Don’t Bette on It

I fell in love with Bette Midler when I first heard her, shortly after I arrived in the USA in 1979. Her face had too much personality to be beautiful and she was too buxom for the fashions of the day, but she didn’t care. Actually, she seemed to revel in her own Bette’ness.  I played a tape of her songs over and over in the car, and my daughter, Helenka, became a real fan too. Years later, in homage, she nicknamed her daughter, Madelyn, the Divine Miss M.

bmWe pored over articles and photos of her as a mermaid in a wheelchair, or as a uniformed member of a 1940’s singing group harmonizing over The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B. For birthdays, my daughter would give me the latest CD, or a kind-of memoir, half-invented, of the Divine Miss M’s life. We went to the movies she starred in, and wept or laughed as the screenplay demanded. We even watched her doomed sitcom.

But we never got to see her live.

So, when, in 2003, Helenka managed to get tickets Continue reading

1965 – Enchantée? Oui.

3 minute read

My French hosts had set me adrift in Paris at the age of fourteen. I was resourceful, thank goodness, and relieved that I wouldn’t have to hang out with the family, but part of me wondered about the manners of hosts who invited people to stay and then ignored them.

I began to explore the city by myself. My mother had given me her pre-war guide to Paris, and not much had changed. But on the Champs Elysées I did stop to ask a gendarme the way. I wasn’t really lost. I just wanted to speak to this typical policeman, dressed in his short cape and smart peaked hat, his képi. He had a moustache, too, luckily. I needed the locals to be Continue reading

1965 – Enchantée? Non.

3 minute read

“What do you miss most about London?” they asked me, when I went to live in Chicago in 1979.

“Paris,” I said. In answer to the blank stares, I explained. “If you travel 300 miles south of here, you’re still in Illinois. 300 miles from London, and you’re in Paris.”

I was probably making the mileage up, but they got it.


I first traveled to the French capital when I was 15, to stay with the de Beaumonts, an elegant Parisian family with a sixteen-year-old son, known to us only as friends of friends. The idea was that he and I would converse, using the other one’s language, in order to improve my French and his English. And of course, there was always the chance of romance, Continue reading

1963 – Working for Mrs. S

3 minute read

I was fourteen when I found my first job. My mother was friendly with the local chemist, Ruta Strachowska, who was looking for a babysitter for her five-year-old boy, Paul. Mrs. S. was a middle-aged Jewish lady of about my height, with eyes that crinkled up when she laughed, which she did surprisingly often. My mother told me that she had escaped from Poland during the war by swimming across the River Dnieper to Russia at the dead of night, with Nazi soldiers shooting at her as they ordered her to stop. My mother would never have made up anything so incredible, so I believed her, but it was difficult, looking at Mrs. Strachowska’s pixie face and the dumpy figure she had now, to imagine her going for a swim anywhere.

She owned the tiny chemist’s in a row of small shops not far from our house. The bell would ring as you entered, and she’d appear Continue reading

The Cabinet

A version of this was published in the anthology Tangerine Tango. Hope you enjoy it. GC


It was time to tackle the garage. I’d been meaning to do it for some time, ever since we’d finished painting the new house, in fact. I found the light switch and blinked as the glare of neon replaced the furtive gloom of the late afternoon. I looked around and wondered where to start.

I sighed as my eyes finally came to rest on a small mahogany Continue reading