Tag Archives: Birthdays

TAPPING THE SOURCE

15th September, 2017

For Brenda Bufalino, with love.

 

Waiting for Patti Smith…and this was before the crowds arrived!

We have been in New York City for 13 days. Just being able to write that sentence feels like a major achievement! Really, how do you city people do it? Hey, how did I do it, for 22 years? Even my dear Joel who is New York born and bred and lived here for 75 years – until I whisked him away to Tuscany – woke up the other morning and said, “What the fuck are we doing here?”

Well there are three good reasons why we’re here. First and foremost, always, is to see our children and grandchildren. We “see” them weekly on Skype or Facetime when we are back in Tuscany and for sure it is one of the gifts of the Internet (although there seem to be more cons than pros these days when it comes to the World Wide Web). I’m so ancient that I remember when you had to reserve a time slot with the phone company in order to make an overseas call! And then, if you were lucky enough to get through, you could almost visualize those transatlantic cables running under the sea as the voices of loved ones disappeared only to surface moments later sounding like they had swallowed vast quantities of salt water. So, yes, to be able to touch/click an icon on a screen and not only see the face of your child, or the gap in your grandchild’s teeth, but also be able to hang out, talking, laughing, sometimes crying, even sharing a meal – lunch in New York simultaneous with dinner in Tuscany – is a miracle of technology that allows for meaningful connection in real time.

But really, there is nothing like the feel of hugging your child, or the ecstatic leap of a grandchild into your arms, or watching and hearing another grandchild play classical piano before we all sit down at the same table in the same time zone and share a potluck dinner. Nothing will ever make-up for physical presence. My daughter and I shared one of those mother/daughter days last week, the kind we do so well. Bopping around Soho and Little Italy, trying on make-up and boots, admiring each other in a new pair of jeans, linking arms under an umbrella and talking about everything over lunch.

What joy to have Joel’s son stop by this morning so we could give him a birthday hug; to see the love between these two beautiful men.

We are a combined family to which the terms ‘in-laws’ and ‘step’ are no longer attached. We all belong to each other and to be in the same space at the same time is a blessing beyond words. For this alone we brave the horrors of the long haul flights, the physical depletion of days of jet-lag, the noise and filth and fear and aggression of the city, and hope we have the stamina to do so for the rest of our waning years.

The second reason for being here was the opening last week of Joel’s stunning show at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, much of it never-before-seen work, including a room of Joel’s latest photography. If you are in New York please go see it. It will inspire and revive you. www.howardgreenberg.com

And last, but never least, we came for our friend Brenda Bufalino’s 80th birthday celebration (do Google her, although, ahem, like most artists her site is a bit out of date, there are also some good YouTube videos to be found). What to say? Where to begin? For me personally, it began in 1973, when, shortly after the birth of my daughter, I began taking modern and jazz dance classes with Brenda and within a few months became a proud member of her first dance company.

It was Brenda who let my creative genie out of its tightly corked bottle. And it was Brenda who a few years later, seeing me headed toward the world of addiction, wrote me a letter saying she was concerned that I wasn’t building my “inner temple.” I remember reading those words and being pierced by their truth. I remember knowing then that those words would haunt me until I either paid heed or died. It would be another 13 years before I began breaking ground for the foundation of that inner temple and while it may have a few leaks here and there it is nonetheless erect, intact and a place of ever-evolving inner peace, morality and compassion. So yes, Brenda saved my soul, too.

But this really shouldn’t be all about me. This is about Brenda. So let me try to describe her to you. She is a force of nature. She is the most courageous woman I know. She is a true artist who never gave up, who created through a failed marriage, motherhood, in the face of poverty, uncertainty, critical judgment, sexism, ignorance, fierce competition, the inanity of celebrity parading as art, and yes, through illness and the aches and pains of aging. Brenda just kept going. Creating companies, choreography, music, books, ceramics and even at one point. her own line of dance clothing. As a young woman determined to overcome her fears she bought a horse – the creature she was most afraid of – and broke it herself. And she’s a generous artist; teaching, inspiring and encouraging generations of dancers. She’s a harsh mistress, demanding the very best of all of us who are lucky enough to be invited in. She teaches not just the highest level of technique but encourages us to develop our own vision. She has always been ahead of the times creatively, while being right on time rhythmically. She’s beautiful, absurd, magical, sexy, witty, indomitable and inimitable. She is a visionary who continues to perform and teach Master Classes around the globe.

The celebration was hosted by friends on the grounds of their country home. The weather was grey and damp, but the spirit was sunny and warm. A huge tent housed a jazz band and dance floor and as some 100 or so family, friends, dancers, musicians and patrons gathered around, Brenda took to the floor. She named just about all of us, slotting us into the different eras of her life and honouring our contribution to it. And we kept looking around at each other and feeling the ongoing river of which we are a part; the overlap, the passing of the torch, the incredible DNA of the Brenda Bufalino Tribe. And the ghosts were there, too; early deaths, suicides, the missing.

When we were all accounted for Brenda turned to the band and with a-one and a-two and a-there she goes, singing that jazz, baby. The voice like aged cognac; deep and round and full of spirit. Then the mike is put to rest and those feet pick up where the voice left off, the feet a voice of their own; the footwork precise and innovative, the taps made to whisper and rattle and snap and trill; the accents coming where you least expect them and yet so right. Her feet are speaking, singing, drumming; the vocabulary is multilingual and there is just no way Brenda is 80!

If you go back to my post of 23rd April this year, entitled The Gift of a Lifetime, you will remember that Brenda is one of my seven “sisters” whom I took to St. Ives, Cornwall, for 5 days. Half of the sisters live in Europe and were unable to make it. But here is the other half.

Scout, Vivian, Brenda and me.

So, yeah, to hell with the city. To hell with politics and greed and sheer stupidity. It doesn’t matter where we are as long as we have each other, as long as we honor the truth of history, both personal and universal. As long as we show a little kindness everyday, especially in cities because they are harsh; the lack of space, of peace, of nature, it’s not really how we’re meant to live.

Joel and I will be happy to return to our Tuscan farm, to bathe in the goodness of the land, the light, the simple pace of life lived without the desperate need for fame and fortune. But we sure will be sad to leave the physical comfort and abundant love of family and friends.

P.S. I’ve been hearing from a number of you that you are missing hearing from me more often. I miss you, too! I will try to get back to a more regular routine once I get home. But know that I have, for the last few months, been completely engaged in the writing of a new novel. It’s an intense ride which leaves me physically shaking every day. So please bear with me. And please, it goes both ways…I’d love to hear from you, too!

with love to you all, Maggie

LIFE IS A PIÑATA

15th August 2016

glass

I arrived at 70 last Monday, having trekked towards it for months, only to find it a moving target which, when I finally hit it, broke apart, spilling sweetness all around me.

Swing

We had arrived in Edinburgh a few days earlier, having decided some while ago that the opportunity to spend time with dear friends while partaking of the Fringe Festival was a befittingly unique adventure with which to celebrate, on the 8th day of the 8th month, entrance into the 8th decade of my life. As the time for our adventure neared and the Tuscan temperature soared into the mid 90’s, we began to look forward to the bonus of a week in the 60’s with the occasional rain shower. I’ll just to a quick leap forward here to say that it took us about a day and half of shivering under an umbrella to begin longing for the Tuscan sun and our newly acquired ‘dondolo’, which had arrived the day before we left.

dondolo

But what a week it was! Edinburgh, city of granite and spires, yet only ever a walk away from nature. Our exquisite room in a Georgian guesthouse, complete with a Michelin starred restaurant was only 10 minutes from the city center and yet was almost as peaceful as our Tuscan home, looking out, as it did, to the garden and a slop of wild nature. www.21212restaurant.co.uk/

gardensketch

Back in my drinking years, I was partial to a generous pour of single malt, neat, before dinner. In fact, whisky was the first drink I ever ordered; 15 years old in a pub in Liverpool about to go see the Beatles at The Cavern. I had chosen whisky because I associated it with masculinity and courage, 2 elements I thought I might need to make it through my teens. Even now, I can feel the knife of that first sip, hitting me between the shoulder blades. Although I wasn’t tempted during our stay, I could certainly appreciate the need for its amber glow amidst the dank grey stone, along with the rhythmic insult of rain slapping your face as the umbrella inverts itself beyond function.

edinburgh

Yet if scotch is inseparable from Scotland’s image, it is the warmth of the Scots themselves that is the true spirit of the Highlands. Literally everyone we encountered was kind, quick witted, chatty, and down to earth. From the entire staff at 21212, to taxi drivers, train conductors and the hundreds of people organizing and manning the Fringe which, by the way, was also celebrating its 70th birthday. Three thousand acts ran hourly at 400 venues from 10 am to 10pm everyday with a precision that belied its casual appearance. It is an event without equal and beyond comprehension and I heartily recommend it to all.

We saw 4 modern dancers perform exquisite choreography with such emotional connection that all four of us wept. We saw improv and jugglers and a ventriloquist, all of whom transcended their medium. We saw our friend Gideon Irving perform, My Name Is Gideon, his second year at The Fringe. He is an intimate performer who cannot be labeled: a musician, magician, comedian and story-teller with a deep streak of generosity and love. We saw a bare-bones play depicting the memories of children of war and the refugee crisis which had us sobbing with grief. We saw a Muslim comedian from Australia who gave us permission to laugh at the absurdity of racism and terrorism. And we saw one truly awful one-woman play which was so excruciatingly bad that my friend Viv and I got a near uncontrollable fit of the giggles…in the front row!

On the Saturday, we took the half hour train ride out to North Berwick where our friends were staying in a house swap. A beautiful, unspoiled seaside town famous for its golf course, it is during The Fringe host to the Highland games. A mighty gathering of 3000 pipers and drummers filling the air with controlled savagery. An interesting juxtaposition to our experience of the warm hospitality of the natives, and a reminder that we are none of us far removed from our own barbarism.

berwick wall

n.berwick sea

buspipers

Did I mention the lobster?

L1002853 Maggie Lobster Sm

My birthday began with Joel presenting me with a book he had compiled of lovely impressions of me written by family and friends. A gift that will indeed go on giving should I ever have a moment’s doubt that my life has been of some small worth to others. And then there was the bracelet. The one he gave me on my birthday some 20 years ago. The one I wore every day until it mysteriously disappeared from wrist 2 years ago. For a moment, as I opened the box, I wondered how and where he’d found it. In fact, he’d found a photo of me wearing it, blown it up and taken it to a jeweler in Siena who replicated it.

Of course, nothing can ever be replicated. Loss is loss. And although a bracelet can’t be compared to a baby, nevertheless I experienced the same pang upon seeing it as I felt when my second daughter was born and, in the perfection of her being, experienced another layer of what I had lost when my first daughter arrived stillborn. But the gift of love surpasses loss, as I have come to know from the ever-deepening relationship with my daughter and the profound love my husband constantly shows me in his desire to try to make up for all the loss I have experienced.

So, I came home either a week or a year older, however one wishes to view the mad attempt to define time in a linear manner. In any case, it’s good to be home to the warmth, the light, the garden, the sun-warmed tomatoes Silvia leaves outside our door. And, truth be told, it is a relief to have arrived at this moment. To have finally let go of the need to appear younger and instead embrace the wisdom of my years while still allowing feelings of irascible youth to bubble to the surface. So what if the neck is its own crepe scarf…a smile in beyond measure.

scarf

If I am left with a lasting image from The Fringe it is this: Centre stage, caught in the spotlight, a swirl of smoke gradually dissipates revealing a piñata attached to a rope. Slowly the rope is hoisted, the piñata ascends and as it reaches it apex, 3 jugglers leap into the air taking wild swipes at it until, like life itself, it breaks open and sweetness rains down.

pinata

August 10 2014               IT DOESN’T ADD UP

Another birthday came and went. Good lord, the numbers are daunting. Unlike Jack Benny who was perennially 39, I’ve decided to just eliminate the second digit. As a result I am currently 6 and will not be 7 for another 2 years. This way I can act my age, no problem.

Truth is, I vacillate emotionally between single and double digits. Many years ago, when in my early 30’s, I lived for a while with a French folk singer who was then in her 50’s. Having been severely beaten by a boyfriend, she took me in while I awaited the court date. Two ex-pats, we had many a scathing discussion about life in America and at one point she uttered the great French exclamation, “Buh,” she said, “America is the only country that will go from infancy to senility without ever reaching maturity.”  A quote that could easily apply to me.

Age, aging, death….why are they so unacceptable? Do any of us really want to live forever? Well, sometimes I do. It’s all so endlessly fascinating. I’d like to bear witness to our children and grandchildren’s lives; would love to see the garden 50 years from now; would be amused to see what new flavors of ice cream will be invented in the year 2050. And what about all the things one still hasn’t got around to? Like, Greece, India, Morocco, Stromboli, performance art, musical compositions…what about the parachute jump I never took? The arias I’ve never sung..?

But I’m not 6. And along with all the joy, sorrow too accumulates. Yesterday a friend tells us of a friend whose daughter just found out that her 8 week old baby is brain damaged and as she utters those awful words I imagine the future stretching out, rolling out like an interminable carpet with no end in sight. And which of us who’ve reached a certain age want to stay around for melting ice caps, African plagues and infinite wars?

Who the hell invented counting anyway? What an ironic and futile system of quantifying life. With numbers come comparison, the great divider between young and old, poverty and never enough.

My birthday is 8/8 and like much else in life I long ago discovered that by turning reality on its ear I could pretend it was something else. In this case, flip those 8’s and they become the infinity sign…twice…a bit of magical thinking that I could indulge in whenever I needed to feel born under a lucky star.

Well, why shouldn’t we rail against the dying light? For all its meaninglessness, for all its disappointments, for all its aches and pains, life is, if you let it, the ultimate eye-opening, mind-altering journey. Sign me up for the next leg.

Rock

 

Rock of Ages                                                                                                          Photo by Maggie