Saturday, February 1, 2014


          A cousin of mine owned a small painting by Magritte.  I thought it was a picture of a rose in a vase, but it wasn’t a rose, but a pear; and the rose was inserted into the pear.  The rose didn’t look very much like a rose but I thought it was a rose.  I was intrigued by the painting, its vivid colors, the objects so precisely painted but so puzzling.

          Currently, there is an exhibition of Magritte’s paintings at the Museum of Modern Art; and, of course, I wanted to see it.  My son Marc was visiting me at the time; and I was glad to have him join me, as an art lover and a psychiatrist, to help me better understand Magritte’s underlying themes.

          I knew that Magritte was described as a surrealistic artist, whose objective was to encourage viewers to question what they see and try to find meaning behind the reality of what was in front of them.

          A very popular work of this artist was entitled The Pipe.  It is painted with such photographic precision that we don’t need a title to tell us what it is.  It’s not a pipe that can carry heat or water in a building, but a pipe that people, usually men, smoke for pleasure.

          Underneath the pipe, but within the painting itself is what has been confirmed as Magritte’s handwriting is a line in French (his language) that reads “Cici nest pas une pipe” – (translated in English – “this is not a pipe”)

          It has been recorded that to shock and puzzle viewers, Magritte would say, “Of course, it’s not a pipe” – you can’t use your hand to stuff it with tobacco,  you can’t pick it up, and you can’t smoke it.”

          By rearranging objects and using strange versions of animals, Magritte forces viewers to take a deeper look at what is in front of them and what they might truly represent.  Marc points out Magritte was influenced by Freud’s theory of the unconscious.

          In a different direction, my mind turns to the money we paid for admission to this exhibit.  We paid in cash, pieces of paper.  Why do we assume it will be accepted as money – maybe because just as Magritte tells us this is not a pipe when we see a pipe, the government tells us this is not paper – it’s money.  And printed on every piece of paper that is accepted as money is printed that this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.  And to make us feel more secure, every bill states  In God We Trust.

       On the way home, I tell March about the Magritte that I used to see at my cousin’s house.  I never did get to understand its underlying meaning or what it represented; but I’m still in touch with the reality that she didn’t bequeath it to me when she died; and with art prices soaring today, it must be worth a lot of money.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

102, GOING ON 103

          Yesterday was my sister Vera's 102nd birthday.  If you have an
image of an old, infirm woman barely able to participate in any birthday
celebration, discard that image!  Instead, see her walking down the street
in her patterned stockings, her beautiful jacket, and her makeup perfect.
It's not rare for some to ask, where do you get your haircut or where can
I find that raincoat?

          Vera never complains of any aches or pains.  I can’t remember a time when she was sick.  She foolishly, according to my opinion, never had a mammogram or pap test in her earlier years.  Now she does get flu shots and has an annual physical exam.

          When I telephone and ask, as I might anyone, how are you, she always answers fine, as if what a foolish question, how can I be anything but fine.

          Reaching 102 doesn’t mean what it might mean to most people.  She says it is only numbers to her.  She states quite firmly that she’s not any older because of the numbers.  She doesn’t feel any older than she felt many years earlier in her life.  As a psychologist, I think to myself – it’s a state of denial – but then I just wonder maybe it’s just the way aging is for her.

          No sign of dementia for her either.  She is very alert, very much in the present, no preoccupation with past memories for her.  She still has passionate interests in politics, Obama, reading, fine restaurants – although she eats very little -- both to remain very trim (it’s in) and she believes in a healthy diet.  She never takes a drink, although in former years she enjoyed wine with her meals.

          Vera often tells me one advantage of a long life is that you can see the story unfold.  She’s interested in the unfolding of world events, very interested even more so in the unfolding of her family’s story.  She does not boast about her family as so many people do; she doesn’t need to, as other people exclaim what a remarkable family she has.

          Vera has one daughter Linda and Linda has three sons, who are Vera’s grandchildren; and they in turn among them have 7 children, who are Vera’s great grandchildren, who range in age from 6 to 19.  They were all gathered together to celebrate her birthday.  They are extremely attractive, charming, and great fun.  But above all, was the atmosphere of love for Vera and for each other.

          What is also remarkable about this family is that the three grandchildren, ranging in age from 40 to 50, seem to have achieved outstanding success in the financial world – all three – (no black sheep here) and they are close brothers, living very near to each other, with wives seemingly cut from the same cookie cutter, each of them has their own successful careers and the three couples are almost a little community – although they branch out with their friends and special interests.

Happy Birthday Vera

102 Going on 103
You have some kind of key
But the years fly on so fast
Baby, keep having a blast!




        I guess I started to think about “left overs” the day after Thanksgiving—the turkey is still fresh, the salad still crunchy, the cranberries still juicy.  The pies—they’re gone—devoured the day before and everyone is glad because thoughts of all those calories have started to emerge.

        But there’s a different kind of left over that fills my mind during this holiday season.  My sister Vera and I are “left overs” of the family we grew up in.  There were three of us, close siblings and we felt a certain amount of pride that the three of us were our family’s long-lived survivors. 

A few weeks ago, our handsome, charming, caring, 95-year-old brother, died.  Now only two of us are left over from a large pool of cousins as well, cousins we loved and with whom we shared wonderful experiences.

        And, too, we’re “left overs” of our generation, often referred to as the greatest generation.  Be that as it may, there aren’t many left of that generation.

        So what’s left?  A lot!  There are my two boomers, my sister’s daughter, several new generations of grandchildren and great- grandchildren, and great nieces and nephews.

        I live in a constantly changing world and in the new age of technology; and despite its major problems and crises, it is an exciting world.  I have new friends to replace the old and new interests and challenges.

        Whatever time is left over for me, it is my time and my challenge—as it has always been—to make the best use of it.