Tag Archives: swings


6th July 2017

I’m sitting on the dondolo behind the house, its canopy, and that of the ancient l’ecci trees, shading me from the sun’s intense heat. Through the branches of an olive tree I glimpse a white towel hanging from the clothesline, its still rectangle resembling a screen waiting for the projection of a film. In the opposite direction, the swing that Grandpa Joel made for our 8 year-old granddaughter’s recent visit likewise hangs immobile. If only I could shout, “Action!” and see her magically appear.

The ten day visit with Sadie and her parents was, indeed, action-packed with day trips, lizard hunting, fly-swatting, garden-touring, outdoor cooking and a whole lot of toilet humour. These annual visits become more precious with the passage of time and although we may miss the day-to-day ordinariness of sharing life lived in the same city the truth is, somehow that rarely happens. Whereas living under the same roof during these visits provides an intimacy and connection that I treasure.

And then, suddenly, everyone is gone: the little family to Venice for a few days before their return to Brooklyn, and Joel to the Arles Photo Festival where he is this year’s VIP artist.

I savor this week alone, even while the house reverberates with the echo of family chatter, it is an opportunity for me to contemplate the importance of family, the meaning of marriage and the necessity of following one’s own path.

I am tempted to go back into the cool of the house, yet I am loathe to leave the cicadas’ ceaseless cacophony, as though if I were to listen long enough I might learn yet another language. These kinds of simple decisions e.g., whether to remain out here with cicadas for company or to retreat to the cool solitude of the interior, are choices that often confound me: either/or; if that then not this; if this then not that. But something is shifting in my subterranean life.

I’m a big fan of Brian Eno and have been regularly listening to one of his CD’s for 30 years now: Ambient 1: Music For Airports. Once in a while I check him out online to see what he’s up to and as a consequence have enjoyed some of his lectures. On a recent online visit I discovered he had, with Peter Schmidt, invented, not so much a game, as an alternative sort of I Ching. It’s called: Oblique Strategies and invites you to meditate on a current dilemma and then randomly choose a card; not as an absolute answer to one’s dilemma, but as an opportunity to think outside the box.

I gave myself all of Sunday to do sweet bugger-all and thoroughly enjoyed it. But on Monday, with a stretch of 5 more days alone, I decided to focus on the dilemma of my creative path. Holding the box of cards in my hands I asked what could I do to find the courage to return to two things I recently started and then stopped. One is a large canvas, the other, a new novel. To my initial horror, the card I picked said, “Would anybody want it?” Nice. Until recently that’s the kind of stupidity I would use as proof of my belief that of course nobody wants it! Well fuck that, I thought, and picked another card: “Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them.” The phrase that came to mind immediately was “Recipes for Disaster. And I literally laughed out loud because a) I have compiled quite a stew of recipes destined for failure and b) by saying fuck it to the first card I already had one abandoned recipe under my belt!

Look, I say use whatever gets you where you keep saying you want to go. If it’s therapy, fine. I Ching, fine. Religion, meditation, yoga, fine. Substance abuse, not so much.

What I love about personal growth is how damn interesting it is. Problems are interesting, every one of them is your own beautifully imagined and constructed detective story. (Unless you’re a refugee.) When I had my therapy practice I felt that a session was a success if I could help the client turn a problem from being a burden of doom into a subject of interest. And if I could help them laugh at the absurdity of it all then they were well on their way.

Like many professionals I don’t always follow my own advice, but with Eno’s help on Monday, I have returned to the novel and am interested to discover how many more recipes will need to be abandoned in order to get out of my own way. And, by the way, the answer to “What if nobody wants it?” is, who gives a fuck, I want it.

Talking of Brian Eno and music, my 10 year-old iPod died last week and for several days I was stuck in the initial stage of grief: denial. I spent those days insisting that I could resuscitate the damn thing by trying to charge it from different outlets. Duh. Then I did the online suicide line for advice on how to fix the iPod in order to go on living. Useless. The choices were: a) by a new iPod which isn’t really an iPod but a glorified iPhone without the phone part, or b) download my music to my iPhone. Foiled again…not enough space. So I abandoned those recipes and went for texting my brilliant daughter who is also still grieving the demise of her iPod but who suggested and talked me through Spotify.

When I write these essays I’m always fascinated by the way they often circle back on themselves. The circle in this one being the importance of family. But there is another circle within that circle: the magic of the Internet without which I would not have discovered Oblique Strategies. And yet another circle within that: Brian Eno. That CD of his I first heard 30 years ago and which has been a source of comfort and inspiration to me ever since, also led me to discover and abandon recipes no longer useful to me.

And yes, of course, the first album I searched for and saved to my Spotify library is Music For Airports, by Brian Eno; made available through the help of family.

With love to you all




15th August 2016


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.


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.


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/


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.


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


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.


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.