Recently, while sitting at a bar with a 62-year-old male friend, he looked at the ebullient, smooth-skinned, 20-something bartender, then looked at me, and said: “Ah, to be young and beautiful again, right?”
“Been there, done that,” I said. “If she’s lucky, she’ll be 59 some day.”
While I don’t see myself as falling victim to the coveting of youth, and I’ve held on to my wrinkles (for now), I was never a Hollywood sexpot. And I’m not 81. Like Kim Novak.
That collective consciousness that judges women by how they look, was shoved, at Ms. Novak’s expense, in the faces of anyone who watched the Academy Awards last week, and was privy to the subsequent chatter, tweets, blogs, and mean-girl bashing about the pillowed lips, the skin-tight cheeks, and the raised eyebrows of Ms. Novak.
While I admit to having been taken aback at first by her looks, the irony and the hypocrisy of my reaction quickly took center stage. What happened to what we all know, and learned in kindergarten – don’t judge a book by its cover?
And don’t assume Ms. Novak sees herself as so many others did – the aging screen siren, who can’t face the truth, or much less a mirror, so she, out of desperation to stay young and beautiful, altered her face ineffably.
I applaud her, and I choose to believe she feels good about how she looks. She felt confident enough to face a Hollywood audience mostly half her age, and less.
Let’s add women who choose to take advantage of the latest dermatological advances to the list of the non-judged – to the list of those who know that aging gracefully is not about how others perceive you, or how much you choose to nip, tuck, pull, plump, lift, or allow to sag, but how you feel about yourself, and how you are allowed to take steps to maintain that credo in whatever way you choose.
A little pearl of prudence did roll out from under all this fray in the form of 31-year-old Lupita Nyong’o, and her speech at a Black Women in Hollywood luncheon days before the awards. It centered around her wish, when she was a young girl to “wake up lighter skinned,” and how it took “validation” from “a celebrated model …” to pull herself up and out of that … seduction of inadequacy.”
“…she was dark as night,” Ms. Nyong’o said. “I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman that looked so much like me as beautiful. Now I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far-away gatekeepers of beauty.”
While Ms. Nyong’o's words are a wretched, and disgraceful, reminder that even a by-any-standards-breathtakingly-beautiful (inside and out, it appears) young woman can fall victim to the societal “rules” of beauty, it also highlights her emergence away from that, and a grasping of the wisdom that, simply, beauty really does come from within.
This conversation is nothing new. But I’m hoping that the timing of Ms. Novak’s public thrashing, which came on the heels of Ms. Nyong’o's personal confession, will at least nudge this next generation of women to kick that societal pendulum, which has been frozen closer to “you’re inadequate,” towards “everyone is beautiful.”
And I hope I’m lucky enough to be 80 someday.
When you’re young, it’s easy to put things off to some unspecified future time. After all, when you’re younger than 40, you probably have more future ahead of you than you have past or present. It seems like there’s a lot of room in that attic for storage of dreams. But as we age into the right side of 50, the amount of future time left to us begins to shrink to a point where the idea that putting off things (such as pleasure) to a future time is no longer a viable plan. Those of us in the 50+ club have to live in the present.
I was reminded of this in church, of all places, as I attended services this week. While there’s some silly stuff in the Bible, there’s also a lot of wisdom. In fact, there’s a whole book in the Bible called “Wisdom.” And there’s also a book of Proverbs. It seems to me that a lot of the purpose of the Bible was to write down the collected wisdom of the herd. Unfortunately, some of the thoughts of the lunatic fringe made it in as well.
Anyway, the Bible reading was from the Gospel of Matthew. The evangelist quotes Jesus as saying to his followers: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” (Matthew 6:34.)
And if I was in a more evangelical kind of church, I would have shouted, “Amen.” But Catholics aren’t into public displays of emotion and so I remained silent. But it seems to me that these are words to live by for us over-50 folks. We need to be present. We need to not put off anything we can enjoy now to the future, because the future is growing short, and what there is, is not guaranteed.
Now, I know that Fleetwood Mac urged us to “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” But the message of that song was not to dwell on the past because “Yesterday’s gone …” It’s the same sentiment that Little Orphan Annie expresses in her “Tomorrow,” where the sum will come out. It’s okay to look to tomorrow optimistically; it’s wrong to worry about it.
Recently, I was looking out at the backyard of my mother’s house in suburban New Jersey. Suddenly about 10 deer appeared, all foraging for food in the snow. Sadly, this has become an all-too-common sight, as human developments have encroached on traditional deer habitats.
But these deer live day to day. They don’t worry about tomorrow. Finding food today, and staying warm is their focus in these winter months. And it occurs to me that our cave-dwelling ancestors did likewise. They may not have lived as long as we do now, but I’ll bet they enjoyed every minute they had when they weren’t working to feed and clothe themselves.
I know that some people can’t help worrying about tomorrow and everything else. Will the 401(k) be enough to live on? Will Medicare allow me to see the doctors I want to see? Will I be able to stay in my house? But even those people can resolve to enjoy today, and be present enough to notice the details like the beautiful scene the snow has created in the trees, or the rosy cheeks on a three-year-old playing in a park on a cold winter’s day. Being present means enjoying what is before you, and not thinking about what’s next. Because tomorrow will take care of itself.
Friends of ours from Sydney, Australia visited us recently and, true to form for this miserable winter, it was 30 degrees with intermittent snow showers all day. And they loved it. In Sydney, they explained, it never gets cold enough to snow. In fact, during their warmest months (January and February), the temperature ranges from 66 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit. In the cool months (July being the coldest), the temperature ranges from 46 to 61. So their seasons aren’t differentiated by extreme temperature variations or cold-weather events like snowstorms. As a result, they said, in retrospect, they have a hard time distinguishing one year from another.
So, for example, if a noteworthy event in their lives were to occur on a day when the temperature was 64 degrees, they couldn’t later readily distinguish the season when it happened, because it could as easily have been a cool day in January or a warm day in July. They can’t automatically think back on the day, and recall, as we might, that we were wearing gloves and scarves and heavy leggings, and say “Oh yeah, that would have been last winter, when it was bitterly cold.”
Or remember that the event occurred, or that the happy (or sad) news arrived, just as they were finishing up raking leaves on a crisp fall day. Let’s be thankful for the clear mental marker this season gives us to define this point in our lives. Someday Maria and I may fondly recall this as the hard winter when Simon and Monica from Sydney first came to visit us at the shore, when we shared dinner and a lovely pinot noir at a deserted restaurant on the Asbury Park boardwalk, then went home, and played guitar, and sang until our fingers hurt, and our throats were raw.
Winter descends, plants die, birds flee, and the days grow short – sobering harbingers of mortality. But the dark days blossom into buds on trees, and longer twilights, and spring’s timeless cycle of renewal, followed by a riotous explosion of exuberant life, and activity in summer.
Which, dying too soon, morphs into wistful fall. The wheel is always turning, and with our starkly different seasons, we see tangible evidence of it every day. As my 50s recede into the past, each change of seasons seems a touch more poignant, colored by a greater sense that, indeed, we will each see only a finite number of them. Whether we curse that reality or embrace it, we cannot change it one whit. As this long winter draws to a close (whenever that finally occurs), I vote for embrace.
Anyone who grew up during the 1960s remembers “duck and cover.” At an alert, crawl under your desk and put your arms over your head, and hope the nuclear bomb lobbed by “the Russians,” as we called what was once the Soviet Union, would miss and hit elsewhere.
There was a time my boomer friends and I laughed at that memory. Today, watching the 24-hour coverage of the Ukraine crisis, we are not laughing. We’re back to fearing the Russians again.
Those of us who study history, or in my case is married to someone who does, see a strong parallel between Vladimir Putin sending Russian troops into Crimea to “protect” the ethnic Russians there, with Adolph Hitler sending German troops into the nascent nation of Czechoslovakia to protect the ethnic Germans in 1938.
You might remember what happened a year later when Hitler’s troops went from “protecting” to invading, this time Poland.
In today’s world, we have instant and constant bombardment. You can watch an invasion as it happens, not wait as our parents did to read about it in the newspapers. There are tweets, blogs and Facebook posts.
I find it overwhelming on a normal day, and these are not normal times.
Back in the 1960s, I did not understand the implications of what we were doing when we went through the “civil defense” drills and hid under our desks. But there was a real fear in the adult world the “Russians” would lob missiles at major cities, as the Cuban missile crisis showed.
My parents and their generation were finally feeling some economic security after growing up with immigrant parents trying to “make it” in the new world. They feared another world war, only this time with nuclear bombs.
“The living will envy the dead,” the Communist USSR’s Nikita Khrushchev supposedly said, perhaps mocking as he quoted from Revelations in the Bible.
Boomers, until recently, have had it easy. We grew up comfortable, and took it for granted we’d go to college and live better lives than our parents because that is what they wanted. The USSR disappeared. The US “won.” We spent our money, and buoyed the economy.
We’re older now, and times have changed.
Wages are stagnant, unemployment is high (particularly for us over 50), and those who can’t afford to retire keep working. There is fear of another economic recession. Now, like our parents, we might fear a nuclear war with the Russians.
Perhaps we can ignore the crises in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan (unless we have a personal connection, of course.) But for me and perhaps you, Ukraine puts us face to face with the Russians again, the “Evil Empire.” At a time of economic instability, that only heightens the tension.
We’re beyond “duck and cover.”
Remember, it wasn’t Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that ended the Great Depression, it was World War II. If Ukraine escalates, that economic “lift” could happen again.
We boomers won’t pay that price. My nephew and his generation will.
There are no doubt thousands that turned a blind eye to the Oscars. They have no interest that Jennifer Lawrence was wearing a strapless red Dior, or that she was up for her third Academy Award nomination in four years, and she’s all of 23. But there were millions of others who had one foot in the door, anticipating tucking into a fun night of watching who’s wearing what, and wondering whether this year’s host, Ellen DeGeneres redux, could top Billy Crystal’s Hannibal Lecter skit during the 1992 awards show, when some of us had not even reached 40 years old. Geez Louise, it seems like yesterday. All in all I thought Ellen DeGeneres was a mighty generous, relaxed and comfortable host, although the morning after comments from friends have weighed in with “too much”, “boring”, and “not edgy enough”.
I adored watching Angelina Jolie accompany Sidney Poitier to announce Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity” – that movie swept up). The man who starred in “A Patch of Blue” (1965), “To Sir With Love” (1967), “The Defiant Ones” (1958) and “In the Heat of the Night” (1967) is 87 years old. I can watch Sidney Poitier movies over and over again. He’s such an incredible actor.
I was in complete agreement with Bill Murray about Amy Adams dress. It was a knock-out.
It’s always a trip to check out the cosmetic surgery procedures, and this year, Goldie Hawn sort of made me gasp. I recently watched “Butterflies Are Free” (1972), for the first time and I think she may be 27 in that movie – a real pixie. I guess she is still going for the pixie look – don’t think it quite works at 68. Her smile was the same though.
I rarely relish the acceptance speech because it can be so predictable – the winner rattles through the prepared list of thank-yous, while at the same time making the PC call out to their fellow nominees. Yawn Yawn. However, I applauded Jared Leto for his for Best Supporting Actor for “Dallas Buyers Club” and Darlene Love for singing thanks for “20 Feet from Stardom.” Definitely want to see that movie.
I had seen all of two of the nine nominated movies. “American Hustle,” which I found captivating from the moment you see Christian Bale’s oversized exposed belly, and “Her,” to me a puzzlement as to why it was even on the list. Love with an operating system? I guess the novelty, along with the possibility that, yes, it really could happen in the not so distant future, kept it in the game. It turned out I do not have my hand on the pulse of the voters. Her won for best original screenplay. It was original, even if I found it a bit enervating.
The whole month of February had been one big celebration on TCM because every movie aired was, or starred, an Academy Award nominee or winner. In fact I saw a few starring Jean Hersholt. I mean they always give out the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. It was nice to put a name to a face.
But my favorite part of the evening is when the room goes silent, and the film is rolled for the tribute to the persons that have died during the past year. It is a trip down Memory Lane to see the actors, directors and other legends of Hollywood lore, some of whom I grew up with, that are now cast in movie heaven. In a weird way, it marks how quickly time has flown, and will fly. While I knew Shirley Temple and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both of whom passed away in the past month would be honored, I’d forgotten that Joan Fontaine and Julie Harris and Peter O’Toole had also died this past year.
So now we know that “12 Years a Slave” won Best Picture, and Cate Blanchett won Best Actress, and Matthew McConaughey’s hero is himself in 10 years. I’ll definitely be tuning in next year to see who are the winners for the 87th Academy Awards. I love them!
I loved Naples – everything from the congested traffic that strangles the city in dead-end stoppage to the graffiti-strewn buildings. But I am a romantic. When I travel, I put blinders on, and insist upon seeing the beauty and uniqueness of a world that, in some ways, is so different from mine, and in other ways, so parallel. Sheets and shirts blowing in the wind off the balconies is almost a trademark of the city. This, I do not see in Manhattan:
On the other hand, a Farmers’ Market is a Farmers’ Market wherever the local growers set up shop. I felt right at home in the Piazza Dante, strolling among the locals ogling the sausages, cheese, honey and vegetables carted in for the day just like in Union Square on Saturday morning:
But underneath the red ripe tomatoes, lurks a dark side of Naples. Just before I left for my trip, I had read an article in The Times about 10 million tons of toxic waste that was buried near a region north of Naples, and the remains of the debris had likely leached into the soil. I arrived leery of fresh produce.
“The environment here is poisoned,” said Dr. Alfredo Mazza, a cardiologist who documented an alarming rise in local cancer cases in a 2004 study published in the British medical journal, The Lancet. “It’s impossible to clean it all up. The area is too vast.” He added, “We’re living on top of a bomb.”
With that kind of publicity, who needs a tomato? (Even though they looked so ripe and luscious.) Instead, besides the pizza, there was lots of delicious seafood:
And there was the issue of the dog poop. It is scattered everywhere. I cannot say how many times Marianne saved my shoe, but it seems that Naples is on the cutting edge of dog poop technology by actually using DNA to track offenders.
The idea is that every dog in the city will be given a blood test for DNA profiling in order to create a database of dogs and owners. When an offending pile is discovered, it will be scraped up and subjected to DNA testing. If a match is made in the database, the owner will face a fine of up to 500 euros, or about $685.
So who knows if and when I shall return to Naples. But perhaps next time, the streets will be pristine. In the meantime, nothing will dim my memories of a city where I saw the sun rise over Mt. Vesuvius every morning, and a short walk led me through streets lined with baroque palazzi, and into churches and museums stuffed with some of the most beautiful art in the world.
And then there was the 45-minute train ride to the archaeological time capsule of Pompeii, where the remains of the day tell us that 2000 years ago, like today, its citizens elected their politicians,
relaxed in the gorgeously-ornate public baths,
attended regular sporting events, albeit gladiator matches, not soccer games, at the stadium,
and last, but never least, always enjoyed a romp in the hay.
As regular readers of this blog know, a few weeks ago my first grandchild was born. Bryce David is doing fine – gaining weight on mother’s milk. Life is new for him, and the long and winding road of life stretches out before him. I’m sure he will enjoy the ride. But as some sort of cosmic balance, on the very day that we gained a Terranella, we lost one.
You may recall last year that I visited by cousin in Copenhagen who shares the same name with me. While we were there, we got to spend some time with my cousin’s wife, Karin. Karin is the reason my American-born cousin has lived in Denmark for the past 40-odd years. Frank was seduced by the charms of a free-spirited Danish girl, and gave up a life in America to enjoy a long and happy marriage with her.
However, on the evening of the day (our time) that Bryce was born, Karin lost her battle with cancer. She was barely into her 60s. She was diagnosed just a few weeks before, and the end came rapidly. Perhaps that is a blessing. Frank was spared having to watch his mate for the better part of five decades suffer for months. She went quickly.
Frank and Karin’s story is full of memorable years together. And so it was more than appropriate that a memorable recording was played at her funeral. A Danish singer called Kira recorded a soulful version of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” in the style of Billie Holiday. That recording was played at Karin’s funeral. If you have never heard this recording I recommend that you download it immediately, particularly if you are a fan of jazz.
The words of the song are so poignant that I will never be able to listen to it again without thinking of Karin. And it seems to me that this song expresses universally the longing for a lost mate that is so much a part of life for many of us over 50.
The song by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal begins:
I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day and through
In that small cafe
The park across the way
The children’s carousel
The chestnut trees, the wishing well
While the song became popular during World War II as GIs went off to war in Europe and the Pacific, what widow or widower cannot embrace these words? The lives of married folk are filled with little moments like this – a cappuccino at a small café, a picnic in the park. How could we not see our loved one after they are gone in all those old familiar places? The song continues:
I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way
I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you
Morning, noon and night we constantly remember a lost loved one, and live with the pain of separation. But the beautiful memories of a life together can bring us through. So, farewell Karin. You were taken from us much too early. But we’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places, and we’ll smile.