I am a serious book collector, and San Francisco used to be a serious town for the likes of me. I buy 'em used, sometimes by the carton-load, and upon occasion I resell to selected fair buyers.
Independent booksellers have taken a beating, first by the big national chains, and then by the Internet. Recently Powell's, the huge ("square block of a million books") used book store in Portland, Oregon, has been sending its agents down to San Francisco to offer PUNY lump sums for the entire inventories of targeted local used book sellers, to induce them to drop out of the increasingly difficult market, and thus increase Powell's share.
The San Francisco Chronicle article breaking the story behind two recent local shop closings, involving incentives offered by Powell's of Portland, was waved in my face by Tracy, the petite owner of Lifetime Books, a used book shop in town. She knew that I, of all people, would want/need to know.
The story broke this summer, just after one SF shop closed without warning, another announced its imminent closing, and yet another was winding down toward closing. I plopped down in the big naugahyde armchair by Tracy's bookpile-covered front counter, so that she and I could hash this out, after picking up dinner for us both, next door. I knew it'd be a long discussion, and that Tracy would be indignant and very vocal.
Tracy explained/ranted that she would NEVER sell out to Powell's. She was disgusted that her colleagues were doing so, rather than soliciting offers from herself and other struggling locals in the business. So committed, in fact, was Tracy to the Cause of Independent (local) Bookselling that she'd recently started up a second (unrelated) business, just so that she wouldn't be starved-out as a book retailer! This was, indeed, her consuming interest.
Tracy (O, age 50) was a tiny spitfire (5 feet tall, without the Harley helmet or spike heels), and her counter was a neighborhood hub. She knew titles, authors, editions, everything a bookseller needs to know, yet she was no intellectual: She was, rather, a very diligent hound, scouring the papers and Web for news of library sales, garage sales, etc. She'd regularly comb thrift shops and sniff through all sorts of charity bins. And then, at her counter while hobnobbing with her usual customers and friends, she'd mylar-cover the dust jacket of each hardcover she'd acquired.
I knew Tracy's buying preferences pretty well. Any bag of my outgoing tomes that I knew she'd want, she'd in fact want. She'd issue Store Credit in return (which I'd immediately use!). Kind of a symbiotic thing.
* * * * * * * *
A few weeks ago, I brought a bag of surefire titles to her store, but an employee was behind the counter, saying Tracy hadnt come in: She didn't feel well (was having a headache and a "pinched nerve in her neck"), so there'd be no purchases that day. I had a heavy load, so I left and sold the books immediately elsewhere.
A couple of days later, I passed by to say hello, but Tracy was still out sick. "What's wrong?" I asked, seeing that same (previously very part-time) employee. I was told she was still in pain, so she'd decided to ... go for a chiropractic adjustment.
"But what's the DIAGNOSIS?" I asked. "This isn't like Tracy, to be down for days on end. Has she seen a doctor?" "No", he replied, "And I know what you mean...But then, she says she THINKS the chiropractor MIGHT actually have helped".
"'THINKS'? 'MIGHT'? And helped WHAT?" I argued. "She doesn't even know what's wrong! She has a severe headache for DAYS? it came on SUDDENLY?" I was disgusted. I would have given her a piece of my mind -- I bought a book and left.
Four days later, I was passing Tracy's store and thought I'd go in and get the lowdown from Tracy herself. But there was that employee again (I've since become friendly with him)! "Still??!" I asked.
"Tracy died", he said softly. And then, "And this is her brother, in from Colorado...It WAS more than a pinched nerve...". The brother sat glassy-eyed in the big naugahyde chair. "I just cremated my sister", he said, gazing from some distant mental tundra. Long silence.
"Did she pop an aneurysm?" I asked. The two men looked at me, astonished. "How'd you know?" asked the brother, suddenly alert.
"Because of her sex and age, because of the abruptness of onset, the symptom of headache, but most of all, frankly, because of the outcome".
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Just a week previously, Tracy and I had discussed what the imminent (9/30/06) closing of a landmark bookstore a block away would mean for her own business. She was hoping to adopt some of those customers as her own. "We'll see", she said, ever the optimist. "I'm ready for 'em".
And she was. Her eye for titles had gotten better and better, with every year --- PLUS: She was on the upswing, having just started the 2nd business and moved to a new apartment, which she'd wanted me to help her decorate... But - DANG! - I could really read her the riot act here: She went to her CHIROPRACTOR, with a sudden, excruciating headache and neuro-deficit symptoms, thinking "pinched nerve", and "I need 'an adjustment'". She even told her boyfriend, after she'd come-to from a repeated faint: "Don't you DARE call 9-1-1!"
Look, folks, I can be as holistic as the next guy - sorta - but Tracy urgently needed medical attention: Specifically, an angiogram or MRI. She'd even had a few days' window to obtain it immediately: This isn't England or Canada, where such testing only comes after weeks or months on some waiting list; any San Francisco Emergency Room would have worked her up for Intracranial Hemorrhage. (As it turns out, that's what happened, when it was too late: Tracy was indeed admitted to the hospital, where she promptly lapsed into a coma, convulsed, and died.)
I'm continually amazed by people who choose Chiropractic over emergency medicine, especially for sudden-onset headache. And I'm positively vitriolic toward practitioners who DON'T say, "Y'know what? See a medical doctor first: Your life might depend on it".
My friend Shelley, also 50, also type O, had collapsed at her own store in 1999, and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where her cerebral aneurysm was surgically repaired; she survived: Gradual but complete recovery, returned to work, etc.
But Tracy will not return to work, at this crucial time for her Pet Obsession. Tracy will not be a part of what becomes of her Cause or her store. (Powell's of Portland? "Over my dead body!" Tracy would have quipped, winking, and stomping in her inimitable clipped and bug-eyed way [Thyroid]. And then she'd give off a big burst of a laugh.)
* * * * * * * *
1. Go out today and support your local independent (used) bookseller. Browse those stacks, and make it a habit. Do it for Tracy! Take up the Cause!
2. Don't categorically write off Allopathic Medicine. As you can see, the stakes are just too high. Be definitively diagnosed; THEN make educated choices. Remember Tracy, who, a couple of weeks ago, had a new business, a new apartment, and more spunk and spark than any 5 women half her age. She was dying, and she went to the Chiropractor.
3. If you're a Chiropractor, remember Tracy. It's okay to suspect the worst and do the prudent thing. Otherwise, someone could lose a sister, a wife, a daughter...or a friend.
I have been busy this summer with a few clients, each an Individual.
I'm perpetually wondrous over the sheer uniqueness of each precious, faceted gem that is a new mother. Each woman traverses the raging river of this transition in her own way, according to the particular configurations of her own psyche and setting; I am the sherpa who takes her by the hand and assures her she is okay and that, together, we will arrive on Terra Firma. And we do! (Only because I am guided can I guide. Only because I am loved can I love).
The babies themselves are Individuals too, but simple and unpolished as yet: All the easier for new parents to cope with, as the latter attain their own footing. "But they're NOT easy!", a client might protest. "He was easy LAST week when he was sleepier!" I remind her that last week the baby was difficult to rouse and underweight, or jaundiced and wrapped in "bili-lights", etc., as the case may be.
Week by week, the dual-career, egalitarian, childless relationship morphs into a family, with its division of labor and its sometimes bitter sweetness. Selfishnesses are confronted, grieved, attacked by not-always-cute bundles of pure need.
Eventually, the cocoon of the "fourth trimester" bursts, and the woman undergoes social re-entry as a mother, the couple as a family.
Santé_j waves bye-bye, and our city's population is enriched with yet another citizen who's gotten a Good Start. The earth may quake here in San Francisco, but I do what I can to solidify the ground under its families.
Spoken language, like wine, has "mouthfeel", and I intend to here rattle on about it.
American English, my native tongue, feels elastic -- perhaps because I can stretch it every which way. And French, my second language, is mellifluous on the palate. German is lofty, and Italian is chewy.
My "Tertiaries" first:
German is serious and "meaningful"; it can go unctuous, like Beerenauslese, or gossamer, like Spätlese Trocken. There is a melancholy streak in German, providing the structure for bouquets ranging from gloomy to joyful, its consonantal breadth and multitudinous cases, declensions, and genders holding interest and keeping one alert and intrigued...or wearing one out!
Italian, on the other hand, is engaging of romantic energy, not dark and mysteriously passionate, which is more of a (castilian) Spanish tone, but a youthful and less serious "Dolce Vita" sort of attitude, with the glorious chewiness of perfect pasta. Italian is, indeed, a highly textured language; it whines and poses and acts out, rages, demands, and seduces.
Castilian Spanish plays for keeps. It slowly creeps over mountain ridges, like fingers of fog; whispering, but making ancient and irrevocable statements. Spanish vines are often very old, but they can produce exquisitely fine and quiet sherry, for instance, as well as Priorat from Priorat, from the deepest chthonic earth: Tortured, twisted wines, crucified (for you) on their stakes, and yet: smooth, even gentle, kind...hushed...dry.
I have minimal experience SPEAKING, as opposed to, say, reading, other (quaternary?) languages, but I find one to be like dark coffee and another like pilsner, when I trip them across the tongue.
It's English and French which are hardest for me to describe, perhaps because of my fluency. It's tempting to say "French is like Champagne", but it isn't, really. There's a certain frontal consonantalness, yes, but those R's keep pulling one back to an ultrasuede soaveté more akin to a Viognier. The overall impression of the spoken language is, I think, elegant à la Bourgogne...(but the country can be Funny, like Beaujolais: Jolly. Some of the pinks and Loire chenins deliver this, but usually there's something UltraFine even there). The exquisite nuancedness of French is actually best related to a different palate altogether, that for experiencing fine perfume, leaving materiality almost entirely....
As I come to know a given language better and better, I distinguish its many regional dialects. Thus I'm rendered incapable of nailing down only one overall "mouthfeel" for that language. That's the problem with French. A small country (the size of Texas), with "infinite variety", not to mention its numerous "offshore" accents!
Speaking of variety, American English can be jazzy and snappy like CocaCola; it can be happy and down-home like a cuppa chowder. I don't know if American English has -yet!- the depth, the sheer maturity to be compared to wine. The language feels "youthful" (and the country invented phony chipped-oak flavoring methods to mimic barrel-aged winemaking. Cute, huh?). American English is the Imperial, global language of our day. And it's marketed to be drunk young: Go figure.
While British English(es) can be redolent of resinous Port or antique single malt Scotch (when deliciously pronounced), or swingier, like a pubby sort of brew, or even downright cream-y, American English is like punch, or (orange pekoe) tea...
For all that, it has no pretension, as a language. Though immature regionally, its venerable origins give it complexity that may very well be unequalled, at least in the Western World and perhaps globally. When those roots and its world role are factored in, we come up with something almost plaintive, wistful, Celtic, beneath the apparent soda pop - something more like Rain and the rolling, surging immensity of Ocean.
The other day I stopped into a café for coffee. I had my choice of cup sizes:
"Sooper Dooper": $1.90
When it was my turn, I said, "Tiny coffee, please".
Another woman in line asked if she could please see the "tiny" cup. I asked her, "Isn't it refreshing to see a small cup accepting reality and not demanding to be called 'Tall'?"
Last year, a study of California's public high school graduating class showed that fully 25% (!) of the students were issued diplomas SHORT OF mastery of the required material. In my day, those kids were left back. But today's teachers issue passing grades to reward merely showing up at their classes.
These MILLIONS of high school "graduates" are then free to attend so-called Universities (often Self-Esteemese for colleges, which is often Self-E'ese for High School remedial study centers). When they attain the high-esteem title "University Graduate", they can call themselves "professionals", it seems, at anything they do...I'm reminded of the Soviet Union, where plumbers and handymen were called "Engineers".
There was the story in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, applauding an inner city Oakland high school delivering a 100% graduation-rate: An outfit under the reformist policy of a nonprofit that is opening such "successful" "schools" across the country. According to this article, "Real world experiences are stressed as more important learning tools than direct instruction and testing", and "There are no final exams, no letter grades...students spend only three days a week in classrooms".
"I started liking school", said one "graduate", "because I got to learn what I wanted to learn", (leaving the "university" to teach her how to READ?).
One of the school's own first students, however, tells it like it is: "[S]he feels the school does not prepare students for traditional academic courses and standardized tests as well as the other schools do". 'Nuff said?
Maybe Starbucks' market research showed that its male customers, in particular, don't want to order anything called "Small", let alone "Tiny". Thus they can feel like tough caballeros when they order their 8 oz.-or-less cuppa "Tall" in the saddle. (Remember "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche"?)
Leave it to San Francisco, and a local company herein, to take stabs at the Big Guns... OK: That's another story. Meanwhile we have a generation to educate.
Pass the Half-&-Half.
Isa, de la terre de Riesling, Silvaner, et Müller-Thurgau, du pays des wursts et brots et biers...N'as pas honte du lieu des naissances de Bach, Handel, Beethoven et Brahms, de Luther, Goethe, Schopenhauer et Nietzsche...et de toi-même!
Puis: Tu étais adoptée par La Terre Des Vins Parfaits, des parfums exquis, de la cuisine excéllente, de la mode, de la peinture, des couleurs (surtout où tu habitais...le Midi!) et (moment de silence, svp) des maquis ("Allons Enfants de la Patrie...") Quel héritage!
Et, maintenant, tu te trouves dans la terre des montagnes, et des fromages formidables (célestiel d'y avoir un allèle B!). Le vin n'est pas mal non plus: J'aimais le Dôle et le Fendant, par exemple.
Suisse: Le tout petit pays de plusieurs niveaux à explorer: L'on monte au-dessus des nuages pour trouver le soleil aveuglant sur la neige, tandis que, en bas, on se trouve dans le brouillard.
La Suisse: Terre de la liberté et de la neutralité, des horloges de précision, des banques privées, des trains, et des petits autobus-de-poste qui vont absolument partout!
Le pays où les ouvriers dans les supermarchés ressemblent aux médecins, aux manteaux blancs, mais qui ne font qu'arroser les légumes!
Où dans le monde peut-on trouver un Mets National qui s'agit d'un petit four sur la table, où chacun a sa petite poêle pour fondre une tranche de fromage, avant de la racler sur ses morceaux de pomme de terre, petits oignons, et cornichons? Que cela représente la Suisse, n'est-ce pas? L'opération chirurgicale et précise: A table!
Il y a, aussi, le Franc suisse, basé (toujours?) sur l'étendard d'or! On y trouve des chalets, avec leurs boîtes-aux-fenêtres pleines de géraniums; et la broderie des plus petites fleurs sauvages des champs alpins.
Suisse: C'est là un pays où la plupart des résidents se souviennent des grandparents des autres...Quelle phénomène (aux yeux des américains, par exemple, qui se déménagent fréquemment, et parfois franchant de longues distances).
Et l'Armée! Ses exercises, ses fausses-montagnes comblées de nourriture pour toute la population en cas d'urgence! Ses camouflages de fermes, de vaches, de chèvres; sa Force Aérienne (de laquelle les Israeliens ont appris comment ça se fait)...
Et le chocolat, tombé d'en haut.
La Suisse: Une merveille, à mon avis. Le monde est meilleur à cause d'elle. Et je n'ai pas même mentionné son histoire: Des Romains, des "barbares", des éxilés, des Réformateurs...
Moi, j'ai habité Montreux (et ses environs). J'avais mon lac, mes montagnes, ma vue sur tout (une de mes fenêtres a donné sur un bananier, dans le jardin -- SI! En Suisse!), et chaque petit paquet montre ses ingrédients et les instructions en mes trois langues de préférence (la quatrième, le Romansch, n'est pas encore une de mes études).
Alors, l'on peut soit se baigner, soit s'asseoir dans le WC, soit prendre son p'tit déj, tout en lisant les boîtes et les bouteilles, occasions de pratiquer son allemand ou italien -- c'est absolument formidable.
Et les aéroports de Génève et de Zürich, qui correspondent directement avec le train, leurs gares étant juste au-dessous. Et si tu prends le train, de Lausanne au nord, par exemple, tu peux parler en français aux autres passagers jusqu'à Bienne/Biel, où le poli est de vite commencer à t'éxprimer en deutsche, notamment si les autres -- tout à coup -- prétendent de ne plus te comprendre.
On n'est jamais trop loin de la frontière pour devoir faire ses commissions uniquement en Suisse: S'il ne te gêne pas de passer par la douane en rentrant, tu peux acheter des viandes et pharmaceutiques en France (ou Allemagne, Autriche, Italie, Liechtenstein, je suppose?) comme tu veux.
Quel superbe pays! O je remercie le Seigneur pour Sa création des Alpes, et la tradition suissaise de liberté, gardée par cette même topographie. Et pour la domicile de mon amie, Isa, AB, qui sait naviguer le cyberespace, et qui n'a pas peur de s'y mêler avec nous les Anglos.
Vas bien, amuse-toi bien, notre superbe Isa-Manuela!