Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for January, 2011

Sizing Up Shannon

Excerpt from Sizing Up Shannon. One of the stories in Saint Catherine’s Baby.

Shannon put the box of size six hiking boots high on the shelf. Even with the step stool, her five foot three, eighteen-year-old physique had trouble reaching the top. She pushed the end of the crisp cardboard container, with the end of her long purple colored fingernails, into its designated roost in the stockroom of Mr. Estrada’s shoe store.

As she stepped down and brushed the blond bangs away from her clear skin, the doorbell rang. A potential customer had entered the sixty-year-old city landmark. She smacked her lips together to moisten her bright red lipstick and parted the weighted curtain.

Shannon immediately recognized Mrs. Shorenstein and her five-year-old daughter Hanna. Shannon had sold her a pair of children’s shoes three weeks ago and saw the same shoes glued on to Hanna’s feet, with a layer of dirt and grime.

“Hello Mrs. Shorenstein,” exclaimed Shannon, extending her hand in greeting.

“Hi,” Mrs. Shorenstein replied. “How nice. You remembered my name.”

Shannon bent down and addressed Hanna. “Hi young lady. How are your tennies holding up?”

Hanna turned and climbed on top of the small coffee table covered with magazines. “See how good I can climb!”

“Hanna!” her mother said, “get down.” Hanna jumped off, fell onto the freshly vacuumed carpet and rebounded with an impish smile. Shannon bent over, picked up the magazine that had been carried off with Hanna’s surprise jump, returned it neatly to the table and stood to face Hanna’s mother. “I’m sorry,” Mrs. Shorenstein apologized. “She has such energy! I wish I could bottle it and take a swig whenever my battery was low.”

“No problem,” Shannon replied, with a half-knowing smile. “Does she need another pair?” she said, referring to Hanna’s tennis shoes.

“Actually,” Mrs. Shorenstein said, “I need something for work.”

“Oh. Really.” Shannon batted her eyes. “What kind of work?”

“Just a part time thing,” Hanna’s mother replied, “some secretarial stuff for an environmental group. Since Hanna started her first year at school I’ve got a little extra time. I used to work at Gleason and Soto. I’m sure you’ve heard of them. Remember that big toxic spill case in two-thousand-three?”

“Sure,” Shannon said, without much conviction.

“Of course,” Hanna’s Mom explained, “that was before this little firecracker came along.”

They both looked at Hanna who, right on cue, jumped from the floor to a footrest like a bullfrog. “Ribbit. Ribbit,” she croaked.

Shannon turned to Mrs. Shorenstein. “So, you need something nice, but comfortable, right?”

“Exactly,” she said.

“What size?” Shannon asked, taking in her customer’s well-rounded figure, ankle length cotton skirt and white blouse.

Mrs. Shorenstein saw Shannon sizing her up and smiled knowingly, her brown, middle-aged eyes understanding more than Shannon could comprehend.

“Size seven,” replied Mrs. Shorenstein, lifting her skirt slightly. “I’ve got pretty big feet.”

Shannon anxiously led the way to the lady’s section of the small, but well stocked showroom. Hanna climbed on to one of the chrome chairs stuffed side by side and jumped from one to the other, as her mother looked through the available selection.

“These are nice,” Mrs. Shorenstein exclaimed, picking up a pair of black, paten-leathers, with one-inch heels and a thin buckle crossing its front. “Got any of these in my size?”

“I think so,” replied Shannon. “Let me check.” She took the box and started towards the back.

“Oh,” she heard Mrs. Shorenstein exclaim, “and these, if it’s not too much trouble?”

Shannon retraced her steps, graciously took the additional pair and made her way through the ponderous, blue velvet curtain that separated “Employees Only” from the public eye.

As she was searching for the size and styles Mrs. Shorenstein had requested, she heard the doorbell ring forth its proclamation that another customer had escaped the rain washed city streets.

Shannon stuck her head out the curtain and saw an elderly gentleman in a tweed suit looking at the men’s loafers. “I’ll be right with you Sir,” she said loudly. He smiled and nodded, as Shannon returned to her search for Mrs. Shorenstein work shoes. Just as she found the right style and size, she heard the urgent “Cling. Cling.” of the front door opening once again.

Without looking towards the newest entrant, she made haste to Mrs. Shorenstein, where Hanna was hiding under the chair, acting like she was appearing and disappearing.

“Here. Try these,” she said, “I’ll see if I can find the other pair in just a moment.” Without hesitating, she quickened her step to the preppie young woman in pigtails who had entered on the last ring.

“Hello,” Shannon said. “Let me know if I can help.” Not waiting for a reply, she politely excused herself and went in the back room to search for Mrs. Shorenstein’s other request.

“Where is Leti?” she wondered, as she looked frantically for the right shoes. “It must be ten-thirty by now!”

Leti was the store manager. Not much older than Shannon herself, at age twenty-six, Leti had quickly impressed Mr. Estrada’s eldest daughter, Josephina, who had reluctantly inherited the family legacy.

Josephina saw that Leti had the passion for selling and gladly relinquished the time and attention it took to keep the competitive trade going. Leti was rapidly promoted to store manager. With her infectious personality and clever marketing strategy to a younger, more diverse consumer, she had doubled sales and increased net profit by thirty percent.

As the manager for the last six months, Leti had made a point of hiring young women, like Shannon, who needed some job experience and something to believe in. She remembered what it was like to be young, insecure and scared to death of not being liked or accepted.

Shannon almost shouted when she found the exact size seven in the correct color and style. She yanked the box from the middle of the stack. The boxes further up the chain fell and spilled their contents on to the old wooden floor. Leaving them where they lay, barely restraining herself from running, Shannon sprinted through the curtains. MORE

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The Calligrapher’s Secret

Review by Gabriel Constans for The New York Journal of Books

The Calligrapher’s Secret by Rafik Schami

Suspenseful, spectacular, and searing are not adjectives one would use to describe The Calligrapher’s Secret. Intriguing, intelligent, and multifaceted are far more accurate to convey what readers can expect from this well written story about love, art, family and Syrian culture.

The primary characters in this historical, yet contemporary novel are Hamid Farsi (the calligrapher), Noura (his wife), Nasri Abbani (wealthy philanderer) and Salman (the calligrapher’s apprentice). The detail Mr. Schami provides for these men and women is quite astounding, as it is for the minor players as well. Each of their personalities, characteristics, family life, childhood experiences, and cultural and political influences that shape and affect them is presented with precision, empathy, and nuance. The beauty of these descriptions is both a blessing and a curse, as some of the back story and pages devoted to such, become a little tedious and occasionally divert attention from the protagonists.

The author is quite adept at setting a scene and taking you for the ride. It’s as if you are peeking inside your neighbor’s kitchen or bedroom and seeing and hearing every intimate detail of what is happening through their eyes. Place, time, and events are also highlighted with powerful metaphors. When a mason hears of his son Jirji being beaten by a teacher at school, his anger and fury is described as, “He closed his eyes for a second, and saw a fine rain of burning needles against a dark sky.” After falling in love, it is said of Noura that, “From that day on, time flew past as if it were made of pure ether.”

An additional delight of The Calligrapher’s Secret, as well as interesting history and insight into calligraphy, the wearing of the veil and the Arabic alphabet, are the glimpses into Damascene and Syrian life in the 1950s and some of the customs, undercurrents and unspoken realities of the time (and today). “Faizeh told Mahmoud the butcher and her neighbor Samira in confidence that Salman was working as a chef in Kuwait for a good salary. ‘But that is strictly between our selves’ said Faizeh in conspiratorial tones. In Damascus, that was as good as a request to spread the news with great speed, and Mahmoud the butcher and Samira did valiantly.”

Mr. Schami’s writing shines with characters that embody and are shaped by gossip, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, secrets, and truths layered individually and collectively to create a story that should be savored and taken in at a leisurely pace. The end of the story is also a beginning—and includes a touching surprise. MORE
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Emmanuel’s Story

From ROP Stories.

This is Emmanuel, a fiery, precocious 11 year old. Or maybe he’s 12. Probably though, he’s only ten years old, judging by his size. You see, Emmanuel doesn’t know how old he is. He doesn’t know the year he was born, and if you ask him which day, his answer will be January 1st. Coincidentally that is the same birthday as many of the children staying at the Rwandan Orphans Project Center. Actually it’s not a coincidence at all, because Emmanuel is not alone in not knowing his actual birthday, so like many others he simply tells people he was born on January 1st.

Not knowing his own birthday is low on the list of difficulties young Emmanuel has faced in his short life. You see, the fact that he lives at the ROP Center means that he comes from a difficult background. But for the boy with the irresistible grin life has been particularly cruel. When he was, in his words “much younger” – keep in mind his current age when you read that – he witnessed his father beat his own mother to death right in front of him. Emmanuel’s father – he doesn’t recall his name – was part of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He doesn’t know if he was a survivor or a perpetrator, but he knows that it led him to a life of alcoholism and abuse. Often, his father would drink heavily and take out his aggression on Emmanuel, his mother and his young siblings. One day, in an alcohol fueled rage, his father beat his mother so badly with his walking stick that she died, right in front of little Emmanuel. To this day he doesn’t know what caused him to do it.

His father, being a cripple, was quickly apprehended by the police and subsequently given a life sentence in jail for his vicious crime. Emmanuel and his siblings had no relatives who could care for them, so they were left to fend for themselves. So Emmanuel did what so many children in Rwanda are forced to, he turned to the streets to survive. There his life became about just making it to the next day by any means possible. Begging for food and change was a necessity, but with gangs of street kids controlling the most profitable locales, it was not easy for a lone child to get anything for himself. If he did, usually the gangs would corner him and beat him until he surrendered it to them.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire. MORE

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Lucy In The Sky

Excerpt from Saint Catherine’s Baby – Stories.

LUCY IN THE SKY

The first gale of the season slammed inland from the frigid northwestern coast. It cut through her knotted muscles like a pickax breaking a block of ice. The howling wind attacked her defenseless anatomy with piercing needles of rain. There was no mercy. The cold didn’t care if she was animal, vegetable or mineral. It numbed her senses with fifty to sixty mile an hour gusts of furry; blowing her limber, toughened body two to three feet off the limb with each shot. If she hadn’t been watching the other branches submit to the storm’s passions and allowed her tiny ninety-eight pound figure to follow suit, she would have met a quick and lonely death. It was a sobering, hundred-foot fall from her precarious perch on high to the solid mass below.

Lucy had allowed the ancient redwood to keep her captive for six months. She saw no future in returning to earth’s sorry surface. Her short, twenty-six year old blond hair had turned white with constant exposure to the elements and the creases around her moss green eyes were etched deeply in her facial canvas. Her muscles felt like wet leather rope when she moved, slow as a koala, in the top third of the tree’s orbit. The numerous blisters on her hands and feet were covered with hardened calluses. The boils and scrapes on her face, neck and arms had left tiny blotches of fresh white skin where the scabs had completed their cycle and fallen with the trees flesh of decaying moss and bark.

She had first ascended the red giant in October, planning to stay for a few days, to protest government plans to cut down sections of her beloved, old-growth forest. When news of her action first hit the press she was barraged with admiration and contempt. Environmentalists thronged to her cause. Loggers and local mill-workers discounted her as a kook. Some came to hurtle insults, rocks and threats, but the distance and height gave her a cushion of immunity from both praise and defilement. What began as a single act of conscience had become a grueling marathon of determination, vigilance and stamina.

After the first weeks roar boiled down to a simmer and the journalists, ecologists and loggers went to fight other battles, Lucy remained embedded aloft in her swaying nest in the sky. Her good friend, Jenny, faithfully brought her essentials, including news and correspondence, three times a week. She bundled it all tightly in a large, green duffel bag, after replacing the empty containers Lucy let down by rope. Jenny wrote letters about her boyfriend, Zeek, and their latest breakup or fight. She told Lucy about recent rumors from Congress and various agreements to “protect” limit or sell “selective” acres for logging.

As the days began to shorten and weeks became months, Jenny pleaded with Lucy to reconsider her mission. “You’ve made your point,” she wrote. “Call it off. We need your help down here.”

The longer Lucy stayed, the more Jenny nagged. She didn’t mind the two-mile trek carrying in supplies week after week or the long absence of her room- mate. What had her worried and kept her awake at night were lingering images of Lucy’s face turning blue like frozen ice or finding her body splattered on the ground after a bone-breaking fall. She feared for her friend’s life, unable to understand that Lucy had never felt so alive. MORE
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Nicola Geiger: Peace In Hell

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

Events that can and often do, devastate us emotionally, can also be used for personal transformation and growth. Some individuals find hope and opportunity in the midst of adversity. They reach out to help others find comfort and healing. Some succeed to change laws, institutions, policies and assumptions.

Born and raised in Germany, Nicola Geiger lived in a young girl’s dream world; a luxurious home, close friends, material goods and parties galore. By the end of World War II she was homeless, without possessions and absent her loving family. Her father, mother and one-year-old son died shortly after the war began. When she was eight months pregnant with her second child she was raped. The child died at birth as a result of the trauma. She was interrogated and tortured in Poland, lost many close friends and her dear husband Rudolf disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Since her losses during the war, Nicola persisted in reaching out to others. Immediately after the war she worked with the International Red Cross and assisted refugees. After studying in England she moved to the U.S., met her second husband, fought against McCarthyism and became involved in the civil rights movement. When they moved on to Japan she became active in visiting the atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima, waged campaigns for world peace and fought for the rights of Koreans who had been enslaved and abused by the Japanese. When her husband died she decided to move to the Philippines. There she fought for democracy and the overthrow of the Marcos regime.

Ms. Geiger: (In picture above, holding photo of husband)

First of all, my two children died. One was a baby and the other was when I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant and was raped by twelve Russians. The child didn’t survive. It died right after birth. Fortunately, they found me in these ruins in Berlin. A lady heard me when I cried out for help and she took me to a Red Cross hospital. Then my husband disappeared and I never knew what happened to him. My father died a horrible death at the beginning of the war, which was said to be an accident, but it wasn’t – his legs were cut off while he was visiting a factory. Friends died and the absolute, total destruction of everything from the bombing. It was an enormous amount of simply taking in the losses.

Such losses can never be replaced. You’re totally wiped out . . . your associations and surroundings . . . furnishings that were two hundred years old, furniture, everything . . . so then you realize you are totally alone.

I was very active in helping refugees after the war. I moved to England where I studied theater. I came to America at the time of McCarthyism, where you were better dead than red. I was not going to stay in America one day longer with such attitudes and wouldn’t have if I hadn’t met my second husband. He was a scientist who’d worked on the Manhattan Project. He was really an extraordinary person.

I was very involved with anti-McCarthyism and the civil rights movement. I had never been told, “This is a Jew and this is a German.” I grew up in a socialist family and my father was extremely enlightened, as was my mother. My father was a Buddhist. He sat in the room where I was born and had prepared a meditation mat next to him so I could be put beside him upon birth.

I was very involved in the civil rights movement during the fifties and sixties and I worked a great deal with children in theater in order to empower them. I find theater to be a tool that is very useful. During the Vietnam War I continued in the civil rights movement. We lived in Philadelphia. There were sit ins from Baltimore up to Washington, women strike for peace and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. I was really involved with my whole heart then. When my husband went on sabbatical we went to Hiroshima Japan where he did research on atomic bomb victims, whom I worked with as well.

The Japanese had resettled two provinces in Korea and brought Koreans to Japan as slave laborers. In 1905 America and Japan made a treaty in which America took over the Philippines and Japan took over Korea. The Koreans were very badly treated, so I worked a great deal with Koreans in the Hiroshima area and in Kyoto after my husband died. I worked extensively with the Japanese peace movement and with the liberation people in Korea. For a couple years I moved to the Philippines because of my health. I lived with European journalists there and entered into the movement to oust the Marcos regime.

There was never a time when I wasn’t involved. It hasn’t been from an intellectual place. It really came from my own deep understanding of what life is about. The work I did was because I wanted to be in this world. I wanted to live in that light which takes away the occasion of all wars cruelty and control. I really understood, through my Buddhism, that I am the one that must work on myself . . . my ego. This is what I successfully did, in great part because of my experience with suffering.

Two of the major exercises which were brought to me when I was young, were to go over my day at night and decide what was harmonious and what was not. My parents did not speak of bad and good; they spoke of harmony and disharmony. They presented it in a way, because I was very small, that I was very much empowered. If I had done something, thrown a stone or fought with someone, I could go to that person and make it right or more accurately, harmonious.

My parents always used the bell. (She rings bell) The bell was used for settling down. My mother was not a Buddhist, but she saw how its values worked and she and father’s parenting was always together. There was also an enormous group of friends with whom we’d celebrate the change of the year. People would come together. Every weekend there would be music and poetry. It was an extremely interesting and wonderful life I grew up in.

I don’t really know how I managed to survive (the war), but I can tell you what happened. When I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, I thought, “I can change the world!” Don’t we all think that? I was nineteen when my father died on September 6, 1939, just six days after the war began. Then there was the attack on Poland and a few of my friends were killed. Then began the registration of food and nobody could travel on trains. Everything was regulated. My father was against Hitler and had voted against him in the election. Did you know he came into power with only thirty-three percent of the vote? A year after Hitler became chancellor he assassinated five thousand people, many who were homosexuals, gypsies (and political opponents). Five thousand people in two days! They were all rounded up.

When these things happened I really understood that I had no power; that I had been living in a fantasy; thinking my life could make a difference. I really understood that I was quite powerless, even though I knew many important people. I could go to them but they could not help me. I couldn’t say, “Let’s stop the war.” Then from my own view of the world, because of Buddhism, I really grasped, not so much understood, it really was a grasping, that I was responsible for myself and how I would live and what I would do in the midst of all that was going on. From 1943 on, when the totally destructive air raids came, I really lived day to day.

Why didn’t I have any feeling of revenge? I think this is fascinating. I thought it was futile to do so. I felt that to have these emotions were only hurting me. They didn’t give me any peace. I had feelings, not so much of revenge, but of anger and more anger. I wanted to lash back. But I began to understand very quickly, to grasp, that that would only hurt myself. I had to fight to really center down and my bell helped me with that. I centered down and did my Metta practice every day. Metta is a Buddhist meditation for loving-kindness. That was the thing to do. In many ways it’s a great mystery that I could do it. I think it had something to do with all the wonderful people I’d encountered through the years. The German people were not bad people. The people I’d been born in to were fine people. In human kindness and helpfulness I encountered many wonderful people.

So, I did my Metta practice. I didn’t deny my grief. Indeed, I felt it! I tried to commit suicide on my birthday on August 3rd, 1945. I took pills and my friends with whom I was staying came back home after I’d taken them. Luckily they’d forgotten something. I don’t speak of it very often. I was tired. I was so tired of knowing about evil. I was so tired that I wanted to rest forever. It’s really amazing all the things that went on around the world.

When I recovered, woke up and was back in the present, I was really grateful that I had lived! My time was not yet up. Indeed, I realized that I had a task. And each time someone died that was close to me; I carried them with me in their spirit. It’s like they’re marching with me. I’ve demonstrated and manifested in my life what most of the people who died would have done.

Paging Doctor Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest

The following excerpt is from Paging Doctor Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest. Paging Doctor Leff is the biography of an idealistic boy from New York who joined the Civil Air Patrol for God and country and never looked back. Dr. Arnie Leff, MD has fought many wars, overseas and at home. He stood up to his superiors in the Air Force during Viet Nam; locked horns with corporations and state bureaucracies as health commissioner of Cincinnati; jumped into the trenches at the beginning of the AIDS pandemic; and has pulled no punches with his often controversial opinions about drugs, euthanasia, health care and medical marijuana. He is presently a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine.

***

In 1986, people were just starting to feel their way through the dark when it came to understanding and treating AIDS.

Dr. Leff, who had been in public health for over 20 years (as an officer in Viet Nam, director of the Cincinnati Public Health Department and Cincinnati free clinics) decided to go into private practice for the first time in his life. This was no easy leap of faith and involved a different kind of personal responsibility than he was used to.

“I found a doctor on Seabright Avenue in the city of Santa Cruz, Dr. Blackwell, who at 80 years of age was still running a large geriatric practice. He was going to retire soon and let me use his office in the afternoons,” Arnie says. “Before I even left the health department, a man named Ray Martinez walked in my door and said, ‘I hear you’re going into private practice. I want to be your first patient.’ Ray had AIDS, and he became my first patient with HIV.”

After Dr. Blackwell retired, Dr. Leff took on many of his elderly patients and an ever-increasing number of people with AIDS. “I became the ‘AIDS doctor’ and was in the trenches for over eight years,” says Dr. Leff. “It was like a war. People got tested, discovered they were HIV Positive, and went through hell trying to stay alive and figure out what worked and what didn’t.”

In those days there was little information about AIDS, but Dr. Leff scoured the literature and spoke with everyone who knew anything about the disease. “I had to learn it all,” he says. “The first report I saw was in the New England Journal of Medicine about Kaposi’s sarcoma and pneumocystis pneumonia. These two diseases are very uncommon except in immune compromised people, and the Kaposi sarcoma was uncommon period. At first they thought it was a gay related immune disorder and called it GRID (Gay Related Immune Disorder). It took about five years for everybody to figure out how big the problem was and that it was not restricted to gay men, even though they were the primary people affected in the U.S. at that time. It wasn’t until about 1984 or ’85 that we had a blood test to identify it.

“So, I had a lot of public health background and obtained what knowledge of the disease I could, but had no clinical experience in treating it. In fact, I had little clinical knowledge at all. I was really jumping into boiling oil when I took this on. It was like I was a baby thrown to the wolves, but in this case the wolves took me in, protected me, and helped me learn what I needed to know to survive and help them survive, as long as possible. It was quite a shift from seeing 20 people a month [his last major clinical experience, when he saw police officers in Cincinnati] to 20 people a day.

“In the beginning of the epidemic, it was primarily oncologists who saw AIDS patients, because it manifested with Kaposi sarcoma, which is a cancer. Now, that is rarely seen. After a brief period, however, the oncologists passed on their AIDS patients because they didn’t know how to treat all the other underlying symptoms. There were also a few infectious disease docs in town treating the disease, but a number of gay men had problems with their attitudes and bedside manner. Because of these realities and concerns, I became the defacto ‘AIDS doc’ in town. I kept up on the literature and frequently spoke with Paul Volberding, who is now a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, but at the time was the director of the AIDS clinic at San Francisco General.”

“We had all these young patients whose immune systems were shot, but were otherwise healthy,” Dr. Leff says. “The dying process for these patients was very difficult. We had hospice services at the time, but they were learning along with the rest of us about what worked and what didn’t. During those years, I believe I made more referrals to hospice than any doctor in the county, other than oncologists.

“The physical challenges were staggering. Histoplasmosis is a fungal disease that occurs in the Midwest. It is like a flu. Most people get it, don’t feel well for awhile, and then recover. Candida is a disseminating yeast that can effect healthy people, but is not life threatening. For people with AIDS, both Histoplasmosis and Candida were deadly. We also saw them picking up meningitis from a fungal disease, as well as lymphomas and central nervous system lesions (toxoplasmosis). To top it all off, many of those afflicted also developed dementias.

“I remember one patient who was admitted to the psychiatric unit at the hospital because he had HIV dementia. He couldn’t control himself or his bodily functions. He was a mess. We got him into a halfway house, but the mental health people refused to put him in their system. They said they couldn’t handle AIDS dementia because it was physical and not psychological. I told them the guy was clearly psychotic and had no place else to go. The nursing homes wouldn’t take him because he was psychotic, and the mental health folks wouldn’t take him because AIDS was his primary diagnosis. He wound up staying as an inpatient at Dominican Hospital for four and a half months. It was tragic; a young man living, most of the time able to ambulate, in the hospital for over four months, and dying there, too.

“That was some of the war-like quality the epidemic presented. I felt like I had to beat down some barriers, even if it took force. I spent eight years teaching every doctor in town, every specialist, nurse, x-ray tech, and health professional I could speak with, about AIDS. Some didn’t like it, some walked out, and some refused to treat them. It was frustrating and sad. I told them the truth that yes, they could possibly die from coming in contact with an infected needle, but that was already true in their profession; it was part of the risk they took every day already. I’ve had four or five needle sticks in my career. It was scary. I got myself tested again and again and again, to make sure.

“I was having enough trouble dealing with all the deaths and loss by itself, let alone having to continually confront a system that didn’t want to budge. I was having, on average, one patient a week dying from the disease. I probably had 50 or more deaths in one year. Some of those were geriatric patients as well, but it was enough to warrant a significant support system. When I first went into practice, there had only been one person who died of AIDS in the entire county.”

“People didn’t understand,” said Dr. Leff. “I was watching people die, and often there was nothing I could do about it. We had no treatment, no cure. It was the first major epidemic since Polio, which died out in the ‘60s, though in some areas it has now resurfaced. I saw myself as a soldier in the war against disease, and the reality was that there were casualties on both sides. The docs, the patients, the nurses, were all affected emotionally, if not physically. There continue to be casualties to this day.”

The Curse of a Thousand Camel Fleas

The following excerpt is from the fascinating and hilarious book by Amanda Turner called The Curse of a Thousand Camel Fleas (with author’s permission). If you are a publisher and/or editor and are interested in reviewing the entire manuscript, please contact Amanda Turner.

From the Sex Machine Museum in the Czech Republic to crossing the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, The Curse of a Thousand Camel Fleas by Amanda Turner, brings armchair travelers along on a whirlwind worldwide tour of working in film and television. This travelogue chronicles the cultural blunders, lost luggage and well-intentioned disasters of life out of a suitcase in cities around the world, including London, Paris, Athens, Rome, Venice, Milan, Florence, Prague, Marrakesh, Casablanca and Barcelona, as well as islands in the South Pacific and Micronesia.

Chapter One – THE BIG SCREEN

There were times in the Azemmour River when I thought the muck might swallow me entirely. This was not the Moroccan experience I’d had in mind and would surely prove detrimental to my pedicure. Already knee-deep in water, I found myself sinking further into what was supposed to be the ground, until the river rose above my waist. There is a distinct chill and involuntary intake of air, more so than with any other part of my body, when cold water reaches the sides of my belly, that stubbornly pudgy area above my hips but below my ribcage. The added pounds in that region do not like to be touched by anyone or anything.

I clumsily tried to reposition a canoe for an upcoming shot and marveled at the absurdity of having rolled up my jeans. What I had thought would be ankle-deep water was quickly heading in the direction of breast-deep. “Don’t fall over,” I whispered to myself. The mud under my feet couldn’t seem to keep still, but kept twisting around as if trying to get comfortable. In addition to ordering myself not to fall, I’d flail my arms out to my sides in a miserably inadequate and desperate flapping motion to steady myself. Complete submersion in this water was not on my list of things to do; it had been clearly stated from the start that “due to contamination concerns,” we should all try to avoid getting in the water. My right foot sank deeper. I thought about the fact that I had once paid someone for a mud bath; what had I been thinking? My left foot, suddenly freed of suctioning muck from a burp in the earth below, shot straight up into the air. Attempts to keep my torso and head dry failed as I went down in a splash entirely lacking in grace. I sputtered to the surface to hear the boss, dry and warm in his big fluffy coat, barking orders through a bullhorn from the other side of the river. He wanted to know why the canoes were not yet in place. Two embittered thoughts struck me then, neither of which had anything to do with the wretched canoes. The first was that whenever I’d imagined myself sloshing through an unsanitary river in Africa in a volunteer capacity, these actions were associated with a more humanitarian cause than the filming of a Hollywood picture. My second and far more troubling thought was that because sewage from the surrounding towns made its way into the river at various points, what I took to be the river bottom was probably made up entirely of poo.

Buddha’s Wife – Excerpt

Excerpt from the novel Buddha’s Wife. Yasodhara was Siddhartha’s wife before he became known as The Buddha. Pajapati was Siddhartha’s step-mother (Yasodhara’s mother-in-law) and the only mother Siddhartha ever knew. His birth mother died shortly after he was born (as did Yasodhara’s mother).

***

I dreamed of my visit to find Siddhartha in Uruvela after leaving Rajagaha and our meeting with Davidia.

Pajapati was reluctant to go out of our way, not because she didn’t wish to listen to Siddhartha’s teachings and learn more about the freedom he claimed to have discovered, but because of the pain and agony she knew it would cause me. But I insisted, and Pajapati had learned long ago that I am not easily swayed once I’ve made up my mind.

Though the Ordained Followers of the Teacher from Sakya, as they were called by villagers, already numbered in the thousands, it took some time to find them in the vihara (sanctuary) on the outskirts of Uruvela. The vihara had been donated by Siddhartha’s devotees Anathapindika and Jeta. The area was called Jetavana and the followers called themselves the Union of Bhikkhus. They were protected in Jetavana, yet seldom remained there long and often slept out in the open.

I was taken aback to see women at the camp, as I had always been under the impression that they were forbidden. Pajapati asked a woman carrying water to a group of men if she was with the Buddha.

“I am a lay disciple,” she replied. “We follow our husbands and sons who have been called to live a life of renunciation and seek liberation from desire and suffering.” She continued walking and we followed.

“But surely, they have not allowed you to take orders and don robes like the men?” I asked, running to keep up.

“Oh no,” she replied. “Being of service to the followers of Gotama is reward enough.”

We watched the woman pour her jug of water into the cups of the men with robes and shaved heads. There were not many women present, but one or two I recognized. I saw Yasa’s wife and mother, who had left the province, unexpectedly, six months earlier. Rumors that they had gone to follow the Tathagata circulated freely, but I didn’t realize they had not only sought the Buddha, but had literally joined their husband and son as lay disciples. The realization that, unlike most practices of the day, one did not have to leave their family to follow a religious life threw a cold bucket of pain in my face. I stood as frozen as snow on the peak of a Himalayan mountain in winter. Pajapati was hit with the same realization. She saw the shock on my face and realized what I was thinking.

“Yasodhara,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”

I couldn’t move or reply.

“Come on.” Pajapati pulled at my sleeve. “Let’s go. The carriage is waiting.”

I remained immobile. My hands opened and closed stiffly. My fingers turned white and my face crimson red.

“That idiot!” I exclaimed, so loudly that Pajapati tried to hide inside her sari. “What a liar—a thoughtless, selfish liar!”

“Come on!” Pajapati pulled frantically at my sleeve. “Don’t make a scene.”

“How could he leave us?!” I said loudly, tears sliding down my cheeks. “He didn’t have to leave us!”

Pajapati wrapped her arm around me and lead me away as people watched and listened.

“He’s a demon!” I cried. “He’s destroyed every dream.”

“Come, come,” Pajapati soothed, her eyes wet with sympathy. “I understand.”

“Understand?” I stopped and stared. “How can you understand? He left me; he left Rahula. He discarded us like a sack of rocks. For what?” I motioned towards the followers. “Adoration for a coward—a man who talks about peace, but leaves his family in torment?”

“Stop it!” Pajapati shouted, dragging me into the waiting carriage. “That’s my step-son you’re talking about, and he’s the furthest thing from a demon I’ve ever known.”

Siddhartha had been informed later that day about a disturbance on the outskirts of the gathering. Something about a rich woman yelling obscenities and her mother escorting her out of the area. He wished them peace.

The Tao of a Woman

The author of The Tao of a Woman suggests readers carry the book with them (which easy to do, as it is only about 2X4 inches) and read a section, page or line, whenever one is looking for inspiration, direction or counsel. There are different themes and sections which include, The Gift, The Teacher, Time and Timing, Openings and Closings, Love and Healing, Relationships, Who Be Kind To, Where You Are Now, The Daily Practice and Live The Life Now.

In the forward, Dr. Ritterman tells us that the content is an accumulation of wisdom she has acquired from great books, teachers and personal experience, which she has also used in her private psychotherapy practice by giving her clients small post-it notes at the end of a session, which contain words about what they have accomplished. She has found that these notes end up on refrigerators, in purses or wallets, at desks, on nightstands and countless other locals.

There are a lot of gems in The Tao of a Woman and ways of looking at life, suffering and change, that readers can appreciate and savor. While being both helpful and supportive, what catches one by surprise, are some of the concepts and phrases which throw you outside the box of usual expectations for a “spiritual” or “inspirational” collection of words. Here are a few examples. “The child who knows how to be bad and how to be good, knows twice as much as the child who knows only how to be good.” In the section on time she writes, “A moment arrives when you cannot get out of a country, a situation, a job, a relationship. Borders, doors, opportunities close. Read the signs so that you can leave before you can’t.” In Openings and Closings it is said, “If you see trouble coming, however stunning it may appear to be, whether it is a speeding shiny car, an attractive lover turned violent, or the funnel of an awesome tornado, you can go the other way, can you not?

This book also contains great beauty and insight. “Depart before you would cause harm. Return what you borrow in better condition than you found it. Leave your lovers better off than when they met you. When you go, people will sense a certain cool breeze or discover that you have left behind, in a dark corner, a little basket full of light.” “Healing is dreaming of what is not yet. We work with the forces of love and creativity to make the dream of wholeness come true. It will take all of us to heal the planet, as if we were one body, one breath, one heart and one love. That is the idea of a world at peace. Hatred has no wings to fly us there.” Part of A Lesson From the Heart says, “Your heart is an upside down tree drawing nourishment from the earth and rooted in the divine. Even your broken heart can be port of entry for one who grieves.”

Not only is The Tao of a Woman useful as a practical down to earth collection of acquired wisdom that anybody can use, it is also kind to the eyes, with a beautifully lyrical layout and typeset. Even though it is small in size, it is easy to read. Isabelle Allende wrote the forward for one of Michele Ritterman’s books and it is easy to see why they connected. Like Isabelle, Michele writes with down to earth surrealism that is rooted in day to day life and ways in which we can open ourselves to the unknown, while acknowledging the known.

A Chocolate Life

Excerpt from Luscious Chocolate Smoothies: An irresistible collection of healthy cocoa delights.

The Chocolate Journey Begins

Xocoatil was the Aztecs’ word for “chocolate”. They called it the “bitter drink” and considered it a gift from the Gods. The cocoa bean has been cultivated for the last 1000 years and recorded as early as 2000 BC.

Cocoa was first introduced to Europe when Cortés brought the beans to Spain and offered them to the Emperor in the early 1500s. By adding Cinnamon, heat and sugar, they improved the bitter taste. The discovery of cocoa by the Spaniards was so provocative that they kept its existence a secret for almost a century until it was smuggled by monks to France. By the 1650s it had crossed the channel to England and the North American colonies of the English and the Dutch.

Good for the Heart

Cocoa powder and chocolate contain rich sources of polyphenol antioxidants, which are the same beneficial compounds found in fruits, vegetables and red wine that may reduce the risk of developing heart disease. It is believed that damage done in the body by free oxygen radicals is linked to heart disease and other maladies connected with aging. There is some research that indicates that antioxidants in the blood stream help eliminate free radicals, thus reducing the risk of developing heart disease. Dark chocolate contains more antioxidants, per 100 grams, then prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, kale, strawberries, spinach, raspberries, Brussels sprouts, plums, alfalfa sprouts, oranges, red grapes, red bell pepper, cherries, onion, corn or eggplant.

Audrey’s Amore

3 cups chocolate milk (dairy, soy, or rice)
10 large ripe strawberries
2 small bananas
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend on medium speed for 1 minute. Chill for five minutes, pour into tall glasses and serve naked (literally or figuratively).

Yield: 5 cups

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