Tuesday, February 28, 2006

the four wheeled ones

I don't drive. It's one of the more peculiar things in my nature. During much of my life it was not a problem at all, because I lived in some of the worlds most lovely cities, where public transportation was a given and a delight.
Here in the country it has been another matter, but I get by okay.
Still, I never particularly thought cars were a category that got into my mind or heart very much. I'd be a horrible witness: "Yes, officer, it was--I think--a car. What kind? Oh, a one with four wheels and , like, a roof."

But we just adopted a new car. New to us, a 1994 Geo metro, with four doors, meticulously maintained by its only owner. Graciously paid for by a benefactor who believes in our political work and knew our subpoverty living standards wouldn't exactly free up cash.

Which made me think of the cars of my life. The little Geo will replace Harriet Tubman, a Honda Civic (1984) whose broken parking light is growing moss. Harriet came to us from a friend who had it sitting on his land after someone tried, and failed, to repair her. We bought her over a year's time, paying part in cash and part in books, and found a person who understood her mysterious innards enough to get her in working condition. We put in a new engine (well, a rebuilt engine) since it turned out she had blown her head gasket. I learned to read car diagrams and figure out where hoses went and wires connected. Harriet was a good one, but alas, about two weeks ago had her final breakdown. Yeah, we could have patched her together one more time perhaps, but the continual oil leak--no, not good. Hardly environmentally correct. Harriet will be scrapped.

Before Harriet there was the Mercury Cougar, a huge long car. I don't know of what era--the 70's maybe? Huge, ponderous, constantly needing repair work until the brakes went out completely along with other strange things. The Mercury was a brief thing--given us, I think, by some friend. It was copper colored.

Before that, and for a long time, a Chevy Malibu, silver in color. My partner's former partner (and therein lies a long and turning tale) inherited the Malibu from her father. It was an automatic. People said it would never take the dirt roads--but it did quite well. My eldest child put glittery stickers all over it, dragons and wizards and unicorns and rainbows. It wore a lot of political bumper stickers. It was constantly stopped by the police. Despite my nondriving I actually drove this one for about a month one summer when partner was off doing political things out of state and I needed to get from cabin to work and back. My eldest son, then around 5 or 6, would sit sedately beside me and gently talk me through the entire ride. "You can do this. It's okay. Slow down a little here". Otherwise I probably would have stopped the car and run screaming into the woods. I have far too much imagination to enjoy driving.

The Chevy was the location of my one and only experience of in-car sex, too, with my dear partner one night as we returned from a political conference.
Beds are better, but we still note fondly the place we'd parked.

I've never actually owned a car myself. But there are others, through the years, that I have some interesting memories of. A green VW that belonged to someone I was madly in love with: I would see that car everywhere. A white Toyota truck, also belonging to a person of passionate connection. I could always tell it was the right truck because the license plate hung at a jaunty angle.
A green MG, belonging to a college love. Such a sporty little thing. He replaced it with a ponderous red BMW.
A station wagon of unknown make belonging to my firstborn's father, in which we camped when firstborn was tiny--we camped in cemetaries and campgrounds and on beaches. My friend repaired it with bubblegum and rubberbands, I swear it. Our son inherited his skills at repair and confidence.

Childhood cars: a little rounded thing, of which there are family photos--it was, maybe, a Buick. Kind of turquoise blue. A pontiac, blue and white. A rambler, copper colored. An illfated little--was it a Renault--belonging to my mother, squished in an accident (no one was hurt, except the poor little car). My mother named cars, but I cannot recall now the names of those cars that made their way through my childhood, that appear in family photos, along with other things of which my parents were very proud: a television set, a new couch, my father's various airplanes, and every so often my brothers and I, standing and squinting into the sunlight, in front of a family car.

Monday, February 13, 2006

a list of the lost

No, not people, and not animal friends--though I could list so many of each who came into my life and left my life. But objects. Possessions. Things gained and then lost, or stolen, or misplaced.

My grandmother said that lost things all go to the dark side of the moon. If she was correct, the jumble there will still hold:

my latest loss--a vase I bought a few days ago, and left in our car. It was inexpensive, yellow glass, frosted, with a dark blue swirl at the top. I loved the color, and imagined it full of spring flowers, or empty, sitting on a shelf, catching the light. In the paper bag with it were some packets of heirloom sweet pea seeds as well. Alas, we left the car unlocked in a big city parking lot, and one of my partner's bags, full of oddments of writing, though nothing he says he misses, was taken. And the paper bag with the vase and the seeds, and my little son's tape recorder, which he carries everywhere. I was grateful the thief left the bouquet of white Casablanca lilies, wrapped in wet newspaper.

a garnet and pearl ring, which my father gave me when I was six. One purply red garnet flanked by two tiny pearls. The ring was big for my skinny fingers. I wore it anyway...and it is now on the darkside of the moon, I guess.

red shoes. I didn't lose them, except to time, growth, and wear. Bought for school when I was almost 11, they were a dark, true red, leather, with two black ornamental, flat buttons towards the side, on the top. They were, I thought, so absolutely beautiful that I would wake in the night, go to the closet, and sit under the closet light gazing at them, sighing for the wonder of it. Perhaps it was the years of saddleshoes, black and white and laced up, that made those red shoes the wonder they were.

My beautiful, trusted, adored Mont Blanc fountain pen. It was dark green, with a gold nib, and wrote so fluently. I used it throughout my journeys in Europe; I have journals and books of fair draft poems written with it; friends still have letters I wrote with that pen. It was a generous gift from coworkers at an east coast bookstore (one in which I got into a good deal of trouble as a union organizer). One sunny spring day I was traveling to the big town to the north and stopped at a Texaco gas station, where I left the pen on the back of the toilet commode. It had gone when I stopped again that afternoon, and how I mourned its loss. I've had a number of other fountain pens, and settled as well for all sorts of new disposables--but I see my Mont Blanc in my dreams still.

Another ring. Indeed, another garnet and pearl ring, and a fireopal set in silver by a local jeweler, and a puffy blue down coat in the pockets of which those rings were tucked, so that I could clean the motel rooms unhindered (the maid job was the only one to be had then). The garnet ring was from the turn of the century, ornate, the garnet very dark and large as my thumbnail, surrounded by tiny seed pearls, a gift from a dear friend and lover. I came from scrubbing toilets and making beds to see the coat, left on a chair outside, gone.

A cameo from my grandmother, set in gold, pinned to a black sweater. Sweater and cameo vanished one day from my bookstore, never to be seen again.

My journal and poetry notebooks from my last year in college. How foolishly I stored them with the parents of my then boyfriend. When I was back again in the country they had no recollection of the box of books and notebooks.

And what happened to the glass ship? Blown glass, fragile beyond belief, with sails and rigging. A gift from yet another true love. It lived in the windows of many a place I traveled after I left him to his orderly and, I hope, happy life, catching the sunlight. Did I drop it? Leave it? Give it away?

It is probably in the same place as my grandmother's silver hair pin, the one that clasped my long hair for so many years, until I cut my hair short, and put the pin aside, and then...where did it go? The pin was oval, with delicate etching upon it, with a silver bar to hold slippery Finnish-straight hair in place.

And there are scarves, and umbrellas, and books generously lent and never returned, and jackets, sweaters, hats. I seem to go through my life shedding things...but missing them. Ah, my fountain pen...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

the flavored world

Proust may have had his dry, crumbly, literary madeleine (a disappointment to me when I finally tasted one); I have been thinking of my own list of tastes and moments.
It is an odd thing to list, since I am far from being a great cook, and have been mostly disconnected from such physical things as food for much of my life. Well, yes, I ate; I did not live on air; but I was prone to forgetting to eat, and during my youth frequently saved money by skipping meals. Of course, I then bought books with the money I'd saved--a more lasting treat by far.

But the first tastes, the strange tastes, the interesting moments--these have stayed with me.
And sometimes, with a rush of nostalgia, I recall them.

There were the slabs of black bread spread with sweet butter, and the new pulled spring onions, and the bowls of raspberries and clotted cream my grandfather served me, with delight that I would ask for second helpings and finish every bit of these treats. "She needs real food" he'd shout, hearty and proud. He was a big man, from Finland, who worked as a ship builder and carpenter and kept a tidy garden for vegetables and fruit and raised rabbits and turkeys as well. He held little store by the canned vegetables and puffy packaged bread that were the usual table fare at my house. I believe it was in his house I realized that food could taste wonderful. When I read Heidi I always thought of my grandfather, and figured he would have fed me melted cheese too, and had me play with goats on a mountainside, had there been goats or mountainsides around.

Gingerbread. Not just any gingerbread (though I like gingerbread of all sorts) but the chewy, pale gingerbread of Grasmere or thereabouts, bought and eaten on a walking tour of the Lake District many years ago. My love of the time and I were seeking out Wordsworth country, and clambering hillsides, and staring at daffodils, and getting rained on. There was good cheese there as well, crumbly and sharp and white, pressed on me by a bed and breakfast proprietor who was concerned that my vegetarian diet wouldn't keep me strong enough for those rambles.

And the lovely dinners in Sagres, Portugal, with baskets of strange fruit and little fishes (this was before I was a vegetarian, so I was guiltily gorging on goat meat as well, roasted with rosemary). The fruits were what captivated me, however. I'd ask their names in all the languages I know, and still do not know what they were. Perhaps guavas, or loquats. I'd come to Sagres, which is at the far southwest tip of Portugal, after several months travel and a surfeit of museums. The travel agent in Florence was very helpful as I said "I need to spend a month somewhere cheap, hopefully near the ocean, with no particularly touristy attractions". He said "I know exactly where you need to be" and booked a flight to Lisbon, with train connections all the way to Sagres. Since then I have heard the area has blossomed (or been blighted) with tourists--then only a few travellers knew of it.

And preserved quinces, which figure in two incarnations: as a sweet in Mexico, where I was helping build a school for deaf children (and cooking for two hundred over open campfires, another story). One of the fathers brought a great slab of quince paste as a treat for us, and doled it out in sweet, grainy slabs. And then in England, where I sat with an older poet and chatted about poetry and life and birds as she spread rose colored jam with amber bits over my crumpets. Quince preserves, she said. Enchanting, I said.

And in my childhood in Japan, chestnuts broken from their spiny cases and roasted over a candle flame, and dipped in maple syrup. A treat that was especially delightful, for being absolutely forbidden--the smuggled matches, the secret fort. My friend and I set my younger brother as guard, to watch for grown ups, and paid him in a chestnut or two, dripping with syrup.

And going back, further yet, sugar roses from a birthday cake, smuggled into bed, licked in the darkness, cherished. I was, perhaps, 2 or 3 years old.

Oh, and apricots, which fell from my grandmother's tree, which made a cool green tent. I could sit there for hours, sucking out the amber, dripping pulp. No fruit since has tasted quite so intensely golden.

I might trade a lot for just one, here in late winter.