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Serendipity ~ due nella splendida Bellagio

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Eating Italian food reminds me of a trip to Italy.  Jay is an amazing cook.  His sauce aka gravy is A plus.  Reminded me of a trip to Italy.  Now I’d love to share our time in Bellagio.  We’d taken the train from Florence to Venice ~ I’ll return back to Venice another time ~ and upon leaving, rented a car to drive to the lakes, eventually winding up back in Milan.  We had no reservations, no place to be and no one to see.   The Italian lakes are amazing ~ we started by visiting Sirmione on Lake Garda.   We found a small hotel near The Sirmione castle on Lake Garda.  Between the 13th and 14th centuries, the village of Sirmione was a border town situated between the land owned by the Della Scala dynasty of Verona and the property of the lords of Milan.  The Sirmione castle is the most significant example of the defensive structures on Lake Garda.Image

OK…here’s my problem…I went to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York …many times.  Seeing Tomorrowland reminded me of that fair.  Great movie, by the way!

Sadly, I look at all of life through that lens.  They did such an amazing job of recreating the world, it altered the world as I would see it when I actually went to Europe. .Image Between the International Plaza and Disneyland, I had difficulty differentiating truth from fiction.  I mean, I knew this Castle was from the 13th century but damn if it didn’t remind me of the World’s Fair, rather than vice-versa.  That night when we had dinner at a rustic ristorante right outside the walls of the castle I kept telling Jay “this is real, this is real.”   Image

The next morning we drove to Lake Como.  It was a beautiful winding road as we made our way around the lake to Bellagio.  Bellagio is situated at the picturesque junction of all three legs of Lake Como.  I might add, it was also a Saturday and we had no reservations of any kind.   As we pulled into Bellagio we realized we were far from alone.  There was a large dog show taking place and in Italy, four legged friends are welcome just about everywhere.  It also meant hotels were full.   We parked the car and walked around this gorgeous little town.  Small, cobblestone alleys filled with amazing restaurants and shops.  Jay had been in search of a Cuban cigar since our arrival in Italy, to no avail ~ until Bellagio. ImageWe then decided to, hopefully, find a place to stay.  The most beautiful gem beckoned ~the guide book gave it 5 Stars ~Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni.Image

Figuring our chances were less than none, we thought we might as well at least see the view from the lobby.  It was a small hotel with only 95 rooms.  We chuckled at our audacity as we strolled up to the front desk and inquired about the possibility of an available room with a view of the lake.   The woman did not burst out laughing, but instead, checked and said, “We have one room left…and it has a view of the lake.”

Would you also believe the price wasn’t even insane?     We walked into the room and looked through to the balcony overlooking the Lake.  Image

Jay lit the cigar.

We were home!

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Serendipity

ImageSerendipity ~ a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; a fortunate mistake~ specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it. 

I am certain each of you have experienced serendipity.  My most recent encounter was last Saturday night ~ Jay says, “you were Manilowed.”  Unexpectedly, though, something besides being given wonderful tickets happened that night.  I was laughing out loud.  Right before “Mr. Manilow’s man” mystically appeared, a comedian whose name I cannot remember, was doing a very funny bit about all things living in Los Angeles …traffic…interminable lines…insufferable people waiting on lines.   And I was laughing out loud.  I realized I hadn’t done that in a long time.  I knew it had been at least six weeks.  Since we lost Hobbies.

I have lost many dogs.  I have cried many, many tears over losing members of my four legged family.  Yet, I have missed them and moved on.   Something about this had been very different.   It had brought up a lot of pain over previous losses….untimely losses.  I think that’s the difference.  Older dogs are sorely missed but when it’s their time I’ve always thought it was a blessing we could help them along their way.   There was some time to prepare…never enough…but there was time.  Hobbie’s was only four.  Far too young.    

I’d been thinking a lot about my Mom, who died at 56 after a virulent, but brief, bout with breast cancer. I was on my way back to New York for her funeral and I remember looking out the window of the plane, wondering “how can everything just keep going on without her?”  Perhaps at 28 I should have been a bit more prepared for losing someone. In fact, when I was home for Jody’s graduation from college just four months before, my mom and I had a long discussion about death. At that time we had no idea she was ill, but for some reason I felt a dread that someone close to me was going to die.  My “ex” called me “strega” ~ Italian for witch ~ over my premonitions and, perhaps, for various other reasons.  But, I digress.

I believed it would be my father, exploding in a puff of his own anger some day.  I shared that with Emmy who had lost both her parents before she was 35. She said “when you lose someone and feel terrible you’re just being selfish…for yourself, because you’re going to miss them. But the truth is they’re in a much better place.  And, they will always be with you.”    

What I remember most about her wake and funeral were the flowers.  So, so many flowers. Everybody loved Emmy. She was a great friend, a funny friend and a well-loved friend. The first afternoon of the wake was somber…but when we returned from dinner for the evening “session” the room was filled with tens of flower arrangements that had been delivered during that afternoon.  Strange to say, I felt like a kid at Christmas reading the cards. It was a wonderful tribute to a wonderful lady.

It was then that I truly believed in God.   Someone with as much faith as my mom had couldn’t possibly get gypped!   I am a strange combination of logic and emotion.  To me that still makes sense. Thirty four years later, I know with certainty that my faith was her final, and greatest, gift to me.

Today everybody is talking about James Gandolfini.   I imagine wherever he is, he is as stunned at the love and attention being shown over his passing as we are over the fact that he is gone far, far too soon.  I think of his family.  His widow and the little baby girl who will never know her father.  His thirteen year old son.   Why, you might ask, would I title this post about untimely death and loss “serendipity?”  Well, from all accounts, the entire Gandolfini family was in Italy for a family vacation, culminating with his receiving the Taormina City Prize and his teaching to teach a Masterclass on Saturday in the coastal Sicilian town.   From all accounts, they were having a wonderful time in Rome.  I hope they had an amazing dinner together before they came back to their hotel last night.  I hope when the hideous shock, pain and grief subside they are able to remember their last days together with happiness.

Their being together in Italy was serendipity.

I hope someday they will, once again, laugh out loud.

Thank you, James Gandolfini.

Rest in Peace.

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Domestic Diva ~ A Child of the 50’s Comes Clean

ImageIn a word, as the phrase Domestic Diva relates to me…NOT!   Yet now that I am not working full time my excuse, “I really enjoy cooking, baking, doing laundry, crafting, cleaning but I just don’t ever have enough time,” no longer applies.  I do have time..to read, to plant flowers, to go for long walks with Jay,  check out Costco when it’s not crowded.  Now THAT is an experience.  Go hungry and graze!

Anyhow, this morning I decided to do a few things I had the time to do…but don’t enjoy doing.  Cleaning is #1 on that list.  Many years ago, my father-in-law told my ex-husband how excited they were to have found my Christmas present…a vacuum cleaner.  My ex said, “I’ve never seen Janet touch a vacuum cleaner let alone use one.”  My husband, Jay came into our relationship with his own vacuum cleaner.  My cleaning lady was thrilled.   We are a liberated household…he vacuums, I do laundry.  I dust…we both avoid certain cleaning chores until absolutely necessary.  When I returned to write about this subject, I found I actually started this post more than six weeks ago…seems I even avoid writing about “chores.”  This morning I decided to iron.  I marginally enjoy ironing. ImageI was thinking about how I learned to iron as a child.  My mom, Emmy Mafera, was an amazing example in many, many ways, yet domestic diva-ness was not her long suit.  Without familial input, I sewed one skirt in junior high.  The zipper placard looked like a staircase.  I remember in tenth grade, a “coat dress” of mine needed hemming.  Emmy was up to the task.  When I tried it on following her skilled sewing, one side was demonstrably longer than the other.  Her solution…fold that hem over once again on the long side.  She said, “Nobody will notice.”   Now, if you remember coat dresses, she was right … it was the side that went underneath the other.  But a lesson in domesticity it was not.

Emmy was a “just fine” cook.  Nothing stands out as incredible, other than the time she dropped the lasagna pan as it was coming OUT of the oven.  “Oh shit.”  It was her favorite expression. Seriously, there are several excellent family recipes that I replicate to this day, but none of them were hers.  Baking?  Forgetaboutit!  My father’s mother had that market cornered, even if Emmy had been so inclined.  Which she wasn’t. Image

What I remember most about our evening meal was what happened before dinner every night.  Emmy would sit at the piano and play tunes from the 1940’s.  I would be upstairs, purportedly doing homework in my room, but I always loved listening during that half hour or so.  Emmy was a whole lot of fun.  It has amazed me here on Facebook that so many of my high school friends comment on how great she was.  It makes my heart happy to hear.

She had a sarcastic and droll sense of humor, coupled with a memorable laugh.  I remember a time my father was going on and on about “cob webs.”  The garage was “his” domain and seriously, you could eat off the floor out there.  But at times things above eye-level escaped Emmy’s eye.  She looked up at the spider web and said, very seriously, “Joe, I cannot kill one of God’s little creatures.”  The she walked away.  Point…game…match.

She did teach me how to iron.  I started on my father’s handkerchiefs and progressed to a shirt.  Just this morning I did it the very same way.  Collar first…then sleeves..move on from there.  Not sure why, but ironing this morning reminded me of how narrow many women’s lives were in the 50’s.   I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first tranquilizer, Librium, came to market during the years following World War II.  But, I digress.

My parents were married at the beginning of World War II but waited quite a few years before having me.  My father was in the Coast Guard, out of harm’s way, and my mother often told me those were some of the “happiest years of my life.”  Now, upon reflection, that seems rather odd, doesn’t it?  Yet, she continued, “My friends and I were all married, our husbands were away but as safe as you can be during a war, we had our own apartments and we had jobs.”  They were all in their early or mid twenties, on their own, not worried about men and taking care of business.   Taking care of themselves. I think I was about 15 when she said that and, while I had absolutely no frame of reference for what she was actually saying, her  subtle statement stuck with me.

The men returned from the war and the women returned to “yellow, waxy build-up” on the kitchen floors.  No wonder they needed tranquilizers.   Please understand, I am not saying every housewife in the 1950’s was miserable.  But I am saying they were, for the most part, underutilized intellectually.  And I do think that caused angst.  Quite a bit of angst.   My mother never complained about her life.  From the outside, there truly was nothing to complain about.  My father was successful, we had a lovely home and a nice life.  I had no doubt whatsoever that I would follow down the same path.

I was looking forward to the 1970’s version of “Happy Wife, Happy Life”ImageI would get engaged, get married, have 2.2 children, swim at the country club and have a lovely life on Long Island.  Well, I did get engaged on my 19th birthday to a very nice boy with a very nice diamond ring from Fortunoffs.  We planned a very nice wedding, a honeymoon in Puerto Rico and ordered a copious number of invitations that were never mailed. Exactly what was I supposed to do now with the rest of my life?   With only my mother’s support and blessing, I planned to move to Los Angeles.

“She’ll be back in three months” seemed to be the general consensus among family and friends.  I’m not certain I didn’t disagree.  As Emmy stood next to the car with tears in her eyes, she handed me a large envelope.  Inside were all the response envelopes from the not-to-be-had wedding, addressed to the family home and stamped.   Her simple goodbye – “you have no excuse not to write.”

To be honest, I find I do enjoy making dinner now ~I’ve discovered the patience for growing flowers from seeds ~ and I’ve been told I make a mean banana bread.

But I can’t sew and I hate to clean.

A second generation “Non Domestic Diva.”

I am so proud to be my mother’s daughter.

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Our Greek Adventure with Barry Manilow

 

ImageI love Barry Manilow…always have, always will.  The story I am about to tell about last night is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

But first, some history about Barry and me.  We go back a LONG way…all the way back to his first appearance on Midnight Special in 1975.  I was working at NBC in Compliance and Practices and I was assigned to the show this taping.  There was this young man, introduced by Clive Davis and the host was Mac Davis ~ ok, be honest, who remembers him?  He sat at the piano and played “Mandy.”  That’s all it took for me.  I was hooked.

In 1977 he came to the Universal Ampitheater…it was a large, outdoor venue at the time.  We had lousy seats but I didn’t remember much about the concert.  That morning I’d received the call from my Father that changed my life.  My wonderful mother, Emmy, had cancer and didn’t have long to live.  Through it all, Barry and I remained close.   I had this cute apartment in Toluca Lake.  I would blast Barry’s albums….yes, they were albums in “those” days…smoke a joint and clean!  Yes, you heard me….me, Barry and pot.  It was during one of those cleaning adventures, shortly after my Mom’s death, that I hit my head and wound up in the emergency room.  Note to self:  do not move furniture while cleaning stoned and then forget you moved the chair.  But, I digress.

Fast forward twenty five years…2002.  I am Executive Director at The Wellness Community in Santa Monica.  A wonderful nonprofit that provides free support to people with cancer and their families.  It is part of a national network, Cancer Support Community, merging with Gilda’s club and I was at the founding chapter.  For some reason, I chose to share my love of all things Barry with my young staff.  One of them, dear Chrystal, brought me a Barry CD.  Every so often it would “appear” at the office…we would dance…it was fun.    That CD is still one of the “favored six” in my car.

Present Day:  A few months ago I hear Barry will be at The Greek Theater.  For those of you who live in LA, bear with me as I describe The Greek.  It is a wonderful outdoor venue up in the hills near the Griffith Park Observatory.  It seats almost 5,000 people.   My husband, Jay, worked at KEARTH radio ~ the oldies station in LA ~ for twenty years.  We went to many concerts there and always had the very best seats.  I can actually remember complaining we were “too close” at Chicago and my ears hurt from the sound system.   What a whiny butt!

We talked about buying tickets to see Barry but I never did.   Then about a month ago, a woman I’d met briefly offered tickets she’d won at a silent auction for a pet charity.  I said I’d love them and they arrived in the mail.  She said the tickets weren’t very good but we’d be able to see the big screen!  I was excited!   I checked the tickets against the seating chart and discovered they were actually pretty great…Section B…Row A…seats 2 and 4.   Excellent!!

The big night arrived…we had our parking pass, bought on-line, and got there in plenty of time.  We go to the seats and sit down.  At that point, Jay says “I don’t think these are our seats.”  I show the ticket to the attendant and she says he’s right…I did not notice one important word on the ticket…that word was BENCH. Image

Now those of you who know The Greek know what that means….the four rows of benches at the very, very, very tippy top of the theater.  OMG.

We began the climb.  And it was a climb.  It is actually very pretty at the tippy top of The Greek Theater.  You see OVER the top of the stage … beautiful green hills.  What you don’t see very well is…well, the stage.  Even the jumbo screens seem small.  But, we were stuck.  We were in stacked parking, which means you don’t leave until it’s over.  And remember, there’s no back on a bench.  Yet, we were proud we’d actually been able to climb to the tippy top of The Greek.  I felt horrible.  Poor Jay does not love Barry as I do and these were easily the worst seats we’d ever had anywhere…anytime.  Yet, we figured even if we really couldn’t see Barry as more than a speck on the stage we’d definitely hear him well.  We settled in…Bench Row B Seats 2 and 4.   I had misread the tickets…badly.  In a word, OY!

At 8:00PM the place was just about filled and the opening act was introduced.  He was a comedian and started slow but quickly had us entertained talking about every day things like waiting in line. We were laughing out loud.  Now picture this…here we are …right under the sound booth..way up in the back there..I’m sitting right the aisle.Image

Suddenly, there is a young man in a suit standing next to me.  Where he came I will never know.

Him:      “Do you like Barry?”

Me:        “I love Barry.”

Him:      “Would you like to sit a little closer?”

Ok, at this point, I’m thinking “insane scalper?”

Me:        “Yes..do you work here?”

Him:      “I work for Mr. Manilow.”

Now, I’ve been around enough to recognize the back stage pass affixed to the bottom of his suit jacket …and believe me, it quickly made perfect sense that he did work for Mr. M.  Enough said?

Me:        “Wow (or something equally articulate)…”

Him:      “Follow me”

Jay is now looking at me like “what is this woman up to?” as I signal him to get up and follow me and Mr. Manilow’s Man.

Him:      “I have to be careful no one see this.”

Now I’m sure something horrible is about to happen, but he pulls out two tickets and hands them to me.

“Just show them to the attendant and they’ll show you where to go.”

Me:        “Wow (or something equally articulate)…”

Him:      “If you don’t like the seats you can always come back up here.”

We start walking down….way, way down.  Of course, neither Jay nor I have on the right glasses and can’t see what the tickets say.

The first attendant we hand the tickets: “These are way down there,” pointing to Section A.

We walk down some more to the back of Section A.

That attendant says:   “You’re up front…Row E”.

By now we’ve looked at the tickets….Image

Face Value:        $249.99    EACH

They were two of Barry Manilow’s house seats.

The concert was amazing.

And they played the clip from that 1975 Midnight Special show and he sang “Mandy” along with it.

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Really…what are the odds?

I surely hope I said “thank you.”