Alzheimer’s and Adele

Adele and Phoenix010

Adele in her late 70s

My mother died recently.

It was to be expected, I suppose, at her age of 91 and because of the fact that she’d been sick with Alzheimer’s for more than a decade. Knowing all of this, her death still came as a knockout of a shock to me. I’d been fooling myself for years that I was prepared for the end… I was not.

At the time that she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the doctor told us that the disease starts long before the symptoms show. My best guess is that it began about 19 years ago, after she was in a terrible car accident – she was never the same after that.

She lived with me and my family – my husband and two girls, for most of those 19 years – except for the last four years that she spent in a nursing home, in a locked ward.

My family watched her lose herself and tried to keep things normal for as long as possible. It was frustrating that neighbors and distant friends and relatives, didn’t see the changes that we did. Frustrating that no one, except the Public Health Nurses who came and went, understood the toll it took on us. It is an unforgiving and terrible disease, and leaves the person you have loved all your life, unrecognizable. Through each agonizing stage of its progression, there are no clear guidelines, because every patient is different.

There are major milestones of the condition, however, that are relatively the same across the board. It was about a year ago that her doctor took me aside, and explained to me that my mother was in the end stage of the disease. She didn’t think that my mother would live out the year – the clearest indicator of the end, she told me, was when the patient stopped swallowing. I wasn’t surprised to hear this back then. I had clearly seen her decline become precipitous in the previous few months. Then, when she was put into a Broda chair and was no longer walking, it was obvious that she was not just mentally failing, but physically failing as well.

Adele and great hat048

Adele: young and happy in the 1950s

Just two days before she died, we got a phone call that she was pocketing her food. In my ignorance, I thought she was literally putting her food in her pocket, which she had done on many occasions before. My mother was very smart, even with Alzheimer’s, and was frequently getting away with things like that – like when she managed to figure out how to unlock her seat belt on her wheel chair and suddenly stand up – a real danger to herself and to others, believe it or not.

But no. Pocketing food means that the patient can no longer swallow and the food accumulates in the cheeks of the mouth. It was the signal that she was near the end, and I didn’t realize it til too late.

There are many books on the subject, but I don’t want to read any of them. I have lived it in all its unpleasant and hurtful details. Nor do I want to watch dramatic films about it – perhaps they help to edify people, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather forget.

And that is the challenge – to forget all those years of decline and loss, and remember the whole and complete person, who is gone.

The doctor at the nursing home is a wonderful, caring person; the kind of doctor you want especially for the elderly who are sick with dementia. To comfort me, she told me that she’d seen many people lose themselves to the disease, and from this personal experience, she knew that we are more than what we say or do. What is left after the ravages of Alzheimer’s, is the core of the person in the purest form. She told me that even though my mother had lost all her ability to remember or speak or put a thought together, she still was a warm and loving person inside.

In the end there was little left of her – even her radiant core had gone out. She was rail thin, and slept almost continually. It was a relief for her to go, I am sure.

Adele & Baby Betty055

Adele and her second baby c 1961

She wasn’t afraid to die. She had talked to me many times about it over the years. She had had a near death experience when she lost her third baby in childbirth in the early 1960s. She saw a beautiful light at the end of a long dark tunnel and went towards it and felt eternal peace. She told me that it was so beautiful that she didn’t want to come back, but she suddenly remembered her two little girls, and had to return. That experience stayed with her her whole life.

If you believe in heaven or an afterlife, you can say she is now with her baby and her husband, her sisters, and her parents, and all of her ancestors, somewhere up there. It’s a nice thought. But I am more comforted to know that she lived a full and adventurous, brave and creative life – never wasting a moment of it for as long as she could.

Even as she lost herself to the disease, she still got up every morning and smiled at the sun.

Adele landscape040

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Argo and Tim Severin

Kommos beachIn 1984 I was working on the South coast of Crete at Kommos Excavations during the summer dig season.

The dig team, comprised of Canadian and American archaeologists and graduate students, had breakfast all together early in the morning before work began, and then dinner all together in the evening after the day’s work was over (and after our requisite gin and tonic time).

We sat at a long set of tables in the narrow, treed courtyard of the dig building that housed the dig kitchen. There were two full-time, local women who cooked for the team. They were  an institution there, despite being very screachy, and irritable. They always had a handy spray-can of ByGone  (a DDT laced insecticide) in the kitchen, that they used to keep the flies away. They used it regularly on our food, particularly the butter/margarine.

The food wasn’t always the best (I remember one goat stew that still had fur attached to the meat, and another night we ate small snails that were gritty with sand) but dinners were always accompanied by lots of local wine and lots of laughter.

Severin and crew

Tim Severin, center.

One night we were all having our dinner when a couple of tall bearded men showed up and asked to talk to the Director of the dig. They were ushered to the head of the table and introduced themselves. One of the men was Tim Severin, a noted British explorer and historical researcher.

I had read a couple of Severin’s books and knew about what he did. He followed in the steps of Thor Heyerdahl by recreating ancient sea vessels and then sailing them along ancient routes that were known from myths and legends.

He and his crew had just arrived at Kommos bay with a replica Bronze Age ship, and they wanted to invite all of us to visit on-board, and to talk about the local archaeological sites and their connection to Homer’s Odyssey.

Kommos has a beautiful natural harbor that was used for millennia. The ruins that we were working on dated from ca. 1800 B.C. to ca. 200  AD. During the Minoan period (ca. 1800 B.C. – 1200 B.C.),  the site was an active port and even had a wide paved road that connected the site to a network of palaces on Crete.

On one occasion, several of us went out with the Director of the dig to snorkel and dive in the sea just off-shore from the excavation, to locate an ancient anchor * that was known to exist. It lay there on the sandy bottom and was easily visible, once it was located.

argoo

The ship decorated for the Ulysses journey.

The ancient anchor was very near to the same spot that the replica ship was now anchored.

It was a glorious site to see a Bronze Age style ship floating on the “wine dark” sea (an epithet from Homer describing the sea: οἶνοψ πόντος, oinops pontos) in the natural harbor.

The replica boat was made proportionally smaller than the ones that sailed during the Bronze Age, and therefore also had a smaller crew. Severin had built this ship and had named it The Argo for a previous voyage that followed the path of the mythic Jason to Colchis, an ancient land located on the Black Sea. There, according to legend, Jason found the golden fleece and the princess Medea, and brought them back to Greece.

Argo for Jason

The ship decorated for the Jason journey.

The ship was now being re-purposed to retrace the journey of Ulysses (the latin name for Odysseus) from ancient Troy back to Greece. In Homer’s great saga The Odyssey, Odysseus encounters many obstacles along his way home to Ithaca, including being ensnared by a witch, Sirens, a Cyclops, and lotus eaters.

Severin used this boat to follow the natural currents and shorelines of the Mediterranean to hypothesize where Odysseus and his crew met with adventures along their journey home from the Trojan War.

The modern crew was comprised of men from all over Europe. Many were Scandinavian and didn’t speak English. All of us, from the Kommos crew, went out in our bathing suits to the boat, and sat on the deck of the small ship and shared some wine with the crew, while the dig Director and his wife (also a noted archaeologist) spoke with Tim Severin.

Argo under full sail_p1Severin believed that Kommos was the harbor that Ulysses (Odysseus) came to after his time in the land of the Lotus Eaters. He believed that the Lotus Eaters were located in what is known today as Libya – just south of us, across the Libyan Sea. And that is where they had just sailed from.

Severin and his crew only stayed a couple of days and then were off to trace the rest of the mythical journey, and we went back to our routines at work. Severin’s voyage may not have been the most scientific of projects, but it captured the romance of the Homeric texts and stirred the imagination.

I used to love swimming in the waters of Kommos bay, after our work hours were over.  I especially enjoyed floating with my toes pointing towards Africa and letting the even waves wash over me. It was easy to let go of everything when I was floating there with nothing but the deep blue waters, the huge blue sky and the rugged cliffs and rocks of the coast. I was easily swayed to believe that Odysseus visited Kommos during the Bronze Age – why not?

siren-vase

The Siren Vase, showing Odysseus tied to the mast while the Sirens call to him, Red Figured Stamos, 480-470 BC British Museum

late-geometric-krater-730-710

A Late Geometric Krater showing a ship dated to 730-710 BC, several generations later than Homer’s Odyssey

* the anchor was published in 1995. “Two Three-holed Stone Anchors from Kommos, Crete: their Context, Type, and Origin,” IJNA 24: 279-291.

The Agony of Sewing Butterick Pattern B5824

(I actually wrote this post last year in 2016, but wasn’t ready to post it then – the experience was still too vivid and horrible!)

I recently finished sewing a pale, shell-pink Spring coat for my daughter for a birthday present. I’d been out shopping with her over the Christmas holidays and we’d seen a similarly colored coat that she’d loved. The cost of it was prohibitive and I thought to myself that I could make one for her. HA HA.

Kimono by Betty

My lovely assistant on one of the kimonos I made.

I had just started sewing again after a long 15 year hiatus. I had a new sewing machine that purred like a dream machine, and I was feeling physically and mentally good enough to take on this project.

I had successfully made three kimonos from a traditional Japanese pattern for Christmas gifts, and I was on a roll.

I’d learned to sew from my mother who was a very experienced seamstress. She made most of my clothes while I was growing up, and throughout my twenties and thirties. She preferred sewing with Vogue designer patterns because they were pretty much guaranteed to look incredible when finished, and the directions were always clear.

Adele white evening outfit

My mother in a Givenchy dress and coat that she made c 1965.

So in January of this year, I was at a fabric store and there was this beautiful, pale, shell-pink, soft coating on sale for 50% off. It was brushed and had a nap, and it felt like mohair even though it was synthetic. I eyed it for a while and then told the sales lady about my wanting to make a coat for my daughter.

She instantly suggested a pattern and in minutes had me buying the fabric, lining and interfacing, buttons and thread, and I was out the door with a heavy bundle to cut out and put together.

The pattern was a Butterick pattern and rated EASY.

Easy my foot!

If I hadn’t had experience with sewing and several reference books and the trusty internet, I never would have had the coat turn out as it did. There were a lot of tailoring issues that arose for which there were no instructions (such as having to reinforce the shoulder seams of the coat so they wouldn’t stretch and pull out of shape while supporting the weight of the skirt – or knowing how to baste and press the collar edge so that it would turn properly).

Butterick pattern B5824

Butterick pattern B5824.

The lesson I learned was that I should not have relied on the instructions that came with the pattern. They were incomplete and did not take into consideration numerous problems of construction along the way.

I was almost completely finished with the coat when I discovered that the woman who’d designed the coat had a blog and she had done an online “Sew Along” with this pattern a few years ago. Had I known that this existed it would have saved me hours of sweat and agony. I learned from reading her posts that she had also found discrepancies in the pattern and had to figure out fixes along the way, just like me.

I feel badly for her – she designed this lovely coat, but the mistakes and omissions in the pattern are Butterick’s responsibility and what can she do about that? Not much.

Coat front

The front of the finished coat. I ended up only sewing one button on and one snap underneath.

The coat has a huge, circular, swing skirt and is based on a 1950s Dior design. There were a lot of pieces to cut out and put together.

The first crisis happened when I was cutting out the coating fabric. I always find it a terrifying process to have to cut out each piece twice – one right way and one upside down, on a single layer of fabric. My fabric was 60″ wide and had a noticeable nap, and I could only lay out a couple of pieces on the floor at a time. I squished each pattern piece as close as possible to the next in fear that I wouldn’t have enough at the end of it all. And sure enough, I got to the end of the fabric and couldn’t cut the skirt front-facing on the grain. I had to turn it at a 90 degree angle and cut it. Luckily it was the facing and the nap wouldn’t show, but I worried that it would pull the wrong way.

It took me more than 2.5 hours to cut the pieces out. I measured and measured and pinned and repinned. I literally sweat buckets and had blisters on my hand by the end of it.

Even though the fabric had been half price, it had cost a pretty penny and I knew that there wasn’t much of it left, if any, at the store. And – there was a smudge of dirt along one side of the selvage (no doubt why it was 50% off, but it had not been shown to me at the store) so I had to be careful of cutting around that too – ugh.

Coat lapel

Coat lapel

I was beat after that ordeal so I waited for another day to cut out the lining.

OMG. The woman again had cut me a piece of fabric just too-short for the layout of the pieces.

Were these too-short lengths of fabric due to the pattern guidelines or the sales woman? I was too distraught to figure it out.

The lining also had to be cut out one piece at a time on a single layer of fabric. The fabric was very lightweight and pretty, but it had to be cut so as not to cause fraying along the edges. And like before, I had to be especially careful to keep all the pieces on the grain of the fabric as marked on the pattern pieces. At the end of the length of fabric I had to scrimp and figure out how to fit in the final 2 pattern pieces. It was agonizing and I ended up with two skirt panels precariously cut upside down from the way they were supposed to lie, and with one of the panels not on the grain – it just wouldn’t fit any other way.

This was just the beginning.

hem of coat

The dumb pattern for the skirt lining was inches too short for the coat so I hand sewed the lace over the interfacing that they had me attach at the beginning of the project. The circumference of the skirt is several meters – times that by hand basting it 5 times to get all of this done and then hand sewing the hem and lace into place… ugh.

Each step of the process had challenges to face. One of the worst problems was the skirt lining – I’d cut it out according to the pattern as I said above, but when it was sewn together the length of each piece varied because all of the panels were on the bias and hung unevenly. There was no information in the pattern about this eventuality – but there are many posts online about hemming bias skirts. The most common advice was to hang bias cut, circle-skirts for weeks with weights hung on the bottom edge before trying to hem them; otherwise you end up with an uneven hem.

So I hung the lining for 3 weeks with weights on the bottom edge, and at the end of 3 weeks I measured it and measured it and measured it again, and then finally hemmed it as per instructions.

I was sure that it was perfect before I sewed it into the coat like the pattern said to.

Despite my best efforts the lining hem hung unevenly, and worse than that – it was inches too short for the coat thanks to the faulty skirt lining pattern pieces.

I got back online and read that the designer of the coat encountered this problem too, and her solution was the same that I came up with – to sew a wide band of lace onto the inside of the coat fabric to cover the unsightly interfacing that had been attached at the beginning of the project. The lace did the job – it covered the gap and the raw seams, but it took several meters to do it and had to be basted and then hand stitched on both edges: several extra meters of thread, a lot more sweat, and an added and unexpected expense.

That is an ENORMOUS and UNFORGIVABLE error for Butterick to make. The pattern is at least 4 years old and they haven’t bothered to add an amendment to the package to let you know about the incorrect pattern pieces!

Another major problem with the instructions – they assume you can make the button holes on your machine, so there is no mention, or option, of making bound buttonholes before putting the bodice together (which honestly never occurred to me because I was following their construction process step by step). I had finished sewing the coat at that point, and had no choice but to make machine-made buttonholes. In the end, this wasn’t even an option.

The sleeve lining stitched into place.

The sleeve lining stitched into place.

The buttons on the coat are meant to be big and decorative – larger than the maximum 1″ buttonhole that I soon discovered was the biggest size that my machine made.

When I realized my machine’s limitations, I did go out to get smaller buttons (which took me a long time to pick out, because that’s me at a fabric store). I practiced making machine buttonholes on layers of scrap fabric and they came out okay, so I went ahead to try and stitch one on the front of the coat.

It turned out that the fabric and lining together were too thick to make machine buttonholes, particularly because of the location of the buttonholes right above the waist seaming (even after my careful graduated trimming and pressing the bejesus out of it).

Imagine multiple pieces of spongy coating material joined together at the waist (8 skirt panels, 2 pockets and 2 front facings), add in interfacing, and then sew that onto a bodice that is thick with seams and darts.  It was very tricky to join cleanly and even more difficult to trim.

And don’t forget that the lining was already sewn in place.

The machine jammed. The foot wasn’t feeding, and the stitches were impossible to completely remove from the delicate surface of the fabric. I was extremely peeved to have finished the coat so well up to this point, only to have the front and center of it marred by this disaster.

I steamed it – I painstakingly tried to remove the tight stitches – I brushed it – I cried – I swore… nothing made it perfect again. So I gave up trying.

snaps

The only solution I could come up with – a giant heavy duty snap.

I called three tailors in the City to see if they’d make my buttonholes. Nope. No one would do it.

I had no options left so I went out and bought a big snap and sewed that into place.

I then sewed a large button over top of it on the outside, for decorative purposes only.

After a final pressing, the coat was at last done, and all I could see were the problems that I’d had making it.

The coat weighs a ton because the skirt has so much yardage in it. (It actually weighs more than my big arctic, down-filled, winter coat.)

I mailed the coat to my daughter and thank goodness it fit, and she likes it, and it looks beautiful on her. So I guess “All’s Well That Ends Well”.

But its going to be a very, very long time til I ever buy a Butterick pattern again.

The Circus and The Great Santini

THE CIRCUS

circus degas miss-la-la-at-the-cirque-1879

Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando by Edgar Degas, 1897

Précis:

Before anyone attacks me for liking circuses – let me categorically state that I am against the use of exotic animals in circus acts. Times and attitudes have progressed and society now understands (for the most part) that chimps, tigers, lions, elephants, hippos, bears and other animals should not be forced to suffer in captivity and be made to perform tricks for people’s entertainment

Indeed, thanks to Dr. Jane Goodall’s breakthrough research on the chimps at Gombe, it is now widely understood that animals (other than humans) have emotional lives, many demonstrate culture and social history, and have intelligence far beyond what was previously accepted.

And now on with the show!

clown cropped

Not all clowns are scary – some, like this fellow, are absolutely wonderful.

As a child I loved the circus.When I was very little my family went to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was truly a spectacle. I loved all the sparkle and drama.

And I admit that as a kid, I loved seeing all the animals during the show. I especially loved the horses and wanted to be one of those lovely ladies that leaps about and does acrobatics on the broad back of a horse.

And who doesn’t love to see tiny poodles dance around in skirts?

One of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid, was simply called Circus and featured international circus performers every week.

And I never missed the Ed Sullivan Show which regularly featured circus performers, as well other more famous acts (like the Beatles).

circus horse 1890

Circus lady with horse 1908

I was also a big fan of the 1956 movie Trapeze starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida, because there was a lot about circus life in the movie – how the girls learned to stand on the backs of cantering horses, and particularly how the acrobats trained and performed on the trapeze.

(Burt Lancaster had actually been an acrobat before he became an actor, and performed with the Kay Brothers circus early in his life.)

circus movie Trapeze

Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida in Trapeze, 1956

When I was maybe 10 or 11 years old my mother gave me a book to read called Umberto’s Circus. It was a charming story about a small European circus trying to just get by. It made me love the circus even more.

The last time I went to an old-fashioned circus, I was in my twenties. There was a trapeze act as usual, and as usual it was a family act. They came out to great fan fare, climbed the high tower to get to the trapeze swings and performed without a net below them. That was the draw of the act – trapeze without a net.

During most trapeze acts one or more of the acrobats falls by accident into the net underneath – this usually brings a huge gasp from the audience. Sometimes, it seems to be intentionally done to heighten the tension during the terrifying leaps. This time, however, the high flyer fell all the way to the floor and didn’t move – it was a real and deadly accident, and it was terrible to witness.

Ringmaster, Petit Gougou as Monsieur Loyal at the Monte Carlo Festival of Circus, 2011 (www.montecarlodailyphoto.com)

Ringmaster, Petit Gougou as Monsieur Loyal at the Monte Carlo Festival of Circus, 2011 (montecarlodailyphoto.com)

Now back to more happy memories with –

The Great Santini!

One of the happiest and most memorable circus experiences I had, was one Summer when I was 13 or 14. My cousin took me to see the circus in Moncton, New Brunswick.

My sister and cousins were all a lot older than me and so when I did get to go along with them somewhere, I was always just tagging along, quiet, out of the way – the dumb kid that no one really took any notice of. But this time my cousin asked me to go with her – just me, and it was very special.

It was a hot sunny day and when we arrived at the parking lot there were already many cars there. The circus tent was full with a noisy, excited crowd.

As we were walking through the parking lot a man approached us and introduced himself. He said he was The Great Santini and that he was the sword swallower and knife thrower in the circus. He wasn’t in costume, just street clothes, but he looked like a circus performer. He had slicked back, collar length black hair and a mustache and goatee. He looked devilish.

circus knife thrower 1890s

Circus Knife Thrower 1890s

He flirted with us and I can’t remember what he was saying, but we giggled, and declined his attentions and went in to watch the show.

The circus was not a famous one and had some not so fancy acts. I seem to remember that there were acrobatic goats that walked along a board about 3 feet in the air (or something like that), but it was very entertaining and it was very sentimental.

circus Lucy-long-knives-300

I Love Lucy, 1951

When The Great Santini came out, he was wearing a dramatic black body suit with winged sleeves. The costume had red and gold flames all over it and he wore high black boots. He had the usual knife throwing wall that a glamorous woman has to stand in front of, and he had a tall shiny silver rack holding long, shiny, scary looking swords.

He swallowed the swords, he juggled the swords, he swallowed fire and blew fire from his mouth, and he threw daggers with relish.

He was a great showman. It was very exciting to have met him in the parking lot.

The weekend magazine in the newspaper even featured a big color photo of him blowing fire. I kept that magazine for years. Unfortunately, my parents threw it out when they moved from the farmhouse, and it is now gone forever.

Too bad there is no record of The Great Santini online that I can find – but he must be out there somewhere.

circus DecorativeOrnament_vector

And now for some photographs of circus performers new and old for your enjoyment !

konchak snake handler

The Great Konchak

cirque du soleil

Cirque du Soleil (www.wsj.com)

circus triple cycle highwire

19th century triple cycle highwire

circus tightrope

circus poster of gorilla

Created before King Kong existed – a hand painted Sideshow banner

circus tall walkers stilts

Life Magazine

circus 1910 trapeze

Life Magazine photo Nina Leen

circus snake charmer 1900scircus little girl on horse

James Stewart starred as Buttons the clown in the 1952 Academy Award®-winning film "The Greatest Show on Earth." The film was the 25th to win the Oscar® for Best Picture. Restored by Nick & jane for Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans Website: http:www.doctormacro.com. Enjoy!

James Stewart starred as Buttons the clown in the 1952 Academy Award-winning film “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Life Visits the Circus in Florida- Acrobats clowning around on ropes

Life (Magazine) Visits the Circus in Florida- Acrobats clowning around on ropes. photo Nina Leen

circus george bellows circus 1912

Circus by George Bellows, 1912

circus horse toulouse lautrec

by Toulouse Lautrec

circus Pierre-Auguste Renoir 1879 Jongleuses au cirque Fernando

Jongleuses au cirque Fernando by Pierrre Auguste Renoir, 1879

Circus-Barnum and Bailey dog

This is the kind of dancing dog I remember, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus

circus At-The-Circus-by-Ottokar-Walter

At the Circus by Ottokar Walter, 1889

circus Bridgman-American-Circus-in-France-1869-1870

The American Circus in France by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, 1869-1870

circus toulouse latrec entering the ring

Entering the Ring by Toulouse Latrec 1899

circus WC Fields Sally of the Sawdust

A scene from the movie Sally of the Sawdust starring WC Fields 1925

circus sideshow art

Life (Magazine) Visits the Circus in Florida

circus trapeze artist

Life (Magazine) Visits the Circus in Florida

circus dog Fifi Roncycircus acrobatscircus old postercircus trapeze Gaston Paris Roger-Viollet-Photo-Agency-since-1938

Life Visits the Circus in Florida- Acrobats and stage performers in various stages of action.

Life (Magazine) Visits the Circus in Florida

Cavalia edmonton sun acrobats

Scene from Cavalia from the Edmonton Sun

cavalia edmonton sun

Scene from Cavalia from the Edmonton Sun

circus wagon

Circus Wagon. When the circus came to town it usually paraded down Main Street with a series of intricately carved wagons pulled by the circus animals and showing the performers.

circus Nellie-McHenry-A-night-at-the-circus-by-H-Grattan-Donnelly-1893-Theater-Poster

 

 

Cavalia Odysseo-11

Cavalia is a contemporary circus employing only humans and horses. It is a love song to the Horse.

Cavallia

Cavalia. The horses are royalty, and treated with respect and admiration.

 

circus charlie chaplin

Charlie Chaplin in love with a circus girl in The Circus, 1928

Two dogs dance during a performance at ZoppŽ Italian Family Circus at Chandler Center for the Arts, on Friday, Jan. 6, 2011. Michel Duarte/The Arizona Republic.

Two dogs dance during a performance at ZoppeŽ Italian Family Circus

circus contortionist

Contortionist late 19th century

Juggling with fire

Juggling with fire, 19th c

circus clowns-or-798393

Congress of Clowns

circus tatoo lady national geo 1931

Tatoo Lady from National Geographic 1931

circus zelda boden

cavalia stallions

A final and beautiful image from Cavalia

 

Summer Teen Tragedy

Lupins by Kim Manley Ort

High School ends in June, and then Summer comes with all its promises.

A&W drive in restaurant

A&W drive in restaurant 1970s

In 1977 I’d just finished my sophomore year at Tantramar Regional High School in New Brunswick, and had a boyfriend who miraculously had a car.

We went on several dates that year with other couples to movies, to the mall, and to the drive-in A@W where they delivered burgers and fries and sundaes to the side of your car on a tray that hooked onto the open window edge.

This boyfriend took me out on Graduation night at the end of June to the Grad dance and then to all the parties that were happening all night long up at the beach and in the nearby woods.

beach bonfires

The night of Grad there were multiple bonfires along the beach (photo from https://muse.theodysseyonline.com/author/ashleighmcclure)

There were huge bonfires along the beach at Murray Corner; endless beer, and drugs available; crazy antics; fist fights; sex in rustic cabins; and driving around in cars all night to rendezvous, rev engines, and race.

It was the 1970s and we were living in a rural area and driving was a pastime that many of the teens in the area were involved in. There was a lot of reckless driving and speeding. Several kids during my High School years were involved in serious accidents.

The worst and most memorable for me, happened that summer. A boy I’d known for 5 years, who sat near me on the bus and joked with me all the time – a boy with a happy heart, bright sparkling eyes, pink cheeks and white blond hair was killed in a head-on collision.

It happened one night when my boyfriend and another couple arranged for us to have a lobster boil at a nearby beach. They built up a big open fire in the sand and set a giant pot of saltwater on it to boil. The live lobsters were from the nearby fishermens’ wharves and were waiting pitifully on ice in a cooler for their last hurrah – a fast drop into the boiling water. There was another cooler loaded with beer.

It was a gorgeous Summer evening with a warm breeze coming in off the water. We laughed, walked ankle deep in the ocean, ate and drank, and joked around. We were young and happy and feeling the wonderful, expansive, exquisite joy of being alive that comes so rarely in life. A time when kisses were blissful and being close to another person felt liberating and there were no responsibilities.

New Brunswick lobster boats and wharf

Lobster boats lined up at a wharf in New Brunswick.  (photo http://2.bp.blogspot.com)

We were basking in our happiness when a car pulled up to the parking lot and called us over. The driver leaned out of his window and in a hushed voice told us what had happened.

A friends of ours had just died in a head-on collision just minutes from where we partied. 6 kids were in the car and were all killed in one swift, brutal moment.

The news hit me like a heavy fist in the chest – I couldn’t breathe – I couldn’t comprehend how something so unbelievable could ever happen on a night like this. To kids our age. To a friend I sat with on the bus. A boy who was out for fun, just like us, on a warm Summer night. It could have been us.

They had been joy riding along a country road, swooping down a hill, when they smashed into an oncoming car. The police called in a local woman, an off duty nurse, to join them at the scene. The nurse arrived ready to help, but not ready to discover that one of the teens in the car was her son. The tragedy was too much – too horrible to comprehend.

We became robotic upon hearing the news.

We cleaned up our fire and garbage in silence and got into my boyfriend’s car for a slow and intense ride home. I know I was in shock when I walked into the kitchen to find my parents at the table, surprised to see me home so early. I told them the news and they seemed indifferent, to the point of being uncaring. It was incomprehensible to me that they responded so calmly and with such a bland response. I burst into hysterical tears and remember being told to calm down and go to my room – “these things happen” they said with a shrug.

These things happen.

Unfortunately its true, but no comfort when they happen to people close to you and you are young and unprepared for the shock and certainty of death. Unprepared for the reality that life can be beautiful and cruelly cut short in an instant.

I don’t know the details of how the cars crashed. Who, if anyone, was at fault. I don’t even remember if the other driver survived or had passengers in the oncoming car.

In my mind I imagined the scene – the carefree feeling in the car packed with six kids out for a night of fun: the windows wide open to the warm evening air; the feeling of freedom that comes at that age when you’re away from adults out in a car on the road; the joy of speed that teens seem to love.

teens in backseat Bruce Davidson Magnum Photos

Image Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

I’d been in cars like that – kids laughing and joking, maybe a couple in the back kissing – a bottle of cheap booze being passed around for a swig. The defiant freedom of being a kid with a car.

I was terrified many times by show-off boys careening around roads at high speed.

One time the kid speeding his Dad’s giant Cadillac down the Trans Canada Highway, set it on cruise control and hiked his legs up over the steering wheel to guide the car –  I screamed hysterically in the middle front seat, to stop and let me out – the other boys in the car laughing even harder at my terror (they were drunk from shooting beers down their throats before going out on the road and no one was wearing a seat belt).

Returning to school in September was hard. The boy’s former girlfriend was still inconsolable – breaking into tears at all times of the day, unable to focus on anything. I remember that sappy song Last Kiss grating on my nerves every time I heard it on the radio – its whining refrain angering me with its stupid words.

The shock of that terrible accident has never left me, as I’m sure its never left his closest friends, and his loving and emotionally destroyed family.

It seems to happen every year- a group of kids out for a joy ride never thinking about the consequences, killed in a mindless accident. Its always a shock, and always a tragedy.

 

Note:  there are numerous websites dedicated to statistics for teen car accidents. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides statistics based on American road collisions and goes back to 1975. Its worth noting that the numbers have significantly reduced since they peaked in the 1970s.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) also provides statistics and current information on youth and impaired driving in Canada. (Interestingly enough New Brunswick receives a D- from MADD.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Presence of Death

battle_of_gettysburg

The dead of Gettysburg.

I remember when I was a kid my father took all of us on a road trip to American Civil War battlegrounds (yeah). Most of what I remember is the endless driving and the cheap motels we stayed at. But our visit to the battlefield at Gettysburg made a deep and lasting impression on me.

Gettysburg field of Picketts charge

Gettysburg today: a view of the field of Pickett’s Charge – such a beautiful and peaceful landscape harboring such a tragic past.

Perhaps it was because we went into an interpretive center and saw a giant 360 degree painting of Pickett’s Charge (the painting is called The Cyclorama) and it brought the horror of the 3 day battle to life for me.

Or perhaps it was all the memorials for the thousands of lost soldiers that were scattered around the battlefield; presumably close to where they’d fallen. It was a very sad place – and it really felt like it was blood soaked and resonant with death and suffering.

I was just a child and it opened me to the horror of war, and the silent grief of death. It wasn’t until I was much older that I experienced anything close to that feeling again.

Agora headless statue photo by Betty Malyon

Looking out the basement door of the apotheke at the Stoa of Attalus, Athenian Agora. photo by Betty Malyon

As I’ve written in past posts, I worked at archaeological sites and spent a lot of time visiting ruins and tombs all over Greece when I was in my twenties. My first real job was at the Athenian Agora as a pottery profiler and illustrator for Dr. Rotroff. Much of my time was spent down in the apotheke (storeroom) alone among the hundreds of ancient artifacts, sitting next to boxes of ancient bones.

I never sensed anything down there except a great reverence for, and a kind of happy embrace of the past – surrounded by objects and remains from thousands of years ago.

Dr. Rotroff had even “introduced” me to one poor man’s remains: a man who had been a mercenary soldier. There were several mended wounds on his bones, and a final squash of his skull from a horse’s hoof. His skeletal remains lay near me as I worked in the dark to project a to-scale image of the pottery I then had to draw.

Mycenae-Atreus_Tomb

It was thrilling to visit the giant tholos tombs at Mycenae for the first time, but they were so immaculate and full of tourists that they lost a lot of their mystery for me.

In the field people form an intellectual detachment when studying the skeletal remains of ancient grave sites.

For example: during my first season at the Agora in 1981, there was an ongoing excavation at the northern boundary of the Agora that revealed the west end of the Stoa Poikele (The Painted Stoa).

Agora Excavations 1981

Agora Excavations 1981 – you can get a sense of how deep they had to go to get to the Classical Period – it was meters below street level.

To get down to the 5th century level there were many meters of historical matter to remove – and at one point the diggers went through what seemed to be a Medieval burial ground for infants. After the first of these small tombs were uncovered (the bodies were often buried in pots) the diggers became inured to the remains, and would joke about how many they had smashed by accident that day…

All this preamble is to say that I never felt the presence of “spirits” down there in the Agora’s storeroom or at many of the ancient places I went to. But there were several sites in Greece and Turkey that felt alive with death to me…

Site of the Battle of Marathon: Visiting Marathon for the first time was startling to me. Today the beach is full of sun tanning, happy people. Back in 490 BC it was the site of a crucial and bloody battle that was won by the Greeks against the invading Persians.

According to the ancient historian Herodotus, the Persians, sent by King Darius 1, lost 6,400 men in the battle and the Greeks lost 203 men (192 Athenians and 11 Plataeans).

The Athenians buried their dead in a massive mound of earth near the shore.

Tumulus_(tomb)_in_Marathon

The burial mound at Marathon contains the 192 fallen Athenian soldiers who were killed in the Battle of Marathon 490 BC

When I saw the mound I was very moved. It was so physically huge that you couldn’t ignore the weight of the battle there – here were buried the dead – the men who helped save Greece from Persian invasion. And here a huge and horrible battle took place with great loss of life and suffering. The spirit of the place was palpable to me. An inscription reads:

Ἑλλήνων προμαχοῦντες Ἀθηναῖοι Μαραθῶνι χρυσοφόρων Μήδων ἐστόρεσαν δύναμιν (Fighting at the forefront of the Greeks, the Athenians at Marathon laid low the army of the gilded Medes).

300-Rise-of-an-Empire2

300: Rise of an Empire is Hollywood’s version of the Battle of Marathon. That’s the beach I went sunbathing on though I didn’t jump off any cliffs there and it looked a lot different from this poster in real life.

When, a few years later,  I visited the beach for some swimming and sun, it felt odd and uncomfortable to me – knowing that I lay on a spot that had been blood soaked and raw with agony, hundreds of years before. But no one else seemed to feel that way…

Tomb of a young woman buried with two horses – There is an unusual tholos tomb near Marathon that dates to around 1490-1400 BCE. It was the tomb of a young woman buried along with two horses. It is the only tomb of its type and from this period to include a woman with horses – all the other tombs that have horses are of men. The tomb is also unusual because it was dug down into the earth rather than mounded with earth above it, so it has a long descending dromos (entryway) rather than the usual level ones.

The horses were presumably slaughtered in situ during the burial, and lie lengthwise in the dromos facing each other. It has been hypothesized that the horses found in these burials were the horses used to bring the body to the tomb. They could, in my opinion, have been the dead’s favorite mounts.

Tholos tomb marathon

The tholos tomb at Marathon contained a woman’s body, two burial pits containing gold and pottery vessels, and two horses buried in the dromos or entryway of the tomb. The tomb is dated to LHIIB (approximately 1490 – 1400 BCE). (When I visited this site with my class and professors of the American School of Classical Studies in 1985, the tomb was open to the elements. Now it appears to have been given a shelter and the horse skeletons covered with glass.)

I am a horse lover and perhaps that’s why the burial moved me. Perhaps it was because it was a young woman (like me at the time) who’d been buried there.

All I know is that as I stood there looking down the dromos towards the burial chamber, I felt a profound sadness, and a feeling that there was a remnant of grief and a shadow of the young woman’s spirit still lingering there.

Tomb in Turkey: In the Spring of 1986 I traveled with a group of fellow students and professors from the American School to Western Turkey to visit archaeological collections and sites. Many of the sites were stupendous to see – Pergamon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Temple of Apollo at Didyma

Didyma heinz albers

The massive temple of Apollo at Didyma is fascinating to visit. Along the inside walls of the temple were found the inscribed architectural plans for the construction of the building. http://sites.davidson.edu/csa/didyma/ image by heinz albers

– but one of the most intense experiences for me was entering a small tomb on the Anatolian plains. Like most ancient sites, it had been looted a long time ago, so all that remained was the structure.

The way into the lower chamber was through a small dug-out area below ground. Inside it was pitch black and big enough for all of us (about 15 in total) to stand tightly. Our flashlights made golden beams of light that seemed to vanish into the depth of the chamber and served only to intensify the darkness. hands in dark

There was a rough hole in the ceiling just big enough for one person to crawl through, and through this hole we were lifted one by one into the top chamber.

Being lifted up from the blackness of the lower part of the tomb and then scrabbling into the upper chamber was a singular experience. My heart was pounding with uncertainty.

It was possible to see the domed shape of the tomb up there, as there was a faint beam of white light coming in through some hole to the outside. The light illuminated the dust that we were disturbing.

The air was cool and the atmosphere of the tomb was intense – like the intense, oppressive pressure that I have uncomfortably felt inside a deep cave. But I knew that  where I knelt wasn’t that far below the grass outside  – just inches really, considering the beam of light that came in.hands-reaching-up

I felt like I shouldn’t be in there. It felt like there was something more in there than a bunch of students. I was anxious to leave.

Going back down through the hole into the deep darkness below was eerie. You couldn’t see where you were going; you were only aware that some detached hands, seemingly floating in the air, helped you down to the tomb floor. It made me think of the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries and I wondered if there might have been some ritual like that… a kind of rebirth – moving out through the darkness of the earth,  back to the world and the light.

The Dance of Zalongo – Cliffs of Northwestern Greece: 

The monument to the dancers of Zalongo

The monument to the Heroines of Zalongo, stands atop a high cliff in North Western Greece. The sculpture is by Georgios Zongolopoulos.

During another trip with the American School, we were visiting historical and archaeological sites in Epirus in North Western Greece. One day we went to view the site of the naval battle of Actium – where Octavius Caesar defeated Marc Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC (causing them to commit suicide in Egypt).

Cleopatra Theda Bara

Theda Bara as Cleopatra with Fritz Leiber as Caesar, 1917

It was amazing to stand there where Marc Antony’s troops had camped and look out over the Ionian Sea and visualize the giant war ships and the battle.

We visited several other sites that day, but one that I found deeply mournful was at the base of a high cliff, from which women and children fleeing the ravages of war had flung themselves to their deaths to escape enslavement or worse.

In 1803 during the Souliote WarAli Pasha the local Ottoman ruler, sent his troops through Epirus to kill and enslave the local population. The story goes that a group of women and children from the village of Souli became surrounded by the Turks near the Zalongo canyon.

There, to build their bravery, they danced and sang together, then threw their children off the cliff before jumping to their deaths – preferring to die with dignity rather than be destroyed by their enemies. A famous folk song and dance commemorates the tragedy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZGAPbzUiqM).

Widowed Village in Northern Greece:  During the Second World War the Nazis invaded Epirus in North Western Greece and over 200 towns and villages were burned or destroyed. (The Nazis eventually invaded the entire country and the Greek people suffered terribly.)Epirus woman 1943

More than 2,000 Epirotes were killed, 5,000 imprisoned and 2,000 sent to concentration camps. 30,000 people were displaced.

nazis in Athens 1944

Nazis in Athens in 1944 in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

We visited one such village high in the mountains where only old widowed women in black remained. It was such a moving sight.

No men of any age

No children

Just old widows.

The brutal remains of war.

Epirote_women_Aug1914

Greece has a very long history of being invaded by outsiders going back thousands of years. Despite this fact or maybe because of it, they are brave and proud people. This photo from 1914 shows Epirote women armed to defend their village.

 

My Titanium Underwear

or How I Exercise With A Bad Back

vintage exerciserThis post is about imagining that you have titanium underwear on when you exercise. (It has nothing to do with the Sia song.)

I have a bad back, which I’ve written about before on this blog. I was immobilized with pain for many years, but with patience and perseverance and the right treatments, I am finally getting to exercise again.

Several years ago I took a Spinercise program, to learn how to isolate and work the special muscles of the pelvic floor and the abdomen and lower spine, so that I could activate my core properly. I had to take the course twice though, because I have a number of atrophied muscles close to my torn discs and I couldn’t quite get them to activate for me.

corsets

Ouch! No wonder visualizing a corset hurt

In the workbook that came with the course, there was a diagram that likened the process of activating your core muscles to that of tightening a corset around your body. You were supposed to visualize this corset as you tightened each successive muscle group – pulling the imaginary corset strings in to support your spine.

I used this image for years when I needed to engage my core to lift groceries or do anything that required that I support my spine.

There was an inherent problem with this image, however, because of my atrophied muscles. Instead of activating all the muscles (including the atrophied ones), the imaginary corset forced the healthy muscles to take on an extra strain and overcompensate for the damaged muscles. This strain caused extra inflammation and muscular tightness in the hip and spine area, and ultimately caused weakness and instability.

So even though there was something racy about wearing an imaginary corset – it wasn’t working for me.

Then I ordered some super duper Wolfgang Puck unbreakable wine goblets from the illustrious Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue that were reinforced with titanium in the glass.

Wonder woman

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman in the 1970s. Note the starry, magnificent and powerful panties – my inspiration

superman

George Reeves as Superman – the epitome of super duper underwear

The idea of titanium being so strong and so light inspired me to think about wrapping my lower spine in titanium.

Then the image of the 1970s Wonder Woman, the 1950’s Superman, and the 1960’s Batman sprang to mind – all of them wore quite spectacular underpants.

Thus the idea of having titanium underwear that fit like the costume Wonder Woman wore, was born. And that image really helps me hold my core in the right place when I am moving, and particularly when I’m exercising.

Batmanadamwest

Adam West as Batman – the best Batman EVER!!

Its not only an image of a nicely muscular and lean tummy and butt, but its an image of strength and power. Yes, I can conquer anything in my titanium underwear!

The power of the mind and using visualization as a tool has been studied and proven for decades, and I’ve gone through phases when I’ve spent a lot of time visualizing myself to be whole and well. Yet, this is the first time that its really helped me in a physical sense.

So I’m sharing my secret to success – when you need to support a damaged spine and build strength, just try visualizing yourself as a super hero with titanium shorts on and maybe you’ll find that with time it will help you like its helped me.

I find that instead of pulling all those muscles too tightly, I visualize engaging the appropriate muscle groups, and then add in my visualization of metal pants. They hold me upright and straight and really help me maintain the correct posture without overdoing it. So when I am weight lifting, doing core work, or on my exercise bike I can hold the right position without straining myself. My atrophied muscles are even starting to work again.

iliotibial_band_1

Rolling, rolling, rolling on my roller

Of course there is still pain from the damaged discs and my muscles are weak and tired, and working out makes them ache. So, I spend a lot of time on my foam roller (which can hurt like Hell), and stretching, and doing a short form of yoga to keep things from seizing up.

The important thing is that there is progress. I’m standing taller again and feeling kinda super hero like.

…Every day in every way I am getting better and better… repeat... every day in every way I am getting better and better…

Good luck.

strong-woman-vintage-exercise

My ultimate goal is to be able to lift someone with one arm over my head.

Molby exercise machine

If you can’t succeed with titanium underwear perhaps this device will help you.