Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Vicissitudes of Age

I’ve joked often with my friends that they just don’t make high school boys the way they did when I was in high school. Back then, high school boys looked like boys – they were mostly kind of thin, gangly, occasionally spotty, and there’s no way that they could’ve walked into a bar without being tossed right back out. Today, though, if you walk past any high school football team at practice, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a team that was at least semi-pro. These boys are big! And where the heck do all those chiselled jaws come from? I mean, are they ordered before conception?!

Even my friends’ sons don’t look the way I expected them to look – sure, for the most part, they are in their late teens or early 20s, but they don’t look anything like the boys I remember from high school or university. So we remark on it, blame it (only half-jokingly) on hormones in chicken, and move on.

But the other day (by which I could well mean a couple of weeks ago – my grasp of time is sometimes quite fluid), I was on a bus heading downtown. The bus was crowded, and so I was standing near the rear exit door, contentedly listening to my iPod. Near Dalhousie University, 4 young men got on the bus and moved towards the rear, where they wound up standing near me.

Here’s what I noticed – they were all very attractive. No spotty skin here, but lovely complexions. Nice haircuts. Clear, bright eyes. They were all close to 6 feet tall, if not taller. They were all very nicely built (although it’s winter, it wasn’t a very cold day, and they weren’t seriously bundled up – I don’t have x-ray vision!) – one might have been a football player, another a soccer player, but they were all fit. And they smelled marvellous – how to explain this without having my friends lock up their sons?? They smelled clean, of nice soap… and someone was wearing one of my favourite men’s colognes. I felt myself smiling inside as I listened to their conversation – nothing important, just talking about what they were going to do that day, and generally having fun. I remembered being that age, and having those conversations. My whole life was ahead of me, and there were a million decisions that were finally mine alone to make – and not all of them were big decisions.

Here’s the other thing I noticed. In the couple of moments it took me to notice all this about this small group of young men, I also noticed that they did not notice me – I don’t mean that I think they should’ve been checking me out (erk!), but rather, that I wasn’t even on their radar. I was invisible! When the heck did I become invisible? I think it must’ve been around the time I turned 40. For the most part, young men do not notice women of my age (and what the heck is this – ‘women of my age?!’ Sheesh.) – and lately, those who have noticed have been full-on hitting on me (I think they want their Mrs. Robinson moment, although many of them wouldn’t get the cultural reference).

And the last thing I noticed as they exited the bus is that if they had noticed me, it would’ve been along the lines of … being reminded of an aunt… or their mother. Oh, dear. I won’t really be cute again to adorable young men for another 30 years or so, when I have become a truly old lady!

Someone once said that getting old is not for sissies, and indeed it is not! I’ve long since accepted much of this whole aging process, sometimes with great bemusement. I can live with the wrinkles around my eyes (crows’ feet, my ass!) – but perhaps that’s because they’re generally obscured by the temples of my glasses!

I’ve accepted that my pores aren’t what they used to be, and like everything else, are not as tight and smooth as they once were.

My grey hair has never bothered me – in fact, I think it’s kind of a pretty, shiny grey, and if I knew that my whole head of hair would go that colour, I think I’d be ok with it. As it is now, though, I get a bit of grey at the temples, and it’s sometimes noticeable where my hair is parted. Just enough grey, in fact, for people to wonder why I don’t do something to touch it up! (A sidebar: I have been dyeing my hair for a very long time, since my daughter was 2, in fact. It has been many shades of red, a couple of shades of blonde, and it’s now brunette, which I quite like. I have never dyed my hair to cover grey, but only because I’m easily bored, and it’s cheaper than a vacation!) But what’s with the thinning hair?? It’s not enough that it’s gonna go grey whether I like it or not (thank goodness I don’t care!), but thinning hair? Really? I noticed this in a picture that a friend took of me, and as I first glanced at it, I thought, what’s that white in my hair?? And it was my scalp!! I could see my head through my hair! (OK, this is probably a shrug-inducer for men, many of whom deal with the whole thinning hair thing long before most women, but still. My hair was thin enough before, thanks very much!) And I thought that perhaps it’s because I’ve put waaaaaay too much hair colour in my hair, but when I mentioned in a whisper to a friend, she said, “I know just what you mean!!” Oh, thank God. I am not alone. This happens to other women as well. It doesn’t make it OK, or anything like that, but at least I’m not alone!

I look at my hands sometimes, and I see the hands of an older woman, particularly when I look at my hand next to my daughter’s 21-year-old hands The skin on her hands is tight and smooth, while mine is… not. That surprised me, and I don’t much like it, but I can live with it.

But then there’s my chin. I know, I know, this is vanity unfettered, but this is my blog, and I can wax poetic (or rant) about whatever the heck I want. And the subject today is my chin. What’s with this … loose skin I’m seeing there?? That is an old lady chin! I’m not ready for that! I used to think I wasn’t vain enough for plastic surgery – don’t have perky breasts? So what?! They have served me well, done what I needed them to do, fed babies, been objects of desire for lovers, so if they don’t stand up like an 18-year-old’s, I am ok with that. (I’ve watched enough of Nip/Tuck to know that plastic surgery doesn’t always go the way one expects, after all…) I’ve never had any desire to shoot botulism into my forehead, nor to sand away the wrinkles around my eyes, nor even the lines I’ve noticed on she sides of my mouth – they are brackets to my smile, and I’m ok with that.

But I’m not ok with this whole chin thing. I could see having plastic surgery for this, honestly! And how vain is that?? I’ve already established that I’m getting older, and I’m ok with it, truly! It’s inevitable anyhow, even for a goddess such as myself. And I am still the youngest of all my siblings. But I’m having issues with the chin thing.

I can’t imagine ever being one of those people ‘of a certain age’ who dresses in a manner more appropriate for someone 30 years her junior (30 years… sob!), but insofar as I wish to look in the mirror and still recognise myself, I’m gonna invest in more moisturiser! I wonder if women get hair implants…

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Megillah Esther... Happy Purim

So, the feast of Purim is very nearly upon us. My kitchen is redolent with the scents of hamentaschen... chocolate, with a chocolate ganache; and a saffron pastry with apricot/walnut/honey filling. Nothing too traditional about either one of them, except perhaps for their shape... hamentaschen... Haman's ears, it's said, or more politely, Haman's pockets.

Who was Haman? He was an advisor to King Achashvairosh, and one in a very long line of people who wanted Jews out of his way, preferably permanently, which meant preferably dead. His plan was to destroy all the Jews in the empire, ostensibly because one Jew, Mordecai, had refused to pay homage to him.

The way the story goes - very briefly - is that Mordecai knew what Haman was up to and schemed to get his niece, Esther, our heroine, into a position of power (as Queen to King Achashvairosh), and to have her whisper into Achashvairosh's ear of Haman's wickedness. It all worked out pretty well, actually, at least insofar as this time, it wasn't the Jews who wound up on the chopping block, so to speak.

So Jews celebrate that on yet another occasion when someone wanted us dead, we wound up ok. Hamentaschen are just to remind us of Haman - it's as if even with the sweetness of the treat, we must still remember the bitterness of the events that brought us to this celebration. Paradoxical, really.

But that's not why we're here!

At Purim, many Jews dress up in costume (think, "Hallowe'en, but Jewishly!"). We make a LOT of noise (every time Haman's name is said when Megillah Esther is read, the congregation makes enough noise to drown out the name). We eat excellent treats (hamentaschen, which are usually sweet, may also be made savoury, and are quite tasty either way). In fact, we're even commanded to drink on this occasion! So much that we would not be able to tell Haman (boo, hiss!) from Mordecai (hurray!), or Esther (HURRAY!). Many children dress as Mordecai, many dress as Esther. Not too many dress as Haman.

And that's not why we're here, either! But I'm getting to it.

So - we talk about how Esther used her position as Queen to whisper secrets into the King's ear that led to Haman's downfall (which was a good thing, really), but we don't talk often about how she got the job. The King was already married when Esther came along, you see, to Queen Vashti. It was Achashvairosh's idea that he should show off his Queen in all her beauty... ALL her beauty. Wearing nothing at all but her royal crown. The Queen, as befitting any woman with a shred of dignity, took exception to this, and she refused to do as the King wished. Oh, the horror! The Queen had been disobedient to her King... in front of all his advisors, she had shown him up. And what might THAT lead to? Well, of course, other willful and headstrong women who thought that they, too, could do as they wished!

King Achashvairosh did what any king in his position would do - he dispossessed Queen Vashti of her crown and declared that she could nevermore come to him, that she was in fact, no longer Queen. We don't know exactly what happened to Vashti after her dispossession - did she die? Was she just pensioned off to a minor palace elsewhere in Persia? Was she beheaded? Who knows?! What we do know is that when she refused to allow her husband to treat her like a whore and parade her naked in front of his advisors as a demonstration of his kingly power, she was gone. Just like that... poof!

And THIS is why we're here. I can understand that Esther gets heroine status, because without Esther's lips whispering at the King's ear, there might not be too many Jews left on the planet today. And I can understand that Mordecai's a good guy, because it was his foreknowledge of Haman's plan that Esther brought to the King.

But why is it that we don't teach our daughters (and sons!) about Vashti? Why don't we teach them how brave she was, how principled, to stand up AGAINST her husband's demand that she present herself naked before him and his ... work colleagues?! Why are our daughters not dressing up as Vashti, strong and proud, unwilling to let even her husband treat her shabbily, unwilling to be chattel?

Here's to Vashti! Now I've got to do some research.... what might a Persian Queen have worn in the palace? There are just a few days before the reading of Megillah Esther, and I have an idea of a costume I might like to wear this year...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lights... Camera... Action!!

Sometimes I’m too busy (or too idle) to write down movie thoughts, but that’s rarely because the film I’ve seen hasn’t moved me in some way… And here are a few that have provoked some kind of reaction recently.

Crazy Heart is Jeff Bridges’ latest film, for which he’s been nominated for an Oscar. The pundits suggest that this time (his fourth nomination), he might win it. I wondered if we might be looking at a 21st-century version of A Star is Born, Kris Kristofferson’s epic film with Barbara Streisand, which I saw when it was released in 1976 and I was much more clueless… Still, what I remember is that when Kristofferson’s character fell in that film, he kept right on falling.

Jeff Bridges hasn’t just revisited Kristofferson’s earlier film, though. Neither did the filmmakers stay with the ending that author Thomas Cobb gave his 20-something-year-old book, but that’s ok, too. What worked in this film? Well, Bridges did. He’s a fine actor, and believable in the part of country music performer Bad Blake, a man who used to be on top of the world, we’re told, but is now skidding unstoppably downhill. He’s likeable, even when you wonder if he’s going to fall flat on his face (figuratively speaking, primarily, though the literal sense would also apply).

The way the character is drawn, we know that he must be lonely – he’s on the road a lot, and not with a tour bus and an accompanying band, but on his own. When he gets to a venue, he meets the pick-up band who will be playing with him. While on the one hand, we know that this is his job, and he just goes on the way we all do some times, plodding forward because even when you don’t feel like it, there are still jobs to be done, on the other hand, it’s clear that he still loves the music. It’s not the adulation of fans (although that does give him the ‘benefit’ of the occasional one-night stand), but rather, the baring of his soul that’s important. It seems that through much of his life, through his 4 marriages, and his non-existent relationship with his now-adult son, he hasn’t been able to say what he needed to say. Through his music, he can.

Maggie Gyllenhall plays the much-younger reporter who, of course, becomes the love interest in the story. I went into this with a bit of eye-rolling, wondering why on earth it is that we keep seeing films in which the much older lead male attracts the eye of the much younger lead female. “Give me a break,” I thought. This isn’t like that, though. Yes, Gyllenhall’s Jean is much younger; yes, she’s a little damaged in her own right; yes, she’s vulnerable and a bit fragile. But don’t kid yourself. She’s also mighty strong.

Is it her crazy heart, or Bad Blake’s, that gives us the title? Who knows? They both have hearts in which their capacity for love is great and yet somehow unrealized. Gyllenhall turns in a performance in which she truly is luminous - I generally hate that description of an actress, because it’s generally undeserved. Here, though, it’s a fact. We watch her falling in love with the Bridges character, all the while understanding that we’re sharing a wry joke with her – “Can you believe I’m letting this happen?” She says exponentially more with her eyes than many actresses can say with everything they’ve got.

Colin Farrell also does a turn here, as country music superstar Tommy Sweet, and while he’s not bad, his performance is minor. He doesn’t have much screen time, and he downplays his presence. But this film belongs, by turns, to Bridges and Gyllenhall. Everyone else is window dressing. It’s an excellent film, and well worth the admission and the time. Go see it.

Next up, A Single Man, Colin Firth’s latest, and it’s a stunner. Firth plays George Falconer, a university professor in the United States of the 1960s, a man that society used to call a “confirmed bachelor,” when people really meant that the person of whom they spoke was gay.

It’s not a spoiler to say that Firth’s long-time partner, Jim, dies – quite early in the film, in fact. Jim's death isn't what the story is about, but rather George's life. The death is unquestionably a tragedy of unspoken proportions – Falconer receives a telephone from Jim’s cousin who explained apologetically that ‘the family didn’t want me to call, but I thought it was right.’ So – wait… what? The couple had been together for 17 years, and the family didn’t want him notified of Jim’s death?! Well, yes, because that’s the way it was.

Falconer thanks the cousin and says that he should get off the phone to arrange a plane ticket for the funeral. More apologies from the cousin – a ticket won’t be necessary, because the funeral is ‘just for family.’ Just for family. What casual cruelty to someone who’s just experienced the most profound loss of his life.

Julianne Moore, who may well have been called luminous in this role (I’d disagree – she seems miscast to me as another British expatriate living in the US), plays Falconer’s friend Charley. The pair had what we might call a hookup a number of years earlier, and it’s possible that she still carries a torch for him. I haven’t much to say about her role, or even her character, because honestly, her performance grated here. And I really do like Julianne Moore! Just not in this film.

Back to the film – the filmmakers decided to move back and forth, to show us how George met Jim, how they came to stay together. They build for us the image of this peaceful, uncomplicated, mutually fulfilling life that somehow blossomed in a world which was hostile to it and afraid of it. (Hm… it strikes me that not much has changed for same-sex couples in the last 40 years.)

I won’t spill the ending here; suffice it to say that it was most unexpected. This movie brought me to tears, a couple of times, and I recommend it very highly to anybody. A Single Man is, as my daughter would say, a keeper. As soon as it’s available on DVD, I’ll purchase it and watch it again (tissues at hand).

And if I were the Oscar jury, I’d give the award to Colin Firth, with thanks.

Stay tuned for Part II…