Chemo Renoir

If only we lived in another century. Our rolls of fat would make us desirable and happy. You might think, as I did, that chemo would lead to weight loss, the one plus for some of us: haven’t we all seen images of cancer patients looking skeletal? Indeed, some do, notably the ones very thin to begin with. For those heavier to begin with, it means irresistible weight gain. No one seems to understand why, but when asked the answer is that they like us fat.

When I decided to stop smoking in 1980, I went to a group held at the 92nd Street Y. It wasn’t the more famous “Smokenders,” but the method was the same: ranking, counting and wrapping cigarettes, cutting back as you went along. At the beginning of the first meeting, the leader announced the following in response to questions about what to expect: Some people will lose weight (eye roll), some will gain, and some will stay the same. I knew immediately to which category I’d belong. Within a week of stopping, I had guessed right: twelve lifelong pounds. Thanks to chemo, I’m now subject to the same karma, and learning to dress like a tent.

When I see slender young women smoking in the street, or smell smoke on my students’ papers, I want to urge them to stop. I want to hand out little note cards with typed messages, the way feminist artist Adrian Piper used to, in relation to racism, with lines that say something like: “Dear Friend/You may not realize this but smoking often causes life-threatening disease.” But I know they will shrug and think as I did when their age: “It won’t happen to me. And besides, I don’t want to dress like a tent.”


Paradise almost lost….

In a few days we will be leaving our beautiful temporary home, where even on stormy days the seascape that surrounds us is sublime.

2002-12-31 23.00.00-43Now, after what seemed like endless cold and rainy weather, the sun is out, and everything is in bloom. The beauty of the landscape is almost unbelievable, especially the view from our bedroom window where the horizon of Golfo Paradiso is framed and crisscrossed by the bending boughs of parasol pines.

It will, I fear, be excruciating to return to New York, where the usual noise and grime will be accentuated by the scaffolding that was wrapping our building when we left a few weeks ago. Sigh.

Meanwhile, I’ve been collecting last signs by which to remember our time here:

Another love-inspired example of graffiti, this time in English, carved on a thick cactus leaf on the path we took between two of the villages of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso and Vernazza. So we say that we have seen the “due terre” and from a staggering height. I thought the walk would never end, as I clung on to whatever vines, fences, rocks, and the occasional bannister available. We were by far the oldest people taking the path, and that fact was not comforting; nor were the signs warning us of falling rocks.

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“Nel blu dipinto di blu”: irresistible reprise from ‘Volare’ (only people over a certain age will recognize the music and the words from the late 1950s)

It’s all about blue.

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I realized on one  excursion that a favorite scarf matched the sea, as well as the color of the railings and the benches It’s also the color of my new website―so many variants of teal.

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Even a blue kayak:

The town itself –walls, shutters, roofs–is color coordinated in warm earth tones, but the rules of décor do not seem to apply to laundry:

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Was everything perfect then? Nostalgia will make it so.

But that would be too simple. In addition to the proliferation of dog poop (see earlier posts), there are cigarette butts everywhere, as well as discarded cigarette packs:


The warning label reads on one side: Smoking gravely damages you and those around you, and on the other: Smoking causes deadly lung cancer.

The messages, alas, seem to have no effect. People smoke everywhere outside where smoking is permitted. The fact that the packs contain 10 cigarettes makes them especially appealing to the young: notably the pre-teenagers…who think, as we did when young, that smoking is cool.

The government has not succeeded in banning the tempting packs.

(Too bad the packs come in a lovely a shade of blue…)

It would be churlish, however, to end on a…blue note.
A few days ago, on a trip to a Genoa marketplace (we bought pesto and porcini), we saw this

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strange sight: a levitating monk.

Any ideas of how it’s done?