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.
We 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.
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 →
“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 →
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 →
3 minute read When I was a child in 1950s London, fruit was rationed. It wasn’t government rationing, but anything from abroad was scarce in our household. It was easier to find produce grown in England. And with five daughters, … Continue reading →
4-5 minute read I once had an antiques stall in the Portobello Road; at least, that’s what I tell people at cocktail parties if the subject of antique shopping comes up. It wasn’t exactly like that. Portobello, on any Saturday … Continue reading →
It may have started with the Great Smog of 1952. I was three, and the air of London had become so polluted from coal-burning fires, that people were dying. There had been smogs before; London’s fogs were famous and they’d … Continue reading →
There’s a photo of Jay in a garden – not ours, but the one he had with his first family. A hint of autumn is in the air, a rusting around the edges of the photo, though it could just … Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.