Sunday, February 28, 2016

Going to the Movies

I’ve asked my three granddaughters to reserve a day for me this week, their last week of summer vacation. “We can do whatever you want.”
            They decide on a movie and an ice cream afterwards.
            “What movie?”
            “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”
We go to the multicine at the mall and stand in the line to buy tickets and another snail-slow line to buy Combo #3 – a giant bag of popcorn, drinks and candy. The movie has already started. We grope our way to our numbered seats and settle down to distribute the goodies. I try to ignore the fact that my sandals stick to the floor.
I love looking at the girls’ entranced faces while they watch the movie. It’s a happy, funny film with singing and dancing. I even manage to stay awake. When it ends, Colomba says. “That was so short.” We file out with smiles on our faces. I ask them if they still have space for an ice cream. They decide they do.
A few days later, a friend and I take the metro downtown to see a movie at one of the few theaters that show art/foreign films. The theater is located in an old, once bohemian part of town, though now invaded with restaurants and coffee shops. The theater, separated from the small lobby/ticket office by a shabby red velvet curtain, seats about one hundred. We’ve come to see “Wadjda” or “The Green Bicycle,” the first film made by a Saudi Arabian woman. Through the eyes of ten-year-old Wadjda, we enter the restricted, controlled world of Saudi women. Her mother and the school director remind her to keep her hair covered, not to speak to or be seen uncovered by unknown men, not to play with her neighborhood friend, Abdullah. Wadjda observes how her mother must hire a driver to take her to work as women are not allowed to drive. She helps her mother prepare food for her father and his friends, then leaving the food outside the door of the room where they are gathered.
Wadjda is a free spirit, wears running shoes under her long black robe, listens to American pop music and doesn’t understand the restrictions which go against what comes naturally to her. Her greatest wish is to buy a green bicycle she’s seen in a shop so she can race with Abdullah. She saves her money but the school director and her mother tell her that girls do not ride bicycles.

My friend and I left the theater pensive, struck by the discrimination we’d observed in that subtle portrayal of Wadjda’s reality. We discussed the movie as we walked along the sidewalk crowded with diversely-clad, talking and laughing men and women, rushing to enjoy a beer or an ice cream on this hot Friday afternoon.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

There’s a Hole in the Bucket…

dear Liza, dear Liza
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

The song reverberated through my head all night. And what a night….
Stan, grey-bearded poet and guitarist, strummed his Washburn Rover leading us in a rousing version of the song I’d long forgotten. Some remembered every stanza. The rest of us caught on quickly to the silly repetition. How we howled and laughed.
Then followed “Folsom Prison, “Home on the Range,” “Red River Valley,” “Irene, Good night,” and a duo by Stan and Beth of Dolly Parton’s “Wildflowers.”
When a flower grows wild, it can always survive
Wildflowers don't care where they grow.
Scout songs, campfire songs, folk songs. The lyrics resurfaced from the deep recesses of my memory. We turned pensive when Stan sang lonely heart ballads
I felt privileged to be in this special company at this country home sing-along: three distinguished Canadian writers, three aspiring writers and the man-of-the-house. It was an evening of lively conversation and stories, book recommendations, an abundance of Chilean wine, hearty local food and photo posing. That night I felt removed, transported from my routine life to another place, another time. For a little while, I was no one’s wife or mother, my usual context pared down to the core of the essential me.
Stan and Beth spoke of their lives in Newfoundland, their cat, their current works. We plied Rosemary Sullivan with questions about her latest book, “Stalin’s Daughter.” How did she research it? How long did it take her? She related how her travels and the people she met led to new books.
Earlier in the day, Stan patiently went over four poems I’d written. As if by magic, eliminating a word here, moving a line there, he brought conciseness to them. Beth worked with another of my Santiago Writer colleagues to sharpen her story. This was a time for consulting, exchanging ideas and thinking, enhanced by the calm of the countryside.
After the last song, we were heading off to bed when Rosemary offered:
“I’d like to read to you the first two pages of my book.” We sat and waited in silence.
She began with the Prologue, The Defection. "At 7:00 p.m. on March 6, 1967, a taxi drew up …."

   Los Parronales, 2016

Monday, February 8, 2016

Me, Myself and Memory

A former Peace Corps colleague sent me the photo of a group of us on the beach in Cartagena, Colombia. There’s no doubt that the young, thin woman stretched out on the sand is me. But I have no recollection of that day trip to Cartagena fifty years ago. It’s as if I lost that day of my life.

Cartagena, 1965 (I'm second on the left)
So many moments, days, people and events have vanished in the convoluted folds of my cerebral cortex. My grown son mentioned that I took him to the doctor several times as a child for his back ailments. I feel miserable because I don’t remember. I thought it was his brother that had the back problems. I’ve always believed that our memories are selective, recalling significant people and events in one’s life. Yet, this was my own son whose medical history I’d forgotten. When I say, “I don’t remember,” my sons must think she’s losing it.
Neurologist Oliver Sacks said that it is memory that makes our lives. This starts me thinking: what things do I remember? The list of visual scenes is endless: my family home, the floor plan of a grandmother’s house, the Springer spaniel we had when I was a child, the face of my father taking his last breaths, my son Danny standing on the toilet while I dried his hair with the hairdryer after his bath, the night I met my husband. My visual images are often triggered by remembered smells – the dry summer grasses of California hills, pungent redwood groves, Coppertone suntan lotion, my husband’s pajamas – and by sounds – the whistle of a train, rain on the roof, a voice on the telephone. My memory is particularly sharp at recalling the many times I put my foot in my mouth.
Yet, as I age, memory lapses multiply like rabbits. Frustrating, though not life-threatening, is my difficulty recalling names of actors, actresses and singers. One in particular gives me trouble time and time again, so I’ve trained myself to remember the letter O. Then the name comes to me. Oh, yes! Olivia Newton-John. Sometimes I must go through the entire alphabet until the name of the woman across the room comes to me.
Word retrieval is tricky when two languages are involved. I’ll be speaking in Spanish when a key word comes to me only in English. (Or vice versa).This is especially stressful when I’m in the company of several people. I turn to my husband for help. “What’s the word in Spanish for….? That thing that….You know…. But he doesn’t know what the devil I’m referring to.
For my experiential memories, my imagination must fill in the gaping holes shaping the memory to my own liking. This can lead to disagreement when recalling a shared event with someone: “But it wasn’t like that at all”!
Another type of exchange not unusual in our household goes like this:
“I did tell you!”
“No you did not!”
 “Yes, I did, I distinctly remember. We were standing in the kitchen.” At this point, I give up. Who’s to say whose memory is more accurate? Though I continue to be convinced I’m right.
I envy those who have been constant in keeping journals over the years. I’m a sporadic journalist, though when traveling, I always take a pencil and notebook along. I recently came across a forgotten diary I’d kept during a visit to Colombia. Rereading it was a revelation and a joy bringing back lost moments, details and impressions: the rocky, wild  bus ride into the barrio, a small girl in the barrio asking me if I was an albino, the death of my friend Ana, a trip with 8-year-old Hansi for his first view of the ocean.
Although I lament and wonder about the many forgotten moments – books I’ve read, children I taught, dances I danced – I believe that have stayed with me. They are a part of my life story.