Christmas edition – 2018

It’s been an eventful year, as always. To begin with, a few hours after I sent out last year’s letter, my son Adam had a TIA (mini-stroke), followed by a couple of others, and was barely out of hospital in time for the Christmas festivities. Much drama followed in the New Year, with recurrences, diagnosis of an unusual condition, talk of brain surgery and the like. All this concentrated my mind wonderfully, as you can imagine.

2018 stef wedding

They could have danced all night…

Adam continued to improve, so in July I wandered off to Poland for my cousin Stefek’s wedding. He and his bride are in their seventies, and I could only watch in amazement as they danced for ten hours on and off (mostly on) through the day into the evening. They met at a dance class and will obviously live forever if their current state of health is anything to go by!

It was a wonderful chance to catch up with other cousins and their children. And to my amazement and delight, IMG-2647Stefek gave me the small perfume bottle, shaped like a watering can, that had contained Violettes de Toulouse. My father had bought for his mother in France in 1939. It’s mentioned in a post on my website. If you’re reading this online, you can find it here.

I travelled on to Krakow, where I’d booked a night in a hotel, not realizing that it had formerly been a residence for priests visiting the city. I was eleven years old when I (and my twin sisters) first visited Poland. My uncle, a priest, took us to see Krakow, where we lodged with some nuns, but he stayed at this hostelry. I wondered if I might be sleeping in the same room he’d used, but decided I probably wasn’t — I feel sure that even so many decades later, I’d have been able to detect a lingering trace of eau de cologne, his favorite aftershave.

I took the train from there to Zurich, to meet up with my friend Liz, who normally lives in Carmel, California. We spent a few days exploring the city and eating far too much chocolate. (At least, I did…). I found out how much I enjoy traveling by rail. As the train rocked me to sleep in my little bunk, the memories of my first long-distance trip – London to Warsaw – many decades ago, flooded back.

I squeezed in a three-day writers’ conference at Wesleyan University, to get some feedback on my memoir, which I did. “Clean writing” said a famous writer for the New Yorker. I’d been hoping it might be a bit risqué, but apparently not… Also got a crick in the neck from sleeping in my own luxurious dorm room on a dauntingly firm bed, with the air-conditioning blasting as if it were cooling the dairy section in the supermarket.

2018 London Eye

On the London Eye…

Only a few weeks later, my daughter, Helenka and her two daughters traveled to London with me, and suddenly I was longing for the air-conditioning, even if it came with a crick in the neck. The temperatures were around 95F (35C) during the day and 80F (27C) at night, and the flat I’d rented hadn’t managed to provide a single fan! We found ourselves entering any establishment that looked air-conditioned – and taking boat trips along the Thames to cool off. At least Helenka and the girls reconnected with all their cousins, and Helenka treated me to tea at the place where she was born. Yes, that’s right. The former hospital, a lovely Regency building at Hyde Park Corner, is now an extremely luxurious hotel, with an English afternoon tea so lavish that we didn’t need to eat again that day.

Back home in early August, Amanda invited me to join her and her family in a house she’d rented on the shores of Lake Sunapee, where we used to live. It turned out to be delightful, and we found time to attend the local barn playhouse, for old time’s sake.

But I needed to focus on writing. I finished the memoir (because I’d made a bet with a writer friend and wasn’t about to lose!) and got the manuscript edited by two editors, one English and one American (two countries divided by a common language, as you know). Then I began researching publishers who might want it, only to discover that the market for memoirs is in a slump. So I’m considering plan B: a small independent publisher or plan C: publishing it myself.

2018 WTN reading

Reading my story at a book signing…

I rashly agreed to help organize the first literary festival in the neighboring town of Westport, which turned out to be great fun. And at the same time, I was asked to contribute when-to-now-cover-final-shortera short story on a time travel theme to an anthology, When to Now, which was published on October 1st. I knew nothing about sci-fi or speculative fiction, so of course I said yes. You can find it on Amazon…  And throughout the year I kept running my monthly writers’ groups, meeting other writers, taking a class or two, and generally soaking up the culture round here.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and an excellent 2019!

 

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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