Monthly Archives: November 2009

Footprints in the sand


Big shoes to fill

I attended a memorial service today. It was to commemorate the life of a man who had had a profound impact on many whose lives he had touched in some way. With me, it was through work. His death was unexpected – he had not been ill; it came at a time in his life when he finally had time to ‘smell the roses’.

He was a man with a huge amount of mana. He was calm and gentle with a ready smile and a powerful presence.

His wife (I hate the word widow) told that in the last month, while living in the Cook Islands, they had arrived at a peaceful stage in their lives. They were able to look into each other’s eyes and take the time to share how much they meant to each other. They were able to look at their surroundings, at the house they were living in and the garden, and really appreciate its beauty. They also gave thanks for what had brought them there – a life of hard work and sacrifice on many levels.

On the day he died, as he was leaving for a game of golf – they exchanged the words “I love you very much.”

Her message to all of us was ‘Don’t leave it too late’. Tell people how much you love them, tell them how they enrich your lives, tell them what they mean to you. Tell them daily.

His footprints in the sand are huge….




As it was

A survivor's story

“When we have passed a certain age, the soul of the child we were and the souls of the dead from whom we have sprung come to lavish on us their riches and their spells…” Marcel Proust

Last year, I met a lovely woman, ten or so years older than me and over breakfast we discovered friends in common. Not surprising really given the size of New Zealand. As the conversation developed she told me that our mutual friend (who’s now 80 years old) had recounted the story of her experiences as a Polish Jewish teenager during World War II in a book that had been published four years ago. As we parted company she said she’d call me soon and give it to me to read.

Fast track twelve months on, and I receive a call asking if it’s be convenient for me to meet her in town so that she could give me the book to read.

It’s a beautiful little book, its format not unlike my own Looking for Braki.

The story is told by Zofia Galler, who we knew as Zosia (am not sure if I’ve spelled that correctly) – and is known by her New Zealand friends as Sophie. She and her husband were close friends of my father. I’d always thought her an incredibly beautiful woman- tall, elegant, olive skin, high cheeks bones, thick dark hair – and knew that she’d been imprisoned in Auschwitz during the war.

In common with most of Dad’s friends, she had her prisoner number tattooed on her arm. But I knew little more than that because it simply wasn’t talked about.

I learned through reading the account (written by her daughter-in-law) that she was twelve years old when war broke out, was forced to witness her father being beaten and shot at point blank range, spent several years in concentration camps, was fed cocktails of drugs to prevent menstruation, endured the infamous death march, and finally, when on a work detail, escaped to freedom  with a 16 year old friend.

Recently when visiting family in Melbourne, I was told that Susie (wife of my late cousin Stasio), had also spent her early years in Auschwitz and lost her entire family there. Stasio and Susie have been an integral part of our family since well before I was born. Yet, I never knew her history.

Why didn’t I ever ask?

There are so many many stories. Every day we are bombarded with stories of the victims in our society – some are very real victims, other are victims because they choose to be.

Maybe the difference is that my father’s friends didn’t see themselves as victims. They were survivors. And as survivors they probably carried a bit of guilt – why did they survive when so many didn’t? Why not their brothers or their sisters? But also, they wanted to put their horrendous pasts behind them and just get on and ‘live’.

There is one common thread to all the stories of survival – they are extraordinary. They are feats well beyond our imagination – yet when recounted, they are so in the most matter-of-fact way.

The joy of sunglasses

What's behind the lens?

Sunglasses!  Today sunglasses were an absolute necessity as the sun shone high and everyone took to the streets.

But two days ago, when I took this photo, the day was dull and overcast. The wind was gusting, it just wasn’t that pleasant. As I walked up from a meeting in Courtney Place, I passed a number of people wearing sunglasses. It didn’t strike me as the sort of day you needed them – yet, there they were. I even saw one pair perched on top of a baseball cap worn by a guy sitting inside a cafe.

I was pretty pleased today that the sun was still out following my early evening swim because my sunglasses are great for hiding the goggle marks. Instead of walking to my car looking pretty gross with wet hair, no make-up and huge indents on my face, I went looking vaguely Jacki-O’ish (yeah right!!!). Sunglasses are so useful for hiding imperfections aren’t they?

Maybe that’s why people wear them when there’s no need, apart from looking cool of course!

Beauty is in the eye

I have a friend who is one of the most beautiful people I know – in fact one of the most beautiful people anyone will ever know. A posting, Body beautiful  on her site Fresh New Day today upset me. It upset me because the thoughts she expressed  were about a dissatisfaction with her physical self and comparing herself to the many unrealistic ideals that confront us daily.

She obviously doesn’t see herself as those her know her do. She has the warmest of hugs, the most infectious laughter, empathy beyond measure and so so much love to give absolutely everyone. Even when life has many times dealt her out the roughest possible hand – she has been able to give of herself. She has been the best possible role model for her children and they have all inherited her very special qualities.  They are the same caring, loving, honest, loyal, creative and wonderful young people as their mother. Family and friends are the bread of life for them – I don’t say that lightly.

We come in so many different packages. When I look at a person I’m not looking at their wrapping. Everything is in the eyes – the keys to our soul, the barometers. My friend’s eyes make me feel heartened because when I see her looking at her husband, her kids,her family and her friends, they light up, they radiate and cast a glow around her.  They are so beautiful. She has a gift – she has the power to enrich.

Without people like my friend the world would be a poorer place. When we are gone, it’s not our shells that people remember. My friend has unwittingly had a profound effect on all those who have come within her radar – I’ve seen it. People gather toward her…one look at the vast list of her friends on Facebook is enough indication of how much everyone loves her.

These are the things that matter.

Great to be a swimmer

I couldn't agree more

‘Hear hear’ I thought as I sat behind this car in the traffic on my way home today. And it’s been nearly a month since I had my weekly quota of three swims per week – four on good weeks! And I am seriously missing my time in the pool…it’s my time, and like the time I spend walking the dog, I spend it thinking. What else is there to do when you’re going up and down the lanes ad infinitum? Well, it’s not really ad infinitum – I usually swim about 2.5kms, so there is an end to it. And it makes me feel so so good.

Unlike my time with Toby, this activity is ‘on my own’. I don’t have to wait while he sniffs at the lamp posts or pulls me toward some delicious odour in a shrub. It’s bliss – up and down, up and down.

I enjoy it most when I have the pool to myself, when the water glistens in the sunlight and I can take the centre of the lane and get a good rhythm going. I love having a lane to myself, breaking the calm clear water in front of me, and not having to make way for other swimmers especially when those swimmers are males who have a greater wing span. (In truth most people have a greater wing span than me!)

I get really really annoyed when lazy swimmers wear flippers. In my book, that’s cheating! I asked once why the need for flippers? Is there some benefit that I haven’t heard about? But no, it’s just flotation and speed. Hummmph!!!

The only problem I have with swimming is a vanity one. I get goggle marks, really bad goggle marks – they circle my eyes, make huge indents under my eyebrows staying that way for hours and hours. I look like the cartoon character Mr Magoo – bug-eyed and ridiculous! It is for this reason, and this reason alone I  go swimming only after work when family are sole witnesses to Magoo.

But then, the owner of the car could be a fertility specialist???

Behind closed doors

I recently went to see the movie ‘An Education’. It’s a wonderful movie and I really loved it. It has all the themes that capture my soul – love, music, beauty and a touch of sadness. I was thoroughly engaged with the beautiful Hepburn-like (at times) Jenny and captivated by the story. It revolves around an intelligent and talented 16-year-old girl who in her last year of school becomes involved with an older man. A man who promises her everything, who shows her a life far removed from her very restricted home environment and initiates her in the ways of love. (The title works on several different levels!) As the plot develops she has to choose between reading English at Oxford University or taking off for a life of excitement and travel with her man. I’ll say no more.

We were sitting in the Penthouse Theatre in Brooklyn, early on a Saturday evening. The theatre was a long way off being full and most of the punters were either sipping a glass of wine or licking their choc-dipped ice-creams. Just alongside us in the central row was an older man – a proper gent with tweed jacket, dark khaki trousers and shiny brogues. His companion was a tall, slim, coiffed and supremely elegant woman – the epitome of elegance really, especially for a Saturday. I instantly recognised her as my ex-teacher and ex-headmistress from a number of years ago. As young schoolgirls we adored her; we thought her so much older and wiser than she actually was, and admired her sense of style. She was looking remarkably young and particularly lovely!

But as I walked past her after the credits had rolled and the only sound were hushed voices, I really felt like bursting out and saying to her, “Worse happened on your watch, you know!”

I wonder what her reaction would have been.

Christmas essence

Key ingredients for the Christmas cake

Getting the Christmas cakes into the oven is my signal to myself that Christmas is coming. It’s no small feat for me because I have to make the cakes over a weekend – 24 hours for macerating the fruit, and then several hours for putting it all together and baking. As soon as all the fruits are in the bowl with the requisite alcohol, I’m on the way. And that smell – even when the fruits are soaking – it permeates the kitchen, and eventually the house. There’s nothing quite like it, except maybe hot cross buns!

I got to pondering this morning, while striding out of course, about just when the Christmas baking became such a ritual in our household. After all, I wasn’t raised in a conventional anglican/catholic/presbyterian etc home. I was raised in a liberal jewish one and we celebrated Chanukkah, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. At Christmas time, when all other families were getting together, going to midnight mass and exchanging gifts, we were down in the Keneperu Sounds enjoying the food and festivity around Christmas, but not really being part of the action.

And yet, my mum made a Christmas cake every year we had a Christmas tree. And yes, we did get presents. Go figure!!! We had the best of both worlds.In her later years she took to making the most exquisite decorations for the tree…maybe she was building for future celebrations with grandchildren. Maybe there were traditions from her own upbringing she was missing. I’ll never know because I didn’t ask the question – I just accepted it, as did my father.

I married into a catholic family and then started my journey with the Easter and Christmas traditions. Luckily, I love baking and eating, I love the smells of Easter and Christmas, and I love rituals. And in the early days, there was a lot of companionship surrounding Christmas baking – particularly Christmas mince pies. The females of the family would gather with all ingredients in hand (lunch goodies as well) and we’d bake copious amounts of the pies using a special family recipe that’s hard to beat. Dozens and dozens of pies. I still make them – they’re the best especially when heated and served with a dollop of ice-cream.

So when did I start making the Christmas cake that I make very year? I think the first time I used this particular recipe had to have been at least 23 years ago. I clipped it out of the Evening Post just prior to Christmas – and it’s been my favourite year after year. So much so, that I’ve never even attempted another recipe. I’m too afraid of being disappointed.

I told my boys, when we were discussing plans for the big day, that there’s  a bit of their grandad in the cake. The fruit is soaked in brandy and kirsch. Kirsch is not always the easiest liqueur to find in bottle store…when I was hunting around for some several years ago, I found a bottle leftover from Dad’s cache of booze that I inherited when he died 28 years ago. The text on the bottle is in Polish and although it doesn’t say kirsch, it does have the word Maraschino on it. So I reckon it must be kirsch. If not, it’s a damn good substitute anyway.

Now the cakes are made, they’re sitting on the bench with their newspaper wrapping around the tins and covered with a tea towel. They’ll stay that way until they’re completely cool. The smell is divine. I keep on having to sneak into the kitchen to lift the tea towel and inhale deeply. What a great time of year!