Monthly Archives: August 2013

Leonardo da Vinci


I read a piece on Facebook today regarding the ever present interest in da Vinci’s famed painting of Mona Lisa.  The issue at hand was once again Who’s that Lady?  This artist and his Lady  with the secret smirk will keep the world guessing  throughout time.

I’ve seen the Mona Lisa in the Louvre and it is even more captivating than art book photos.  But I was surprised that such a “big” painting was so much smaller than I had imagined.

Leonardo had an interesting relationship with King Françoise of France, according to the lady working in the gift shop at the Chateau.  But then, maybe it was strictly about business.  Painters were not self-supporting and needed sponsors, wealthy  bill-payers so they could get on with their creativity.   Perhaps in this new millennium we should consider this:  look at Leonardo’s legacy! 

We should not have starving artists today, but we do and I can only imagine the potential for richness that the world is missing.  Instead we create chemical problems, pollute the sky, and poison the earth and waters and stash away useless pieces of paper in foreign accounts.

My Mother-In-Law was a Francophile.  She had a complete service for twelve of Royal Worcester china, and collected 16 and 17th Century porcelain.  She also had a full service of Reed & Barton’s Francis the First’s sterling silver place settings.  I never knew her to use them.   

I was fascinated with the silver ware, which she was not shy about letting me know was the best (most expensive) of Reed & Barton’s silver and she showed me the theme of fruits in the intricate designs: teaspoons, dessert spoons, soup spoons would each have a different fruit design on the handle, and so on with the various forks, fish knives, dinner knives and serving pieces.  She was in love with R & B’s Francis the First!  I thought it ridiculous, way overdone and a pain to keep up. 

Fast forward a quarter century and I find myself on a month-long European journey with a friend.  We began by visiting Paris for about ten days then hired a car and drove south through the Loire Valley (say Loawah Valley.)  We had plans to zip through Paris in three days (it took ten)  then the Loire, and get over to Italy a.s.a.p. 

Cest la vie!  We spent our second ten days in a charming town called Amboise (say “Ambwah) and toured the valley visiting and photographing the Loire River, it’s bridges, villages, chateaus and churches.  One church in the town of Blois – (say “Blah”) had a printed notice that it had been “blown away “ by a windstorm  several hundred years prior.   


We went to street fairs and farmers markets and walked across lots of bridges and ate cheese.  We loved the winding road through the countryside and visited the several chateaus, one of which had been turned in to a hospital during the world wars; another was well known for breeding  (noisy) hunting dogs. 

It was wintertime in France, dim daylight, lots of fog and scattered showers:  incredible lighting for shooting chateaus and scenic vistas.   It was also a very good time to be tourists.  Not many American’s tour France in lousy weather, so we were received like royalty.  My efforts at French, which I do not speak seemed to charm the people, not make them vomit and curse at me. 

Instead they helped me, took time to explain lingual issues like my ordering “poisson” (fish) instead of “boisson” (drinks).   Some lead me through their (empty) shops and made me repeat: “Brioche! Baguette!  Croissant!  And Ouf Coq, which I had every morning, avec un brioche sie vous ples.

I enjoyed the experience even if they might have been laughing at me rather than with me.

Our final stop was Françoise’ place, the chateau of Francis the First.  Sure enough, my first “aha moment” came when I noticed wall friezes throughout the castle depicting the fruits exactly as I’d seen on my mother-in-law’s butt- ugly silverware!   

My opinions about anything that ugly and who might own it blew up in my face.  We toured from down in the lower basement and kitchens up through the social halls, then up curving staircases to other rooms, probably “apartments” for guests,  and large sleeping rooms for servants.   Chateaus had to be enormous, because when a royal went a-visiting his entire staff came along to serve him.  Rooms and stables had to be provided for staff as well as the touring animals.  Big, vacuous and vacant rooms were common in chateaus.

 And so it was, after we toured Francis the First’s chateau, we emerged tired and frozen.  Some of the fireplaces were taller than we, and all had roaring fires in them, and it was freezing.  My teeth still chattered.  The rooms were enormous they were virtually unheated.  I decided I never wanted to be a princess or a queen, would turn down the job if offered.

And when we were done with Francis’abode we immediately went to the gift shop to buy postcards and warm up a little.

The shopkeeper was an older woman at the time, somewhere near the age I am now.  She was very nice and spoke beautiful English.  We chatted as we selected postcards and such to send or bring home, and she asked if we had seen Leonardo da Vinci’s home yet.

We never heard of it!   She explained that Leonardo da Vinci was last “sponsored” by Francis the First, King of France.  The two men got along well, and became such great friends that da Vinci eventually took up permanent and his final residence, about a mile from the chateau.  Francis and Leo were pals and enjoyed each other’s company so much that Francis had a tunnel dug from his castle to da Vinci’s home so they could inconspicuously visit, away from the prying eyes and gossips of Amboise residents and the whole Loir Valley. 

When we arrived at da Vinci’s home, we gathered brochures and learned that in the “first floor” or basement were full scale models of da Vinci’s inventions, built precisely according to his plans by IBM.

Seeing his “visions” full scale was as wonderful as it was sad:   he never got to see them.

Leonardo da Vinci captivated me in the valley that already held me prisoner.  He was an artist, a painter, an inventor, a cultivated connoisseur, an intellectual, and a very charming man.  I would love to just one of these attributes. 

Unfortunately, all I am able to do like him is to write backwards. 

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Old Crows and War Glasses

Tennis, Pain, Birds

Forget about this if you aren’t “in it” yet.  But if you have received your AARP card, read on.

I grudgingly (just to shut my boyfriend up) started to learn tennis at the tender age of fifty.  Surprise!  Within 4 years was at US National Championships, came in 5th in the U.S.  The problem is, my Rambo style brought to the surface serious and unknown spinal issues I was born with that went untreated until they took me down (a bit) at 60. Winters are tough on me.

Now I know why old timers used the phrase “I can feel it in my bones.”  I thought they were psychic then; I know the throbbing aches now.

I walk because I know I must: I have a Border Collie, and on good days (hot days) Lulu and I might dance on the patio to the tunes of Jim Croche.  I now know why the snowbirds flock to Florida and to deserts

Tending my garden could do me in, but it keeps me in high spirits: my families of birds at their feeders hang out with me, watching for fresh water in their ground dishes, chirping, perhaps calling me names – I really don’t know.  The flowers in summer are spirit-lifting and harvesting the veggies a joy.  The birds keep me company as I work staying within a safe yard from me as I move about the plants.  I enjoy their music and this makes me happy.  Recently I learned to imitate mourning dove calls, and do pretty well whistling back at mocking birds.   I’m sure I confuse them, but they call back to me now, so I guess it’s working.

I learned about crows a few seasons ago when my grandson accompanied me to the optometrist and coerced me into buying fashionable black rimmed glasses so I could look cool.    Sometime after getting these new glasses he and I came home from shopping, and I heard a crow screaming.  Screaming in MY yard!

I looked up, and perched at the apex of MY roof squatted a high-gloss black boat-shaped hellion.   I pay the taxes! This is my house!  I hate the noise crows make!

Without a thought I reached down and picked up a sizeable stone and aimed it at the bird.  And as soon as my missile hit his butt he shrieked and jumped straight up in the air.

“Dude!  You have an arm!”

I looked at grandson and nodded my head.

“Did you just call your grandma “Dude,” Dude?”

He was twelve, and he blushed as he nodded his head.

As the summer passed I realized crows had completely disappeared from our neighborhood.

I rejoiced in a silence occasionally blessed with birdsongs.

That fall I watched an educational piece on the subject of crows and learned that Crows are one of the three species that have facial recognition:  humans, chimpanzees, crows.

And, not only do crows have facial recognition, they pass information to other friend -crows and to their young.  Facial recognition is handed down from generation to generation:

“Watch out for the crazy blonde with black-rimmed glasses:  she’s a mean old bat!”

For years we went crow free.   But they came back, dispersing cigarette butts, walnut shells and cherry pits throughout my garden.  Harrumph!

I suspected the crows might be suffering from memory-loss, perhaps had received their AARB Cards.

Then I realized that I needed to ditch my new glasses and put on the old black-rims, my War Glasses every time I go outside.

Not a cawgh has been heard in my neighborhood since.

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Spare You Some Change

Consider, when we walk through town

About the people we pass, decide not to greet.

Slow down.

Look in their eyes. 

Give away a smile!

Let them know they are seen,

And so they are like you!


Hit them up:

“Can you use a couple of bucks?”

And if they say nah, check again

“You sure ‘bout that?”

If the response starts with “Well….”

Dig as deep as you can on that day!

Close your deal with “Pass it on when you can.”

They must decide what they need at the time.

Their path is not one you’ve yet seen.  

Your smile could be the one they recall

When Luck comes like Love, whispering

“Let go, and let’s go.”

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