30 April 2009
24 April 2009
Midnight. April 23, 2007
“Daddy, it's me,” I could hear myself speaking in the odd, hollow, weak falsetto that always possessed my vocal chords wherever I spoke to my father. “I’m here. We all love you, and want you to get better. I love you. I love you, Daddy.” That was how it ended. “I love you, Daddy,” and then, he was gone.
Brief affirmation, followed swiftly by pandomonium. Vain attempts of human science to alter the will and timing of God. It was his time, and this was how his story as to end. He slipped away, silent as the night, even at the turning of the tide.
My father’s favorite Shakespeare play was King Lear. I have no doubt that he ever appreciated the irony of his choice. A number of parallels can be drawn quite easily between the play and our own family drama: noble, majestic father, three headstrong daughters vying for his approval…
Indeed, for much of my life I have felt as I have been trapped inside a poorly directed production of King Lear, where I have been rather woefully and unwillingly double cast as Cordelia and the Fool. By contrast, my two, older sisters have always seemed quite content in their unwitting performances as Goneril and Regan. Even a little too content at times, if I may say so.
April 23rd. Shakespeare’s birthday and my father's death date. This date now holds more poignant meaning for me. I lost one, on the date that I routinely celebrate the arrival of other.
It is now a date that unites fully the two elusive male figures that have shaped so much of my life. Neither man, to me, seemed to have existed as flesh and bone, more as icon, myth and legend. Similarly, their biographies hold close to basic facts and traces, limited documentation, and minimal, personal archival presence.
Their essence to me is/was/has been a body of work, sinews of greatness, achievement and accomplishment. These were the thoughts that crossed my mind, as I stared at the mere mortal who lay before me. This was not my father, this could not be my father.
I marveled, as Cleopatra does over the body of the dying Antony, is it possible that such a great man can die? He was my father, a man I felt a barely knew beyond the public persona he lived each and every day.
Literature, poetry, and particularly the works of Shakespeare were a meeting place for my father and I. Shakespeare became our common ground, a metaphoric campfire around which we could sit side by side, and share a common language, interest and bond.
The days that follow any passing are surreal. One moves as in a dream, or a blur. Not knowing how exactly one has moved from point A to point B. Briefly, right before the start of my father's wake, as relatives, friends, and members of the community gathered at the funeral home, I had a moment of extreme clarity.
Before I realized where my legs were taking me, I knocked on the Funeral Director's door. "May I use your computer?" The Funeral director kindly allowed me to print out a copy of Sonnet #18.
I returned to the sanctuary, and informed my siblings that I would like to say something. I had no idea what. I stood at the podium, beside my father's open casket, like Mark Antony speaking over the corpse of Caesar. But unlike that noble orator, my speech was simple, and I offered words of love, instead of warnings of war.
"My father introduced me to Shakespeare," I said plainly, "and so these words are for him:"
- So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
- So long lives this, and this gives life to thee
23 April 2009
The Birthday Celebrations for Stratford-upon-Avon’s most famous son are in full swing. Stratford-upon-Avon is heaving with tourists (when is it not?) from around the globe celebrating the life, times, works and hometown of William Shakespeare.
To add to the merry-making, today is also the Feast Day of St. George, patron saint of England. There are lots of festivities for both Will and George planned throughout the county over the coming weekend.
In my little pocket of Warwickshire, on the banks of the Avon, we have marked the day in our own quiet Barfordian way. Morning prayer at St. Peter’s with the vicar reading those famous lines from Henry V – “Cry ‘God for Harry, England and St. George!’” – guess he was sort of killing two birds with one stone, as it were.
This weekend, there’s a special St. George service planned at the church, and our “local,” the Granville, is offering a special “olde English” menu all weekend, in honor of the saint.
As for me, I have spent the day out in the glorious sunshine, writing in the garden. This was a welcome and wonderful reprieve after a stint of “shakespearing” at the Shakespeare Trust this week.
I spent the past two days at the Trust helping to lead a Shakespeare-centered debating project for 14-16 year olds. This workshop is geared toward “middle of the road” students. Not the highest flyers, but the ones who, with the right encouragement could be high flyers.
The students who participated in this workshop were from 4 different schools in the area of the English Midlands called “the Black Country”. Its moniker is derived from the regions heavily industrial past in coal and iron.
As such, it makes sense that the students in our groups were from mostly urban, working class backgrounds. This kind of work can be very demanding, more than a little bit draining, but it always rewarding. And yesterday was no exception.
There is a very funny British comedienne called Catherine Tate. For her sketch comedy series, “The Catherine Tate Show,” she has created a host of hilarious characters.
One of her characters is “Lauren Cooper,” a disaffected teenager known primarily for her now-famous catchphrase: “Am I bovvered?”
Imagine being surrounded by a group of Lauren Coopers, as you stand armed with only your wit, and the sole directive of getting these disgruntled garden gnomes to engage with you, each other and Shakespeare. Words fail to describe fully the very public nightmare this situation can be. Horrid.
There I stood, in a sea of discontented youth, trying desperately to light a spark, and these kids were having none of it. We limped through the first hour, which felt to me like pushing a boulder uphill, while wearing a backpack full of lead bricks. Make no mistake, it was worse than trying to herd a tribe of cats. Blindfolded.
And I have to say, the girls were the worst! Gangly arms folded tightly across uniformed chests, expressions on their faces at once blank and smug. They huddled together in a tight ,little groups, finding strength in their almost photocopy sameness. Wisely, I diffused each gaggle’s group mentality by splitting them up, and making everyone stand next to someone from a different school.
Breaking the groups up helped immensely. The ring leader, the main girl who was “too cool for school” was suddenly floundering at sea without her “back up” surrounding her. Also, not surprisingly, liberated from the ring leader’s sphere, her fellows were free to actually relax, enjoy themselves and excel.
One such girl was Annie, the smallest, shiest member of the “cool girl” gang. I could see immediately that Annie had different spark/spirit about her. My instincts were right, and as the day progressed she went from strength to strength.
The day actually ended in a competitive public debate, and Annie was shocked and elated to hear her name announced as one of the 6 semi-finalists. The finals round was a heated debate on the following motion: “This house believes that Shakespeare is no longer relevant.”
I was responsible for prepping the team opposing this motion, which included Annie and two other bright sparks. We had half an hour to formulate points and decide who was saying what. In this session, Annie took the lead, and then she led the troops into battle.
During the final debate, I sat on the sideline like an anxious stage mother. And, I was absolutely gutted when the judges declared victory for the other team, the Proposition. My heart sunk, as I immediately felt the day had been lost. I had visions of little Annie limping back to her circle of friends, only to be chastised for daring to try.
Thankfully, I was distracted by one of the other teachers. But, in the midst of our conversation, I felt a small tapping on my shoulder. I turned around to see Annie’s little face beaming up at me. “Thank you, Miss. Thank you. I can’t believe I did that. Thank you so much!” she said as she threw her arms around me, and gave me a huge hug.
“You are very welcome. Listen, Shakespeare wrote ‘to those who have been given much, much is expected,’” I said to her, trying not to cry, “I’m expecting great things from you, Annie.” Her smile beamed again, “Thank you, Miss!” And with that she scurried away.
The power of Shakespeare to empower and change lives is something that I have had the good fortune to witness consistently throughout my life. And, It never ceases to amaze, unnerve and humble me that I have the opportunity be a small part of that process. Beyond the parades and the birthday cake, Shakespeare is 400 years old and still going strong!
Where there’s a Will, there’s a way.
20 April 2009
I adore Eva, my fitness guru, but this time, she may be going too far.
18 April 2009
17 April 2009
16 April 2009
Today, I discovered the English delicacy that is “Rhubarb.” I will confess that my interest in this quintessential English dietary anchor was not motivated purely by cultural or culinary curiosity. I needed to offer the D.E.B. a “peace offering” and I recalled that his favo(u)rite childhood pudding/dessert was his mum’s 'Rhubarb Crumble'.
I needed to apologise for a recent outburst. As noted in “Bridal Breakdown #4-6,” my sense of humour is not these days what it should be. I find myself getting very heated over very, very minute and meaningless things. Thankfully, the D.E.B. is very loving, forgiving and still wants to marry me in spite of it all.
Here is the rub. The D.E.B. and I are very similar creatures, almost too similar in fact. Allow me to explain...
When I was six years old, I asked for a twin. Christmas morning came, and nothing, neither the brand, new “Easy Bake Oven,” nor the Walt Disney "Tinkerbell" costume—complete with magic wand—could allay my severe and heartfelt disappointment.
“I asked for a twin.” I said unequivocally, gossamer wings drooping slightly. “One day, when you’re older, we’ll explain why that wasn’t possible,” my mother said softly, as she poured smooth cake batter into one of those tiny, aluminum baking tins.
Lo, and behold, my prayers have finally been answered! Well, sort of. Metaphorically, at any rate. The DEB and I share the same birthday: the same day, though not the same year.
I have never been heavily into astrology, although I do believe some of it has to be true. I have never met a Scorpio who didn’t have a sting, nor have I ever met an Aquarius who wasn’t mellow.
So, true to form as resplendent, noble Leos, the D.E.B. and I feel things quite deeply, the sunny, majestic leonine exterior belying the easily wounded fluffy kitty beneath the surface. We are quite equally matched in our capacity for brooding and sulking in silence.
But thankfully, we are also equally matched in our capacity for forgiveness, unconditional love and affection. With or without the “pink celery.”
p.s. Very proud of my first and very successful first attempt at “Rhubarb and Stawberry Crumble”! The D.E.B. loved it!! "Just like mum made." Found a super easy recipe online by Annabel Karmel. Sooo pretty and pink. Gorgeous combination of rhubarb and strawberries.
15 April 2009
14 April 2009
09 April 2009
Driving in England. I agonize over this one activity like nothing else in my life.
Here was my plan. The D.E.B. and I had planned to do our big Easter shop yesterday evening. Then, a thought flickered through my mind: it was a bright sunny day, I was feeling frisky and chirper, why not do the Sainsbury’s run by myself?
You see, The D.E.B. has been being a very good lad, and has been cycling to work, so the car (a.k.a.,"The Tank”) has been sitting on our drive, taunting me, teasing and tempting me.
What am I so afraid of? I don’t really know exactly. The stupid thing is that I actually learned to drive here in Britain. Years and years ago, while I was a graduate student the opportunity to learn to drive presented itself, and I took it. Took the test, two or three times, and eventually passed. I know how to drive, and am licensed to do so.
But that was many, many years ago, and in the interim, living in the States—my fellow Americans will have to forgive me, but I must say this—I have become a very lazy driver. Driving in America is a doddle. You could do it in your sleep, in fact, I am sure that I have driven in my sleep!
To me, it seems that driving is quite a casual affair in the States, where else in the world would one find “Drive-Thru Liquor Stores”? I remember one time, when I was in high school, some friends and I were out on the town; we went to the “Drive Thru” liquor store/off-license for some Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers (Egad, I’m showing my age here.)
And, I kid you not, as the man behind the counter, leaned out of the window to hand us our package, he said to the driver: “You want me to open those for ya?” I wanted to shout from the back seat: “She’s driving!”
More than casualness, there is just the matter of skill sets. In many ways, at least for me, it seems that driving in Britain requires a different set of skills. And that’s what worries me. It will just take a bit of time for my brain to re-re-adjust to driving here.
I did make it to Sainsbury’s yesterday, though. And proudly did the big Easter shop all on my own. Felt very empowered and liberated. (And got a super deal on whole salmon!) My victory was bittersweet, however...a minor boo-boo that resulted in a cracked, passenger wing mirror.
This week I finally mastered “the forward crawl”.
Not bad for a chronic hydro-phobe, like me. (After seeing the film Titanic, it was weeks before I could cross a bridge, or take a bath.)
I have been going to the gym everyday for the past 4 months, and the daily practice has paid off.
And, I conquered the elusive, British classic that is the ‘Yorkshire Pudding.’ I had solid guidance from Delia Smith. On her website, she softly admonishes: “A classic Yorkshire pudding is not difficult to make provided you have the right recipe, the right size tin and the right oven temperature.”
In the end, it was all about trusting the heat (that seemed remarkably high to me), and distracting myself long enough for them to actually bake, undisturbed, for what felt like a very, very long time to me.
So, after a long winter of culinary mishaps, and countless soggy and misshapen hockey pucks, victory was at last mine! The D.E.B. and I did a little jig of joy about the kitchen, and I was ever so proud.
Practice and patience seem to be the keys to mastering most things.
On Tuesday evening, The D.E.B. and I invited our friend, Sallie (not Sally the cake baker) to join us in our garden for a glass of wine and a bit of cake. It was a lovely, warmish spring evening. We sipped chilled rosé, and prepared ourselves for the task at hand.
Before us, three lovely wedding cake samples: 1.) a traditional English sponge with jam, 2.) Sally the Cake Baker’s attempt at American wedding cake, and 3.) a combination cake, American wedding cake with jam.
In the end, it was number 3 for each of us. Sally the Cake Baker had done a very good job of getting the flavo(u)r and taste of the American wedding cake just right, the only thing I could fault was the texture. Her version with quite dense.
American wedding cake is meant to have a very light, airy texture. So, we are going to have another go. Sally the Cake Baker thinks the difference could be in the flour.
Could it be that American flour has a unique characteristic that its British counterpart lacks? Or perhaps there is a special flour that American bakers use to produce wedding cakes, and nothing else. I promised Sally the Cake Baker that I would do a bit more research on this for her next attempt.
07 April 2009
06 April 2009
“Marriage is seriously joyful, seriously hopeful and seriously demanding.”
01 April 2009
Perched atop my favo(u)rite treadmill, I could see Jackie 1 was "giving it some wellie" (working very hard) in the swimming pool this morning. (Lucky her, she had the whole pool to herself, a rare privilege we all relish.)
After punishing myself in the gym, I was ready to reap my “reward” (a swim and a steam) and wandered into the pool area, just as the other members of what I have deemed, “The Monday-Wednesday Swim Club” arrived (Jackie 2, Beryl and Judy).
After swimming flat out for an hour, Jackie 1 was ready for a good old natter (chit-chat). To be honest, I used to find the “M-W Swim Club” really annoying. But now, fitness goals achieved, I am mush more relaxed about things, and have really grown to enjoy their company. And they were all on top form today.
“I’ve been dying to tell you,” Jackie 1 swam over to the edge of the pool to meet me, “I went along to a wedding at Walton Hall over the weekend. It was lovely, but quite different. When the bride came in, she didn’t have any music at all. Rather, the vicar asked us all to applaud her. Can you imagine? She came in to the sound of people clapping and cheering her! Isn’t that unique?”
Before I could respond, Jackie 2 chimed in: “Well, that’s fantastic. Why not? People should do what they like.” “Well, yes, that’s my point, exactly. You should do exactly what you want!” Jackie 1 said patting me on the back.
“Morning, girls!” Beryl and Judy had arrived. These two are quite simply, fabulous. They are two peas in a pod, same height, same build, best friends. Both in their 60s, they are a laugh a minute, and as tall as they are wide, and they could care less what anyone else thinks about that.
(“If people don’t like what they see when they look at me, don’t look, I say!” the wonderfully boisterous Beryl declared once.)
“Are we talking weddings, again?” Judy teased and winked, lowering herself into the pool. “I remember my wedding like it was yesterday,” she added. “Oh, that’s so sweet,” giggled Jackie 2, splish-splashing around the pool, but never actually getting her hair wet.
“It weren’t sweet, we fought the entire time!” Judy confessed. We all froze and looked at her. “Oh, yes. That’s right. He and me, we fought every day the week before the wedding, and the week after.” Judy revealed.
“No!” the Jackies and I exclaim in utter disbelief. “Yes. After two weeks of that, I’d had enough. I packed my bags and went back to my mum’s!” said Judy, she and Beryl erupted into laughter. “Don’t look so frightened, lovey. She weren’t back home with ‘er mum, long,” Beryl gave me a wink. Judy explained: “Of course, I went back. After he came a’begging!” The twin peas cackled in unison.
“Did you keep on fighting like that?” Jackie 2, her mocha-colo(u)red, springs piled high on her head, enquired timidly. “Goodness, yes,” Judy said proudly, “I’ll tell you. There aren’t two glasses in my cupboard the same, what with me throwing ‘em at him when we was having a row.” “She’s not lyin’!” Beryl testified. “My goodness...” blushed the demure Jackie 1.
“Well, there’s a lot to be said for a good fight, isn’t there, Judy? A lot good can come of it. ‘Specially in the making up.” cheeky little Beryl winked, and reduced us all to schoolgirl giggles.
With that, Beryl and Judy began their laps in the tiny pool. The Jackies and I returned to more simple wedding talk: “How are you wearing your hair?”; “Who’s going to lift your veil for you?”; “Has the D.E.B. decided what he’s going to wear?” and etc.
I explained that I had originally planned to wear my hair down, since the D.E.B. prefers it that way, but that my opinion had changed during my first fitting.
“The Dress” requires a much more pull-together coiffure than my rather unruly, and unkempt long and loose look. I had yet to even think through the “veil lifting” issue.
Both Jackies think I should have the D.E.B. do the lifting. (“That would be so romantic…” Jackie 2 swooned.)
And as for what the D.E.B. is wearing, I informed them that things had taken a decided 19th C. turn, and that the D.E.B. would be wearing a charcoal grey “morning suit.”
“Oh, like Mr. Darcy,” sighed Jackie 1. “He is my Mr. Darcy.” I blushed, and the two Jackies squealed with glee.
“Listen,” Jackie 2 leaned in close. “Don’t worry about the arguing. Marriage is the greatest adventure I’ve ever been on.” She smiled and swam away, corkscrew curls still dry.
Later, while sitting alone in the steam room, I hear strains of singing. It’s Beryl entertaining Judy with a rendition of “The Cuckoo Song.” Beryl was twirling about in the pool, while Judy, sat in hysterics, watches from the side.
Beryl was reminiscing about Springtime when she was a little girl at school. “Teacher made us sing that song, everytime. And we had to do the ‘Daffodil’ poem, and act it out, with gestures and all!” she exclaimed, as Judy howled with laughter.
I opened the door of the steam room and teased them: “Oy! You two are having far too much fun out here!” This only served to set them on an even bigger roar.
At which point, dear Julia arrives. Poor Julia’s been feeling under the weather, and only managed to get to the gym very late. “What sort of time you call this?” Beryl teased her from the pool. Poor Julia, she had no idea what a time she missed.
“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” – Puck, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Mrs. Macbeth was lying in wait for me on my way home from the gym.
“My dear, we must, must, must settle your flowers. The time is drawing near and I must know what you want.” Mrs. Macbeth is the responsible for all floral arrangements and decorations at St. Peter’s Church. She is actually quite an amiable person, truly quite lovely, warm and funny. But, when she is on a mission, she is a force to be reckoned with.
It seems that the flowers for our wedding have been top of Mrs. MacB’s list for quite some time. I appreciate her attentiveness, but have found myself welting under the “Decide now!” pressure that ensues whenever we encounter one another in the village shop, at church or in the street.
There was no escape. This time she had caught unaware and unguarded. And without my D.E.B. there, to charm and diffuse the situation. Thankfully, I was a bit more prepared this time.
Normally, when Mrs. Macbeth has caught me, I have become an incoherent jumble of nervous, barely capable of stringing a complete sentence together. “…Tulips?” I’d stammer meekly. “Oh, no! ” Mrs. MacB. would exclaim soundly. “Hy, hydrangeas?” I’d try again. “Goodness no! That’s a late summer flower!” she explains. “I really like Lillies of the Valley, they…” I struggle to find my voice. “My dear,” she’d break in firmly. “You really must go away and think this through. Every flower you seem to want is for a different season than the one your wedding’s in.”
Today, however, I was prepared. On Tuesday, the D.E.B. and I visited a lovely little florist shop in the tiny Warwickshire village of Kineton. The shop, which is called “Flower Thyme,” is run by a petite and perky woman called, Jill. Jill is a bundle of energy, and her bright, blue eyes sparkle when she smiles.
“Helloooo!” she greeted us at the door of her shop with a big smile. She remembered us from our brief meeting at the Wedding Fayre at The Glebe Hotel last month. “Let’s talk flowers!”
In my next life, I’m going to be a florist. (And without my hayfever and pollen allergies.) What a great life. Surrounded everyday by nature’s beauty, sounds pretty fabulous to me. It seems a great job, and Jill clearly loves it. She had stacks and stacks of photographs for us to look at, and well as several fresh bridal bouquets for me to test-drive. (Which I enjoyed immensely.)
I immediately fell in love with a beautiful nosegay bouquet made of lisianthus, ranunculus, roses and freesia. The flowers were all in shades of ivory, with touches of green provided by tiny springs of eucalyptus and lamb’s ear. Although I had walked in determined to order lavender roses, I kept being drawn to the white lisianthus bouquet. “I think that’s the one for you.” Jill smiled broadly, eyes twinkling. I had to agree, there was something so elegant about the creamy, white flowers.
I loved the bouquet as it was, but requested a few add-ins: instead of lamb’s ear, I have requested springs of English ivy, myrtle and rosemary. I chose myrtle because I’d read somewhere that Queen Victoria had myrtle in her bridal bouquet (myrtle and orange blossoms, in fact). If it was good enough for her, than why not?
As for the rosemary, apparently, in ancient times, brides carried this herb in their bouquets to ward off evil spirits. (Hey, whatever works.). And, of course, as Ophelia says, “Rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” (Had to get some Shakespeare in there, somewhere.)
The D.E.B. liked the look of lisianthus as well, and decided to have that as his buttonhole flower. (His groomsmen will wear lilac lisianthus in their buttonholes, the D.E.B.’s will be white.)
We had such fun together picking flowers with Jill, and she informed us that she has a wealth of experience dealing with “church ladies” in charge of flower arranging. Jill reckons she’s mastered the fine art of working with women like Mrs. Macbeth: “Oh, you know. Their hearts are in the right place. They just really care a lot, that’s what you’ve got to remember. They want your day to be as beautiful as we do.” Jill said.
She added: “I know the best way to handle ‘em. Drop the flowers off, and run away as fast as I can!”