writing a ‘last letter’ . . .
Here’s a link to an article about “Writing a Last Letter (while you’re still healthy.)”
Here’s a link to an article about “Writing a Last Letter (while you’re still healthy.)”
“every day is a good day,” at least that is what Juliana Koo says after turning 110 on her birthday, September 27th. 250 people celebrated along with her at the Pierre Hotel in NYC. She still plays and sometimes wins at mah-jongg three times a week.
Her second daughter, Genevieve Young, just turned 85, two days before Juliana’s birthday. (NYTimes, “Evening Hours – Fall Celebrations, Bill Cunningham” Oct. 4, 2015)
Her husband, V.K. Wellington Koo was a well-known Chinese diplomat whom I remember our family meeting at some Washington, D.C. function years ago.
Life is long, isn’t it?
This morning at breakfast, I read a quotation to live by from Ruth Reichl, cook and former head of Gourmet Magazine:
“At this point in your life,” she said, “you have to have as much fun in life as you can because you don’t know what’s coming down the road.”
She is 67 and her husband, Michael Singer, is 75. They live in a vast glass house they built eleven years ago in New York State. More can be found at this link:
The quotation title of this post is what Jill Carr said about the passing of her late husband, David Carr, last Thursday night. There has been an outpouring of anecdotes about him even though it’s less than a week since he died: intimate remembrances from friends, family, colleagues and strangers providing insight about him in the wake of his death (pun intended.)
As one writer noted, David Carr epitomized a life that illustrated second chances are possible. Redeeming himself with newborn twins, an addiction to drugs and a life of waste laid upon his body as well as on a dim future, he suffered from cancer, married, had another daughter, got a job at the NYTimes in 2002 and lived for another 13 years before he collapsed last week at his desk.
One irate reader asked why all the fuss over David Carr when she hadn’t been impressed by his writing nor his column? I guess you had to read and glean what it was from what others said about him to learn why he was so admired and not just what he wrote about. What I can gather is that he was a teacher about life as well as about writing. That he was stern and severe in his expectations coupled with empathy and encouragement towards those starting out and especially providing a way for diversity in the mix. He could fiercely compete with you and also be close friends. I guess it might be more uncommon for people in high places like the Times to be that human and that compassionate towards others.
One commentator said that David might not have been the worst dancer, nor the best, but he was certainly the most secure when he was dancing. He lived life to the fullest no matter what he did and it seemed he must have known about his debilitating failing health for a long time and made a conscious choice to power on ahead anyhow. He died not in a hospital bed set in his living room but on the beat, working and doing his job.
I guess this is what his wife meant when she said he left nothing undone. That’s a pretty powerful message for those of us looking around ourselves to see what still needs to be done. And more importantly, what we would like to do that we haven’t yet done.
That’s a pretty powerful legacy to leave behind, don’t you think?
Long live David Carr!
“Be Happy!” That was what my favorite cousin who died a year or so ago, said to me on our last visit together. I was reminded of Pei-Fen today when I saw a photo in the NYTimes of the Martha Graham dance company dancers in motion. Pei-Fen had danced with Martha Graham and Ted Shawn in the last mid-century. Her second husband was composer and clarinetist, Meyer Kupferman. I read in one of the chats online that people lined up to visit them not just for music camaraderie but especially for Pei-Fen’s cooking.
On that note, her cooking was very individual and representative of her nature. The last time we had a meal together in Rhinebeck, New York, she served a single dish for our lunch: Buddha’s Delight on wooden plates. I’ve sampled this dish elsewhere since it’s a favorite dish, and was delighted that she had made it for our leisurely lunch, but also so that I could get a glimpse of how she had prepared it. Everything was cut meticulously. That’s the main message of her dish–the soaked cellophane noodles, tiger lilies, dried shitake mushrooms reconstituted in warm water, tree ear (an important textural element), a little sliced cabbage and seasonings. When I make it, the dish tastes all right but the texture is not the same–I haven’t managed to get everything sliced and trimmed as tidily as she did when making this dish. Her Buddha’s Delight dish was, well, buddha-like in its harmonic simplicity. There was a peaceful aura about it too.
In any event, the photo of Martha Graham Company dancers in the Times today brought back this instant image, memory and message from Pei Fen. “Be Happy” she had said to me, holding my hand, knowing about my family background, my parents and how life had unfolded for me. I took her advice to heart. I remember it when I am feeling down or depressed about things. And how is it that one can uplift one’s spirits to be happy?
Simple: take away what is not working in one’s life and put it aside. Be in the moment of a winter’s day with the sun gilding the horizon, trying to come out in the mid-morning light. Marvel at the whiteness of the snow that has blanketed everything. Be thankful that our hot water tank is working again and it was only the pilot light that got blown out by a draft last night, sparing us the expense of having to call the plumber and replace it on a Friday before the weekend.
Observe how actually nothing is wrong, right this moment. Rejoice that my vertigo is diminishing simply from performing some simple gravity-driven maneuvers called the “Epley Maneuver” for a benign crystal floating around in my inner ear rather than something that might be more serious.
Be glad that my husband and I are so lucky to be together even when things are hard around us that are outside of our control. And let go of how others behave–you can’t do anything about it anyhow by reacting to it. Save and conserve my energy instead of letting it dissipate willy-nilly.
We have a local Councillor with the initials “PP” who has been loyal, consistent and gone to bat for our causes in the past decades: defeating a wetlands development plan two or three times so far; advocating for protecting uninfested trees from rampant clear-cutting during an infestation of beetles in our town. Two years ago during the holidays, I made some mince pies using my Breville pie maker after coming upon jars of British mincemeat at a local emporium. We gave some to PP, family and neighbors.
G. saw PP last night at a hearing to try and save more trees (5000 of them) from being clear-cut by the USDA. We suspect that authorities are more interested in spending their budget so that they can ask for more money rather than doing right by our trees. In any case, I’m going to pick up some prepared pie crusts to make some of these miniature mince pies this weekend and brighten up the kitchen with the delicious smells–and for G. to bring some over to PP as a thank-you for his efforts. He loved them before and there was a twinkle in his eye last night when G. mentioned that there might be more coming soon.
Robertson’s Mincemeat ingredients: apples, raisins, sultanas, candied mixed orange peel, lemon peel, treacle, currants, sugar and spices, everything nice!
So, there you are. Being happy is easy when I focus on what I am grateful for and to do something that makes someone else happy. Mince pies are perfect! They smell divine while they are cooking and are so tasty eaten with a wedge of cheddar cheese.
Being happy is a choice and I choose it! Thanks, Pei-Fen.
As a pianist whose favorite composer is Johann Sebastian Bach, I have numerous recordings of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II. Any pianist who undertakes to learn them all and then perform them either by memory or using the music has my respect and admiration, even if their recordings aren’t necessarily my most favorite ones. Up to today, I owned Bach WTC I & II recordings by Glenn Gould, Sviatislav Richter and Angela Hewitt. I also have random prelude and fuge recordings by Clara Haskill, Maria Joao Pires, Martha Argerich and Peter Serkin among others.
Many of us recall the splash made by the Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould, when he came upon the music scene, seated on a sawed off wooden chair, humming to himself, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was on stage in Carnegie Hall and playing the Goldberg Variations faster (and with more clarity) than anyone had ever imagined possible. Gould also recorded the Goldbergs, this time at a much slower tempo twenty years later and it’s interesting to listen to both sets one after the other. For a long time, my favorite pianist performing Bach was Angela Hewitt, also a Canadian pianist who has recorded just about everything Bach ever wrote for the keyboard: Inventions, Partitas, English and French Suites, the Goldberg Variations, both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier and other pieces like the Italian Concerto for solo piano and the keyboard concerti with orchestra.
Today, as I was finishing my breakfast, I came upon a review in the New York Times of the French pianist, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who performed the WTC – Book I, using the score at a Carnegie Hall recital. The reviewer noted that Andras Schiff performed the WTC by memory and seemed to “channel Bach.” I happen to disagree with this opinion because I have listened to a few clips of Schiff playing Bach and am bothered by the tempo and rubato liberties he takes with the score. That is, he plays unevenly and pauses at places that seem to please him, and not as Bach intended it–at least not to my ear. The photograph in the NYTimes article of the Steinway concert grand and the pianist on the wide stage was striking, a gorgeous snapshot depicting the glory of a pianist playing Bach on a concert stage. After reading the review, I listened to a few segments on I-Tunes and then purchased the album once I figured out what my Apple I-Tunes password was after a few futile attempts.
I listened to this new set of preludes and fuges while I did an hour or so of housework this morning, and found that I liked them a lot. I cleared off items crowding space in the plant room, fed the canary and rearranged sea things that I had found on the beach last year when we went to the Cape after Christmas. I made a new playlist for the downloaded disc and burned a CD for my car. As I pulled out of the driveway to go to the post office and grocery store, this new Bach piano music filled the car. The morning sun shone through the trees, many with brilliant yellow leaves that had not yet fallen. For me, there’s no simpler nirvana than to listen to Bach while doing chores inside and errands out and about.
So, heartfelt thanks first of all to Johann Sebastian Bach, for composing all that lovely music in the first place. Gratitude for the New York Times newspaper which also keeps on giving, introducing me to concerts, pianists and recordings that I might not otherwise come across. Kudos to Pierre-Laurent Aimard for playing Bach so beautifully and for making this recording. And a huzzah to Apple and I-Tunes for making equipment that enables someone like me to download, listen to, purchase and then copy a CD for my car in less time than it takes to sweep the floor!
All in all, I’m grateful for this rapturous confluence of art and technology on a brilliant Fall day here in New England. What a JOY!
Postscript: I noticed that the Aimard CD in hard copy on Amazon.com is listed for $16.99 while I downloaded it on I-Tunes for $11.99.
I woke up this morning and watched a video of an interview with Iris Apfel, a style maven who lives in New York City. At the age of 92, she looks fabulous and singularly fashionable in her own distinctive way of dressing. Or should I say, living.
For someone like me who prides herself on being both serious and frugal, the interview was an eye-opener. Iris has more things crammed into a corner of a room than I have in my whole house! She wears more jewelry at one time than I have in my drawer! Best of all, she has a husband who not only understands and appreciates her wild approach to living, but jokes about not having to sleep in a drawer!
Here’s the video clip that illuminated my perspective today. I’m not saying that we should all go running out and buy hordes of things for ourselves. When she was asked by Deborah Needleman, the editor of “T Magazine” (NYTimes fashion magazine) what style was, her immediate response was, “attitude.” Plus, she’s going even stronger at the age of ninety-two with new jewelry designs, recognition and accolades as a style icon. What a wonderful peek at her outlook on life to crack open my own super-serious, self-monitoring list of new year’s resolutions!
When asked to describe life in three words, Iris Apfel said, “only one trip.” Which spurs me to start thinking about taking more trips with my daughters to places and events that we might not do otherwise. And more often. What do we think we are waiting for?
Thank goodness for a breath of fresh air from this fortunate 92-year old woman: to truly be ourselves and to live as fully as we can on the only trip of our lives. That’s all. That’s everything, isn’t it?
This morning, I was going through some newspaper and magazine clippings as part of my big clean-out to make room for reorganizing my library of overflowing books. It’s always interesting to look at what I had saved, especially the “Dear Diary” clippings that appear regularly in NYT Monday newspapers. One of them, published in August, 2011, made us laugh out loud as I read it before we sat down to have lunch.
Two boxes of books are already staged downstairs to donate to the library on Wednesday and I’m hoping to double that. As some of you know, I enjoy reading the New York Times because it stimulates and inspires me to do things I wouldn’t otherwise know about. One example is the “Kiku” Japanese Chrysanthemum Show at the New York Botanical Garden that I plan to drive down to see next week before it closes. Another is an interview with Mary Louise Parker, one of my favorite actresses, who is featured in the Broadway Play, “Snow Geese” which I might go to see by taking a Greyhound Bus down to NYC for a Wednesday Matinee sometime in early November. Taking the early morning bus, I would arrive in NYC around 12:30, catch a quick lunch and go to the 2:00 p.m. show, then take the 6:30 p.m. bus back home.
New York City has always been somewhere I liked to visit ever since I lived there in rent-controlled apartments for five years when I was first married. Subway rides were cheap at 15 cents, you could go and listen to Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in Sheeps’ Meadow for free and we got to see all of George Balanchine’s ballets with Jacques d’Amboise and Suzanne Farrell at Lincoln Center, paying $1.50 for fifth ring seats. Dinners in Chinatown included heaping mounds of steaming snails in black bean sauce, white rice and a platter of chinese greens that cost less than $4.00 for four people. Those were great days to be in NYC!
A few years ago, my daughters and I went there to celebrate my birthday, saw the Rockettes in Radio Music City Hall, walked around the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center and also visited the gaping hole that was the site of the 9-11 attack. Sobering. We also went to a flea market at West 23rd Street where I found a little gilt ram for a few dollars that symbolized my birth sign, Capricorn.
As I happened upon this little clipping, I thought it might brighten your day with a little humor, as it did mine, while I slog through all this stuff that’s due outside for pickup tomorrow morning.
“Dear Diary” (August, 2011)
While I was sitting on the subway in mid-June, a man in his 30’s who was pushing a stroller with a baby in it and who had another baby strapped to his chest, sat down opposite me.
The woman next to me asked, “Are they twins?” He said that they were and that they were 7 months old.
The same woman next to me said, “Oh, I have twins, two boys, age 13.”
The woman next to her exclaimed, “Oh, I have twins, two boys, age 11”
The man standing up in the doorway said, “Oh, I am a twin and I have twins, a boy and a girl.”
At that point, I weighed in, “Oh, I have 38-year-old twin boys.”
At that moment, a woman sitting nearby jumped up and yelled, “I am out of here!” And she stomped down the train car.
Everyone in the subway car broke out in laughter.
~ Mark Edelman
Mary Oliver, a poet who lives on Cape Cod and writes about Nature in simple language, has just come out with a new volume of poetry called “Dog Songs.” I was reading an article about her and this new publication when I came across this poem of hers:
I see or I hear
that more or less
Wanted to post it here to start off the week.
One reads about the middle way, neither too yin nor too yang. Not one extreme or the other, but follow the golden mean. Take not gain nor loss to heart. Stay calm and do our best. Every day. Fret not about what we can’t affect. Influence modestly when we can. Doesn’t that sound calming? It takes the struggle from contention. It neutralizes fear because if we do our best, fear becomes a waste of energy.
This weekend, my daughter, C. visited and we made blueberry muffins because it was Sunday morning. A new recipe I found online with small bits of unsalted butter mixed in with the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Then eggs and milk. Blueberries and orange zest. Baked and sprinkled with lemon zest and sugar on top: the crowning glory of flavor. They were delicious, especially with cups of hot coffee while we read articles aloud to each other from the New York Times. Not too big like supermarket muffins sometimes are. C. remembered when we used to make blueberry muffins from Duncan Hines box mixes on Sundays when the kids were growing up. I forgot about that somehow.
We talked about friends, some in need, and what we might be able to do to help. Played some Scriabin and Beethoven on my incandescent Steinway grand piano (“Victor”). The tone so clear as a bell and resonant too. Then we ordered a small mushroom pizza, getting gas for her car on the way to pick up our lunch. More munching and talking about teaching, kids cyber-bullying and wondering what comes over girls during adolescence?
C. folded up the sheets, blankets and quilt in a neat pile which will be put away until her next visit. . . soon we hope.