Looking for Ladybugs

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My friend Kerry told me to look for ladybugs while I was in Italy.

He was referring to the part of the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, when the sexy, older ex-pat from London tells Frances, a recently divorced American reinventing herself in Italy, that looking for love is like looking for ladybugs. That when she was a child, she would spend hours looking for them, eventually tiring and falling asleep in the grass.  And when she awoke she would find herself covered in them.

I wasn’t sure I was looking for love in Italy. Or even a romance – although I assured him and others that my heart was open to the possibility.  However, as the days to my departure date grew more near, I was more than certain I was here to do something.

I saw my first ladybug when I arrived in Umbria, 24 hours after arriving in Rome.

After I nearly took the wrong bus from Arezzo to Cita de Castello – twice – and a young man named Leonardo approached me, offering help in English. After we spoke for nearly 45 minutes – talking about writing and language and being “black sheep” – and friending one another on Facebook.

After Giulia and Elide – my contacts for the AltroCioccolato, the “other” chocolate festival I came to volunteer for – picked me up at the bus station. And after bringing me to Roberto’s house – one of the festival’s founders – where I sat in the sun while he plied me with buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes – shiny with olive oil, and espresso.

It was a few hours later, driving to pick up groceries at a biological food co-op. A large ladybug graced a sign announcing that our destination, The Happy Worm, lay ahead.

The next day, I saw three more. One embellished a pizza parlor sign.  Another, actually a mess of them, covered a car steering wheel.

The final one landed on another of the volunteers – Duncan, the youngest of the group and the only other American. He asked me if I wanted it, knowing nothing of Kerry and our conversation.  I told him I did.  He put his arm next the mine and the ladybug crawled over to me without any prodding.  And refused to leave.

That night, I found myself in the city’s hospital. What had merely been a health nuisance while I was in the states had escalated enough for me to make contact with healthcare professionals back home at .99 a minute.

I was fairly certain I would have difficulty getting a live voice at Northwestern Hospital, so I called my physical therapist to ask her advice. She told me to call my doctor.  That she wasn’t comfortable giving advice on this matter.  When I told her I didn’t have an internet connection, she looked up the number for me.

Several holds, disconnects and phone calls later, I was advised by a medical assistant to seek attention.

I knocked on Giulia’s door and told her I needed to go to the hospital. As she dressed, my roommate Ingrid, from the UK, offered to join us for moral support.  In the piazza at midnight in this sleepy village Giulia – a native of Italy – asked around for a cab.  A stranger offered to drive us, dropping us off at the hospital and wishing us buona fortuna — good luck in Italian.

Ninety minutes later I was warmly assured by a doctor that I was in fact, ok.  I received a bill for 25 euros which I was instructed to pay the next day.  And Elide – whom Giulia had called – drove us home.

Earlier that evening, in the hospital, I broke down in tears. Overwhelmed.  Afraid.  And aware that my ex-husband, a doctor – was no longer “my person.”  That I was “alone.”  Giulia responded, wrapping her arms around me and saying, “We are your family.”

And I realized that ladybugs weren’t just on signs and steering wheels and the arms of volunteers. That ladybugs – that love – followed me everywhere.  All the way to Italy.  To Umbria.  Just south of the Tuscan sun.

 

Artist Date 33: Done. Saying Goodbye to Nin.

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I didn’t want to glaze tonight.  I was done.

Done.

With my day.

I’d already snagged decidedly gorgeous, flimsy, French panties and bras on sale.  Seen a Tina Turner impersonator on Michigan Avenue.  A pretty good one.  And connected in that profound way that strangers sometimes do with Yahkirha, a Red Cross worker fundraising across from Millenium Park.

Done.

With my pottery class.

It ended two weeks ago, but I still had two mugs and a woefully off-center bowl to glaze and finished pieces to pick up.

So I went, anyway.  My ex called while I was walking there.  As soon as I picked up, I knew something was off.  I could hear it in his voice.

“I have to put Nin down.”

nin 3Nin is our 19-year-old cat.   Correction.  She is now HIS 19-year-old cat.  She looks like she is wearing a tuxedo, with her black body, white chest and milk mustache.   Her sexy, sleepy eyes reminded me of Anais Nin – ergo, her name.

We adopted her in 1999.  Our friend, Tim, arrived home that day from a year’s sojourn in Chicago.  He called from Tahoe to say he was on his way, and drove his truck straight to Berkeley to meet us for brunch.

After, the three of us wandered into the pet store next door.  And I walked out carrying cat number two.

According to my ex she’s having trouble using her back legs.  She can no longer pull herself up on the bed to sleep with him.  Today he came home and found she had peed all over herself.  As we were talking, she went to the litter box and simply lied in it.

Uncontrollable tears streamed down my face. “Put her down. Put her down.” I repeated the words over and over like a mantra.

He thanked me.  Said he needed to hear me say those words.  To make it ok.

Another piece of our shared life together fell away.

I thought about changing my course, turning around and going home.  But something wiser in me told me to keep walking, up the ramp and into the Lill Street Clay Studio.

Robert, my teacher, was giving a demonstration to the new class.

I wandered back to the carts holding fired pieces.  Some complete, some bisqued – waiting for glaze and a second fire.  I began the tedious and time-consuming process of locating my work – picking up every stoneware cup, bowl and tray, looking for the etched LMP on the bottom.

Melanie was doing the same.  She traveled to Seattle during our five-week class.  I sent her to Flora for dinner and Molly Moon’s for ice cream – honey lavender.  I was happy to see her.

Sifting through the pieces, I admired other’s work.  A deeply tinted bud vase, kissed with a tear drop of shiny blue.  A sculpted hand.  Melanie’s star-shaped badge, stamped with the word “rock.”  She wasn’t thrilled with how the glaze turned out.  I thought it looked awesome.

Kevin was there too.  A principal dancer with Hubbard Street and a fine beginning potter.  I got to know him a little bit one Saturday evening when we both went in to the studio to practice.  I watched bowl after bowl come off of his wheel while I just tried to master centering.  I never did.

And Lori.  We met a couple of weeks ago.  She was glazing a lidded pot with a brush.  She had etched cherry blossoms on to the side.  It was elegant.  Lovely.  The kind of work I dreamed of making but felt years away from.

That same evening, she showed me some tea cups she made.  Delicate cone shapes with carved out handles that looked like wood. Porcelain – glazed yellow salt.

She’s been throwing for just 10 months.  It looks like 10 years.

2013-08-03 16.47.16Eventually I found my pieces.  The slab tray buckled.  It was too thin.  But the bowl that Lori helped me glaze looked pretty good – my best piece yet.  She said my mug looked really good.  I told her it wasn’t my work, that Robert made it and gave it to me to glaze.  We laughed.

I told her about Nin and not wanting to glaze.

She told me about her best friend unexpectedly dying and how she wanted to cocoon but knew he wouldn’t want that.  That he would want her out in the street calling his name.  So she did.

We talked about pottery and writing and relationships.  She helped me glaze one of the mugs, filling the inside with one of the variety of whites.  And when it was dry we lowered it into a vat of rutile blue, then turned it upside-down and “kissed” the glaze a final time around the rim.

I watched her glaze several more lidded pots, a large tea-cup like the smaller ones she had shown me, and a tall, thin bottle – lowering it into the vat with her finger tucked inside.

I watched the patience and care she devoted to each piece.  I do not have that patience.  I am not so exacting.  At least not in this moment.  Not about pottery.  I realized this is what anything “good” requires – attention, time, care.

The same attention, time and care I take with my writing, my food, my clothing.  The same attention, time and care my ex takes with the cats, Nin and Maude.  The very reason I left them with him.

I put my pieces on the cart to be glazed.  Wrapped my finished bowl and tray in newspaper and put them in my bag.  I thanked Lori for her help and said goodbye to Melanie and Kevin.

Seems I wasn’t quite done.

Turns out, neither is Nin.  I talked to my ex.  He couldn’t get an appointment with a vet until Sunday.  He said she seems comfortable.  Slow, but comfortable.  Purring.  I trust him.  I trust his attention, time and care.  I always did.