So Long, Fred

This is a week for repeats here on FiftyFourAndAHalf.com.  Sorry.

But when I learned a little while ago that actor Omar Sharif died of a heart attack today, well, I thought I’d re-run this story, which isn’t mine, and which I love.

It’s a story that was told to me by Omar Sharif.  Sadly, it was in an interview on TV that I saw many years ago, and not in person.

“I was sitting there on the set of Lawrence,” said Omar of his first meeting with co-star and newbie actor, Peter O’Toole.  And this tall blond man I’d never seen before walked up to me and introduced himself.”

“‘I’m Peter, Peter O’Toole,’ he told me.

“I’m Omar Sharif,” I responded reaching out to shake his hand.

And then Peter responded, with an impish, Irish grin on his face:

“‘Nobody is named ‘Omar.’  I shall call you ‘Fred.'”

And with a toss of his head and a resounding laugh, Fred Sharif concluded:  “and he did!”

You’re going to call me WHAT??? Photo Credit, Irish Times

As the daughter, granddaughter and sister of Freds, I love this story.

RIP, Fred.  I hope you are off riding camels again with Peter.

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Filed under Acting, Adult Traumas, All The News You Need, Bat-shit crazy, Huh?, Humor, laughter, Omar Sharif, Peter O'Toole, Plagarizing myself, Rerun, Taking Care of Each Other, Theatre

The Flip Side

As I mentioned last night, after I rudely posted a link to one of my old blog posts in a comment on Art’s blog, Pouring My Art Out, I started chatting with my blogging buddy Trend, of TrentLewin.com about that piece.  I told him that in an exercise for my memoir writing class, I had to write the same story from two different points of view.  The link I posted was to the first version of that story.  Trend and I figured it would be fun for me to post both pieces.

Here is Part 1.

This is Part 2, The Flip Side

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Filed under Acting, Adult Traumas, Baby You Can Drive My Car, Bat-shit crazy, Bloggin' Buddies, Childhood Traumas, Conspicuous consumption, Crazy Folks Running, Dreams, Dying Dreams, Theatre, WTF?

The Hit Single

The other day when I rudely posted a link to one of my old blog posts in a comment on Art’s blog, Pouring My Art Out, I started chatting with my blogging buddy Trend, of TrentLewin.com about that piece.  I told him that in an exercise for my memoir writing class, I had to write the same story from two different points of view.  Trend and I figured it would be fun for me to post both pieces.

So tonight, I am re-posting the story of how all my youthful dreams came crashing down on me in a broom closet. Tomorrow night, I will tell the same story, from someone else’s side.

This exercise was really helpful in the class, by the way.  It helped me look at the same story I’d told for years, but with new eyes. And it was a lot of fun to imagine the other side.  Without further ado, here it is:

Door Number Two!

The thing about dreams is that the crushing, the squelching, the termination of them is so much better in retrospect than when it actually happens.

At 17, I just knew I was going to be an actress.  A stage actress (because, don’t cha know, film work is not true acting. ) And I made that choice even before I realized that the camera brings out the psycho in me.

Now, I was very serious about this dream.  Of course I took my high school’s acting classes.  And, all snark aside, they were really good.  The Players were renown throughout the area for the professional quality of its high school actors.  And the accolades were well deserved.

Me?  Was I the star?  Was I the ingénue lead in all the productions during my high school years?  Was there a reason for my hubris?  Did my classmates look at me, remember my face and say to each other “someday we will remember when the very highly talented Miss Elyse went sledding outside our Algebra class (with that other fab actress, Ray) when she was supposed to be writing her math problems on the blackboard – because now,” sigh, “she’s a STAR.”   Oops, no, I mean they’d think “because now she is a highly successful stage ACTress.”

Uh, no they didn’t.  I was invariably an extra in those acclaimed productions.  At best I got a line or two. But I had heart.  And in the theatRE, that’s all you need, right?

There are no small parts, only small actors.”

Well, I was NOT a small actor.  I just got small parts.  And I was short and thin.  So I was small.  Shit.

But I DID get an audition. Yup!  I had an audition in April of 1974, the spring of my senior year, for the Central School of Speech and Drama, an acting school in London.

Google Image because I don't have any pictures of my own.

Google Image because I don’t have any pictures of my own.

Now, I lived ONE hour outside of New York, so training in NYC might have been a wee bit easier to manage.  But hey, this was a dream, remember?  And I wanted London:  The Globe, The West End, Masterpiece TheatRE (even if it was done on film, it didn’t seem like it). I was ready to take the first step in my path.

My audition was held in a building at Yale University, which in itself was pretty intimidating.

I performed my comedy bit first, a monologue from a comedy so obscure that I have blotted it totally from my brain. I sang “Adelaide’s Lament” under the guidance of my friend Sue, who actually played Adelaide in our school’s production of Guys and Dolls.

I delivered my Juliet speech – hey, what do you want, Lady Macbeth?  I was 17!!!  I chose one that is rarely performed, the one where Juliet is about to take the sleeping potion and is seeing her cousin Tybalt’s ghost:

O, look! methinks I see my cousin’s ghost

Seeking out Romeo,

That did spit his body Upon a rapier’s point:

Stay, Tybalt, stay! (I loved that line)

Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee.

I drank the potion and collapsed on the floor in the best Juliet evah.

I was a much better Juliet than Marsha Brady. Much.  Of course, there are no Google Images of me.

I was a much better Juliet than Marsha Brady. Much. Of course, there are no Google Images of me.

I thanked the three faculty judges, repeated my name, made sure they had my completed application and my picture (although how could they forget me?)  I turned and walked to the door to leave.

Only there were two doors.

I opened the one on the right, walked through it and closed the door behind me.

It was a broom closet.

What do I do now, I wondered.

There was no script.  No stage directions.  No help of any kind.  I considered staying in the closet, but knew that eventually I had to exit stage left.

After a minute that lasted forever, I re-opened the closet door and slunk out, saying a line I haven’t heard in too many successful plays:

“That’s the broom closet.”

I opened the other door and left the room, closing my dream back in the room with the judges.

I know that if I’d just gone out singing and dancing, well, this chapter would be the opening scene of my life story. Maybe it still is.  Cause it hasn’t been at all bad.

`

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Filed under Acting, Awards, Bat-shit crazy, Bloggin' Buddies, Childhood Traumas, Criminal Activity, Dreams, Humiliation, Memoir writing, Most Embarassing Moments Evah!, Oh shit, Two versions of the same story, Why the hell do I tell you these stories?

Wishing I Were Going Too

Jacob’s good friend Kate left this evening for Italy.  She and her Mom planned on visiting Rome and Florence, and forgo Venice.  At dinner one night a couple of months ago, we told her this story.  They added Venice to their itinerary.  I hope they love it as much as we did.  I wish we were on that plane, too.

(This is a re-post.)

*     *     *

Eight-year old Jacob looked at me as if I’d gone crazy.  He stopped in his tracks, put his hands on his hips, tilted his head and spoke to me in a tone that was a prelude of the teen years to come.  Looking back, he had some justification.

You see, I was talking to him about Florence, Italy.  I was telling him some of the things I’d learned about the city and its history in preparation for a visit we’d be taking there in about two weeks.  I finished up my quick summary of the history, the art, the architecture, the famous people who’d lived there.  I then offered an enticement.

“You know what, Jacob,” I said.  “I read that most Italians find Florence to be their most beautiful city.”

“Mom,” my son said with his hands on his hips and his lips pursed, “how can any city be more beautiful than Venice?”

Because like me, Jacob had fallen in love with Venice when we visited that city a year earlier.

We actually went to Venice twice.

In August 1998, John, Jacob and I had gone to visit American friends who  were staying in Trieste, which is on the other side of the Aegean Sea.  Venice could be easily reached via a short train ride.

Truthfully, I wasn’t all that excited.  Venice wasn’t really high on my list of places I had to see while we were in Europe.  But we were so close, so of course going seemed like a great idea.  We’d spend a day there, and then on other trips I could see Rome and Florence — the Italian cities I really wanted to visit.

Our train was delayed by a couple of hours, and the evening train cancelled.  So we had four hours to see the city.  It would be plenty, I was sure.

Until, that is, I stepped off the train and found that I really had been transported — we’d landed in a place that was nothing like I’d imagined.  A truly magical place.

I’d read that it feels like you’re back in time because there are no cars in Venice.

I’d heard about the light in Venice, that there is nothing quite like it.  The buildings, mostly built of marble of different hues, reflect the water and the water reflects the buildings.  They both seem to dance at the slightest breeze.

I’d learned about the architecture in Venice, a mixture of European, North African, Middle-Eastern with hints of Asian, styles and materials brought back from the known world by the traders and explorers that built the city and made it fabulously wealthy.

But nothing, nothing, had prepared me for the impact that the beautiful city had on my heart — from the moment we stepped off the train.

Our afternoon gave me a much too quick taste of the magic.

With two young boys and a baby in tow, our first stop was for a late lunch — pizza on the Grand Canal.

Marco just couldn't believe that he'd missed the ice cream boat!

Jacob and Marco, who just couldn’t believe that he’d missed the ice cream boat!

We crammed as much as we could into an afternoon.  August 31st, when everything was mobbed.  We spent time in St. Marco’s Square, visited the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, crossed the Bridge of Sighs into the Doge’s prison.

When we got back to the train station, I made John promise me that Venice would be our next destination.  An afternoon was not nearly enough time, and my heart was breaking at leaving the magical city.

We started planning to go back to Venice the instant we arrived back home to Switzerland.  Jacob had a 5-day weekend in early October.  So we booked train tickets, a hotel, and got ready to go back.  We arrived at dawn, which is when all the guidebooks tell you to arrive in Venice.  Because the colors from the sunrise reflecting on the water and on the buildings that line the canals.  It is a sight that I will not even try to describe.  Indeed, I’ve never seen a photograph or read a description that did it justice.

Our visit was filled with beauty, from start to finish.  But it is the last night I want to tell you about.

We had done as much touring as you can do with a 7-year old.  A few museums, a lot of churches.  We climbed the campaniles (bell towers) of many churches to get the perfect view of the city that all three of us had fallen for.  We saw masterpieces by Titian, Tintoretto and others, still hanging where they were meant to hang — in the churches of Venice, and in the unique light of Venice.

We went on a gondola ride, of course.  It was wonderful AND schlocky.  We saw Marco Polo’s house.

PIC00022 (2)

But on the last night, Venice captured my heart, and Jacob’s.

We’d finished dinner, and wandered back into St. Mark’s Square.  Jacob wanted to climb the Campanile, the bell tower.

PIC00010

Jacob with the St Marco’s Square behind him. The Campanile standing tall behind him.

We’d climbed the Campanile once already, but Jacob wanted to see the city from that prospect one more time on our last night, hoping to view the city as the lights came up on the buildings.

We loved the view, but were surprised to find that the buildings weren’t illuminated.  We climbed back down into the square, which was completely empty except for the three of us.  Two rival orchestras that were setting up outside of two restaurants on opposite sides of the Square.

The three of us wandered into the center of the piazza when it happened.

Behind us, one of the orchestras began playing a Viennese waltz.  The sound transformed the square into our own personal ballroom.  The light was fading, but soft lights around the square glowed on the Basilica, the clock tower.  Jacob took my hand, bowed, and walked me into the middle of the square.  John, the non-dancer, gave Jacob and I our moment.

My son and I — we danced.  Just the two of us, all over the cobbled square.

The instant the first orchestra had played its last notes, the orchestra on the other side began.

I could have danced all night, from My Fair Lady.  It was true — I could have.

As people began to fill the Square, we thanked both orchestras and headed back down to the Grand Canal, for a last stroll past the Doge’s palace, Vivaldi’s church and the other buildings that had seen millions of people like us come and go.

We crossed a small bridge and stopped to look across the canal at the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, and the golden ball atop the customs house.  We gazed back at the gondolas covered and berthed for the night.  We turned towards the Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners crossed from the Doge’s palace into the Doge’s prison and sighed at their last breath of freedom.

Jacob stood on that bridge with tears running down his cheeks as he looked at the beauty that surrounded us.

“I can’t believe we have to leave Venice,” he said, his heart breaking along with mine and John’s.

Photo credit:  Photozonly.com

Photo credit: Photozonly.com

della Salute by Claude Monet.  He apparently liked Venice, too.

della Salute by Claude Monet. He apparently liked Venice, too.

Was Florence more beautiful than Venice?  I don’t honestly know.  We spent nearly a week in Florence, but it rained so hard that we literally never could see the views and the vistas of that city.  But if you’re going to have a vacation where it pours, I highly recommend Florence.  There are one or two things to look at.

But Venice.  Ah, Venice.  I have never been anywhere like Venice, a place I really wasn’t that anxious to visit.  It captured my heart, and John’s and especially Jacob’s.  It is a magical place.  Words and pictures, even by Monet, cannot capture its beauty or how it made me feel.

***

I was inspired to finally write this story by DJ Matticus of The Matticus Kingdom who wrote this lovely post.  In the last year or two, John of Johnbalaya sent me back to Venice not too long ago, as did Renee of Renee Johnson Writes.

Somehow, I’m always happy to go back.  Magic and Venice.  Yup.  I’m willing to do either any time!

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Why I Don’t Pray

As soon as John and Jacob saw me, they knew something was up. Something weird. Because I hadn’t looked nearly so cheerful the last time they’d seen me.

I had to admit, they were right.

Even though on that particular day, I had planned to be thoughtful. Sad. Mournful. I planned to wallow just a tad. It was, after all, the first anniversary of my mother’s death. I was a long way away from my heartbroken Dad; I wouldn’t be able to call and let him know that I was thinking of her. I felt, well, I felt I deserved it, because sometimes, no matter where you were, you just have to give into the loss.

That had been my plan, anyway. That’s not exactly what happened.

Did you see the movie The Monuments Men? It was pretty much panned by the critics, but I really liked it. It was about a group of academics who went to war to save great art from Hitler. It had compelling action, great works of art, and the struggle against good and evil. Equally important, it had no robots in it. Or baseball.

Naturally, since that trailer rudely left out the most important part of the movie – the one that I was involved in, I’m going to actually have to write this story up.

Anyway, the movie stars George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Matt Damon and the Earl of Grantham and an alcoholic has-been looking for redemption.

Oh, and Lord Grantham is also looking for the particular sculpture commemorated in this post. That’s actually where my story comes in.  Well sort of.

Anyway, John, Jacob and I were In Bruges (another really great movie, actually). Bruges is a lovely old city, that seems like it is stopped in time, which is kind of because it WAS actually stopped in time.

A busy, beautiful port city that, according to Wikipedia, was:

At one time, it was considered the “chief commercial city” of the world.[6] “Rise, fall and resurrection make up the life story of Bruges, a city that glittered in Northern Europe with as much panache as Venice did in the Mediterranean World.”[7]

Only the harbor silted up, and its use as a port was history. Today?  Today, it’s a damn pretty place.

We’d been traveling for a few days, had had our own Waterloo; we’d been to Amsterdam, where we visited Ann Frank’s attic, where Jacob drove a boat filled with tourists through crowded canals, and where John and I accidentally introduced our 8 year old to the Red Light District. So we were ready to just relax and wander when we got to Bruges.

The centerpiece of the town is the Church of Our Lady, Bruges, a beautiful cathedral built between the 13th and 15th Century. It is found in the heart of the town square.

Wikipedia Image (you thought I was gonna say

Wikipedia Image (you thought I was gonna say “Google,” admit it.)

It’s a lovely church, but its altarpiece alone makes it worth the trip.  It is world famous, a luminous, transcendent sculpture that one feels as well as sees.  It has an illustrious history of its own, Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. The sculpture was the only one of his sculptures to leave Italy during the artist’s lifetime.  More currently, and relevant to the movie theme in this post, it was one of the pieces of art most sought after by the Third Reich. The Monument Men were tasked with preventing the Nazis from getting it (or destroying it) as they retreated at the end of the war.

Wikipedia Image, again.

Wikipedia Image, again.

I’m not going to tell you what happens, but I will say, that the Monument Men didn’t have an easy job of it.  Of course, I could have told them that they were wasting their effort. Because as I found out, Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child was well guarded. Even when nobody was really after it.

Are you still with me?  OK, let’s get back to me.

Well, I started the visit to the Church with John and Jacob, where we taught our young son the history of the church, looked and discussed the art work throughout the church. We went to the gift shop, where I bought a flier about the Cathedral for my Dad, and a remembrance for Jacob. We’re good parents.  We knew the routine. After a while, John and Jacob left to climb the tower overlooking the other side of the square. They left me to meditate, to think about my mother, to grieve. It was very considerate of them. Sadly, my reflection was short-lived.

The Church was nearly empty, and the late morning light shone through the stained glass, coloring the floor in front of the Madonna. I could hear the breathing of the few people looking at the paintings, there was an elderly couple doing the Stations of the Cross. But mostly I was alone with my Mom. And with another mother and baby, right there on the altar in front of me.

There are some pieces of art that reach out and touch you. That fill your heart. That start your healing as you gaze. Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child is one of those.

In the back of the church, coming from near the gift shop, I heard an announcement, softly broadcast over the intercom system. A few minutes later, I heard it again. It was in Dutch. Or Flemmish. Or Bruge-ian. I didn’t understand it. Ok, so I ignored it. What could be so important?

I continued my contemplation. I began to think of my Mom, to weep quietly, tastefully. Hardly at all noticeably, when somebody roughly grabbed my arm and shook it.

“#*&%+##@@*!” said a very tall, very grave Nun. I was pretty sure she had a ruler in her pocket. All the stories my siblings had told me about the nuns they had known – all of whom believed firmly in beating children, flooded into my mind.

“Excusez-moi, Madam?” I stammered.

“#*&%+##@@*!  #*&%+##@@*!” she repeated, which she should have known wouldn’t help, since I didn’t have a clue the first time around.

“Excuse me, M’am. I don’t understand you,” I said to her in English.

“EEENglesh!” she said, as if that explained everything. “YOU MUST LEAF.  NOW!!!

“LEAF?” I responded, confused. Why did I have to LEAF? I was in a church. In mourning. I WAS PRAYING FOR CHRIST’S SAKE! “I am here for my mother, she died,” I said, and I started to cry.

“OUT!” she shouted, pulling me.

Google this time.  You got me.

Google this time. You got me.

This was NOT Sister Bertrille.

She grabbed me by my sleeve, pulled me from the pew, walked me to the door, and firmly shoved me outside.

Now, I have been caught doing many untoward things.  But this time?  This time I was thrown out of a church. WHILE I WAS PRAYING.  Isn’t there some eclesiastical law against that?  Call the Pope.

*     *     *

So, when I saw The Monuments Men, well, I wish I’d been around during that day. They didn’t have to work so very hard, give up so much to protect Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. All they needed was one nun in need of a sandwich.

*     *     *

This post was brought to you courtesy of Frank at AFrankAngle.  He suggested I write it up the story of how I was thrown out of a church, so I did.  Note to self:  Remember to thank folks who inspire and who also actually read your blog.

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Filed under All The News You Need, Anniversary, Awards, Bruges, Church, Dad, Europe, Missing Folks, Mom, Nuns, praying, TAGS THAT DON'T Work, Thrown out of Church, Travel Stories

Restoring Faith

You know, I’m getting pretty cynical.  Folks all across the world are going all Ayn Rand, feeling like folks shouldn’t work together to solve problems.  That every body should fend for themselves.  Or, as my Dad used to say when folks just didn’t give a damn about each other (or didn’t save him the last cookie):  “I’ve got mine, how are you?”

And really, I’m getting kind of discouraged.  Civilization was built because humans figured out that working together gets more done than working individually.  And of course, the “cradle of Civilization” is Greece.

I am not an economist.  I am not a European.  Hell, I don’t really know what’s going on over there, what led to the economic collapse that Greece is experiencing.  I don’t know why the Germans and the French are standing idly by watching it happen with their hands on their hips.  But even I’m smart enough to know that the impact of a collapse of Greece, in both actual and symbolic terms, is not a good idea.

But I just read the coolest article.  Thom Feeney, 29, of London, is a shoe salesman.  And he has set up a GoFundMe site to collect donations to enable Greece to pay its loans.  He said:

All this dithering over Greece is getting boring.  European ministers flexing their muscles and posturing over whether they can help the Greek people or not. Why don’t we the people just sort it instead?”

He has raised more than €500,000 in two days.  The Greeks need €1.6 billion.

(I believe this photo is from Al Jazeera, which reported this story)

It’s amazing what one person can do sometimes. (I believe this photo is from Al Jazeera, which reported this story)

 

Crowdfunding is not the solution to Greece’s problems.  In fact, I don’t think that crowdfunding is the solution to big country-wide or international problems.

But even I, with my belief in strong government, think this is pretty damn cool.

And maybe, just maybe, it is what we need to do more often.

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My Candidate for President — 2016

I have a pretty good track record in choosing Presidents.  Sometimes, I’m way ahead of the game.  I decided in 2004 that I wanted Obama for President.

Obama at the 2004 Democratic Convention

Obama at the 2004 Democratic Convention (Google Image)

Sadly, I didn’t notice him on the ballot for a while.

This time around, I haven’t been able to decide. Hillary?  Bernie?  There are things to recommend each of them.  So what is a good citizen to do?

Well, today I have my answer.  I know who I’m going to vote for. I know who I will work for.  I know who will solve one of the major problems the world faces today.

Please join me in supporting the candidacy of Donald Trump:

Google Image

Google Image

Because Donald Trump stated the following:

Donald Trump says if he gets elected president, he would have to change his hair style because he wouldn’t have time to maintain it, as he would be working his butt off in the White House.…[Emphasis added]

The world will be a far, far better place.

*     *     *

I found this, along with a zillion other brilliant pictures at The Last of the Millenniums.  He’s got a gift for finding the really fun stuff.

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Filed under 2016, Adult Traumas, All The News You Need, All We Are Saying Is Give Peace A Chance, Awards, Bat-shit crazy, Campaigning, Cancer, Climate Change, Conspicuous consumption, Crazy Folks Running, Criminal Activity, Disgustology, Elections, Extra Cash, Farts, I HATE THE BEEP BEEP BOOP