Well, that was a mind-blowing trip. Not necessarily someplace I would have put on my run-to list but being in Italy it is easy to zip around, so Poland it was. We arrived in Warsaw in time for a big memorial celebration commemorating August 1, 1944’s uprising against you-know-who, Hitler and pals. A little before 5:00 pm we walked down to the square in Old Town (which isn’t so old as it was bombed to bits but rebuilt to look old). At precisely 5:00 p.m. the city “stops” wherever one is; sirens scream, smoke bombs sizzle and impromptu singing begins to commemorate the exact time the uprising took place. It was so much more moving than I expected. I had recently read a book “We Were the Lucky Ones” about a Jewish family in Warsaw and what happens to them (all true) during the war. A little later, it seemed as if all of Warsaw marched past our windows, singing, chanting, holding flags, followed by a lot of policja. All very orderly I might add. Then a few hours later there was patriotic singing in the square behind us with a huge mob of people. Feeling safer in a crowd in Europe than I do in America, sadly.
Weird Polish info: they love fresh lemonade and make many varieties, watermelon, mint, lime, cucumber. Their vodka is smooth and cheap. Though most drinks including water is served warmish. The food is cheap! Chopin was born in Poland, his body is buried in Paris, his heart interred in Warsaw. His sister smuggled his heart out in (supposedly) a jar of cognac, hidden under her skirts. I wonder if my brothers would smuggle my heart in a bottle of Dom Perignon – not that I’m going anywhere.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, two killing camps. Very little words about this experience except two things; they had on display a child’s jumper and shoes – probably for a two- year-old – and my youngest of my little people said “But that’s tiny. They killed babies?” and the other horrific thing that I have never read about (and I’ve read a lot) was the standing cells. My husband alone would take up the size of the space allotted. They were tiny walled off cells, where one enters by crawling – I don’t even know how – from the ground into this dark closet-type space (oh I’m getting claustrophobic and emotional just imagining it) with three other prisoners where they were all forced to stand in the dark, walled up all night (possible for many nights on end) to be released in the morning to work in the fields and then forced to crawl back in. Some sick shit.
From “Hot Flashes, Cold Science”
Oh, the things I learn doing research. La ménépausie as it was termed by a French doctor in 1821, a Charles Pierre Louis de Gardanne, who referred to it as “the critical age.” Of course, menopause had been around for much longer, but I’m writing about France and the Second Empire so lets just examine what a woman was up against in those days.
Here are some of the remedies prescribed for menopause; drinking carbonated soda before a meal; acetate and lead injected into the vagina (good times). Even after looking it up I’m not entirely sure what acetate is, but lead? No thank you. A better prescription was opium or morphine (just saying in comparison). Also “testicular juice” was recommended. I’m guessing the doctor supplied said “juice?”
In the 1800s surgeries were first performed on lady bits, some had their ovaries cut out with no anesthesia and little knowledge of the lady bits themselves. Writers Victor Hugo and Emile Zola decried these operations in an effort to have them stopped they were so horrific. To get into the lady bits the speculum was invented, out of all sorts of material, some being glass that occasionally shattered in there.
Though I am not so modern as to be writing about the swinging sixties, one American physician during that time period said about women during menopause, “. . . having outlived their ovaries, they have outlived their usefulness as human beings.” Dick!
TO DO, OR NOT TO DO
Every morning in Italy I would ask myself “How do I want to spend my day?” I definitely want to be by the pool. I have three ish books I want to finish and leave here. I want to use the gym. I want to eat less pasta. I love to do lists. But what about a not do list? As vacay winds down and I know I’ll be back in the throws of errands, kid drop offs, workouts, on and on I think I should make a list of what I don’t want to do. I’m listening to an interesting book “Lost Connections.” The author studied depression and the causes of it, having suffered from it for years and having taken every sort of prescribed medicine one of his and the doctors he interviews suggest is we are happiest doing the things that give us pleasure with no gain. Example playing the piano for pleasure vs. playing the piano to pay your rent in a crummy dive that you hate. How can we turn more hours of out day into what we want to do and not what we have to do? Easier said than done, but something to dwell upon. Luckily, I love love love to write and research, so a great majority of my day is made up of that also.
There is an Italian expression il dolce far niente – to do nothing, the sweetness of laziness. To enjoy the doing nothing. Perhaps that is why they seem to enjoy life more. They seem to have deeper connections (to go back to the book above and the author’s conclusion is that we are losing our connections, face-to-face of community), they are with extended family, they spend more hours around the table eating and talking. They “hang out” as evidenced by the people we see hanging out in the park, outside the bar, by the church, doing nothing more than chatting. I hope to transport a few afternoons of such sweet nothingness back to America. But I doubt it. Strapping on my roller-skates . . . it is going to be a busy fall.
Here is a link to me babbling about whatever I’ve been asked for Arianna Huffington’s online mag “Thrive Global” about my showgirls in my book FEUDING FAN DANCERS (which the paperback is out in October) https://thriveglobal.com/tags/leslie-zemeckis/
YOU SAY PELICAN, I SAY PELLICANO
. . . as in hotel Il Pellicano. An hour and a half drive from our place to the Tuscan seaside it is admittedly posh and a perfect spot for a last adventure in Italia. Modelled after the San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito (my other hood) and supposedly named for a street Pelican Point that the owners lived on. It has a real jet setty vibe perched on a cliff with steps winding down to the clear cold Tyrrhenian Sea where we float and watch the many yachts anchored about. Past guests, besides us, have been Sophia Loren, Charlie Chaplin. Slim Aarons photographed it. Its breathtakingly beautiful.
August 15th in Italy is a public holiday where everthing closes (except the bars, tourist places, blah blah). Its time for the Italians to head to the beach (they really need no excuse as on Friday nights long lines of cars head to the nearest sand throughout summer). The holiday was original created by the Emperor Augusti who in BC something or other decided August 1st would be a day for everyone to rest after long weeks of farming. August, the great nephew of Julius Caesar, was a controversial figure, a dictator who expanded his territory into Egypt and Africa amongst other countries. He died at age 75, maybe poisoned by some figs specially “treated” by his wife, Livia. But, maybe not. His final words rank up there with Oscar Wile, (“Either that wall paper goes, or I do.”). Augustus said “Have I played the art well? Then applaud as I exit.”
Alas, the church wanted to hone into the Ferragosto holiay so “they” decided it would be a festa on August 15th, also the Assumption of Mary. Side note, (because there is always a side note) when Mussolini was in power he created “holiday trains” for works to take several days to go to the beach (for the cost of next to nothing). Told ya the Italians are beach crazy! Note, the Siena Palio takes place on the 16th.
How I spent it? Massage at a local spa, writing, packing, poolside and eating pesto pasta. Buon Appetito.
It’s Only Calories
She has done decidedly well and we are all so glad she came. She made new friends, finally stopped barking at Meti (the housekeepers still jump, they are terrified of all 6 pounds of her). She has gotten used to sleeping in LATE, like the little people. She’s been so sweet and flexible with all our travel. The hotels have welcomed her as do the restaurants and the Italians who stop us on the street to exclaim over her cuteness.
A couple nights back in London, with much cooler weather, a chance to see a friend, tea at Fortnum &Mason (wouldn’t go back, people dressed like ragamuffins, service slow and weird) and visit the magnificent Wallace Collection that is hosting a shoe exhibit of Manolo Blahnik masterpieces. The artwork is incredible, the furniture and rooms gorgeous. Then off to VAT and home!
Burlesque and Pinup Emojis
If your BOOK CLUB would like me to visit via Skype, I’m available on the road or when I’m at home. It’s been fun coming into your homes, sending specialty FAN cocktail recipes before for you all to try. email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want me to join in on some Fun FAN talking. A questionnaire is on the website to download for your Book club.
Reading & Espresso
I devoured “An American Marriage.” Jones’ prose is so beautiful but does not get in the way of telling a compelling story about a marriage interrupted (I don’t wanna spoil anything. I don’t read reviews and barely the backs of books as they tell too much info. I wanna be surprised. Don’t get me started on movie trailers . . .) I did not know, up until the very end what the three main characters were going to do and what I was rooting for them to do. This author writes beautifully. Honorable mention goes to “Eleanor Oliphant is Just Fine” and finished audio book of Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” during my treadmill time. What a lady! What a story! I had no idea about her background, her education, all the things she and Barak accomplished and gave back to their communities BEFORE hitting the White House. Go read it for inspiration!!!
And what I’m reading or recently read
for complete list, I have everything on Good Reads
as I can’t remember them all!
And lastly, kind of blown away by this but FEUDING FAN DANCERS is nominated by SCIBA (Southern California Indie Book Associates) for BEST biography.