Shakespeare Report I: The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

This is the first of forty-two weekly Shakespeare reads. Last week I listened to a BBC audio production The Two Gentlemen of Verona, plus a few commentary podcasts. I am using the fantastic Folger Shakespeare Library site for the reading text and additional literary criticism. In no way do I intend to present any groundbreaking scholarship, obviously – this is simply meant to enrich me as a lay reader, writer, and person, and perhaps amuse a reader or two who might tag along. I am every inch a lay reader in this endeavor.

My first crack at Shakespeare’s earliest play was a success, all the more delightful for me as an English speaker living in Italy. It employs some of his most durable tropes: confused love triangles and squares, women dressed as men to enter bars or travel afar in search of their absconded loves, and more. It’s a play that every student should read prior to embarking on study abroad, as the plot revolves around youthful love going out of sight, and therefore out of mind, and how latent bad behavior can quickly spiral out of control when abroad with Title IX and #metoo thrown in for good measure. Amusingly, almost none of the action takes place in Verona, but it’s where the two gentlemen are from. A more accurate title might be Unaccountable Misdeeds in Milan.

Basically, Valentine is a go-getter of a young man, who is sent to study abroad at court with the duke in Milan. In the opening scene, he begs his friend Proteus to join him on the program:

I rather would entreat thy company
To see the wonders of the world abroad
Than, living dully sluggardized at home,
Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness.
(Act 1, Sc. 1)

A linguist and a single gentleman, Valentine soon finds favor with Sylvia, the Duke’s daughter. Meanwhile, Valentine’s best friend, Proteus (whose character in the course of the play is indeed revealed to be quite base and protean), is a lazy embarrassment to his father, who soon contrives to place Proteus in the same study abroad program with Valentine in Milan. Even Pantino, his father’s servant boldly analyzes the situation for Proteus’s dad.

He wondered that your Lordship
Would suffer him to spend his youth at home
While other men, of slender reputation,
Put forth their sons to seek preferment out:
Some to the wars to try their fortune there,
Some to discover islands far away,
Some to the studious universities.
For any or for all these exercises
He said that Proteus your son was meet,
And did request me to importune you
To let him spend his time no more at home,
Which would be great impeachment to his age
In having known no travel in his youth.
(Act I, Sc. 3)

But before Proteus travels, he convinces Julia to accept him, and they exchange rings.

Once in Milan, Proteus decides Sylvia is the one for him. (Julia? Who’s Julia?) Proteus rats out Valentine to Sylvia’s father the Duke, who immediately banishes Valentine from Milan for wooing his daughter without authorization, and quickly betroths Sylvia to Thurio, a gentleman in waiting with a great name. Proteus tries to win over Sylvia by giving her the ring Julia gave him. No luck.

Meanwhile, Julia disguises herself as a page and leaves Verona in search of Proteus. She crosses paths with Sylvia, who grills her about Proteus, showing her the ring Proteus gave her. O Proteus! How quickly dost thou forget! Of course Julia recognizes the ring. But she’s not giving up on Proteus.

Sylvia convinces an older courtier, Eglamour, to set out with her in search of Valentine. They are waylaid by highway robbers and, unbeknownst to Sylvia, their leader is none other than her love Valentine. Somehow, Proteus arrives just in time to save her from the ruffians, but when she once more rebuffs him, saying he has betrayed his own best friend Valentine, he retorts, In love, who respects friend? Proteus then attempts to rape Sylvia.

Valentine steps in to save Sylvia. The two men have a discussion about her as though she weren’t even there. Valentine tells Proteus that he values their friendship more than he loves Sylvia, and that Proteus is therefore welcome to Sylvia. Proteus says “No, really, you take her, Valentine.” Julia in her disguise reveals herself, and Proteus remembers how cute she is, so he’s fine going back to her. The original couples (Proteus + Julia / Valentine + Sylvia) are married. No one seems to mind that Proteus has demonstrated the personal ethics of a creature recently crawled from a well-heated primordial ocean, what with being struck by Sylvia, betraying her and Valentine’s love to her father the Duke, and then trying to rape Sylvia. He is basically a walking student misconduct nightmare who is in no way held accountable for his actions.

Aside from having to go back and look up Elizabethan coinages like allycholly and halidom, and the bare use of servants as foils to interrogate the thoughts of masters and mistresses (each of the four protagonists has a servant, of course), the play is chock-full of quotable nuggets.

Lucetta: To plead for love deserves more fee than hate. / Julia: Will you be gone? That you may ruminate.

Proteus’s father, on wanting him to go to Milan to study: Excuse it not, for I am peremptory. (I am going to start using this one at home.)

Sylvia on Thurio and Valentine: A fine volley of words, and quickly shot off.

Also, whoreson appears more than once, sometimes enriched, as in thou whoreson ass.

Love is like a child that longs for everything that he can come by.

I’ll tell you what Lance his man told me [about Valentine and Sylvia]: he loved her out of all nick.

Letters, both read and shredded, and chameleons make repeated appearances. Julia and Sylvia are smart but get little say, unless they are with their servants, which is an even more flinching socioeconomic commentary. My takeaway: neither Valentine nor Proteus deserve either Sylvia or Julia. Elizabethan gender politics were the worst. Also, why is Valentine so obsequious to Proteus? What else does Proteus have on Valentine? I feel cheated as a reader that Proteus slips out of his consequences and receives no just desserts.

Next week: The Taming of the Shrew, with which I am familiar through film (Ten Things I Hate About You, etc.), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a straight production of the original. I’m tweaking my approach to: read first, then lit crit, then listen or watch. Last week I listened first and got lost quickly.

Update from Italy: Pandemic Pillows

Photo by Visual Stories || Micheile on Unsplash

Stupidi cuscini, I told my friend. Dumb cushions. I never should have ordered them.

Before the New Year, when we were all home on the holiday break and doing a whole lot of nothing thanks to the Omicron surge, Eleanor decided she needed to rearrange her room. She had outgrown her toys. All of them. Dollhouse, BarbieTM camper, BarbieTM airplane, BarbieTM Fiat, via! Everything must go! In an admirable liquidation of ludic assets, small, medium, and large dolls, gone! (All stuffed animals remain.) Make space for art! Move the bed to the other side of the room. Most toys were bagged and readied for giveaway or secondhand sale. And, most importantly, a great number of pillows simply had to be acquired to make the second-grade harem for one as comfortable as possible.

An in-person trip to a big-box store was out of the question. So I checked on Amazon, where the pillows were all weird (think giant images of cats and goats), expensive, and not available to be shipped with Amazon Prime.

Hmm, what about IKEA, I mused.

We are NOT going there, Jason quickly shot back.

I looked around on the IKEA website. But the pillows are good and cheap, I said. I’ve never before ordered anything on IKEA to be delivered. It’s expensive with unhelpful delivery windows. Kind of like the cable guy of yore (e.g., sometime between 10 and 8). I suddenly spied a delivery option I had not seen before. O miracle! They will deliver them to a post office very close by! I yelled from my desk.

Great, Jason said. That’s really close. Better than going to the store.

No one thought it was a good idea to go to IKEA. Eleanor really wanted to pick out pillows. So we scrolled and selected, scrolled and selected on my laptop. Some items were not available for delivery. Certain pillows could inexplicably be picked up only in the store. Some items were just pillow covers, so we ordered a few inserts too. We picked out some pillows for Victor, so he wouldn’t feel left out, and a couple for me, because I am the mamma. I went to pay. Suddenly it seemed like a lot of money for a sack of pillows. I really need pillows, Eleanor affirmed. I paid on the site with my credit card and got confirmation that the pillows would be delivered to the local post office for our pickup in about 10 days. January 11, with New Year’s and Epiphany in the interim.

When are the pillows coming, when are the pillows coming? Eleanor asked repeatedly . Victor joined in a chant. Pill-OWS. Pill-OWS. Calm down, guys, I said. It’s going to take a few days.

I checked the status from time to time. My credit card was charged. On January 5 the pillows were marked in transit. In transit toward us, I naively assumed. Then radio silence from the pillows for three weeks. No updates. Where are the pillows? I mused in the direction of Jason. Nobody is working, he said. Everyone has Covid or is in quarantine or caring for someone who has Covid.

The pillows popped back up on the radar on January 20. The updates were erratically posted. The pillows seemed to have traveled to a few other places: Sesto Fiorentino, Bologna. They have now been shipped, touched, and recorded eleven times. To travel less than ten miles from IKEA to our post office. I’ve had international airmail packages delivered with way fewer shipment touches and comments. I was very confused about the pillow’s movement and direction. Were the pillows indeed coming to us? Or had I terribly misunderstood, and the pillows had been at the post office, a giant sack of premium stuffing awaiting our pickup, and we missed the pickup window somehow? This would be terrible.

I called in my local expert. What does it mean, I asked, when the status page says that my pillows are in transito? They are in transit?

No, she said, it means they are being made into a package in the office.

The pillows are travelling around the office? I was howling. The warehouse? They are travelling in the warehouse?

Yes, she confirmed.

I hmphed. Why don’t they say, stiamo mettendo tutti i cuscini in una scatolonawe are putting all your pillows in a big box? Pillows in transit sounds an awful lot like they are already shipped. My friend thought this idea was funny.

L’ordine è stato spedito. The order has been shipped. Okay, I understand that. Next line. L’ordine è in consegna. The order is in delivery. Or has the order already been delivered? This seemed very linguistically fuzzy to me. This was where I got more panicky. Was the order already delivered, and now it is being shipped back to IKEA because I never picked it up?

No, no, my Italian friend said, it is about to be delivered.

Interesting, I thought. Isn’t there another verb for that? Sta per essere consegnato?

Yes, maybe, but it’s vernacular.

Okay, great, I think, business Italian, got it, saying to myself the update that IKEA dared not post: tutti i romani hanno Covid e purtroppo non potevano lavorare fino ad oggi. All Romans have Covid and were unable to work before today. (A month after purchase.) Maybe add, as a public service announcement, non preoccuparti i cuscini non possono portarti il Covid. Don’t worry, cushions cannot transmit Covid.

The best update, which predominates, says L’ordine è in viaggio, with a cute truck icon. Your order is travelling. Does it mean my order is travelling to me or away from me? Who knows?

You should call them, she said, just to make sure. But I didn’t call them. I didn’t think it would help much, given what their interface says online. I don’t really need someone to spend thirty minutes on a call with me in Italian, reading website updates to me that I already know as I read them silently to myself on the screen again. Also, I truly dread phone calls in Italian.

Now they are quantum pillows. L’ordine è in viaggio. Where to? Who knows? Directionality cannot be known. Only the fact that they are travelling, somewhere in north-central Italy, in a way that I can only dream of. O quantum pillows, what trucks, what sunny warehouses, you have seen!

L’ordine è in viaggio.

I imagine the site with further updates, à la L.A. Story (1991), with me in the Steve Martin role. The site will start answering my unasked questions in business Italian.

January 29, and no sign of the pillows we ordered over a month ago.

Quando avrai il Covid avrai dei bei cuscini da usare per la tua quarantena. When you have Covid, you will have some lovely cushions for your quarantine.

Update from Italy: The Shakespeare Project

Yes, friends, come let us talk about plague reading.
Retrato de hombre hacia 1610, atribuido a William Shakespeare

It continues to be a great regret of mine that my high school senior year schedule precluded my enrollment in British Literature. We read Hamlet and Macbeth and Othello in AP English but I never had a proper Shakespeare survey. I tried to make it up in college in a world literature survey course, and then another (its continuation), and the courses were good. Very good. But no more Shakespeare. My Shakespeare education really blazed in my sophomore year of high school. It was a heady year, capping off Rome + Juliet and Julius Caesar, culminating with my role as Moth (a barely-speaking fairy part) in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the very cafeteria where I’d suffered fatal casualities on Clarinet Hill a mere four years before.

I have tried, in different years, to pick up the bard’s thread once more. I read Romeo + Juliet again a few years ago. I tried to read a Henrysomethingsomething. I watched The Hollow Crown, the Henriad produced by the BBC a few years back in honor of a notable Shakespearan anniversary. I watched a very outdated Twelfth Night starring Joan Plowright (was there ever a more Elizabethan name and surname), who was impressive as the twin siblings. I looked her up and saw that she was the wife of Sir Lawrence Olivier. Birds of a theatrical feather …

Of course I had seen the same titles on the merry-go-round of remakes. Romeo + Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Midsummer Night. Propero’s Books. Lather, rinse, repeat. (Ok, Baz Luhrmann’s R+J is still the best. Plus that soundtrack! O GenX!) But the bard wrote 42 plays. What of the other titles? I have never seen Cymbeline, or Two Gentlemen of Verona, or (wait for it) King Lear. Much less Titus Andronicus (I will try once more to watch the Ralph Fiennes reboot).

Shakespeare is the English Cervantes. I remember reading excerpts of Don Quixote as an undergraduate and again in graduate school, grinding away my pre-parental evenings with an M.A. reading list. A professor brought to tears in a class in the early nineties, telling us how as a child he loved the Quixote for its adventures and battles, but as an older man he read it for its wisdom and perspective. What! I remember thinking. Literature is not single-use? I can return to and reread different works again and again and each time, they will be richer and more varied for my revisit? O blessed literary classics! Every time I read Shakespeare, no matter how lazily, it improves my own writing. Elizabethan writing vitamins! Is Shakespeare too not worth revisiting at different stages of life, filling in holes and finding new perspectives? Yes. He is indeed.

So in this year, which kicks off with more Covid and remote learning and quarantine drama, finding me at home far more than would be to my taste ina normal year, I might call Silver Linings, and which many other cultures will recognize as the year of the Water Tiger, I have decided to do it, and made a list accordingly. Shakespeare, the son of the glover, had seen plague and restless constituents, had dreamed of life abroad and read widely in the literature, was married and a father, and maybe not always the best person under stress. He may have known a thing or two about the times in which we continue to find ourselves.

Every week from now to November 7, I’m taking the Bard’s plays in order, one per week, to read, review, watch, listen. It’s not going to be the most in-depth study ever – I am not trying to be a Shakespeare scholar here. Marry, yon that ship has sailed! I have found many resources on Amazon and Spotify – I am lucky to have subscriptions to both – and in interest of expediency, determined that an audio resource was the equivalent of a film. I am trying to move quickly through the tried and true titles, lingering longer on the bard’s B-list and back list. I am just going to read/watch/hear all 42 plays this year, one per week, whatever that brings me.

I asked around to see if anyone wanted to do this too. The responses ranged from “I have a job” to “too busy” to “you are crazy.” (My original idea was to do a study in tandem by pairing the films of Almodóvar with the plays of Shakespeare to mine whatever insights might be found between the two, but this idea proved perhaps too ambitious for the moment.)

I’ve listened this week to a BBC production of Two Gentlemen in Verona and a few relevant scholarly commentaries. (Takeaways: needs a rebrand, something like “Two Tools in Milan,” smart women finish last, rape is OK, brah culture, #metoo needed to happen 430 years ago.) I will be back with updates about my Shakespeare project.

Update from Italy: La vita normale

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

When we moved into our apartment it was fully furnished with furniture and rugs, pots and pans, bath mats and bed linens, cutlery and china, tea towels and linen napkins. Drying racks and heaters, lamps and mirrors, fine art and a coat rack. A wood and glass hutch stuffed with stemware and espresso cups, saucers and egg cups, tea mugs and capacious bowls for café au lait in the morning. Maybe some French people lived here before us. Café au lait is not a thing in Tuscany.

The apartment furniture is all family cast-offs from the signora’s grander homes possibly in the countryside. A new Natuzzi sofa and armchair set in white, stuffed with goose feathers, is now worn to a dirty grayish color, but no matter. They are true comfort. I have slept sick in them many a night since we moved here, with a stomach bug, a sinus infection, bronchitis. The massive dinner table weighs at least a couple hundred pounds and fills half of our common room. An old terra cotta urn meant for olive oil or perhaps brining olives is our umbrella repository. The floors are tiled in terra cotta, burnished with beeswax for a century and a half. They are deceptively warm-looking in the winter, for given their depth of polish, the eye believes they retain and radiate heat. But they are as cold as a pizza stone in storage. All the signora’s spotless and ironed linens are neatly stacked in a tall cabinet built into the wall, no longer filling some bygone bride’s handsome wooden dowry chest that now holds fleece and merino throw blankets and spare goose-down comforters. 

It is a genteel life. Had I only known into what well-heeled Italian dream we would wheel our suitcases, late of Oklahoma City via Spokane, I would have shipped nothing. As it was, we slipped quite easily into the life that awaited us here. I missed nothing. I let it go easily and without regret, all of it. It wasn’t the first time I’d efficiently dismantled my life – I’d done it in 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2004. 2006, 2007, 2010. I don’t know what that string of years proves. My rootlessness. My inherited ability to feel at home after three nights anywhere. I am a human hermit crab, a tiny house upon my back, scenery changing, regretting little.  

The kitchen is ordered to a galley plan, long and narrow, windows facing north and looking up into the signora’s rooftop rose garden and her husband’s art studio, tucked up into the lofty loggia on the top floor where her great-great grandmother shouted at the housemaid to hang the laundry properly and early enough in the day to catch the breezes that wafted down from Fiesole so the sheets wouldn’t smell of must. The entrance is under a plaster arch, down the smooth lip of a step laid with pietra serena. It is definitely a kitchen for one chef. If a second person should attempt to squeeze by the cook or maid during a meal service, shouting will occur. There simply isn’t enough room. The dishwasher with the door down creates a sort of drawbridge barrier that prevents passage to the icebox or the slab of a marble sink that reminds me of a baptismal font or a Yorkshire tombstone. 

Over the weak microwave that couldn’t power a string of Christmas tree lights is a dual portrait of some bacon-rich sows, their black spots slung across their hides, one facing east, the other west. It is not old art. Someone bought it in a shop, acrylic on wood, but I like it. The sow facing west stares pointedly at a glossy ceramic rooster in bright primary colors. The cock is an idiot. All plumage and no point, his black eyes flat, avoiding the microwave’s single-minded stare.

On the other side of the galley’s narrow corridor, from the knob of a bottom drawer on the spice rack, hangs a styrofoam ball. It started out white. Our son made it as a holiday ornament four or five years ago. It was covered back then with bits of glued-on tinfoil, a finger’s length of yarn attached to suggest a mouth. At first it smiled, but over the years the humidity and heat and cold in the tiny kitchen ironed the grin into a dash. The poor ornament now looks with stern judgment indeed on the sows, the rooster, the microwave. The ornament is in such a state that we cherish it for its whimsy, scowling at us as we step down from the dining room into the bitty kitchen. Get rid of those two sows, and that ridiculous rooster wile you’re at it, I can hear it grumble. Cannot cope with the crowd you’ve put me with here. Please recycle me.

In Memoriam: Elisabeth Robbins Cole

Elisabeth Cole Robbins, 1939-2022+ Pictured at St. James Church, Christmas 2021

In my mid-twenties I decided that I needed more older friends in my life. Living in western Washington in the nineties as a young, single woman, I cultivated a warm friendship with my mother’s cousin Carl and his wife Polly, who were old enough to be my grandparents. Our families were connected in a hundred ways, more closely than a family tree might betray. Carl had grown up in Detroit with my grandfather, his uncle. Carl and I were especially well-suited for trips long and far, meandering conversations, a good sauna, a better book, wild ideas, and nature appreciation. Carl and Polly enriched my life immeasurably for fifteen years. When Death knocked for them, he came first for Polly, then returned for Carl just three months later. On the night that the call came from Carl’s daughter to let me know he died, I sat on our couch at home and sobbed into a tea towel. My husband had come to know Carl and Polly well through me. He sat next to me, infant Victor in his left arm, and hugged me with his right.

Friends come and go in this life. Connections wax and wane. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can direct and drive their paths. You can’t. But you can be open to their appearance on the stage where you direct the theater piece of your life. Siblings disappear. Friends recede into the waves. Someone you dated decades ago might reappear in a calmer, friendlier format, revealing the core traits that informed a meaningful connection. Older relatives come back into your life as friends. Older friends are sometimes found. I treasure older friends for their perspective and calm. People who have made it into their seventies and eighties with their minds intact have seen all of life’s rich pageant. Nothing surprises them. I remember Carl’s consistent “Hmmm!” when I presented him with some new fact about a person or job or event that astonished me. “Hmmm!” Usually followed by “mmm-hmm!” and a nod. Yep. No surprise there. Check the footnotes. It all aligns.

I met Elisabeth at St. James Episcopal here in Florence. It must have been the autumn of 2018, September. I heard a confident voice hold forth from the end of a table. Who could it be? Was it really emanating from this diminutive, cheerful woman with the short light hair? I introduced myself. “Call me Liz,” she demanded. I told her she reminded me of my grandmother Esther. She was not at all offended. Later I shared with her an incredible picture of my grandmother sometime in the thirties on the north end of Gun Lake in Middleville, Michigan. Liz blinked and said I’d paid her too grand a compliment.

Liz and I found we had so much in common. The old-fashioned midwestern upbringing. Our travel bugs. Her books clubs and general resilience. Liz was the glue that held many friendships and groups together. She first arrived in Florence in 1958, on a steamship with the junior year abroad program at Smith College. She stayed. She saw and remembered everything. She was a reader and a writer and loved literature. At our weekly coffees in her frescoed library a stone’s throw from San Lorenzo, she regaled me with tales of Muriel Spark and other bright literary stars who’d passed through Florence. I borrowed books and brought them back. Her bookshelves alone were a story unto themselves, packed and layered, the collection of a woman who’d been reading her whole life. We talked about TV, trips we’d taken and wanted to take, parenting and children. She was especially taken by my children and asked about them often. I saw Liz regularly at church, but our weekly espresso dates were highlights of my week. Although she was game to receive offerings of my fresh-baked goods, she confided in me one afternoon, “Always eat fruit with your afternoon espresso, never pastry, and you’ll live to be a hundred.” Her phone never stopped ringing. I kept bringing her pastries, birthday gifts, tales from my life. She seemed to like my stories.

Liz knew everyone. It was rumored she was a founding member of Democrats Abroad of Italy. She’d been widowed years before, her Italian husband having preceded her in death. They had no children. This was always a surprise to me. Liz was hands-down great with children in a genuine way. I saw how she was with kids at church, and with my own kids. Patient, kind, direct, respectful.

The pandemic was hard for Liz. Her old friends struggled to come into town to visit her, what with lock-downs and quarantines and old-fashioned caution. She had a live-in helper who made sure she was independent to the end – as independent as she could be. Even as her body failed her, her mind was unfailingly sharp and inquisitive. I kept our weekly dates, but my quarantine last month before the holidays and then the Omicron wave in Tuscany kept me away since early December. Liz and I continued to email and text as always, just checking in. How are the kids? What are you baking? When are we catching up next? And so on.

And so when I received the message that Liz was in hospital on Monday evening I immediately messaged her. I am worried – are you okay? She didn’t respond. I was in the park chasing Eleanor on her bike. Dinner was prepping. The apartment was warm. I saw our priest called me and I’d missed the call in the chaos. A pit yawned in my gut. I knew what the call was about. It’s usually not good news when your priest calls you during dinner. I responded and said I’d call him back. But part of me just wanted to suspend the moment between not-knowing and knowing. He finally called me back a little bit later and said that Liz had died suddenly. I checked my phone and saw that she’d received my worried message, but had not responded. I realized I had sent it just before she’d died, most likely. A flurry of messages and emails flitted through my phone. It couldn’t seem real. How can a force of nature just wink out like a light? For crying out loud, she’s a woman who’s lived in Italy for sixty years – she should by rights have another two decades to go!

There was visitation beginning at 9:30 this morning at a chapel. I had to take the tram to get there, and then walk around an area I don’t know at all to locate it. I knew I was in the right place though when a Maserati hearse pulled out of the Ofisa garage. In Italy, you go out in style. I didn’t even know a Maserati hearse was a thing. I stopped in the tenth-century pieve (parish church) of Santo Stefano in Pane to light a candle and pray. I haven’t been to a funeral in ages.

After I sat in the church a good long while, I walked back out on Via delle Panche to the Ofisa. The address was in a very strange place, behind a collection of mechanic garages and (ironically) storage units. A collection of clean chapels were numbered in a semicircle around a graveled garden. The names of the deceased were on a marquee. Elisabeth Cole Robbins, Cappella III. A garden attendant in a starter jacket and a mask didn’t even look at me. Wrought-iron chairs and tables were arranged on each patio outside of each chapel, with clean ashtrays. The door was open. The room was beautiful. All new and neat as a pin, with everything a mourner might need: a box of tissues, hard candies, a registry, and most importantly, the body in a chilled closet behind glass double doors. No attendants, no sign-in, no weirdness. The fragrance of synthetic lilies was overwhelming. I wondered it it came from Liz or from the bamboo fragrance sticks in the bottle on the white wooden desk.

I sat with Liz for almost an hour. She looked very, very small, but good, like she was just napping on a satin pillow. I cried. We chatted in the way we hadn’t been able to, thanks to Covid and the rest of it. I wrote in my journal for a while. I thought she would appreciate the moment of quiet her repose occasioned for me. After we got all caught up, I put my gloves back on, slipped my journal and pen back into my bag, and excused myself back into the stream of life.

Thank you, Liz, for opening your heart and your home to this much younger, very effusive woman in the last three and a half years of your life. You blessed me, and I know you know, wherever you are, that your memory will be a blessing. May you rest in peace – you’ve earned it. May you please also continue to shake things up, wherever you are.

I never saw a younger picture of Liz.
I am 99% sure she looked just like my paternal grandmother
Esther Erway Sharp 1915-1998+