the washing-up, so I can type my way through the night – it is all these things, and more. Much more.

No, India, no! We shall honor and celebrate the Beta Male! That sterling gentleman, with his heart of solid gold. We shall crown him King, and revere him as our lord and master! And I know I am not alone in thinking this way. I’m not the only woman out here who spent a better part of the 1990s with Ralph Tresvant’s “Sensitivity” on continual play loop, as I cried into my beer, doubting that my Prince Charming would ever come along.

Poor India, you have no idea what you are missing! Incredible passion comes from great sensitivity. The Beta Male, that you coldly dismiss as a dear soul who quote, “sympathises when you have period cramps and offers to make you a nice cup of camomile,” but, whom you’d overlook “when picking a boyfriend rather than a friend,” in favo(u)r of a more primitive primate, has so much more to offer. 

And besides, a nice cup of c(h)amomile is just thing one needs -- after one has been playfully dragged into a very tidy cave.

Chaos theory

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine (who adamantly opposed my leaving New York/moving to England) left a poignant message on my Facebook page:

"Don't forget, lovie: wherever you go, there you are. Watch and listen closely for any repetitive speech or behaviour or situation to make sure that all the frustrations you left behind (and behind and behind) are truly location-specific detritus and not stuff you're carrying around with you."

On days like today, I wonder if he’s right. I am just shy of the “2 months in” point, and I have fallen into chaos. I've mentioned the broken tooth – while eating popcorn of all things! – and “the cold,” and the resulting desire for Tylenol. Well, now, all hell has broken loose! 

The cold, turned into a cough, and last night the cough triggered what felt like the onset of an asthma attack – I've had one of these before, not something I’d like to repeat – the D.E.B. dutifully rushed me to Warwick Hospital, where I was seen—within half an hour I might add—by the “Out of Hours G.P. (General Practitioner)” at the Extended Hours Service Centre. No camping out in a messy, noisy, germ-riddled Emergency Room here, thank you very much.  The doctor was very helpful, patient, and cute. But I digress.

It turns out that:

a.) my allergies have gone hay-wire, triggering my asthma, which has been relatively dormant while I was living in New York; 

b.) the “ringing in my ears” is the result of a ruptured ear drum (!?!), caused by an ear infection I didn’t realize I'd had,


c.) I have a cold. 

Dare I ask the heavens, “What else?”

So, here I lie, on a beautiful, Thursday morning, in bed. When I could/should be up and out in my new world: morning prayer at St. Peter’s, walking Lucy across the Barford playing field, taking my body for my 5K loop to Sherbourne and back, &etc.

And of course, our bodies pick the worse possible timing when it comes to being ill. I have a long week ahead. Tonight, the D.E.B. and I have tickets to see David Tennant (the current Dr. Who) in Love’s Labours Lost at the RSC. These tickets are GOLD DUST! We have fabulous seats—thanks to my connections at the Shakespeare Trust—and there I shall be, hacking away, trying not to bring up a lung in the front row. Brilliant.

Today is also the day when I should be making an appearance at The Shakespeare Institute, at the weekly “Thursday Seminar,” a.k.a. weekly “Shakespeare Schmooze Fest.” Tomorrow night, the D.E.B. and I are carousing with friends at a culinary event, “Claridge’s Night,” at Stratford College. What a joy my fellow diners will have with me sputtering over their foie gras.

Festivities continue through the weekend. Sunday, D.E.B. is performing at a charity event in Warwick (He is a darling, truly.) and in the evening we are going to see American folk diva, Diane Ponzio in concert in Stratford.

I am grateful to have such an active and full social life. And I am even more grateful that the D.E.B. has friends that are actually, really wonderful, and whom I actually, really, honestly like and enjoy!

My stress and angst are down to my own poor planning. I am scheduled to give two, separate, Shakespeare lectures in Stratford next week on Tuesday and Thursday. I have known about both of them for quite some time. Am I prepared? Am I ready?       

I think the word Gordon Ramsay uses is “shambolic.” If “procrastination” were a country, I would be its Queen. My upcoming lecture at The Shakespeare Institute next week is only the most significant lecture of my academic career. Why not wait until the week before to flip out, and panic about it? Oh, yeah. And then, get sick.

Perhaps, some things don’t change, no matter where you are.



13 October 2008

Curious week in Barford...

Highlights of this past week:
Broke a tooth. Completed my first W.I. duties. And yet another attempt at “church shopping.”
I also baked a horrendous Banana Bread Loaf this week--on Sunday--that had all the light, airy texture of a cast-iron brick. Must note that said failed Banana Loaf was not the cause of aforementioned broken tooth. I broke my tooth eating popcorn. While watching a movie! What is the world coming to? Found a dentist in Stratford-upon-Avon, no problem. Got an appointment for the very next day. Dental procedure took less than half an hour, and wasn’t too expensive.  Go, British Healthcare System!
My first duties for the Barford W.I. consisted of delivering flyers door-to-door from my end of Wellesbourne Road to the bridge and back, for the upcoming “Grand Auction of Promises.”  The Auction proceeds will benefit the soon-to-be-opened Barford Shop! (Sainsbury’s will finally have some local competition here in leafy Barford!) A gander at the prizes for the auction will illustrate the caliber of my new neighbo(u)rhood: a bottle of House of Commons whisky; “cream tea for 2 in the Cotswolds in a chauffer driven Classic 1977 Jaguar Coupe”,  “Champagne and canapés followed by river trip and supper for 6 adults”; 1 week’s accommodation in a flat in Javea, Spain (between Alicante and Valencia); and “a quantity of farmyard manure (delivery if required)”. God, I love this place.
The quest for the “new spiritual home” continues. The D.E.B., bless him, has given up for now. I think he has just resigned himself to attend whichever place I finally settle on.  That is, if I am ever able to actually settle on any one place...  This week I tried the Collegiate Church of St. Mary (C of E) in Warwick. Fabulous.  I mean, it's not every day that a girl gets to take Communion in a church that has it’s own 10th century crypt!
On the surface, I felt I had finally found the “Mother Ship”. Up-market, well-heeled, coolly Episcopalian-looking congregation; all-male choristers, decked and trimmed in dazzling red and white, high-necked regalia; massive pipe organ bellowing a Bach Prelude; did I mention the Norman crypt?
Yes, even without the ‘smells and bells’ that I so desperately long and pine for (what is it with English Anglicans and their anti-smoke/incense stance?), this place had most, if not all, of the pomp and circumstance I think God deserves, though doesn’t require.  Besides, any church that has its own “Choir Librarian” wins in my book! I mean, now that is just sexy…in a spiritual way, of course.
The Norman crypt is the oldest part of the church and dates back to 1123.  I crept down the cold, ash coloured stones to the crypt, and found, alongside the slabs of the long dead, the remnants of a medieval "Ducking Stool".  I could not believe my eyes, nor could my hands resist. I closed my eyes and ran my hands over the wheel and wooden flanks of this intricate torture device. I dug my fingers into a hole where a spoke had long gone missing, relishing the thought of collecting some medieval dust under my nails. I wanted to touch, smell and sense the past, those frightening and confusing times. They thought they were living in the end times. But still life went on, and still life goes on. Perhaps each generation of people believes their time is the only time, the most important, painful, or significant. And still, we go on.
A note on the wall reminded me that the "Ducking Stool" was used as an implement of punishment for: “Dishonest bakers, brewers of unadulterated beer, scolding wives, women of immoral character or those suspected of witchcraft, and quarrelsome married couples.” Happy times, indeed.
I left St. Mary’s beaming, basking in the bright October sunlight, and the thought that: “Yes, I’ve found it.” But, just as I was passing through the church’s massive, beautiful garden, the collegiate bells rang out, thundering the arrival of the noon hour; my heart broke with the thought of little St. Peter’s back in Barford. So humble, so small, so modest by comparison. 
The vicar had asked me at Morning Prayer this past Thursday, if he would see me at service on Sunday, he had planned to “welcome us” during the service. I had hemmed and hawed ("hummed and hawed" in Brit English), knowing I was had planned to go to St. Mary’s for a “bigger and better” experience. I feel so awful now. A place like St. Peter’s needs people like me. Am I looking a gift horse in the mouth? St. Peter’s may not be everything I want, but it may be what I need. And maybe, it is a place that needs me, instead of the other way around. Perhaps that is the lesson I am meant to learn in all this.   


I did it! I drove today. That’s right I got behind the wheel of “the tank” (SAAB wagon) and drove.

The D.E.B. needed to collect his camper van from the mechanic’s shop in Alveston, so we made a plan over the weekend that I would drive him there.  I had, thankfully, forgotten about this little plan, so I did not have time to fret and panic about it today before the D.E.B. arrived home from work.

My only real fear, apart from killing us, was having the D.E.B. as co-pilot on the journey to Alveston. (I have sooo many horror stories of impatient and irate relatives, parents, etc. "coaching" me while I'm behind the wheel. Curious that, people don't seem to realize the more nervous and anxious you make the person the more rattled they become.) But, of course, true to his sterling character, he was kind, patient and encouraging the entire way. 

The road to Alveston is quite serpentine, and of course everyone drives fast, fast, fast here! But, I stayed calm and just chanted my mantra: “Left, Left, Left, stay on the Left.” The only problem is, and I don’t know what it's called exactly, but I think I might be "right-left disoriented." I mean generally. In New York, when people would stop and ask me for directions, I would have to raise my hand or turn my body to physically engage my brain as to which direction I trying to utter. Not a good practice, I think, to attempt whilst driving. I will need to work on this.

Still. First things first. I did it! I drove! Fear conquered! There will be no stopping me now!

09 October 2008

Always something there to remind me...

I tried to open a British bank account online the other day. Faced with a choice between opening an account with Barclay’s or Lloyd’s TSB, I did what any sensible Manhattan girl would do. I made my decision based purely on aesthetics. Having a preference for lime green, I found the Lloyd’s TSB logo the more appealing of the two, so I went with them. Once I landed on the Lloyd’s website, I made short work of the virtual application. That is until I got to question number 3: "What is your relationship status?"

First of all, why is my “relationship status” any of their business? Is a person’s money greener if they are married, or widowed? The list of choices before me were: “Single, Married, Civil Partnership, Divorced, Dissolved Civil Partnership, Widowed, Legally Separated, Common Law, Engaged, or Separated.”  Truth be told, this a very fine, extremely p.c. and inclusive list, with every possible intimate arrangement therein. All except for mine. For, I am none of these. What does it mean to look at a list of relational options, and not see ones self there at all? Clearly, "More than single, less than married," is not a viable option.

The frustration I feel stems from the fact that for some reason, I have found it hard to accept my current status as “The Girlfriend.” I find myself breaking into a mild sweat, and choking on my words whenever I am forced to introduce the D.E.B. as my “Boyfriend.” The thought has only just occurred to me that all this time I could have been introducing him, as I have done here, as my “Darling English Boy.” That would be more exotic, and certainly sexier than “Boyfriend.”

Girlfriend? Ugh. I am too old to be someone’s “Girlfriend.” No self-respecting dame over the age of 35, and under the age of 60, wants to be relegated to the realm of Girlfriend. Surely, I am not alone in feeling that the terms “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” belong to the relationship categories of the very young (as in: “Oh, yes, Tommy, our 3 year old, has a new girlfriend,”) or the very old (“Have you met Grandma’s new boyfriend?”).

When one has reached a certain age, that terrain between youth and old age, one feels that only terms with a patina of mature respectability will do, particularly: fiancée or wife. (Heck, even “mistress” and “lover” are better, or at least more robust, than the saccharine and anemic term: “Girlfriend”.)

This may be the one US-UK cultural difference I struggle to surmount. “Girlfriend” is a very common designation here in Britain. It is not at all uncommon to meet unmarried couples that have been together for “donkey’s years,” as they say, who have a house, three kids, and a summer home in Tuscany, who still refer to each other as “Girlfriend” and “Boyfriend.” My American mind boggles.

My wonderful "Superstar Writer Friend" has done her British best to clarify this perplexing social conundrum for me. Marriage, she explained, is actually viewed pretty differently in the UK. In Britain, getting married is not the requisite relationship “deal-breaker” it is and/or seems to be in the US. For many British couples, “the big step” or the most significant acknowledgement of their long-term commitment is taking the plunge of living together and building a home. Superstar Writer Friend, and several other ex-pat Brits I know who now reside in the US, have each said it was not until they moved to the US, that they realized how much more important (symbolically and culturally) marriage as an institution is to American women, and how American women/girls are so much more in invested in it than their British counter-parts.

Marriage. What does it really mean? Of course, I often ask myself: Do I really need a piece of paper to validate my relationship? (Angelina Jolie clearly does not.) And then, an even better question: Is it marriage that I'm after, or just a wedding? 

It doesn’t help that I hail from the “United States of Bridezilla,” where as little girls we are inundated from the womb with “the white dress directive.”  The dress, the flowers, the cake, on and on. And, yes, I will confess, like many a true-blue, Southern-born girl, I already have “the dress” – bought “on faith” when I spotted two and a half years ago – and the bridesmaids’ dresses, too. (Okay, look, Anthropologie had a sale…and I bought easily mendable sizes.) All of this acquired, held on reserve, in storage, for the right time and the right man to come along. I have no doubt that the D.E.B. is the right man, but when will be the right time?

My Darling English Boy has assured me, has given me his promise for our future together. On New Year’s Day morning last year, he gave me a beautiful platinum and diamond band, and a pledge that we will one day wed. Because we often see ourselves as characters from a Jane Austen novel, his gift of a ‘promise ring’ was so touching, so romantic, so perfect, so us. I felt anchored and assured in his love, until a friend—who is no longer a friend—laughed, and said to me: “Yeah, well, my 8 year old son just gave his girlfriend a promise ring, too!” Or, when a waiter off-handedly commented into a conversation he was not a part of: “Promises can always be broken.” And the next person who asks me: “Has he proposed yet?” is going to get an earful!!!!

The D.E.B. has not proposed, and it will probably be quite sometime before he does. To this, I have resigned myself. I have resigned myself to be patient and understanding. Appreciating that in addition to our different cultural perspectives on this issue, there is the added complication of the “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” syndrome. We have both been married before; and I think women are far, far more resilient than men following a divorce and the demise of a marriage. The lure of the dress, the flowers, yummy wedding cake, being the center of attention, and the Pottery Barn Gift Registry gets us gals back in the saddle in no time!  Yee-ha! I mean, just look at Elizabeth Taylor! To be fair, and not just because this is about my Darling English Boy, I do seriously think it is more difficult for men to grieve, re-group, and ‘move on to the next one’ after a long-term relationship has sadly bitten the dust.

So, I shall just bide my time until he is ready. I would be lying to say that I have accepted this situation without more than few moments of frustration (or random outbursts, during which I haven’t revealed the real source of my vexation), or that I have not, on more than one occasion, seriously contemplated the advice that I should consider drugging his food.

"When in Rome, do as the Romans."

For now, I shall wear the mantle of  “Girlfriend” as best I can, and strive to do so more gracefully. The D.E.B and I both know what is between us, and what is in our hearts. We know where we stand, and what we mean to one another. The “ambiguity” of my “status,” and our relationship exists solely in the minds of others, and what they do not see. Which is, as Shakespeare wrote, just “the outward show” and merely a question of aesthetics.