It’s been 20 years since I met Jose Rafael Aguilera Lopez — after he spotted my dating profile on (!?) aol.com, placed there because I was writing a magazine story about on-line dating, then still new-ish and declasse.
We hit it off immediately — two hyper-ambitious, driven, mid-career journalists who had come to New York from Santa Fe, NM (him) and Toronto, me.
From our first date at a midtown Manhattan bistro, that was it. His move-in day, from his home in a Brooklyn brownstone to my suburban apartment — 9/11. Yes, really.
So he moved in a week later.
It was…tumultuous at first. Like, for years.
We’re very different sorts of people and it made for quite a shakedown getting used to one another. Jose is a planner and meticulous about details. I’m more spontaneous and risk-taking. He grew up in a small city and I grew up in Canada’s largest one. His father was a Baptist minister with a small parish and my father made newspaper headlines with his provocative films and TV shows.
We were both survivors of brief and unhappy marriages — he in his early 20s, me in my mid-30s. No kids. We had never wanted them and the terrible hours of his staff job in journalism and our distant families would have made even trying difficult and expensive at that late age.
But with time and counseling and patience, we figured it out — and on Sept. 17, 2011 we got married in a small wooden 19th century church in a park on an island in Toronto’s harbor. We arrived by water taxi.
It was a tiny group in a tiny church, maybe 25 of our closest friends, some of whom came from B.C., D.C,. and N.Y.
and all I could hear were cows mooing — not the music we chose!
The day was perfect and the service at 5pm, with golden sunlight pouring into the church’s stained glass windows and its wood, sun-warmed all day, smelled deliciously comforting — like all my old camp buildings.
My processional was the song Dona Nobis Pacem — Give Us Peace — the the pre-processional my favorite hymn, Jerusalem. The recessional? Stevie Wonder’s You Are The Sunshine of My Life.
It was a lovely place and time and then we all had dinner in a restaurant’s private upstairs room in the city.
If you have moved around a lot, it can be hard to decide where your heart truly lies — where “home” is.
I’ve lived in six cities and two towns in five countries — my native Canada, England (ages 2-5), Mexico (age 14), France (ages 25-26), the United States (age 30 on.)
I always felt too American for Canada — too bossy, too direct, too ambitious, too much in a hurry.
Now I feel too European for the U.S. — I savor time off. I don’t flagellate myself hourly for being less “productive” than my many peers and competitors, many half my age. I like long vacations and two-hour lunches. I take naps.
So while home again in Canada for the first time in two full years, the eternal question arises again: where’s home?
While I spent decades in Toronto, and have many many memories there, is it home?
Home, to me, means a place I feel truly welcome, and while we have lifelong friends there, Toronto housing is absurdly overpriced — nasty little houses an arm’s length apart are $1 million and condo boxes $600,000. No thanks!
Then…maybe a house in the Ontario countryside? Same problem. The cost of housing is inflated by demand, beyond what is workable for us.
Or another country?
Tempted by Montreal’s many charms…
I follow several Facebook pages now on living in France and look at a lot of French real estate online. Because of COVID, I don’t see spending the requisite time and money to search more seriously.
I lived there for a year at 25 and have been back many times. I know a few areas a bit: Paris, Normandy, Brittany, the Camargue, the Cote d’Azur, Corsica. I speak fluent French. I love the way of life and physical beauty and ease of getting around thanks to the TGV network. But if we moved there full-time would any of our North American friends ever come to visit?
Would we easily make new deep friendships?
My mother died in a nursing home in 2020, her apartment sold a decade earlier to pay its costs.
My father buys and sells houses, forever restless. So there’s no family homestead to attach to emotionally…I left one of his houses at 19 and never again lived with either parent.
So, for now, my heart remains in Tarrytown, a small town north of Manhattan on the Hudson, a town so pretty we are constantly seeing film and TV crews arriving to set up on our main street. I landed there when my first husband found a psych residency nearby and we bought a one-bedroom apartment. I had never been there nor ever lived outside a major city. It’s dull and hard to make friends, but we enjoy a great quality of life with Manhattan only 45 minutes south and gorgeous scenery for walks and bike rides and a lot of history.
With 45 gone for now (but who knows?) life feels so much calmer and less terrifying than it did between 2016 and 2020 when, like many others, thoughts of fleeing were a daily part of our life, however impractical.
This two-year absence — COVID-caused — is likely the longest time I’ve not been back to Canada, where I was born (in Vancouver) and raised (in Toronto and Montreal.)
If our COVID tests are negative, we’ll soon drive the 5.5 hours through upstate New York and cross into Canada at the 1,000 Islands, then have lunch in Kingston, Ontario, before going to stay with my father, 93, who we haven’t seen in more than two years and who lives alone in rural Ontario.
And we’re off!
I’m also looking forward to seeing some old friends who live near him.
I miss Canada.
Yes, it’s riddled with COVID — as is everywhere now. We are fully vaccinated and will mask wherever necessary.
But only on August 9 did Canada even open the land border with the U.S. so this is our first opportunity to drive back, which is what we always do. I don’t want to sit in an airplane now with un-vaccinated passengers and crew, let alone face standing in crowds at security and immigration.
Many people (especially some in the U.S.) think Canadians are just quiet, polite Americans. But we’re not.
I miss just sharing a culture and history with others there.
Whether books, magazines, films, music, politics, food — there are many specifically Canadian things and points of view that most Americans wouldn’t know unless they went to university there and got to know it more deeply. Like Canadian content, mandated by the government to boost homegrown talent and protect it from American domination — what percentage played on-air radio has to be Canadian.
I like going into a local bookstore to see what’s new from Canadian authors, certainly since so many of my journalism colleagues there also write books.
Canada has also been through its own special hells this summer, in addition to COVID — the terrible discoveries of children buried at residential schools in several provinces, schools where indigenous children were literally pulled from their parents’ arms and forced to renounce their languages and culture.
Now Canada faces a snap election and the Conservatives are as ugly as ever.
So I will be curious to hear what Canadians have to say about all of this. I follow Canadian media on Twitter so I hear and see a fair bit of coverage.
Some of the pleasure is silly stuff — little things like playing a round of golf at a lakeside course we know and love or lunch at Basil’s, a small deli in Port Hope, or eating a butter tart, not sold in the U.S., mostly sugar and calories and sooooooo good.
We are also just really ready for a break, as our last one was five days upstate in March.
Social media can be social — meeting and getting to know new friends and colleagues solely through LinkedIn or Twitter or TikTok or blogs or Insta or Twitter — and/or, passively, it can offer us a peek into other worlds, wholly different from our own.
Given that we’ll have to stay physically distant from so many people for so many years — yes, years with this goddamn pandemic — virtual life and relationships are the safest and best many of us have now.
Travel? Also difficult to impossible; we recently lost $2,000 for non-refundable airfare and hotels after cancelling two much-anticipated vacations.
So, yes, I’m loving images (however enviously!) from Greece and Morocco and Kenya and Cornwall and the Hebrides…
Last week, Abby Lee Hood and I did a pitching workshop aimed at helping other freelance writers write better pitches — a pitch is a sort of a sales document for a story we might want to write. They’re not easy to do well and we got 47 people to sign up, which was fantastic. It went very well and people were still buying copies of our Zoom video days later.
I’ve yet to meet Abby, who is non-binary and has tattoos and owns a small pig, a three-legged cat, an albino hedgehog and a dog. They live in small-town Tennessee, a state I’ve never been to.
They are 27. I am…much older.
What on earth would we have in common?
As we’ve gotten to know one another, we found we both share some similar issues with our families of origin. We both have high ambitions for our work. We both hustle hard for assignments. And we also share some fundamental life values.
I’ve found them to be a deeply generous person, rare these days it seems.
So I hope our workshop, beyond its obvious goal, also modeled that sort of inter-generational friendship for a few others.
Some of the many lives I enjoy witnessing, between Twitter and Instagram, include:
Three women archeologists
A male archeologist in Berlin who works on Gobekli Tepe, a famous Neolithic Turkish site; I met him on one of the travel Twitterchats I participate in
A Canadian Arctic marine biologist
A Chilean photographer
A photographer in Queretaro, Mexico
A Canadian mother of two young boys in Australia whose nature photos are amazing
A Scottish mountain climber
A nephrologist in San Antonio, Texas who writes as Doctor T on Twitter
Regulars here know this is an ongoing, intermittent series I produce, listing all sorts of small(er) pleasures life offers us, sometimes forgotten or overlooked:
Baking buckles, cobblers and pies with all the fresh berries available.
A very cold, stiff martini — no ice! olives! — consumed, ideally, in one of two places: an elegant hotel bar, like the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis in NYC (if you’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada, a meeting place scene) or dark, hole-in-the-wall (pre-pandemic talking to strangers) dive bar, like the ones I enjoyed years ago in Atlanta and San Francisco.
Swimming in whatever clean, fresh water is available, whether a creek, river, lake, ocean or pool. So delicious on a hot and humid day!
Pool parties! These days, very small ones, outdoors, with fellow vaccinated people.
Corn on the cob.
Huge juicy tomatoes.
Sitting for hours in your wet bathing suit.
Playing cards or dominoes in the shade.
Watching the light (sob!) get lower and longer every day as fall approaches
Fireflies — aka lightning bugs.
Long lazy conversations with friends outdoors, knowing by winter we’ll all be shut inside again, even vaccinated, masked and scared and alone.
A jaunty straw sunhat.
Having two vaccinated friends over for a long lunch.
What if the pandemic just never ends? What if the New Normal is not some accommodated version of the old normal, but instead is just…this? What if what we are experiencing now — this constant state of anxiety and change and daily back-and-forth and in-and-out of masks and lock-downs — is what the 21st century will be? What if the economic recovery is DOA or if it somehow only makes things worse? What if this is just the beginning of much larger and more frequent health, climate, political, and economic disasters?
Jose and I were so looking forward to attending a wedding in Memphis, Tennessee in early September. It would have been our first flight in two years and our first visit out of state. We were so excited! The women getting married, a couple we met on Twitter, demanded proof of vaccination, which we were fine with.
Then, proof of negative tests. We cancelled.
I have no objection to their request.
But the pleasure was quickly leaching out of what was to have been a relaxing break. That state now has hospitals so full there’s no room left.
We had planned a month’s driving trip out to Colorado and back in October. Cancelled.
We had already planned and cancelled Hawaii or Paris.
I’m hitting bottom right now.
I admit it — I’ve been spoiled since childhood by travel being a normal and expected source of pleasure, one easily accessible. Not in luxury, necessarily, but always owning a valid passport and a reliable vehicle and having an insatiable hunger to see more of the world.\
I’ve already been to 41 countries — and there are so so many places I still want to see!
Morocco, Japan, Namibia, South Africa, Madagascar, the Baltic nations, to name only a few…
And we miss our friends in Ontario and Nova Scotia and Paris and London and Scotland…
I chose to move to the U.S. and, since Biden’s election, my pulse rate has dropped from the daily anxiety of being “governed” by a madman for four years.
But the endless divisions here, and endless fawning media coverage of people who refuse vaccinations — endangering all of us — are tedious as hell. Thanks to them, going basically anywhere is dangerous.
And — most concerning — even the vaccinated can carry a lot of this virus, unknowingly infecting others while showing no symptoms.
Like all of you, we work hard.
Like all of you, we need things to look forward to!
And, as I write this on our balcony, planes soar over our heads, as we’re on a flight path from the local airport.
These days, all we can anticipate is constant change — and disappointment.
A bit more of the essay:
the pandemic has put life into perspective. It has made crystal clear that love and health are what’s important in this life. The rest is what it is. We must be grateful for what we have, find joy wherever we can, and be incredibly patient with, well…everything else. In cultures that have survived war, that made it through bombings and mass killings and attacks, people turn to all that does not change for comfort and hope. As their day-to-day reality changes around them, they find solace in anything that is constant and unifying: their food, their language, their songs, their fairytales, their games, their age-old traditions.
Right now, I have to take solace in what we have and can enjoy that COVID can’t destroy:
our Hudson river view
a town we love living in
a new (woman!) governor who’s a badass
deep and abiding friendships
Manhattan, literally, on our horizon, there when we need a break from snoozy suburban life
a home we’ve made beautiful through design, renovation, art
a good hospital 15 minutes north of us
we are both vaccinated and will take boosters when and if they are offered
lovely places to walk and bike outdoors safely
books and music and card games and puzzles to amuse us
Like some of you, perhaps, I’m obsessed with fragrance, and not a day goes by (unless an appointment in small shared spaces) without wearing perfume — currently in rotation are Terre by Hermes (winter only), L’Eau de l’Artisan by L’Artisan Parfumeur, Chanel No. 5, Prada Iris and Herbae, a spontaneous purchase this year, by L’Occitane.
“Smell goes directly to your emotions, you are crying, you don’t know why,” Mr. Collado expounded as the others leaned in. “Smelling has a power that none of the other senses have, and I must tell you now, it is molecular, it goes to the essence of the essence.”
Our lives are filled with scents, some pleasant, some less so and they can so powerfully evoke memories.
When we married, in September 2011 in a small wooden church on an island in Toronto harbor, I was so deeply comforted by the smell of sun-warmed wood — a cherished memory of my summers at camp, where we slept in wooden cabins and all our buildings were made of wood.
Some of my favorite smells include:
jet fuel (!), motorboat gas (I think it’s the connotation of motion/travel!), cut grass, sun dried pine needles, the ocean, coffee grounds, Balkan Sobranie pipe tobacco, gardenia, lilac, the peppery scent of marigolds, the briny smell of fresh oysters, good leather — shoes or a saddle or a lovely old jacket, new books!
Top notes are Geranium, Citruses, Tobacco and Orange Blossom; middle notes are Carnation, Cloves, Nutmeg, Rose, Lavender, Leather and Jasmine; base notes are Patchouli, Cypress, Tonka Bean, Amber, Benzoin and Oakmoss.
I adored a Roger & Gallet soap with the spicy scent of carnation as well but (sob!) it seems to have been discontinued.
The night I met Jose in March 2000 he wore a delicious scent — 1881 — whose top notes also include carnation, juniper, lavender and cypress, created in 1990. He was wearing a red silk Buddhist prayer shawl (!) as a muffler and, at the end of the evening, took it off and wrapped me in it.
Perhaps my favorite memory of scent is the week I spent alone traveling across the Balagne, the northern tip of Corsica, by mo-ped. It was July and I drove across endless fields of the low, scrubby brush known as maquis, a mix of fragrant plants — sun-warmed, their fragrance filled my nostrils. So sensual!
What a luxury it is to live so close to New York City!
I can drive in from our suburban town and (if lucky!) be parked on the street within 30 to 40 minutes.
I seem to have tremendous parking karma — which means, very often, I’ll find a spot on the street where I don’t even have to pay (on Sunday, for example), saving me as much as $50 for garage parking for 3-5 hours in fancier neighborhoods.
So I drove in last Sunday to Lexington and 83d, a neighborhood called the Upper East Side, UES, to meet a young friend for brunch at the Lexington Candy Shop, which is a tiny diner on that corner that opened in 1925.
They’re touchy about guests staying too long and by noon there was a line-up.
Then it’s an easy walk west along 83d to the Metropolitan Museum, which, for now has timed admission you reserve in advance.
If you’ve never yet been to New York or to the Met, the whole experience of the UES is well worth it; even the walk, across Park and Madison leads you past elegant townhouses and uniformed doormen, a guy smoking a stogie leaning on a car, a dog-walker with a huge, shaggy something and two pugs. The people watching is always good, and there are so many lovely architectural details to enjoy — from flower-filled window-boxes to carved gargoyles to the wrought-iron frames of pre-war apartment building entrance doors.
The Met has wide steps that make great seating, and musicians — competing! — settle in to entertain. There are plenty of food trucks — for $14 I got a falafel wrap and a lemonade.
New York state residents can pay as little or as much as we want for the Met’s admission fees — everyone else pays $12 (students), $17 seniors over 65 or the full fare of $25.
It’s tempting to think you have to see everything there if you’re a tourist, but that would be impossible! If you really do pay attention to objects, and read labels and wall signs, you’ll soon feel overloaded.
I find it all so moving — the Roman marble family sculpture from a cemetery; the tiny metal pins in the shape of animals that Roman soldiers wore (!); red and black Greek pottery; exquisite enamels of the 17th c; medieval tapestries —- and that’s just a few main floor galleries!
What amazing things have been produced by so many people. To see them close up is such a joy.
I love to visit a pair of gold earrings I find totally enchanting.
The place is quiet and civilized and there are plenty of benches to rest on. Everyone must be masked.
You can have the oddest moment of looking at something millennia old — and stare out the Fifth Avenue windows at the millionaires’ apartments across the street.
The gift shop is full of gorgeous things, jewelry and scarves, pens and pencils and books and puzzles and posters.
I remember it being full of astounding art and art history books — but not now?
It’s an interesting reminder that, without rich people’s generosity, many museums (certainly in the U.S.), would have a lot less stuff to show us; labels tell you what an item is and how old and maybe what it was used for, but also when it was acquired and using what funds. So the Jayne Wrightsman Galleries, for example, are huge and full of very ornate French material, not my taste at all.
Every room in the Greek and Roman galleries had the name of some wealthy benefactor.
These eyes, which would have been added to Roman or Greek sculptures are creepy — but also amazing.
Ageism as it relates to women is very much an extension of sexism, an -ism women have been living with their whole lives. And recent research shows that ageism may be the more disruptive force. According to a survey conducted by co-working community The Riveter, 58% of women say their identities or physical attributes impact their experiences at work—and age was the top factor (25%), garnering many more votes than being female (17%).
And no wonder: “As soon as women show visible signs of aging, they are actually perceived as being less competent, having less value,” says executive coach and author Bonnie Marcus, author of Not Done Yet!
Social activist Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, captures the issue more succinctly: “Women are never the right age.” Applewhite points out that when women are young in the workplace, they are considered lightweights and are oversexualized; then when women reach prime childbearing years, they are diminished if they become mothers, earning less and being given fewer promotions or opportunities to thrive at work. “And then pretty soon after that,” Applewhite says, “when you’re starting to fall away from this grotesque, obscene obsession with extreme youth as being the ideal for women, you are now less attractive as a woman. So you then become less attractive as an employee, even though that is what disqualified you when you were younger and prettier.”
There is no punishment for age discrimination, although it’s illegal.
Some job ads insist on you revealing your year of college or university graduation — like I’m going to share that!? Blatant age discrimination right there…and who does anything about it?
I lost my last staff job at the age of 50, earning a decent (for journalism) $80,000 a year at a major New York newspaper. I applied for dozens of jobs immediately, almost all of them in communications roles at non-profits — given my global life experience and speaking three languages, I thought I might bring some good transferable skills.
Not a word in reply.
I’ve applied for a few staff roles in journalism in recent years, but it’s really a waste of my time. Everyone over the age of 40 is deemed doddering, useless and completely unable to function in a digital environment.
So when I was interviewed recently, for a podcast (link here) and for a story, I never mentioned my age.
It’s no one’s business!
People here have a good idea how old I am, and my close-up photos here on my Welcome and About pages are obviously not of someone younger than 40!
But I admit to being flattered when — as an 86-year-old neighbor told me last week — I don’t look my age either.
Beyond moral, ethical and legal reasons –oh, we need more?! — denying older workers access to (good) jobs with benefits and paid sick days and paid vacation (at best) means shoving more of them into decades of crappy, part-time work at low wages, even as their minds and bodies are ready for rest.
In the United States, unless you are married to someone with heavily subsidized health insurance, you can be paying a fortune for health insurance — until you reach 65 and get into Medicare, government-paid healthcare that still requires payment for all sorts of things!
One friend, a man in his late 50s with a partner who has faced multiple cancer surgeries, is paying $2,600 a month for theirs.
This is a massive and unfair cost burden, which is why there are increasing calls for the age of Medicare access to be lowered.
So here’s what life over 40 or 50 or 60 looks like, at worst, and especially for women:
— lower Social Security payments for women who stopped work to raise children and/or be a caregiver
— lower SS payments for women, who need it most because we live longer, because we stopped making money a decade or more before we planned to, when we should have been at the peak of our earning power
— no access to well-paid staff jobs with benefits
— no access, through a staff job, to a steady, reliable income
— intellectual stagnation
I never had children — so I have no one (should I outlive my husband) to help me financially and physically in older age. I urge everyone, all the time, to make the most money available within their industry, and to save as much as possible, which does mean a lot of self-discipline and denial, for all but the wealthy.
Because if you can’t get a job, where is your money goingto come from?