Today I Visited An Old Favorite Haunt In Its New Home

About ten years ago, as I was doing an errand in a small nearby village, I discovered a small art gallery named RIPE. The moment I entered I knew I was someplace special. The art on the walls was quirky, affordable and broke the boundaries of what you would usually find in an art gallery on Long Island (seagulls, sand dunes, etc.).

The owner, Cherie Via (her name at the time) was attractive, quirky, fashionable, edgy and fun to talk to.

I think the first real show I saw there was the Valentine’s Day show which was a gallery tradition. Individual local artists submitted work on the theme of “love” from which she would make selections for the show. The place was packed; the art on the walls displayed an incredibly imaginative spectrum of variations on the theme of love.

Then suddenly, the gallery was gone. A while later, I found it again while driving to another locale nearby. There it was: the sign said RIPE, the name of her former gallery. It had to be her place…who else could it belong to?

Then I got cancer and didn’t get to visit the new version of RIPE though I continued to pass it for the past two years on my way to and from my occasional visits to the dentist; each time I either had to rush to an appointment or it was closed. But today on my way home from the same dentist I decided to treat myself to an “artist’s date.” (Thank you, Julia Cameron for the idea of an artist’s date, which means taking yourself somewhere to replenish your creative soul.)

As I walked through the door of the turquoise cottage I was thrilled to see that there was still a shop showcasing handcrafted jewelry, paintings, clothing accessories, handbags and lots and lots of remarkable doo-dads. I breathed a sigh of relief to see that although the location was different the essence of the place was unchanged.

And there was Cherie, herself, in a room behind the shop, her new framing workshop. We caught up on the past four years of her life, including her marriage to the man who made the move possible. She looked radiant and has clearly benefitted from the move in many, many ways. Business is better, lots of ideas are in the works including an organic produce farm during the cultivating months. And above all, she seems happily married.

I was given a quick tour of the actual gallery which is now housed in what had been a severely broken down barn. Her new hubbie completely refurbished the barn so that it is now a sizeable welcoming space for art to be shown.

The art on the walls was a women artists exhibition from artists around the country. Amazing art surrounded us on all four walls.

I bought a lovely silver heart for my daughter with a chime inside it, and left feeling like I couldn’t wait to bring my daughter to see it so I’d have an excuse to get back there soon.

A little Slice of Paradise…Ripe Gallery is at 1028A, Park Ave., Huntington, NY. Come see it for yourself!

My Daughter Talks With Me About Bones and Funerary Practices

This display case of animal bones was identified, sorted and created by my daughter for the Theodore Roosevelt Bird Sanctuary in Oyster Bay, NY, when she was a volunteer there about a year ago.

“I can’t wait for my favorite mortician’s second book to come out.” This is what my daughter said after I showed her an article in today’s NY Times about an Iceman, whose cause of death has been a mystery until now. In about 3300 B.C this person’s remains were found near the crest of the Otztal Alps in northern Italy. I thought I’d found a new mummy for her to be excited about, but she cast a glance at the photo and said, “Oh, that’s Otzi!”

I was amazed, but I shouldn’t have been because my daughter has been fascinated with death, burial rituals, morticians’ practices, mummies, bog people and all things morbid for as long as I can remember. Today I decided to briefly interview her for my Slice.

Me: When would you say your fascination with all the above began?

Her response: I guess I always had a fascination with animal skeletons. I think it all started in college when I was studying physical anthropology and the osteoarchaeology of humans and animals.

Me: How did that lead to your fascination with human burial rituals?

Her response: I went to Menorca, Spain in 2011 where I was involved in exhuming the skeletons of Roman soldiers in a Roman necropolis.

I loved sitting in the lab after the dig and sorting through the bones.

My fascination with bones then led to reading about funerary rituals: the weirder, the better. When I visited the West Coast of Ireland last fall, I was excited about visiting the Museum of Natural History in Dublin and getting to see the “bog people” who were so well preserved in the peat bogs.

Me: I remember how excited you were when you first learned about Caitlin Doughty, a new-age mortician at the forefront of the death-positive movement. You read her first book: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes/And Other Lessons from the Crematory and haven’t stopped talking about it since. What was it about her that fascinated you?

Her response: I was fascinated by her interest in green burials which I’d heard about but hadn’t explored on my own. I began reading about green burials, and that somehow led to my interest in unique funerary rituals. And then I started my quest to find the weirdest and wildest burial rituals throughout the world.

Me: Was that when you told me about the people in Indonesia who dig up their ancestors?

Her response: Yes, they dig them up every three years and dress them in new clothing and parade them around the village. The whole study of the bones and taxidermy then led to my fascination with corporeal preservations.

Me: Can you explain what that means?

Her response: Throughout the world different cultures have some pretty extreme ways of preserving bodies. For example, Sokushinbutsu is the ancient art of self-mummification practiced by a very specific sect of Japanese monks between the 11th and 19th centuries. It’s a process that takes 3000 days, or ten years. The person must eat a very specific diet to begin the process of shedding all body weight and dehydration. While doing this they drink a special tea made from the bark of the Urushi tree, also known as the Japanese varnish tree. At the end of the 3000 days they crawl into a tomb which is sealed except for a breathing tube which allows them to breathe and they are given a bell which they ring every day until they die. When the bell stops ringing, the tomb is then completely sealed.

My favorite part of the whole process is that if it fails and your body is not mummified, you are not considered a holy Buddha.

For the sake of brevity, that ends our conversation for today. But you can see that I’ve raised a rather unusual daughter. And just for the record, she is one of the most life-loving, funny, warm-hearted people I have ever known. And she hardly ever wears black!

A Reading Group Unlike Any Other

Before retirement (2 1/2 years ago), I fantasized about belonging to a book group. The first one I joined I’ve been very happy with: The Great Books Discussion Group at my local library. I am a former Literature major, so reading excerpts from the “great works” of literature is right up my alley. I learn so much from each of the members who bring their own wealth of experience and perspective to the discussion.

Now I am suddenly in a second book discussion group. A few weeks ago I wrote about a speaker I went to hear at the invitation of family friends. The speaker was David Billings, a Southerner who has devoted most of his life to understanding and resisting racism. Mr. Billings has written a book, Deep Denial,that should be required reading for all college students. In fact, it probably would have more impact if it were required reading in high schools across the country, so everyone would have some exposure to it. Given the deeply engrained racism still present in the United States, that scenario is unlikely to come true.

Today I attended the first meeting of the discussion group. It was well attended; 16 people were present. There was only one person of color. Since the book focuses on White Supremacy and how white people have colluded to create a political climate wherein whites often feel superior to nonwhites, it’s hardly required reading for people of color.

We formed a big circle and the coordinator asked each of us to spend a minute or two discussing our response to the early part of the book: the prologue, forward and Chapter One, in which Mr. Billings outlines the early history of White Supremacy in the United States. It was interesting to hear each of the responses, and particularly from those who said they grew up in a “bubble” and had never thought much about racism before now.

I shared that having a staunchly German mother and a Southern father, it was impossible for me to not think about racism. Both parents held racist beliefs and practiced racist behaviors that they had learned, I assume, from their forebears. I began to feel uncomfortable with those beliefs. From an early age I had often said to myself: How is it that I was lucky to be born white, and others not? How much has this simple act of fate defined my life? Even though we were poor and my parents had a limited education, I knew I was part of a privileged group (white) that afforded me opportunities that others would never have if I worked hard enough for them.

I am glad this book exists because it will help me to better understand how our nation became so racist, how we’ve figured out a way to institutionalize racism, and how to overcome whatever traces of racism are still coursing through my veins. As Billings said so eloquently: “Our belief in white superiority has seeped into every facet of our lives in America. It’s in our cultural DNA.”

For me, reading and coming to terms with the ideas in this book is a journey. I know I will never be fully “cured” of racism, but I see this discussion group as an opportunity to examine our national history of racism, as well as my own personal journey. It felt really good to share this journey with a group of people who have their own influences and histories to overcome and are not ashamed to admit it.

Thank you, David Billings, for doing such important work for the good of us all.

Back in the Political Arena Today

When U.S. President Barack Obama spoke at the White House-hosted Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh in late October 2016, he closed by addressing his words to Silicon Valley types:

The final thing I’ll say is that government will never run the way Silicon Valley runs because, by definition, democracy is messy. This is a big, diverse country with a lot of interests and a lot of disparate points of view. And part of government’s job, by the way, is dealing with problems that nobody else wants to deal with.

Democracy is often messy. Yet out of the mess of the past month or so has emerged a victory for those who believe that the people of this country need to have all their health care needs addressed with the help and financial support of the government. I confess to being greatly relieved by this turn of events because a) it validates all the time and energy I’ve put into sending emails to local politicians; signing petitions; forwarding information to friends; b) it means we’ve all made a difference through our efforts and that is so rewarding. If you are not of the same persuasion, you may not agree with the rest of what I have to say. But we do need to listen to one another, so I hope you’ll finish reading my post.

Today I got back into the political arena by attending a meeting of the Huntington Town Democratic Committee at a nearby American Legion Hall. On a Saturday morning, there were about 50 people in attendance; most of them middle-aged or older. I saw some of my friends from the senior activist group I’ve joined, the Indivisibles. I was happy to see my fellow super seniors out there beating the bushes.

Our local congressman, Tom Suozzi, showed up and gave a very motivating speech. He encouraged us with his words: “The challenge is not just to resist and revolt, but to organize.” He stated that he is very energized by visiting groups like ours because “this is the way democracy is supposed to work. For too many years no one was politically active or wanted to get involved.”

He explained that our challenge now is to persuade the 10-20% of noncommitted voters to “work with us.” And that is hard work, he said. And it takes time…a lot of time. We were given a handout highlighting the things the Democratic Party has done to improve life in our town. He outlined his plan for organizing. He is taking his District 3 area and dividing it into 16 parts; he will be holding a town-hall meeting in each of them to start the recruiting and organizing process. He emphasized that we have to start by working on the local elections and turn things around.

Another person spoke about canvassing door-to-door and how it’s actually very interesting work to meet the people in your neighborhood and actually talk to one another. It’s not easy, he said in agreement with our Representative, but it’s very fulfilling work.

One person from the audience suggested that the Dems now need to be more aggressive about their own agenda, since the Republicans can’t seem to come with one they can agree upon. I think she’s right, and I hope that is some of the work the Democratic Party is currently engaged in.

I took a couple of petitions for people to sign to encourage our NY State Senators to adopt a single-payer health plan which is called the New York Health Act. I will share them with my yoga class participants. When I got home I felt good to have been part of the action the past few months and to see such encouraging results. But the real work lies in the weeks, months and years ahead for all of us who are unhappy with the way things are.

My Friday: Quality Time Spent with Good Friends

Before I sat down to write my post today, I prepared dinner: Greek lamb burgers with yoghurt sauce, Greek salad, cole slaw and pitas. A family favorite.

Before I prepared dinner I stopped at our favorite Greek restaurant to pick up the Greek salad and yogurt sauce. We’ve been going to this restaurant for 40 years.

Before I drove into town, I spent an hour with a close friend of mine, the director of the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, catching up on each other’s lives. We shared a cup of tea and some cookies in the Sky Room, a lovely cafe housed within the Centre, named after my friend. A favorite place to visit.

Before visiting with my friend, I watched the movie, Jackie, at the Cinema Arts Centre, with another friend I’ve reconnected with in the past few years since I retired. We’ve known each other since our 20’s, but now we finally have the time to do things together.

Before we watched the movie my friend and I spent an hour having a “working lunch” together at the Cinema Arts Cafe. We are planning to launch a website together that promises to be a lot of fun if we can get it off the ground. (Can’t tell you yet what it is: it’s a secret!) We managed to discuss and agree on the working details of the site.

Before I went to the Cinema for lunch and the movie, I spent an hour or so at home visiting the TWT website, reading today’s Slices, commenting on them, and reading the responses to my own Slice.

Before I went on the TWT site, I forwarded an email to my husband asking him to print the trip vouchers that were sent to me today for our upcoming trip to Spain in May. This was exciting because the trip is starting to become a reality.

Before I went online, I sat with my daily morning coffee and perused the NY Times to see whether or not the ACA was repealed. The GOP plan was pulled because of a lack of sufficient votes. Nothing is more important than affordable health care for every single American. This is a great day for those of us who have been so diligently putting pressure on our congressional representatives. We’ve finally been heard!

Looking back over my day, it was a pleasurable Friday. I got to have quality time with two good friends; I saw a very interesting movie (Jackie); I had a nice lunch and an enjoyable cup of tea; and I will soon have a Greek dinner with my daughter and my husband…one of our favorites. Not bad for an ordinary Friday. I know how lucky I am.

Friday, What’s Not to Love?

Recently retired, almost every day feels like Friday to me. (Sorry, those of you who are still toiling in the vineyards.) The downside is that Friday seems to roll around all too soon; time flies at this stage of life. Here’s to Fridays…

F riday is the kickoff day to the weekend

R ediscover that energy that’s almost disappeared

I love going to Friday Happy Hours!

D o you have a Friday ritual that you enjoy?

A ll week we wait for Friday to come around

Y ou better make the most of it or wait another week!

Here’s hoping that your Friday will  be the beginning of spending your time in any way you choose for the weekend!

What Are You Reading?: My Book Spine Post

I’ve never tried this before, but I’ve always liked the ones I’ve seen on this site. Some people are interested in other people’s clothing, or cars, or houses, etc. I’m interested in what other people are reading, just as so many of you are. Here’s an assortment of what I’ve been reading for the past few months. Some I read right straight through; others I dip into occasionally for a change of pace.

Starting from the bottom:

Its’ Never Too Late to Begin Again, Julia Cameron
I first began reading Julia Cameron’s books in an artists’ book group about ten years ago. She’s all about helping people find themselves through whatever means possible and living their most creative life. Her preferred methods are through art and writing. This is her most recent book and it is about rediscovering your creativity in your more mature years. I love her writing; it pulls me in.

Deep Denial, David Billings
My first exposure to the author was quite recent when I attended a lecture he gave on racism in my town. I was deeply moved by this humble, wise, sensitive man, and his wife, who have devoted their lives to understanding the role of white supremacy and racism in American history and culture, and to sharing their wisdom. I hope to soon be participating in a book group based on this work.

Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
I’ve read several of Gilbert’s books and am impressed by her dexterity as a writer. She can tackle any subject and pull you into her orbit. This one which has been so celebrated since it’s publication didn’t impress me as much as I had hoped. But that may be a result of already having invested several years in the works of Julia Alvarez, who covers similar territory. Nonetheless, I enjoy picking this up whenever I need a change of pace. She’s an engaging writer.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
I read the Kite Runner and really liked it, so I assumed I’d like this book, too. Instead, I loved it. It’s a no-holds-barred look at sexism in the culture of Afghanistan during the time of the rise of the Taliban. The story follows the intersecting lives of two women whose lives are pure drudgery and humiliation. Yet, they persevere. This is a powerful story: Not for the overly sensitive reader.

A Man Called Ove, Frederik Backman
This was a slow starter for me; I’m used to much more intricate writing which I love. But the simplicity of the story and the writing are misleading. By the end, I really felt the knockout punch of this novel, and you will too if you stick with it.

What Remains, a poetry collection by Orel Protopopescu
I recently reread this collection of poetry by an old friend of mine. I liked it when she first gave it to me. I loved it the second time. This is a deeply moving collection of poetic memoirs about the poet’s life and her family, told with great affection and awe for what has come before. Sadly, her beautiful second daughter, featured on the cover, is no longer with us, which makes the poems even more poignant.

LaRose, Louise Erdrich
I’ve saved my favorite for last. I’ve been reading the works of Louise Erdrich for perhaps twenty years. She’s extremely prolific and every book she writes is, to me, a winner.
I am deeply interested in Native American culture, and this writer/Native American woman (hard to say which comes first) weaves her storytelling in narratives that are spellbinding, cooked up with a pinch of Ojibwe language, magic, witchery, despair, ecstasy and plain truth. Her characters are unforgettable. I have just begun LaRose and am savoring every word because I know that the story will just become richer and richer, page by page. And I will fall in love with her all over again.

What are you reading?