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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Three Generations, No Gaps

      Generally speaking, I don't like machines. They work too fast, I can't absorb the details of what's being done. But there's one machine for which I'm truly grateful. I would like to apply for sainthood for it's inventor. I realise this again today, when washing yet another set of towels that I've used for Joost,  the has- been-alley-cat, to sleep on. Joost has … never mind what Joost has. He makes me feel like an Irish washerwoman.

      I've spent six weeks in Peru once. My partner-at-the-time was a native Peruvian, so we stayed with his parents or aunts and uncles, only rarely at a hotel. Living at the homesteads of the Peruvians, instead of among the tourists is very interesting and has it's charms, but definitely has drawbacks as well.
For starters, there's a greater risk of infections. And you have to do without the commodities westerners are used to. Like a washing machine.
      I faced both facts while staying in Cajamarca, in a small house that held three generations of relatives who received even more calling relatives and friends each day. I had arrived with a high fever, exploring only the route from my appointed bed to the bathroom for the first days. As soon as the fever died down, I took a more lively interest in my surrounding, discovering that my partner already built up the habit of entertaining his cousins and their friends at a local football field, deftly leaving our dirty laundry for me to handle. I was born in the sixties in Western Europe. For as far as I knew dirty cloths ought to be crammed into a purposely designed machine. A little fumbling with knobs and buttons and your clothes come out wet but clean.
      Here I was generously treated to a tub with boiled water, a brush and a plank. And a bar of soap if I remember well. These were set up on the first floor [British. Second floor USA] of the house. This part of the building wasn't finished yet: it had shoulder high walls and no roof. It took little time for me to get acquainted with the rabbit that lived 'upstairs', but I just couldn't figure out what to do with the plank.
“What's the use of my university degree?” I muttered under my breath, but the rabbit didn't answer. Then I felt two coal black eyes piercing my back. A five year old sprite, visiting with her mother, a cousin of a sister of … hadn't been able to hold back her curiosity any longer. As soon as her mother got absorbed in a lively talk with the resident family, she had crept upstairs. To observe the gringa, washing her gringa garments.
I'm not sure if she still thinks that all gringa's talk to rabbits... but she soon figured out that gringa's are no good at doing laundry. I looked at her in desperation. She had a pretty Asian look about her, no doubt her family nicknamed her “Chinita”. “¿Quieres ayudarme?” Do you want to help me? I asked. She got out of her hidey hole without hesitation. Maybe she thought I only wanted her to help me wash because there was so much of it. With shining eyes she took the plank, and started using the soap and the brush. I only had to watch her to see how it should be done. I spotted a second plank and brush and took these for myself. I cleaned the larger bits, while Chinita worked her way through my partner's socks. In the meantime we had an interesting talk, each taking the linguistic barrier with a shrug.
      Her mother eventually came 'upstairs', to be introduced to me by the lady of the house. Probably just as curious as her daughter, but more self controlled.  [Pity for her
      Chinita's mother pointed at her daughter and whispered to me that I didn't have to bother with her. Bother? The child was my saviour. I shook my head, said I enjoyed her company. Her mother looked a bit estranged. She'd never let her daughter do anything so important as the laundry. That was no child's play, it had to be done right. But since the gringa insisted. The two ladies went down again, back to the living room. Leaving the girl with me. Chinita was mighty proud that the gringa thought she did a fine job.
      And that was the truth. She worked away with great zest and her movements were skilled. And judging from the mother's attitude, she had picked it up by watching only. She was literally as smart as she looked.


      Now that I'm rambling through Peru again, I might as well do honour to another family member, who was a skilled observer.  It's my ex-partner's father I'm talking of. May he rest in peace...
      During long discussions or lively tittle-tattle, I frequently lost track of what was being said. After all, I had only learned Spanish from a book and some practise with the regional community of South American immigrants in my own country. Not enough to understand every bit of conversation among native speakers.
      But Victor A. always noticed when I got lost. He knew exactly which words I missed and how to substitute them with the right synonyms or phrases. The words I could understand. He was the best interpreter I've ever had, even 'though he could only speak Spanish.

      You don't need to take extra courses or special trainings to be good at something. Just watch closely, taking your time to let it sink in. And when it's time to act, have faith in yourself. Trust your own [in]sight.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Essence of Incense [2of 2]

Chris thinks back. “Because I hoped it would make Iris and me friends.”
“And what have you been doing after you got out the stick?”
“What do you mean?” The kid knows his father well enough to realise he's not making small talk. He's going somewhere.
“You took out the church. And I know you've been prying for a tea light.” Chris shrugs his shoulders, so what.
“Why did you do that ?”

“I don't know. I thought it would be more fun.” The boy tries to wriggle himself off his father's lap, but Collin holds him too tight for that. “Now listen to me, Chris” The boy sighs. There's no escaping a serious talk now. He finally looks his father in the eyes.
When you got Iris, you said you'd do all you could to become friends, right?” A distinct nod.
And when you took out the Iris incense you said the same thing: all would be for your friendship with Iris. But that's not what you did.”
I didn't?”
No kid. Why did you take out the church?”
That's an easy answer, because it would be more fun than just burning the stick in the holder.
And why did you put the steeple on?”
For the same reason.” Dad simply doesn't understand about life, Chris thinks.
Yes, but I saw you measure it and you knew it wouldn't be right. But you put it on anyway. That's how greedy you were for fun. And what happened?”
The fire went out. But we lit it again.” Chris added the last tag in a hurry, to stop his father from commenting. But there's no stopping him.
And why did you blow hard into Iris' ear?”
Chris' face tightens. So Dad had seen it.
Well?” Collin says it with a slight laugh in his voice, to coax the child to be open.
Because I thought it would be fun.”
Aha.” Collin inhales. Searching for the right words, so Chris will understand. “So two times already you almost spoiled what you want most. You want to be friends with Iris the Dog, and you wanted to enjoy seeing Iris the Stick burn. But your greed for fun almost spoiled it.”
Yeah, I know, the flame died.” Chris doesn't mention the dog, but Collins knows that he understands the parallel. “A stick can be lighted again. But Iris may remember all the times you upset him with your 'fun'.” Collin bends forward again. “He may not be willing to light up the flame of friendship again.” Chris is used to his father's figurative speech, he understands. “Do you want to lose your friendship over some cheap fun?”
No Dad.” Chris is getting bored. But Collins has more arrows to shoot. Asks the boy why he had popped the ashes from the incense stick.
That was not for fun! I was afraid it would burn too fast.”
And it didn't. But your action almost spoiled something else. And all for nothing as I told you s... Ho!”
Chris has managed to slip off his father's lap, but hasn't escaped his hold yet. He faces his father, with a silent plea to stop the sermon. But his father wants to finish his point. “I just want you to realise that either fun or fear can spoil what you have. Or what you hope to get. Just listen to your old man. And believe me that Iris will be your friend soon.”

The talk is over, and the two look at the incense. The stick is a lot smaller now. “Now Chris,” Collin signals him. “Now you can put on the spire.”
Why now? ” The child is surprised at this sudden twist.
Because now is the time for it. You can have fun, but don't force it. The right time will come to you.”

It is doubtful whether Chris heard that. He already tottered over to the church and now places the spire over the burning stick. He keeps looking at it for some time, with something on his mind. Collin, pen on his paper, notices the lack of joy.
What is it, Chrissie?”
'Chrissie' turns around. Explains how he had hoped to see the smoke come out of the church windows once the steeple would be closing up the tower. But this incense doesn't produce a lot of smoke.
“And what were you thinking?” Collin hopes to pursue his metaphor.
“I was thinking of lighting a different kind of incense. I know the lavender one smokes a lot better.”
One corner of Collin's mouth twitches. “And are you going to?”
The boys face turns thoughtful. He shakes his head. “No. This one smells good. The other one might make your eyes burn. Or those of Iris. ”
Collin's grin broadens. “Good for you. It may not be as you expected it to be, but at least you give it a chance to show itself. So you can love it for itself. And maybe , maybe ... it turns out better than your dream.”
The boy smiles back at his father. Maybe... his father knows more about life than he, Chris, gave him credit for.
“Now, do you still want to trade Iris for Uncle Robert's dog ?”
“No Dad, I'm sorry I said that.” He walks over to embrace his father, to show that he really is sorry about the remark. When they are through hugging, Collin holds him at arm's length. “In the middle drawer of the kitchen cabinet, you'll find tea candles. And when it's burning, you may turn off the light.” Chris almost trips over his own feet for joy, while speeding to the kitchen. Collin shakes his head laughing. Should he tell the boy that if you stop trying to control your life, it will reward you with some unimagined surprises? No, he thinks, his boy will find out for himself. 

JoAnne Lakefield.                                    To 'Behind the Scenes'

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Essence of Incense [1 of 2]

A snarl and then the clicking of teeth. Collin looks up from his work and sees his son, Chris, put the fingers of his left hand into his mouth. “Did he bite you?” He is ready to jump up.
Chris shakes no, sucking his fingers. He pulled back in time.
“Why don't you give Iris a break?”
Chris takes his fingers out. “Because I want him to be my friend.” It sounds more like a reproach than a defence.
“What were you doing when Iris tried to bite you?” Collin knows exactly what his son did, but hopes the boy is man enough to say it.
“Nothing.” Chris looks away from his father. “I was just playing with him.”
“Is that all you were doing?”
“Yes Dad, all.” The child looks furtively at his father who has question marks lighting up in his eyes. Chris prefers to look at the midsized black dog. “Why do I have to have a he-dog with a girl's name?”
“Mrs. Reynolds doesn't think Iris is a girl's name. And all the puppies in the nest needed a name starting ...”
“... with an 'I'” Chris knows the rap. Can't let off, however. “But why Iris? Iris is a flower.
“Yes. And a symbol for male power. The power of Wisdom, Optimism and Trust. It also stands for Passion and deeply felt Friendship. That's what you want from your dog, don't you?”
Chris nods. He wants to be friends so much, he can't wait to have the dog following him on his heels, everywhere he goes. Why doesn't the dog feel that and respond to it?
Chris gets up and walks over to his father. Leans against him, hiding his face. Almost unintelligible he mutters about wishing he had taken Uncle Robert's dog while he had the choice. Uncle Robert's dog is a lot older than Iris, but at least very familiar with Chris.
“I didn't hear that.” Collin replies. It's a hint Chris knows pretty well by now. He's entering forbidden ground.
Collin knows his son is impatient. But does it help to bluntly tell him so? “Maybe you should give Iris a moment alone, Chris. Maybe there's something you can do for me in the mean time.”
He looks around the living room . What will keep his son absorbed, so he can finish the reading he should do for his article?
His eyes come across a collection of incense. A friend brings him new flavours with regular intervals. Collin's not fond of it, but thanks her each time she brings it along. So the stock is growing out of proportion. Chris likes to watch the smoke dance upwards, it simply captivates his attention.
“Help Dad light a stick of incense. To help me relax and concentrate on my work. That way I'll be done faster.”
With an enthusiastic yell, Chris runs to the pile of bags with incense sticks. He reads the names of the flavours carefully. Picks out the newest taste in the collection. “Here Dad, this one is called Iris. Maybe it'll help the dog relax too.” Collin's eyes wrinkle up in a smile. Chris is very good at making excuses and finding reasons for doing something he shouldn't do. “Takes after his father,” Ellen used to tease him with that.
“I will burn this stick and then we'll both be friends.” Chris says importantly.
“Is his friendship so important to you?”
The child nods emphatically. “I want his friendship more than anything else.”
“Let's work on that, then.”

As Collin looks for the long matches in the kitchen -his son would drop the short ones in a second, afraid of burning his fingers- Chris climbs on a chair and carefully takes out a fair sized church building, meant for tea light candles. It's made of clay, with brown enamel, making it look like an old English country church.
“Can I put the stick in the church's tower?” asks Chris, before his father can say anything. He takes the church out of the child's hands and puts it on the table, on a coaster. Then he lifts his son off the chair.
“Now where do we put in the incense?” Collin asks. Obviously Chris already has a plan. He takes off the spire and points. “Maybe we can stick the end into a potato”.
Collin eyes the entrance of the church, through which a tea light is to be passed and shifted to the nave. No potato would pass through that door. Maybe a piece of bread? It works. It was a tricky job, but now the incense points proudly through the church tower into the air. The spire is resting elsewhere on the table.
Collin helps Chris light up the stick. “Finally” he thinks and turns back to his pile of paper, books and magazines. Chris squints as he is peering through the church windows. He seems ensconced in his own thoughts. Relieved Collin picks up his pen. Better finish this quickly, the stick won't keep Chris occupied forever.
As Chris' eyes move to the incense stick, his face twists. Panic shows as he blows at the stick. With thumb and index finger he pops off the ashes that have piled up on top. It lands on Collins book. With an aggravated look, Collins carefully wipes it off. “What is it now?”
“It burns too fast!” Nonsense, with a few straight words his father convinces him that all sticks burn a little faster at the start. There's nothing different about this one.
Relieved the child eyes the stick again. This time he's not interested in playing with the light passing through the church windows. His hand reaches for the idle spire. First he keeps it next to the stick. The stick is just a little bit longer. But Chris places the spire over it anyway.
“Chris, take that off.” Too late, the stick has stopped burning. Chris casts a look at his father. Partly guilty, partly begging for another chance. Together they light another match.

An idea lights up in Collin. He pulls his son to him, lifts him onto his lap. He wraps his arms around 
the boy and bends over to study his face.  "Do you remember why you lighted this stick?" he asks.

to part 2


From the tingling of my fingertips I know that my next post "The Essence of Incense" is going to be a real nice one. Sweet and hazy.
You'll just have to wait until it's finished.

Here's a nice quote from Anonymous ( boy, did he write a lot). Just to keep you busy.

It is Wisdom I am looking for. 
For Wisdom won't discourage Love.

Wisdom makes room for Love. 
And Love sustains Wisdom. 
They are like man and wife.

A good audio fragment about Courage and Love, another interesting couple:

Fragment from "Letters to Juliet" (c)2010 Applehead Pictures, Summit Entertainment
Voice of Claire: Vanessa Redgrave

Friday, January 6, 2012

Silent Protest

    I see them everywhere, at any shopping centre that I know. There's one at least outside every shop that sells women's clothing. Standing erect, back turned towards the store window just a step away from the entrance. Both arms stretched down, hands folded patiently in front of them, or holding a bag containing things from a previously visited shop. Invariably their eyes have this glazed, suffering looked.  These are men who's wife, or girlfriend, is inside the store, looking for clothes.
    Just before christmas I was at the heart of my country's capital. In a street just full of clothing stores. And yes, on both sides of the street, an equally long line of waitng men. A Guard of Honour.Though I doubt that they truly  intended to participate in that.
    What does it mean, that stoic waiting outside a store? Not being a man, I'm afraid I would jump to biased conclusions, so I'm trying not to answer the question myself.

    I was musing about it during the shopping trip, when my son and I took a turn into a smaller street, away from the center. There they were, a mother and a daughter outside a mobile phone store. The mother shouted to some people in the store "Come on, please don't take too long.". When I walked by the store I saw a grown men and two boys inside. Outside his wife took position: standing erect, back turned towards the store window just a step away from the entrance. Both arms stretched down, hands folded patiently in front of her.
    This situation I could understand, and I knew I hadn't made any mistaken assumptions.

    My dear men, if you are really trying to discourage your partner while she's shopping for clothes, you are doing it all wrong. My son just keeps trailing after me, into every store. Sometimes mumbling, other times ostensively quiet. But never more than three feet away from me. It irritates me so much that I just wish he was standing outside, standing erect, his back turned to the store window.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Great! Behaviour-ism!

When I was in high school I thought it was funny to respond to my class mates as if they scared me. So whenever anyone spoke to me I turned to them in a split second, inhaling sharply, making my eyes large as if I was scared to bits. I think I shrieked at times.
Before I knew it, this became a reflex, I responded that way to every impulse. And not voluntarily anymore. The joke went off, I had a high level of adrenaline and reacting frightened was not the wisest thing to do in some situations. So I had to 'unlearn' myself this state of conditioning.

But high school is a time of boredom.
Due to my SPD I avoided being touched or pushed unexpectedly, so I always chose a seat at the back, or -if taken- at the side of the classroom. There I would sit sideways, with my back against the wall. To have no one sitting behind me.
From my position I was able to pay attention to everyone and everything. Except to the lesson. I used to write letters, design fonts or simply dream of being outside, far far away from the madding class.

In a lack luster moment I decided to play the conditioning game again. From a positive perspective this time: I simply yelled “Great!” at everything people said.
'Hey Jo, you're in my way.' -"Great!"
'OK class, here's tomorrow's homework...' -"Great!"
'Next week there'll be a written test.' -"Great!"
The Greats became automated responses and grew louder by the day.

Economy was one of the seven 'branches' I had chosen for final exams. The new teacher, a young man, hardly six years older than our oldest classmate, had a terrible time keeping order. There were people shouting or having conversations with their backs turned to the teacher. V. had let herself drop on the floor, playing that she'd fainted, and now R. was pulling her up again, Making quite a show of it. I think there even  were objects flying through the air. And in the back there was a girl who kept quiet, her eyes submerged in the sky outside. Needless to say her name was JoAnne.

The teacher inhaled, straightened his back and announced as loud as he could: “The next one ...” the class froze, falling silent  “who makes any noise can leave and report to the principal!”
Yes. Five minutes later I was knocking on the principal's door. Lucky for me, the principal was not in his office, so I reported back at the teacher after the lesson was over. R had stayed behind, spoke up for me. He is a lawyer nowadays, a good one I presume: I was forgiven. Except for one thing. “Why do you always have to have the last word?” the economy teacher complained.

After I had yelled "Great!", the teacher told me to go to the principal and report back later.
“Yes sir,” was my reply, “I will do so with sights ands sounds.”
I was spry simply because I was nervous. It was the first -and last- time I was expelled.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Prince and the Pauper

Joost tries to keep up ...

You couldn't ask for more contrasts than with this pair of cats. 
The red one is a long haired pedigree feline of known heritage and homeland. He is the Persian Prince, four month old, no more than a kitten. With all the energy and agility that belongs to his age. He thinks everything is fun and no game is too rough for him.

The black an white cat, short haired and short tempered, is an alley cat from H(a)arlem. He's probably 18 years old, and his sore back makes jumping and fighting hard on him. I know nothing about him, except that he is used to humans and adapted rapidly to life in my house. So he probably hasn't lived on the streets for very long. And was not making a good job of it. When I found him he was starving, standing on shaky legs while he begged everyone passing by on the street. did he ask for food or to be taken home?
The vet. warned me that because of his kidney condition, Joost would hardly make it to april 2011. But today is januari 1st, 2012 and he's still with us. His strong will keeps him going.

Joost did feel a little embarassed when a persian prince entered his attic. Ever since then he's been studying hard just to keep up with the  Royal Highness.
That's not the only surprise the old one's shown me. He keeps the royal fur coat of the prince clean and tangle free.
And there are mock fights every day. Sometimes the fight gets serious, even then Joost doesn't fight mean.

It's very interersting to see Joost fight: he cannot stand on his back legs. So either he must lean on his front paws, fighting only with his mouth,  or else he must lie down, to be able to use the claws of his front paws.

Until now the prince has not been able to defeat the alley cat, but 2012 will probably bring a change to that.

A tribute to the one who buys their food:  
the Prince forms the letter J, while the other is curled up into an O