Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dog Hair Cancer


She was picking the dog hair off of my black sweat jacket. We were sitting at the tram stop on the Overtoom.  Our conversation, begun in English, slipped about in Dutch. I recognized her as the small stooped Asian woman who was with me in the hair drying space at the gym merely ten minutes before we met again at the tram stop. She didn’t recognize me.  I’m guessing she was from Indonesia and her Dutch was rather difficult to understand. “You have to be careful, “ she plucked some hair off of my shoulder, her eyes gigantic behind her spectacles, “my brother died of dog hair.  Cancer.” She clucked.

I asked myself, looking at my bloated stomach in the mirror, what would make me happy. Some years ago, around 15 to be exact I tackled the problems of my metabolism.  I was overweight and the only thing that would make me less overweight was exercise and healthy eating habits. I began by eating everything I wanted, only in the form of three meals and two snacks a day. The more you eat, the better your metabolism. I exercised regularly and tried not to overstrain my muscles to enable me to go out and do something fun again the next day. A gentle variety of sporty activities is excellent for your metabolism.  Between the ages of 35 and 45 I didn’t gain weight, I even lost a fair amount bit by bit gram by gram.

These days my stomach, flat-ish in the morning, was nearly doubled in size in the evening. Cortisone. That problem that women develop especially around middle age.  I asked myself, what would make me happy. My answer had everything to do with the symptoms of my unhappiness and not about the causes. Okay, time to organize a bit more, after all I was at the end of paying lawyer invoices.  I could very soon reassign my resources and time management.

I looked in the kitchen cupboards. Oatmeal and one portion of rice noodles. These last two months have been a…well…bitch. I began to fantasize about the new state of the art Tupperware containers I would purchase and in my mind I wheeled a grocery cart around the Asian supermarket and the European supermarket aisle by aisle planning what I would buy to fully stock my cupboards. Why not stock enough dried foods and supplies to last until December?  That would make me happy.  That became my big plan. I felt happy thinking about my plan. Lots of healthy choices, that was the ticket, not that scrounge up another meal from the dregs in the fridge feeling.

This week on my workday out of the office I decided to check my happiness levels, as part of my new program Head off Cortisone Bloating.

7:30 Wake up. Happy to wake up at 7:30. Check

9:30 Yoga lesson.  Was I feeling rushed and pressed getting to the yoga lesson? Was I feeling obliged to tack another yoga lesson onto my week’s agenda to deal with my stress levels, ringing ears? Was I being obsessive? No. I was happy to be there on the yoga mat. It felt more volunteer than obligation to deal with me and my stress levels. Check.

11:00 ING Bank. Did I want to be there?  Yes and no. Since January I’ve been trying to arrange a business account.  ING sent the letter three times to my old address.  Now I was finally able to pick up the last piece to manage the account. Was I feeling stressed?  Did I want to punch the I’m-not-allowed-to-be-cranky-person-who-was-assigned-meet-and-greet-customers-at-the-door-but-I-don’t-want-to-hear-your-problem-won’t-let-you-talk-to-anyone-go-use-the-computer Customer Service Rep?  Yes. I took a deep breath, after all this time I was there assured that I would get the info I needed. Penciled check, kinda not stressed but still aggravated, historically aggravated I would say.

11:30 Supermarket.  Still waiting for payment. Ten Euros budget. Five of which will have to feed the dog. Stressed? Nope. All I needed was a 39 cent container of yoghurt, otherwise I could manage another two days with x,y and z in the fridge. Check. I might get paid this week.

13:00 Warm up, singing. Stressed? Not about voice, in prime condition. How much did I need to warm up? Did I have time to take the dog to the park? Park ride 15 minutes away, need to drop dog back off and leave for coaching lesson at 14:35. Hmmmm, check kind of worried.

13:18 Put dog in bike basket. Stressed? Nice weather, she liked the park last time we went in May. Bit of a treat for her.  Dog stands in bushes and is generally uncooperative. Well, I get points for trying. Slightly stressed because she’s not happy to be at the park. She liked the warm breezy bike ride more.

14:15 Back home. Dog asleep in basket. Lie on floor, do some Alexander Technique relaxation moves.  How stressed am I at that moment? Not very, next up coaching lesson.

15:00 Great hour working with coach. Met my own ineptitude but excited about correcting things. Stressed?  Slightly.  Why am I learning two opera roles? Did I really think about this carefully?

16:30 Sign divorce papers at lawyer’s office. Stress level: near zero. Happiness factor definitely present.

17:30 Back home for dinner. Two pieces of toast, the last of the salami, a tomato and some yoghurt. Stressed? A little hyper actually.

19:00 Head to the train station.  Need to charge fare card. Still money in account. Stressed? No.

20:00 Haarlem, teaching. Was I happy to be there teaching? Yes.  Was I stressed? No.

23:00 Back home. Stressed? Hmm…..a bit…am I prepared enough for tomorrow? Stress level? Slight.

Bloated belly? Better than the previous day.  Conclusion: not a bad idea this stress monitoring habit.

 

 

 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Village Repast

It seemed portentous.  I closed the last page, Joyce’s Ulysses, looked up and saw that an email from my lawyer had landed in my mailbox.  Jolted from a remote thought about a particularly vibrant and whimsical strain of the celebrated short sighted feminine sense of chronology, I held my lawyer’s card between my fingers, formerly used as a bookmark to Ulysses.  I felt I had exited humanity in two ways, one of the messiness of the Molly Bloom and her all-encompassing literary mortal lot, and two, as immediately the email turned my attention towards my own person, I subsequently read the final version of my divorce papers, pouring over the demise of my marriage and all that was before present in writ of my social status past. I’ve thought, and still think, I can simply exit all this overload in the world and write a few books, sing a few concerts and retire or retreat from the rest without much bother. Suffice it to say I am not a Molly Bloom.

I also wasn’t carrying a spade.  This fact singled me out from the village’s local population. I do have a dog, much like most of the local population, sparse.  “Watch out,” I was warned, “city dogs think they can walk on algae like Jesus.” To escape the party of the Gay Pride Two Week Euro Festival, a part of which had landed on my doorstep, I had pleaded to be taken into the countryside, into a friend’s house in a small Dutch village.  A long strip of pathway set into a canal, or two canals bordered by an accompanying grey line of pavement.  That’s about it, a stretch of budding metropolis in a boggy landscape. An intersection where the bus stop meets the hub of the village set out along the canal that would be the focus point of potential congestion problems and perhaps, in future, a rotunda. Dog walkers abounded. My pooch delights in green grass, seldom seen in the corner of Amsterdam in which we rotate.  Every opportunity to defecate upon fresh and dewy was appreciated.  I had plastic bags with me and had spotted two garbage receptacles in the village, one by the playground and one by the park.

“There used to be spades for communal use attached to the bridge poles in the village.” I was informed. “But they disappeared.”

I checked where my dog was standing, a short distance behind me. My head swiveled towards the community house and the small metal locker to one side of the door under the eaves that had “Book Exchange” hanging above it. Curious as to the literary tendencies in the village, I made a move towards the locker, and heard the sound of something hitting the water that sounded heavier than a duck.

I ran to the water.  I didn’t see anything at first, but then my dog emerged paddling blindly, heading under a bridge.  At the other end of the bridge I pulled her out of the water. Dripping, she immediately released her bowels in the grass.  Another dog walker, carrying a spade, came up to me, “I was wondering what you were doing.” He commented dryly. “Shall I dip her in the other side?” He gestured towards the clear water of the canal opposite the bright green canal. The dog’s coat had turned from caramel color to dark grey.

“You are welcome to stay, but he likes to start practicing at nine in the morning.”

Not a problem. He used to be a trombonist. Retired, he’s taken up the euphonium and the tuba.  “How much do you practice a day?” I asked over a cup of coffee.

“Ah, on a good day 6 hours but most days 2 to 4 hours is about it.”  

“You cannot imagine how great it is,” a French friend explained to me who stopped singing, “not to have to faire la voix everyday.”

Well that will be next, but not quite yet, first Finnegan’s Wake.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Top

I suppose we all have something particular in mind we assume we will stumble across one day. The perfect this or the perfect that.

At the moment for me, well I write at the moment, but it’s been a long moment, about a year or two I believe, and by this I mean I really believe that someplace in me believes that I will find the top.  It’s an Amsterdam story, I adore the creativity of Amsterdammers and their garbage collection day. They carefully display the items someone might want before the truck rumbles along the red bricks road to crush and demolish. Perhaps it’s the bicycle mentality, try to make it to the other side before the Amsterdam taxi bears down on you. People spread the not totally obsolete jacket, minor stain on sleeve, across the rotting contents of the bulging black bin bags. Does it say “you”?

It was in a cardboard box, the upper part sticking out. I made a U-turn on my bike. It said “me” and I took it to work. Holding the large Chinese vase carefully in my hands, an office worker in my building joked, “It could be valuable.” I assessed it at 200 to 300 years old and this was confirmed. It was the repairs made in the 19th century to the pot that alerted me to its age.  The more modern repairs, cellophane tape and glue, did not alert me to anything special. Its value is the money one needs to restore it but for the moment it sits, warts and all, on my desk at the office.

I was brought a cupboard this week.  It was my cupboard, but then not my cupboard and then rejected by my defunct better half and became my cupboard again.  It’s an old battered cupboard and was ordered by two women on the Singel in Amsterdam.  Singel 234 it says on the label on the bottom of a shelf, ladies so and so. I live one block away. How the cupboard went from the Singel to Gouda and back in a little more than one hundred years is a mystery. 

Concerning my cupboard I decided that I would assemble my books in it. Up to this week my books were jammed into the kitchen cupboards, under the teak standing bookcase as well as in it, piled onto window sills, and stuffed into the bedroom closets. I organized them in the cupboard in the following manner: The books I have read and will retain are lying sideways in the back, the books I still need to read are upright in the front. It didn’t look bad. It turns out I have less books than I thought.  When I organized them in front of my eyes I realized that most likely half of the unread books would not be further detained in my apartment when I had read them. I felt good. I felt like I was near the top of Everest.

I keep looking for the top to the Chinese pot. They came with tops. The rim of my vase is encrusted with a demure crescent of old newspaper which sometime in the 20th century had been glued to the surface, presumably when it was undergoing one of its not very well performed repairs, The Glue Attempt. No top.

I peeked around the garbage bags. Someone had left some books collected during their Mayan phase. I discovered not the top to an ancient Chinese pot but Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (2 volumes) by John Lloyd Stephens; art by Frederick Catherwood.  I took the books home and put them in my cupboard for a fascinating read.