I got a mighty basket. The neighbor whose dog (not his, he said, he was dog sitting it) attacked me delivered a gift basket on Thanksgiving eve. It is big enough to make a bed for Mojo and piled with chocolates of all shapes and forms. There is wine and a bottle of port, and a huge bag of mixed nuts and another of walnuts in the shell. And a small pot of poinsettias. Below everything is a bag of mandarin oranges.
Mojo has already destroyed the ribbon entwined around the handle and he has eaten a few poinsettia petals, but I haven’t removed the basket from my dining table because I like looking at it.
With it came a card saying “Happy Thanksgiving — Thank you for being a great neighbor!” — signed by his family. Well, he is a good neighbor himself, has been all these years doing service for our community. Needed a slight adjustment about dogs on the loose.
My Thanksgiving dinner? I went to meet with seven friends 18 miles away and got lost for 30 minutes. Ended up next to a CHP compound and talked to a nice sheriff who gave me directions but I got lost again in the hinterlands where I found myself. The meal was late, but I caught up. I was thankful for having found the place at all.
The dogbite? It is healing.
First of all, my husband Renato as an Italian bore no resemblance in manner or style to the average Italians of my acquaintance while I lived in Italy. It was as though he were raised in Great Britain with Italian parents.
In the years he worked with a half dozen Italian colleagues on the hydro project in Brazil and one, name of Silvano, later read Journey from Shanghai. Silvano wouldn’t speak to me afterward. The depictions in the novel offended him. He didn’t like reading of Italian men in the street grabbing my breast, or catcalling as the protagonist of the novel Rafaella walked past their sidewalk table. He didn’t like knowing what a man on the train tried to do to Rafaella. Being groped by a man isn’t a novelty anywhere in the world, but what Silvano disliked was the depicted reaction of the other passengers. Those Sicilian men and women were outraged that Rafaella had slapped the groper; after all, he was a soldier and could die in battle. It wasn’t relevant to them that he was a UN soldier during peacetime in 1952 but they had a wonderful time denouncing Rafaella for attacking the hero. Bored again with the long night, they went back to sleep, while Rafaella wondered where the hell she had landed in this world. A generous serving of other such incidents woven into Rafaella’s story further outraged Silvano.
Silvano was an educated man, an engineer and quite the gentleman. But he was not a woman, a young Eurasian woman in particular, set adrift in a sea of Latin men in Italy. Silvano preferred to keep his blinkers in place and be offended at having Italian manhood impugned. In 1952 they had not seen many Asian women and they set upon me with gusto. Italian men and women in those years frankly stared, commented in one’s face, touched body parts in public. It was a matter of education, clearly, for I did not encounter that behavior in the office where I worked in ARAMCO (Arabian American Oil Company).
Silvano has passed on now, as have so many other people I have known. Strange to think about all that behind me. Where IS everybody?
I returned to Rome with Renato in 1989 and was amused to find I was ignored everywhere I went. By then Italians had seen hordes of tourists from Asia and I was just another elderly one.
This being an anniversary of sorts, my thoughts turn to our voyage from China to Italy. Our vessel of transport was a cargo ship, the Sebastiano Caboto of Italy’s Lloyd Triestino Lines. My parents, sister Maria and I lived on it for 33 days in virtual suspension from the reality of relocating to a new country. For a few minutes at a time the adults were able to detach themselves from worry about that prospect, while I at 18 was yet an incomplete grownup and fell wholehearted into the community of other young people aboard ship. My resumé included one date with a boy and practically nothing in the way of parties and dancing, much less preparation for working for a living. The communist occupation of Shanghai had thrown into chaos any normal progression I might have had. Maria was 11 years older and knew what was what. She was to act as head of family in our settlement in Italy.
Also on board were two deserters from the French Foreign Legion, Italian nationals, who one night on deck attempted to rape me. I was rescued in time by the Far Eastern agent for the shipping line. The two men spent the rest of the voyage in an improvised brig in the ship’s hold.
Our first stop was at Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. We three went ashore with a group while my father, who was deathly ill, stayed aboard ship. I recall a pleasant sunny day, fair sands and palm trees, and a tour of a temple. Everyone was obliged to enter shoeless but what confused me was the high relief sculpting on the stone wall alongside the entryway: the 12 apostles! Yet I understood this was not a Christian church, so why the apostles? I have no memory at all of the interior, or I would now be able to figure something out.
And something else, much to my sister’s amusement. The tour guide, a Ceylonese man, asked me to marry him. My surprised answer was “But my ship is leaving tonight!”
My novels contain much of the grist of those years; much still unused.
….like this one? Each morning Mojo the Terrorist reduces my desk to a shambles. He pays particular attention to the USB ports behind my iMac and my notes, already piled haphazardly to the left of my keyboard, are now well scrambled. I might as well break a couple of eggs over them to complete the confusion.
He has drunk from my water glass and upset it despite my fractured vigilance while I attempt to do some work. And the keyboard, Ah! the keyboard, trampled as though by a cattle drive and flashing sundry apps on my desktop and losing me any files I am working on. I set him on the floor but in a minute he is back again by means of launching himself at my lap then vaulting to the desk. His launching pad–my thighs–are a network of scratches that sting almost as much as the wounds on my hands and fingers.
I must rescue him many times a day; once his cries brought me to him hanging from the lattice blinds, another time when his paw was caught in the cat door. His big sister Loaner has taken to hiding in the spare bedroom, but Mojo follows her right in and it does something to my heart when I find them both on the bed arranged like a pair of odd-sized commas as they nap. He follows her about and grooms himself whenever she does. I am counting on her to teach him the niceties of cat hood for he couldn’t have a sweeter role model for life.
But when his energy flags and he must sleep he nestles on my arm and I gather him close as he, purring, slumbers for a good hour as I work one handed. He is getting heavier each day and I am considering devising a sling for my arm.
When I read in bed the two of them lie with me, Loaner at my side and Mojo on my shoulder under my chin. My reading matter perforce must be slim enough to manage with one hand, and I really no longer care, in the warmth of these two companions.
My nephew comments via email that I must be absorbed in the new kitten. He has no idea.
I review books for Amazon.com and when I went there to enter my opinions on Stephen Hunter’s “Soft Target” I found hundreds of critiques already up, so many that Amazon was not inviting any more. Undaunted, I enter my plaint here:
I have long enjoyed the exploits of Hunter’s tough, laconic gun-toting heroes Earl Swagger and his son Bob (the Nailer) Lee Swagger because their personae are so darned clear. They do what they do and are smart about it and the bad guys have no chance against them in the end. These stories are so direct they are refreshing.
“Soft Target” features Bob Lee’s illegitimate son Ray Cruz as the solver of a crisis brought on by jihadists in a giant shopping mall in Minnesota (is there really such a fantastic place there? Its layout mimics the United States map with all its areas named after rivers and states). A thousand hostages’ lives are at stake, and hereby enters Colonel Douglas Obobo, the commandant of the state police. Hunter depicts him as handsome, so well-spoken as to be beloved by the media, and absolutely devoid of any combat experience.
Obobo is always cautious, his civilian advisor Mr. Renfro always nearby whispering in his ear. Obobo talks a grand, reasoning plan to contain the crisis. He keeps his SWAT team harnessed while its men sneak into firing position anyway and, together with Ray Cruz, save the day. To the last, Obobo relies on his media charm and finally makes a quiet, unresolved exit from the book.
But Hunter has made his point. It is obvious Obobo is patterned after Barack Obama. And it is obvious that Hunter despises him. I looked him up on Wikipedia, which states several things about him that I had already guessed. I have copied the final two paragraphs of the Wikipedia writeup to the right of this blog.
Pinky and the Gang rule! I have received word that “Meow’s Way” has won in the cat category at the AAA Book Festival in Chicago and I am invited to attend the awards there. It pleases me that the little snurglefoofer continues to charm from her vantage in the Elysian Fields whence she traveled in 2011. And still I cannot do enough justice to her personality and very special Cat-ness that gave me so much joy for too brief a time. I have been giving away “Meow’s Way” at BarnesandNoble.com, smashwords.com, and other online venues ever since I wrote those words about her and siblings, a mole, a skunk, a family of raccoons and two fawns, and the enthusiasm of readers do not falter.
Now Mojo, the boy kitten who joined Loaner, the resident tabby, on October 3rd, has turned this home on its ear. His toys (including half a fortune cookie) litter the floor and I am often reduced to working at the keyboard with one hand as he naps on my arm. He was five weeks oid when I adopted him, very dirty and hungry after a neighbor rescued him and two siblings from under a pallet. Their mother was nowhere though Eugene searched for an hour. He then brought them home, bathed them and plucked fleas for two hours. Eugene also saved my bacon by telling me, gently, that adopting all three would be too much for me and that he and his wife would keep two. He was So right. The one kitten is proving quite a handful, and Loaner almost resigned a number of times.
But she has begun mothering him now, and yesterday he shared my pasta dinner. I think he is weaned……