Letters from Venice – Part VII

Oct. 24, 1982 IMG_0772-tm

I arrived in Venice three day ago. It is fantastic here – truly bellissima. The apartment is great, too, very big. I moved into my room today – Louisa and Charlie, a friend from Princeton who is here visiting have gone away for a week of travels in Italy, to Florence, etc. We three had a great time last night and went to El Souk, the Discoteca of Venezia and danced and drank up a store – it was really fun. Interesting, too – all the men watched themselves in the mirrors – very consistently.

Today I went to visit San Marco for the first time – God, it was so impressive. I could see from the water at the front of the Basilica that “acqua alta” is not joke. It really does get deep and puddles are a given. piazza1

Took it easy the rest of the day, and moved, etc. Tonight I took a walk around Venice with my map, but without looking at it once. In a way, it was also a test for myself. I find myself becoming increasingly reticent to make contact with people on the street – there is an expectation that I will be approached by someone only interested in coming on to me. I’m concerned about this rather egotistical paranoia, but the truth is, they do come on…a lot. Boring to write about and read, Els. (Especially thirty years later)

I found a really soothing spot tonight – on the Fondamento Nouve, right on the back end of the Hospitale Civile, there is bridge under which boats can pass to make deliveries at the hospital – thus, there was an interior, hollow lapping sound that was almost chilling, combined with the all encompassing exterior sound of the water off the island. And the lights of the boats drilled across the murky night – oh, so great! A mist that cooled me off. It will take time to make Venice my home, but the physical plant is so beautiful. I’ve never been in a more beautiful city.

Oct. 27, 1982

Yesterday I found the Palazzo Fortuny Palazzo_Fortuny

and the Cecil Beaton retrospective ’22-71. He really had an extraordinary sense of appropriate images and his choice of subject and paper, etc. It was fascinating to see his concern with opulence and fabric in the thirties when such consciousness would almost have been sacrilege. His Modella Russa was absolutely exquisite – very much like Fred Sommer’s collages. His dramatic control of light, and his appraisal of contrasts of light and dark fabrics/grounds are truly amazing. One photo of Audrey Hepburn where the actress, dressed in black, was in front of a brown wall and held up her pallid white hand in a gesture of halting the viewer from coming closer – a guarded gesture – really beautiful contrast of the hand against the wall.

Julie, the American across the court came over for coffee today, and we went to see a Groucho Marx movie and then I had dinner at her house with her husband, Paolo – wild arrangement – she speaks English, he Italian – and never the twain shall meet. It’s ok, they both seem to understand – neither is at a disadvantage. More tomorrow.

Oct. 28, 1982

The hardest thing about adapting to life here in Venice is this sense of busyness I have culled all my life, and the fear of lethargy which is pervasive these days. It would be easy for me to spend all my afternoons with Julie, but in doing so, that would allow her to speak when we meet people, and while I’m hearing Italian spoken, I would not be speaking. I also need a project. Learn Italian – why is it when I have this opportunity I am so afraid of speaking, of knowing how to speak.

Nov. 2, 1982

Susan Smith called last night and it was a true lifter of a call – to know Bob and Bill and MWM are thinking about me. She said she thinks MWM is making plans to come over!!

Anyway, I was inspired, and today I spoke only Italian, at the market and in the shops; even bought a Gazzetino, and read it!

Tomorrow I meet with Philip Rylands at the Guggenheim, and I don’t even have my letter of introduction from Peter Bunnell. Oh hell. I wonder what there would even be for me to do at the collection.

Sunday, Julie & I went to the Lido and rented bicycles and tooled around. It was beautiful, the fog was lounging over the Laguna, and it was impossible to see from the Lido to Venice. view

(Had we been able to see this is what we might have seen)

I bought notebooks today to begin my “project” – recording poetic observations viz. art in Venice. The opening is a poem about one of the Cecil Beaton photographs from the retrospective 1922-1971 at the Palazzo Fortuny. I think it’s weak at best, but it will provide a framework for my writing. I need an “advisor” to keep on my tail about it. Hmmm. “Phil?” Anyway, I’m babbling.

Nov. 8, 1982   (Written in red ink on a white folding stationery) Return address:
c/o L. Gallavresi

Cannaregio 6253

30121 Venezia

To:      Bob Stern

55 Park Place

Princeton, NJ 08540

Dear Bob,

These are my red Ruskin letters. (This means I just wrote one to MWM, in which I also quoted Ruskin.) For you, I found a great passage on the virtues of architecture:

“…we take pleasure or should take pleasure in architectural construction altogether as the manifestation of an admirable human intelligence; it is not the strength not the size, not the finish of the work which we are to venerate: rocks are always stronger, mountains always larger, all natural objects more finished; but it is the intelligence and resolution of man in overcoming physical difficulty which are to be the source of our pleasure and subject of our praise. And again, in decoration or beauty, it is less the actual loveliness of the thing produced, than the choice and invention concerned in the production, which are to delight us, the love and the thoughts of the workman than his work. His work must always be imperfect, but his thoughts and affections may be true and deep.”

Stones of Venice, App. 7.

Found that and I thought of you, because it not only applies to you as architect, but Bob the doer and builder of beautiful things, whether they be prints, sets, or relationships. I love you very dearly, Bob.

Susan called two nights ago and raised my spirits to their peaks! She also sent me a letter that I got yesterday. She sounds as though McCarter agrees with her and her home in Hopewell sounds lovely, too. Have you seen it? She told me about her new “friend” Gary. I am so glad she met someone nice and close to Princeton! Long distance with John didn’t seem to work too well.

I met Philip Rylands, had of the Guggenheim collection here in Venice, and he told me there might be things for me to do for visiting American scholars, the end of November. Also, he might use me as a babysitter for his 16-month-old son. “My wife is going absolutely mad,” he said. Very stuffy young Brit.

I cleaned the whole fucking apartment today, down to the tiles, which are the floors for the whole place – white tiles, which show all. Tonight I am making Gnocchi Verdi, and after trying to explain to the hardware store man what I wanted was ‘cheesecloth” –“la stoffa che e poroso per prosciugare l’acqua del formaggio, etc. etc.,” he told me they don’t use it here in Venezia. Well my next stop was the cheese store, and sure ‘nuf, the ricotta was so solid it didn’t need to be drained. Lesson 3 in living day to day in a foreign country where you don’t know the idiotic colloquial expressions…yet. I am really improving. My cheese man told me “parla bene l’italiano.” Flattery, flattery…

Tell Bill I say hello and give him a loud succulent smack for me. Talking to Susan made me feel so much closer to y’all there!

Louisa is away lots, but we have a great time when she is here. The neighborhood kids are little hoods, and I am sitting in the kitchen listening to Brahms and the sound of their little toys being hurled all over the Goddamned courtyard. Ah the bliss of urbanity. Now the little fuckers are pounding on my window. Excuse me while I get my shotgun.

Love to MWM. But you two take care….xoxo Els

New Year Cliche

Just ordered 10 classes through the local YAS two days before the New Year hits. The first time I took a class there, I could hardly walk when I dismounted. Tomorrow at 4:15 is my second class ever. As I said, wish me luck! Happy New Year to me!


Letters from Venice – Part VI

Dear reader, as I explained earlier in this series on Venice, these writings are literally from my early 20s journal and from letters sent back to me by one of the original recipients, my dear friend Bob. I got to the end of Part V and started to read Part VI and became mortified by the content of next section, complete with gushy badly written french poetry. But if you have opted to stay with me on this so far, then I guess you will forgive this, too.

Sept. 22, 1982   ON The TRAIN TO AMSTERDAM (A MWM)

(Poem written in bad French)

Je veux que tu sache maintenant, mon cher,

Que je suis bien contente.

Avec toutes les choses nouvelles a voir.

Comment c’est elegante.

Mais sous les vues, immenses et varies,

Je me percevois de ce realite:

Que je t’attends avec toute mon ame.

Ce n’est pas a dire qu’a cause de cette attente,

J’omis n’importe quoi.

Mais seulement que, en tout cas,

Je fais ce que je dois.

Et enfin, je dois t’attendre, parce quie tu es tellement cher.

Et toutes les choses dehors and dedans

Rendent ta valeur plus claire.

Translated roughly:

I want you to know now, my dear,

That I am very content.

With all the new things to see

Oh, how it is elegant.

But through all these vues, great and varied,

I am aware of this reality.

That I wait for you with all my soul,

That’s not to say that because of this waiting

I omit anything

But only that, in any case,

I am doing what I want.

And finally, I want to wait for you,

Because you are so incredibly dear,

And all things outside and within

Render your value more clear.

Letter from: MWM (Name and address redacted to protect the blameless)

(MWM was an actor who had played in a production of Threepenny Opera, which we had done the summer after I graduated from Princeton. My friends Bob Stern, Veronica Brady, Dale Coye and I ran a summer theatre at the Theatre Intime, a building on the campus of Princeton. We hired professional actors to perform in the shows, and I stage managed the shows, Bob designed the scenery, Bob, Dale and I, along with some young interns, built the scenery, and Veronica was the artistic Director, and ran the box office. Susan Smith was also involved as the Managing Director. It was a phenomenal summer. In the basement of the building adjacent to the theatre, there was a small café, where we all retired to after the performances were over and that’s where we had met. MWM was a very sweet guy, and he rode a motorcycle, as he lived outside of Princeton. We had a lovely summer tryst, and then when I went to Europe, corresponded for several months until I met another man in Venice with whom I became enamored. Ah, fickle youth! MWM visited me later in the year and we took a trip to Southern Italy with some of my Venetian friends. It was disastrous for our relationship, but more on that later.

Sept. 23, 1982


c/o Hotel Arthur Frommer

Noorderstraadt 46


Dearest Els,

Well, where to begin. First, thanks so much for all your letters, cards, news, etc. It really is a lift after the end of a hard day and lately there have been many hard days.

I can’t believe that you sent that package but it was great to get it. Thanks so much, it’s beautiful. I put it on Friday and I do believe it calmed my ragged nerves. Many people commented how nice it was, original, etc… I loved it. Thanks, Els, for being an incredible woman. The play has not gone well. Biff I think is strong and the character is well delineated however the play is so technical that if these basic technicalities are not working, the whole play suffers. Reed is absolutely the worst director I have ever worked with and I do not think I shall be working with him again! He is what they call an “anti-director” practicing what he calls the ‘Socratic Method’ of direction which consists mainly of asking us “how does it feel” concerning anything and everything from line interpretation, blocking, movement basic script analysis – everything. His blocking is ‘organic’ which means basically that there is none except that which the character has chosen to do. It is absolutely crazy!

The cast kept hoping that he would give us some kind of concrete blocking and even a semblance of direction. We waited until three days before opening. At that point the owner of the theatre, Tom Ryan, lost control. And so, for 15 minutes they stood their [sic], Alan Reed and Ryan, yelling at each other, calling each other names, and other such absurdities in front of the whole cast and crew. It was just wonderful theatre. In any case, Friday went as well as can be expected.

“Philadelphia Inquirer” came out with a review today. It was not as bad as I expected. They almost liked me. I will mail copies next letter. What really killed the cast is that the critic wrote how well and carefully directed this piece was by Alan Reed and yet he had nothing really good to say about anybody else. “Life is not a bed of roses,” comes to mind occasionally.

Plans are progressing for an apartment in Montclair or there abouts.

Jeremy, my friend from Europe, was able to raise $25,000 here, so if things work out in Santa Fe in Oct., I might be able to have a job there in the future if I want it. That was really good news. Overall things are going on or about even keel.

Your letters continue to bring me joy, visions, beautiful memories and some good dreams. Thank you..—

Greet Bob warmly for me as well as your Dad and Stepmother.

Els, take care of yourself. Know that I am at your side in ways as yet unexplained.                                                                                    I love you


Sept. 24, 1982

Well, we have begun our trip in France! I met Dad and Joan in Amsterdam, which is a beautiful city. I got a fantastic letter from MWM yesterday, and in spite of the disappointment of not being able to afford to call him, I feel very in touch with him. We are in Arras, France on our way to Rouen tomorrow, Saturday, where there is a market, which is supposed to be the thing to see in Rouen.

Rented a car in Amsterdam. The European drivers all drive 120 k /hr at least. It feels like breakneck speed! And they don’t let you loiter in the passing lane! We are in elegant quarters in Arras, an apartment for about $25.00. Two rooms, very spiffola. I am exhausted!

Sept. 27, 1982

Four days out of Amsterdam, and ten pounds later, we have seen the Cathedral at Amiens, Rouen, Rouen Cathedral, the Bayeux tapestry, and today the Chateau at Angers. Chateau D'AngersSplendid sights and more than obscene cuisine. I called MWM from Bayeux, which was great.

I’m reading the Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, a really important book for anyone getting his or her bearings in a modern world.  About dignity and not compromising your integrity, or compromising which are both your choices. You need never be the victim of circumstance.

I met another “life student” at the Bayeux tapestry – 64 years old, had taught herself Italian, English, Greek and Hebrew. Fascinating woman.

So much to see, it is nice to be spoiled for a while – one only wishes there were some way to save some of the grandeur for later on!

We are in La Rochelle for the night, a beautiful port town- very “quaint” in the travelogue sense.

October 3, 1982

Yesterday, we drove west in the Dordogne Valley, from Sarlat Sarlat to

BergeracBergerac, city of Cyrano. Along the winding river, which flirts with the myriad of roads at its side.

Last night we had dinner at the Cro-Magnon hotelCro-Magnon Hotel

and combined with natural lunacy (it was a full moon) we were in hysterics over this British couple of 65 or older who was next to us. “Really, dahling, these potatoes are so underdone, I don’t know if I can eat them!” Dad and Joan thought them to be newlyweds, but I don’t know. Whatever they were, they were incredible.

As have been my dreams the past two days. I dreamt yesterday that I became the Queen of England and last night that Bob and I did “Camilla” (another of the plays we had taken to Edinburgh) in front of an audience at a Dude ranch, on horseback with our backpacks. We came on stage riding (our entrance was interrupted by a stampeding herd of bulls escaped from the corral outside), took off our backpacks, and did the reading of the play from these music stands which we tried artistically and stylistically to swat into parallel planes separating us. I didn’t know the lines and I was less than helpful to Bob in figuring them out. When half the audience had left, we gave up and left the stage.

The Dude ranch consisted of fifty to seventy-five horses of the most variable sizes ever witnessed. Weird things happened on this ranch – I rode out on one horse, and came back in on another. I had a little theatre where I and cohorts were doing this very macabre play which involved an upbeat final scene of laughing people, at which point, the audience exited through the stage and out the back of the theatre, which was a warehouse. Only if they turned around and looked at the theatre as they left would they see the total carnage above the garage doors – bodies with the feet cut off at the ankles, heads mounted like hunting trophies, with grinning bloody faces, etc. all visible through the transoms above the garage doors. Ok, Els, lie down and start talking….

The last important thing about this dream and that of the night before was that Kaja McGowan appeared in both dreams. Last night she was in a store: MWM and I pulled up and she told me that she was getting a divorce. She was smoking like a chimney and was very high-strung and hard – totally un-Kaja-like. I will write her a letter today to tell her I’ve been dreaming!

Then there was the Dude Church for which all the youngsters were the Deacons. I couldn’t find the collection basket till at the last moment someone handed me a plate and we collected. But I ran into Betty Henry, who stopped me and wouldn’t let me finish. Then, as we finished, instead of taking the money to the front, we sat down in the congregation. An obese man next to my collecting partner asked how much we had made.

“$1.65,” we said.

He took the money out of the dish and put it in his pocket, meanwhile, pulling out the contents of his pockets which included a huge amount of foreign change and a “Grosse horologe,” made of gold but with crayon Louis XXIV design on the face.

Oct. 7, 1982

Just pulled into St. Jean du Luz, tonight, on the coast of the Atlantic, and on the edge of the Pyrenees. St.JeanduLuz

It is great to be near the ocean. I am going to get up and take a walk, I think, along the shore. Stayed in Pare last night, after seeing Lourdes, an incredibly sobering sight. I felt like I was on the filming site of Night of the Living Dead, with all these invalids wheeling by, carrying candles to place in a grotto under a ceramic statue of Mary, and receptacles of all sizes ranging from necklace sized to gallon jugs to collect samples of the healing waters. Dear God. I would have laughed, except for the clear intensive hope of these people. Dad is of the opinion that it is a mere moneymaking scheme of the church. I think that probably more than half of those pilgrims were really holders of a faith- one that I am not privy to, but that makes it no less real for them. I saw one nun lean out and grab a woman’s hand who was wheeling by– it was that human caring that brought those people there, I think. The desire to be of one with others around them, and that happened to be the solution. Who are we of good health to begrudge those people? Don’t we seek those human embraces from the attendants at the gas stations who change our pneu creve ou gonfle? **

(**While on the road earlier that week, in our rental car, we’d had two mishaps. The first was a flat tire at the side of the road, where our extensive pursuit of the game, Milles-Bournes as children had provided me with the French vocabulary necessary to explain our predicament to the gas station attendant, who repaired our tire. The other incident happened while we were visiting the Remy cognac plant, and in the pouring rain, backed our rental car out of the parking space and into a soon-to-be hysterical French woman’s car. A trip to the insurance office later we left Remy.)

Oct. 10, 1982

We are in Poitiers, France, having visited in Bordeaux last night and St. Emilion today. In Bordeaux we stayed at this relative flea bag, but the high point of the visit was when we walked over the the “Foire Aux Plaisirs,” The visiting county fair, and rode the Ferris wheel, which was very high, and very much fun.

Foire Aux Plaisirs

Again, an interesting perspective on our American status. There was a house called the American Show, highly gaudily decorated and sporting every tacky object you can imagine, from an all black Dixieland Jazz band to a Roy Lichtenstein comic book portrayal of two women in virtually nothing but sleezy “Uncle Sam” tutus. And the course that you walked on (We saw no other Americans doing this thing) took you out on a balcony in front of the crowd gathered below, and you walked over vent that blew air up (a la Marilyn Monroe, to give the men a thrill when an unsuspecting woman in skirt passed over.) This one guy had his hand up in a Tricky Dicky Nixon sign, and the crowd below laughed.

St. Emilion was great – miles and miles of vineyards stretched out. But one thing I realized is that the Chateau reconstruction project sounds very appealing to me after seeing the small-townness of St. Emilion. I will look in Paris to see if anything has turned up, but I think the former sounds more instructive for my French and more psychologically healthy for me.

Oct. 15-16, 1982


I’ve now been back in Paris for two days – tonight’s my second night – quite a bit has happened in that short time! But tonight I went to see View From The Bridge, by Arthur Miller, at Gallerie 55, and directed by Fiona Scanlon, who has great reviews for her English-Speaking Theatre. I was very happily and frankly surprisingly impressed with the quality of the production. It is really a difficult play, and the actors had by the end of the first scene, established the motivations of the main character for the whole show, and not in a bludgeoningly obvious way – the director was very subtle, but firm. I met the director and gave her my address in Venice – she said she’d need people after Christmas and would drop me a line. I liked her, though she seemed a little drunk.

Last night, I met Ben, a very friendly Frenchman from les banlieus, whom I am not leaping at the chance to see again. Suffice it to say, I am learning about being on my own and making choices about whom I will associate with.

Went to the American Church today – there was really nothing – especially not for as short a time as I’m here for. I really think I should go back to Gallerie 55 tomorrow night after the show and talk with some of the actors about options, opportunities.

God, I’m tired!!!


Labor Day Labor of Love – Happy New Year

At about 11:30 Am on Christmas Eve day, the phone rang and the Crate and Barrel delivery folks told me that our final piece of the sofa would be arriving on Friday, December 27th between 2:30 and 4:30PM.
“Great! And will they be able to take away the loaner that we have here then?”

Didn’t know about the loaner, she told me. You will need to call your contact at the store to make sure there is a note in the system about the couch that needed to be picked up.

I called Crate and Barrel on Christmas Eve day to thank Diongo for arranging for the armless loveseat solution. Better an armless loveseat than a loveless armchair, right? The phone was picked up by a chipper sales woman. “Hi, is Diongo, there, please?”

“He’s out to lunch but should be back shortly.”

He? Wait, beat beat, while my brain did a 180. “When do you expect him back?”

“He should be here by 12:00.”

“Great, I will call back later to speak with him. Thank you!”

Several hours later, I was reassured by Diongo that the spare couch piece would be taken away by the delivery team on Friday.

We returned from the airport where I picked up my Dad and his wife, and we came back to the apartment where they looked at the odd mishmash of sofa pieces and said, “It doesn’t look that bad.”

And it didn’t. we had a lovely three day visit and spent many happy moments talking and napping and watching the Lakers on the loaner sofa. And this morning I drove them off to the airport and came home to nap on the chaise.

Just now, David and Stephen, the white glove team from Crate and Barrel delivered the apartment sofa section that meets with the chaise to form the sectional sofa for which the quest began last September 1st. Ahhhhhhhh. So new and so comfortable; so much more than the Living Spaces couch we have given to our friends and which I can’t think about without the annoying advertising jingle going through my head. Whoever wrote that jingle should be forced to listen to it incessantly as punishment for their creative talents. Probably they do – it is just the kind of ear worm that burrows into your brain and sits tight until it is shoved aside by an equally inane ditty.

I’m ready for my Crate and Barrel ditty contest now.  But first maybe a nap on my new chaise…..

Christmas Eve

I just returned from a magical Christmas eve party – old friends, new friends, family members, food, singing Christmas carols until I no longer had the breath to sing. I was reminded of how fortunate I truly am to be surrounded by such loving friends and colleagues. Tomorrow we will open gifts and eat good food and share remembrances of Christmas past. Again, I am filled with the knowledge that each passing year is richer for being able to do the work I love with people who share the same passion and commitment to the theatre and to living life fully. Embracing the humanity of it.

Hope your Christmas is as special.

I received a facebook post this week from a high school friend who said we should remember that Christmas isn’t happy for everyone – that the stresses of family, job insecurities, poor health and other obstacles mar their enjoyment and that we should share the post by cutting and pasting it. As though reading that didn’t make me stop and think about those people – I needed to copy it and spread it around?

The ups and downs that we face in our lives are what make us alive. The good and bad days  remind us that we are only here for a brief time and it isn’t those events that make us who we are, but the way we see and react to them. That’s what makes it possible for me to enjoy the ridiculousness of the couch debacle this week. It really sucked and made me miserable early in the week, but  I took extra enjoyment from writing about it and sharing it with my friends. It has receded in my rear view mirror even before being completely resolved, like the speed bumps in my old neighborhood. Annoying, but just a part of the drive home.

Tonight, with the echos of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in my heart, I know that there will be future challenges far exceeding the couch story. And I will tackle them one at a time, learning a bit more about how this funny life business works in the meantime.

Merry Christmas!

Labor Day Labor of Love – The Christmas Catastrophe

The events of recent days have made me realize that my blog, subtitled “Intentional living in the theatre and beyond” is endowed with actual fate-bending powers. I know that sounds ridiculous, but listen to the next installment of the elusive couch. First, I just have to say that it boggles my mind that in 2014, in the United States, and in Los Angeles, that one would not be able to acquire a simple sectional sofa in four month’s time. Right? Crazy!

As promised by Jason, the kindly Crate and Barrel salesman,  I received the call on Wednesday, December 18th to schedule delivery of my couch. I was meeting with one of my stage management students when the phone rang. I had been waiting for the call about the delivery of the sofa, so when I saw the unfamiliar San Pedro number come up on my cell, I snatched it from the top of my paper-encrusted desk and excused myself to my student.

“Hello,” came the cheery voice. “This is name-inaudible-due-to-my-excitement from Crate and Barrel to let you know the delivery window for your couch.” I was so excited that all I heard was “Crate and Barrel.” “Your couch,” she crooned, “will arrive on Friday afternoon between 1:30 and 3:30PM. Are you still able to take delivery then? They are loading the truck and want to make sure you can still accept the delivery at that time.”

“Yes, of course,” I replied happiness burbling in my chest cavity. “Thank you so much!” I hung up the phone and resumed the meeting with my student. After he left, I called home and gave my husband the good news.

All was happiness and light.

Cut to Thursday afternoon. The phone rang again, another unfamiliar number. A little more warily, I picked up the phone only to hear a young woman say, “Hello, this is Diongo from Crate and Barrel.” Uh oh. This cannot be good.

“I’m sorry to inform you that only one portion of your couch made it onto the truck from our Northern California facility, so tomorrow, you will only be receiving the chaise portion of your sofa order. The earliest date that the missing sofa piece can be delivered is December 27th. I’m terribly sorry for the inconvenience.”

I was stupified. I have to say that generally because of what I do for a living – production manage multiple shows a year, I usually receive difficult news with a pretty accepting demeanor. However, consider what I was up against on this couch set back:

1) We had ordered the couch on Sept. 1. Granted this is another vendor, but now I’m being told I won’t have the couch til Dec. 27th.

2) I am about to have 9 uninterrupted days off from work. All I want in the world is to sit down and put my feet up next to my husband.

3) My 83-year-old father is on his way from DC with his wife to spend Christmas with us. We now have 3 people over 80 years old and only two marginally comfortable chairs.

4) I have given my old couch away. That night, my colleague Hannah and her husband Patrick and two kids were coming over for dinner and to take the old couch away. Sort of like a barn-raising but in reverse. I cannot change the plan as this is the second time I’ve arranged the dinner and couch take-away plan. I do not want to disappoint them.

“I’m sorry, can you please repeat your name to me?”


“Diongo, this is completely unacceptable. I have no couch and I have family coming for Christmas. How could this have happened? Can you arrange for a loaner sofa until mine arrives? I really do not have anything for my family to sit on.”

“Let me see what I can do. It will take me a little while to figure out something, so please bear with me.”

By now, I am babbling to her about how I have been through this terrible ordeal with another company who didn’t provide the couch and we had to cancel, blah blah blah, all the while thinking – she doesn’t care. Stop talking. She is now repeating that the earliest date she can deliver the other half of the sofa is December 27th, which is the day my father and his wife leave.

That’s when it hits me – my blog has supernatural powers. It has awakened in the cosmos a certain schadenfreude about the happy improvement plan I have undertaken in my living room. “No, she can’t get her sofa before Christmas! That would be too easy! Let’s see just how much we can challenge her and see what she’s made of.”

After hanging up with Djongo, I finished work and took the bus home. Bursting through the door of the apartment, I barely spoke to my husband, but strode to the side table, where I pulled out the Crate and Barrel folder with the receipt for the sofa. Name of salesperson…… Ah, Jason. That’s what I needed. I snatched up the phone and dialed the number for the store, so I could give Jason a piece of my mind. Jason, who had promised that we would get our sofa by Christmas. Jason, to whom I had explained the whole painful West Elm story, whom I had befriended with my misery, who had calmly, confidently  and professionally sold us the sofa that would be in our home before Christmas. Jason, who was about to hear from me…The phone rang once, then twice, then:
“Hello, Crate and Barrel, this is Diongo speaking. How can I help you?”

All the petulant impetus for my call was instantly deflated. I have to tell you, if I were a furniture store manager, I would hire Diongo to be my customer service rep in a heartbeat.  She has a reasonable, pleasant demeanor. She thinks well on her feet. When I asked to speak with Jason, she said, “May I tell him who’s calling?” Sheepishly, I said my name and reminded her that we had spoken earlier. I told her “I wanted to speak with Jason because he promised me we would have our sofa and we won’t now have it before Christmas.” Patiently, she repeated what she said she was working on – finding a loaner or close out sofa we could use until our real one arrived on the 27th. “I’m happy to put you through to Jason if you’d like, but after the transaction leaves the seller, it’s really all about the delivery department and the seller doesn’t know what’s happening. At this point, I will be working to reach a solution on this.  Beat of silence as I flagellated my inner mean girl for wanting to let Jason have it. “No, I guess you will be the one who can help us straighten this out, so I don’t need to talk with Jason after all. Thanks, Diongo.”

She continued. “I will call you back later to let you know how my search is going.”

And she did. The manager had not approved the loaner, but she was looking for the actual item to get it scheduled before the 25th. I have faith in Diongo.

In the meantime, the chaise arrived today. I am writing this while sitting on it. It is paired awkwardly with one of the small veronica taper leg chairs from West Elm. It faces the TV. My husband took the maiden nap on it this afternoon.  And I just got off the phone with Diongo, who has arranged for delivery of an armless loveseat from the store in a complimentary color to our new chaise so that we all have a place to sit for Christmas.

I hesitate to tell my fate-bending blog of my intentions lest she throw another wrench into the works. But I think it’s going to be all right.

The Jewelry Box

I have on my dresser a battered green leather jewelry box. It is filled with some very old jewelry, as well as with the many beautiful gifts that my husband has given to me over the past thirty years.

The Jewelry box

If you were to see the box, you would ask yourself – Why has no one replaced this battered old thing? Originally a deep hunter green leather it sports an elaborate but delicate tooled gold border around the top and sides of the box. Once it was lockable; the keyhole well worn on the front of the box. Now it doesn’t even close, due to its largess of riches. Inside, there is a green silk lining and a wooden inset which fits perfectly inside and has a long horizontal ring tray and two square receptacles which hold a collection of jewelry. Two square velvet pillows crimped around the edges provide real estate for broaches to be pinned on them.

The most notable thing about its disrepair, however, is the top of the box, which sports two, continent-shaped holes in the green leather. These holes, revealing the buff colored cardboard under the leather, the left the shape of Australia, the right the shape of Africa, with a bite out of the horn. Around these continents in the remaining sea of green are a series of systematic scratches in the leather.

These scratches denote hours upon hours of adolescent phone calls from my parents’ bedroom in my childhood house in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. We had two telephones in our modest colonial house: one black rotary dial phone which rested on the hefty wooden desk in the corner of the den, and one princess phone on the bedside table of our parent’s upstairs bedroom. Here is where I would take my phone calls, bent at the waist, my elbows resting on my mother’s bureau, as I chatted idly with my girl friends, while digging industriously into the top of the leather jewelry box with an open safety pin taken from the dish on the top of the bureau.

Who can say why a normally responsible eleven or twelve-year-old girl would consciously destroy her mother’s jewelry box? As I recall, I was generally not very nice to my mother at that time – surly would describe my attitude in general, but I don’t think it was anger at my mother that drove me to tattoo the top of her jewelry box.

Things were getting rocky between my parents around then, and perhaps I went into their bedroom to take the calls because I thought I would find out why – frequently I would sneak into the room when I knew one of my brothers was on the phone with a girl; breathlessly, I would listen as they cooed at each other, titillated by the endless expressions of love between them and hungry to experience whatever that special bond between boys and girls was. I would giggle with my friends Lisa and Pixie on the phone and spend long moments discussing the perceived wrongs that one of us had experienced in school that day. There was something comforting about digging away at the box – probably if I were an adolescent today, I would be digging away at my own arm – but then, there was some satisfaction in knowing that my mother would later return to her jewelry box and experience irritation that someone had mauled its delicate lid. What is so strange now in retrospect is that she never mentioned it to any of us – of course she knew that it was one of the children doing it – why did she never inquire?

All I know is that now I have the same jewelry box on my dresser – it is one of my favorite possessions. It’s beauty is scarred, like the childhood memories of my parents’ marriage. Its delicate cargo from the generation of my mother and my grandmother – the garnet heart on the gold chain with garnets evenly spaced up the chain – from a watch fob belonging to her father, which she thoughtfully made into a necklace for me because the garnet was my birthstone; my high school ring nestling in the horizontal tray in the back, along with some very old engraved wedding rings belonging to my grandmother’s parents; the blue enameled butterfly pin from my father’s mother which I still wear on spring days when I am buoyed by the expectations of summer; the tarnished silver thistle pin worn on my tartan elementary school uniform; the pink pearl necklace and drop earrings given to me by my husband on our 15th anniversary in a Pasadena eatery. So many treasures not the least of which are the memories of those hours spent idly marring the top of the box.

Butterfly, Harbinger of Summer

Labor Day Labor of Love – The Heartbreak and the Healing

The coffee table arrived, as promised on the 4th of September, and that weekend, I began the process of putting it together. As in all assemblies, I carefully counted out the parts to make sure I had everything before beginning. I had had to wait to begin the assembly because the box was hugely heavy and I was unable to lift it. So I had waited until Chris was home to open it for me and slide the heavy parts out onto the floor.

It was an awkward but not impossible task to screw the first two legs onto the table, but when I began to attach the cross bracing, I realized that one of the legs was bent at a 45 degree angle and would not assemble with the 1/2″ screws provided by West Elm.

I picked up the phone and had the first of about 20 calls to customer service at West Elm. The very helpful customer service rep told me, “No problem, we’ll send out a new set of legs for the table.” “Great,” I thought, “I will get those in a few days and begin the table.

About four days later, an entirely new table arrived, but our son was no longer at home, so I was stuck hauling the box so that I could pull out the legs, and leaving the heaviest component in the box. Shipped that back to West Elm, and voila, we had a coffee table by Sept. 15th.

Cut to October 28th when we received the two large boxes which contained the new blue ikat patterned Veronica chairs with the tapered chocolate legs. Easy peasy to assemble. We were half way to our new living room. According to the next customer rep I spoke with, we would be called to select a delivery date for our new sectional sofa on November 13th.

No call came on the 13th. I called them late in the day on the 13th. The customer rep seemed confused and unable to pinpoint the day of delivery. She passed me on to someone else, who very reluctantly told me that there had been a delay in the fabric that would delay our couch 2-4 weeks. This rep told me that the fabric was due in one week and he would call me no later than the following Monday to report on the arrival of the fabric.

Monday came and no call from Jamal. I called him and asked what was going on. The fabric was on an even longer delay and now was due on December 20th. Unacceptable.

Meanwhile I had been in email communication with Rachael, the lovely sales person who had sold us all the items in the store in West Hollywood. She was sending me discount coupons, etc. and when I told her we were having trouble with the couch, she determined that the fabric we had selected had been discontinued and would not be available. We could select another fabric if we wanted to. By now it was the friday after Thanksgiving, and we could see that no matter what West Elm did we wouldn’t have our furniture assembled by the holidays.

Shortly after this email exchange with Rachael, I had a third conversation with Jamal at the Furniture 800 number. He was loathe to tell me that the fabric had been discontinued forever, so I told him. I also told him that I was extremely disappointed in the customer service West Elm had provided or not provided and that I was canceling the order for the sofa. I think Jamal was relieved that the saga was closed. I know I was.

The next night, Jimmie and I went out to Crate and Barrel and purchased a couch. It is due to be here by Dec. 20th. So simple. But there’s a little bit of sadness almost like losing a new friend.

So, I guess my new bestie isn’t West Elm – sorry Rachael. And now I can let this all go. All the anger and disappointment and outrage. So toxic and so not useful.

Happy holidays!

Classic Stage Manager Nightmare

So last night I was trapped in what felt like an 8 hour stage manager nightmare. I apologize for using real people’s names, but that was what made it so horrifying. These names are people whom I really respect and have worked with successfully in the past, so my epic professional collapse in the dream made me wake in a sweat. And like truly great nightmares, that are detailed and fascinating, I repeatedly went back to sleep hoping it would continue, which it did.

I had been hired by Dan Ionazzi, the Production Manager of the Geffen Playhouse and a renowned Lighting Designer in his own right,  to stage manage a large opera production in an outdoor arena called the “Alhambra.” I have never been to the Alhambra in Granada, but my cursory search this morning on Wikipedia led me to a castle on a hill.

This was not at all what the theatre I had been hired to stage manage in was like. This was some multi-chambered outdoor arenas  grouped in a cluster of adjacent canyons, each requiring sure footing to make your way through them. Once inside, the tech table was perched in the middle of the “theatre” on a naturally formed table shaped stone. I arrived at dusk and made my way to the table. There were many people running around in headsets and I chatted with them, and eventually walked down to the table when Dan said they were ready to begin. My tech table was completely clean of anything. No headsets, no book, no pencils, which was when I realized I had not brought anything with me. 

I said, “Do you think I could get a headset at the tech table, please?” And one of the many headset clad people came over and said, “This isn’t the tech table. The tech table is down here,” guiding me further down into the center of the canyon, where, sure enough, there was a headset and a large contraption that looked like a boom mic on a goose lamp contraption – sort of what you would see clamped to the side of a drafting table, but with a microphone on it, not a lamp. I sat at the table (still horrified that I didn’t see my script there) and the assistant gently guided what I realized was their version of the “God” mic over my head so that it captured everything I said and broadcast it, booming, out into the canyon for all to hear. They all heard something like this: “Where is my fucking script?”

Meanwhile, I looked around and there were large tourist groups being led into the canyon at regular intervals by nun guides. Yes, nun guides. And groups of children in uniforms. I know, I should be lying down on the therapist’s couch to recount this tale.

So, without a script, not much was going to happen. I explained (over the god mic which I didn’t know how to turn off) that I would need a script to begin the tech. This flummoxed everyone as you might imagine. So, in order to save face, I said I needed to return to my car to get my script. Next thing, I was walking around for the next 2 hours or so through the similar but creepy adjacent canyons. I was hopelessly lost and had no idea how to get back to the “theatre”.

They all looked remarkably similar, but were devoid of actors carrying spears and children in uniforms being led by nuns. I could not for the life of me, find my tech.

Suddenly I stumbled across a headset clad assistant, who had clearly been sent out to look for me and who led me back to the theatre, which was literally at least a mile away through a tortured route of knee straining steps.

Additional nightmare factors to this tech – I didn’t know the play.  I never made the tech happen. When I returned to the table lo those two hours later, some of my students from SC were sitting there teching the show quite satisfactorily without me. As I climbed back up to my table, I saw Paulie Jenkins sitting in the front row of the theatre removing her headset for the night. When I got to the table, there were three copies of the script on the table – no, unfortunately, in my dream I couldn’t read or remember the title of the play – and inside each script was a note from the following people – Bryan Gale – hope you feel better soon, Els, along with a cue list of the light cues. (There were a lot of LDs on this show apparently). One from Dan Ionazzi with equally supportive language. The message I woke up with was “this is your last show.”

Like I said, classic stage manager nightmare…..Glad to be awake this morning sharing the horror with you.

Labor Day Labor of Love – The Backstory

I’m not sure what motivated my husband and I to redo our living room furniture this fall. There was a pervasive sense of optimism when we returned from our summer vacation to the Cape, the start of classes behind me, auditions for the eight fall shows relatively finished, cast lists posted on the callboard in the Drama Center. First hurdle behind.

And the fact that we embarked on this journey on our anniversary, Sept. 1, after 29 years of marriage, was a delight. Off we went to the newly discovered West Elm store in West Hollywood, where we worked with friendly Rachael to select the perfect couch, the perfect side chairs, a coffee table. I was like the proverbial pig in shit.

I like to renovate and redecorate my homes. I’ve always enjoyed it. The most extensive example was the complete gut and redesign of our kitchen in our last home. The least extensive is probably this foray into replacing our inherited furniture. Perhaps I am my grandfather’s daughter. John Marcy Coon, Princeton, Class of 1931, architect and business owner, John constructed the bridges spanning the highways and turnpikes throughout Pennsylvania. He also designed the Nesbitt Hospital in Wilkes-Barre.

He designed and built his home in the suburbs of Wilkes-Barre, set amidst the fields and forests of Shavertown, a beautiful white brick home with an elegant L shaped layout which cradled the back porch  overlooking an “infinity” field, the border of which w dripped off the back side of the hill on which the house was located. My grandfather rented the field to a local farmer to plant and harvest. Every fourth of July we would gather on the edge of this field and shoot off the fireworks assembled for our delight by Uncle Lou, my Mom’s sister’s husband – Roman candles, sparklers punctuated the night which was already aglow from the hundreds of fireflies which we chased and jarred with abandon.

John Coon was among the earliest adaptors of solar power, including a solar panel system over the kitchen back door, which powered  all the hot water in the house. He designed a large brick incinerator in the heart of the kitchen, which warmed our backs when we gathered for breakfast at the table overlooking the circular driveway in the front of the house, and burned the trash generated in the home. It sounds like a grand home, which it was, but it was also a cozy home. There was an upstairs bedroom and bath over the garage just off the kitchen where we kids would stay when we came to visit on those innumerable Christmases and summer visits. This was strategically placed at the completely opposite end of the house from the master bedroom and guest bedroom, where our grandparents and parents slept. However, there was little danger of our waking Nana and Grandad, who gathered each morning in the kitchen for breakfast, and watched the Today show at a loud volume, which usually cued us up and out of our beds in the garret bedroom.

The back side of the L which was the living room, faced on the one side onto the large patio, and on the other side to a broad expanse of grass, and the fenced in pool area, where every day after work (in the summer months), John would put on his bathing suit, walk out the gently curved slate stepping stone path to the pool, ascend the low diving board, and dive into the pool, gliding beneath the water to the shallow end; when he emerged, dragging his hand through his majestic mane of hair as he smiled indulgently at his grandchildren cavorting around him in the pool.

A  book-lined den was the exit point for the pool pathway, and in the den were two of the chairs which I still have in my home and which were the impetus for this Labor Day’s labor of love. I have recovered both chairs since inheriting them from my mother; the last time in some orange or rust colored fabric which seemed like a good idea at the time, but which after 10 years or so, are disgusting. The high wing back chair, too big for our new downtown condo,  I donated it to the School for use on stage. It immediately made its way into the furniture cast of Lady Windermere’s Fan, and I discreetly waved to it when it appeared in the third act, Lord Darlington’s study. It always was an attention-grabbing chair. I’m so happy I could assist it in making its stage debut.

The other chair, a comfortable reading chair, originally upholstered in a nubbly navy silk (at Grandad’s house), had been the chair which was in Chris’ room when he was still young and willing enough to be read to before falling to sleep. Both Jimmie and I read the entire Harry Potter series from that chair, and spent hours sitting in it waiting for Chris to fall asleep. I have bonded with that chair and am not able/willing to let it go. It currently sits in our bedroom which is accepting of the orange fabric, but I have a bolt of upholstery fabric (selected after the West Elm chairs and sofa) waiting to grace it.

So, imagine our delight, when, after careful perusal of the West Elm site, we entered the store and lovingly selected the beige fabric for the new sectional. I should say the entire reason for this reno really was my attempt to return to the edenic chaise that we had gotten rid of shortly after moving into our new condo. There is nothing I like more than plunking down on a chaise with my feet up after a 14 hour day in the theatre. What could be better, right? The previous chaise was banished due to the ungodly feline stench that remained after years of owning cats, who, as they aged, increasingly lost their bladder control. Nuff said. The couch had to go.

In the mean time, back at West Elm, Rachael expertly guided us through the selection of the Dunham sectional sofa with Linen Weave “Natural” color, the Two Veronica Taper leg chairs with Retro Ikat pattern in Blue Lagoon, and Chocolate Legs, the Rustic storage coffee table. I was giddy from the spree, and practically skipped down the sidewalk to the car as we left the store. Rachael had explained that the furniture would arrive in stages – the coffee table almost immediately, followed in late October by the chairs and in early November by the couch, which has an 8-10 week lead time but which would be delivered with their “white glove” delivery service…