Death & Dying?

About four months before my mother passed away, and after we had come back home from her doctor’s “surgery,” as they call medical offices in England, she asked me to organize her closet. At the time, I was going by what the hospital doctor, as well as her own doctor had said, which is that she had a “chest infection” and antibiotics will take care of it. I was surprised at her request, but I proceeded to do what she asked as she watched me while lying in bed. After that day, she was in and out of hospital, emergency rooms and doctor’s office many times, her appetite was shrinking, she had lost more weight and was always fatigued. About two weeks before she passed and as we were returning from yet another two day hospital stay, we entered her very clean house and, emaciated as she was, she bent down to pick up a lint from the carpet. She then asked me: what are you going to do with all my stuff after I go? And I answered: You’re not going anywhere yet, Mama. A week later we were at the hospital again for what would be the final time. I don’t know whether I was in denial that she was fading away, or whether it was many other things that were going on in my very turbulent life at that juncture. However, I thought about all this recently, because I noticed that I was being more fastidious about cleaning my own home, keeping every closet and drawer more organized, making sure that all was as perfectly neat as I was capable of making it. Had my mother felt that she was fading away and wanted to make sure that everything was in order before she left? Am I feeling the same by my behavior lately? Am I sensing that my time has come? Or, is this Virus-cooped-up-life beginning to get to me? Am I starting to get depressed? Or, is the latest incredible novel I’m reading: “A Long Petal of the Sea” written by Isabel Allende, one of my favorite authors, with all its descriptions of fascistic Franco’s war, hunger, disease, Death & Dying depressing me as it comes on top of all the misery and wickedness going on in the world? After a good night’s sleep, I woke up determined to pull myself together and snap out of these feelings that are not going to make anything better! I imagine that there are many of us these days going through similar despondent sensations, and as a friend of my same age told me: I never imagined that I would be spending my last few years on this planet in this miserable situation! Neither, I believe, did any of us!

Anyway, as Allende’s novel, and all these thoughts and disparate images were churning about in my mind, I have no idea why I recalled what an American friend once told me with sincerity: I never knew that there are Christians in the West Bank. I was stunned that an educated woman like her would not make the connection between Jesus Christ, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Palestine and the irrefutable evidence that Christianity arose in that part of the world. What does one call that except Ignorance? This Ignorance is precisely one of the main reasons why we, human beings, misunderstand and demonize each other. Look at what’s happening in today’s world where the Hindu Modi Government is repressing the Muslim Kashmiris; in Myanmar the Buddhist Government is repressing and persecuting the Rohingya Muslims; the Chinese Government is repressing the Muslim Uighurs; and under the Trump Administration Muslims in the US, as one example, were vilified, and the list goes on! Throughout history one can find examples of this bigotry, discrimination and people killing each other because of religious, political and/or ethic differences. Quo Vadis, People?

Another friend – an Arab, no less – once asked me, again, with sincerity: How come there are Muslims in China? Ignorance, once more! Do people not study history at all? Have they not heard of the Silk Road and how merchants and traders from the Arab World travelled all the way to China bringing with them their culture, their cuisine, their languages and their religions? That Silk Road route together with the Arab conquests of Iberia contributed immensely to the civilizations of the East and the West and left an indelible imprint on all the peoples that the Arabs interacted with along the way, including leaving pockets of Muslim converts throughout that long and arduous path.

Such “facts” are overlooked as the above examples prove and, over time, they are forgotten. Truly confounding, and leave so many of us vulnerable to False Prophets!

Another “fact” occurred to me as I was sipping my coffee: Today we have Starbucks cafes on almost every corner in the United States, as well as in numerous places across the world. Many people seem to think that coffee is yet another American Exceptional Invention. Hardly anyone traces coffee back to Ethiopia where it originated and from there travelled to Yemen, after which Arab traders and merchants took it to Italy in the late 16th. Century and from there it spread into Europe. Many Catholic priests at the time had a conniption about it, because it was those ungodly “Muslims” and “Jews” who were trading the coffee beans and, so, they banned them and proclaimed that they caused people to behave in sinful ways! In other words, coffee heightened people’s senses and aroused their carnal instincts! Two centuries later, and after the Boston Tea Party revolt, Americans refused to drink any more tea and considered it a sort of patriotic duty to drink coffee instead. Hence, coffee made its entrance into the New World. (We Americans have quite a reputation for such infantile behavior as when we stopped eating French fries early during the Iraq War, poured French wine down the sewers etc. and so continued on our “patriotic” mission!)

Going back to tea, most people today are under the false impression that tea is a British invention. In fact, and for the past 5000 years, or so, it has been the foremost Chinese drink. Legend has it that while Emperor Shen Nung was encamping with his army, and as he had a pot of boiling water on the camp fire, the wind gusted and blew some leaves from the nearby trees into the pot of boiling water. Curious, the Emperor looked at the leaf, smelled the aroma it left in his pot and Voila! Tea became the national Chinese drink. Centuries later, after the British Empire conquered India, they made many attempts to invade China even by introducing the drug trade in order to corrupt Chinese officials (check out my post: Colonialism Redux 1/15/2017). The Chinese resisted strongly, so having lost the drug trade, and around 1848, the British stole – yes, actually pilfered – Chinese tea trees, transported them to their Raj (British rule in India) and from there to Britain where they became a British invention! Colonialism!

This is how “facts” became intermingled with the Politics of the moment, and why Politics and Religion lie in the same bed and have done so since time immemorial. Karl Marx said: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” And isn’t that the truth? And wasn’t Trump in his divisive efforts at taking our country back from Immigrants, Black and Brown people, Muslims, Radicals, Terrorists, Communists, Socialists et al incensing his followers and driving them into hallucinogenic frenzies? The sad thing is that he is neither the first, nor the last ego-maniacal Political Leader to do this. How does humanity continue believing False Prophets? Are we all idiots? It is so frustrating that we continue to rehash the same old scenarios again, and again, and once again! What total inanity! How utterly depressing! No wonder I was grappling with all these feelings and morbid thoughts! At the end of the day, I tell myself that even though I do not have the power to fix the world, and while, yes, it does get me down sometimes, at least I know that I am not a sheep who blindly follows False Prophets, Insane Ideas and Wicked Intentions. That, by itself, raises my spirits!

RIP my Mama, and my husband. Death & Dying are inevitable, but had you still been alive during these Virus days, and, being crotchety, you wouldn’t have accepted to put on a mask, nor abided by any safety guidelines, and that would have driven me to utter insanity!


My Perfect Nest

It has been very close to one year since the sensible ones amongst us have been mainly cooped up in our homes. Quite a slog! So during that time we do this, that and the other trying to keep as busy and as sane as we possibly can. However, there were times when I just sat there looking at my home and belongings and allowing my wild imagination to take me places.

I have lived in about twenty-five different houses during my lifetime. Some were owned, some rentals, apartments, condos, townhouses, garden apartments, furnished, unfurnished. During my growing up years apartments and villas for the well-to-do were spacious with furniture that was big, heavy, ornate, made from rare woods such as ebony and rosewood that were upholstered with chintz and brocade. Owning a set of silver utensils, a silver tea service and platters were required, as were oil paintings with thick gilded frames, ostentatious mirrors, crystal chandeliers and opaline lamps. Furniture styles were mostly adopted from the French and English royalty: Queen Anne, Louis XIV and such. Some homes had the Ottoman, North African and Arab styles with low-seating, Iranian carpets, water fountains, polygonal end tables, carved doors and room divider screens. Whichever was the chosen style, it all looked very lavish and a reflection of how that well-to-do class of people believed that emulating royalty was a sign that they, too, had arrived to royal standards and to “class!” Not always the case, although my parents and their many friends had similar homes to the ones I describe where we children weren’t allowed in the “salon,” because that was used only when “people” came to visit! That kind of furniture reflected the lifestyle of the elite class: afternoon teas, bridge games, tennis, evening cocktails, must-travel-to vacation destinations and a lot of other such habits. The bourgeoisie, or middle classes, always aspired to have a similar status, and, hence, they too acquired some of the same furniture and lifestyles.

Fast forward to the sixties whence modern furniture styles began entering homes: unusual shapes, vibrant colors such as yellows, oranges and greens, foam upholstery, leather, or leather/suede-like, poly (kinds of plastics such as polyethylene) side-tables, coffee tables and shelving. At the time, I painted my kitchen cabinets in a loud yellow much to the horror of my in-laws and some of my friends! I also had big poly end tables and suede-like seating and there again I caused another stir! These styles reflected the nonconformity of the era (mine as well!), a rebellion that was against lavish styles and living standards, refuting hypocrisy, and a signaling that my generation was demanding structural changes in the way society conducted itself and all its trimmings. Looking back, I realize that we, women especially, managed to change our furniture and clothes, secured jobs other than the standard seamstress/teacher/nurse as well as other minor advancements, but, unfortunately, many other important issues remained the same and are still being debated and contested to this day. Humanity is very obdurate!

In today’s world I notice that furniture and decor are as varied as humanity is. I have friends with the gamut of styles going from my parents’ era to the modern. During these Virus days, with television journalists, specialists, politicians, and the famous and their guests zooming their opinions and analysis from their homes, I see some of them with furniture and decor in the same style of my parents’ home, others have the Roche Bobois-like comfortable furniture, others yet a mix of the two. It is quite interesting to notice that the younger people’s styles are more Ikea-ian than baroque; more reflective of a no-nonsense don’t-mess-with-me mood; less unlived-in “neatness,” and a more casual and realistic approach; they are as assertive as my parents’ styles were conformist. Perhaps this shift is indicating that as a generation this young set is saying that we are past the point of “requesting” structural change, we are now vociferously “demanding” it! I cheer them on! I am proud of them! I hope and pray that they will really and truly upend so many of the traditional palliatives, hypocrisy, artificiality and facades of my parents’ generation, and to a large extent my own. And I do hope that their demands for change will go deeper than simply furniture styles; that the changes won’t be only in fashions whether those are clothes, furniture or the fake norms, but that they will go into those pressing issues of peace, equality and justice to where, from all appearances, they seem to be heading. More power to them, although the forces of wickedness will be doing their best to squash them! The downside is that Covid came along recently and seems to be wiping out what little and big achievements women have managed to procure, especially the indigent and colored amongst us. This is already having an enormous toll on our issues, on education, on livelihoods and a host of other matters.

Moreover, it is interesting to note that the different styles of furniture, clothing and living portray to me that my parents’ generation, being traditional in every sense, also seemed to be more serious, grownup and had more common sense garnered from centuries of experience that was passed along, while my generation, as well as going from the Baby Boomers and downwards, began shedding some of that with each generation as we were busy “finding ourselves,” not that many of us ever did! And, as we changed our furniture and styles we seemed to be losing more and more of our grownup maturity and demeanor. Odd! Very odd!

Having shared my thoughts on this subject, and were I to be my younger self and married to my same husband and have my two daughters and two sons, I would design My Perfect Nest incorporating the following ideas:

A smallish home, no McMansion for me! Light furniture – no rococo, no baroque with lots of storage and open spaces.

Separate smallish bedrooms that have no wasted space whatsoever for each member of the family – yes, including my husband. Purr-fect!

No pain-in-the-ass king-sized beds that broke my back every time I had to change the sheets! Full, or twin sizes only.

Small – I do mean small! – bathrooms for each bedroom, as well as a guest bathroom.

Urinals in men’s bathrooms, because guys can’t help dribbling! (I had a sister-in-law who made her husband sit down on the toilet in order to keep it splatter-free! When I suggested that to my husband he had a conniption!)

Bidets in the girls bathrooms. (This reminds me of a naughty 60’s joke: American couple on their honeymoon in Paris are being shown to their suite by the bellhop. Wife sees a bidet in the bathroom: Oh! Is this for washing the baby in? Non Madame, says the bellhop, zis eez for washing baby out! LOL!!!)

Shower stalls in all bathrooms, and one stand-alone tub in its own tiny room for baby bath time, or any family member who needs a relaxing soak.

Eco-friendly flooring.

Mud room with a separate entrance.

No central heating – separate wall heaters for each room, same for air-conditioning. All running on solar energy.

One big open-plan kitchen, dining area, and sitting/den area.

Enclosed Office!

That’s it! No fuss, no muss! Simple, easy to clean and care for, eco-friendly and as maintenance-free as possible! This, after all my different homes and styles, plus hours on end spent cleaning, would be My Perfect Nest! Hopefully, it would also reflect a more relaxed and realistic lifestyle than the one I have lived. Incidentally, it is a recent trend that is slowly taking root, especially in Europe.

Now, you wouldn’t want me to end without mentioning my favorite subject: Politics. Would you? Let me just say that Sleepy Joe (as Trump called him) and his Team are the Energizer Bunnies on Steroids! They are emanating a refreshing atmosphere of calmness and sobriety and going about their jobs with diligence, perseverance, and action. Do I like all that they are saying and doing? Of course not! However, I will hold my tongue and zip my lips for a bit more time and give them a fair chance. Stay tuned!