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It Happened One Night

June 30, 2019

Some years ago, the man found a very small cactus, not much bigger than a walnut, in the middle of our street.  It had, apparently, fallen from a window box far above.  Perhaps it had tried to follow a fledgling into the sky.  Cacti cannot fly and, therefore, was doomed to be crushed under a tire.  But, very carefully, he carried it home, gave it a pot of dirt, and wished it well.  It lived, but that seemed to be the extent of its ambition until last summer.  We went away for a month and left all the plants in the tender care of a greener-thumbed friend.  It grew!  It thrived!  It doubled in size!  And has continued on a less dramatic curve since.  It was re-homed to a place of its own, no longer sharing accommodations with a succulent and the world’s smallest monolith.

Then, a month or more ago, small-but-not-as-small-as-it-was cactus sprouted a pup!  One day I noticed something that resembled nothing so much as a fuzzy little almond on one side.  Maybe it’s growing an arm, like the mighty saguaro of Arizona.  After some time, and very much all of a sudden, the pup shot out a stalk.  There was definitely a large bud at the end of the stalk, too.  Little rescue cactus was going to blossom!

I showed last summer’s foster gardener and she has one that quite recently did the same thing.  She warned that it may bloom for only one day, so we went on Flower Watch.  And googled.  It’s a Night Blooming Cereus, also known as Queen of the Night.  And, keeping with the job description,  on July 24th at sunset, she did indeed bloom.  Oh my goodness, how she bloomed!  Such concentrated effort little rescue cactus put into this one flower.  Such a big job!  Such a beautiful blossom!  Because it looked like a fuzzy trunk holding out a flower, the man has named her Snuffleupagus.  I concur.  It is a good name for a very good cactus.


As advertised, 36 hours later, the delicate petals were drooping, browning, shriveling.  The stalk is drying out as well.  We will wait to see if anything remains to grow or, perhaps if she is happy and healthy and feeling secure, will do it all over again next year.  I understand that there are those who throw Night Blooming Cereus watching parties.  Seems it would have to be a terribly impromptu affair, but we’ll do our best.  Isn’t she worth it?


At least the sun was shining

February 23, 2019

It began with a little green envelope in the post box, an envelope to strike fear in the hearts of law-abiding citizens and spasm in other organs of those less so: registered mail.  It could be anything from a camera trap speeding ticket to a denuncio from someone you’ve never met for doing something you couldn’t possibly have done.  Dealing with the former is enough to induce a nervous tick, but the latter could leave one fighting in court for years, paying lawyers and, inexplicably, witnesses to counter the bespoke witnesses for the plaintiff.

I called our landlord to ask if I should collect the registered item from the post office or pretend I never saw the notice.  This would be common Italian protocol as the post is notoriously “unreliable.” Packages are stolen by postal employees and units of daily mail are simply abandoned, items such as our electric bill.  But that is a story for another day.  I had seen a similar envelope in our shared box the week before, so there was a chance it was something innocuous from the city and our landlord had received one as well.  No, his was a failure to pay a parking garage fee.  No, he could not collect our registered mail. It must be the one to whom it is addressed.  Wait, that’s not my question.  I could go get it, but should I?  Dear landlord is above-board enough, despite years of having us on a black contract thus avoiding a pile of taxes on the rent, to not understand what I was asking.  Ok, thank you.  Yes, I’ll let you know how it goes.

It was, in fact, a traffic ticket… from over a year and a half ago.  I had encroached the line at a red light in front of a camera.  I may very well have done and with neither ability nor hope of fighting it, we paid the fine on the spot to the same BancoPosta teller who signed off on the registered letter.  But there was also a form to be filled out and returned.  Fair enough, as the auto registration is in the man’s name but the calendar confirms I was the infractor.  Interesting side note: the Italian system removes points from a driver’s license, whereas the US system adds them.  If this were the 1st World where governing bodies converse with one another (my English friend here registers his car at their address in Monaco because they don’t even answer the phone when Italy calls), could I drive like a maniac in the US then have Italy take those points off for whatever they eventually catch me at?  I digress.  This required form could be returned by 1. Fax; really? who has a fax machine?  2. Post; we’ve had this discussion or 3. in person to the address on the form in the town of infraction, Sarzana.

Googling up Sarzana municipal police department and subset office receiving such forms, they are open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 9:00-12:00 and 15:00-16:30.  At the beginning of a day of errands, the man and I went over to Sarzana at 10:30.  I took the form to the police station.  Oh no, not here, that office is across the park under the portico.  In the office under the portico, I compared the name on the form with the label on the counter window.  Yes.  No, not this window.  Across the room.  But everyone is being pleasant and it was a nice sunny walk around town.  “I need a copy of your driver’s license, front and back.  But I can’t do it here.  Go to the corner shop behind the police station.” <twitch> Fine, the photocopier in a government office being on the fritz is par for the course, if indeed they could find it at all.  The office was a veritable archeological site of sliding piles of files, toppling stacks of notebooks, unopened office supplies, and of course reams of forms. 

The lady in the corner shop neatly made me a copy of both my US license and the Italian translation I carry, front and back, on one side of one sheet.  Deeply buried in the fine print of the notice and form was indication that such a copy would be required, but having not noticed it, I shudder to think what would have happened had I returned it in any other fashion.  A friend ended up with a €1000 fine for just such an occurrence.  As I recall, just under seven years prior, the by-then ex-wife had committed an infraction in the friend’s car.  The fine was paid, but the form went unfiled.  Maybe she saw the writing on the wall and took the opportunity to keep those points on her license.  I don’t know,  but by the skin of their teeth before the statute of limitations would have expired, they got him.  So, just as well that I drove over the hill, found a rare parking space on the road, and braved the bureaucracy face to face.

I walked back around the police station, through the park, and into the office under the portico behind the foreboding wall of mirrored glass.  The lady took the copy of my license, put a sticker on it with blanks which she filled in by hand, said we were done, handed me a crookedly restapled stack of papers, including “a copy of the form for your records.  Keep them for five years.  Good day.”


I smiled and said “Thank you,” not “You couldn’t have used the machine to copy my license while you were already using it to make this copy of the form?!”  I am freaking full of grace, see previous post.

And people wonder why I’m a hermit.

A Word for 2019

February 10, 2019

In Pratchett’s Discworld, specifically in Witches Abroad, Granny Weatherwax boasts of her ability to speak foreign, a smattering of non-English she has gathered through her travels. One illustrative bit of vocabulary is flabberghast, meaning bat. We, too, living abroad and traveling widely find ourselves speaking foreign, both the Discworld’s and our own variations.  Knowing that bat in German is Fledermaus, that bats on the Disc are often vampires, and that vampires can be ghastly, this is a brilliant portmanteau. We sorely miss you, Sir Terry.  But I digress.  Languages also have false friends, words that sound so very familiar but mean something else entirely, such as embarazada.  While the actual condition may or may not be embarrassing, telling a Spanish priest your girlfriend is pregnant because she did not realize she should cover her head in church would be.  And often there is no direct translation at all.  A single word in any language may have several distinct meanings, but be parsed out over a few different words in another language.  My Word for 2019 is such a one:


A quick perusal of several European languages has convinced me these five letters are doing heavy lifting for us.  A brief overview of what grace gives the English-speaking world would include unmerited divine assistance, favor, reprieve, a charming or attractive characteristic, ease of movement or bearing, also a short prayer for blessing or giving thanks.  In action, grace confers honor, adornment, or embellishment.

The word itself has graced my feeds repeatedly over the last several months, longer even as I found working with some documents from last spring

2018.05.09 Lush & theology

Full of Grace serum bar – 💖 Just bought a new one.  Paul advises us to “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (Colossians 4:6)     A pleasant reminder in my vanity cabinet

Grace-full, yes.  This is how I want to be in the world… at least this year.  There is a saying that grace is being given that which we do not deserve; mercy is being spared that which we do.  I gratefully accept any unmerited assistance or favor God cares to bestow.  I also resolve to do my best to move through these moments and days with ease.  And lastly, I will embellish the bare bones of living with beauty, interest, and depth wherever I may.

Grace had been settling into my mind and heart for some time while I continued to wait for an animal to represent it for me in 2019.  You may remember 2018’s Vitality and its corresponding Squirrel.  Well, last month in Florida, my day was powerfully graced by a visitation of sting rays, dozens of them, just along my beach one morning.  I was all but alone and the few other walkers were consumed with searching for shells at their feet.  I was mesmerized by this giant swooping party of cownose rays, a private invitation to observe their rites.  They were fast, powerful, and beautiful; the embodiment, individually and corporally, of grace.


Cownose Rays

Just Needling You, a PSA

November 16, 2018
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Get your flu shot.  Protect yourself; protect the herd.  It’s no big deal.  The person with the syringe will even administer the vaccination, you know, because s/he’s a medical professional of some variety, trained an’ that.  Unless you live here.

The pharmacist will sell you a single dose of vaccine (in the stumpiest syringe ever) and then you’re on your own, buddy.  Seriously.  Not just flu shots, either.  They will send you home with DIY muscle relaxants or antibiotics.  I have a friend, living alone, who arranged to meet another friend in a convenient parking lot to have her give her a quick jab in the tuchus to relieve her back spasm.  How sketchy is that?  Another friend’s son was very ill, but she wasn’t up to the twice daily intramuscular injections, so she knew someone making a tidy business going around needling folks for a reasonable fee.

My veterinary nursing didn’t prepare me for human IM inoculations.  Fortunately, I have a friend who worked for Eli Lilly.  In that capacity, she did ‘community outreach’ ~here’s how to use our products~ in the local health clinic, and thereby is comfortable enough to lend us a hand.

So, my corner farmacista sold me two of these:

which we carried down with a spot of alcohol and cotton balls to my friend’s shop at the end of her working day.  Wham bam thank you, ma’am, and we’re done here.

Now, doesn’t it seem silly not to swing by your local CVS today and have it all done for you?

Seasonal WOE

June 12, 2018

A Whole Food Plant Based diet, that’s my goal.  But even this label is misleading if you haven’t heard of it; it isn’t just plant based, as though there are then animals stacked on top.  I eat plants.  I use non-diary milks and cheesy things.  I make these choices because we, as a species, cannot be trusted to be good stewards of the lives with which we have been entrusted.  We treat living, breathing, feeling creatures like objects and products; it makes me sick and unspeakably sad.  However tasty bacon and roasted chicken may be, if I can’t know those beings weren’t made to suffer because a decent life before a humane slaughter is too expensive, I just can’t stomach it.  I do use honey from people I know who love their bees, take care of them, and do not abuse them with being hauled across hell’s half acre to pollinate mono-culture crops (which is a rant for another day, but soon, given that Bayer has just swallowed Monsanto like so many aspirin). I even wear leather boots because one pair will serve my true needs for many many years, and the other side of the coin is petroleum-based, breaking down quickly, and requiring more frequent replacement.  No, I’ll never be vegan… unless I move back to the tropics and no longer have need of trusty boots.  So, my vegan-ish ways are more what the cool kids call a Way of Eating, WOE.  Yeah, I know, but it seems to have stuck.  People are choosing WFPB for a wide variety of reasons, from wanting no part in the commoditization of lives for profit to their own scary numbers from the doctor’s lab to feeling better for eating plants rather than animals to believing Albert Einstein (that smarty pants) when he said, Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.  There you go, not just filthy hippy tree huggers, although if the patchouli fits . . .

When I was a child, my mother used to take us to a produce stand in the summer.  Being the ‘70s, an era full of ‘time-savers for busy housewives’ that came in boxes from the supermarket, it was novel to go to a place where the food just sat there in crates, naked for crying out loud.  You could touch it!  and smell it . . .  and pick it out for your own self.  I hadn’t thought of that old stand, long since built over with some suburban McMansion, in decades, but sometimes things, and if you’re very lucky, good thing come full circle.  This is how I, now older than she was then, acquire most of our food.  Two or three times a week, I walk up the hill to a little store full of wooden crates (often being dollied in and out as I shop) with the freshest, mostly local produce you’re ever going to get.  It’s run by a woman and her two daughters.  They have put the man and me together, the two strange Americans who shop on different days, and have begun to remember our favorites and idiosyncrasies ~”…the woman will buy all the fresh mushrooms, don’t try to give them plastic bags, she loads her canvas sack so precisely, saving delicate delicacies for the top ~ and seem to find us amusing.  Occasionally, I burden them with the knowledge of what I’m going to do with their fruit and veg.  I am anathema, causing centuries Italian nonne to spin in uncountable graves.

Trying to limit the kilometers our food travels, local means seasonal.  I enjoy watching the changing of the seasons in those wooden crates.  It struck me that summer has arrived when, the last time I filled my bag after weighing and paying, the daughter commented that everything is delicate today: peaches, tomatoes, cherries, kiwis, romaine.  She didn’t know what to put on the bottom.  It caused me to think back six months, when everything could go on the bottom: whole squash, cauliflower, apples, potatoes, carrots, broccoli.  I never mourn the passing of cruciferous vegetable season, and not just because that means corn-on-the-cob season is just around the corner.  This has only recently become the case.  Up until a couple of years ago, corn ~everywhere in cans; they do eat corn, even beyond polenta~ was not to found fresh, on the cob.  Then, a few cobettes wrapped in plastic and styrofoam began to appear.  I couldn’t bring myself to buy individually plasticized servings when I know full well that they grow in their own perfectly good, biodegradable packaging.  Then, lo and behold, the organic grocery had some for a month one summer.  The next year, our regular Frutta Verdura ladies did, too!  If they didn’t think I was cracked before, the happy dance I did in the middle of their shop clinched it.

All the privations and unpleasant surprises we began with here have jaded me, crushed my expectations to where is it going to kick me next?, but I also appreciate every little advancement now.  New people don’t know that we didn’t see an avocado for many years.  Now we have them much of the time.  Even the little local grocery, that reminds me of Crescent Market on Siesta Key of my childhood vacations, carries tofu, seitan, and faux burgers.  It is so much easier, and more interesting, to eat no animals (at least in my own home) than it used to be.  But my day-in day-out eating starts and ends with whole plants, food without a label, no ingredient list.  I know what I’m putting in my body.  I feel good about it, where it came from, what it cost.

And if you happen across flat peaches ~might be called Saturnia or tabacchiera, try them.  I told the daughter that I call them pesche ciambelle because they are so sweet. She looked uncertain.  Word play is very tricky here.  “Doughnut peaches,”  it took her another second, then she said, “Ah! Homer Simpson!”