Lassie, Monkey and Memories

Banner and Bea

Bea’s banner goes up at the Botanical Gardens

Each morning at 7.30 a.m. David runs across the terrace, knocks on, and then opens the door and calls out, “Granny”! For there is book reading to be done or green play-dough dinosaurs (dinosaurs are green at the moment) to be made before breakfast. But today David came early only to help Granny with her morning yoga and then left. He took his Mama off to Palermo, to his music class and then for Bea to hang the banner for her show that opens on Saturday at the Botanical Gardens by Plaza Italia.

So I’ve not felt this morning stillness since arriving in Buenos Aires two and half weeks ago. The early delivery of food crates for the restaurant down below have been stacked and we won’t hear more until later this afternoon when it is time to chop vegetables for the evening meals.

Lassie and Monkey

My Monkey – and sofa too

Lassie has come to join me as he (yes he) does everyday now. The ‘Abuela Dome’, as we have named the little studio, is a quiet place where he can rest his tired old body on the sofa, paws wrapped firmly around monkey.

This morning after laying my breakfast carefully out on the little table, I looked at every piece of china and food and saw memories alongside of breakfast.

Breakfast

Breakfast for one in the Abuela Dome

There is honey from our bees in Bolinas, and homemade strawberry jam made by Bea. The stewed apple are in one of two Johnson Bros, Indie bowls that I found at the street market at Plaza Dorrego one Sunday.

We got the money honey.

“It is an antique.” No, I first had that set in London thirty-five years ago. Does that make an ‘antique’? The petal-pink teapot came from the San Telmo Market when we first knew we would make a little home here. On it is the tea cosy I knit for the tea pot in the work kitchen of Tetro when the film crew were based in San Telmo in 2008. The bright and cheery butter dish was bought as a souvenir from our overnight visit to Uruguay last year. A surprise storm kept us there where we were lucky to be able to return to our hotel and ‘if’ we could find cash, still get a good deal.

The French Jacques Cout un Jandin …en plus milk jug came from a small village shop in Corsica. We went to visit old friends for the weekend and stayed on in their villa for ten days after their return to Paris, celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. One afternoon a big thunder storm came across the bay and we stood naked, watching from the tall glass veranda doors, mesmerized as the darkening clouds and rain came closer and closer to finally wash over us and leave a calming stillness in its wake.

The Heirloom Royal Albert tea cup and plate belonged to my mother-in-law Katharine. I remember her at the end of a long day in New York City, sipping her tea while often smoking a cigarette. If my husband’s memory is correct this tea-set would have been from her mother, Mary Elizabeth Scott and probably sent as a wedding present from England to Mary Elizabeth MacCallum on her marriage to Thomas Beckett Scott in Canada. The tea-set was soon packed up carefully and taken to Ceylon in 1893 where she and her husband worked as medical missionaries, directing the Green Memorial Hospital and starting a nursing school. In 1913 Mary and Thomas retired and returned to the States where, until 1925, they ran the Walker Missionary Home at Auburndale, Mass, caring for the children left behind from other missionary workers.

Tea time, on another continent, with another generation

How much of the set made it back from Ceylon, now Sri Lanka? Did Mary Elizabeth sit at the end of her day and draw comfort from the delicate china as well as the tea, as did her daughter Katharine? After Mary died in 1941 was the tea-set divided up between her four daughters? Who got the tea pot, milk jug and sugar bowl?

This day began with old memories and ends with new. Lassie has returned to the sofa to hug his monkey. Beatrice joins me in our quiet catch-up ritual, sipping our late afternoon tea in San Telmo, Buenos Aires.

The little tea-set has traveled many miles over many years, bringing comfort along with tea to four generations of women. We have been blessed and are grateful.

A Letter from Madrid

By Saturday morning the sun had come out in Madrid, where we were staying at the Hotel Reina Victoria in the center of town. Around the plaza and on the sidewalks the cafe owners had already pulled out their tables. Tourists and workers were stopping for their first cup of coffee. As I began to write I was given courage and comfort that we are nestled in the Barrio de las Letras, home to Lope de Vega, Cervantes y Quevedo.

The Barrio de las Letras

My days began with an hour and a half scribbling in my notebooks at breakfast. As I came downstairs Walter would be all ready to leave for the film school. He had two and a half full days of lectures to give and, while he loves the speaking, thinking and people, he would be tired by Sunday.

WSM thinking about what to say next

The hotel restaurant is a destination unto itself and through the early morning quickly fills with hotel guests, tourists, city residents, and business folk meeting and breaking bread together as they plan out the day ahead. At 10.30 a.m the music, though still easy listening, gets turned up 4 decibels to remind us all this is a happy place. The three young people beside me all start out their breakfast with a full bowl of pineapple and a tall glass of orange juice. I think how disciplined they are until the second arrives, scrambled eggs and pancakes with syrup. They are young.

Choosing breakfast

On my first morning after breakfast, I left the hotel and turned left, down a one-car-width cobbled street, knowing that three lefts would bring me past the Teatro de la Comedia and the National Teatro Real, which is performing a play by Virginia Wolf, and back into the Plaza St. Martin. The streets were quiet and not all the shops were open. Deliveries were being made. A man stood in the middle of the street speaking on his cell phone while leaning on a roll away bag full of medical equipment. A young man scooted by, propelling himself with one foot on his dolly which was stacked high with boxes of supplies. Older, maybe than me, women walked slowly with crumpled shopping bags only half full. Some were pulling their reluctant toy dogs along with them. The poorer women come out early and are alone. It is the middle-class women who have time for companionship and coffee.

We have not been in Spain for 53 years and, as we drove in from the airport on Thursday afternoon, it was strange to look around and not recognize anything from that time. But the dry scrubby landscape reminded me of the drive into the city of Buenos Aires from that airport in their summer time. Entering the city I become aware of the influence of Spain, as strong as any Parisian or Italian, on Buenos Aires and am suddenly homesick for that city.

When the first evening’s session came to a close a group of ten of us, some from the school and some professionals and academics from Barcelona, returned to the hotel. Gathered around a long table we were quickly served with a series of small plate tapas and glasses of rioja. We began to unwind and explore each other’s lives. Riccardo is a sound designer, now living in Barcelona, and was the one who drove us back from the school into the city. He is from Argentina. He is a grandparent like us, his little Otto lives in Berlin, while our David is in Buenos Aires, where Ricardo comes from. Our grandsons are born on the same day and we are full of simpatico laughter as we talk about our comrades in film, our grandchildren, and struggles with each other’s languages. He assures me that the tiny little fish balls he is offering me are a type of Jaws and it takes us all a while to understand he means shark!
“You must come to Argentina again and see us there.” I say. His face turns serious and he quietly replies, “I will never go back.”
“When did you leave?”
“1974.” And he looks at me with deep sadness as I take in what he is saying. He left, fled, during the troubles.
“There are many Argentines here in Madrid and in Barcelona.” He repeats, “I will never go back. Here in Spain the dictatorship was forty years, in Argentina only seven but the results were very similar.”

Slowly it dawns on me, or do I suddenly come to understand and accept something I have known all along, that the displacement of peoples, one tribe for another, by one government for another, a nation overtaking another, is a constant occurrence. That the sweeping push of power that flows over and through continents, brushing peoples down and away, always crushing many even as a few can rise, survive and thrive, is ever with us. The big questions are found in the smallest of gestures and remain for us all. Who will help the other? Who shares the open hand and gives from the heart?

That first evening a taxi was waiting outside of the hotel to take me to the film school. The driver spoke little English but had a picture of his three year old son on his phone. We talked of sons and grandsons. After over twenty minutes driving through and out of the city he stopped at the address he had been given but we were both unsure. That building looked very closed up. I got out of the taxi and rang the buzzer on the locked door. Soon an elderly guard came out and looked at my instructions. Luckily the young driver had waited and talked with the guard before he held the door open again and gestured for me to get back into the taxi. We drove further on and around a corner to the ECAM. A woman leaned out of a window and told him where I needed to be. He opened the door again and I gave him my hand. I really am too tall for taxis. I was grateful for his kindness as he pointed the way forward, where I should, and he could not, go. I thanked him in shy Spanish and with a smile. He held onto my hand for a moment longer and looked at my face with a masculine appreciation. Whatever happens next, I am grateful.

Photographs of WSM from the ECAM staff and twitter feed

WSM and some ECAM Staff at the close of the seminar

This is the end – my friend

Glasgow Bound

Beatrice presenting her book at the Feria del Libro in Buenos Aires

Beatrice presenting her book at the Feria del Libro in Buenos Aires

Taking a night train tonight from London to Glasgow. A new adventure for The Bell Lap and I as we go to the Royal College of Nursing Congress and Exhibition 2016Wisepress is featuring The Bell Lap at 11.20 am through noon on Tuesday June 21 (stand number A9). I have no idea what to expect – a big convention hall and masses and masses of people wandering about. Hopefully some folks will have tired feet and want to sit down and listen to a story or two. Thinking of Beatrice when she presented her book on the A-line subway in Buenos Aires in 2014.

From Wards to Words and Back Again

It was 1995 when Between the Heartbeats Poetry and Prose for Nurses was first published by the University of Iowa State Press. Conceived and edited by Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer, this was the first Anthology of Creative Writing by Nurses, gathered from around the world.

Heartbeats at Chapters Bookstore DC

Between the Heartbeats writers at Chapters Book Store, Washington DC, 1995

 For many nurses it was the first time our medical writing had been accepted for publication. That summer as many of us who could, maybe twenty out of fifty contributors, came to Chapters Book Store in Washington DC for our first ever reading. This coincided – not unintentionally – with the annual general convention of the American Nurses Association. The evening was exciting, scary and thrilling. Scary because we were reading our own work and thrilling because we were hearing the words and work of other nurses. All of us facing the same direction, our voices so different and yet so deeply in tune with each another. There was an audience, listening, applauding and asking questions. One man spoke up, “Wow, this is amazing. Can’t wait for when you present this to the ANA”. We were all silent before Cortney, in her calmest most diplomatic way, (her speciality) replied, “Actually we won’t be at the convention. They don’t want us and won’t let us present the book there.” Among the audience were nurses who would be at the convention. We were all stunned, silenced and sobered that those nurses for whom we wrote did not deem our words necessary or supportive of their work.

As nurse writers we came together for that weekend forming a tight union of sorts, loosely knit, tendrils of thought, vision, each of us seeing and transforming through words, our patients in the wards, clinics and communities we serve. Since those early years we have continued to write, sending each other our books, reviewing and commenting for each other, hosting nurses writers on the radio and spoke of our work to audiences wherever we could.

Coming together was always a chancy affair but we get our moments. Two years ago The Medical University of North Carolina held its first “Narrative Bridge Conference”. Five of us, Jeanne Bryner, Cortney Davis, Veneta Masson, Judy Schaefer and myself, made it there for the long weekend;. We were billed as “The Nurse Poets” and that is what we have become. Through the years more books of poetry, prose, creative non-fiction and novels have been written and published and within the ‘about the author’ description the word “Nurse” always leads. This is who we are, this is where we speak from, whenever and wherever we can.

It was Lisa Kerr from the MUSC school of nursing who again called us together this year. Lisa wrote asking if we could come, not only to speak to the faculty and students of the nursing school but that there could be an opportunity to perform as The Nurse Poets in the annual Piccolo Spoleto Arts Festival at the Dock Street Theatre. New books had been published, among them, Jeanne Bryner’s poetry Smoke, Cortney Davis’ When the Nurse Becomes a Patient, which won an American Journal of Nursing Book Award for 2015 and my 2016 The Bell Lap Stories for Compassionate Nursing Care were all hot off the press and we were eager to share our work. I was ending a roll-out with The Bell Lap, coming down from New York and a launch at the National Arts Club with the great cartoonist, and tonight – host – Roz Chast whose book about the final years of her parent’s lives Can’t we Talk about Something More Pleasant, remains a best seller.

A little help with the night before prep.

A little help with the night before prep.

It was – is – fun to be on the other side of the microphone. This was a first for Roz who is more used to being questioned about her work, and almost a first for me, being more used to asking those questions. With her questions and comments, memories surprised me and in the quickness of the moment words did not always take the long route – through my brain – as they rushed from my heart to my mouth. Maybe it was not the smartest thing to recall ‘my first leg,’ after Roz’s question about my failed operating room experiences. And so we learn. Beloved friends were there and I was more than grateful to see nurses in the audience, plus a doctor or two. Paul Gross and Dianne Guernsey who co-edit Pulse Magazine “Voices from the Heart of Medicine” came in on the train, Cousin Tom rode the bus from Cap Cod and nurse colleague Gerry Colburn traveled in from New Hampshire.

Tony and Peter and MAM

A Hug from Tony and Peter After it is all over.

It was a great evening and gave me the needed boost and courage to fly down to Charleston and join the band – not yet a rock band – The Nurse Poets.

Four of us had made it and it was grand to be together. Jeanne had driven for two days from Ohio. Cortney flew from Connecticut, Veneta from Washington DC and I from London, via New York. At breakfast we celebrated with coffee and grits. We quickly shared our stories, families, the agonies of book promotions and knowing as all women of a certain age do, that we will continue to balance these lives until illness, infirmity or death claim us.

At noon, under Lisa’s guidance, we spoke at MUSC nursing school for more faculty than students but how eager they all were, how they knew the importance of story, the lives led before and beyond the illness of the patient. Then an afternoon break before being driven past the Emanuel Church where flowers are still laid out daily in remembrance of last years tragedy to an early supper of fine southern food. (Where oh where do I get the real recipe for Green Fried Tomatoes?)

Then we walked to the Dock Street Theater where the audience was already gathering for our evening performance. The theatre is nestled in a small courtyard, intimate and perfect for poetry readings. The seats filled quickly and chairs were added along-side the cloisters until there was standing room only. We sat, warm but not hot, under the evening sky. Our time was tight, and so were we. Introductions by Barbara, the organizer of the festival. then Lisa, organizer of us and then, following each other in alphabetical order, we were on. Each of us brought our full-to-overflowing hearts to the mics and poured out our words. Jeanne watching family, Cortney and Veneta their clinics, and I from the wards and communities before returning to nursing school with an excerpt from The Bell Lap.

Veneta Masson, Cortney Davis, Muriel Murch, Jeanne Bryner

Veneta Masson, Cortney Davis, Muriel Murch, Jeanne Bryner

The audience rose to applaud these words that came from our hearts and our memories. Why did they love us so? We were good 🙂 yes but was it just the words, or was it the knowledge that with these words they know we have seen them, as people before patients. We have marked and held them in our hearts and returned them to themselves, thus received and healed, if not cured. Giving this audience an understanding that as these words have come from the wards to them they may also return to the new young nurses of today.

Jeanne, Miriam from L.A., Venetta and Muriel

Jeanne, Miriam (The next generation), Veneta and Muriel enjoy the reception for The Nurse Poets.