American grandmothers with Nepalese children

American grandmothers with Nepalese children
In "our" village in Nepal

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A SUSPENSE-FILLED PAGE-TURNER OF A TRUE STORY

I just finished a terrific book that I’m telling everybody I know about. The reader of “Survival in the Shadows: Seven Hidden Jews in Hitler’s Berlin” by Barbara Lovenheim is plunged right into the tense situation of the survivors -- and their non-Jewish saviors, who risked their lives to feed and hide their neighbors, and to help in other ways. Interspersed is some history of the era, with the many-faceted view it gives of “ordinary” Germans, many of whom behaved in extraordinary ways.

The author’s sensitive interviewing of the survivors and the rescuers whom she met many years later – and their keen memories for their ordeal – bring the reader right into this gripping story, which also has its moments of levity, like the time two of the women got all dressed up and walked into an SS Christmas party. They carried off their adventure so well that they had to deal with an unexpected dilemma: one of the SS officers wanted to walk one of the women home.

I’m looking forward to the dramatic movie that must put these events on the screen. Till then, readers are rewarded by getting to know these courageous and resourceful survivors and the people who saved them.

Monday, June 29, 2015

WONDERFUL WHITE DINNER PARTY

Amazing, the thrilling things that can happen in New York – just from paying attention! Two years ago as I was walking home to my Upper West Side apartment, I heard music coming from the outdoor plaza of Lincoln Center. I walked across the street to check it out, and I saw thousands of people in a sea of white – white clothing, white tables and chairs, white china plates. It was definitely – in 1970s parlance – a Happening. But what exactly was happening? Other than a jubilant throng of strangers having a wonderful time, dancing, laughing, eating, drinking champagne, waving white napkins in the air? I finally buttonholed a couple on their way out and learned that this was Le Diner en Blanc (The Dinner in White), an annual flash-mob event that started in Paris in 1988, has spread to more than 60 cities in 25 countries around the world, and was making its second appearance in New York.

I rushed home, found Le Diner’s website and immediately signed up online to receive notices of the next year’s event. And then life intervened and I forgot about it – until summeer 2014. Exactly two years later I received an email telling me I was eligible to sign up for the August 25, 2014 dinner in New York. I phoned my friend, Charles – no one can come to the event alone; you have to bring someone, anyone, any gender; we signed up and paid a $5 membership fee and a $30 per person attendance fee. We were lucky – the party was capped at 4,800 diners, and 25,000 people had to languish on the waiting list.

Getting ready for the event was a big part of the fun. Our instructions stipulated that everything had to be white – and elegant. Charles and I put together our outfits and accessories, buying a few items we didn’t have (thanks to the Salvation Army, the Dollar store, and IKEA), and ordered wine through the website (you’re not allowed to bring in alcoholic beverages). We could have ordered champagne: Moet & Chandon is a sponsor of the event, which is organized by Diner en Blanc International.

On the afternoon of the big event, we loaded up a hand truck with our folding table and two chairs, white china place settings, white table linens, real cutlery (no plastic or paper allowed), table decorations, and a picnic supper (although we could have ordered that too from celebrity chef Todd English), and took everything by subway down to our group’s meeting place at South Ferry. Other groups were meeting at various points throughout the city. Brandi Miller, our table leader, checked us in, took us back onto the #1 train, and we finally learned our destination: the waterfront Nelson A. Rockefeller Park in Battery City. It was a 15-minute walk from the subway, so we were glad we heeded the recommendation to wear comfortable shoes (which we were encouraged to trade for more stylish ones onsite).

The evening was magical, as we got to know our dining companions, set up our table according to a preset grid plan, waved our white napkins to signal the beginning of the event, marveled at a brilliant sunset over the water, listened to a young violinist wending her way through the crowds, and then danced to a live band.

We formed instant friendships with the people at the tables on either side of us. First, Peter, a dentist who had been with his table-mate, Richard, an event planner, for 18 years, said to me, “Oh, they put the seniors together.” (Although at somewhere around 50, I think, Peter could be my son.) It was a young assemblage, with most attendees looking to be 30-something, a few younger (all over 21 since alcohol was being served), and the rest in upper age strata. Sonia and DJ Chef (aka Marc Weiss) on our other side were celebrating their first anniversary, and Sonia kept taking pictures, inexplicably hiding her beautiful face with a “Phantom of the Opera” mask. After sharing our food and wine, we all toasted Gerry and Priscilla, one table down. After 13 years together, Gerry added to the evening’s sparkle by presenting an engagement ring to Priscilla. She said yes.

We all kissed and hugged when it was time to go home, saying “See you next year!” Throughout this exhilarating evening I never heard a voice raised except in glee, never heard a complaint, never saw a cranky face. With almost 5,000 New Yorkers! So miracles do happen.

This year’s Dinner in White will be held Tuesday evening, July 28. You may be too late to sign up for this year, but you can get on the list for 2016. Just go to: http://newyork.dinerenblanc.info.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SEX AFTER FIFTY

My friend and colleague Joan Price has done it again! I had thought that in her previous books she had said all there was to say about sex after 50 – but was I wrong! In her new book, THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SEX AFTER FIFTY: HOW TO MAINTAIN – OR REGAIN – A SPICY, SATISFYING SEX LIFE, she has expanded and expounded on this vital topic.

I know a little about this issue, having written about it myself in THE ETERNAL GARDEN: SEASONS OF OUR SEXUALITY, for which I interviewed sexually active people up to age 80. But I didn’t do the extensive research among older people and experts about older people that Joan has – so I clearly cede to her the title of the Guru of Senior Sex. It seems she has thought of everything.

What’s new in this book? So much – as you can glean just from a rundown of the chapter titles, including Busting the Myths about Sex and Aging, Sex with a Longtime Partner, Sex with a New Partner, Stretching Boundaries, and Sex without Erections. She talks about G-spots, P-spots, sex after widowhood, the impact of such health problems as cancer, heart trouble, arthritis, and joint disease.

She quotes a virtual army of experts, even including a phone sex operator, who says “I wish there was some way that I could reach out to the partners of my callers and tell them what amazing, loyal, giving, and loving husbands they have, and how they could do some very small things to reinstate closeness with these men.”

Joan’s chapter on The New Rules of Dating could be profitably read by a single person of any age, with its emphasis on being clear what you want in a date, how to put yourself forward to attract someone, how to stay safe and healthy, and to recognize the usefulness of bad dates, which are likely to outnumber the good ones. As sex columnist Dan Savage told Joan, “Every relationship fails – until one doesn’t.”

She also takes up the issue of sex after cognitive loss, a topic in the news last year, when a 79-year-old former Iowa state representative was criminally charged with third-degree sexual abuse for having sex with his wife. Spurred by her daughters from a previous marriage, the elder care center where the wife lived claimed that her Alzheimer’s disease made her incapable of giving consent to sexual activity. Fortunately, a jury found the husband not guilty, especially after it was established that the wife often initiated the activity. Joan suggests an addendum to your advance health care directive to assure a lifetime of good sex.

It’s hard to think of a topic relating to sex in the later years that’s not covered in this book. If you’re over 50 – partnered or single; straight, gay, or transgender; whether you want more sex, some sex, or better sex – you owe it to yourself to take a look at this warm, loving book. Published by Cleis Press, its $22.95 cover price can open the door to hours – even years – of happy sexuality, the birthright of everyone.

Monday, June 8, 2015

LYNN DELL, COUNTESS OF FASHION

I was fortunate enough to meet Lynn Dell-Cohen after writing an article about Ari Seth Cohen, who has built his career on photographing older women. I would see Lynn walking in my Manhattan Upper West Side neighborhood always looking as if she could pose for a magazine cover as I walked around in jeans or jogging tights. When I met her at a party given by Debra Rapoport, another of Ari's favorite models, I told her that I was too intimidated to come into her elegant boutique, Off Broadway, because I usually look so un-glamorous when I'm just in the street. She flashed a big wide smile and told me, "I don't care how you look when you walk in -- as long as you look good when you walk out."

Lynn died last week after suffering a head injury from a fall. One of her friends said, "When she fell she was doing what she loved most -- after dressing up -- shopping." She was 80 years old and gorgeous and warm and gracious. I'm sorry that I didn't get a chance to tell her how much I love the skirt I bought from her 50-year-old shop. Off Broadway will stay in business, staffed by longtime associates.

I'm reprinting these 10 Style Tips From Lynn, as presented in Advanced Style a couple of years ago.

Lynn Dell's Top Ten Style Tips
1. "We must dress every day for the theatre of our lives."
2. "You must have a smile, you never get a second chance to make a first impression."
3. "My philosophy is fashion says 'me too,' while style says 'only me.'"
4. "It's not what you are wearing, It's how you put it together."
5. "Dress for yourself. If you are happy, you will make the world happy."
6. "Accessories are the most important thing. You can wear the same thing many times by adding different jewelry, scarves or a hat."
7. "Accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative."
8. "Your attitude is your altitude."
9. "When you walk into a room with a hat, you own the room."
10. "I like strong colors and I like strong people. All colors work if the intensity is strong enough."

As Ari said on hearing of Lynn's death, "Heaven just got a little more glamorous."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

AFTER MY SEVEN TRIPS TO NEPAL THE EARTHQUAKES HAVE SHAKEN ME

My love affair with Nepal began back in 1987 on my first trek there at age 53, and continued well beyond my seventh and most recent visit in 2003. I went from being a tourist drawn by its magnificent mountain scenery and the adventure of hiking in such an exotic locale, to becoming a friend of the people in Badel, a remote hill village northeast of Kathmandu, due south of Mount Everest, where, with a friend I helped to found a library, arrange and pay for cleft lip surgery for two children, and finance the installation of modern simple latrines to help protect the health of village children. And then I wrote a book about the people we had met -- "A Balcony in Nepal: Glimpses of a Himalayan Village," with art by Margaret Roche.

In 1993 my friend Margaret Roche and I spent time in Badel, where our bright young guide, Buddi Rai, had grown up and then returned as a trekking company owner after becoming the first university graduate in his village. We came to know his parents, his brothers and sister, and his wife and children, and to welcome them to my home on Long Island when they eventually were able to come to the United States.

The engine that drove my return trips to Nepal was the admiration I had for her people. After my initial trekking adventures I felt I needed to go back to learn more about them. I wanted to understand how they were able to show such remarkable sweetness and cheerfulness in view of the arrant poverty most of them struggle with and of their hard lives. I needed to find out what these people, who wrested beauty from a harsh and primitive land, could teach me, a woman who lived in one of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced countries in the world. I knew I had to return. I did return, and I did learn so much from my Nepali friends. Those visits changed me forever.

And so when I heard the tragic news of the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit this beautiful little country on April 25, my heart ached. I was desperate to find out how “my” village was doing. Happily, I received good news from my first trek leader, Peter Owens, an American who now lives in Kathmandu. Even after the second earthquake two weeks later, of a 7.3 magnitude, which dealt more blows to Nepal, and especially to the area between Kathmandu and Mount Everest, Badel’s people and houses had been spared. No one was injured and although some of the houses developed cracks, none were seriously damaged. And our little library still stands.
But my heart keeps breaking for Nepal. Last week The New York Times reported on the devastating destruction in the village of Barpak, the epicenter of the 7.8 magnitude hurricane that has taken more than 8,000 lives and flattened untold villages. I remember the much different view of Barpak, a village much like Badel, that I had on my first trek in Nepal in the spring of 1987, as captured in these passages from my journal.

"We set out, first uphill, and then contouring around the terraced slopes until we reach the village of Barpak, populated by members of the Gurung ethnic group, one of about one hundred groups in Nepal, each with its own language. Barpak is sizeable by Himalayan standards, spread out over a mile, with some 1,000 sturdy slate-roofed houses built from wood and from slabs of heavy stone scraped from the mountains that surround the village. With a population of about 10,000, Barpak gives off an air of prosperity, with its well-dressed children, many in western clothes; its school with classes 1 through 7; and its medical clinic under construction."

On May 6, 2015 The New York Times reported that about 1200 of the village’s 1450 buildings are gone or so badly damaged that they might as well be. The few houses built from concrete in the 28 years since our little group camped in the village largely stood up to the earthquake that destroyed so many of these remote mountain villages. I cannot bear to imagine what happened to Barpak’s medical clinic and to the staff and patients who were in it on that fateful Saturday.

"School closed early today to let the volleyball team practice for a big game coming up, but word of our arrival spreads, and six teachers come over to our campsite in the yard of the village panchayat (the governing council). A goodly contingent of villagers turns out too, and watches raptly as we present the English teacher, Khem Ghale, with items we’ve brought just for this purpose – ballpoint pens, felt-tipped markers, crayons, picture postcards of our home towns in the U.S. He’s a good-looking young man – slender, 5’8”, with thick black hair and chiseled features. Khem earned his S.L.C. (school leaving certificate, akin to high school graduation), and plans to study science at university in Kathmandu. He accepts our gifts and tells us about the school, the village, and himself."

I wonder where Khem Ghale is now. Did he go to Kathmandu , graduate from university, and get a better job? Did he return to teach in this close-knit community? Was he crushed by the earthquake, here or in Kathmandu? Or did he survive into his fifties to help his neighbors with the gargantuan task of rebuilding his shattered village?

"Khem takes us to see his home, with its walls covered with photos of family and friends. There’s a picture of his father, a retired Ghurka soldier, and a professional group shot of his parents, his four siblings, and himself. We meet his mother, sitting on her porch, weaving a bag she will use to do her marketing. We pass another house where a woman sits in front, on the ground, at a huge loom where she weaves an earth-brown hooded woolen cape, worn by all the boys and men in Barpak. They’re warm and waterproof and futuristic-looking with their peaked hoods. Just the thing for a cold rainy day on Long Island, I think, ready to pay $15 for one until I try it on and am weighed down by it. I can’t imagine how heavy it is when it gets wet.

"As we walk through the village, I ask Khem what his school needs. He tells us, “Blackboards and chairs.” A blackboard costs about $10. We caucus, take up a collection, and present the money. A few of our group go to see rakshi (the local liquor) being made in the home of the woman who sells it. I choose to stay back and repair my torn duffel bag. I’m a little sorry later that I didn’t go. But not broken-hearted. Is it the eastern influence that I seem to be more accepting of what is, what has been, what will be? Fewer regrets, fewer railings at chance."

But how can the survivors among these brave and cheerful people now accept the tragedy that has overcome them, buried their families, their friends, their homes, ruined their fertile beautifully sculpted undulating terraces that have enabled crops to grow up and down the steep hillsides? How accepting can they be? How can they go on, starting all over again? Will their strength come from their gods of the mountains, the rivers, the trees?

"Dinner back at camp, prepared by our ingenious kitchen staff, is chicken noodle soup, peppers, spinach noodles, a stew of meat, eggplant and peppers, boiled cauliflower, and blueberry cheese cake. The fifty or so children in their hooded capes watch our every move, looking like solemn little pupae in brown cocoons. They don’t watch us eat because they’re hungry, just because they are fascinated by our strange ways."

Where are these children now? They would be in their thirties today. Did the boys, like so many young men, leave the village to earn more money by working in construction in the Arab states, leaving Barpak populated by elderly farmers, women, and children? Did the girls look for work in Kathmandu or remain to raise their children alone? How many of them were felled by the earthquake?

"After dinner our porters and kitchen staff, after working hard all day, play music, and from our tents we watch them dancing under the stars until sleep takes over. I’m struck by their energy when I’m so tired – but even more by their seeming ability to be so happy with so little. Next morning we wake up at five, still seeing the stars. When the sun rises, its rays glint golden on the snowy 25,000-feet peak of Himalchuli before us. After breakfast we break camp and leave Barpak."

How have these villagers, whom I described then as living in dire poverty, in harsh conditions, while remaining cheerful and busy and purposeful and involved with life, coped with this new betrayal by nature? During my seven visits to Nepal between 1987 and 2003, I found her people not bitter, not beaten down, not even resigned. How are they today?

I can’t fight back tears at this tragedy, almost as if this were my family who was so brutally savaged. I’m overcome by a sense of powerlessness to help. I briefly consider flying to Nepal once again – and then am struck by the reality. There’s certainly no need for an 81-year-old woman with no training in medical care, construction, or other vital skills. And so I send checks to charities there on the scene and hope that the remarkable strength and resilience of the Nepali people, in the face of poverty, political unrest, and now the sudden loss of loved ones, of homes, of their very means of existence, will continue to wrest beauty from this harsh and primitive – and yes, beautiful – land.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

EVERYONE FALLS -- BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO

So many people commented that they were helped by my article about avoiding falls, which appeared in www.NYCityWoman.com, the free online magazine for women "on the right side of 50" (as its editor puts it) that I'm reprinting it here. I hope it keeps more of us grannies upright and out of the emergency room!

Improve Your Balance and Avoid Needless Falls

Some remedies only require common sense; others require classes in balance and tai chi.

by Sally Wendkos Olds

In my circle of friends, practically everyone—including me—has fallen recently. One friend hit the floor when the chair she was standing on to reach a high cabinet tipped over. One tripped over a small rug in her apartment. One tumbled downstairs when, wearing her progressive lenses, she could not see the bottom of the staircase. I ended up spread-eagled on a sidewalk when, looking up at the marquee of the theater I was headed to, I caught my toe in a crack in the cement. The ways we fall are varied and the ways to prevent falls are also varied. As we get older our vision changes and our muscles become weaker; these may cause changes in our balance, our bones and our ability to judge distances. Fortunately, we can do a lot to prevent mishaps.

“Reaching your sixties should be a wake-up call,” says Celeste Carlucci, a former dancer and the founder of the fall prevention and strengthening program FallStop…Move Strong™ at the Westside Jewish Community Center. Of course, younger people fall too, but the risks can be greater for people 60 and older. Many of us need to make changes. As much as we may want to look fashionable, we should wear sneakers (See Sneaker Savvy for City Living) or low-heeled shoes with rubber soles when we plan to walk four blocks or more. Also eliminate rugs that slip and slide in your apartment, learn better ways of picking up items from the floor and placing items on high shelves. Make sure your lighting is good.

Some of these remedies only require common sense, but improving our balance and way of moving sometimes requires physical therapy or classes in balance or tai chi. The stronger our muscles become and the more our sense of balance improves, the more adept we will become at catching ourselves if we trip or if someone bumps into us. Listed below is a compendium of recommendations from several experts.

Pay attention to your body: To decide if you need a class to improve your balance and strength, try the exercises in the sidebar and grade yourself honestly. If you sometimes feel dizzy or unsteady, have your doctor check you and analyze all your medications (including over-the-counter) to see whether any one of these or any combination is causing the problem.

Check your vision and ears: If you experience any dizziness when you walk, go to your eye doctor or ear doctor to make sure your glasses are appropriate and you don’t have an ear infection.

Wear shoes that give you good support: As you age the skin on the bottom of your feet becomes thinner and walking distances may become painful. You can buy inserts for sneakers and low-heeled shoes at many drug stores or see a podiatrist who can order custom-made orthotics and fit you with the right shoes.

Since most falls happen when we shift our weight and lose our balance, focus on keeping your body weight over your feet, especially when changing direction.

To pick up an item from the floor, bend your front leg, keep your rear leg about a foot behind the other, and bend down. You’re less likely to fall than if you bend over with both legs together.

To reach something on a high shelf, take the same stance: one foot forward, one back.

When walking down steps, if you’re feeling off balance, place your feet sideways and hold the railing.

When you wake up in the morning or after sitting for a long time as at the theater, open your lap, organize your body, and, as Celeste says, “pump the gas” for a couple of minutes before getting up by alternately flexing and pointing your feet.

Walking Outside

Consider every walk a mindful meditation, so you’re constantly thinking, “Where are my feet?” “Where is my body?” “What is the road surface like?” When I went trekking a few years ago on the narrow, rocky roads in Nepal, I had to focus on every step. If I wanted to look at the spectacular scenery, I knew I had to stop—I could not walk and look at the same time. We need to do this in New York City as well. As East Sider Myra Braverman told me, “When I walk and talk, I trip. When I just focus on how I’m walking and don’t engage in conversation, I don’t trip.”

Walk heel-toe. Make good contact with the ground by hitting it first with your heel, then your toe, with your legs a little bit apart so you’re not shuffling.

Use your whole leg and body to develop a good stride, but don’t make your steps so large that you lose your balance keeping up with them.

Practice using your STOP muscles: lunge forward, then pull your body back to catch yourself. Make this a habit so that if you trip or suddenly see a bike coming at you, you can pull yourself back.

Standing a foot away from a wall, keep your body straight as you lean forward, with your hands away from the wall. As you come closer to the wall, practice putting your hands on it so the movement will be automatic and if you do trip, you’ll fall on your hands.

Swing your arms when you walk. This can be a challenge on crowded sidewalks, but it’s important to keep your body loose and have an easy gait.

On snowy and icy streets wear boots with rubber soles, engage your abdominal muscles, plant one foot and then the other firmly on the ground, angle your body slightly, and lean forward a little bit so you won’t fall backward.

When walking your dog, keep the leash short and the dog close to you. When you bend down to scoop the poop, place one foot in front of the other so you won’t lose your balance. And keep one foot on the leash so Fido can’t bolt and drag you with him.

Be alert to what’s around you: puddles and potholes, uneven pavement, cyclists coming the wrong way, cars turning into the crosswalk, oblivious smartphone users about to bump into you.

Taking Taxis and Buses

Let the new taxis with high steps pass and wait for one that’s easier to get in and out of. To get in, sit sideways, hold the door frame and swing both legs in at the same time. To get out, do the reverse.

Don’t run for a bus. Instead leave early so you’ll have enough time and won’t be tempted to run. Always exit from the front of the bus, no matter what the recorded voice says, since the front step is lower than the rear. To get in or out, step sideways and hold the railing.

Create a Safe Environment at Home

Check your home against the safety checklist from the Centers for Disease Control.

Light is important. Keep a lamp by your bed with an easy-to-reach switch, and keep a flashlight handy, at home and when traveling, so you never have to walk in the dark.

Inside the house always wear shoes or slippers with a back AND, when possible, rubber soles to give your feet structure and prevent slipping.

Never walk in stocking feet, which are slippery.

Use a sturdy stepladder with a hand rail to reach high places; be sure it’s level before getting on and hold on.

Always keep your cell phone with you so if you do fall you can summon help.

Keep your floors free of clutter you might stumble over.

Enrolling in a class to improve your balance and strength can also bring tremendous benefits. As West Sider Lynn Minton says, “My ankles are stronger, my calves are stronger, my thighs are stronger—my whole body is stronger and more flexible. We all trip—just look at New York City sidewalks—but now I can right myself if I start to trip and I don’t fall down. I’m always recommending Celeste’s classes to friends.”

[Celeste is Celeste Carlucci, who teaches balance and muscle strength classes in NYC and who offers DVDs to follow at home on her website, www.fallstop.net.]

Sunday, August 24, 2014

LE DINER EN BLANC

Two years ago as I was on my way home to my Upper West Side Manhattan apartment, I heard music coming from the outdoor plaza of Lincoln Center. When I walked across the street to check it out, I saw thousands of people in a sea of white – all-white clothing, white tables and chairs, white china place settings. I finally buttonholed a couple on their way out and found out that this was the second appearance in New York of Le Diner en Blanc (The Dinner in White), a French-inspired flash-mob-type event, described more elegantly as a "smart mob," and available by invitation only.

I didn’t know anyone who could invite me, but I went online and found a place where I could sign up to receive notices of the next year’s event. And then I promptly forgot about it. Although I never heard from the website the following year, I did get an email a couple of weeks ago telling me I was now eligible to vie for a spot online. Actually two spots: no one can come to the event alone; you have to bring a friend. I called a friend who immediately accepted. I was accepted to this august company of about 4,000 people who will gather tomorrow evening at various meeting places throughout New York City, and only then will we learn where the event will be held.

I pulled together the “elegant” white outfit I was instructed to wear, as did my friend, buying a few items that we didn’t have. I paid my $5 membership fee and the $30 each attendance fee. I ordered wine from the approved store, since we are not allowed to bring any alcoholic beverages; to prevent bringing in such contraband our picnic baskets will be checked upon entrance. Oh yes, we have to bring our own picnic supper (an “elegant” one, to be sure), along with white china place settings (no plastic!), white napery, cutlery (again no plastic!).

I have looked at the photos of others who will be attending, and I'm sure that my friend and I will be the oldest people there. And that's part of the fun and excitement of this adventure. More to come after tomorrow night.