Monday, August 31, 2015

Being bad in Harlem

With Dr. Motes off in Indonesia and all our orchids living outside and waiting to be swept away, I became totally obsessed with Hurricane Erika, even down to buying candles for her and after all that she couldn't even be bothered to show up. So it's back to my other tale of black and white New York.

About fifteen years ago I went up to Columbia for a conference. The organizers provided a list of places to stay. Right in the middle was "Harlem Y." Not only the cheapest but the coolest! And if Columbia University put it on a list it had to be OK. OK?  Still, I would wear sturdy shoes and always Walk Purposefully as we older folk are told in our Survival Manuals.

At the end of the first conference day I took the subway to Lexington Ave. As far as the eye could see, only black people! African Americans. AA's. While I was the little old white lady, the OWL, in her tennis shoes Walking Purposefully through them, mostly children, coming home from school. In the Y elevator, an AA, ("I'm David") taking his bike up, said he liked my necklace. (Another great find from the Florida City swap meet.) A sweet Puerto Rican girl on our floor welcomed me, explaining where everything was, the iron and the microwave and the plates.
"So you live here." No that wasn't allowed, she said. After a certain number of days she would have to move on.
When I heard about the microwave I was home. It had been a long day. Down again, David again without his bike. Out into Lexington Avenue, popcorn was easy to get. And right opposite on the corner, a liquor store. Bars on the windows. I stood in line, Friday evening, between an elderly gentleman buying a small square bottle of something and a young man very generously ignoring me completely. I was the one keeping my head down. I was the shifty one about to break the law. The Harlem Y greets you graciously but under the big sign NO ALCOHOL ALLOWED. Chardonnay, even with a British accent, would count.

They had Chardonnay! The Friday night queue in the liquor store was getting longer. Not the moment to hesitate between an Australian bottle or a Californian. Especially as I had to ask, "Um, could you open it, please?" And don't call the Y! I recrossed Lexington Ave dutifully at the light with my brown grocery bag.Popped my corn and poured my wine and settled down with the New York Times. There was the Friday night sound of the girls getting together on our girls only floor, and the only complaint to management would have been about the institutional clang of metal doors along the bare corridor.

The next time I was at the Florida city swap meet, I told the elegant woman I always bought my silk  scarves and necklaces from, all about my adventure. For that wholeweekend, up in Harlem I  never  saw another white person and yet no one even looked at me!
And this elegant AA woman looked down at me, she was tall too, and that patient look said, "You people..." What she did say was: "That's the big city. They're just New Yorkers."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The white problem

"America doesn't have a black problem it has a white problem." That was a line in the seventies. That was the time I first went to New York, to the States, the early seventies. I stayed with a friend who lived on the edge of  Spanish Harlem, just down from Columbia. "You'll be OK till eleven, that's when the junkies get up." She was a cool character, but she still had four locks on the door.

 I was back from five years in Kosovo, and still all for Brotherhood and Unity as the Yugoslav Communist Party put it. That meant that as I wandered round New York I made a point of asking directions only from black citizens. In the subway, on the crosswalk. Most seemed surprised, probably from my Downton Abbey BBC accent. Two I still remember: a young man from South Carolina, in a bright purple shirt and cowboy hat. We walked along for about three blocks, just talking, having fun and then I had to do the white liberal thing, bring up some pious statement about black and white and he looked down at me, and just faded away, into the crowd. The other was a teenager, playing basket ball. I'd landed up in some back street, and called over to the group. One boy came across, looking at me through the wire. His directions were: "Keep on walking, keep on till you see people who look like you."

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Secret of a Happy Marriage

Forget the petty squabbles, the silly little differences that arise, above all, forget the anniversaries. Let us rephrase that: both of you forget the anniversaries. Otherwise it doesn't work. I well remember the time when my sister in law caught sight of my forgetful brother coming through his own innocent front door. That day he had forgotten some vital prime number, the engagement, a christening? God forbid, the date of the actual wedding. She directed a look at him that could have scorched paint off a tank.
Luckily Dr. Motes and I, among many other things, always forget our wedding anniversary. And this year it was quite a big one, the 40th. I'm not sure what category that makes it, not up there with the precious metals, but certainly well beyond paper, plastic or plywood. And this time we totally forgot, even when a card arrived, joking about what a good thing we'd hitched up...for a long moment we were saying, Whaaaat the....?

So we both gave a merry laugh and went our separate ways. Of course, some things don't really have a date on them. Like the evening when we first saw "Midnight Cowboy" on Belgrade television. It was in the middle of a cold Balkan winter, and we'd just met each othe, teaching in Kosovo. And Dr. Motes said, yes, it 's Miami and like the song says, that's where the sun keeps shining through the falling rain...and that's where we'll be going...
 And he's totally forgotten he ever saw that movie with me on a cold Balkan night, totally. And he's lucky that I've totally forgotten about it. Totally.
This one's for Cathy!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

UK Goodbye

And so we say farewell to pub pies, hard green peas, and UK orchid  societies. Someone said only  three in Scotland, but soon be more with Dr. Motes' talks on "cool-growing Vandas." He says most of them quite happy on the lower slopes of  the Himalayas, which certainly sounds like the English weather I used to know. And "dour Scots?" and "uptight English?" Not among the orchids.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Heathrow and hijab

Glasgow to Heathrow. Commented to a young girl on passport control, how attractive she looked in the black Moslem head covering, joking how any self-conscious teenage girl would love to cover herself from head to toe in black. She burst out thanking me, thanking me because fellow workers didn't like it. She quoted the Bible, Jewish traditions, women covering the hair! And I told her tell them all that only a few years ago you weren't allowed into a Catholic Church unless your head was covered! "Make sure you've got a scarf," potential English tourists to Italy and Spain were warned, "or they won't let you in!"
Fresh off that encounter, I helped a little old Turkish lady, as the taps seemed out of order in the Ladies. The Turkish I know, remembered from old hospitable Albanians in Kosovo, is not much help:  " Sit! Sit" "Eat! Eat!" "I don't understand!" But I did know the authoritive: "Nothing, None!" for the lack of water.  What a world traveller! Next time in the Ladies, a nice young woman, sweet accent from somewhere, showed this old lady, on her way home to Miami, how the taps worked.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Look, no pictures!

 We've been taking pictures with our phones. But that's as far as they've got which right here does limit the dreaded:  "Look at my holiday pics!"  There are the Cathedrals: Winchester, St Albans, Durham -  arches, pillars,  inscriptions, ("Died of cholera, the Siege of Delhi, July 1857.") Then there is the statue of Alfred at Winchester,  great Anglo Saxon king, holding up his sword like a cross, his cloak swirling round his ankles, though from behind he looks like an old lady getting a cab. My favorite, an anxious lamb on Hadrian's wall, looking down at all of four feet to the grass below. And sheep everywhere, spread out calmly over grassy slopes, heavy with winter wool and close up looking exactly like Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A nation of gardeners

Sunday morning TV gardening program, "England, a nation of gardeners," someone is saying. Maybe that's why we've sold out of our vanda seedlings and only two Orchid Territory's left! Unlike many of our American citizens, who back off and say, "I don't grow, I can't grow Vandas... " Or "They take too long to bloom," - you know who you are! Maybe it's because the sun is shining. But all these hardy gardeners are snapping everything up, no questions asked. By the way, we're in Scotland. Told you it's a blast.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Who's the tourist now?

Wonky wifi, and on the road so spotty connexions between dim blogger and blog. Early days, lyrical: daffodils, daisies and dandelions along the roads, magnolias and tulips in front gardens, trees greening by the day! And SUN. Returning to England after so long, I'm an American tourist now: "Take those cars away and this street is total Jane Austen!"
Growing up, wan Thames Valley kid, talk of market towns and cathedral cities was just same old same old. "The pictures" kept us going: Cowboys, cops, all bright and shiny stuff or dusty open spaces. Now, Dr. Motes is on a speaking tour to UK orchid societies, and it's a total blast.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Talk!

At the European Orchid Conference, cont. Dr. Motes' Talk Well Attended, Well-Received! Especially considering the title: "In the steps of  Rumphius." It takes an orchidist to know that Rumphius is not a new breed of lovable shaggy dog but a 17th century Dutch botanist. And the story is an Indiana Jones tale of old drawings,  distant  tropical islands in Indonesia, a search for botanical truths after centuries of scholars' ignorance. Too much for a blog! Let the South  Dade News Leader explain to us ordinary citizens: "The orchid species Vanda furva was once thought lost to science for over 300 years, but was re-discovered by South Dade grower Dr. Martin Motes."

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Native drivers

Every taxi driver has been a Brit, local Londoners from the sound of it. All this talk of multi-racial London, I was expecting at least some chats on Somali politics or Pakistani cricket. But from Heathrow ("Is that white Hawthorne blooming in the hedgerows?"  " 'aven't a clue!") to the one at Victoria who's wife rescues sick orchids, it could have been fifty years ago. Except the bit about the orchids. "She puts them on the windowsill and I've found if you don't water them too much they do quite well." Wow. Dr. Motes, it seems even in London, you are no longer required.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Orchid-loving London

Floppy King Charles spaniel sniffing MIA arrivals at Heathrow customs, while a group of English lads hang around, in black, with guns. Not your English constables but at least half look Indian or Pakistani, so not so bad! As an expat I'm checking, just checking. Sun outside! All the way to central London. And row upon row of white and cream Victorian and Edwardian terraces. After so much History Channel, Wow! Look what Hitler missed!
At the hall, they're putting in the exhibits, the European Orchid Conference will open tomorrow.  Everywhere, Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium, Cymbidium, brilliant colors. Cool-loving orchids! Disconcerting. I'm so used to saying, "warm loving orchids" for our Vandas as though "warm-loving" and "orchids" just belong together, like "freedom-loving Americans."Tonight, the premier party, among the orchids, both cool and warm.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Free orchid classes

"Dr Motes gives free orchid classes on Saturday mornings at eleven." But sometimes he doesn't. And that's when he's off for example, to Sarasota or Pittsburg or Nepal. There are actual clusters of orchid  people out there who ask, even beg and pay for "distinguished speakers" and Dr. Motes is one.

 My point is, it's a bit like BOGOS. For example, they're always having this great offer for olive oil, buy one, get one free. And it's a big bottle, with maybe gold medals on the label but I'm thinking, if it's that good, why is it free? So all I'm saying, Kendall, Pembroke Pines - South Florida - we're off to London next week, for the European Orchid Conference where Dr. Motes will be speaking on Saturday, prime time! And speaking of Saturday, check your emails for the next free orchid class, at eleven, at Motes Orchids, under the trees.