Monday, April 30, 2012

Life Goes On

With images and thoughts of my aunt Loretta ever-present,
top right and left corners,
her grandkids and I enjoyed being together in Charlotte.
Roz and husband Christopher and Roz's brother Dan, center;
cruising in Christopher's shiny blue corvette; having coffee at
Dan's coffee house, Dilworth  The NC license plate belongs to Roz,
a therapist who specializes in psychological testing.
"Mindbender" seemed an appropriate theme
for our time together this weekend,
 as my mom's sister lay dying.

I said goodbye to my Aunt Loretta, who's under hospice care at Serenity House in Morrisville, NC, just outside of Charlotte.  She is thin as a rail, frail and sleeping a lot now.  She hasn't eaten in days. She knew I was there;we shared some photos I had brought, briefly; I think it was okay, but that's it.  She is letting go.  She just said "I want to go.  I am ready." And fell back asleep.  Her granddaughter Kris goes almost daily or every other day.  The next time I visited with Roz and Dan she was glad to see her grandchildren and she knew I was there, but it almost didn't matter.  After some fumbling around, trying to get comfortable, struggling to keep her eyes open, she said something like, "Oh Fran, what can I say?"  I said, "You don't have to say anything, Aunt Loretta. I just want to be here with you for a little while." I don't even think she could hear.  The nurse came in to get her more comfortable, and she fell asleep.  We left the hospice home a little while later.

It is weird watching someone die, having a sort of death watch. Any day now. The person is going, but life goes on.  I stayed with Roz and Christopher, at their lovely home, went for rides in his beautiful bright blue corvette, shopped with them, went out for dinner, had a delicious steak cookout.  I was happy to spend time with Roz's sister Kristen and her husband Tommy and Roz's brother Dan, who is a CPA and owns a coffee shop, Dilworth, a lovely place for coffee, cake and a nice chat.  Christopher took me to the Apple store and helped me get my first ipodtouch, worked with me on using it and uploading music, and is helping me set up a good sound system, one of his many interests and specialties.

I had a good time in Charlotte, even as my dear aunt lay dying.  It was a little emotionally exhausting, but it was also a joyful time with extended family doing happy family things.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Losing Old Friends

San Miguel Street corner, near
Zacateros and the Instituto, reminds me
of Zuzu's art
My old friend Zuzu Heven, now 90 years old,  has developed some form of dementia and needs 24/7 care.  Her daughter Sophie, a masseuse who was living in California, is there, “there” being Zuzu’s Casa de Azul in San Miguel de Allende.  It's the place where my friend Estelle, from NYC, stays, and that's how I met ZuZu.  

Zuzu was among the pioneers who moved to San Miguel in 1967 and never left. She played a big role in reconstructing and renovating the old 17th-century structures housing the Instituto de Allende, the once-famed art school and cultural center on Ancha San Antonio near Zacateros and Orizaba.  She became a vital part of San Miguel’s ex-pat social fabric, and remained so into her 80s: brown eyes flashing, a wide smile, lots of art talk, irreverent and energetic, a beautiful woman once adored by many men.  

It’s a special generation, and they are leaving us quickly, all too fast.   The demographics of San Miguel are changing as a result, along with this generation of ex-pats.  It’s an interesting phenomenon.  I’ve never seen so many women in their seventies, eighties and nineties gingerly negotiating the treacherous cobble-stoned streets of the town, up and down its hills, around the Mercado. They still sit in the Jardin, get their weekly Atencion, enjoy the Biblioteca and its activities, volunteer in social service work that they helped create.   

I had been away from San Miguel for 3 years with my Peace Corps service in Ukraine, so I was happy to return there this winter.  I was sad, however, to learn about Zuzu. I looked forward to seeing her, but it was clear she had no idea who I was.  She did, however, comment on the jewelry I was wearing, just like always.  “Oh, what a pretty necklace and earrings,”  she exclaimed.  These are the things she always noticed, and still does.  That piece of Zuzu is still vibrant.  My heart went out to her.  I could see her confusion and her daughter’s frustration.  I felt bad.  

I remember admiring her artwork at her home, where she explained every piece in detail, infused with goddess icons and symbols, and seeing exhibits of her work at the Aldea Gallery.  I remember her fantastic Asian objects and elaborate jewelry, from a metaphysical series she called “Out of Sight.”  I remember her scarab necklaces, goddess masks, and breast plates designed to protect women’s hearts.  “Not that you can ever protect women’s hearts,” Zuzu added.

Zuzu was from New York City, graduated from Hunter College, and went to the NY School of Interior Design.  She was ahead of her time, ever the iconoclastic artist.  In the 1960s she had an exhibit of paintings at Sak’s Fifth Avenue in White Plaines, NY  (Atencion San Miguel, 30 July 2001). 

Then she left New York for good. I'm  not sure when she took the name Zuzu Heven, but it worked: heaven on earth.  Zuzu and San Miguel: a perfect match.
She still lives in San Miguel, but she could be anywhere.  She is now in her own world, a world few of us can get to. It saddens me.   She once told me, with a serious smile:  "Venus shines down on me."  Maybe Zuzu's on Venus now,  surrounded by her beloved artwork, embraced by the goddess. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Family Trees: Mom's Branch

Allen and Nan King and family, in Etna, NH,
including Maribeth, Ron and Fern and spouses,
plus Ron and Gerri King's son Ethan.
 I'm behind Ethan. 
Aunt Loretta and Bill Form, first cousins from
the "greatest generation," re-unioning in Columbus,
 Ohio.August 2011.  Bill can still play his horns.  Also pictured: 
Bill's wife Joan,  Roz, my daughter Elissa and, below, 
Elissa's grandson Philip,
age 4, my great-grandson.   
A beautiful album of a visit to Sylvania by my Aunt Loretta, 
my mom's sister, and her granddaughter Roz, my first cousin 
Maria Tirone Miller's daughter, August 2011.   
Special and unforgettable. 
My mom’s mother, Julia Cornetti Luchetti, had 5 or 6 brothers and sisters, among them Aunt Mary (or Maria), who was married to Tony Form, a well-known local politician in his day in Rochester, New York.  Mary, Marietta, Bill, Arnie, George, Nan, my mom Rose and her sister Loretta, among others I forget, grew up together in Rochester.

My mom had great memories of family gatherings, including musical events with cousins. My mom played the piano; some of her cousins played flute or reeds; others the mandolin and string instruments; another the accordion.  They all sang and danced.  I imagine that my grandfather Luchetti, a super chef, cooked for them.  The cousins were all smart, bi-lingual, and among the first of their families to go to college and become part of the American dream.

They were justifiably proud of their success, which we of the next generation took for granted. My kids and their kids don't even think about it.

My mom’s dad, my dear handsome grandfather Loretto, with sparkling green eyes my mom inherited, was also a musician, as well as a shoemaker, but as far as I know he was the only one of his family who emigrated from Rome to the US. My grandfather Luchetti always referred to himself as a Roman, never an Italian.  There are Luchetti kin still living around Rome, whom I would dearly love to visit one day.
Aunt Loretta, my mom's sister,
and Bill Form, their 1st cousin,
in Columbus.
A special reunion.

My Aunt Loretta and her first cousin Bill Form, both 94-years-old, both in failing health, are the few remaining relatives of that generation.   It is hard to let go of the generation that included my Mom and Dad, that “greatest generation” that experienced and survived World War II.  But the time is coming. 

From this line of descendents came the King Family, headed by Nan Form, Bill's sister and my mother's first cousin.  Nan was a botanist and community environmental activist, and Allen, a physics professor at Dartmouth.  Nan went to the University of Rochester, which was an accomplishment in itself because the university had an "Italian quota" at the time, and my mom did not make it for that reason.  She went to Geneseo teacher's college instead, now part of the NY state university system.  There's stories like this everywhere on the family tree.

Nan and Allen King had some of my favorite “first cousins once removed”:  Maribeth (and husband Jack Klobuchar), Ron (and wife Gerri), and Fern (and husband Dr. Bob Meyers), who grew up in Hanover, New Hampshire. My brother Loren especially loved talking with Allen about his work and his specialty in laser physics.  My sister Andy and Ron, an architect and entrepreneur, shared a love of jazz.  Maribeth, Fern,  and I explored boundaries together, Maribeth the sociologist, like  my sister Andy (this specialty seems to run in the family); Fern the cellist and writer; me a historian.  Our parents are gone, but we hang together to this day, visit when we can, and simply love knowing we’re around until we get to another reunion.  A special visit to Fern King Meyers in Etna, outside of Hanover, remains a highlight of my return from Ukraine.    All the King family gathered at Dr. Bob Meyers' memorial service in August 2011, a bittersweet time but always a joy to be together.
The  roots and branch of this family tree have been pretty well documented, especially through the historical work of cousin Bill Form, a renowned professor of Sociology at Ohio State University, now retired. His wife Joan Huber is also a well-known sociologist. Bill studied with the famous and iconic scholar C. Wright Mills at the University of Maryland, Mills' only graduate student ever, I believe, which I would like to know more about.  Bill wrote the autobiographical book “On the Shoulder of Immigrants,” about his family, the Form family, going back generations to the Waldensians (Italian protestants) in northern Italy in the 17th century.  His work remains a special gift and legacy we will forever cherish.  
The family tree keeps growing:  Philip, my four-year-old great-grandson, the newest generation of the Curro-Luchetti Family Tree.  Philip begins the 6th generation, son of my grandaughter Julia (named after my grandmother Julia Luchetti), daughter of my daughter, Elissa.  Philip was with my Aunt Loretta, Roz, Elissa and me on our historic family visit to Columbus to see my mother's and Loretta's cousin Bill Form and his wife Joan Huber, both retired Sociology professors at OSU. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Embracing Uncertainty

Chinese symbols for uncertainty (yahoo image).

In San Miguel I  browsed through the old books left behind by guests at the Jardin de Don Quijote B&B.  I read a couple of well-worn mysteries and then, at the bottom of the pile, saw a self-help book that jumped out at me: “Embracing Uncertainty” (2003) by Susan Jeffers.  

Ah, just what I need.  I liked the title.  "Embracing uncertainty” was the essence of my Peace Corps experience.  PC friends joked that “we were in the dark for two years.”   We were in a foreign country whose language was difficult; I didn’t understand what was going on most of the time; I was uncertain all the time.  I was invited to meetings and events at the last minute, then sat through them not knowing what they were about.  I spent many a meal trying to understand the social flow of strange words, and then just giving up.  I kept going, one day at a time; accomplished some things, plunged ahead.  I was beyond my comfort zone, and the challenges were abundant and difficult. But I did it, we did it, me and the almost 50 others in my Ukraine group 36.  The sense of achievement in the embrace of uncertainty was earned!

So the book’s title interested me.  Unfortunately, I can’t say as much for the book itself, which focuses on letting go, living in the now, accepting life as it happens, accepting death when it happens. It’s a lot of words for the wisdom readily available through any 12-step program.

Jeffers ends with discussion of embracing ‘the ultimate uncertainty,’ which is death.  She talks about the spiritual passage of the soul departing the body, reaching toward a radiant light.

I’m a glutton for this kind of discussion because I want to believe my brother’s soul is nearby, and only his body is gone.  But I still don’t know, and this rather pedestrian book didn’t convince me. 

However, I did like a quote Jeffers used to illustrate the so-called “spiritual passage.”  A friend asked John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the US, just a few days before he died, how he was doing.  Adams replied:

“John Quincy Adams is well, but the house in which he lives at the present time is becoming dilapidated.  It’s tottering on its foundations.  Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it.  Its roof is pretty well worn out.  Its walls are shattered and tremble with every wind.  I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out of it pretty soon.  But he, himself, is quite well, thank you.”

It’s a comforting way to view death.  It’s how my brother talked about it: a moving out and a moving on.  I have my doubts, but the idea of “embracing uncertainty” resonates.  In real time, in the now, it’s a great challenge and an equally great opportunity, for adventure and spiritual growth if nothing else.  Would we be where we are today if we hadn't embraced uncertainty? 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Journaling for my Kids: Family Trees

Since Chase was born on August 16, 2011, almost a year ago, I have this urge to make family trees.  I've started a few times.  My grandson Josh suggested I join, which he finds interesting.  That warmed my heart! I'm also making photo collages.

The one above is a Curro Family Tree. It starts with my dad's parents, Francesca (shopkeepers in or near Messina/olive grove farming/something about a perfumery or pharmacy) and Leo Curro (French ancestry/possibly Hugeonot/possibly royal or Count de Curreaux by family lore).

Then there's my Dad (businessman/Baptist church deacon/biblical scholar of sorts) and Mom (teacher/opera singer/artist); then me, wedding and family with daughters Elissa and Michelle; then their kids; and then their kids's kids.  Well for now its Elissa to Julia to great-grandson Philip.

There's my sister Andy and brother Loren, included in the collage.  My sister's kids and their kids need to be added.  There's my cousins Kathy and Leo Curro and Linda and Kermit too, and their families, children and offspring of my Dad's brother Sam.  Like many other families we also have "lost" cousins, ours from my Dad's brother Don, who kind of disappeared off the family tree.  Old family stuff which I don't and never will fully understand.

So I've some memories of 6 generations.  Not bad.  I think I might be able to go further back, one generation, to my dad's parents' parents, but I have to keep looking, like Josh suggested.

I'm also looking for photos of my mom's parents, Loreto (from Rome/studied for priesthood/gave it up/shoemaker in US/great cook) and Julia Cornetti Luchetti (German and Italian/Waldensian ancestry/pentacostal in US/dressmaker and embroiderer extraordinaire ).  I want to do another collage. There's probably a way to organize the "tree" part better, but I can't figure it out yet.

Basically, I'm journaling for my kids and their kids, journaling for a legacy: some family history for future generations when I'm gone. Subjective, bits and pieces.  Perhaps it's on my mind because my mother's 94-year-old sister, my Aunt Loretta, is dying.  I'm visiting her next week in Charlotte,  NC; I am praying she makes it 'til then, before her spirit departs to be with my mom and all our loved ones in another realm (if there is one).  I hope I get to ask Aunt Loretta some questions, and that she'll be able to give me her last bits of information from that generation.  She and mom's first cousin Bill Form (also 94) is all that's left from that "grand" generation.

As for my generation, well we are the next in line. I'll leave what memories I can, and hope that my kids and grandkids will pick up the pieces of the large generational puzzle called the Curro and Luchetti Family trees.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Art for the People

The California artist Thomas Kinkade died.  He was only 54 years old.  He was a marketing genius, and his lovely spiritual paintings of cottages and churches and lush nature sold like wildfire (yahoo images right).  He described himself as “a warrior for light,” bringing light to the darkness people feel (AP article by John Marshall, yahoo news).   I can see that in his paintings, and in the related gift items such as cards, calendars, and mugs that he sold in the millions.  I have several of his note cards and a recording of  Christmas songs featuring Kinkade’s art,  rich pastel scenes of snow-covered homes aglow in golden light.     

In fact Kinkade was so successful that other artists hated him.  They disparaged his skill and his success.  But I think they were jealous, because few artists have the ability to market their paintings they way Kincade did.  Some of the best paintings in the world, by artists with natural-born talent, brilliant and sensitive, are sitting in the basements of their creators who can’t bring them to light. 

I also think that Kincade’s “art for the people” filled a great niche for ordinary Americans who wanted peaceful scenes and light-filled paintings in their homes.  What’s wrong with popular art that is accessible and comforting?  Shades of Norman Rockwell.  Some experts might not put such art in an august museum like MOMA or the Toledo Museum of Art, but so what?  Art belongs to everyone, enriches the lives of all of us.  Thomas Kincade’s art will live forever, and the critics be damned.    

Friday, April 6, 2012

Another Spring Wreath: Renewal and Rebirth

It's snowing white crabapple blossoms all over town, a sure sign of Spring's progression.  The white petals are falling like snowflakes on lilacs.

I love the change of seasons.  It’s like Ukraine--four distinct times of year with nature in all its glories and transfigurations.  Now come the cherry blossoms and the red bud, next the lilacs, soon thereafter the iris and lillies.

Some veterans here would say we didn’t have much of a winter, but we did have snow, bare branches in various shades of brown, rust and red, and some cold days. I watched some of the most awesome sunsets and moon rises through those branches.  That’s more winter than we got in Florida, when I was living in Saints Petersburg.

Yeah, Fran, but it was a mild winter, and anyway, you were in San Miguel, Mexico, for a few months enjoying the warmth and bougainvilla, remember?

Sure, but now I’m witnessing the ending of winter and the coming of spring in Ohio, the flowering and greening of trees and bushes, the arrival of robins and the lengthening of days.  The lilacs, so plentiful in Starobelsk, are about to burst open.  The hosta and other perennials are pushing up through the ground.  I’ve already planted pansies, and am looking forward to adding other annuals.   Neighbor Judi and I will plant our vegetable garden too.

In the meantime, I made another spring wreath today. It's my second.  I've been  in Sylvania, Ohio, one year.  This wreath is bright and cheerful, with a brass Chinese symbol of happiness in the center.  That was a long-ago gift from a Tampa friend, Linda.  It reminds me that “to everything there is a season.”   

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

So much for the "L" word.

My  Peace Corps friend Jud, whose Russian language skills were limited but surpassed my own, has recommended the book Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges.

I ran to the library to get it, and it’s now sitting next to my bed. Jud warned me it was rather depressing reading, and he was right.  I’m just into the book, and I’m not sure I want to go on.  “Hedges paints a detailed picture of how money, corporate power, and a go-a-long to get-a-long attitude is doing us in.” 

Fair warning.  The book could be called the “death of the American dream.”   Here’s an excerpt:

“In a traditional democracy, the liberal class functions as a safety value.  It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible.  It offers hope for change and proposes graduate steps toward greater equality.  It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue.  It also serves as an attack dog that discredits radical social movements, making the  liberal class a useful component within the power elite.

But the assault by the corporate tsate on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims.  Corporate power forgot that the liberal class, when  it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite.  And reducing the liberal class to courtiers or mandarins, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, shuts off this safety value and forces discontent to find other outlets that often end in violence. 

The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and  its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the proper consent of the governed is meaningless, has left us speaking and acting in ways that no longer square with reality.  It has lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continues to exist.

The liberal class refuses to recognize the obvious because it does not want to lose its comfortable and often well-paid perch.....In elite schools such as Princeton, professors can earn $180,000 a year, and enjoy tax-exempt status as long as they refrain from overt political critiques.  Labor leaders make lavish salarres and are considered junior partners within corporate capitalism as long as they do not speak in the language of class struggle.  Politicians, like generals, are loyal to the demands of the corporate state in power and retire to become millionaires as lobbyists or corporate managers.  Artists who use their talents to foster myth and illusions that bombard our society live comfortably in the Hollywood Hills.” 

What a rant.  But it’s just the beginning.  Hedges also rages against the Democratic party itself. “The worst offender,” he calls it.  He feels the Democratic party “has consciously sold out the working class,” initiated attacks on welfare for the poor, refuses to help the millions who have lost their homes and their savings.  “The liberal class has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power.” 

I must say, Loren, ever the progressive against patriarchy, would smile at this, and some of it resonates with me, too.  For one thing, I am among the millions of Americans who are losing their homes to the disastrous housing market in Florida and elsewhere. 

”We trust our savings and our investments to a financial system run by speculators and thieves,”  Hedges laments.  Shades of Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and all the others who got government bail outs but now refuse to do anything but go after more profit.   

I bought my condo for $172,000, put $40,000 down, and now cannot sell it for more than $50,000. Yep, $50,000.  All I can get.  I still owe about $128,000 on the mortgage, which I’ve been paying on steadily since 2004. I’m in the process of a short-sale, and now I’m being harassed to death by the bank.  I won't see that $40,000 again either. My realtor in St. Petersburg thinks it just the bank needing information.  I have sent the same information over and over and over, going on 6 months.  I sent bank statements 4 times.  I got threatening emails in San Miguel.  I get emails at 6:40 pm on a Friday warning me to send tons more information within 48 hours or risk having to start the process of the short sale all over again.  If this isn’t harassment I don’t know what is.  

I am a retired woman living on a fixed income, a returned PCV, and I am being hounded to death because I want to unload a property that continues to go down in value.  Can I come up with $3000 at closing. Nope, unless I empty my savings.  Okay, we  need more information.  Next step is foreclosure, I guess.  Just walk away, something that goes against my grain. 

So I am not hopeful. And reading Hedges makes me feel worse.  The news is equally depressing: the useless costly wars abroad, the disturbing violence at home, the Supreme Court undoing anything positive, the lies and distortions of another presidential campaign.   

I’m going back to the library to get some Tony Hillerman and other mysteries.  They are, at least, a respite from disillusionment.   Also, I'm busy with this short-sale.  I have to send more tax and social security information to the bank to prove I’m retired.  “But I sent the SS information and the 1099 with my 2011 income tax.”  Not enough.  ”We need the social security award letter.”  Gotta go.   

Monday, April 2, 2012

Amish Quilts and Social Enterprise

Amish Quilt, in a "Lone Star" pattern, in collection of Hearing Associates, Sylvania, Ohio.

I haven’t thought about Amish quilts in a long time.  So it was nice to go for a hearing test, the first in three years, and see the walls of Hearing Associates in Sylvania decorated with them. Lovely quilts in a variety of patterns, colors and styles.  I found them soothing.

I went online later and  found out the quilts are abundant, popular, and for sale.  Although they have evolved in styles over the years, they continue to reflect the Amish's love of the heavens, simplicity, and  rural life.

Amish and Mennonite women have been creating the quilts since the mid-1800s.  They are both practical and beautiful, functional and aesthetic.  And those famous “qullting bees” are still a form of socialization and entertainment, especially in the winter months.    

For many "Plain" women, the quilting bees have now turned into business enterprises. Cottage industries run out of Amish and Mennonite homes have sprung up throughout places like Lancester county, PA. The Amish might not have Sunday sales, but the women are doing a brisk business, which in turn contributes to family income and social cohesion.   

The Amish quilts remind me of the opportunities for social enterprise in other countries where Peace Corps has volunteers.  Whether it’s traditional embroidery, jewelry-making, decorative painting, basket weaving or fabric arts, whether in Ukraine, India, Africa or Latin or South America, women’s arts, crafts, and traditional skills are becoming means for self-expression and for improving family life and household income.

Kofi Annan, former UN General Secretary, said it best:  "There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women....empowering women empowers families and communities."

The Amish quilts are testimony to that wisdom.  

(My hearing is okay, by the way, about the same, with a little fine-tuning here and there.) 

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