My StudyWelcome to the Wider World of Nancy Conyers!  Yes, I’m taking the plunge and dipping into the ponds I’ve crossed and the ponds I’ve lived in and I’m going to start blogging.  I’m not sure yet how often I’ll be posting, but I do know I’ll be musing on the difference between traveling somewhere versus living there, and posting about things that have deep meaning to me after living in twelve cities on three continents in my adult life.  I’ll also be talking about the craft and process of writing, and the concept of being a writer/calling yourself a writer before you’ve been published.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Goodbye 2017!

I am SO ready to sweep 2017 into the dustbin. What a horrible year…the results of the election, a new low every frigging day since that disgraceful thing who’s trying to pass as president took office. It’s no fun being an American right now–whether you live in the U.S. or abroad. I am SO ready for 2018!

Libby and I moved three times last year…out of our house in Santa Fe, out of our apartment in Malmö, Sweden, and into our apartment in Singapore. Even for us, a couple whose spent our life together moving around, that was way too much. It’s a damn good thing i’m healthy again.

I cannot WAIT until the midterm elections in 2018. I’m hoping the Repugs are going to get their collective asses kicked. I’m also hoping Robert Mueller is going to produce impeachable evidence, though the thought of Pence, Paul Ryan or Orrin Hatch disgusts me, but not as much as Trump disgusts me.

I’m looking forward to the release, on January 16th, of my dear Krista Suh’s (the creator of the Pussyhat) book, DIY Rules for a WTF World.

I’m also looking forward to finding a way to getting a long term visa for Singapore. This whole not being recognized officially as a married couple is getting on my last nerve.

2018 is the year Libby and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary. There are no words to describe how wonderful it feels to be able to say that. When we threw in our lot together we didn’t know any other gay or lesbian couple who’d been together very long. One of the joys of 2017 was having Telaina Eriksen ask me to contribute to her book “Unconditional: A Guide to Loving and Supporting Your LGBTQ Child.” If you haven’t already, please buy this important book.

Another joy of 2017 was having my story “Health 520” published in Tiferet. Thanks to Gayle Brandeis for accepting it.

As Libby and I close out the year with her mother, Barbara, who’s been with us for the last month, we want to wish you and yours a happy, healthy and non-Repug New Year!

 

 

 

 

Pussyhat Power!

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This is the fabulous Krista Suh, one of the co-founders of the fabulous Pussyhat Project https://www.pussyhatproject.com wearing one of her fabulous Pussyhats. If you haven’t heard of the Pussyhat Project by now you must be living under a rock so please climb out and click on the link and read about this incredible movement that has swept the wide world and caused every yarn shop in the U.S. to run out of pink yarn.

I met Krista in April of 2008 when we were living in Shanghai and she was there for a semester taking an intensive Mandarin language course at Jiao Tong University. Krista had taken a semester off from Barnard because, true to her form, she had taken so many classes and done so well she would have been able to graduate a semester early but she wanted to graduate with her friends and classmates so her mother suggested she go to Shanghai and stay with her aunt and perfect her Mandarin.

Krista came to the inaugural Out Loud! a reading series for emerging writers where I was one of the featured readers. When I was introduced, the teaching I was doing in Shanghai was mentioned and afterward Krista came up to me and said, “Miss Conyers, I want to take one of your writing classes.” I told her, “Call me Nancy,” and again she said, “Miss Conyers, I want to take one of your writing classes.” I told her they would be finishing at the end of the month but would start up again in August. She would be gone by then she told me. I was a bit dismissive and told her sorry. She followed me and again said she wanted to study with me. Sorry, my classes are almost finished i told her. She was perseverant, tenacious, and wouldn’t let go. “What if I take private lessons?” Sorry, I’m busy, I told her which was code for I’m tired. She again asked about private lessons, I shook my head no but there was something about her that weakened my resolve. She asked for my email, I gave it her to her and a few emails later we agreed to a schedule for her private classes.

We had 8 sessions before Krista left Shanghai to go back to Barnard. She came to every class totally prepared. She read everything I assigned and wrote more than was required. She pushed me to the limit as a teacher. Our classes were supposed to be 2 hours but always went over because she was so engaged and engaging and she wanted to write so badly.

Krista is every teacher’s dream and like all great students she became the teacher. I bet I taught Krista everything I knew in the first ten minutes. Now she is teaching me. More than that we have become friends. I value her wisdom, insights, ability to listen, her creativity, her generosity of heart, and admire how she’s become a writer, how she’s living the creative life, and making things happen her way.

I will also never forget that she was one of my angels when I was staying in Los Angeles for 2 months while I was undergoing radiation therapy. The day after I got to LA she came to get me, arrived with a huge bouquet of beautiful roses that she had artfully put in a beautiful vase, and took me shopping. Every Friday she came and picked me up and took me to radiation and spent the day with me.

I’m amazed, but not surprised, at how the Pussyhat Project has taken off and I’m so proud of Krista (and her co-founder, Jayna Zweiman, who I do not know) for what they have created. I will be back in Sweden on January 21st but Libby and I plan to watch the Women’s March on Washington on CNN. We will have our Pussyhats on and we can not wait to see that sea of pink pop out of our TV screen. My heart swells every time someone mentions Pussyhats especially when they don’t know I know Krista and tell me about it so I can be in the know.

Usually I’m the one who wears people down, not the one who gets worn down. There was something special in Krista that allowed her to wear me down and get me to agree to work with her. Maybe it was ming yun 命运 the concept of fate and destiny meeting with free will and circumstance. Whatever it was I’m glad and grateful I’ve gotten into Krista’s orbit. Her heart and her smarts are going to take her far and make the world a better place. They already have.

I remember back in the 70’s when there were massive protests about the Vietnam War you’d hear people say, “Power to the people, right on!” Now we can say, “Power to the Pussyhats, right on!”

 

This Land Is My Land. This Man Is Not My President.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_3Chqt887E

One of my favorite movies of all time is Working Girl. I’ve probably watched it over 20 times and I bet I’ve watched this opening scene close to 100 times. When the melodic strains of Carly Simon’s “Let The River Run” begin with the camera close to Lady Liberty’s face and then the camera begins to pan out as Carly starts singing the lyrics I always tear up and feel a surge of love for my home country, a surge of homesickness for New York City, a surge of sadness for the Twin Towers. I just watched this again and I didn’t tear up, I sobbed, and felt not a surge of homesickness but a surge of sickness and disgust. I am shattered. Lady Liberty is shattered. My country is shattered.

A Commander in Chief was not elected–an Exploiter in Chief was. This man will stop at nothing, will say anything and do anything to keep the cameras on himself. He riled up a base of base people, a base of white crackers he doesn’t care one iota for, a base of base people who don’t care who or what he really is. They only care that he gave them permission to be vile and ugly and angry and foul-mouthed and blame the ‘other’ for their problems. He gave them permission to make Muslims, Gays, Latinos, African Americans, Jews and Women the scapegoats for what’s not right in their tiny xenophobic worlds.

This base of base people want to take their country back with their muskets. Guess what? This is my land, this is my country too and I want to take it back also. This man is not my president and he never will be. Ever. The President of the United States of America is someone we are supposed to look up to, someone the world is supposed to look up to. There is nothing about about this man to respect or look up to. I will never look up to him. There is nothing he can do that would make me change the revulsion and disgust I feel whenever I see him or hear him. When I heard Brian Williams call him the President-Elect for the first time I literally wanted to throw up. I don’t know how President Obama was able to greet him and sit with him and talk to him yesterday after all he’s done to smear and malign Obama’s stellar character. President Obama is presidential, though, unlike the Exploiter in Chief.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but after all we’ve heard about Russian and Putin’s interference in the election, after all we’ve heard about his ex-campaign manager’s ties to Russian business and oligarchs, after all we don’t know about his business ties and taxes, I would not be surprised at all if we find out that he got in too deep with loans from the Russian Mafia and the Russian government, was starting to default on those loans and was told if he got elected they would absolve him of the debts. I know that sounds crazy, but how many crazy things have we heard or seen during this election cycle?

Here are the lyrics to “Let The River Run”

We’re coming to the edge,
running on the water,
coming through the fog,
your sons and daughters.

Let the river run,
let all the dreamers
wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.

Silver cities rise,
the morning lights
the streets that meet them,
and sirens call them on
with a song.

It’s asking for the taking.
Trembling, shaking.
Oh, my heart is aching.

We’re coming to the edge,
running on the water,
coming through the fog,
your sons and daughters.

We the great and small
stand on a star
and blaze a trail of desire
through the dark’ning dawn.

It’s asking for the taking.
Come run with me now,
the sky is the color of blue
you’ve never even seen
in the eyes of your lover.

Oh, my heart is aching.
We’re coming to the edge,
running on the water,
coming through the fog,
your sons and daughters.

It’s asking for the taking.
Trembling, shaking.
Oh, my heart is aching.
We’re coming to the edge,
running on the water,
coming through the fog,
your sons and daughters.

Let the river run,
let all the dreamers
wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.

I’m hearing this song with new ears now. Yes, my heart is aching. We are on the edge. Let all the dreamers wake the nation.

He is not me or us, does not represent me or us. I want my country back. The wide world wants our country back. Let’s do this.

 

One Hell Of A Woman

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Bea Kreloff, one hell of an incredible, formidable, indomitable, optimistic, wonder-filled woman died on August 17th. She would have been 91 on September 11th. I remember Bea telling me how she and her partner, Edith, sat in their apartment at the Westbeth Artists Community in the West Village in NYC and watched the second plane fly into the Twin Towers. “It was a hell of a birthday,” she said.

That’s Bea on the left and Edith on the right in the above picture I took of them in Assisi, Italy, in 1999 when I took a writing workshop with Dorothy Allison and Frank McCourt at Art Workshop International. Bea and Edith started Art Workshop International in 1980, two painters who wanted to spend the summers in Italy in a cultural, artistic environment with like-minded people. For over 30 years they taught painting classes and convinced famous writers and painters (nobody could say no to Bea!) to come to Assisi and teach two week workshops to people like me who were committed to their craft but needed a push to get to the next level. That workshop in 1999 changed my life.

I stayed in touch with Bea and Edith over the years, would see them sometimes when I went to NYC, and would call them when Libby and I started moving around the world. In 2007, when we were living in Shanghai, I went back to Assisi again and this time took a workshop with Maxine Hong Kingston, another life changing event. The environment Bea and Edith created in Assisi–the mix of people teaching, people attending, all types of artists, dinner discussions–was one of the most affirming experiences of my life and of many of the people I met there. Time and time again I heard people say that being part of Art Workshop gave them permission to take their craft seriously, gave them permission to truly call themselves a writer or a painter.

Bea was the front woman who always held court during cocktail hour and dinner time. She’d have her martini and receive everyone. Edith held one-on-one conversations and held up things behind the scenes. Bea and Edith were the yin and yang that kept Art Workshop alive. I remember them telling me about the time they met. They’d both been married to men and met at a lesbian dance in the Village in the 70’s, I think. They fell in love on the first dance and never let go.  Bea was the savory to Edith’s sweet.

In 2008, Bea and Edith, along with Bea’s son Charles and Edith’s niece Sharon, came to visit us in Shanghai. They had started the trip with the usual six weeks in Assisi, then onto the Venice Biennale, St. Petersburg to see the Hermitage, Mongolia where Edith had a show of her paintings, then Beijing and Shanghai. I’ll never forget the time with them in Shanghai and how then 83 year old Bea was thrilled that she could see the Hermitage and see China. She kept saying, “I never thought I’d see this,” and was filled with curious wonder the whole time.

In 2013, when Libby and I were finally able to legally marry, Bea was determined to get to our wedding in NYC. Two days after she got out of rehab, recuperating from an illness, I’ll never forget her coming in a wheelchair to our wedding with her son Elliot. It meant so much to me and to us and remains one of my favorite memories from that incredible night.

I believe the highest compliment you can give someone is to say that they really lived their life and, believe me, Bea really lived her life. She dedicated herself to lesbian and feminist causes her whole life in addition to dedicating herself to Edith and to her beloved sons, Charles and Elliot. She created Art Workshop International out of nothing and kept it going and growing for 36 years. She followed her passions and didn’t suffer fools gladly. She was an inspiration to everyone who came in contact with her.

Bea was a force of nature. Her son, Charles, wrote me and said, “It’s hard to imagine a world without my mother in it.” I know exactly what he means. In my wishful, childish way I really did think she would live forever, that her boundless determination, energy, optimism and resourcefulness would keep her alive forever. If only.

 

13 Wise Grandmothers

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Back in 2000 when we were living in Dallas, during the days of the bug-eyed hanging chads, I was listening to Diane Rehm one morning when she was interviewing Alice Walker about her new collection of stories, The Way Forward Is With A Broken Heart. Because it was 2000 and because we were in the middle of that horrid time in our history when the Supreme Court handed the Presidency to what was then the most ignorant, unqualified person ever, the talk naturally came around to the election. Alice Walker put forth one of the most brilliant and sensible ideas I’ve ever heard.

Alice Walker told Diane Rehm that what we needed to govern our country was a council of 13 wise grandmothers to point the way forward and provide for future generations. She said that if there were 13 women we’d never go to war, there would be compromise and consensus, they would listen to each other and there would never be a tie. I couldn’t agree more.

There’s an organization now, The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, an international alliance of indigenous female elders that focuses on issues such as the environment, internationalism, and human rights. The group met for the first time in October 2004 at the Dalai Lama’s Menla Retreat Center during which time they declared themselves a council.

Here’s their website: http://www.grandmotherscouncil.org/

Here’s my Council of 13 Wise Grandmothers:

Diane Rehm, Liv Ullmann, Almaluz Villanueva, Ruth B. Mandel, Helen Mirren, Tina Turner, Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Michelle Obama, Barbara Mikulski, Maria Shriver, Libby Costin (even though she’s nowhere near grandmotherly age:>) and, yes, Hillary Clinton. These women are all sheroes of mine and I would be thrilled to have them lead our country.

Who would be on your list?

Hupdaditty

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What’s Hupdaditty you ask? Hupdaditty is a new creative arts website that will go live in September. They’ve accepted one of my stories and also an essay that will be published in the first edition. Here’s how Hupdaditty describes itself:

At Hupdaditty we encourage our audience to let go of the status quo, embrace a new personal vision, and invite fresh joy in their lives. So what the heck does it mean?

 The word Hupdaditty is a nonsense word. The sort a child would exclaim to capture the fun of being tossed in the air. Hupdaditty means joy at it’s purest.
 
You are invited to visit www.hupdaditty.com. Come live, learn and laugh with us! And, submit!
The folks at Hupdaditty asked me to write an essay about relationships. I love this one so much, they were kind enough to let me put it on my blog now before Hupdaditty goes live in September. I hope you like it:

Relationship is an art.

The dream that two people create

is more difficult to master than one.

~Don Miguel Ruiz

Back in the mid-80’s when I was in my mid-30’s living in New York City with two failed relationships under my belt, it had gotten to the point where I didn’t think I’d ever be with anyone. I thought I was ok with that. I enjoyed being just me, doing what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.

Before I moved to New York I was living in Philadelphia and I’d almost married a man but, as one of my friends said, I was going out with him for five years and breaking up for four. We’d gotten engaged, each of us breaking it off once and then finally mutually agreeing to end it. When we split up for good it was a relief to both of us.

To my surprise, I became involved with a woman after my fiancée and I broke up. I was 30, she was 37, and neither of us had ever been involved with a woman before. It felt right to be with a woman, though ultimately she wasn’t the right woman for me. When we broke up I decided I just wanted to be on my own. I was happy and I was making it in NYC, a dream I’d had for myself since I was nine years old. I thought that who ever I got involved with next, either a man or woman, would tip the balance—I’d definitively be gay or be straight. Subconsciously I must have realized that the next person would be a woman and I just didn’t want to have to go there, didn’t want to have to deal with being gay in a straight world. It was too damn hard so I decided to be single, to be a ‘career girl’ in the parlance of the day.

Then I met Libby. When I was introduced to her at work, as cliché as it sounds, my heart started beating faster, beads of sweat formed on my upper lip and I actually got weak in the knees. It truly was love at first sight, something I’d scoffed at, made fun of and didn’t believe existed. But it did exist and almost 28 years later it still does.

We have definitely had our rough times over the years, especially in the beginning years of our relationship when we were having financial troubles, having difficulty learning how to communicate with each other and learning how to fight.

Learning how to fight was key to putting our early troubles behind us. I came from a family of screamers, of winner-take-all fighters who didn’t listen to each other, who reacted to what they thought they were hearing and jumped down each other’s throats. Libby came from a family who didn’t fight, who swept everything under the rug, where conflict was avoided at all costs. In my family, conflict was our middle name. Nothing ever got resolved, though. The same issues kept coming up over and over again so we could never get past them.

Libby and I got help, learned how to talk to each other, and more importantly, learned how to listen to each other, and we soon realized that the surface things we were fighting about weren’t really what we were fighting about at all. We got past all the quicksand that was holding us back and making us stuck. It would have been so easy in those early years to walk away from each other especially since there was nothing legal or societal keeping us together. The only thing we had was our love for each other and thankfully there was an abundance of that. We were both equally willing to do the work that was necessary to make the relationship we had painted in our dreams become a reality on the canvas of our everyday life.

Before I met Libby I couldn’t imagine living my life with anyone. Now, I can’t imagine ever living my life without her. We started out with nothing. Then, we had less than nothing. We worked side-by-side building our life together and realizing our dreams, both individually and as a couple.

I’m so proud that we’ve stayed together but even more than that I’m proud of how we’ve stayed together. We have a true partnership in which we give each other space to grow and we embrace each other’s changes, interests and desires. Our home is filled with deep love and laughter and respect for each other, where we talk to each about what is really going on in our lives and how we really feel, where we listen and honor who each other is and who we are together. We totally have each other’s back. It is an incredible feeling to completely and utterly trust someone. There is a beautiful kind of grace in being in a relationship where someone completely understands you and you understand her, but you continue to surprise each other after almost three decades together.

It took time to learn how to be a ‘we’ instead of a ‘me’ but the sum of us is so much greater than one of us. Don Miguel Ruiz is right—the dream two people create is more difficult to master. Meshing two dreams into one reality can be tricky to navigate but the rewards are so much deeper and so much more abiding than anything I could ever have imagined. I don’t generally believe in luck and for years I had a quote from Jack Nicholson, of all people, hanging over my computer: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” In this case, though, having Libby as my spouse, my partner, my love, I can truly say I am a very lucky girl.

Livin’ Life

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As 2015 comes to an end, for the first time in two years, I’m looking back on a year filled with joy, wonder, a year where I resumed my life and my life with Libby. I understand and appreciate simple things like going to the supermarket together or cooking dinner together in a whole new way.

This day two years was the day after my mother’s memorial service. On this day last year I was preparing for my second surgery, scared out of my mind. Today I am two days past finding out I’m one year cancer free. I can look to the future again, make plans and set goals with restored energy.  Life is good.

This picture was taken in Alta, Norway, where my niece, Danielle, and nephew, Chris, and I chased the Aurora Borealis and went fishing in frigid temps on a fjord. It was one of the most magical places I’ve ever been and it was extra special being Chris and Danielle. When they were kids, from the time they were in grade school all the way through high school, they used to come stay with Libby and me in the summers. It always was such a joy to pick them up at the airport, watch them pile into our house where ever we were living, throw their stuff in their rooms, open the refrigerator to see what was in there and make plans for the time we’d be together. We took trips, explored new places and had deep and abiding talks.

The trip to Alta was the first time since 2004, when Libby and I moved to China, that Danielle and Chris visited us at the same time. My life felt whole again, right again, having both of them with us. Having them together in our new home in Sweden, for many reasons, crystallized for me that my life was back. I’m livin’ it and feeling good.

Happy Holidays to everyone. Thank you, thank you for reading. And remember, don’t trust those mammograms!

XOXO

It’s The People That Make A Place, Isn’t It?

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Libby and I moved to Modena, Italy three and a half years ago. Because of getting treated for cancer in the US, I was only here for a little over one and a half of those years. As much as Italy drove me crazy when we moved here because I missed China so much, and it pushed me over the brink while I was trying to get diagnosed and left in a panic, what will stick with me forever are the people we met and the experiences we had with them.

It’s always the people that make a place, isn’t it? Like music that defines the times of your life it’s the people who populate a place that make it so special. For someone who was in Modena such a short time I formed deep and lasting relationships with warm and wonderful people who are now friends. I will miss Modena a little bit, but I will really miss the people I met and the friends I made here–Elena & Daire, Elena’s parents Silva and Andrea, Naoual, Line & Jose, Barbara, Serena, Valentina, Paola, Emanuele & Rosa, Anna, Maryam, Philip, and Daria.

A lot of life happened in the short time we were here. Naoual had a daughter. Elena and Daire met, fell in love, had a daughter and were married. Maryam got married. Meihui and Nikko had a son and a daughter. Valentina had a son. Libby and I got married.

The movers are here right now and I’m watching them wrap up the large table and chairs I had made in Shanghai. We had many parties and many meals around that table in Shanghai giving us memories that will last a lifetime. What I realize as I watch each chair being wrapped is how many memories we made over that table here in Modena, memories that, too, will last a lifetime.

I’m ready for our next chapter in Sweden, but it’s a bit harder to close the book on Italy than I thought it would be.

Ciao amici, grazie di cuore per tutto.

 

What A Difference A Year Makes

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On this day last year Ramleen and Emily came over for lunch. We chatted while we ate and Emily breastfed Charlotte who was about two and a half months old at the time. I looked at the slight hint of ginger peach fuzz on Charlotte’s head and thought thank god someone else is bald. The real reason they had come over was to shave my head because I couldn’t stand the clumps of hair that kept coming out in my hands. It had only taken three weeks for the chemo to begin to decimate my hair and I couldn’t take it anymore. I sat in a chair in the kitchen with a towel wrapped around my shoulders while Ramleen took her clippers to my head. Afterwards Emily made up my face with all this great make up she’d brought over. She did up my eyes with all kinds of eye shadow, eye liner, and mascara. I was afraid to look in the mirror but they kept telling me how much my eyes popped and that my head was the perfect shape for a buzz cut. I was so grateful they made the whole experience fun and for how they took the sting out of the situation. But when they left I looked in the mirror and sobbed and then didn’t go out of the house for four days.

Today I’m meeting Baksim for lunch at Harry’s Roadhouse. We’ve both been through breast cancer this past year. Both of us had clean mammograms that never picked up the nasty cancerous tumors that were lurking in our boobs. We both lost our hair and now our hair is growing back. Granny hair is in and we’re silver foxes. In four days I’m leaving to go back to Italy to be with Libby. I have my life back and Libby and I have our life back together.

I just had my birthday. The only thing I remember about my birthday last year is that I wondered if I’d ever see another one. On my birthday this year I was in Montpelier, VT, at the incredible VCFA Novel Retreat. Connie May Fowler surprised the hell out of me by bringing out a cake with fabulous curly neon candles and everyone sang “Happy Birthday.” I’ve never been so glad to be alive, to be a year older.

I bought this clock, made from a recycled Temptations Greatest Hits album, in Taos on a road trip earlier this month with Lisa who took a frantic call from me last February and sprang into action. I’d spent almost eight weeks and had gone to eight different doctors in Italy with no results or diagnosis. The only thing they could tell me was that there was epithelial cancer in a lymph node but they didn’t know where it was originating. Within two hours after calling Lisa she’d gotten me appointments with two of the best doctors at Cedars-Sinai who diagnosed me properly in three days. What a difference a year makes.

The Temptations were my favorite group when I was growing up. So many of the songs on this album, especially on the 1st side, songs I’ve sung since I was a teenager, have new meaning to me. This past year I wasn’t too proud to beg for my life. I begged every single day. Whenever I looked at my bald head in the mirror I told myself beauty’s only skin deep. Whenever I looked at Libby or thought about how amazing she was while I was sick, how well she took care of me, I sang “My Girl” in my head or “The Way You Do The Things You Do.”

And now, I’m not looking back. Get ready world, ’cause here I come!

Thanks so much for reading. It means so much to me. And, remember, do not trust those mammograms.

 

When You Don’t Really Need Words

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This is Daria, the kindest person in Modena, Italy. She works at the most incredible salumeria (deli) I’ve ever been to, Hosteria Giusti, http://www.hosteriagiusti.it. Behind the deli is a small six table restaurant you have to walk through the kitchen to get to. They only serve lunch and unless you make a reservation way in advance you’ll never get in. I’ve been lucky enough to eat there once and it’s one of the five best meals I’ve had in my entire life. If you ever find yourself in Italy, make a trip to Modena and to Hosteria Giusti. If you know in advance you are coming, do yourself a favor and make a reservation for lunch.

When I first started shopping at Giusti soon after arriving in Modena, I was raw and extremely uncomfortable. I’d spent the previous seven years in China–five in Shanghai and two in Hong Kong–and Italy felt so alienating to me. Nobody was screaming around in Mandarin, I couldn’t scream around in Mandarin, I looked like everybody else, and there were no jiaozi (dumplings) or xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) to be found anywhere. Every time I opened my mouth when someone spoke to me in Italian, Mandarin wanted to come out because it was the only other language I knew. I felt like a freak.

I was introduced to Giusti by Paola Poluzzi, a lovely Modenese woman who helped expats for Libby’s company acclimate to Modena and who took me there the first time. It was so easy going into Giusti with Paola, telling her in English what i wanted and having her deal with the woman behind the counter who I later found out is the owner.

Going in the second time by myself was a whole other story. I wished, as soon as I walked in, that I hadn’t come because I had no idea how to pronounce anything, but I had no food at home and was starving. The place was packed, as it always is, so while I was waiting I looked around and saw some taleggio cheese. That, I could order. It is my favorite cheese of all time. I started to settle down. In addition, I knew how to say pasta.

There are no numbers to pull in Giusti because the people behind the counter know who comes in, and in what order. When Daria looked at me and said, “Signora, what would you like?” I was ready to order. “Questo taleggio,” I told her and pointed to the taleggio. “Ok,” she said but then went on to give what felt like a long soliloquy on another cheese right next to the taleggio. “Ok,” I told her, then showed her with my hands how much I wanted. I don’t remember what else I ordered but I do remember feeling so grateful to Daria because she was so kind and so patient with my pointing and indecision even though there was a gaggle of people behind me.

It turns out the taleggio was Taleggio di Pecora, sheep’s milk taleggio and it is the most divine cheese I’ve ever had in my life. From that point on, whatever Daria pointed to, I bought. We soon learned our pas de deux, me pointing, Daria giving her approval or telling me what was better. I spent a lot of time accessing Google Translate on my mobile phone.

Daria speaks no English, I only speak a few words and phrases of Italiano, much to the chagrin of my long suffering Italian teacher, Elena Panini. “Nancy,” Elena has said to me on more than one occasion, “why are you not learning Italian? I’ve watched you laughing and joking with the Chinese students in the class in Mandarin. If you can tell jokes in another language then you have a command of that language. And, if you can speak Chinese you should easily be able to learn Italian.” Daria and I mostly communicate with gestures, pointing, smiling, and a heart-to-heart connection with a Google Translate assist.

As I was going through chemo therapy, I thought about dying everyday and I thought about the regrets I would have if I died. I’ve tried to live my life so that at the end of the road I’d have no regrets, but coming so close to losing my life this past year made me think about what regrets I’d have if I didn’t wake up tomorrow and there were only two. The first was, I would regret not getting my novel published, but I knew if I died, I would die trying, so I’d have no regrets about my effort.

The second and last regret was that I never said goodbye to Daria when I left Modena last February. The time spent last January and February trying to get diagnosed in Modena was so fraught that when I left to go to LA, I was in a panic. Over this last year, I often thought about Daria and Hosteria Giusti.

Even though I don’t speak Italian and Daria doesn’t speak English, it’s surprising how much I know about her. I know that she grew up in Modena, that she’s been friends with Cecilia, the daughter of the owner of Hosteria Giusti, since she was young, and that’s how she ended up working at Hosteria Giusti. I know that Matteo, Cecilia’s brother took them on a trip two summers ago to France to taste the food and wine. I know that Daria has a daughter who is fourteen and a son who is nine, and I know that she wants her children to learn English and go to college and get good jobs. I know which kind of Franciacorta she thinks is the best, which kind of tagliatelle she likes and which kind of pesto from Liguria she recommends.

When I got cleared by my doctors to come back to Modena for a month, I sent an email to Daria through Libby telling Daria that I was sorry I never got a chance to say goodbye to her last February and telling her why. Libby had her secretary translate it and a week before I got came back to Modena, Libby took the letter to Daria.

Last Saturday when I walked in to Hosteria Giusti, I could hardly contain myself. The salamis and proscuitto were hanging from the ceiling. I could smell the rosetti, the polpette, and the cheeses. But mostly, I saw Cecilia and Daria behind the counter. Daria was with a customer when I walked in but lit up when she saw me and called out, “Ciao, Nancy, ciao!” Cecilia came from behind the counter and kissed me on both cheeks. As soon as Daria was finished with her customer, she came out and hugged me hard and kissed me on both cheeks also. She thanked me for my letter, then Cecilia produced a letter for me. Daria had written it and left it there for me in case I came in and she wasn’t there.

The letter said:

Dear Nancy,

You do not know with how much joy I received your letter, and do not know with what sorrow I learned of your illness and the very hard time you had to go through.

But I know you’re a strong woman, full of zest for life and positivity, and these features will surely have helped you to address this difficult period.

Surely many relatives and friends will be close by because I think it easy to love you. I really hope to see you soon.

I’m really glad that you’re okay now and do not forget that in this small salumeria in Modena there is always someone waiting for you with open arms!

With affection,

Daria

I haven’t spent much time here in Modena, maybe a year and a half, and I haven’t learned much Italian, but I’ve learned that there are times when you don’t really need words to communicate and make a connection with someone. I will remember Giusti and the meraviglioso food I bought there, but even more I will remember Daria until the day I die, whenever that may be. I will remember our connection even though we don’t speak the same language. And I will remember her kindness and her beautiful smile.

Thanks for reading, and remember do NOT trust those mammograms!

 

 

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