Diary of a Marked W•man



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Paris, January 2008

Sun. the 6th: I have noticed recently that I am improving my household's efficiency and comfort in small but significant increments, and every time I'm bringing a small change that makes my life easier, I think about these young couples who receive a huge amount of STUFF as wedding presents and I think this is the absolutely WRONG approach, and it is MY approach that is correct, to wit: start with a minimum of stuff and increase gradually when the need arises. I mean, why should you have a rice cooker, an electric fryer, any kind of small appliance or utensil if you're never going to use it? It only takes up precious space.

It is in this manner that I have gradually improved my housekeeping situation: I bought an enameled cast iron frying pan at a good price on eBay only after I got tired of making omelets in my dutch oven and only after weighing whether the purchase was reasonable. Would I eat more eggs if I bought this pan? I thought yes, because eggs are the second choice animal products I eat after dairy products and I only eat them once or twice a week. And boy am I happy now when I make my omelets with this very nice pan!

I also acquired a set of 5 saucepans. They are made of steel and have a thick bottom but oh, the steel is so thin in the rest of the pan, it looks like it could get a dent at the slightest shock. But the price -on eBay again- was decent and I needed them so badly. The only saucepans I had before that were given to me by my mother when I moved in, and only one out of the three is still in working order. The biggest one lost its handle, and the second biggest one always had a problem with the handle threatening to fall off. I think the screw is bad, but imagine getting some hot liquid off the stove and have the handle give up at that exact moment! Thank you mom! Of course I'm very careful with this thing and I use it much less now that I have the new set. However I will not throw it away, nor will I throw away the other one, because the pan itself is made out of a better quality steel than the new ones.

I have also made some improvements in the kitchen just by changing the place where I keep some utensils, so that they are closer to the place where I need to use them, which saves me some steps.

Regarding my needlework instruments and supplies, I was running out of drawer space so I acquired -on eBay again- some storage units specifically conceived for them and which were all the rage in my childhood in the 1950s, called "travailleuse". I had always wanted one because I thought they were such clever and fun inventions with their stacked compartments that pull away, and finally, fifty years later, I made my wish come true and -thanks to eBay again- I bought one that has feet and a smaller one that doesn't. Please have a look at the 1920 model I got: closed and another model with different feet: open. After screwing the handle back on, cleaning them and leaving them open an entire night with incense fumes to purify them, I got all my sewing notions in logical order into the compartments and as a result my living-and-work room is much less cluttered now.

I also had been looking for a good seat to do crochet near my window and work at the sewing machine. An office seat on casters seemed the most practical but I hesitated as to quality and price. There were some very cheap ones and some very expensive ones and reading the specs was really not fun but necessary.... until luck solved my problem for me: I went shopping for food at G20 last Friday and on the way back I found this desk armchair on the sidewalk. It was drizzling and the plastic armrests were sprinkled with raindrops, and there was a tear in the upholstery of the seat, but apart from that it looked in good shape. The casters worked well so I pushed the chair across the avenue all the way to number 32 and into the lobby, up the first two steps at the base of the stairwell and left it there with the intent of coming back to fetch it -but I didn't know how- if nobody showed up to help me.

I was only half way up to the second floor when this Chinese man walked in. He was the same man who got the big "travailleuse" up to my apartment the previous week, and in simple words and motions I asked him to help me, which he did again, and although I wasn't sure he understood me I thanked him a lot. I wanted to tell him that I had picked this chair off the street so he would understand why it was wet, and there is this furniture recycling movement in France which is called "Récup'", short for "récupération" or recycling, but I doubted he would understand the word, so finally I found how to make him understand in simple words: I said "Zero centimes!" He repeated the words and laughed. He had understood.

Now that the chair was in my apartment I wondered if I hadn't made a mistake and would be forced to bring it down again to discard. It didn't look too good with its wet and torn seat. What if the thing could never dry? It would stink then... I put some bubblewrap on the seat to keep my ass dry and tried it. It swiveled, rolled and was comfortable but couldn't go up above normal seating level but below normal, yes. Well, long story short, it's been here three days and is almost dry, and I have lots of ideas to cover it with some interesting textile to make it lose this businesslike appearance. I've used it as intended to crochet by the window while having my breakfast tea or coffe, and it works fine: no more back-ache after less than one hour sitting, and the convenience of swiveling and rolling is appreciable. And last but not least, I'm free of the need to worry about the foam density, the composition of the upholstery and all the other tedious details that make the quality and price of a given chair. These other chairs I got from sister Sophie were killing my back, and the blue-painted bistro chair I got from Mom, why, it has a splinter at the edge that made a big tear in my pants the first time I used it, and the second time too, so now I use it as a stand for my printer.

In Friday's mail I received a copy of the judgment by the Rouen appellate court denying my sister Sophie's appeal in her action against our mother concerning our father's estate. So apparently this is the final episode in this long and tortuous process that started in early 2005 shortly after I returned from hospital after my second knee injury. Now that I have my share of the estate I feel much better and can indulge some of my long repressed desires. But, as the chair episode shows, I still don't shun a bargain or a street gift.

* * *

As happens sometimes when I'm watching videos on the internet, I click on some offerings that I hadn't been looking for. It happened again Friday night, I looked at some vids about Afghanistan and several videos about heroin were listed as well,and about other drugs too. Thinking that it was easier to see them when they offered themselves than to go searching forthem, I watched a few.

There is something about heroin that instantly makes my skin crawl. While in highschool I had heard about it but only in hushed tones and bits of information, never as a subject that was openly addressed, and I could never find any information about it in print form. But with the little I knew in my teens I made up my mind that I would never touch it. But between the ages of 25 and 30 there would be many occasions when I came in close contact with users and dealers so it's almost a miracle I didn't fall into that trap. But I was never attracted to it really so I have no merit I guess. Needles are among the most horrible things I can think of, and having to use them to get a fix, well, thanks but no thanks.

Anyway, I watched The Price of Heroin, this short video of a British woman, single mother of 2 who has lost custody of her children because of her addiction, and she periodically goes to her mother's house when things get tough. She's dressed all in black, has disheveled stringy hair, is thin as a rail and pale as a ghost, says she's had to prostitute herself to get money to feed her addiction, has signed up for rehab and is waiting for a spot and in the meantime goes daily to get her methadone... She shoots up in her mother's house to feel normal and when she starts her preparations, putting the powder in a spoon with water and heating it etc... she is horribly happy while her mom sits at the top of the stairs, waiting for her to be doneand I'm thinking this is so disgusting, addicts are so self-centered, they only think about themselves, how they're feeling physically, what they need right now, even when they want to get better they come off as entirely self-centered. The woman lays on her mother's couch and smokes in the living room and obviously the mom doesn't smoke. What really upset me as the most blatant act of self-centeredness was when the young woman said that one of her legs was swollen. I expected to see some rather gross swelling, at least as big as the one I got from the Asian man who attacked me on 12/31/04 but after she lifted one pant leg, the bare limb appeared thin so I thought the swelling was on the other one, but when she lifted the other pant leg all I could see was another expanse of very pale skin. I could hardly tell the difference between her two legs! He mother leaned forward to see but didn't say anything and the daughter insisted that one of her legs was bigger than the other. But not to the naked eye! Obviously she craves attention and her drug-taking might be a ploy to keep her mother thinking about her, who knows?

I don't want to speculate on what happened that led the young woman to start taking that drug, all I know is that this infernal life she's living could have happened to me if I had not made up my mind early on never to touch the thing. Her mother seems at a complete loss, overwhelmed by the monster that has taken over her and her daughter's life. The clip ends with the young woman leaving her mother's home abruptly because the rehab center didn't call to say she could get into the program that day so she goes back to the city to meet her dealer and the mother is left alone again after the disruption.

For the rest of the day I had a very uneasy feeling because of this short clip and the next day, while I was cleaning the kitchen it hit me like a ton of brick that this young woman is what my family wanted for me. Yes, they wanted me to become a heroin addict! How else could I explain all these odd encounters with junkies, or at least people, men and women, who befriended me and said they were using heroin?

Let me rewind thirty-six years back .... to 1974:

Mon. the 28th: I'm not finished yet writing the account of this drug decade but I feel like an enormous weight has been lifted off me. Knowing that my mother was the principal agent of all these attempts to turn me into a junkie gives me a relief I can't describe. I don't care if my mother, my sister, my so-called friends are all writhing in agony at being found out so many years later, when what they expected was that I would be dead and six feet under by this time. The agony was mine all these years and they didn't lose any sleep about it I'm sure. Now the tables are turned.

And another thing: I have finally diagnosed the cause of these horrible pains I felt in my eyes for the past three ½ years! And so I took care of the cause and now I no longer am awakened by the sensation that someone is stabbing me in the eyeballs. I am not 100% sure because I have only spent one night pain-free since I found the cause. I need to test my diagnosis some more before I am sure.

These 2 events coincide with the entrance of planet Pluto into Capricorn after its 13-year stay in Sagittarius. It's as if this planet, which rules my sign, had emptied its pockets before leaving and left me these 2 gifts. Here is
Pluto at 00°00" of Capricorn:

And also, at the end of October, I finally received my inheritance, so I no longer need to be on the dole. I had been wondering for quite some time how long I would need the government's financial assistance. I was getting tired of seeing these social workers, I was tempted many times, even though I had nothing to fall back on, to stop renewing my contract but each time I told myself I needed to be more patient, and although I had given up hope of ever receiving my inheritance, it fell into my hands when I least expected it.

In 2007 I also upgraded my computer and got a digital camera, plus a sewing machine, an eletronic typewriter, some kitchen pots and pans. I'm thankful for the progress. My patience has been rewarded.

~~~~~~~~

I was watching some videoclips of Jazz music on YouTube one night recently when I saw one of them named "Patato Memorial at St Peter Church" (http://youtube.com/watch?v=upoAeFYOpno) That's how I learned that my former Cuban boyfriend had died because it was he, Carlos Patato Valdes. The memorial service took place on January the 14th and I saw it around the 20th. There was not a lot of obituaries in the Anglo media but the Independent did have a long one. The Spanish speaking press had more. Here's one "necrologica" in El Pais.

The story is as follows: On November 18, 2007 he was flying back alone to New York from a gig in California when he took ill on the plane. The plane made an emergency landing at Cleveland, OH airport and Patato was rushed to hospital and put in intensive care. He suffered from emphysema due to a lifetime of smoking. A local Latino admirer hearing or reading about the event in the media visited him and helped him by serving as interpreter. Though Carlos did speak English, it took some effort to understand his peculiar pronounciation and I think the docs who attended him didn't need the extra problem. After being tethered to tubes and machinery for 2 weeks (I doubt he liked that music! Probably drove him nuts and caused a lot of anguish too,) he pulled all the tubes and drips that kept him alive and died alone around 10:10pm on December the 4th. It was the day of his patron saint in Santeria: Chango. That's why I find it strange that a Christian church was the chosen location for the memorial. I wonder why the curate allowed in the church a memorial for one whose religion was not Christian;

He had turned 81 just one month before, on November 4. Imagine, still working at 81, and carrying with you 4 conga drums with their heavy metal stands. I know how heavy those things are, God knows I carried them enough for him, back in the days. So this old little man was still working at 81 and he traveled alone. Oh, he was used to it of course, but there is something chilling about this. Being hospitalized in a blah city like Cleveland... all alone! He was lucky an admirer helped him in his final days.

Though he had made it clear at an earlier time that he didn't want to be cremated, he was cremated anyway in Cleveland. He is survived by his wife and two daughters and a few grandchildren in Puerto Rico, and according to him who said it to me back in the days, a son he fathered out of wedlock.

I have read again the article in El Pais. It said that Patato went to San Francisco to play with the Conga Kings, a group created by conguero Giovanni Hidalgo and Candido, the latter being of Patato's generation. Patato had created his own group a while earlier, "Afrojazzia", but the Conga Kings was more successful. It seems odd that he played as a guest in a rival band, but he must have felt excluded and hurt in his pride for not being in a group called "The Conga Kings". Knowing how competitive Patato was, and also how addicted to the limelight and the applauso del publico, I'm sure he outdid himself to "win the fight" against the other congueros, to show them who is boss. And this is what killed him because his body couldn't take it anymore.

Another Cuban musician who died is Alfredo Rodriguez, the pianist who lived in France since the early 80s. He's the one I called to reserve a hotel room for me in Paris when in 1990 I had to go to France with my broken left knee just out of the cast. He died in 2005 at age 69.

And while I'm at it I'll also mention the death of two persons I wanted to mention a few months back (where I wrote "musical interlude"): One is Carl Seltzer, the soundman. He had a paid obit in the New York Times. I knew him early during my sojourn in New York. One night I didn't know where to sleep he invited me to sleep at his place but forced himself on me in the bed we shared. After that I considered there was a kind of bond between us although I wasn't in love with him. He always put me on the guest list when the Salsa-Meets-Jazz show was going on Monday nights at the Village Gate in the 80s. He was the soundman there. And every so often, when I was getting sick from not playing any music, I called to ask if I could come over to play the piano and he always said yes and I had a turn at his concert Steinway, trying to play some jazz standards I was just discovering. But he always told me he was madly in love with Carla White, the singer, and everytime I answered "But she sings off key!" I couldn't understand how a man with a specialization in sound, and a reputation to defend in this competitive business, could fall for a woman who sang off key. Now I know he was only trying to hurt my feelings but since I wasn't in love with him I didn't care if he was in love with another woman. I just thought it was a bad idea for him to fall for a bad singer. Anyway, he died in his sixties from prostate cancer.

As to Carla White, whom I knew personally since she lived in the same area as me and invited me to a party at her place one day in 1986 I think, when she lived in a brownstone on West 95th Street in Manhattan, she died too! Breast or ovarian cancer, in May of 2007. In her biography it was always said that she learned to sing with So-and-So but I doubt anybody knows who the gentleman was. Anyway it's no excuse for singing off key. She made it her specialty to do scat singing and built her reputation on this, going even to the extent of doing an entire show with only scat! I guess the public were a bunch of masochists. Maybe singing off-key is less noticeable when the person "improvises"... instead of singing the melody of standards that everybody knows. I may sound like soue grapes, so I'll concede that the off-notes were not there all the time, but often enough to disturb my sensitive ears. And it was not off-key a whole lot, just a smidgen of a hair too low when it happened, but to me that was bad enough to undo a career. Other than that her voice was catching, as if breaking from emotion but it was a technical thing, nothing to do with emotion. Oh, I'm such a bitch tearing down a dead woman!

I think Carla had independent means which allowed her to finance her own recordings, vanity press for "girl-singers". She was accompanied by the instruments I always wanted for myself: an acoustic piano, a double bass. She even had a saxophone and a trombone on some recordings and her music in general had this calm jazz flavor which I find just perfect. I'll say this to her credit: the lady had taste.


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