Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why Writing Is Like Time-Lapse Photography

In 1999 the Dutch artist Frans Hofmeester started filming his newborn daughter for a few seconds every week, usually on a Saturday morning. Struck by how fast she was changing, he "was desperate to keep the memories intact." The result is Portrait of Lotte, a 4.5-minute film that became an Internet sensation after Hofmeester uploaded it to YouTube. When I saw the film this morning for the first time, I was reminded of the advice I so often give to my students: Write for 10 minutes every day and you will see results. The key, of course, is the "every day" part of the equation. Portrait of Lotte is for me a striking example of what can happen when an artist dedicates himself to a subject and pursues it with discipline. It seems so simple: film a few seconds of video of your growing child each week, then put the bits together to make a film. But it's the discipline--the sticking with it--that counts. When you apply discipline to your work, something magical and unexpected happens. Hofmeester's film is not just about his daughter, it is about the two of them, father and daughter, the invisible photographer and his subject, and the relationship between them. Each segment of Lotte is composed of a few seconds of video shot against a white backdrop, framing the girl's head and shoulders. There is no sound other than a musical sound track, but often she is in conversation with her father, the invisible photographer. "Each week, it gave me an opportunity to talk to my kids," Hofmeester told The Guardian. "People are touched by it because it conveys a feeling of the soul. They've written to me about their own children. The film makes you realize what life is about, in a direct way."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Happy Anniversary, Monsieur Texier

The Texier Family, Lake Eyasi, Tanzania, April 2001.
“Then Mr. Happygod Matoi made a little speech: ‘Marriage in Tanzania is meant to be for life. Sometimes things don’t work out, and then, if necessary, the marriage may be tuh-minated, and you have dee-vuss. But for that, you don't come here, not to this office. That's another office.’ He waved his hand toward the clattering street. ‘Here, we concern ourselves only with marriage, and we tell the people that marriage is supposed to last forever.’ ” —Our House in Arusha

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Good-bye, House

The living room and, beyond it, the piano room sans piano, which I wrote about in An Irruption of Owls.
I began photographing my childhood home in the summer of 2012, shortly after my mother died. My mother left the house to my sister and me, and we didn't know what we would do with it. It is a big old Victorian-style house with six bedrooms, an antiquated kitchen, and an attic filled with family memorabilia stretching back to the Civil War. Although Patrick and I have been living in the house for the past eight years, it is not a practical house for a couple our age, so to make a long story short, my sister and I have decided to sell it. To let go of it is heart-wrenching. Over the next few weeks and months, I will be posting my pictures of the house and its contents here. My mother was the kind of person who held onto things, and I have pictures, for example, of baby clothes that were worn literally a hundred years ago. Because I am moving to France, I will take very little with me. A few keepsakes that will fit into a suitcase, and these photographs, will be all that remains for me of my childhood home.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Being a Writer versus Being an Author

Joan Didion, by Jill Krementz, 1972.
Being an author is a full-time job, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. I'm making a distinction here between being a writer and being an author--that is, someone who has published a book. As a writer, I get to sit down with my morning coffee in my cozy little den and write. As an author, I have another job, which is to engage with readers (or more accurately, try in every way possible to get them to engage with ME). This morning, I am trying to decide whether to bid on an actual paying job as a writer for an online travel magazine. It's a job that I could do from my home in France—a dream come true! There's only one problem: I am a very slow writer. Slow like a salmon climbing Machu Picchu. So while the job is supposedly part-time, it could easily take over my life, leaving me with a smidgeon of time for writing my next book and a driblet for selling the current one. My dilemma du jour. Come back to see how it pans out. And if you have any advice, post it here.
   P.S. In the process of writing this post, which took most of an entire morning—that's how slow I am—I found the perfect person to commiserate with. Her name is Laura Bogart and she is the composer of an essay entitled The Price I Pay to Write, published by Dame magazine. ("The best thing that ever happened to my writing life," Laura's essay begins, "was breaking my ankle.") What's disturbing is that I have never before heard of either Laura Bogart or Dame magazine, which tells me that they, too, are laboring in obscurity. But wait—I eventually found them, didn't I? What led me to the discovery was my search for a photo of Joan Didion, one of my literary heroes, to accompany this posting. (The one above ran at the top of Laura's article.) Why Joan? Because she is the first person who ever told me that I would have to spend at least one full year "doing publicity" for my book after I finished writing it. Perhaps in my next post I will share the thank-you letter I wrote her a few months ago.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Hans Silvester: A Photographer Whose Work I Love

For over half a century, Hans Silvester has been photographing our world. Google his name and see what pops up. I guarantee you will be amazed. The photograph above is from his book about the people of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia, who have developed a tradition of body art that incorporates mineral-based face paint and elaborate floral headdresses. An artist in my hometown of Randolph, Vermont, introduced me to the book when Patrick and I owned a little art galley on Merchants Row. Today another Randolph artist posted a slideshow of Silvester's Omo Valley photographs on Facebook. It reminded me how much I love his work. Go ahead, google him. Please.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Beatrix Potter, Vladimir Nabokov, and Me

“Dear Sara: I have been reading your ms with interest and admiration. I think you are a splendid writer! Your prose is smart and tight and colorful and I am enjoying this project chapter by chapter. BUT—alas this is a big But—I am not clear on what is the premise of this book. . . .”
—email from Gail Hochman, literary agent, received yesterday

Just because I am a proud indie author doesn't mean I don't occasionally go knocking on agents' doors. This is the second book of mine that Gail Hochman has rejected. The first time around, my mother was on hand to issue a loud harrumph ("I don't think she knows what she's talking about" were her exact words). This time, I cheered myself by reading some of the editorial comments that have accompanied other writers' rejected manuscripts. Here are some of my favorites:

20  "I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years." (Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov)
19  "Nobody will want to read a book about a seagull." (Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach)
18  "We feel that we don't know the central character well enough." (Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger)
17  "Undisciplined, rambling, and thoroughly amateurish writer." (Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann)
16  "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling that would lift the book above a 'curiosity' level." (The Diary of Anne Frank)
15  "A long, dull novel about an artist." (Lust for Life, by Irving Stone)
14  "An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell." (Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame)
13  "An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull." (Lord of the Flies, by William Golding)
12  "Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature." (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum)
11  "Unsaleable and unpublishable." (The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand)
10  "Frenetic and scrambled prose." (On the Road, by Jack Kerouac)
9  "An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be 'Oh don't read that horrid book.' " (The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells)
8  "Our united opinion is entirely against the book. It is very long and rather old-fashioned." (Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville)
7  "I haven't the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny." (Catch-22, by Joseph Heller)
6  "We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell." (Carrie, by Stephen King)
5  "The American public is not interested in China." (The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck)
4  "It's Poland and the rich Jews again." (Satan in Goray, by Isaac Singer)
3  "This will set publishing back 25 years." (The Deer Park, by Norman Mailer)
2  "I wrack my brains why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep." (Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust)
1  "Anthologies don't sell." (Chicken Soup for the Soul)

Beatrix Potter's story about a bunny was rejected so many times, she finally decided to self-publish and printed 250 copies. The Tale of Peter Rabbit has now sold over 45 million copies.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Learning to Drive

Aunt Ruth and the car (an Austin) she drove as an itinerant music teacher in rural Vermont, late 1930s.
Last week I got an email from Mrs. Jane Currier of Randolph, Vermont. Mrs. Currier is the wife of Ken Currier, who taught me how to drive a car. She was writing to thank me for coming home to live with my mother in 2007; in passing, she mentioned that she thought she had ordered my new book online but she wasn’t 100 percent sure because she and Mr. Currier are 86 and the Internet is not in their DNA. My strongest memory of learning to drive involves the drivers-ed car coming to a sudden stop on Main Street, where the cars are parked at an angle to the curb, with their rear ends sticking out into the street. The stop took me by complete surprise, being the result of Mr. Currier’s foot coming down hard on the instructor’s brake as I blithely cruised within inches of somebody’s rear bumper—a bumper that was invisible to me until Mr. Currier calmly pointed it out as the drivers-ed car, now motionless, blocked all northbound Main Street traffic. In our family, we had two cars, a Chevy Malibu and a Volkswagen Beetle. I was terrified of the VW, which had an ill-tempered clutch and which used to stall every single time I tried to make it go up a small hill on Central Street, at the top of which was a stop sign. The Currier house was a few doors down from that intersection, and I used to imagine Mr. Currier standing at his front window and shaking his head as I drove by in the wrong gear, engine roaring, my mother white-knuckled in the passenger seat. My mother was a gifted teacher, but her effort to teach me to “drive stick” ended in failure. I was so traumatized by the whole experience that I moved to New York City and rode the subway for the next 12 years. Then I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, bought a Toyota Corolla with a stick shift, and learned to drive it in city traffic. I even had a stick shift in L.A., which is where I finally learned to parallel park—a skill that I, and the Vermont Motor Vehicles Department, thought I had already mastered. What I learned in L.A. was how to park a Honda Civic in a space the size of a toaster oven. In 2007 I moved back to Vermont, bought a Subaru with a stick shift, and became my mother’s chauffeur. Thanks in large part to Mr. Currier’s lessons in defensive driving, I have, at age 61, a spotless driving record, despite having lived for several years in Tanzania, where I drove on the left and shared the road with cows, lorries, wheelbarrows, and potholes the size of swimming pools.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Scary Thing About Writing

Dr. Ransom Tucker at Gifford Hospital, probably in the late 1940s.

It is an unsettling experience—humbling, even scary—to have your book read by the people who have inspired it, but this is unavoidable when you write the kind of books I do. I don’t fictionalize my stories; I tell the truth, as I see it. It’s the “as I see it” part that can be the sticking point. I am fortunate that my husband, who provides much of the entertainment in both Our House in Arusha and its sequel An Irruption of Owls, has so far made no objection to how I see him, even when I make fun of his accent (which I really shouldn’t do, as my French accent is way more comical than his American one). When I wrote Owls, I sent two crucial chapters to my son Thomas, now living in New Zealand, to make sure he was okay with them. I mailed off the pages ($25 flat rate) and waited. And waited. He hates them, I thought to myself. I’ve alienated him for life. I’ll have to buy a plane ticket to New Zealand, $2,000+ roundtrip, but worth every penny if it will allow me to repair the damage. Not sure, mind you, what I might have said that would cause distress, but you never know with kids. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that he drove his car off the road. But he did drive his car off the road, and it gave me one of the worst frights of my life. But I digress. When he finally called from New Zealand—weeks later!—he said that one of the chapters in particular “brought a tear to my eye.” (The right kind of tear. The other chapter got a passing grade.) My mother, another character in the same book, is no longer here to defend herself (much easier to write about the deceased than the living), but she comes off rather well, I think. Another “character” in Owls is my hometown of Randolph. Now, everyone who ever lived in Randolph has his or her own memories and impressions of that place, and they are obviously different from mine. One of the gratifying responses to the book so far has been the many people who say they remember my parents, particularly my father, who died when I was only seventeen. He was for many years the town’s only obstetrician during the postwar baby boom (talk about a demanding job), and I run into people all the time who remember him as the doctor who delivered every family member of their generation, or their children’s generation. In a private forum on Facebook where Randolph homies gather, the comments about my dad in response to the new book have been worth all the effort of writing it. My neighbors may agree or disagree with the way I portray their hometown. Either way, I hope they will continue to share their responses to the book, whether on Facebook, or here on my blog, or at the fish counter in the local supermarket. To be able to get a conversation going is a writer’s dream come true.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Now available for Kindle!

I am doing an absolutely LOUSY job of promoting my new book. Too many things on my plate. This is the personal memoir that I've been working on since I started this blog, and now it's done and I should be jumping for joy, but instead, I feel as wrung out as a pair of old leggings. The book is mostly set in my hometown of Randolph, Vermont, but Martha Stewart makes an appearance, as do a few other famous people. I have not decided yet whether to out the "movie star." (If I do, I will probably do it here.) To thumb through a few pages, go to the right, scroll down, and click on the cover, which will take you to Amazon for a "look inside." Whether you love the book or hate it or give it an "eh," please leave a review on Amazon and tell the world what you think. Love, Sadie.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Dear Kindle Singles

From my notebook.
Kindle Singles publishes short work—essays, short stories, novellas. Writers submit their work for consideration, and Kindle editors give it a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. Approval means your work will attract a much larger audience than it is likely to get as a lonely bit of straw in the giant Amazon haystack. I know a writer who published something about beer as a Kindle Single and sold thousands of downloads, which then boosted his sales on Amazon. I really want the story of my mother's battle with Big Pharma to get out there, so this morning, while drinking coffee at my kitchen table in Washington Heights, I sent the following query:

Dear Kindle Singles:
In January 2007, at the age of 85, my mother suddenly developed a mysterious illness that not even the best doctors at Dartmouth Medical Center were able to diagnose. Until then, she had been in good health, very active, and able to live alone. The cause of her illness remained unknown until December 2009, when an orthopedic specialist at the community hospital in her hometown diagnosed her with stress fractures in both femurs caused by Fosamax. The bone-building drug, which has been prescribed to millions of women since it came on the market in the 1990s, has been at the center of several lawsuits. My mother was 84 when she began taking Fosamax, and she did not live long enough to pursue legal recourse, nor was that her intention. She was angry and hurt when she learned that medical science had turned against her, but she did not want to pick fights. She wanted to enjoy, as much as possible, what little time remained. She died in 2012, at the age of 91. Meanwhile, my husband and I completely altered our lives, giving up two good jobs and moving 300 miles in order to help her. We did so before any of us knew the cause of her illness, which caused severe and crippling pain. I am the one who first correctly diagnosed her illness, almost three years after it began, when I heard a report about Fosamax while listening to NPR. Much later, after my mother died, I read through the comments left by other women on a web site that enables patients to rate prescription drugs. They were heartbreaking. Many of the comments were left by the daughters and nieces of women who had suffered from the debilitating side-effects of Fosamax. My mother's illness is the pivotal event in "An Irruption of Owls," a 75,000-word book. I would like to rework several chapters, notably chapter 11 (where the cause of her illness is revealed) for Kindle Singles. I would include some material from other chapters that puts her illness in context. She was a doctor's wife and knew about the hazards of prescription meds, and yet she did not read the Fosamax label carefully enough, and neither did her doctors. The fault lies to a great extent with our medical system and how it works (or doesn't work), which I discuss in the book. The emotional heart of the story is how my husband and I responded to the crisis.

I have recently completed the above-mentioned title and offered it on Kindle as a preorder (delivery: July 31, 2015). I would very much like this story to get out there, as I know for sure that many women and their families have had similar experiences, not only with Fosamax but with other prescription meds, whose side-effects are not fully known until they have been on the market long enough for experience to accumulate, often for years. Today, women are told to go off Fosamax after five years; my mother experienced stress fractures after less than two years on the drug.

Could this story be offered, condensed and reworked, as a Kindles Single? Estimated length: 20,000 words. 

I am a professional writer, a journalist who writes often about travel. My first book, Our House in Arusha, has sold well on Amazon. An Irruption of Owls is my second book.

Sara Tucker

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Now Available in Paperback!

I told M. Dickey Drysdale, editor of the Randolph Herald, that this book would be released on July 15, and here it is. As of this morning, you can order the print edition online (click here; $15 plus shipping). The Kindle edition will be available later this month (I will announce it here), followed by editions for other e-readers. This way of publishing is sometimes nuts (I haven't slept for a few days), but honestly, the indie thing suits me. I have full control over the artistic product, for better or worse. I get to make ALL the decisions, business or otherwise. I'm not really a control freak, I'm just . . . impatient. Traditional publishing takes forever. Authors do most of the work and get paid peanuts. By publishing my own work, I get to keep most of the profits (up to 70 percent of the royalties). That enables me to sell the Kindle edition and other ebooks for a fraction of what you would pay a traditional publisher. This book will be priced for Kindle at $2.99, like Our House in Arusha, its predecessor. It will also be available, for a similar price, for the Nook and other e-readers. But many book lovers want to hold a real book in their hands, so I feel it's important to have a paperback edition. Plus, it can be easily shared, or given as a gift. To order the print edition of An Irruption of Owls, or to find out more about the book, click here. (The link takes you to my CreateSpace e-store.) Within a few days, the book will appear on Amazon, too, where you can post a review. I hope you will enjoy the book, tell people about it, and share your paperback edition with friends—or donate it to the hospital thrift shop. It wants to be out in the world.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

When We Were Aliens

La Famille Texier: Patrick, Thomas, and Sara.
The Texier family's American experiment started on July 14, 2001, exactly fourteen years ago, when Patrick unofficially emigrated to the U.S. In celebration of that event (which eventually led to a U.S. passport). The photo was taken several years later in Vermont (it became our Christmas card that year). The following paragraphs are from chapter 8 in An Irruption of Owls, which is due for release tomorrow, July 15.

The Texier family crossed the Atlantic like the three Billy Goats Gruff. I went first: My task was to nail down a steady job, then send for the others. At Kilimanjaro Airport, I kissed Patrick and Thomas good-bye and folded myself into coach class; twenty-three hours later I unfolded at Newark Airport. Standing in the line for U.S. citizens I felt strangely clandestine: Nowhere in my travel documents did it say that I was the vanguard of a little family of aliens. “Welcome home,” said the man who stamped my passport. Within a few days, I was working for MBA Jungle, a fledgling magazine for business students, its offices in a SoHo loft.
    Patrick came next. I met him at Newark Airport on the morning of July 14, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Patrick infiltrated Les Etats-Unis on tiptoe, passing muster with his French passport and the straight-faced assertion that he was a tourist. This statement went unchallenged by the immigration folks, even though Patrick was pushing a baggage cart that groaned under the weight of literally everything we owned, including two bicycles, a suitcase full of women’s clothing, and another filled with Thomas’s books and toys.
    Thomas arrived in mid-August, having spent the summer eating chips and watching TV at his grandmother’s chic apartment near the Château de Fontainebleau. By then we had a two-bedroom rental on a busy street forty minutes by train from Manhattan. It took Patrick and me one hectic morning to find the apartment, riding around the suburbs in an SUV, a doughy and perspiring real estate agent named Alan at the wheel. It took another hectic morning at IKEA to furnish it.
    Patrick hadn’t made a major shopping foray in the home furniture line for many years, his most recent acquisition having been a couple of straw floor mats, handed over in exchange for a few shillings placed in the palm of the weaver, a woman whose place of business was a few square meters of roadside dirt on the edge of downtown Arusha. I did my best to prepare one so innocent for the IKEA experience, explaining that what made the furniture a bargain was that it came in small boxes, which lowered transportation and storage costs, savings passed on to the consumer, but that you had to assemble it yourself, and so on. I warned Patrick that on a Saturday morning the place would be swarming with shoppers and their carts, that the store was gargantuan and the choices endless, that finding what you wanted meant reading tags and jotting down numbers and then searching through a gigantic storeroom, and that the whole ordeal required nerves of steel.
    We got off to an early start, driving along swirling ribbons of highway through concrete wastelands until we found the store, where, starting on the top floor and working our way down, we picked out living room furniture, bedroom furniture, a dining table and chairs, lamps, and bathroom accessories. Neither of us was an enthusiastic shopper, but we persevered. By noon, we were in kitchenware, nearly done.
    “Which do you prefer?” Patrick asked, a stainless-steel pot in his right hand, a Teflon-coated aluminum one in his left. I looked from one pot to the other, and froze.
All morning I had been trying not to collapse under the weight of what we were doing—had done, I should say, because it was too late to turn back. Tanzania was impossibly far away, and our life there, which had begun so sweetly and ended so abruptly, was over. Our garden with the canna lilies and the banana trees, the gardener blasting rasta hits from his little radio, over. Our morning wakeup calls—first from the neighborhood rooster, then from the canned call to prayer—our lazy afternoons at the Mambo Café, our peaceful evenings reading by candlelight, all of it, over. We were here now, at IKEA, buying sensible Scandinavian-style furniture and kitchen supplies.
    Blindly, I stared at the pots, unable to choose, unable even to make an arbitrary decision. Then I took a step forward, put my head on Patrick’s shoulder, and started weeping as shopping carts detoured around us.
    Still holding the pots, he put his arms around me. We stood like that for a few seconds, until I pulled myself together. “You decide,” I said, finally, raising my head and wiping my eyes with the back of my hand. “I can’t make any more decisions today.” Patrick quietly put the stainless steel pot in the cart, and we headed toward checkout.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Am I Not Wonderful? Or the Agony of Blurbing Your Own Book

So, after three years of slavish labor, we have arrived at the moment where the book is at the printer, and the printer is sending me messages that say, in essence, approve the goddamn proof already, and I am stuck on the back cover, where the book description and the bio are supposed to go. It is surprisingly difficult to sing your praises on the cover of your own book, even one that you have worked on as hard as I've worked on this one. In fact, it was my designer who insisted that we make the byline on the front cover so huge that you can probably see it from outer space. I'm still freaked out about that. My attempts at a bio have been going up on Facebook for review, and my friends have offered some helpful feedback. Here's the back cover copy as it now stands, starting with the book description (the bio follows):

A mysterious illness is the catalyst for this story about a daughter’s homecoming, the second installment of a family saga that takes place on three continents. The year is 2007, and the Texiers—Patrick, Sara, and nineteen-year-old Thomas—have left their home in Tanzania. They are biding their time in a New Jersey suburb, pondering their next move, when a family crisis spurs them to action. Idora Tucker, Sara’s mother, is suddenly unable to live alone. Something is very wrong, and nobody on her rapidly expanding medical team can figure it out. Within weeks, Sara has moved back into her childhood bedroom, Thomas has enrolled at a school in Prague, and Patrick has become the only French safari guide in recent memory to take up residence in Randolph, Vermont. In picking up where Our House in Arusha left off, An Irruption of Owls views from the perspective of small-town New England the forces that shape our lives.

Sara Tucker has written headlines for the Louisville Courier Journal, reviewed local theater for the Albuquerque Journal, and edited articles about dusting for Martha Stewart Living. Everything she knows about winching she learned from the editor of Four-Wheeler magazine. At Condé Nast Traveler, she once played a singing reindeer in an office skit. At Cosmopolitan, she ran the copy department under Helen Gurley Brown. She pays taxes in Vermont, rides the New York City subway to work 150 times a year, and plays mahjong once a month in Fontainebleau, France. An Irruption of Owls is her second book.

Friday, February 13, 2015

I See London, I See France, I See Lolo's Underpants

Lois Rogers Cooley and Charles Cooley Way Back When

For the past month, I have been in Vermont—shoveling snow and writing about the women in my family, a bunch of exquisite ladies. My aunt Lois almost didn't survive a trip to Dartmouth-Hitchcock last November, but she managed to hang on for two more months. I paid her a final visit on Saturday; she died on Sunday. Her funeral is today, but I am back in France and will have to miss it. Aunt Lois graduated Green Mountain College with a degree in retail marketing—her collection of refrigerator doodads was actually worth studying. But instead of becoming a marketing wiz or an ad exec, she applied her considerable talents to improving the Vermont public school system through art. (Her first gift to me, incidentally, was my name, Sara Lee, which she and Mom dreamed up at her kitchen table years before it became famous as a brand of packaged desserts.) I was surprised to learn the other day that Aunt Lois was a high-school cheerleader; I never saw a shred of evidence that she loved bouncing around and doing cartwheels. But whatever she may have lacked in athleticism she more than made up for in conviction and sparkle. She did mental cartwheels on my behalf, many times. I felt honored that she allowed me to outfit her for the wedding of her youngest, Paul Andrew, to his beloved Orlando in the fall of 2013. I borrowed a stunning gold jacket from a friend and accessorized it with a purple and gold scarf of my own. The black slacks came from Aunt Lois's closet; the elastic waistband gave out in the middle of the cocktail hour, and I was obliged to rush to my aunt's side and hoist them up. But first I had to point out that they were around her ankles—she was engrossed in conversation with my brother and hadn't noticed the slippage. "Oh, will you look at that," she said, cool as a cucumber. Before the day was out, those trousers hit the floor two more times, and I began to suspect some degree of intention. If there is a life lesson here, I'm not sure what it is. Suffice to say that Aunt Lois had an interesting relationship with gravity; she either ignored it or used it to her advantage. As a child, I thought my aunts and uncles were all extremely interesting people. I still do. I am grateful to each and every one of them. I am particularly grateful to Aunt Lois for giving me a name that has something in common with Gypsy Rose and all-butter pound cake, for teaching me something new about the laws of physics, and for giving me a good deal else to ponder as the years go by.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Crossing to Safety

Since the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, friends who know that I've been living in France have been wondering whether I'm safe. In fact, I left Paris on Wednesday at around the same time as the massacre was taking place at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and I only found out about it when I arrived in JFK later that day. This is now the third time that Al Qaeda has hit close to home. First time: the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam when I was living in Tanzania. Second time: the World Trade Center when I was living within view of the smoke cloud and working in SoHo. So yes, I am safe, sort of. But is anybody safe anymore? The cartoon is by Patrick, who is still in France. I will return there the end of this month. Meanwhile, it feels good to be spending time with loved ones in a relatively quiet corner of the world.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Gift from Hélène

"Our House in Arusha," by Sara Tucker . . .
Hand-bound by Hélène Durguel. 
Cover illustration by Patrick Texier.
My sister-in-law, Hélène Durguel (Patrick's little sister), has been studying book-binding at an atelier in Paris. One of her projects was presented to me on Christmas day at our family gathering in Issey-les-Moulineaux. "Our House in Arusha" is dedicated to my mother, who was a champion of this book from its inception. How I wish she could see this elegant one-of-a kind edition!