The Piano

My grandfather played piano. He had a stately, sumptuously decorated house in the wealthiest part of San Diego, with an elaborately wood inlay grand piano in his front hall that he entertained with when asked. I think he was self-taught, and I know that he didn’t read music. He played by ear and could play many popular tunes, and very well. I never knew how he learned, though I suppose if I had asked him, he would have been happy to tell me.

I played piano as a child, starting young in a children’s group class. The teachers name way Cindy, which I thought was the most beautiful name, much more becoming than my own, one syllabled name that was frequently stretched into two by my mother, a DC native who drew out the B so my name sounded like bah-ritt. Or my brother, who frequently toyed, not unkindly, with my name, turning it into buuurrrrito. When I imagined myself on horseback, loping across the golf course to my best friends house, I was always Cindy, a pink skinned, curly haired beauty fashioned after my piano teacher. Cindy sang in a soprano voice, and had cascading blond curls that fell upon her giant bosom She wore frilly blouses and pink lipstick and metallic eyeshadow. Jewelry adorned her fingers and I thought her the picture of feminine idealism. Myself, I was thin and tan, not pink and curvy (although I was only about 6 years old) and very self conscious of my long skinny legs. Though I did get compliments on my long finger –piano fingers the teachers called them—and learned to be proud of those.

A neighbor boy my brothers age demonstrated an amazing rendition of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer to my astonished young eyes. Here was a boy, maybe 9 years old, putting forth a complex and raucous piece of music that I never imagined myself being able to play. In fact, I never thought any further than the lesson that I went to once a week and the practice I did each afternoon. I had no plans for becoming a piano player—though I must have indicated that I enjoyed it. But he impressed me and I frequently thought of him when practicing.

At the age of 10, I performed in recitals. Local, small town events, held on Sundays in an aging community hall with a stage. There, a grand piano was pushed onstage and student after student from the piano instructor who organized the event shuffled out, took a bow, and sat down to plink out some memorized tune. One recital, I was given two tunes to play back to back and, while I don’t recall what they were, I do remember receiving an enthusiastic applause after the first piece before launching into my next number. I wore a peach and white dotted skirt and dress combo, likely from Kmart, and knee high socks and white sandals. I must have played with feeling on this particular day because I received another resounding applause. I think I carried music sheets with me. Why I was allowed two tunes and a sheet music accompaniment, I don’t recall. But my mother told me years later how awed she was that I could get on stage and play, without nervousness or faltering. All I remember was looking forward to sneaking around with my friend back stage, getting into the dressing rooms and prying open locked doors. That old performance hall was built in the 1920s and was full of interesting nooks and crannies. For me at the age of 10, the performance was the price to pay to be able to poke around in the back rooms of that hall.

Of course, with puberty came the refusal to practice or do anything my parents wanted me to do. They were about to divorce and were already living apart, in fact had been for 3 years, and had new relationships of their own. My interest in pleasing them waned and I looked for a new identity. Out went the piano playing along with my childhood photos and other things I deemed reminders of my childhood, which was now completely gone. I burned all my journals and childhood school photos in a pile on the front porch. My mother asked later what the black mark was and I don’t remember if I told her what I burned or not. There was never another mention of it.

Years later, I longed to play piano again and moved the old upright piano I had practiced on and stained with hot cups of soup into the house I had just purchased on my own at the age of 29. I attempted more lessons but only found lonely old men who required more commitment than I was willing to give, or awkward gay men in sweat pants with electronic pianos with the volume far too low in their crappy carpeted apartments. I became busy with other things.

Fast forward a couple of years. I have a broken leg and a new relationship with a man that would become my husband. I sat with my broken leg and slowly learned to plink out a version of The Entertainer. I picked through the music, note by note, my ability to read music not any better than it had been at age 10 (I still had said acronyms for each space and line to figure out which note was shown on the music). But I learned to play that tune haltingly, to my delight and surprise. Shortly thereafter, the husband moved in a nonoperational organ that had belonged to his great grandmother into our place, and I sold my piano to make room.

Now, a decade later, I live in Europe in a tiny apartment that couldn’t house a piano even if I could get it up the three flights of stairs to my floor. But I need a piano now. I need to master The Entertainer. I need to be able to sit down play for that wide eyed 6 year old whose photos and diaries I burned. So I am looking for a place where I can give a piano it’s own space. A place big enough for all of me.

New Year resolution check-in part one

At the beginning of the year, I stated that I intended to spend all my earnings on travel this year. So far, the spending all my earnings part is right on track, but while much of it has been on travel, much of it has also been on dentistry and dog surgery and tedious (and expensive) travel to the US for said things above, plus fun tasks like renewing passports and collecting tax documents.

But the trips for enjoyment and improvement have been numerous and yes, enjoyable and improving. So far this year, outside of two trips to the US for the above listed reasons, I’ve made some trips. Let’s start with…

Madrid, where I essentially ate my way through the city until the final day when we rented bikes from our hotel and rode through the fabulous and giant park that goes along the Manzanares river. This is the first thing we should have done, and I will return with a proper mountain bike and spend at least two full days exploring the awesome expanse that is the Casa del Campo on a bike that does not weigh 75 pounds.

Fried octopus and calamari in Mercado Sant Miguel. Where I ate a lot of food.

Fried octopus and calamari in Mercado Sant Miguel. Where I ate a lot of food.

My favorite dish: Tapa of tiny, pickled green eggplant.

My favorite dish: Tapa of tiny, pickled green eggplant. Discovered in a 150 year old bar.

GP offroading the hotel bike.

GP taking the hotel bike on an excursion.

Barolo, Rivarolo Canavese, Agliè and Oropa (Italy) to see various stages of the Giro d’Italia. Impressive and I’ll do it again next year. We saw the time trial stage between Baresco and Barolo, the end of stage 13 in Rivarolo Canavese, and the start AND finish of stage 14 which was from Agliè to Oropa. We rode our bikes between the towns via a ‘shortcut’ that took us 5 hours through the backyards of tiny hillside farms, roads so steep that deep cuts in the pavement were needed for vehicle traction, and up hills where even the triathletes of the group (there were three of them) had to push their bikes.

Somewhere in Northern Italy

This is steeper than it looks. And full of holes.

Riders cheering on the real racers at stage 12. It had hailed–hard–40 minutes before the stage passed through.

We also spent a day spectating an off road team endurance race–for scooters. I have some video of this here. This was not quite as spectacular as the Giro, but it was possibly more entertaining.

Offroad scooter endurance racing.

Off road scooter endurance racing.

France: Paris and Cannes (Disclaimer: Cannes was not my idea). I met up with a dear friend for a repeat trip we did last year. She flew from California to Paris and I from Barcelona. We planned to meet in the CDG airport as I would be arriving 20 minutes after her. Of course, phones did not work so we spent 2 hours trying to find each other until I got smart and bought 15 minutes of internet and called her through Skype. We stayed in a tiny (what else?) hotel in the 10th arrondissement and had a fabulous time, as always. I love that city and would live there if it were near the sea. Forget about the old reputation of rude Parisians – people are lovely there: friendly, helpful, playful and engaging. Quite the opposite of how the locals treat non-locals where I live…that’s another topic though. We went to a classical concert the first night in a beautiful cathedral. It was fabulous- except for the dang nuns blocking my view. We crashed a fancy party next door afterwards. I have no idea what it was for.IMG_0588We used the awesome shared bike program Velib and road all the way to and through the Bois de Boulogne where we saw hookers on their lunch break. Then we rode through “Little Africa” and along the river and damn near everywhere in Paris.

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Velib steed in the park. Shh, don’t disturb the hookers.

We ate good food our few days there, spent a lot of time walking around Le Marais and then went South to Nice and over to Cannes where it was really boring. I did find us some bikes and we rode up to the old town which was the only cool thing about Cannes other than some great food and spending time with my friend. Oh and all the old men smiling at us, I guess.

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Old village on the hill above Cannes. The bikes were partially electric so really, we cheated on the climb part.

Riding to the top of the old town hill, a workman flirted with up asking if we were training for the Tour de France.I answered that yes, in fact, I was (in a sense).

Next up: A weekend riding motos in Aragon and our Tour de France bike adventure.

 

Older and saggier

It is with depressing regularity that I now am asked “Do you have children?” rather than the question I formerly used to receive: “Do you want children?”. Yes, this means I am no longer a spring chicken and while I don’t want to, I have to accept this fact, lest I turn into one of those pitiable women who, to the embarrassment of all those around her, dresses in clothes for teenagers and still expect advances from men in their 20s.

Adding insult to injury, I have inherited my father’s face, which isn’t a bad thing except that his family gets the droopy jowls with age. My mother’s side (and hence my brother, who inherited my mother’s face) does not get the jowls nor do they get any kind of saggy face, neck or otherwise.

There is no easy solution like the one where you get a little pudgy to fill in the wrinkles on your face. Although the opposite might be worth a try – get skinny enough so that the skin sits tight on my face. Does this work? Should I try it at the expense of having no boobs and chicken arms? Hey, I’m a bike rider, I can say I’m just getting to my climbing weight during this little experiment. I’m not ready to kick down 10 grand for a face lift and I don’t want to look like the Hollywood people with the giant cheeks and joker smiles. Even Madonna, whose work on her face is clearly high quality and very expensive, no longer looks like Madonna with her giant cheekbones that are just a little too alien looking to be something nature made.

So my experiment begins now. Who knows, if nothing else, I might just become a decent climber — jowls and all.

A note to John-Mark

Dear JM,

Three days ago was the sixth anniversary of your death. It is strange to realize this, but you’ve now been dead longer than I knew you–we met in May of 2003 and you died in May of 2008. You were only in my life for five years, but I’m happy for all of them, even the tough ones.

You were tall, good looking, outgoing, educated, eloquent, charming and ridiculously smart. Things come pretty easily to people like you. I used to be resentful that things came to you so easily, because it never allowed you to learn how to work hard (and hence you didn’t know how to when circumstances called on some focus and hard work). Now I just smile and am grateful that I got to witness such a clever brain at work on a daily basis.

JM, I’m still laughing at you rocking your shoulders back and forth looking like such a white dude when dancing. I know you didn’t care at all. That was the thing about you, you weren’t shy and didn’t care about looking stupid — you never did look stupid though, you could pull off being an expert at anything – you just pretended like you were skilled in whatever it was and people lined up to follow you like little ducklings following a mama duck.

I’ll never forget the night when the neighbors across the street had yet another loud after-party at 3am on a week night. The thumping music woke me, even while wearing earplugs. You, of course, were fuming and marched straight across the street in a rage. You strode up to their front door and pounded on that thing until some drunk idiot opened it and saw all 6’3″ of you standing there, dressed in a green plaid robe and galoshes (it must have been raining that night). I could hear you yelling from the bedroom, and then the music went quite. You came back and said that after you finished chewing them out and the music stopped, someone quipped “nice robe” as you turned to head back home. We laughed our heads off about that. Later, after you were gone and one of those degenerate neighbors reached out to me, I learned that it was that night that you were dubbed “angry robe guy”. You would have loved that.

You always knew exactly what to do when I hurt myself. Whether I had broken a bone in a crash, or just skinned my knee when the dog yanked me off a the seat of some crappy little scooter I was using to make her run, you always knew if I needed medical attention or just a hug. You weren’t a worrier at all but you knew when to show concern.

I learned a lot from you, JM. Yes, you told me all kinds of facts and trivia about everything under the sun, but I learned more by the example you set (both good and bad!), though maybe those lessons will be for another post. At any rate, know that I still and will always carry those lessons with me. Thank you.

Me

The Hammer

It’s the hottest January I can remember in California. I’m here to visit my mom, which means I will be working. She always has a list of things for me to do, and this time it’s extra long and daunting. It includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Get computer printer working
  • “Fix the way skype looks” (her computer settings had everything in black and white, including applications)
  • Get phone answering machine working
  • Remove carpet in the art room
  • Change smoke alarm battery
  • Fix broken blinds
  • Figure out why vacuum works but collects no dirt/cat hair
  • Figure out why Roomba works but collects no dirt/cat hair
  • Move mailbox into barrel, move barrel to edge of property line
  • Trim dead branches off backyard plants

The Hammer's list

As we (i) finish these things for her she crosses them off. I have my own work to do, quite a bit and time sensitive stuff too, so I can’t always immediately jump when she is ready for (wants) a new task to be done. But I try to accommodate which means I end up staying up late working after she has gone to bed so i can work uninterrupted.
Which means I’m sleeping late when I go to bed at 2am. Did I mention I’m also sick?
Mom thinks shes doing me a favor when she knocks on the door at 10am: Bam bam bam bam bam bam “Hellllooooo-ooooo” she exclaims in her singsong voice. “Are we going to start any work this morning?” She is sure that I wouldn’t want to sleep the morning away.

I get up. I make a coffee. I’m 1/4 of the way through with it when she starts hovering. She’ll walk in and look at me at the kitchen table to judge how close to finished I am with my coffee. She walks into her office. 2.5 minutes later she walks in to look at me again. I’m now on my iPad, 2/3 through with my coffee. She walks into the garage. Four minutes later she can’t stand it anymore and paces back into the vicinity of the table, exclaiming in a melodic voice (as to soften the request she knows she is making), “Are we about ready to start?”

“Mom,” I say, “Ian i please finish here?” “Oh OK, i just thought you might be ready to start…”

It continues like this until she is standing next to me, looking over my shoulder to see what is taking me so long. I get up, go outside and start cutting dead branches off her giant palms. I’m sweating within 3 minutes.

Every single list item, and some not even on the list, begin in this manner.

Anti-resolutions for 2014

I haven’t made new year’s resolutions in a long time and that’s not going to change any time soon. I would like to take this opportunity, however, to emphasize some things I will be committing to this year. Some things that I like to call anti-resolutions. This year, I will be:

  1. Spending all my money. Everything I make this year I’m going to spend. But not on buying crap, I’ll spend it on plane tickets, hotels, concerts and events. And on my pets so they will be happy. And probably on some expensive beauty treatments so that I can keep my youthful good looks a little longer.
  2. Sleeping in. I’m not a morning person and never have been. Fuck forcing myself to get up early so that I can be miserable all day. I’m sleeping in my blacked out room until my body’s timer dings “done!”. Or until the cat wakes me up, whichever comes first.
  3. Taking shortcuts. I used to think that a person had to pay their dues before ascending to where they really wanted to be–in a career, sport  job, school, transition–whatever. And maybe that was true for me in college or grad-school, though I enjoyed both and didn’t feel like I was ‘doing time’. But I’ve realized that if ‘paying your dues’ is painful, what you are waiting for is probably not worth the effort. And anyway, at this point in my life, I am far past the paying of any more dues. If I find myself in a situation where I have to waste a bunch of time, kiss ass or flounder around to get what I want, I’m taking a shortcut – either with money, other people, or some kind of work-around. Otherwise I’m saying forget it.
  4. Not working hard. I didn’t work hard last year and I won’t work hard this year. That doesn’t mean I don’t do a good job. My work is always excellent and I often find myself going above and beyond the scope of a project, but that’s because I get so interested in the content or solving a problem that I want to do it for the self-gratification I will get, not because I am trying to look good or manipulate what someone thinks of me. I like my job and I’m better than most at what I do, so I don’t need to work hard. I’m keeping it that way.
  5. Making risky investments. I’ve made risky investments before and won big, and I’ve made what I thought were sound investments and lost a hell of a lot of money. The reality is that without insider knowledge, you don’t know what will happen from one day to the next. But if you really believe in something, your investment will be worthwhile, risky or not. So I am going invest in some things I believe will benefit from my support, with the hope they will gain enough traction to be ‘the next big thing’.  Or not. But at least I’ll be able to say “I invested in that!” 20 years from now when it becomes a mark of this decade, much like Pets.com and Webvan.com were for the 90s.

Where’s Spain?

I didn’t realize it until recently, but Spain is relatively unknown to most Americans as compared with France or Italy, because people don’t know it is a European country.

I am not even kidding. Consider the following occurrences, all within the last 2 months:

A client of mine I’ve been working with for over a year, who knows I am sometimes in the states and sometimes in a place called Spain, responded with “Oh wow, have fun in Europe, what are you doing there?” after I informed her over the phone that I was no longer in the US but was calling from Europe in that moment.

Now remember, she knew I lived in Spain. And yet was asking me what I was doing in Europe, as if it was an exciting new trip.

Confused at first, the question does she not know where Spain is…? creeped into my head, so I tested her with “Well, I live here sometimes, you know that”. Sure enough, the response was “But I thought you lived in Spain?…”

long pause

“OH! Gosh, I thought you were in South America somewhere. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Another fine example: A woman I worked with last year contacted me the to see about my availability for a project, and asked me to remind her where I live. I said Europe, and she responded, “Oh yes I remember. Brazil, right?”

Yet another: In a peer meeting/interview for a project via Skype, the interviewer asked me (rather haughtily I might add), “So you live in like, Mexico or something?” when she saw that my city of residence is Barcelona.

Sigh

And don’t even get me started on the responses I get from random people in Starbucks and in shopping malls.

It sure stands in stark contrast to the replies of “OOOOH you are sooo LUCKY!” when I lived in Italy. But that is a whole different story.