Yesterday was a lovely, lazy day full of serendipity. Our regular breakfast cafe had a broken coffee machine so we strolled on until we found La Rose de France on Place Dauphine and had a breakfast so splendid and beautifully presented that we fully expected it to be ridiculously expensive, but it came to less than ten Euros per head. I mean seriously, Julia’s pyramidal tea bags alone should have cost that much.
Then we visited Notre Dame, which was beautiful and creepy, and then we had ice cream from Berthillon as everyone had urged us to do and how very right you all were, and then we wandered through the Marais until we stumbled across Au Petit Versailles du Marais again, so we had lunch there and the baguettes brought tears to my eyes, so soft and sweet were they. We revisited the Centre Pompidou and went to the cat cafe and then Jeremy went to the Corbusier and Mona Hartoum exhibits while the children and I bought sandals and found ourselves passing La Dernier Bar avant la Fin du Monde, which Ada had strongly recommended, so we went in there as well.
It was all delicious and happy until we got back to the apartment and Liz texted me “Rach – are you ok -” and I had to sit down because nothing good ever starts that way.
We braved the Metro (Jeremy deftly blocking a pickpocketing attempt) out to Parc de la Villette to visit the Cité des Sciences et l’Industrie, which according to Wikipedia is the biggest science museum in Europe. It is pretty big! We bought tickets to all the temporary exhibitions, which was a bit of a misstep because the permanent exhibitions were exquisite and we didn’t get to spend anywhere near enough time with them.
As we were touring the Argonaut, a decommissioned submarine, I got mail from the neuroscientist in London who is writing the case study about Dad’s blog. We had hoped to move Dad’s brain to a brain bank for further study but unfortunately this won’t be possible. The neuroscientist reassured us that although Dad’s brain has already been embalmed and used to train surgeons, the resulting anatomical report will still be very helpful in establishing the diagnosis of fronto-temporal dementia.
Dad used to take us to the Observatory and the Australian Museum and the Powerhouse and its precursor, the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, all the time. He took us to Taronga and Western Plains Zoo and Tidbinbilla and Parkes. His factory built fire control systems for the Collins Class submarine. He would have loved the Cité. I feel a space where grief should be. Proposed Site for Grief. What happened to Dad is so huge and terrible I can’t even get there yet. All I have is these tiny, inadequate glimmers of what he was. Of all that we have lost.
A cool change blew through on our first night, thank the gods. The jetlagged girls couldn’t sleep, so I went out and lay on the sofa bed with them until the “Mama Bear is here” signal overwhelmed the “STRANGE ROOM” alarm in their reptile brains. Then I couldn’t sleep, so I climbed back in with Jeremy and his “Papa Bear” signal overwhelmed mine.
Saturday we found Kirsty outside the Louvre Pyramid, exchanged many kisses and saw the Nike of Samothrace (better than I ever dreamed), the Venus de Milo (quite lovely) and the Mona Lisa (whatevs.) I adored the Roman Egyptian mummy portraits and we all loved the Islamic art. I decided that Christian art is mostly sentimental rubbish. Jeremy says I’m going through a phase.
We had an insanely delicious lunch at the Bistro Richelieu. I had the confit de canard. It was the best thing I have ever put in my mouth.
We only see Kirsty every few years but on each occasion it is as though no time has passed.
Dinner at Vin et Terroir with Kirsty’s friends Justin and Peter. I had the lentil soup, which was the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. Sunday we did a little more Louvre, swung by the Musee d’Orsay and the Orangerie (Monet is amazing) and crossed paths several times with the end of the Tour de France. Hurrah for the sportspokes! Dinner at a City Crepes, where the grownups became perhaps too merry upon cider.
Today we walked across Ile St Louis to the Centre Pompidou.
Jeremy first went there when he was Claire’s age, and last time we visited, pre-kids, he said that if he ever did have children, he wanted to take them there.
They loved it. Renzo Piano also built the Cal Academy, their favorite place in SF, and Jan and Richard’s house was always full of bent wood furniture and Matisse prints, so it must have felt like home. Jeremy went into a full-on Art Dad fugue state and we stormed around for hours. (Matisse is amazing.)
Then we went to Au Petit Versailles du Marais for Kirsty’s farewell meal, which, wah. I wish London was closer to San Francisco. Saying goodbye is boring.
Julia ordered, and I finished, the Pyramid, a structure of passionfruit mousse with an apricot center and a macaroon base. It was the best thing I have ever put in my mouth.
At the lowest point of last year when I could think of nothing whatever to look forward to, I decided rather clinically that the kids needed to be taken to Yosemite, Paris and the Grand Canyon. We crossed Yosemite off the list last fall, and here I am in a fifth floor walkup in the 6e arrondissement, listening to the children chatting and singing in the next room, and marveling at the fact that I actually managed to pull this off.
We are all jetlagged to hell but managed to get out of the apartment for lunch at Deux Magots (the others had baguettes, but I had foie gras), macarons from Pierre Herme (the rose and grapefruit was celestial) and a walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg. It is overcast and hot, and the city is every inch as dazzlingly lovely as I remembered.
The children are stellar travelers, really: troupers about the long flight and willing to try new foods. They unfolded the sofabed together and Julia said: “If I were an only child I would have the bed to myself, but on the other hand, I would not be able to unfold it.”
This is not a low point. Thank you, thoughtful former self.
1. A recycled Twitter joke: I posted this last Tuesday and my friend Matthew asked whether the Kaiju were under water, so I said that they were, and that this picture was taken from Jeremy’s and my Jaeger, the Frock Advisory. Seriously, though, look at my beautiful city.
2. My big brother Alain arrived on Thursday and is now an essential member of the household and may not leave. We went out for margaritas with a bunch of folks on Saturday and all got thoroughly roaring and ordered Pizzahacker on the way home. Danny converted Al to the cult of Ingress and now he is part of the Resistance, firing energy weapons into interdimensional portals as he walks around the Mission. (It cracks me up that every technolibertarian and privacy activist I know is in thrall to this sinister surveillance weapon of a game.)
3. Nick-the-horse and I had a lesson with Colin in the Grand Prix arena and, in between very embarrassing refusals, jumped up to a meter ten. It’s the very lowest level of jumping that anyone takes remotely seriously, it’s my goal height and it scared the living crap out of me. But we jumped it. It turns out that my snuggly goober Nicky Boo Bear is an imported Dutch Warmblood from a stallion line that has produced (notoriously badly-behaved) Grand Prix horses in both jumping and dressage. A frog prince.
4. Jeremy and I went to NASA Ames to wait for the New Horizons spacecraft to phone home. That’s us in front of the beautiful Hangar One.
I love NASA as I love national parks and missile silos converted into marine mammal rescue centers, which is to say, immoderately. They kept describing the spacecraft as the size of a grand piano, so now that is how I picture it, a golden Steinway hurtling through the dwarf planet system, exploring strange new worlds, boldly going. A scientific instrument.
5. Ta-Nehisi’s new book is amazing.
Maybe 2000 or so? Sarah guesses Mt Coot-tha, ’97 or ’98. That’s Original Dad for sure.
when I looked up and out the sea was, well, wine-dark as Homer puts it. The sea was a deep dark blue of precisely the same reflective luminosity as rich red wine.
I knew what death meant now. It was conversations cut off.
I kept trying to be less unjust, but did I ever really improve?
She sighed. “Everything is complicated and compromised.” “It is,” I said. “That’s the nature of reality.”
I was older now. I didn’t know whether I was wiser.
Happy birthday, America! I love you for your Steve Rogers, Bree Newsome, health care, marriage equality and Oz Farm.
I rode Colin’s favorite horse this morning and it was incredible. That would normally be the high point of the day, but today was in no way a normal day.
First, marriage equality. I married Jeremy in 2000 because I had secure visa status in the US, and he didn’t. The fear of him being deported was untenable. It was the vulnerability of migration that opened my eyes to what marriage is; it is forcing the state to recognize your found family. That definition of marriage was the gift of the people we lost to AIDS, whose partners were sometimes barred from the deathbed. Legal marriage means that your love matters, that it must be taken into account.
It’s hard, maybe impossible to convey to my own children just how staggering it is that we are here; how many people fought and died for this.
And even that wasn’t the high point of the day. The murderer of the Charlston 9 wanted a race war, not the occasion of maybe the most profound and beautiful moment of Obama’s presidency.
Grace is the unlooked-for gift, the undeserved kindness, a green shoot growing in the desert. Amazing.
Media Gulch likes to cosplay as Rome:
And the Community Music Center as, I don’t even know, some kind of solarpunk Utopia:
Jules is making new friends, as is her wont:
Good coffee has made it to a sunny courtyard near my office in Palo Alto:
Alice and I share a fondness for sunbeams:
You have to make a cup of yourself, to receive that pouring out. You are a sword. You were always a sword. Like your mother and your daughter, too—steel spines run in the women of your family. I realize now why I never saw saints, before. The world does not crash upon their wills like waves upon a rock, or part around them like the wake of a ship. Instead they are supple, and swim through the world as silently as fishes.
Despite all this technology neurosurgery is still dangerous, skill and experience are still required as my instruments sink into the brain or spinal cord, and I must know when to stop. Often it is better to leave the patient’s disease to run its natural course and not to operate at all. And then there is luck, both good luck and bad luck, and as I become more and more experienced it seems that luck becomes ever more important.
Modern binocular operating microscopes are wonderful things and I am deeply in love with the one I use, just as any good craftsman is with his tools. It cost over one hundred thousand pounds and although it weighs a quarter of a ton it is perfectly counter-balanced. Once in place, it leans over the patient’s head like an inquisitive, thoughtful crane. The binocular head, through which I look down into the patient’s brain, floats as light as a feather on its counter-balanced arm in front of me, and the merest flick of my finger on the controls will move it. Not only does it magnify, but it illuminates as well, with a brilliant xenon light source, as bright as sunlight.
Cerebro-spinal fluid, known to doctors as CSF, as clear as liquid crystal, circulating through the strands of the arachnoid, flashes and glistens like silver in the microscope’s light. Through this I can see the smooth yellow surface of the brain itself, etched with minute red blood vessels – arterioles – which form beautiful branches like a river’s tributaries seen from space.
1. Yeah so that happened and it was awful. I ordered flowers for Milton’s funeral which made me mad and sad, not that I grudged him the flowers but that I was so angry with him for being dead. I think I also wanted to be at the funeral so that I could be with other people who knew him and could understand what his death meant. Jeremy met him a few times but didn’t know him well and otherwise I was alone with it, which always sucks and is boring.
2. Otherwise and weirdly I am feeling much better, having shaken off the last of the horrible Chicago cold and consequent lingering bronchitis and what was evidently some kind of post-viral malaise that plunged me back into the worst days of having an undiagnosed anxiety disorder in my teens and 20s. I gotta give myself credit for spending the last dozen years taking meds and getting enough exercise and sleep and healthy food, because given the opportunity to directly compare my current and former emotional states, it’s clear that in spite of all the, you know, wrenching grief, my baseline mood is way better than it used to be.
3. I am finally reading (listening in the car to) And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts’ beautifully furious book about the early years of the AIDS epidemic; uneasy stuff when you are well, let alone when you are paranoid and sick. Excellent narrative history turns you into the Doctor visiting a Fixed Point In Time: it is 1980 and I am standing in the Ice Palace on Fire Island at 1am, looking at all the gorgeous men on the dance floor, knowing that there is nothing I or anyone else can do to save them. I am so, so sorry.
4. Speaking of beautiful fury, the new Mad Max movie is an exquisitely-researched and historically accurate documentary about my childhood and it gives me life. I got properly into the spirit of it too, getting rear-ended hard on the way to the cinema, jumping out of poor banged-up Mercy of Kalr in the middle of Van Ness and screaming at the other driver and kicking his license plate. He was at fault like San Andreas, of course, so his insurance covers everything including the rental on the piece-of-garbage Chevy Sonic I am driving around while Mercy is at the body shop. Her name is Lieutenant Seivarden, and she self-identifies as a small war rig.
5. Last night I dreamed I checked into a hotel where I was shown to a suite that I had to share with strangers who invaded my personal space, and when I complained to the staff they made fun of my accent and lost my favourite jacket, and when I realized that I was in a dramatization of my own mundane fears and insecurities I decided I was probably dreaming and that if I was, I might as well see Mum, so I turned around and there she was, wearing red and orange and gold and looking radiantly well and laughing. So I hugged her a lot.
My poor sister must be so sick of giving me news she knows is going to ruin my day, week, month, but God knows it’s better than finding out from someone else. Milton had a heart attack on Friday. He collapsed at home and his wife Nic revived him, but he died before the ambulance got to the hospital.
I don’t remember meeting him; our friendship was of such long standing that the bulk of it pre-dates this blog. He was in kindergarten with my older brother, and I was in kindergarten with his younger brother and the kid who would become his stepbrother. In our teens his family washed up at the same church as mine for whatever reason. He was a youth leader there, although in retrospect it’s obvious he already had one foot out the door. He and his brother were blond, blue-eyed, square-jawed Australians who would have been almost boringly conventionally attractive if not for their obvious intelligence and the anarchic gleam of mischief in their eyes. (Also they were both short-arses, barely taller than me.)
He was the first of our little cohort to travel, and he did it properly: to Europe and Asia for more than a year, so that his name had become something of a legend by the time he showed up at church again, brown and glowing with a huge grin on his face. Other people glazed over at his stories (memorable quote from someone else at the time: “Why would anyone want to travel? God’s love is the same everywhere.”) But I wanted to see every photo, hear every anecdote. In retrospect it’s obvious I already had one foot out the door. It must have been around then that he started treating me as a pesky little sister and I him as another all-knowing big brother. We all had nicknames then: his was Stilt Man, maybe because of his height? (Mine was PL, short for Poor Little Rachel, baby sister to Big Sar, Big Man and Big Al.)
Travel became his focus for a while. He was working at the student travel agency in the Wentworth Building at Sydney Uni when he sold me my flight to Dublin in 1993. He was not long back from LA, where he’d gotten caught up in the riots. It sobered him a little: “I’m falling in love with Sydney all over again,” he said, and for months afterwards I looked at our hometown with new, more respectful eyes. He parlayed his travel agency experience into early Web jobs and we overlapped in San Francisco during the dot com boom. He had an apartment in North Beach and rode his bike over the Golden Gate Bridge to his job in Sausalito. Gotta hand it to him, the man had panache.
After he moved back, we met up at Petit Creme in Sydney a time or two on my visits home. He worked as an information architect at IBM, and he and his girlfriend adopted a Pharaoh Hound. But I didn’t do a good job of staying in touch. I knew vaguely that he’d broken up with that girlfriend and married Nic, another old acquaintance. It turns out that when you leave home you make the unconscious assumption you’ll come back one day to share your war stories with your comrades. It turns out that in fact, they might not always be there.
I didn’t always like him but it turns out that he was family, he was one of mine. And now he’s gone. I think of Nic, a new-made widow. I think of his kids in ten or twenty years, seeking out his friends to try and find out what kind of man he was. Most of all I think of Milton, and in my mind he is about twenty, having a bloody good time at the beach, wearing a green sarong he’d picked up in Bali, of course, with that self-satisfied smirk and his blue eyes dancing with laughter.
Jeremy has been ill too and we are all heartily sick of all the local takeout options, so last night I pulled out a chopping board and the sunshine-yellow Le Creuset dutch oven that Janny gave us.
The girls were drawn like magnets and clambered around. “Are you cooking?” “You never cook.” I used to. The last time I remember doing it was in Barraba in October of 2013, after we brought Mum back from her radiation treatment in Sydney. We were full of hope that her lingering symptoms were left over from the radiation, and that she would defy the horrible odds against her. I bought potatoes and chicken stock at the IGA. In the kitchen at Henry Street, I peeled the potatoes and blanched them and then sliced them thinly and warmed them in a little melted butter. I drowned them in stock and let them simmer until they were fall-aparty, then used a hand mixer to blend everything into a rich, delicate puree. It’s a Julia Child recipe. It turned out great.
I think Mum managed two spoonfuls of it.
Anyway I am not surprised that Julia especially thinks I do not cook. I diced a white onion and had Julia peel a couple of carrots for me, which I sliced into rounds. I warmed the onions and five chicken thighs in butter. I love butter, don’t judge me. I cut up a couple of preserved lemon wedges and threw them in with some of their briny syrup. I added the carrots and covered everything in a little powdered clove and quite a lot of powdered cinnamon. When the chicken was brown, I threw in the last of a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc and a cup or two of water, and stuck the Le Creuset in the oven with the lid on until the house was full of delicious smells.
We ate it over rice. It was awesome. I made a rhubarb compote for dessert, and that was yummy too.
Trauma can be shockingly sudden and obvious, or it can be subtle, ongoing, and difficult to name.
Instead of travel, I prefer to think of healing from trauma as growth, like a tree becoming taller and wider and more intricately itself every year.
You are not limited to one physical place like a tree, but you do have only one history. You can reach your roots into different parts of it and change how you perceive your history over time, finding pockets of nourishing compost in both your own and your ancestors’ stories.
Mirror neurons in our brains echo the expressions and body language of the people around us, recreating their emotions in our bodies. Our nervous systems automatically align with nearby nervous systems. This effect is strongest in infants and children and occurs in adults as well, especially sensitive ones. For example, if your mother was often anxious, you may struggle with unquenchable anxiety.
Shame is learned. As infants and small children, we expressed ourselves freely without worrying about what others thought. As we received negative responses from others, we learned to filter our behavior to be more acceptable in their eyes.
We want to banish our fiercest patterns, but we have to learn to live with them instead. When we name and study our experiences, we get clawed less when patterns recur. As they become tamer, we may even come to grudgingly appreciate them.
Bodies are usually delighted to reconnect and do not hold grudges.