Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Signs in South Beach

"Reading the Signs" is the name of a blog I follow. While I do not have the power of divination, as I walk around South Beach, which is planted with signs, I think about the various messages I see. The bright blue truck with the image of the Eiffel Tower belongs to "La Sandwicherie" restaurant. The French use the English word "sandwich," but in France is there any such thing as a "sandwicherie"? I doubt it. The menu is a melange. Along with saucisson, pate, croque monsieur, and camembert there are turkey, ham, egg salad, and smoothies; there is also prosciutto and mozzarella, yet the sign signals "French," and French means chic; French means delicious. ("Cherie," as you know, is the French word for "dear.")

Is this landscaping company named after Jesus? Is the owner named Jesus? Whatever the origin of the name, the message plays on the story of Jesus' raising Lazarus from the dead, on the belief that he will raise all the virtuous from the dead at the Second Coming. I once saw one of the Jesus Landscaping gardeners on his knees, planting flowers, and smoking a big black cigar. (The name of a hand-rolled cigar of the finest tobacco is a "puro.")

This kosher restaurant is a few blocks from La Sandwicherie and one block from the beach in the former location of Pita Loca. The sign for Pita Loca is still up. Crazy Pita is a chain of middle eastern restaurants. "Glatt Kosher" has come to mean food that conforms to the strictest kosher dietary rules. This week they are closed for Passover. They usually do a brisk business. Their menu includes falafal and other middle eastern dishes.

The bumper sticker, a bold graphic announcing the immanence of the Messiah, reminds me of a cheerleader's shout. I hear it as a chant: Moshiach now! Moshiach now!

The sign at the toilets at 14th Street and Ocean Drive always surprises me because I come from the generation of women for whom public toilets were labeled "Ladies" and before that "Girls."
In the sixties and seventies, they were still called "Ladies." Men went to men's rooms; women went to ladies. "Women" is a better name for a room in which women defecate and urinate.

Some people might wonder how it is possible to shower in a sink. I've seen homeless people wash their feet and legs in the sink--one leg at a time, as they balance on the other leg. Should we mind? I don't.

When I saw these pet waste stations in Switzerland I thought they would never go over in the States, but things have changed. The American version is much more threatening, however.

I'm not sure I completely understand this personal message. "Your [sic] from NYC. So am I," followed by initials, the year, and "Miami." What happened when these two New Yorkers met?

Moshiach on a bumper sticker, Jesus on a truck, etc. All send messages that have a more pronounced flavor than such names as "Nextel," "Verizon," or "Energy Star." Which are for me? La Sandwicherie and Women.

Friday, March 26, 2010

With Self

In the past when I went to a restaurant the maitre d' would ask, "Are you alone?" I would answer yes, and he would lead me to the worst table, near the kitchen or the bussing station, which I would refuse. Things have improved, but occasionally I'm greeted with the same question. Now I answer, "I'm with myself."

Recently as I spend time with myself, I'm drawn to people doing the same. This woman reads with her legs in the surf.

The man greets the sea, tai chi fashion.

And this boy digs in the sand.

They are content, and so am I, as I walk along the shore, though I can hardly claim to lunch with myself at Cafe Las Olas, which yesterday was crowded as usual, mostly with men. We ate shoulder to shoulder. They left together; I left with myself, walking north along Meridian Avenue under the kamani trees.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Last Station, Sophia Tolstoy

"The Last Station" gives us a warped, inaccurate portrayal of Sophia Andreevna Tolstaya, the wife of Leo Tolstoy. In the film, Sophia (played by Helen Mirren) is wildly emotional and often hysterical as she battles Chertov, her husband's disciple, for control of the rights to Tolstoy's literary works. Yes, Sophia fought; yes, she had emotions, but that is all we see of this remarkable woman, who was accomplished and tremendously energetic. She managed the estate of four thousand acres, advised Tolstoy on his writing, copied each day's work, staying up most of the night so she could present fresh pages to him the next day, gave birth to thirteen children, oversaw their education, doctored the peasants who came to her for help. She was a skilled painter, musician and photographer, developing her own prints. (Her self portrait, top photograph, is reproduced on the book jacket of Song Without Words.) None of this is in the film. I would have liked to have seen one glimpse of her at work, keeping the estate ledgers, for instance.

Here is another of her photographs: Chekhov, on the left, with Tolstoy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Volunteers: Tomatoes

In January, using compost he had brought to Florida from Massachusetts, J. potted up a juniper plant and set it on the balcony. Today, three months later, he moved the pot from the floor to a table. He was clearing the decks to sweep.

Trailing out from under the armadillo's paw was a green fringe. Not Juniper. At first I thought it was a weed. I lifted the fringe and caught the pungent minty smell of tomato plants. The fringe, composed of at least a dozen and a half tomato shoots, had grown in the compost from a discarded tomato. With a small sharp spoon I pried it up in one clump. The leggy plants had been reaching for more sun.

I wish I had taken a picture of the tangled shoots. Stem, roots, leaves: all tangled. They grew from one small clot to which, on one side, clung a frail papery, pale brown skin. The skin of cherry tomato. Would the stems come apart? Taking care not to break them, I eased the stems away from each other. None wilted. I picked out the largest plants--about five inches long--and planted them up to the hilt. Tomatoes send out roots from the stem.

Some I saved in water.

The rest went into the compost container John will take to our allotment in the community garden.

If I had tried to sow tomato seeds, would they have sprouted so luxuriantly? I don't know. But I treasure these volunteers and will try to grow them on. They will come north with me in April in my carry-on bag.

Right now, after having had a stretch of poems, each quickly generating the next, I am waiting for another poem, waiting longer than I'd like. The tomato seedlings have been growing for two and a half months without any help from us, except water. We didn't know we were watering them. Some fragment--word, dream, memory--I've tossed away may sprout into a delicate fringy green with long white roots. Perhaps I should think of myself not as a poet but a rescuer of poems.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Whenever I go back to a memorable piece of writing I am interested in something new, often depending on what I've learned and experienced since the previous reading. This time, when I returned to Katherine Anne Porter's "Pale Horse, Pale Rider," I was struck by her portrayal of two young people in love:

. . . they put off as long as they could the end of their moment together, and kept up as well as they could their small talk that flew back and forth over little grooves worn in the thin upper surface of the brain, things you could say and hear clink reassuringly at once without disturbing the radiance which played and darted about the simple and lovely miracle of being two persons named Adam and and Miranda, twenty-four years old each, alive and on the earth at the same moment.

Porter's description of male beauty benefits from restraint: "He [Adam] was tall and heavily muscled in the shoulders, narrow in the waist and flanks." Like the poet Cavafy, Porter is tender and exact. Miranda contemplates Adam: "His eyes were pale tan with orange flecks in them, and his hair was the color of a haystack when you turn the weathered top back to the clear straw beneath."

In contrast, her view of the Liberty Bond salesman is full of contempt. She nails him:

He was an ordinary man past middle life, with a neat little melon buttoned into his trousers and waistcoat, an opinionated tight mouth, a face and figure in which nothing could be read save the inept sensual record of fifty years.

Here is a figure untouched by Eros. With Eros comes beauty, delicacy, grace. With Eros also comes death. I was younger when I first read it, younger and more interested in death. Now it's young love and male beauty that entrances me.

You must read this story.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

After Taxes

If the only taxes I had to pay were bar taxes, like the man in the cartoon, I wouldn't have to pay very much. Today I filed federal returns thru Turbo Tax, which works fine for federal, not so good for state. I'll do those myself. After tedious tasks, it makes sense to treat oneself, which I did. I put on my red blouse and walked down Meridian Avenue to Cafe a la Folie, where I drank a good Bordeaux. Tell me, how do you treat yourself?

Lovers embraced.

I had a view of inside and outside.

A patron stretched out at the bar.

On my walk, doors to courtyards previously locked were open. White flowering begonias flourished outside--have you seen them starved on windowsills up north?

I had never seen this fountain up close.

The cat ignored me.

The most sexual of flowers, the male sex, that is.

And a tree harboring a bromeliad.

Are you done with your taxes?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sunshine Award

I'm delighted. The talented, bright, young Lewis William,, has nominated my blog for the Sunshine Award. Lewis has an eye for fashion and a zest for London night life. If it weren't for blog-land, never in a million years would I have met him or blog friends in distant places.

Here are the rules of this award:

-Send it on - nominate 12 bloggers
-Put the logo in your sidebar or within a post
-Link the nominees within your post
-Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog
-Share by linking the person from whom you received the award

  • '. . . All finite things re... by an artist and poet from New Zealand remarkably sensitive to the natural world.

  • American Witch Poet Annie Finch's surprising witchy comments.

  • anders-anziehen Anders-anziehen means "dressing differently." Smilla Dankert from Cologne posts vibrant photos of people who catch her eye. She quotes them, gives their names. Among the very best of the street fashion blogs!

  • daily athens News and photos from Athens by an observer with discernment and empathy.

  • David Lebovitz This man loves to eat and knows how to cook. He lives in Paris. Every one of his recipes that I've made has been delicious.

  • Doll Mimi Kirschner, artist doll maker, gives us a wonderful look at her creations. I love the photos of her studio.

  • Mark Doty Poet Mark Doty writes the most generous of blogs, often praising the work of other writers.

  • melissa shook I believe her when she describes herself as a listener because she writes vivid stories of those she meets and posts evocative photos. A candid blog.

  • Radish King Poet Rebecca Loudon is an expert at verbal high jinks. Wildly lyrical, often funny writing from this Seattle based poet.

  • Reading and Writing and the... Ellen Steinbaum opens her thoughtful blog to poets by asking them to post a poem and write about its source. She also posts recipes. Her peach pie is superb.

  • Reading the Signs Lyrical, literate, wry. The English write so well!

  • sixthinline Elizabeth brings her family to life. It seems there is nothing she won't write about--intelligently!

The Dishwasher's Tears Photo montage and wide-ranging posts from an artist police officer, meditator. Forget your assumptions about the police.

  • Topics and Events Super-literary. Alfred Corn's essay about Borges is very fine, among other posts.

  • velo-gubbed-legs Novelist Nasim Marie Jafry, author of The State of Me writes her irreverent blog from Scotland. I love her language! Especially the Scots words.

  • Vesper Sparrow's Nest Melissa Green quotes brilliantly--an education--and writes eloquently. She is a distinguished poet and memoirist.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Men Writing about Mothers

How seldom I come across positive writing about mothers from male authors. If you know of any, please let me know.

Joseph O'Neill is the exception. The main character of his novel, Netherland, remembers his mother finding him when he cuts school and goes skating:

"As my ankles grew sore and my mind turned to the inventing of excuses for my absence from school, a figure approached on the ice. For a moment I was terrified. Then I saw that this approaching skater was a woman, a woman who as she drew nearer became my mother. How she'd guessed she would find me in this lonely place is something I still cannot explain. But she had guessed, and here she came now, methodically thrusting sideways and moving with the sweet excess of physical efficiency that is the first and last bliss of ice-skating. I was busted; I thought for a moment about sprinting off. When my mother caught up with me, however, she simply said, 'Would you find it terrible if I skated with you?' She and I glided side by side along the edge of the fields of white grass, our hands clasped behind our backs. We pushed in harmony, the one occasionally dropping behind the other where branches leaned into our way or when a cracking sound betrayed a stretch of thin ice. My mother, a large woman and somewhat plodding in shoes was graceful on runners. It was she who presided over my first wobbling, upright motions on frozen water, who first placed bladed little boots on my feet and, with gentle tugs, pulled right their crosscrossing white laces."

There are no discordant notes in his passage. The mother asks permission; mother and son skate off together, harmoniously. She does not scold him about his cutting school.

I would be grateful to hear of similar descriptions of mothers by male writers, but all I can think of are monster mothers like the one in Portnoy's Complaint.