Again, Dear Hortensia, I’m Driven to Abstraction

Lady and fruit dish ca. 1920PaulSano
For some unidentified reason, I have recently been curious about the color orange, and all of its properties both metaphysically and how they relate to the other million hues on the color continuum. This may be an innate, very genuine, and subconscious effort to mark new territory.

Or, as it is the most reasonable of explanations: my color-quest results from either one of my medications or the dreams they indeed prompt. Ah, so much for mid-week rationalizing, dear Hortensia.

Dr. Sano’s autochrome itself is somber, stiff, and seemingly emotionless. The colors are drab and weary. I love it. Naturally, the tangerine shade of the tablecloth, as topped with the “flat and still” life, caught my eye, as did the setting. Perhaps, I am more peculiar in my ways than I claim, but such a table, with such items filling its top surface and set in the dusk, strikes me as inappropriate. The table looks to be near a property edge and almost in a lonely woodsy clearing by a dirt road.

Perhaps, there is a detailed narrative that I’ve missed altogether. Perhaps, the image captures an actual moment of real time, and is neither staged nor styled. Perhaps, the century old photography is simply a study of the weird minutia of a weird moment. My attention turns to Doris Day’s interpretation of “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás”, with harmonies by Peggy Lee and Julie London.

This image is chauffeuring me right to distraction’s door. Alas, I now realize the core of this particular obsession. If I squint ever so tightly and dim the desk light a bit, the woman is reminiscent of Maria Ouspenskaya, the Russian émigré whose first acting role in the US was for her 1936 Academy Award nominated performance in “Dodsworth” (a Marklewood favorite).

Ouspenkaya went on to “iconically” portray the wise and mysterious gypsy fortune teller in the “Wolfman” series, which the majority of Americans under the age of eighty have likely seen on late night television. For some reason, I always loved her, even when she played bitchy, controlling characters. My grandmother suggested that it because I could pronounce her Russian surname so easily and at such a young age.

As I look around my desk at today’s clutter and notes, I realize that further pursuit today of the color Orange is folly. I have several internet explorations queued for my attention. Yes, dear Hortensia, I made a list since I’ll likely forget them if I should take a nap. Yes, a nap.

“The way you walked was thorny, though no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Now you will have peace for eternity.” (Mme. Ouspenskaya in 1941’s “The Wolfman”)

(Image: “Lady and Fruit Dish” by Paul Sano, 1920.)

A Gathering of Buds

Spring is definitely at Marklewood although there’s still a bit of apprehension in its stride. The azaleas are in bloom. The hydrangea is covered with buds. The Bradford Pears have already dusted the grounded pine needles with their spent petals. The season’s march on an overgrown and a quickly evolving landscape is well underway.

Although it can be lonely, some days here are glorious.

I sensed a new spring in my own step this morning as the countdown for my LVAD has finally begun. My daydreams as I lounged in bed with Henry, as we both luxuriated with space, drifted toward my impending 40th high school reunion. On that particular weekend, that silly marmalade puss will be turning eleven, and he is now the pride’s senior.

I’m sure that the turn-out will be sketchy, but there are some good friends that have “disappeared” from everyone’s radar. There are others with whom I’ve chatted via telephone or Facebook, but haven’t seen since college. The thought of such deep and dysfunctional nostalgia was just too rousing for my meager caché of morning oxygen.

That is, until I realized that my petals droop, my stem is brittle, my leaves are veiny, and my stamen is limp. My anticipation now approaches dread. I must plan.

If you should know where I can obtain some “Miracle-Gro”, please let me know. I shall cut back a bit on the diuretics to better hydrate. Perhaps, I’ll locate some non-judgmental co-attendee who might improve with a mutual pruning session. It would be refreshing to also have some glisten and confidence in my stance. Mind you, pollination is an activity of the past.

In the meantime, I shall sleep a little later and chant mantras as I ready each day. Not for the reunion but for me.

I’ll dance at the next garden party.

(Images: French Trade Cards, 1890’s.)

Easter Angels and Unwritten Laws

Easter has always been a complex and inconsistent holiday for me. When I was a relatively wee lad, the day was filled with baskets of fine chocolates, books, and ensembles perhaps better befitting a young dandy. We would attend church service and return home to a celebratory meal and a day of family bonding. The imagery and explanations confounded me, however, as I struggled to link the Resurrection with a rabbit in a dinner jacket.

As I matured and approached puberty, naturally the treats were offered less frequently. We did, however, still go to Easter service which was always joyous and offered triumphant music. I realized at a young age that this day was the only one that, being Catholic, the hymns would be upbeat and melodic. We’d return home to again a special lunch, reminisce about relatives I had never met, and then I would revel in kickball or riding bicycles with my neighborhood cronies. I could always frolic until dark, since North Carolina was yet the only state that honored Easter Monday. The next day was another holiday!

As I became a young man, Easter became less of a special day, except that stores were closed and many folks either went to the beach or spent the day with relatives. I usually slept late, stayed in my robe, and spent the day reading or watching some Easter classic film that was hopefully not “The Ten Commandments” nor a chestnut that starred Jeff Chandler!

Then as I started my journey of drifting toward and away from serious romantic relationships, the day always meant some spectacular meal: a festive brunch or elegant dinner party with perhaps a dozen guests. Certainly it was a festive day but no one really thought of Easter, its history, or its intent. We made merry and indulged, and nursed a wretched aftermath.

Of course now I am in my reflective dotage and the day has further evolved. Like all my peers, I am prone to embrace nostalgia and share tales. Jon and I fix a special meal, nothing extravagant, but something out of the ordinary. 
Today we simply had a serene day with the windows open, snacking independently. We both have such fickle appetites and limitations, that “n’er the twain doth meet!”

Jon will play his sacred music most of the day as he swoons with the swell of the chords and the organ. We will savor a few treats. And we will reminisce about friends and lovers who have passed away and relatives that the other has never met or probably even heard mention.

It’s just the two of us, the cats, and of course the Easter bunny. I doubt I ever stopped believing in her. Yes, I learned long ago that the bearer of such sweet sentiment, gentle nostalgia, and special delicacies had to be a woman: a gentle, patient, and motherly type.

But alas and alack. I will sadly not be playing kickball this year, although it is not for lack of want.

Happy Easter, my friends. 
The Easter bunny is an angel; it’s an unwritten law of nature and divine order, at least at Marklewood!

Special prayers to Jean Sadler Markle, 

26.January.1925 – 18.April.2014
(Jon’s mother passed away in her sleep, joining his father who passed away a year ago. Jean had been a preacher’s wife and a gentle, patient, and motherly type. Her turkey salad was the best. )

An Even Better Friday

last-supper44x28 (Had today been Friday, my thoughts might’ve been somewhat relevant and my posting, timely. I apologize for my internal clock which needs fresh batteries.)

The best of Friday felicitations from the sandbox, my friends. For some of you, today is a reflective holy day, a solemn step toward pending joy.

For others, the day becomes a euphemism as the start of a process, an ultimate new beginning, a resurrection if you will. For most of us, it will be a Good Friday indeed … regardless of its definition or intent.

And for an unlucky few, the day becomes unfortunate and simply a day of thus-pegged irony.

However you interpret, plan, and allow your day to unfold, may it be what you want it to be. And, more importantly, what ever you need it to be.

One Friday is but one day. 
I will spend my day in my own manner. I shall pay silent homage to Easters past and those folk who anxiously laid my foundation. I will revel in the brilliant relationships that grace my life today.
It is those connections that fuel my soul, give me hope, and define my humanity.

My soul, my hope, and my humanity (as I humbly understand them) are going to make the most of this day and I shall call it a good Friday.
There is no such measure of time that is “JUST” a day. Believe that!

(Image: “Last Supper” by Vladimir Kush.)

Setting Places at the Last Supper

Interpretations of the Last Supper certainly need neither invitation nor justification, simply an appreciation of both art and quirk. Mind you, such images give me quick recall of a conflicted youth: when Easter brought anticipation of frolicsome bunnies, treat-filled baskets, and heady crucifixions. Weeks of Roman Catholic pointer-whipped doctrine, when tempered by visions of egg hunts, can oft drive a child to the sanctity of his room. Sadly, even a locked door can hardly prevent angels or demons from wistfully penetrating the tiniest keyhole.

So as posting this image may border on sacrilege, I remind you that blasphemy is surely seen only in the “eyes of the beholder”. Please consider the source and reserve judgment for another day. I mean no disrespect. As always, I celebrate the artist’s vision and the deft deconstruction of the unexpected. Most of my favorite paintings or photographs are sublimely surreal, others are deliciously naughty. None, however, are posted with the intent to offend.

Instead, modern images of the now archetypal Last Supper will hopefully coax a smile, prod a thought, or spark a friendly dialogue. God willing, of course!

Jon and I anticipate yet another quiet Easter with perhaps a festive repast. Jon will telephone his mother, who is grouchy these days. I will reluctantly eavesdrop, with the blessed ability to gratefully walk away. Together, though, we will surely spend the afternoon reminiscing, with amusing anecdotes and childhood confessions.

Easter greetings from Marklewood. Beware of chickens that lurk near the well-appointed table. They are the ones, my friends, whose motives I’d question.

(Image: “Last Supper Nighthawks” by Brandt Kofton, 2014.)

Cutting, Gritting, Clenching, Sinking, and Pulling Teeth


When it comes to dentistry, I’m still a holdover from the era in which it suggested pain on every level. When it came to cleaning, filling, even extracting, most dentists under-anesthetized patients or skipped it altogether. The result was a generation terrified of even the simplest of check-ups.

Today, of course, procedures have changed and the entire dental office staff now believes that painkillers are a good thing. Pain is the enemy. Actually it was indeed the enemy to baby-boomers. Tomorrow, I am having some work done. The dentist explained that I’ll have a dab of lidocaine so I don’t feel the novocaine needle pricks and, afterwards, will have nitrous oxide. He also suggested that, if I’m nervous at all, to take a painkiller or such from home … just in case.

Unbelievable. But I’m already on that ship.

Unbelievable might also describe this awful segue: tonight, while I was putzing around the house, I read an article about a woman who “cured” her own cavities. Rather than face (and pay for) six extractions, she used a holistic and organic approach. Daily, she would subject her body and tastebuds to all sorts of extracts, oils, and herbs. Six months later her cavities had all but disappeared.

Unbelievable. Really. I don’t believe it.

Then, as Providence would have it, I stumbled upon these two images from a print ad that was published in China in 2012. It simply shows two “alleged” molars that have been carved with the tiniest of utensils to create some fantastical tiny sculptures. Maxam’s creative team won many international kudos for the unusual, memorable, and smart advertizing that lauded its toothpaste.

The ad presented the case for the Maxam brand of toothpaste in “Civilization-Egypt” and “Civilization Rome”, showing ancient ruins in the unsettling context of molar teeth. “Don’t let germs settle down.” The campaign, spearheaded by Yang Yeo won Gold Outdoor and Gold Press Lions at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

Unbelievable, yet again. Although, once I realized that said sculptures were not done to scale, I became a believer, an enthusiastic one.

So, as I proofread before I post, thoughts of tomorrow’s visit to the UNC Dental Clinic is again weighing heavy. Should I take an oxycodone or a lorazepam to jump-start the numbing process?

It doesn’t really matter what I decide. Tomorrow morning, I will have forgotten what I decided and need to deliberate a second time.

And so goes my life.

Holiday Muzak in the Green Room

Lara Zankoul
While the Oschter Haws spends the next few days in the Universe’s “Green Room” preparing for the upcoming weekend, Jon and I will likely reminisce about Easters past. (I often view it as the Greatest Hits of “Growing Up Catholic in the South” or “Southern Baptist in the Mid-West”).

I still have a few questions that have never been answered to my satisfaction, by either Sr Edward Patricia or my parents:
How do we know that the Easter bunny is a boy?
What does a bunny have to do with eggs? In primary school, I don’t believe that fertility rites, pagan customs, and the influx of Pennsylvania Dutch settlers really are of any interest to the “real” believers.

It’s a parochial puzzlement to those of us in the hinterlands. Except for the pusses and they aren’t talkin’!

(Image: “The Zoo” by Lara Zankoul, 2013.)

Past The Dead Cow a County Spell

When I finally accepted the inevitable and moved in with Jon a dozen years ago, it was not unlike some perverse twist on the “Beverly Hillbillies” saga. Jon lived out in the country, in the hinterlands of outer “Raleighwood” … and, as I used to joke, at the end of the second dirt drive just past the dead cow.

That auspicious Sunday still gives me alternating guffaws, at the situation’s mere outrageousness, with shrieks at the abject horror and the rekindled stress. But with “both” echoing in what soon would be my memory, my caravan arrived at the secluded Marklewood. Jon maneuvered a large moving van while others navigated six carloads of clothing, perishables, and the more precious of flowering urns. 

I had always been a “city boy”, usually living in the thick of things, especially when I lived in New York or Boston. Even in Greensboro, from where I was now relocating, my ‘20’s house was only eight short blocks from the slowly-throbbing heart of the city. I knew better than to presume that any transition I was now undertaking would be easy, stress-free, or rapid.

Of course, in all the many days and nights I had spent at Jon’s, I rarely caught glimpse of any neighbors. Yes, I heard engines rev, dogs bark … and the melodic chimes of some ice cream truck further down the road a spell! Yes, I adopt colloquialisms speedily as co-dependent children from a linguistic, yet dysfunctional family often do! (I can still hear my father’s trained and perfect resonant pitch wrapped around a “howdy” or two.)

There was an eclectic mix of homes in the vicinity: small, depression-era cottages; ante-bellum farmhouses with significant acreage; mid-century brick ranches; and a few grand early Victorian country houses with stately landscaping. My curiosity drifted toward the few of what I prefer call “portable bungalows”, the iconic Southern mobile homes. I was surprised that Jon’s house stood apart from all the other local structures … quite literally. Nestled in the woods about a “holler and a half” from the road stood what was once a large barn and converted to a small house in the ‘30’s.

Marklewood, which I would later christen Jon’s house out of fondness and irony, is modest but teeming with charm: a hand-hewn staircase, clever and oddly-placed built-ins and niches, and both an upstairs and a downstairs sunroom. I have always been able to effortlessly touch the ceilings, but generally make no attempt to do so. Missing are the little structural extras such as closets, kitchen counters, a front door. However, I never allow such minutia to strain my joy, well at least not on precipitation-free weekends.

The next few days were arduous and stressful as we unloaded and carried inside my lifetime’s ten rooms of acquired furniture, accessories, Persian rugs. In the tradition of my mother’s family, I had acquired many, many collections: notably my books, quirky art, and porcelain grotesques. I mention those three specific collections because it was the very transition to this house that made me at once realize I had grossly over-accumulated and created thus many specific challenges. But, at that very point in time, it didn’t “make no never mind” (as they say cheekily in the South). It was simply more important to get everything first indoors, as providence would surely later guide each item to its fitting place.

It took three of us two full days to unload that truck and assemble a modicum of order within the house. It took at least a month to get everything neatly tucked away. And it took probably another six months to find everything again! Organization itself was an arduous process that took over five years to achieve.

Before long, however, the novelty and freshness of the situation had worn off. I had abandoned comparisons and nostalgia as, frankly, my life in bigger cities no longer had bearing on the present.

I became oblivious to the dusty dirt roads and the inconvenience of shopping for provisions, and learned to savor the sounds. There was always a chirp, chortle, rustle, or snap emanating from somewhere in the horizon.  And I now relish those intimate sounds of nature and find that there is more life swirling around me than there ever was when I lived “downtown”!

Of course, I wince when I hear Bachman-Turner Overdrive tunes echoing from down the road, but that rarely lasts long as the folks out here go to bed rather early, I presume.

That’d be early except on Friday nights — such as tonight. The Raleigh Speedway is four miles away and I can sit in the sunroom, nursing an iced cappuccino, and hear the dragsters and motorists clock their laps down the road a county spell. It’s a comforting sound that I anticipate each spring and would certainly miss, should we ever leave Marklewood.

In that way it is not unlike those city noises I first missed twelve short years ago, when I mistakenly felt it was all too quiet here. I savor the stillness and serenity, as well as the remarkable absence of commercial signage, tooting truck horns, or an illuminated sky in the horizon.

Incidentally, my sense of directions out here in the hinterlands has finally been honed to both make sense and be direct. However, my surround has made me creative in citing landmarks. You can add to the “dead cow” Ye Olde Bait Shoppe (forgive me for romanticizing), the lakeside grist mill, and my favorite: the Mobile Home Estates a few miles away.

Yes, this is indeed Marklewood and it is my home.

Surreal Estate Dabbling

Understatement is all relevant and, here in the hinterlands, stands alone in such a residence.

For a soul who is nourished by the Universe’s full buffet of colors, the garden is moved indoors. This cottage “imaginaire et pittoresque” would be surrounded and well-guarded by a sentry of ancient oaks, pines, and fruited walnut trees. In a mossy glade just off the stoop, there is a weathered wrought iron table on which the pusses sleep and, under which, they hide.

It thunders and threatens rain. The acreage is now vacant, ready for the next time that the palette is in hand and Marklewood is creaking just a little too often.

The threat is no longer idle.

While the Universe pounds our roof into submission, I survey the clutter and dust, shaking my head. I know that Jon and I are just two more budding “hoarders without borders”.

Henry rubs against my leg until I lift him to my chest. He purrs and, in Cat-onese, confidently suggests: “It is indeed time to call Mini Maids by Miss Haversham!”

Those savvy pusses!

Falderal of Pearls

Sweet dreams, oh playful and insightful comrades! May you dream tonight of strands of pearls, in necklaces or otherwise, pearls of wisdom, or even divers should that fancy be yours.

Here’s to you, mightiest of Pearls: Bailey, Buck, and that wretched speller, Linda. Let us not forget that Mr. Grey was a pearl from birth, although never attributed so by either sheriff or editor. All pearls by perfection, nonetheless, are thus snatched by the diver for your savor and amusement … and mine.

Those naughty prescriptive sirens are singing a soft chord. My pillow certainly awaits. Henry, though, reminds me that he is exclusively a land-lubbin’ puss, of the driest variety who like I, are fond of “les Poissons d’Avril”.

Tonight I shall sleep with one eye open, avoiding both the net of a dreaded Saturday and the hook of a week unfinished. My half-shell slumber best prepares me for the junket that awaits.

I clutch with anticipation, and avoid any mention of wisdom.

“These pearls of thought in Persian gulfs were bred, 
Each softly lucent as a rounded moon;
The diver Omar plucked them from their bed,
FitzGerald strung them on an English thread.”
(James Russell Lowell, 1819-91)

(Image: “Les Eléments L’eau Le Char de Neptune” by Charles Le Brun.)