Saturday, December 13, 2014

Getting Lost

I recently read of an author new to me, Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost. She writes of the unknown as our exploration in life and the engine for artists. And as the name of her book implies, she writes of getting lost. The word itself derives from Old Norse and means disbanding armies. We throw away our constraints, our strictures, our discipline of time and destination and let ourselves move into the unknown, perhaps as my mother does each day without choice as her memory flees. Never one to like change, the unknown, she is now thrust into it. My daily phone call is her map of the day.

Ironically it is through this process of losing ourselves and discovering what we don't know that we navigate life. This is particularly relevant to artists.Solnit writes," Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not yet arrived, is what must be found. It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own."

As an artist I am seeking to lose myself and as someone who values control, I often struggle against myself. I think about the relationship between what my mother describes as wilderness, the unknown she navigates daily, and my effort to let go of control and lose myself in an unknown that opens doors for expression. Perhaps the difference is that I can enter and leave at will.

My mother loved the unknown after it had become familiar, still carrying its gloss of newness, but no longer threatening. When we traveled together she used to dread the move from familiar to unknown. "Can't we stay here?" she would plaintively ask as we readied ourselves for a train ride to a new city. Soon the new city would be her favorite as her dread got transferred to the next. I was her touchstone, the constant that allowed her to make these changes that opened up worlds for her. I think of that now as I serve as a new sort of guide.

On a recent visit I took her to an apple orchard. She bought a sunflower, a fall ornament that I affixed over a picture frame. Each time she saw it she exclaimed at how much she liked it. Each time I reminded her of our visit, no longer in her memory. Even as she couldn't remember the facts of our visit she remembered how it made her feel. She tells me that she likes when I come in because we go out and do things together. Once I opened up the world to her. She seems to remember the exhilaration of the unknown that we once experienced together even as new facts are quickly shed. Remembering the feeling is enough.

Solnit draws a distinction between losing things and getting lost.

"Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train.

Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss."

I picture my mother and I on a train. She facing back and me forward, as we share this journey.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Museum Meanders 2

After several large museums we needed a palate cleanser. We headed out to a small museum called the Museo Cerralbo. This museum used to be the home of the Marquise de Cerralbo (1845-1922) who was an inveterate collector of many objects including a wide range of paintings. While the collection included an El Greco, Tintoretto and Zubaran, the salon style did not lend itself to easy viewing of art. It was more interesting as a perspective on how the wealthy of that period lived as the home still reflects the way in which they lived in it. Periodically I would glance out the window at the busy street and feel wrested from a turn of the century world.

An hour later we were on the street by the Parque del Oeste, near the Royal Palace of Madrid. Within the park is the Temple de Debod, an Egyptian temple from 2BC which was a gift from Egypt to Spain. The temple is open and free to visitors and is an unexpected surprise in a Madrid park.

We walked to the end of the park, down steep steps, along a road that bordered the railroad tracks and across a railroad bridge filled with striking graffiti to arrive at the Pantheon de Goya. The chapel of San Antonio de la Florida contains Goya's tomb as well as his artwork. His frescos decorate the cupola and ceiling. Mirrors assist you in viewing the frescos on the ceiling. An identical chapel was built next door to allow this building to be devoted to a Goya Museum.

After leaving the chapel we discovered the Cafe Mingo, the oldest cider house in Madrid.  Since 1888 it has been serving roasted chicken and homemade cider. We were charmed and a bit intimidated, faced with finding vegetarian items for my husband. I was delighted when the "chicken man" consented to my request for a photo.

A short walk took us to the Palace Real and its park and gardens which presented beautiful vistas while a peacock strutted over his domain.

The next day we were ready once again for a foray to a big museum, the Prado.  We had been to the Prado twice before and I don't think we've ever "finished" it, though not for lack of trying.  We did a focused visit with an emphasis on the Spanish artists that one often does not see elsewhere -Velasquez, Goya, Ribera, El Greco and Zuberan with additional visits to Bosch and Rembrandt.  Seven hours later we limped out of the museum.  Bested once again.  Unfortunately they don't allow photos so it is all a pleasant mush in my head.

The following day we decided to go to Toledo. We had been there once before, but many things had been closed. This year is the four hundred year anniversary of El Greco's death and they are showcasing his many works in Toledo where he lived for much of his life.  Toledo is also the home to two of the three remaining synagogues in Spain. We took a train from the nearby Atocha station and then caught a bus up the steep hill to Toledo.  When we exited the bus we were faced with a warren of narrow streets leading downhill.  Street names change frequently so it took some time to get oriented.  Banners announced El Greco sites, many of which are church altarpieces that he painted. We found our way to the El Greco museum which houses his paintings of the apostles and is recreated in the style of his time.

It is located in the former Jewish district so almost next door was the synagogue I was seeking. The Synagogue of El Transito felt mosque-like in its design, ornate and intricate, but there embedded in carvings was Hebrew text, 522 years after the Jews were expelled from Spain.  It was built with the support of the King and his treasurer Samuel Levi.  It later became a church when the Jews were expelled.

Madre by Sorolla
Today was our last day in Madrid and a very satisfying one.  We had two small museums on our list, the Sorolla Museum and the Lazaro Galdiano.  The Sorolla Museum is the former home of Joaquin Sorolla who painted around the turn of the century.  He was quite successful in his own time and is known for his striking use of light.  His home was beautiful and we got a flavor for how he lived as well as enjoying his artwork. I especially loved a painting he did upon the birth of his third child.

San Diego de Alcala by Zubaran
Nearby was the Lazaro Galdiano museum, the former home of Galdiano.  Galdiano was a wealthy publisher and had an amazing art collection that holds extensive Goyas, several paintings by Bosch and my favorite Zubaran.

And on our way to the metro stop, one last museum, an outdoor one of sculpture, the Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre de la Castellana.

So concludes our travels in Portugal and Spain. And that art museum list we keep of those we've visited; we're up to 145.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Museum Meanders 1

Much of our time in Madrid has been devoted to museums. The weather is a big determinant of our activities. Rain is a real threat at this time of year so plans remain flexible. We check the forecast regularly assessing the feasibility of day trips.

In my earlier travels I used to spend time seeking that unique item that would remind me of our travels. My best discovery was a hand carved chess set in Granada with beautiful Spanish faces adorning each piece. On our last trip to Paris we came home with a sculpture of a horse that still gives me great pleasure, but such discoveries are unexpected. Madrid is filled with souvenir shops that are unlikely to divulge such treasures so instead we admire the treasures of its museums.

One thing to be aware of is when museums are free, especially the larger museums that are more costly. Not all of them share this information on their site. We set out Monday morning for the Thyssen-Bornemisza which is free from noon til four on Mondays. As most museums are closed on this day, it is a good use of one's time.

We had been to the Thyssen twice before and it is hands down my favorite museum in Madrid. We arrived shortly before noon and joined a long line that ran out the courtyard and around the block. We were inside the museum within ten minutes and began our visit at the top with the Italian primitives. The collection spans Italian, German, Dutch, Flemish and Spanish work through the 18th century. It includes Renaissance and Baroque art, Impressionism, post-Impressionism and German Expressionism. It also explores European and American artists up through the 20th century from Cubism to European post-war figurative art. It is an amazing art history course spanning seven centuries and has high quality pieces representing each artist.

When we go to museums I take photos of favorite paintings. I have electronic folders of images and labels from many museums. I find that the act of photographing fixes a painting in my memory. Sometimes I focus on a theme such as portraits. I am especially interested in how artists achieved certain effects, particularly ones that I might want to attempt. I am also intrigued by unexpected paintings from artists with which I am familiar. For example I associate Raoul Dufy with brightly colored, sketchy paintings of the French Riviera so was intrigued by a realistic painting titled The Fish Market which dates to 1904/5 right before he became familiar with Matisse and shifted to Fauvism.
On the way to the Thyssen we were intrigued by the building of the CaixaForum Cultural Center with its stunning vertical garden. It exhibits retrospectives of artists from earlier time periods. We discovered that they too were free on Mondays and stopped there later for an exhibition that explored the beginning of Western civilization through objects representing mythology and philosophy. It is well worth a visit for the building alone and the excellent exhibition felt like a bonus.

Every large city seems to have a Bella Arte museum. In Madrid it is known as the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. The museum is associated with the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of which Goya was once a member. The museum is free on Wednesdays. The highlights of this museum are a number of Goya's including two self portraits. There are also five Zubaran monk paintings, always favorites of mine. One floor is devoted to a contemporary exhibition of members of the Academy which we thought was quite exceptional.

The Reine Sophia is close to our hotel so we decided to go over Sunday when they are free 1:30-7:00 PM. They have had an expansion since our last visit with a distinctive red facade and roof. We were disappointed to learn that it was only free for selected exhibitions so returned later in the week for the permanent collection. On past visits I had enjoyed this museum with excellent text in English and a clear flow through periods of contemporary art. That seemed to have disintegrated and we found the flow confusing. As expected Guernica attracted a considerable crowd. There are many artists who are represented who may be well-known in Spain, but with whom I was not familiar. When I searched for one that I admired, I learned that he had little presence outside of Spain. It is interesting to be reminded that our knowledge of art history, especially contemporary history, may vary geographically.

Coming soon...Museum Meanders 2

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fresh Eyes

Our trip is composed of both the new and the familiar. We've been to Madrid on several occasions, but never Portugal. Thus I have the opportunity to view Portugal through fresh eyes, a heightened awareness of the things that fall outside of my daily experience.

Déjà vu

While Portugal is new to me, it still has the echo of similar places. When one has traveled a lot there is often a sense of déjà vu even if one has never been in the specific place before. Our first evening here we walked up a main street lined with restaurants. Tables filled the center of the wide avenue as people thronged about. It had an eerie familiarity that I struggled to place, finally remembering a similar street in Jerusalem, almost picturing the Jerusalem shops layered over this Portuguese street.

Lisbon is a very hilly city, built on seven hills. I did not expect it to conjure up San Francisco, but the downhill vistas with vintage cable cars chugging uphill certainly did exactly that. San Francisco is also built on seven hills. There is even an orange suspension bridge in Lisbon that looks uncannily like the Golden Gate. I was to learn that it was designed by the same architect.

Portuguese Pavement

When we first arrived in Lisbon and exited our metro, I was struck by one of the unique features of Portugal, the mosaic sidewalks in black basalt and white limestone. Each street seems to have a unique pattern and they are truly works of art. In the evening light they glow. Patterns suggest sailing ships, mermaids or simply elegant abstract designs. It is often referred to as Portuguese pavement and was initially installed in the mid 1800s. Squares and plazas are often the location of the more involved patterns. I already find it useful in identifying different locations and spend a lot of time looking down.

Hills, Tiles and Clotheslines

On our first morning in Lisbon we ventured out on our own walking tour. As we walked up several sets of steps and then continued up hill, it dawned on me exactly how hilly Lisbon is. I needed to feel it in my muscles and breathing to fully appreciate it. Our hotel is close to the water where the ground is level, but as we ventured forth it was all uphill. We gradually climbed higher until we finally began to move downhill through neighborhoods of narrow streets. Clothes hung from windows fluttering picturesquely in the wind. We conjectured Monday must be Portuguese laundry day. Many of the buildings had tile facades in a variety of unusual designs, another detail uniquely Portuguese. Artful graffiti covered many buildings, certainly not unique to Lisbon, but notably good graffiti.


Enticing Food


We descended down to the water where the trains, buses and cable cars ran alongside the port. Huge cruise ships anchored not far from graceful sailboats while cranes moved boxes overhead. It is hard to get lost in Lisbon. You need only aim downhill and follow the coastline.

In route we passed the market and were puzzled by the Time Out neon sign. It looked like the magazine logo. We soon learned that this is Time Out's first foodie venture and just opened in May. They have installed 35 food kiosks representing a wide variety of food. Five top chefs have restaurants there. They will be adding exhibition space as they continue to execute their concept. Next to this extensive food court is the fish and produce market.

Today we went to Belem, an area on the outskirts of Lisbon which is known for custard pastries called Pastels de Belem. We brought a few back to our room to enjoy, quite a decadent feast. Aside from that we've been eating a lot of fish, especially cod which is prepared many different ways. My husband, who eats vegetarian plus fish, has not had trouble finding interesting foods from which to choose.

A Travel Oasis

We've been adding new art museums to our museum list. Nothing that has overwhelmed me yet, but some striking pieces scattered about. A room of Zubaran saints and a Hieronymus Bosch in the Museu Antiga, a Rembrandt in the Gulbenkian, a good scan of contemporary art since 1900 at the Berardo. Museums are often the destination around which we plan our day, an oasis when you travel offering clean restrooms, good cafés, wifi and art.

We have one more day left in Portugal and plan to go to Cascais, a small fishing village nearby. The draw for us is a museum of work by Paula Rego, an artist I've become familiar with on-line. Then on to Madrid.



Monday, November 3, 2014

Happy Birthday in Portuguese

This blog started as a bit of a travel journal when I was traveling to Lithuania five years ago. Every so often it returns to its roots when I write of my travels...

I always forget the parts of travel that I don't like. Until that is, when I remember them as they occur once again. I had booked a trip to Lisbon and Madrid for my birthday, an effort to begin my year with an activity that I love. The night before we had gone to my stepdaughter's to drop off our cat, originally her cat on permanent loan, thus a lifetime of free cat sitting. It was Halloween, a date we usually share with them, thus avoiding buying too much candy for the few trick or treaters that arrive at our home and instead enjoying the costumes of our grandchildren.

It was also the last day to prepare for our trip when the fundamental difference between my husband and I arises and with it the stress level. He first begins to think about what he might bring. Meanwhile I have listed and packed and re-packed, eliminating one thing and adding another many times over as I try to figure out what will fit into a carry-on. Now this was difficult to do because in our household my husband does the laundry. Yes, I know that's a good thing and most of the time he has my deep appreciation. When he saw my rather imperfect folds early in our relationship he quietly took over that duty. It made perfect sense to me. When I was growing up I would take any package that needed to be wrapped to my dad who with engineer precision would fold the paper precisely into a sharply wrapped package. In my world guys know how to fold. Now however, I awaited half of my clothes because my husband wanted them done at the last minute for maximum cleanliness. I tell you this to let you know that our different personalities were already tripping over each other.

We sped to his daughter's with me driving, finishing up a conference call on bluetooth while he held our meowing cat on his lap. Now in our hurry to get out the door while thinking of my travel list, I forgot that I never drive with him in the passenger's seat. There is a reason for this. He is not a good passenger. "What are you doing?" he yelled at one point. I glared at him as his voice transmitted on my call along with the meows of our cat. Later he advised me I should be thinking about getting over to the right lane. I quickly moved over. "Why did you do that?" he asked. "You told me to," I replied. He informed me he just wanted me to think about it so I could shift at the opportune time. I don't work that way. Tell me you need something eventually, I pick it up immediately. Got to cross it off my mental list. It burdens me until I do. Apparently I am a precrastinator according to a recent NYT article. My husband has a reserve list of to dos unaccompanied by a sense of burden. He doesn't understand this trait in me nor do I understand his lack of it.

The next evening we entered the plane with seats in two separate rows. When I booked the flight Delta's system was not working properly so they booked me on Air France, a shared flight, rather than directly on Delta. As I recall I called Air France to book our seats on their leg. The day before our flight I logged into Delta and was aghast when it advised me we had no seats on that flight. A few middle seats remained. I quickly grabbed the last of a bad deal, only then realizing that they probably weren't reflecting what Air France had booked for the flight and no doubt had just overridden them. A panicked phone call later and a lot of begging had landed me two seats, an aisle and a window in different rows. A kind man next to me was now willing to trade his seat. That negotiation completed my husband and I now sat side by side.

When I fly overseas I am always torn between so many activities that seem to counter sleep. In that narrow window between meals, do I want to watch Boyhood, finish reading Gone Girl, or sleep, sleep in an uncomfortably tight space with limbs compacted and the distraction of many glowing screens around me? So I watched Boyhood and finished Gone Girl, arriving in Paris with eyes drooping from lack of sleep. Somewhere along the flight my husband wished me a happy birthday, but I'm not sure in which time zone or country it had occurred. I was still in that unmoored state where I was zooming through time zones with no allegiance to one.

A four hour wait in Paris, eyes bleary, and we boarded a plane to Lisbon. I noticed one flight attendant testing the size of bags in one row and quietly slid into the other row, my body hiding my slightly larger carry-on. We were determined to do this trip on two carry-ons. I successfully got my bag on and stowed, when I realized this was an old plane. Ashtrays were still embedded in the arms. The seats were the tightest I've ever experienced, as if they had added rows to maximize capacity, far in excess of the limits of the human body. If it was tight for my frame, I couldn't imagine how my husband was faring. I glanced over, his legs were splayed, one knee in each direction.

Finally we touched down and happily, albeit a bit groggily, rolled our two carry-ons from the plane. I hate packing to travel light, but I love the simplicity of the arrival. We got our Euros from the cash machine, found the metro at the airport and loaded up two metro cards. One transfer delivered us up the street from our hotel. I love to find interesting hotels on Trip Advisor and was pleased with my discovery of My Story Hotel. I was even more pleased when we got a call asking if they could check something in the room and they arrived with two slices of a flourless chocolate torte and fruit. The hotel clerk even did a fine rendition of Happy Birthday in Portuguese. Ahh, the night was improving. Now this is where I should be posting a picture of this wonderful dessert, but we devoured it before that thought occurred to us.

We wandered around the surrounding area and walked down to the water, a few blocks from our hotel. The plazas and street were alive with people milling about and the sounds of street musicians. We ate a late dinner and returned to our hotel to catch up on our many hours of lost sleep. I am usually a glass half full person, but even I must confess that there was very little pleasure in the preparation and flying part of our trip. I'm glad to finally get to the fun part. More to come...



Thursday, October 16, 2014

That Which Remains

I call my mother every morning to help her launch her day. She is in her late 80s and her memory is flagging. I answer the same questions many times in the course of our phone call. She retains the answer for a nanosecond and then it is gone. I answer calmly again and again. I am often an impatient person, but I enter another zone when dealing with my mother. Impatience serves no purpose and would only distress her.

Earlier this week I reminded her that I'd be coming to visit her. She squealed with delight. Then she said, "maybe it's good that I forget things because I get to get excited all over again when I remember." Now this is optimism at its finest. There are many jokes like this about Alzheimer's, but I'm here to tell you that they are true.

Before I encountered memory loss close up, I thought of it as an on-off switch. You either had it or you didn't. Now I realize it is far more complex. We tend to think about the extremes, when a loved one no longer knows who we are or retreats into silence. I often have people express concern about my mother, projecting their experience with the disease. People who knew my mother's active curiosity about the world are most dismayed, aware of what has been lost. I want to remind them that there is still much that remains. There are many faces to Alzheimer's and they don't all need to be coupled with distress. Sometimes we get so focused on the loss that we fail to appreciate what is right in front of us.

If I only had my phone calls with my mother, perhaps I would feel the loss more deeply. They have shrunk in content. What was once a rich relationship, filled with confiding and the occasional book review, now revolves around reminders of pills and which aide will arrive when. I have found that our relationship is best conducted face to face. With a stretch of time to talk, different sides emerge.

I come to visit her every few months and stay for a week. It is a different quality of time to have a week. My sister, who lives in the same state, comes in weekly for an overnight visit. It is the highlight of my mother's week, but is filled with hair appointments, grocery shopping, the functional needs of everyday life. I have a longer stretch and it allows for things to bubble up.

I think about what I can bring on my visits that will enrich her life. It is all a bit of an experiment. On one visit we did family history collages together, on another she heard me do a talk on genealogy for a local organization. Sometimes I introduce her to a new food with mixed results. We go to museums, 3-D movies, trolley rides and botanical gardens. She doesn't have much physical energy anymore so I need to tailor what we do to her capacity, but the act of showing up seems to be deeply satisfying to her. I used to take her on rather intense trips to Europe, filled with activity and stimulation. The stimulation from what we do during my visits triggers a residual memory for her. "We have a special relationship", she says. "We understand each other. We always traveled well together."

I was the traveling daughter who exposed her to the world. My sister provided the grandchildren. We speak to different sides of my mother. We each feed different aspects of her memory about herself. I tell her, "you always enjoyed exploring new things. You just needed to be with someone you trusted who would lead the way." That feels right to her. "You know me so well," she replies.

My mother was always a reader, but can no longer retain the thread of a story. I decided to try something different with her on this visit. I've been taking an essay class so have been writing personal essays. I read her some of them, thinking perhaps a short story with some familiar elements that was read to her would be somehow more accessible. She listened intently, absorbed in story. I realize that my touchstone in this terrain is my knowledge about her and the things we shared.



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Avocado Memory

You may notice some differences in this blog's layout. Since I cover a variety of topics, I've set it up so you can use the labels at the top to pull blogs by topic. I will be continuing to add to it over time as new topics develop. In addition to topics, I've also provided a link to my art/genealogy website as well as to those blog entries that seem to get the most hits. Hopefully this will make it easier to access the content you find most of interest.

I always feel a bit remiss when time goes by without me writing in my blog. It has become a ritual in my life. Often I use it to remember some detail of my life, a bit of a public journal. I have been taking an essay class and all my writing juice has gone towards the weekly essays that I write which are too long for a blog post.

I have had a few realizations in this class. One is that when one writes essays they are by their nature personal. I suspect I will know my classmates well. There is an intimacy to essay, a sharing of self. As a private person, I sometimes struggle with that and yet that is the power of essay. It allows us to connect with others through the personal which much to our surprise is often universal. I am also aware that some of my best material will never exist in the public realm as it is too raw, too revealing. In some cases I protect another person. To write of them would be a betrayal of their public self, no matter how accurate in the moment of time of which I write. It is still only a moment seen through one person's eyes. Like the blind man and the elephant, I can never capture the totality of another person, just glimpses.

At each class some of us are asked to read our essay. This means our teacher liked our work and felt it captured the approach we were exploring. I must confess to feeling some relief when she approached me before class to ask me to read my work. I thought my essay was strong, but it is easy to be too close to your own material. Even when I read my work to my husband, I really can't get an outside perspective. He knows my stories, my way of thinking so he is not really an arms-length listener. Reading is an opportunity to test your material on a new audience. I've read poetry aloud to an audience, but never an essay of my own construction on a topic that is by its nature personal. Nothing encoded to decipher, just out there, exposed.

This essay was to take the approach of a whorl of reflection, circling, spiraling around a subject. This approach is quite true to my natural process. My mind goes in circles around a topic. I have often described it like a dog circling before settling in. I wrote an essay around memory, the topic of my current explorations. Although I wrote about my mother's experience with loss of memory, I started with the way I remember people through food and how spatial sense is so key to memory. I find I am liking the process of entering a topic, finding a doorway in through some random thread that then leads into meatier content.

Here's a brief excerpt of the lighter part of this essay, the introduction to the topic of memory.

I eat a spinach salad every day. I fill it with all of my favorite foods, toasted pecans, roasted asparagus and fennel, feta cheese and dried cherries and the coup de resistance, four slices of avocado. Every so often I find one that is perfectly ripe. It is then that I think of my friend Carol who introduced me to the avocado.

Carol was the spouse of a co-worker of my then-husband. We were young, in our 20s. They were our couple friends, a construct that seldom worked for me, much too hard to have everyone like each other, but Carol I liked. She had an intelligence about her and a curiosity.

I remember Carol holding out an avocado to me as we stood in her kitchen. "It's a perfect avocado" she said as she cut into its soft, creamy, yellow-green surface. She set the pit aside to join another in a bottle on her window, held in place with toothpicks. It was just beginning to root.

I had lost touch with her soon after we moved to Minnesota 35 years ago. My daily avocado often elicited her memory. Periodically I searched for her, but she had a common name. I assumed she'd split up with her then spouse. We were all too careless for relationships to survive, at least in their original "til death do us part" form. We still believed in second chances so were far too cavalier with life and love.

Once when I got together with my ex-husband for one of our birthday lunches, a tradition we've continued for the 30+ years since we split up, I asked him if he knew where our old friends were. He too had lost touch with them.

As it turned out I was the first to hear from them or at least from Carol. A few weeks ago she contacted me on Facebook. A different married name appended, a different location than those I had searched. We exchanged a series of messages to catch up on our 35 year separation. One of my first comments to her was "I think of you whenever I eat an avocado."

The essay then goes on to address how little we use our capacity for memory and recollections about family members who lost memory. I describe my grandmother who lost her memory early and lived with us for a time when I was a child.

I think a lot about memory these days as I watch my mother's fade. We spend the first part of our life collecting memories only to lose them at the end. My mother lived her life in fear of losing her memory. Her mother lost her's early, beginning in her 60s I think. No one was too sure of her exact age until I began researching family. She lived with us for two years when I was a child. I remember her twisting the buttons on her sweater. She had what I thought of as an old people's smell. She used to sweep our carpet with a broom. "No grandma" we'd say, gently taking the broom from her hands. She only spoke Yiddish. I remember her sitting in the kitchen polishing silver. It gave her comfort and calmed her restless hands.

When she lived with us she used to do the Sabbath blessing. It was the only time it was done in our house. Some years ago I did a painting of her doing that blessing. Memory of blessing, both hers and mine, filtered through my mother. When I worked on it, I sent it back and forth to my mother, trying to capture the image, waiting for my mother's blessing. "Her hands need to be more work-worn" my mother said. I tried yet again. Finally she replied, "Yes, I see her!" When I stood before the painting, I stood to its side, assuming my place at the table of my childhood.

I'm having fun with this. No idea what I do with these as I polish them, but the mere act of writing is richly satisfying, even more so when classmates respond so warmly to what I read.