Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hedgehogs

When my grannie was a child in Ireland, she told me how she spent hours playing with wild hedgehogs in the hedgerows dividing the fields. I imagined her crawling into tangled briar hedges to rescue them from themselves as they snoozed snug as dormice in their little dens. So I've always been intrigued by them.

In Scotland, they say it's bad luck to encounter a hedgehog, or, as they call it, a furzepig, on any road, high or low, after dark. But hedgehogs only come out at dusk. Does that mean hedgehogs are bad luck no matter what? Or is it strictly an off-road love affair?

Someone, most likely an Englishman visiting his summer holiday croft, ferried hedgehogs in a handbag to the Hebrides in 1974—ostensibly to control the snails and slugs in his garden. Things got out of hand. Hedgehogs now outnumber Uist island residents 2:1.

Hedgehogs, whose only living relatives are umpossom-ably ugly Borneo moonrats, share a distant ancestry to shrews. They are voracious as pigs and rats, and have no natural enemies. And that spells bad luck for shore birds and other ground-nesting birds, including the corncrake, as they are endangered due to the groundhog's lustful appetites. According to hedgehogs—escargot is overrated. They prefer their eggs raw.

I once heard corncrakes gather at dusk in the hedges of Iona singing like electric fences. Uist now exports more non-native hedgehogs than sheep to the Scottish mainland. So much for the corncrakes. There are only so many ways you can prepare a shepherd pie of hedgehog and wild haggis. The Hebrides hogs are routinely airlifted to Ayrshire. WWRB say? Tae A Hedgehoglet? Not exactly a sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie for a' tha.

Meanwhile, washerwoman Mrs Tiggy-Winkle's relatives have their own rather mundane holiday hovel hidaway replete with tiny clothespegs in Beatrix Potter's garden in Dunkeld near Birnam Wood, not the Lake District, as was previously reported. I bet you didn't even know Peter Rabbit was as Scottish as Macbeth. Och, but that's an old Entish tale that's still waiting to be told.
Hedgehog by Luke Clennell 1815
All 17 species of hedgehogs worldwide are named after Ireland—Erin, not Scotland or England.
Order:Erinaceomorpha
Family:Erinaceidae
Subfamily:Erinaceinae

Meanwhile in merry olde England, hedgehogs really are an endangered species. Go figure. They have had a long run (er, waddle) of very bad luck crossing the roads ever since Henry Ford got inventive. The cars win every time. Cars: plus 100%. Hedgehogs minus 75%.

Besides, hedgehogs rather look like little scullery brushes scooting across the road. The chickens have a much better track record. They have wings. I don't think we're ready for the idea of winged hedgehogs. So now there are little hedgehog tunnels to help them cross the road to get to the other side. (Don't go toward the light!)

In England, there are hedgehog hospitals for the hedgehog survivors (and the occasional bad-temperred badger) who've had run-ins with lawnmowers and such—St. Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital being the busiest in the world. (Ya can't make this stuff up!)

Hedgehog is from Middle English heyg-hoge, via a circuitous street Latin hericion-em, via the Greek kher, meaning yrchon, or, urchin. An yrchon hab a litel body and many pikes and prikkes. The young are called hoglets. Really.

Since hedgehog was a preferred delicacy of the medieval riche, Chaucer probably ate hedgehog in cameline sauce—whatever that is. The camel part worries me. Some recipes from the Middle Ages called for hedgehog meat puddings studded with slivered almonds. This is how we know what they were called.
Putte hem in a Spete as men don piggys; take a litel prycke, & prykke þe yrchons, an putte in þe holes þe Almaundys….
 (Sounds suspiciously like a haggis recipe.)

According to The People's Cookbook, roasted hedgehog on a spit was an ancient Briton favorite dating back some 8,000 years. Apparently "the meat of a hedgehog is good for lepersand is also a guaranteed pissy diuretic. Think asparagus.

The English have been coining similes and false syllogisms of man (and knights) with hedgehogs dating back to Anglo-Saxon era. 
Made him with arwis (arrows) ot ther malis most wikke Rassemble an yrchon (hedgehog) fulfilled with spynys thikke. 
They also thought hedgehogs stole apples by rolling home with them in tandem like dunghill beetles. Or that the crafty buggers snuck up on dozing cows to steal milk straight from the teat while they y-slept unawares. Talk about spilt milk.

They say the gypsies still bake them in clay (to remove the spines). They stole children too—especially those street urchins. The gypsies, not the hedgehogs—nor the lepers.

*      *      *
During the summer of 1989, I was walking the tree-lined backstreets of Cherkassy with a new Soviet friend. As we strolled along the banks of the Dnipr River one sultry evening, we unfolded the good linen stories of our lives—and a hedgehog snuffled across our path. I scooped it up as it tried to waddle away.

Oleg said NO! It was bad luck to pick a hedgehog up, they were "quite disgusting." The same way he spoke of the street tziganii (gypsies). But I wanted to see one up close. 

The hedgehog grunted and snuffled like a little pig and tried to curl into a kootchie ball but he was far too fat. He gave up and stared at me with beady eyes—completely unafraid. Snorfling asthmatically all the while. We eyed each other in the gloaming. The fat hedgehog and I.

It was then my Soviet friend said, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." He told me that hedgehogs could predict the weather. We were in the midst of the great Soviet Thaw. That was pretty big. He said it was an old Ukrainian custom to entice hedgehogs into the garden with saucers of milk, who repay them by eating garden snails and pests.

Alas, the hedgehog had critters of his own nesting between his spines (the hedgehog, not my friend) so I was not willing to hold him for very long for fear of fleas and ticks and lice.

Eventually our luck ran out. Sometimes that is the way of the heart crossing the road late at night. No one to blame but the weather.

*      *      *
When my grandmother was staring death in the eye, she complained of hedgehogs loose in the living room again.

We put out saucers of milk, just in case.



See Hedgehog Tale Index

Used with kind permission from Alastair Johnston Hedgehog by Luke Clennell is not technically public domain: since i uploaded it, it's in MY domain, but you may link to it, Mo, here's the first page of hedgehog text, it's from Recreations in Natural History, 1815.

On Lugh and Leprechauns


Celtic deity  Lugus[1]

My grannie once told me that if you were clever and quiet enough to sneak up and catch that little leprechaun who hides his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, while he was busy at work, most likely he'd be smoking his pipe and cobbling a brogue, or a shoe.

Then, if you caught him, you got three wishes. But don't let go, don't take your eyes off him for one instant—or poof! He'll be gone in a blinding flash. And don't take any coinage he offers. It'll turn to stone at first light.

OK, so for years I thought little old Mr. Berini, the Italian cobbler who lived down the road, was a leprechaun. I'd sneak up on him but he was merely busy cobbling our shoes in his basement, nothing more.

But he only charged my grannie a quarter for resoling our shoes. In hindsight, she was probably just trying to get me to go away or be quiet. Mr. Berini must've thought I was a peculiarly "touched" child, I'm sure.

Some scholars think the origin of the diminutive Irish leprechaun was an offshoot of the bigger-than-life Celtic god of all crafts, the Irish Lugh Lámhfhada (Lew of the long arm), or his cognates, Welsh Ludd, or Lleu Llaw Gyffes, (Lew of the Skillful Hand), and the Gaulish triune god, Lugus. (The Romans equated Lugos/Lugus with Mercury).
Votive inscription to Lugus. Lugo,Galicia.
The great god Lugh (whose –Proto-Celtic moniker,*Lug-" is embedded in dozens of European cities—from London, to Leiden, to Laon), was erroneously referred to as the shining one, or a sun god before the advancement of Proto Indo-European linguistics proved it to be a false cognate.


Though Lugh was the maker of shoes, and master of all crafts, his name is not related to the Proto Indo-European leuk, and the later Latinate cognate, luz, or light—besides there already is a minor Gaulish Celtic lightning god Leucetios‚ whose name does stem from leuk. And we don't want to invoke lightning and rain. 


You're probably wondering why I've gone off the deep end writing about leprechauns during high summer. Other than it's nearly half way to St. Patrick's Day, I was responding to a Facebook post by Celtic Mythology, August, Lúghnasadh, is Lugh's month. The harvest month approacheth. Besides, our summer months, dubbed Junuary and now, apparently, Julyuary, have been socked in with thick fog and drizzle. What sun?
In Irish mythology, the Lughnasadh festival is said to have been begun by the god Lugh (modern spelling: Lú) as a funeral feast and sporting competition in commemoration of his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture. —Wiki
Lughnasadh, the night of the wicker man,
the burning man set aflame
Full moon marks the first harvest
The plain ripens, bellydeep in bright grain.

Some scholars think that the leprechaun is not a vestige of the pre-Christian Celtic pantheon at all.

Others say he was an invention of the Irish Tourist Board. I think he was a hangover invention of the Saint Patrick's Day Parade.

Clearly when Lugh got snared in the web of medieval hagiography in Christian Ireland, he got the roughshod Cinderella treatment and was subsequently shrunk like a wool sock in the hot water laundry cycle.

The leprechaun is supposed to be a singular entity (no plural hoardes or tribelets—that too seems to be a Disney-meets-Bord Failte Eireann shenanighan—courtesy of Darby O'Gill and the Little People).

According to the Facebook site, Celtic Mythology, “The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopedia of Myth legend and Romance”, renowned folklore collector and native Gaelic speaker and poet, the late professor, Dathi Ó hÓgáin, stated that "the designation luchorpán was only invented in Ireland when the lore of dwarf communities was adopted from abroad by Irish writers and that the solitary leprechaun of folklore is a post-medieval development from the literature." (Collins Press, Cork, 2006; pp. 308-9).

University College Dublin Professor Dathi Ó hÓgáin's post-medieval claim is interesting in that luchorpán is clearly not a native Goidelic Irish word. Not with that "p" in it. There is no "p" in Goidelic. The Irish were positively allergic to plosives. This is how you can spot loan words in Irish, like páiste (from the word, page, or child, not the cymbals!) Or Welsh—map; Irish cognate—mac (son).

But I don't think it's quite that simple, as the term is indeed used in Old Irish texts.

A quick internet search reveals that the earliest version of "luchorpán" (a water sprite) was used in the 8th century in "Echtra Fergusa maic Léti". But it's a far stretch of the imagination—let alone, linguistics, as luchorpán mixes Church Latin with Irish—to be a native irish word.The Old Irish, lúchorpán is a hybrid word— lú means “small” and corp means “body.”

But Lú, or Lugh, also means the really BIG baddass god dude. What's a neopagan to do to keep the Cailleachan ("Storm Hags") at bay? The leprechaun's abode seems to be a curious conspiracy of sunlight and rain.

Of course, the watery luchorpán might have been a different entity altogether that was later conflated with Lugh and the leprechaun. Still, there's that pesky "p" to contend with.... And we know that those sooty godlets, the leprechauns, who live in caves, or wood huts deep in the woods, are not particularly fond of water, other than their Swiss bank vaults at the ends of rainbows.


The page from the Free Dictionary has some interesting information that seems plausible.

Leprechaun  n. One of a race of elves in Irish folklore who can reveal hidden treasure to those who catch them.

[Irish Gaelic luprachán, alteration of Middle Irish luchrupán, from Old Irish luchorpán : luchorp (lú-, small; see legwh-in Indo-European roots + corp, body from Latin corpus; seekwrep- in Indo-European roots) + -án, diminutive suff.]
lepre·chaunish adj.

Word History: Nothing seems more Irish than the leprechaun; yet hiding within the word leprechaun is a word from another language entirely. If we look back beyond Modern Irish Gaelic luprachán and Middle Irish luchrupán to Old Irish luchorpán, we can see the connection. Luchorpán is a compound of Old Irish lú, meaning "small," and the Old Irish word corp, "body." Corp is borrowed from Latin corpus (which we know from habeas corpus). Here is a piece of evidence attesting to the deep influence of Church Latin on the Irish language. Although the word is old in Irish it is fairly new in English, being first recorded in 1604.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

and

leprechaun [ˈlɛprəˌkɔːn]

n (Myth & Legend / European Myth & Legend) (in Irish folklore) a mischievous elf, often believed to have a treasure hoard

[from Irish Gaelic leipreachān, from Middle Irish lūchorpān, fromlū small + corp body, from Latin corpus body]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003


See also: How Lleu Llaw Gyffes Got his Name

Another Lugh link from Celtic Mythology with some interesting Indo-European connections.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

HEDGEHOG: NOTES ON DEATH

HEDGEHOG: NOTES ON DEATH

In the Ukraine, old people set out
saucers of milk for the hedegehogs
who repay them by eating garden bugs.
They say they do it because 
the hedgehogs bring them good luck.

In Great Britain and the Isle of Man
hedgehogs have achieved royal status.
There are hedgehog road crossings 
and tiny hedgehog hospitals 
for wounded Tiddilywinkles. 

When she was a child in Ireland, 
my grandmother loved to play with them.
She dragged them like puppies
around the farm of Coomb an Or.

When my grandmother lay close to dying, 
she complained of hedgehogs
loose in the living room—again.
With that, I wondered if dying 
was a bit like child's play.

7/22/12

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Alexander Cockburn, Dead and Alive


When I worked for the West Sonoma County Paper (aka The Paper, The Independent, then The North Bay Bohemian) we knew Alex Cockburn because he wrote for a sister newspaper, The Anderson Valley Advertiser, and he'd often send us missives (and books) that kept us up late at night changing our headlines on more than one occasion.

Cockburn wrote for both radical and conservative newspapers and magazines—from the Wall Street Journal to The Village Voice. He penned a controversial column for The Nation, called "Beat the Devil." And so he did. With a stick. Nothing was sacrosanct. His newsletter, CounterPunch sucker-punched greasy politicians right and left. Alex was a bit of a Schrödinger's cat, he could argue both sides of the quantum superposition paradox and come out smiling. 

I first met Alex when the Russians began coming to the North Bay—we had a grand Irish confab in the middle of all that splendid Soviet defection at a Booneville winery. I was covering Soviet artists for The Paper. Did I have the presence of mind to photograph Alex? Not sure. I think not. And now he's gone. There's a hole in the universe where he used to be. I don't have the heart to write an obituary. So this will have to do. Goodbye old man. Like Lenin said, "Be as radical as reality."  I know you will take those pearly gates by storm.

July 21, 2012 
added and expanded 7/24/16

first draft
When I worked for the Western Sonoma County Paper (aka Independent/NB Bohemian) we knew Alex because he wrote for a sister newspaper, Anderson Valley Advertiser, and he'd often send us missives (and books) that kept us up late at night–changing our headlines on more than one occasion. I met him when the Russians began coming to North Bay—did I have the presence of mind to photograph him? Not sure.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

OLD MAGYAR WOMAN

"A madjar nyelv már vesz el. Mi örögek vadjunk még, beszélünk madjarul, de az éfijúság, ezek a tinerek, ezek nem. A zién lejányom még beszél, de ja ziszkólába sak oláhul tanult, nem madjarul. De tud madjarul jól. Az onkáim isz tudnak madjarul, de nem ura fórdjiccák vissza."       —Fotó: Ádám Gyula
























—from a photo by Gyula Ádám

Csángó Magyar woman sits
in a windowed alcove stained
the color of a forgotten summer sky.
Her mind is lost in the crenulated folds
of memory and the wars, and those who left,
but her hands still know the path
to the freshly baked cornbread
moist and warm from the kemence.
Crumbs cling to the lip of the knife like a lover.
The cat speaks and weaves an intricate knot
between the staves of a 3-legged stool
that was once a wagon wheel
straddling the ruts on a dirt road,
now planted in the barren clay floor,
as the photographer records
the death rattle of an old way of life
threatened by time and culture.
She is dressed in maroon and black.
At her age, mourning is a state of being.
She wears new running shoes,
the only concession to this age.
But even Nikes will not carry her to victory.
Her sad eyes that witnessed the atrocities
of war and the devastation of her culture,
can no longer see the lacy intricacies of light
and shadow playing on the oblique walls,
billowing like stormclouds on the horizon.
The limed stucco ceiling, stained
a robin's-egg-blue to ward off the evil eye,
sloughed off in the shape of a sacred heart
to reveal the the ribs of old wood and reed.
Clouded eyes that witnessed myriad winters,
are the secret color of bauchy ice.
She can no longer see the small stitches
her skilled fingers once embroidered
on the fine tapestries covering the wall,
enscribed in a fractal language of flower & field.
The meaning of the ancient patterns—
a mother tongue translated in gutteral runes
drawn in crimson and woad, a dying language
forgotten by the modern world,
only whispered in the funereal corners
of the past.


7/18/12



kemence (phonetic: ke-men-se) is an old style earth oven/hearth.


Note bene: When I began writing this ekphrastic poem, I sensed many things, mainly the death of a folk culture. I had no idea what the backstory was or even the specific culture. I wrote blind. I wrote my way towards knowledge. It reminded me of the Irish culture, the loss and devastation of our language and culture at the hands of Great Britain and the Church.

A Hungarian-American friend, Andrew Fecskes later filled me in on the backstory, boldly translating this photo caption (below) written in an obscure archaic dialect of Old Hungarian—that even Google Translator couldn't attempt!
"A madjar nyelv már vesz el. Mi örögek vadjunk még, beszélünk madjarul, de az éfijúság, ezek a tinerek, ezek nem. A zién lejányom még beszél, de ja ziszkólába sak oláhul tanult, nem madjarul. De tud madjarul jól. Az onkáim isz tudnak madjarul, de nem ura fórdjiccák vissza."       —Fotó: Ádám Gyula
Translation: “The Magyar language is getting lost. We old ones are still here, we speak Magyar, but the young ones, these ‘teeners’, they don’t. My daughter still speaks, but in the school where she studied, not in Magyar. But she knows how to speak Magyar well. My grandchildren also know (how to speak Magyar), but they cannot turn the clock back." —Tr., Andrew Fecskes 
Andrew Fecskes added: The Csángó people's language and culture is "ancient Magyar," almost  like a time capsule. They live in Moldavia, Romania. Their culture is denied, and the government insists that they are not ethnic Magyars. So their culture is being eradicated.

The situation with the millions of ethnic Hungarians, who were stranded outside Hungary's political borders by Trianon (treaty ending WWI), is really difficult. The Magyar people believe that there will be a reuniting. Regarding rights to the picture, the site is in a very faraway place, can't get there from here...the picture is of an old woman who knows that her history will be lost forever. 

So I began to sleuth out the backstory on Wiki. I found:
Perugia, 14 November 1234: Pope Gregory IX to Bela IV, king of Hungary: "In the Cuman bishopric - as we were informed - is living a people called Vallah and others, Hungarians and Germans as well, who came here from the Hungarian Kingdom." —Wiki

Vallah: As in Wall, Walch = stranger. Wallachia. The land of strangers. Yes, I know this word. This connection might go far to explain the bagpipes. (See my Redheads blog).
WAL-GAL-Wall-/wallha- a Germanic prefix, means strangers (or Romans, but not Germans), signifies non Latin-speaking Celts. It was used to describe Romanised inhabitants of the former Roman Empire, who spoke proto-Latin or Celtic languages. (Old English: 'wealh' is 'foreigner' or 'stranger'). Walha is also a possible corruption of the name of a Celtic tribal confederation, Caesar's nemesis, the formidable La Téne Celts, the Volcae Tectosage (who invaded Macedonia and Anatolia). It also might be the origin of the word Gaul as v/w/g sounds shapeshift in Indo-European languages. European and Asia Minor place names that begin with the prefix gal-, gaul-, wal-, wel-, val- generally indicate a Celtic presence in the region.–MH
But we are speaking here of those "others," the Csángó-Hungarians…
I didn't find much iinformation in English, but I did find this link (and lovely slideshow) from National Geographic: "By their own account, they [the Csángó-Hungarians ] are the lineal heirs of Attila the Hun—a link to the nomadic ancestry of most residents of Europe, a window on the Asian origins of what we now think of as Western civilization." —Frank Viviano, 2005
The Csángós (phonetic: Changósh) are small island of Catholics in a sea of Orthodoxy, who've been persecuted for their language, folk customs, and religious beliefs. Yes, their story hold much in common with the Irish… Lest we forget, Romania was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire; post-Trianon Hungary had 72% less territory.

My further readings took most of the day, as I read up on the Dacians and Thracians and all the tribes that settled in the region. Fascinating stuff, but boggling to try and absorb the history of an entire region from time immemorial to time present in order to understand the focus my subject, the Csángó-Hungarians.

But I was also determined to find Gyula Adam on the internet so that I could use his photo to illustrate my poem. After many hours for fruitless searching, and emails sent into the blind corners of cyberspace, one Facebook link (where I found the photo online) Csángó Gyerekek wrote back:
Gyula Adam is a Hungarian photographer who lives in Csikszereda - Miercurea Ciuc, Romania. —Csángó Gyerekek
OK, so now I had a solid lead: a county of origin, a region, a city. Csángó Gyerekek also provided this email in translation. 
"Gyula Adam is one of the best photographers of Csángó-Hungarian peoples. This minority lives outside the historical Hungarian border (near the Carpathian Mountains, which includes the terrotory of Transylvania where some 1.5 million Hungarians live). But Csángó Hungarians are not originally from Hungary, they have a mystical origin—they probably didn't come from the Carpathian lowlands, but stopped there and stayed.  
   Csángó-Hungarians remain a very archaic and special culture, threatened by the Romanian government and by the Orthodox Church, who want to assimilate them—alas, with success, because in 1992 some 62 thousand Csángós spoke an archaic Hungarian language, now only 49 thousand speak their native language.
They live mostly in the region of Bacău. The 240 thousand Catholic people who live in Moldva (not the country of Moldova but the Romanian region of Moldva) are 95% Hungarian in origin, the rest are of German and Polish background. But 190 thousand already have lost their mother tongue because of violent assimilation. —Daniel Posch

I found a Flicker stream that might be Gyula Adam's work but I can't log into it to send an email. If you can log in, please drop him a note with this link. Here's hoping that someday I'll connect with Gyula Adam too to procure permission to officially use his his photo in this blog. And provide a link back to him. Meanwhile, this will have to do.

A special thanks to the Facebook site, Csángó Gyerekek (Csángó Gyerekek means Csángó Children), and to Andrew Fecskes, whom I met when we were children— in a friend's basement just as he stepped on a rusty nail that went right through his red sneaker and his foot—only to meet him again a lifetime later, on Facebook, of all places. That image, indelible in my memory.

Ekphrasis (Greek) means "to describe" or to "speak out”. Poets are sometimes inspired to describe another art form. Pick a painting or photograph that inspires you. Look deep inside the artwork for a few minutes. What do you feel, see, or question? Jot down: colors, symbols, images, memories. Use all your senses to create similes or metaphors. Then, give the art a sound or voice; enter the art and pretend you are a part of it. Or else, imagine that you are the artist, explore why and how you created the work. Shape your poem into lines, stanzas, or even a prose poem block. The Roman poet Horace once said that “poetry is a speaking picture” and “a picture is silent poetry". —From CPITS newsletter






  • FOR FURTHER READING—Some related Romanian and Hungarian blog posts of mine:

    Inexplicably, as I wrote this blog I kept thinking of someone I once corresponded with, Dr. Andrei Bantaş—who co-compiled the Romanian Dictionary—also an eminent translator and a Professor of English Literature at the University of Bucharest, Romania. I had no idea of his fame as I embarked blindly on my translating adventure. He would've liked today's sleuthing. Here's a review that he wrote about my translation work back in 1993.


    Some of my work:

    Budapest Nights
    Sultry Búdapest nights: as clichéd as it might sound, during the dog days of summer, 1992, I walked along a parapet of the fish market at sunset listening to the distant wild strains of someone playing gypsy violins.
    Sylva Tota
    A chance encounter with a stranger on a Vienna-bound Budapest train that I nearly missed— literally landed me in the lap of a rather irate Hungarian lady. She was disgruntled. I had nearly fallen off the moving train, I had enough adrenalin to lift an elephant so we got off to a rocky start.
    Ekphrastic poem: Flight of the Witches

    Ekphrastic poem: Pocahontas


  • Sunday, July 8, 2012

    Mad, Mad World

    A frail wisp of a little old lady, dressed in flowing vague floral patterns of beige and white, wearing a lacy wide-brimmed hat, toddled up to the cheese booth where I was serving samples.

    She looked vaguely familiar, and her eyes reminded me of an older version of my mom—if my mom was still alive. She was my mother's age. I searched her face for some clue. At first I thought she was a cancer survivor, because of her sunken eyes but she still had her hair, and she looked sane enough.

    I puzzled over her face. I tend to remember the faces of people I photographed, sometimes decades later. But I couldn't quite place her.

    But she wanted me to take her trash after I'd offered her a sample and I refused, not wanting to cross-contaminate the food... I was taken aback that that she had even handed me her trash with such an imperious gesture. An awkward moment ensued as I withdrew my hand  and pointed to the trash can. Inexplicably I was thinking of musicals—the scene between the Jets and the Sharks. Snap! Dancing in the aisles.

    The little old lady, also taken aback, said she liked the cheese, and wanted two pieces. She said that she was having some people over tonight.  Did I have a larger piece? Thankful for the distraction, I gathered my wits as I rummaged in the box behind the counter for a large chunk, and offered it to her.

    Meanwhile, another woman came up and was thanking her for something, I didn't know what, so I asked what that was about? She said: I really like her work. What work? Her movies. Movies? Don't you know who that is? That's Rita Moreno! She lives in the Oakland Hills. 

    Oh. I was gobsmacked. No. I guess I didn't know that.

    But indeed I was thinking of my mother's halcyon stage days when I thought the old woman reminded me of my mom.

    I remember watching my mom at the Sausalito Gate Playhouse, performing Of Thee I Sing, and Pipedream. At Music Circus costuming Guys and Dolls. I remember searching for my mom in the big crowd scene in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World. But I never found her. No matter how hard I tried. By that time she was already well on her way to the world of madness.

    When I got my break, I went looking for Ms. Moreno in the store aisles. I wanted to apologize—well not so much to apologize so much as to smooth some feathers and to close the loop.

    I wanted also to tell Rita that I knew of her world, and that my mother's escape came too late. But Rita was already gone. Deep into the Oakland Hills. An escaped West Side Story.

    Snap!

    ENVOI
    Dec 3: I was chit-chatting tonight with Rita Moreno as I was putting away my cheese booth. We nibbled on dill havarti with salmon. I gave her suggestions for appetizers, etc., for a party.

    I've become the Go To girl for spontaneous recipes and menus. This time she didn't try to hand me her trash. She must've remembered how I got cranky last summer.

    Anyway, she does have the most marvellous eyes. So frail, yet so alive. Most people I work with don't even know who she is. Sad, Really.

    At least they've heard of West Side Story.


    Dec. 23 Wished Rita a Merry Christmas—we chatted in Spanglish. Sweet.

    Dec. 30 Rita came right up to me to say hello. I met her friend
    —we slid through several languages as he doesn't speak English. Fun. I told Rita about learning Russian while traveling there as an artist and poet. She looks so much better—I think she was sick.  She said she was feeling much better. Anyway, it's fun conversing with her. I think she enjoys the one-on-one, with no mention of her stardom.

    Jan. 21 Rita came over to say hello—she's looking positively marvelous. I told her so.

    I asked her if she would be restaging her one-woman show. All my friends are still talking about it and I never never got a chance to see it. She said, "I don't know, it depends upon how I feel."

    She said that she's recovering from double hip surgery and it's been a long haul. She said, "I'll be sure to let you know if I do decide to stage it again." Looking forward to it.

    A newer blog entry on Rita, Maybe Even Dance Again.               










    Original post from Facebook
    July 8, 2012 ·

    Mad, mad world: A frail wisp of a little old lady, dressed flowing vague patterns of beige and white, wearing a lacy wide-brimmed hat, toddled up to the cheese booth where I was serving samples. She looked vaguely familiar, and reminded me of an older version of my mom around the sunken eyes—if my mom was still alive. At first I thought she was a cancer survivor, but she had her hair, and she looked fine. I puzzled over her face.

    The little old lady liked the cheeses I offered, but she wanted me to take her trash after I'd offered her a sample and I refused, not wanting to cross-contaminate the food... I was taken aback that that she had handed me her trash with such a gesture.

    Another woman was thanking her for something, I didn't know what, so I asked what that was about. She said: I really like her work. What work? Her movies. Movies? Don't you know who that is? That's Rita Moreno! She lives in the Oakland Hills.

    I was gobsmacked. No. I guess I didn't know that.

    But I was indeed thinking of my mother's halcyon Hollywood days when I thought she reminded me of my mom. I remember searching for my mom in the big crowd scene in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World. But I never found her. No matter how hard I tried. By that time she was already well on her way to the world of madness.