Walking to Church – 1959

In the summer, when the weather was good, we walked to church. Daddy would be in his suit and tie, wearing a trilby hat, which he would remove as we crossed the threshold of the church.

Family 1959

I’m on the left, my Polish godmother is on the right, with my sister Alex on her knee…

My four sisters and I would be in our best dresses.  The twins, at twelve two years older than me, usually had identical ones, with perhaps a different colored cardigan each, blue for Jane, and green for Kay.

I would be in the dress my Polish godmother had sewn for me – a greyish green with a small black-and-white print on it. The belt was attached at the sides, so that I wouldn’t lose it, and tied in a bow at the back. It had a detachable white collar, because my godmother knew I’d be sure to get it dirty, so she made it easier for my mother to wash. I guess the color of the dress, normally too sophisticated for a ten-year-old, might have been chosen to hide the evidence of my generally messy way of navigating my world.

Alex and Susan wore dresses that differed only in size. My mother had sewn them from a kit she sent away for from a women’s magazine. They arrived with the fabric already cut out, one with yellow flowers (for Susan, aged four) and one with blue ones, (for six-year-old Alex). The kit included contrasting rick-rack to be sewn around the skirt and neckline for added interest.

We all wore white socks and our current shoes, having, of course, only one pair each. Daddy would have polished them the day before, having been shooed out of the kitchen by my mother. On the step by the kitchen door, he’d line up our shoes by size, before opening the old biscuit tin where he kept the brushes, polish and buffing rags. He would spit thoughtfully on the toe of each shoe as he brushed the polish in.

“Spit and polish,” he would say. “That’s what they do in the army to make them shine.”

Fourteen years after the war, the leather belt hanging in the wardrobe with his uniform still had that spit and polish gleam.

Our hair brushed, we’d be ready. My mother, a half apron around her waist, would wave us goodbye, promising roast chicken for lunch on our return. She wasn’t a Catholic, but I think the reason she stayed home was because she relished a couple of hours of peace and quiet.

Our route took us past the other large houses on our quiet street.  Too quiet, in my 10-year-old opinion. There weren’t enough other children to play with, which meant I had to make do with my sisters, who wouldn’t always cooperate.

On weekdays, the passing traffic might include the butcher or baker delivering their goods from large flat baskets to our front door. Occasionally, in addition to the large family loaf we took as a matter of course, my mother would succumb to the temptations of the iced buns, sticky in pink or white, buying three which she would cut in half for us to share.

The man who sharpened knives or the blind man who could re-weave the cane on our chairs might come knocking. On a really exciting day, the rag and bone man, his open wagon pulled by a slow clip-clopping horse, might come along the road, shouting out his trade. Housewives would emerge from behind their very proper front doors, with old clothing or useless household items, for which he’d hand over a goldfish. When the first goldfish died after only two days, my mother refused to take another, and held out for a pinwheel on a stick or a balloon.

Occasionally, the onion man from Brittany would arrive on his bike, with twenty or more long strings of onions draped over the handlebars. My mother always bought some, because she enjoyed chatting with him in fluent French. He wore a black beret, no matter the weather. I think he knew the British expected real Frenchmen always to wear a beret.

So much for the Monday to Friday excitements. On Sundays, men who didn’t go to church would be washing their cars in the driveway as we passed. They used a chamois to make the glass sparkle, and wax to give the body a shine better than that of their neighbors.

We’d reach the end of the road and turn right down the avenue, lined with giant horse chestnut trees which kept the road cool when the weather was hot. This was the way to Gunnersbury Park, the best part of the walk. Through the enormous wrought iron gates, and we’d pass the white mansion that once belonged to the Rothschilds and now housed the local museum. Inside it, we knew, were the grand carriages with crests on the doors. Facing them stood the biggest doll’s house we’d ever seen, crammed with tiny Victorian furniture and inhabited by a family of small dolls and their maid. Then there was the fossilized wooden tree trunk that had served as a pipeline for the ancient Romans who’d lived in the neighborhood a century before. But a visit to the museum would have to wait for another time.

Today we’d cross the lawn where the Rothschilds had played croquet with their friends. And here was the ruin they called a folly. My mother had told me that follies were the fashion long ago and people had paid architects to design them. Even at ten, I knew that was silly. And what was the point of ruins if we weren’t allowed to climb them?

Out through one of the side gates, which were spaced at regular intervals along the great yellow brick walls which ran around the vast park. The gate had originally been for the gardeners to come and go, as they invisibly maintained the flower and vegetable gardens and the gardenias in the orangery attached to the house.

Now we were walking along the main road, with only a quarter of a mile to go. It might as well have been ten miles, and we would begin to flag, even though Daddy tried to chivvy us along. He’d pick Susan up, as he always did, since her little legs were tired, and we’d all welcome the sight of St. Dunstan’s Preparatory School for Boys, silent on a Sunday, and next to it a small, ugly building, the church. I never did find out who Saint Dunstan was.

Daddy would give each of us a penny or ha’penny to put into the collection plate and then it was time to go in. It was cool and dark inside, though on a sunny day you could see the haze of incense smoke, drifting through as the mass progressed. I liked the spicy smell, and used it as a marker to tell me the service was almost over. I kept one eye on my sisters (Susan would disappear from time to time below the wooden bench) and one eye on the black missal I held in front of me, where the order of service was written in both English and Latin. The priest prayed in the mysterious language the Romans used, and by the time I was eight, I was able to hear a catholic service, understand it, and utter the correct Latin responses without a second thought. When the mass was translated into English, sometime in the mid-60’s, it lost its mystery for me, no longer the murmurings of an exotic secret society, but the meaningless repetition of phrases I no longer believed.

But while Daddy was alive, and the sun was shining and the park was green, walking to church was a chance to be with him, with the feeling that life was good and would stay that way.

Punishment loaf

Last week’s post was about my father – here’s one about my mother…

My mother was always looking for ways to save money. Although she had little spare time, with a job and five girls to feed, she decided to bake her own bread. And it would be healthy bread, at that. First, she went to the grocer’s, where she hunted down the wholemeal flour she planned to use. She might have unearthed some wheat bran, too. Next, she found fresh yeast at the baker’s. I was surprised that he sold it to her. After all, wouldn’t he be losing her business if she did her own baking? As it turned out, no.

She followed the recipe she’d found in the Continue reading

Seeking refuge

My father was stranded in England after World War II. So he wasn’t an immigrant, exactly – he hadn’t made a plan to leave Poland for better things. I suppose, technically, he was a refugee.

What he had done, before the world went to war, was to leave his homeland in 1938 to work in Toulouse, in south-western France, for a year. He was an agricultural economist, and at 25, had no ties to prevent him from going. He worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, and they assigned him to the Polish consulate in Toulouse, to give him some gravitas. His French is excellent, although the regional accent of that corner of the country can be hard to understand.

Daddy ToulouseI have a couple of photos of him from that time. Here he comes, strolling along a French street, sporting a beret, hoping to blend in. But the camera in its leather case that swings from his wrist tells the world he’s a tourist. He’s wearing a suit and tie – there’s a gleam on his shoes and a smile on his innocent young face. Perhaps he’s on his way to buy that bottle of Violettes de Toulouse perfume to give to his mother when he returns home. He is there to study local farming methods so he can return to Poland and help his country increase production. Poland has only recently regained its independence from Germany, Austria and Russia, so now the Poles have to make their country work.

You might think he’d wear more casual clothes when working, but no.

My father was a bit of a dandy, I suspect. Here he is again, standing in a field outside Toulouse, his right hand shading his eyes while he tries not to squint at the camera. He has his left hand on the hip pocket of his tweed jacket. As my eyes move down the photo, I see his jodhpurs, ending at the top of his pristine leather riding boots. If there was one thing my father always insisted on, it was well-polished footwear.

When not working, he hiked the Pyrenees, and passed the time in cafes and bars with other young people. He visited Lourdes, a shrine not far from Toulouse, not because he needed a miracle then, but because his older brother was a priest, and the gift of a small bottle of Lourdes water could cure all kinds of ills. He managed to hang onto that bottle no matter where he went.

When Hitler marched into Poland, my father joined many of his compatriots who were living and working in France, to form a Polish Army. They fought the Germans side by side with the French, only to find themselves backed up against the English Channel at Dunkerque, praying for a miracle.

They got one. Almost everyone was rescued and delivered to England by a flotilla of small fishing boats, dinghies, and yachts, which volunteered when the troopships couldn’t manage alone.

My father arrived on the south coast, with only the uniform he stood up in, to be put on a train along with his comrades, bound for Blackpool in the north of England. As the train stood hissing and puffing before it began to move, bevvies of women walked up and down the platform handing up thick china cups of milky tea and buns for the new arrivals. My father thanked them in English, and was rewarded with smiles and shouts of “Good luck!”

The Poles ended up in Scotland, and began to prepare for active duty. They knew what they were fighting for – the right to return home to a Poland liberated from the Germans and Russians who were using their country as a battlefield. His brothers showed up in Britain, too. His older brother, an army chaplain, was delighted with is bottle of Lourdes water. Dominic, who was younger, served as a rear gunner in the Royal Air Force.

At the end of the war, anyone who’d served was offered a free (one-way) ticket to Poland, now an officially Communist country. They could stay in Britain, and become miners, foresters or agricultural workers. If they turned that down, they might be offered passage to some part of the British Empire, where they could start again. Their last option was to take the £25 and the suit of clothes they were given on demobilization, and start their own business.

My father had met my English mother by then, and fallen in love. He was faced with a heartrending decision. To travel back to his family – parents, siblings and cousins, whom he hadn’t seen for six years, in the knowledge that the Government would be unlikely to let him leave in the future. Or to stay in Britain until the Communists left. His older brother went back to Poland to tend to his congregation. His younger brother had been shot down over Belgium during the Battle of Britain, and was buried there.

He decided to stay. It wasn’t easy. His homeland now had a new name – the People’s Republic of Poland, and his old consular passport was of no use. After he married my mother, he applied for a British passport, hoping this might let him visit Poland, but the British didn’t want him either.

My father became a stateless person. He had Displaced Persons’ papers, so he was allowed to travel in Western Europe, but he died sixteen years later, without a country, and without seeing his mother again. She never got her bottle of French perfume, which stood in my parents’ closet until it became too old and lost its fragrance.

I hope my sisters and I made it up to him. He never let on for a second that he was homesick. Only as he sat on my bed telling me stories of his childhood in a small log cabin where they had to dig a tunnel to the well when it snowed – only then did I get the feeling that he was back there again.

My life mirrored my father’s, in a way. I didn’t have to survive a war, but I, too, met a foreigner, fell in love, and moved to a foreign country (the USA) to be with him. My mother always said she understood perfectly, and I’m sure she did.

Ten of my favorite poems – a challenge

My friend Sally Allen at BoooksInK challenged her readers recently to produce a list of their ten favorite poems. I thought this would be simple, but when it came right down to it, I found it hard to choose. Still, I did, and this post explains my choices, since I notice that I chose them for various reasons that include: if I ever learned one by heart, if it says something about a certain time in my life, if it makes me laugh, if it makes me cry…so many reasons. Anyway here they are:

1.      Some one by Walter de la Mare

This may be the first poem I learned as a little girl. It’s a great poem for kids, because the metre, repetition and rhyme make it easy to remember. And it tells a story with a mystery at its heart. It’s got everything.

2.      The Lady of Shallott by Alfred, Lord Tennysonshalottcircle

This poem I love because it reminds me of my mother, who knew parts of it by heart and would recite it in lieu of a bedtime story. It’s very visual and the parts she remembered were about how the Lady, imprisoned in the Tower of Shallott, becomes desperate. Good stuff.

3.      Morning has broken by Eleanor Farjeon

Who couldn’t like this one? I know it’s a hymn, but it’s also a poem, and it makes me happy to recite it to myself. Or sing it, Or listen to Cat Stevens sing it. All good.

4.      I remember, I remember by Thomas Hood

006_2We had a wonderful cleaning lady who used to teach me poems as I followed her around while she tidied the house. I must have been a pest, but she never complained. This is a very sentimental poem, but it meant something to me when my grandparents’ house by the sea (see left), where I was born and spent my summer holidays, was sold. Mrs Ryder taught me another one but I can only remember the title and the first 4 lines. Harry and the Cake: Run off to school, Harry/Why do you wait?/ Nine o’clock striking/And you will be late.

5.      When icicles hang by the wall by William Shakespeare (from Love’s Labours Lost)

This I learned in high school, and it’s so very evocative of the perishing cold winters we’ve been having recently that I’ve remembered it again. It cheers me (somewhat) to know that winters were hard four hundred years ago, too.

6.      The Conway Stewart by Seamus Heaney

This is a poem about a pen, the brand name – Conway Stewart. I had a fountain pen in high school, because we had to write everything by hand. I think my favorite was a Waterman, because they were also my mother’s favorite, but I went through more than one including Parker and the eponymous Conway Stewart. Hopeless show-off, I used turquoise ink, which if it ever leaked, was a disaster because it wouldn’t wash out, unlike the Royal blue washable used by sensible people.

7.      Granchester by Rupert Brooker brooke

Another sentimental poem. Written just before World War 1, in which the poet died (unsentimentally, of dysentery). Rupert Brooke was beautiful to look at, and I read him at an age when romance was all. The poem ends with the famous lines: Stands the Church clock at ten to three?/And is there honey still for tea? In the late sixties, British comedian Peter Sellars wrote and performed a fake travelogue: Balham  – Gateway to the South. (Balham was a very boring suburb of London.) The final lines are: Stands the Church clock at ten to three?/And is there honey still for tea? To which a waitress replies: Sorry honey’s off, dear. (Meaning there wasn’t any.) Perhaps you had to be there…

8.      Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

On a much more serious note, this poem, written by Wilfred Owen was a devastating indictment of World War 1. Owen was killed just before the end of this war, and we studied the war poets in High school. The impact on me was extraordinary. When I won a prize for English they asked me which book I’d like and I chose Men Who March Away. At about the same time, the BBC was showing a 26 part series called The Great War. Using archival film footage and interviews with the survivors, they retold the story. As a child in the fifties, my sisters and I would see the veterans sitting in wheelchairs outside the Star and Garter Home in Richmond. My mother would explain that they had been gassed in World War 1 and would have to live there all their lives. I have never been able to look at war with any shred of romanticism since then.

9.      The Lanyard Billy Collins

Back to the cheerful. When I first heard Billy Collins reciting his poem, I was entranced by the deadpan way he managed to capture a relationship between a boy and his mother. It’s funny and serious. Just listen to it.

10.  Mrs Icarus by Carol Ann Duffy

icarus

As for this, it’s only five lines, but it makes me laugh out loud. A pillock, for my American readers, is a fool. Surely I’m too young to be cynical? Helena Bonham Carter reads it with aplomb.

Are any of these your favorites?

The Young Arm of the Law – Part 2

All is forgiven. Read on to find out why…

My crime writer friends Ben & Beth Oak were kind enough to send me the Police Blotter of the crime of which I was suspected. Here it is, courtesy of the Minuteman newspaper:

 
Cigarettes stolen at Citgo
The cashier at Citgo, 2747 Post Road, said that on Friday at about 3:50 p.m., a white female, 40 to 50 years old, with long blonde hair, wearing a red scarf, tan jacket and black pants came to the front counter and, having asked to buy one pack of cigarettes, inquired about two more. When the clerk turned his or her back, she took the cigarettes worth $9.21 and walked out, leaving in a newer white Mercedes.
I forgive the policeman everything! He thought I was between 40-50! And apparently I drive a Mercedes. Makes you wonder why I’d need to steal the cigarettes…
 
 

The Young Arm of the Law

I have no idea why I’m not in jail right now. It was a close shave, it really was.

I was walking down the street at about 6.15 on Friday evening, when I noticed a police car driving slowly towards me. It pulled up to the kerb, and I experienced a small frisson of excitement as a 20-something policeman leapt smartly from the car and bounded up onto the sidewalk. I was brought up to believe that the police were on my side, and, as a frequently demonstrating student in the 60’s and 70’s never felt able to yell “pigs” at them like the rest of my friends. I lost some street cred thereby, but…

Which is my way of saying that I was perfectly prepared to help this policeman if I could. He looked me sternly in the eye (he wasn’t very tall).

“Ma’am, were you at the Citgo station earlier today?”

He must have noticed my blank expression (I was trying to remember which of the many local gas stations was the Citgo) because he pointed in a westerly direction, and said “The one on the corner of the Post Road and Pine Creek.”

Mais oui, I admitted. I had been there at around 12.30 earlier that day, walking through the forecourt as a shortcut to my hairdresser’s where I had a 12.30 appointment. My women readers will understand that no matter how late I may be for other less important events like plane trips and oil changes, I wouldn’t dare be late for my hairdresser.

I explained this to the policeman, who began to look a bit distracted after a few minutes of my clarifications. He cut me off suddenly.

“Do you smoke?”

“Not for 40 years,” I said, wondering whether he was going to offer me a cigarette.

The policeman didn’t offer me a cigarette, nor did he look particularly convinced.

“Would you like to sniff my coat?” I asked. “If I smoked you’d be able to tell.” I was trying to be helpful. He shook his head.

“I need to see your ID, please. The point is, that a woman matching your description was seen stealing a packet of cigarettes from that very same gas station at about 12.40 today.”

I opened my mouth to explain again about the 12.30 appointment and the hair but he suddenly changed his interrogation tactics.

“Where do you live?” he asked.

I pointed down the street.

“Paul Place,” I said.

“Oh, ho,” he said, or he would have if he’d had proper training. “That’s pretty close to that gas station.”

I tried to be patient.

“Which was why I was walking to my hairdressers, which is right next door,” I said, and I tossed my head in what I hoped was a convincing way to show him my new haircut (which was great, if I do say so myself).

Looking rather alarmed, he took a step back, but he persevered.

“Thing is, ma’am, this person was wearing a tan coat like yours…”

I put my hand up to stop him right there. “My coat is pink,” I said firmly. It is well known that a lot of men are color-blind, and in any case the street lights were orange so I couldn’t entirely blame him for getting it wrong.

“Furthermore,” I went on. “Earlier today I was wearing my fur coat. It was colder then, and…”

I paused. He was beginning to look a bit tense.

He pulled out a notebook. “I’ll just take your name.”

I gave it to him. And the address. And the phone number.

He seemed rather discouraged as he wrote it down.

He looked up. “Could I take a picture of you?’

My, I thought, it must be some haircut. I smirked as he raised his phone and took a photo.

I wondered if this orange light was making me look younger than I am. My reverie was interrupted.

“I’m going to take this round to the gas station and show it to them in order to eliminate you from our inquiries.”

I know what that means. He thinks I’m guilty, but he can’t prove it.

2013 Christmas edition

The Reef

The Reef

And so it’s time for the annual update. I closed last year’s letter by saying that we were expecting my sister Jane and her friend for the holidays. What I didn’t mention was that because we were having so many people to stay, all arriving and departing on different dates, that I resorted to creating a chart which showed each bedroom (color-coded, of course ), who would be in each one on what dates, and how many people I’d be feeding on any particular day. I adore my family, but honestly – I can’t do that chart again. Next time they’ll have to fight it out among themselves. I will be in the local inn… But in the meantime, this year will be much more sensible, with everybody arriving at carefully regulated intervals.

It was only in January that I managed to get out from under the pile of sheets and towels and pack a bag for our house in Phoenix AZ. Jay and I decided to take a few days and see what we might need if we were going to use it as a holiday home. To get us started, Jay insisted on packing a huge suitcase with household paraphernalia, including various serving dishes and knick-knacks. Since the beds hadn’t been delivered when we arrived, we spent the night in a hotel, but Jay left the suitcase in the house to save having to carry it around. Much to our surprise, it was gone when we arrived at the house the following day. Apparently this is the first burglary in the area for over three years…Well, Jay bore it stoically and added serving dishes and knick-knacks to our ever-expanding shopping list. One forgets that a new home needs everything from knives and forks to furniture, but we had a good time visiting the consignment (OK, second-hand) shops, where Jay bargained to his heart’s content.

2013 Australia 368

Morning visitors outside our tent

We’d barely come back from our visit to Phoenix when it was time to leave for Australia. I had visions of kangaroos and koala bears, but in fact, Australia turned out to be much more interesting than that. We snorkeled around near the Great Barrier Reef (my favorite thing). I mean that I swam, towing Jay behind me. I think he liked it…Then we took a tiny plane to a luxury camp in the middle of nowhere, where noises in the very early morning turned out to be wallabies waking up underneath our cabin. If only the tiny plane company hadn’t gone bankrupt while we were there… Still, we did manage to get to our next destination, the aptly named Kangaroo Island. About 100 miles long with a population of 4,000 people and about 10,000 animals. All the kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and emus you could wish for. And then it was on to check out the wild life in Sydney…

Sydney wild life (pretty tame...)

Sydney wild life (pretty tame…)

Just to remind us of our trip, I got us tickets for the Australia exhibition that was showing in London when we visited in September. We were on our way to Prague, to meet friends. Prague and our friends were delightful, and Jay was particularly pleased, because our enormous bedroom (in a former mansion by the river) had a balcony from which he could give speeches to the population below. He was going to try it, too, but I managed to distract him with the promise of some souvenir shopping nearby.

Eagle ignoring Jay in Budapest

Eagle ignoring Jay in Budapest

After that we took one of those Danube cruises from Budapest, via Vienna and Linz to Passau (on the German/Austrian border). Very relaxing. So much so, that Jay immediately went home and booked a cruise on the Volga River (Moscow to St. Petersburg) for next summer. Yo-o heave-ho. Or something.

We returned to New Hampshire in time for the end of a beautiful fall. It was too late for Jay to sit on his beach (see last year) but he was quite happy with his new lawn (did I mention that he’d had someone plant a lawn last year when we were thinking of selling the house?). He, Freddie and Bertie had spent most of the summer perfecting this, with Fred and Bert doing most of the work (heaving huge boulders out of the ground) and Jay ‘supervising’. From the beach.

The boys really didn’t need to do this, since they both graduated from university this year. Moving rocks hardly seems like fit work for a biomedical engineer and an astrophysicist, but Jay can be very persuasive…

And what of our careers? I hear you ask (don’t I?). I’m still writing; there’s a memoir of my mother based on her wartime diaries and my blogs keep me busy. Next weekend I’ll be telling my story of Jay and the Santa suit at a couple of Christmas concerts at a local inn. Jay will be there to heckle cheer me on. Meanwhile, he’s still very busy with his usual pursuits, to which he has added the position of board member at Colby-Sawyer College, a small liberal arts school (liberal? Jay? Surely not…) in our New Hampshire hometown of New London). The board seems to like him, even though Jay spends most of his time “suggesting” ways they could be more businesslike.

I was beginning to think the whole idea of building a new smaller house had died down for good, when the house next door to us came onto the market. Last weekend (bear with me here) we were supposed to be visiting houses around town that had been decorated for Christmas. Instead I found myself being shown around a characterful (read: not enough bathrooms) 100-year-old house, with Jay murmuring things in my ear, like: “we could put the other bathrooms over here”, and “what about extending this wall and making this into a new bedroom?” I should have let him do more shopping in Budapest, so he got it out of his system.

Just for now, we’re still in the house with the beach, the lawn and the gigantic fireplace, so I’m going to ignore the future and enjoy the present. (I think Jay got me a present?)

Wishing you a very happy and peaceful Christmas, and an encouraging New Year

Talking Turkey

It’s that time of year again –  With Thanksgiving speeding towards us, my husband Jay wanted to talk to me about the menu.

I was surprised, because we always have the same Thanksgiving meal: turkey, stuffing, roast vegetables, asparagus, pumpkin pie and a pecan pie for Jay. But this year there were only going to be five of us for Thanksgiving. And I’m a vegetarian.

“So, what should we do about ordering the turkey?” he asked one evening last week.

turkey

Being a seat-of-the-pants type person, who leaves everything until the last minute, I hadn’t really thought about this, but his question made me reflect.

“Well,” I began. “They usually say about a pound per person for turkey…”

Jay interrupted me.

“So we should order a 4lb turkey?” he asked brightly.

“We could,” I said, “but it would be called a chicken.”

“But a chicken’s not the same is it?”

I had to agree.

“I mean, there’s nothing like the smell of turkey cooking on Thanksgiving.”

He had a point. “We could buy a turkey breast and roast that,” I offered.

“But then I’d have nothing to carve.” (I do the carving but I let it pass.)

We discussed the options. Duck? Too small. Goose? Too greasy, and anyway a goose is a Christmas bird. Lamb? Easter. Roast pork? Too pedestrian. I could see that Jay was going to find reasons why none of my suggestions would work, so I sat back and waited for him to make the choice I wanted him to. It took a while, but, you’ve guessed it, we’re having roast beef (and Yorkshire pudding).

beefAt last, an English Thanksgiving.

Shockolate –

In case you’re wondering about the title, no, I’m not illiterate. But I was in Europe recently, and this is the medical term for what happened to me…

Naturally, one expects some sort of chocolate temptation while you’re over there. In London its good old British-made Cadbury’s, which tastes so much better than the pale imitation preferred by American palates. (The stuff they make here has less milk in it, I think. At any rate, it’s not the same.) I managed to restrain myself somewhat in London, helped by the fact that our very swanky hotel (now relegated in my preferred accommodations list to a camping facility) did not leave any chocolates on my pillow. But that was helpful in a way, since I was trying to keep my blood sugar levels where they’re supposed to be.

I survived Prague. All was well until we embarked on our Danube cruise. When we entered our ‘stateroom’ (otherwise known as an underwater hideaway, since we only managed to get the last cabin available, so when we looked out of the window, we saw the river lapping gently against the glass…) provided a glass jar full of chocolate goodies. There are several things wrong with this. First of all, the jar was made of glass, so I could see the darn things staring at me seductively. Second the jar was full. And third, chocolate. There were some of those adorable tiny individual chocolate bars, as well as soft nougat ‘enrobed’ (read dressed seductively) in chocolate… I’m harping on about seduction because I was a fallen woman by the end of the evening. I had to leave a note in the jar asking the maid not to refill it. Then all I had to do for the next seven days was to slide by the huge bowls of mints, toffees and what-have-you by the reception desk without disgracing myself.

And then came Bratislava. I was minding my own business, having just seen a beautiful collection of Mortlake tapestries in the old cardinal’s palace, now a museum. Sashaying down the enormous staircase and imagining myself in a long bright pink dress (oh wait, that’s a cardinal’s outfit isn’t it? Oh well…) I met a slender Australian woman (a new friend from the cruise) coming up. She grabbed my arm, gave a furtive look around and hissed, conspiratorially: “I just had the hot chocolate. I’ve gained 3 kilos…it was worth it!” Her charming French husband shot me an apologetic look and helped her up the rest of the flight.

Evidence of disaster

Evidence of disaster

Curious, I decided to investigate further. In the charming central square, a cosy café beckoned roguishly from one corner. My feet were killing me by this time, and a brisk wind was making me feel chilly, so I suggested we sit for a minute and maybe have something hot to drink. “Excellent idea,” said Jay. “I’ll have a latte.” I cast an eye over the eight page illustrated menu of hot drinks. Jay ended up with a hazelnut praline latte with extra cream on top. I ordered hot chocolate and was congratulating myself on my steely willpower when my bright yellow cup arrived. The chocolate was so thick that I’m pretty sure that if I’d turned the cup over, the contents would have remained inside. I sniffed it. When I returned to my senses, I found myself sitting with a spoon in my hand. Someone had licked the spoon clean. Apparently that was me. I would simply have to try again. By this time the women at the neighboring tables were staring at me curiously. “Chocolate,” I blurted out and pointed at my cup. The Slovakian women simply shrugged. They’d seen this kind of weak-willed tourist before. But the American women around me were edging their chairs closer and closer.

I nodded regally and told them to help themselves. There was a reverent silence as the hot spreadable chocolate hit their tongues. We worshiped at the chocolate shrine together.

I wonder if that’s why that cardinal was hanging out in Bratislava in the first place…