In memoriam: Gabrielle Roth

"To sweat is to pray, to make an offering of your innermost self. Sweat is holy water, prayer beads, pearls of liquid that release your past. Sweat is an ancient and universal form of self-healing, whether done in the gym, the sauna, or the sweat lodge. The more you dance, the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the more you pray. The more you pray, the closer you come to ecstasy."
-Gabrielle Roth

Dancer and healer Gabrielle Roth died last Tuesday at 71, from cancer.

I took a workshop with her in the early '80s; she was articulate, warm, luminous, funny and fierce, but it's what she did–her freeing of the dancer within everyone–that I appreciate.

Body size, age, rhythmic sense and physical limitations were simply not factors in her classes, now taught by certified instructors around the world as 5Rhythms. We moved to live music, drums and song; we sweated more than I  dreamed possible. We stilled the turmoil within and were awed by what appeared. Though the dance was partnerless, I felt connected to everyone in the room.

5Rhythms felt like nothing else, though I've heard athletes who practice various sports talk about similar escape from overbusy brains, and several friends have told me of their sweat lodge visits. (A bonus: sweat benefits the skin, opening and unclogging pores.) 

The broadest term for Roth's life work is ecstatic dance, also found in some religious ceremonies, folk dances and a slew of rave-ish gatherings. Common elements are that the dance is made by the dancer and is non-competitive

I discovered that there's a 5Rhythms class in my city and plan to visit, despite a nearly thirty year pause since first experience. Besides training 5Rhythms teachers, Roth worked till her last days to bring dance to communities where it's normally not welcomed, like hospitals and prisons.

Movement was, for Gabrielle Roth, divine. She talked about the spiritual power of dance in this Huffington Post article. A nine-minute You Tube video, The Wave Dance by Gabrielle Roth, guides a viewer through the process.

She moved me.

Should you order from abroad?

Someone, on one of the blogs (I think it's Deja Pseu's always-enlightening "Une femme d'un certain age") mentioned that she shops mainly by online sites or catalogs. 

I do that, too. It's easy, and fun when the parcel arrives. (You do have to pay for it, but the frisson of opening the box is no small pleasure.)  

And access is a big part of the appeal. Even big-city shops carry only so much inventory; the recession has cut the offerings. (Shown, cashmere lace jumper by Brora in elderberry.)

Someone sent me an e-mail; she was distressed because her Eric Bompard sweater, ordered on sale, cost nearly 50% more due to customs duties and and taxes, shipping fees, and a delivery fee by Canada Post. 

I replied sympathetically, but basically, that's the price of poker, and reflects several realities:

1. If you live outside the EU, you are not charged Value-Added Tax (VAT), currently 19.6%, but your government gets you on the other end, charging applicable taxes for importing the item. 

When you indicate your country for delivery, if VAT does not apply, you will not be charged– but sometimes you have to watch the merchant. Liberty of London were going to charge VAT on my Diamond Jubilee scarf till I questioned them. They said, "We do offer a VAT refund but this is not automatically deducted by our website when ordering". In other words, your lookout.

2. Shipping (courier) fees for international deliveries are seldom waived by European sellers, unlike US vendors, who sometimes comp them even on Canadian orders. Because there is a minimum courier charge, you can pay 20 shipping for pair of gloves that weigh nothing!
UPDATE: Bompard are waiving them this week, as a special promotion.

3. Finally, the Government of Canada charges about $10 for trotting your sweater to your door or holding it at a postal outlet till you pick it up.  That's because they don't get any of that shipping fee you paid for your redcurrant Bolero, and they are incurring costs.

Now: maybe half the time, my UK or French orders come thorough with no duty. Karma? Thanks for Dad's wartime service?  Who knows, and I'm not tracking down some bureaucrat to find out. If I knew how to ensure this occasional lucky strike, I'd tell you.

When I order from the US, I'm assessed duty without fail. (Nice try, but the North American Free Trade Act does not apply to goods manufactured outside the US, even if you ordered them from a US merchant.)

But my point (and thank you for hanging in through all this) is, when you buy an imported item locally, you are paying those same fees, but they are buried in the price, and you're also paying local sales tax. 

You might also incur related expenses, e.g., parking, gas and that palette of Estée Lauder eyeshadow you bought in order to get the bag of free stuff that you probably don't need.

You can get a cheaper new sweater, say, at The Bay, but if comparing equal quality, you'll pay at least as much, and good luck getting the little card of matching wool for repairs or an extra button, niceties I have not seen from North American vendors since Christ was a cowboy.

The best online merchants offer an enticing range of styles, colours and sizes, and I've been very satisfied with their service.

If you want a black crew neck, stick close to home; you can find the basics within your borders. 

But if you yearn for a retro stitch tunisien in bird song blue, save up, pay the freight and enjoy every snuggly moment. I usually wait for sales or promotions, with a bookmarked catalog and an eye on currency conversion. Discounts offset the bite of duties, taxes and shipping costs.

A return means you're entitled to a refund of tax and duty, but you have to do the work yourself. Complete a brief form (which in Canada is part of the customs form stuck to your box), attach the receipts and proof of return (such as your credit card statement showing the credited amount) and wait a few months to get a cheque. I go through the hassle, but my returns are rare. 

Occasionally customs mistakenly assesses the wrong amount of duty; unless you are ordering regularly (guilty!) you might not know it is weirdly high, but if the duty is over about 33%, call and inquire. And if you buy on sale, make sure the merchant has entered the sale price, not the full price, on the customs form.

Some of the pieces I've bought from US and European merchants will soon be on my back for the twentieth-plus winter. That takes the chill out of the government's interest in our little luxuries. At least, that's how I'm rationalizing my order.


When a French woman gains weight

My French friend Laurence, a black-haired, suntanned teacher, visited this summer. I kissed her in greeting and  thought "My, Laurence looks pretty and relaxed". When she left her signature tomato-red lipstick on my cheeks, I felt her skin, supple and smooth.

Then she pointed out her tummy. "Look at me, I am so embarrassed", she said, "I 'ave gain so much weight!"

And lo, her formerly flat 60+ year-old belly looked as if someone had inserted a gently-convex cushion, giving her une bedaine, or paunch. Like me, that's where her extra weight goes.

She revealed that she had developed an eating disorder– at 60. L. first adopted the wildly popular Dukan Diet, but then went into "a weird place", as she put it, eating only steak for lunch and dinner, black coffee for breakfast. "I had all kinds of energy", she said, "but of course it was terrible for me."

Because she's had a heart attack, she sees a cardiologist. He ran some routine bloodwork and inquired about her diet, and thank god she was honest. He sent her straight to a specialist for eating disorders; L. resumed eating a balanced diet. The weight gain is due to L.'s rekindled acquaintance with all food groups including Creme Brulée, and exacerbated by a personal loss.

Going from from a 4-6 to an 8-10, she can still find what she likes. "A 10 is big?", you ask. A two-size jump gives most of us pause, and in France, where plus sizes start at US10, she feels chunky.

So here is how she dresses now: same as ever. She had to replace her entire wardrobe, but keeps buying colourful skirts and fitted tees. Her only concession has been a pair of Mephisto sandals to encourage more walking.

Laurence eschews boxy cuts and all-dark-colours. Though she feels distressingly large, she finds exaggerated volume dispiriting and says it fools no one: "You can run, but you can't 'ide". We ducked into one store carrying loose, Lagenlook-type pieces and she made that tongue cluck non-non-non.

La bedaine de Laurence
In Montréal, Laurence found a sprightly pale blue cotton pleated skirt (stitched down over the hip) on sale and bought the belt she's considering in the photo, to wear over cardigans.

The cardi is worn buttoned from the mid-chest down, giving that subtle ease of the fold at the abdomen, the most disguise she will countenance.  

However, she is not about to keep adding kilos, given her history and the risks at both the overweight and obese levels. While I have obese women friends (and others comment here) who report perfect health, risks are identified in some studies, especially for those of us over 55. 

A 2001 Rand Corporation study using US data reports more serious consequences for obesity than for smoking, heavy drinking or poverty. The study says, "When compared with normal-weight individuals of the same age and sex having similar social demographics, obese people suffer from an increase in chronic conditions of approximately 67%."

The study also reports an increase in health-care expenditures due to obesity but this is harder to establish over the long run. If a person doesn't smoke, booze or become obese, he or she gains life-years, incurring other costs in old age, as this Forbes article explains.

Laurence is only un peu rondelette, like over a third of her compatriots. The weight will likely hurt her less than continuing that bizarre diet. We've planned more walks, in her city or mine, for our health and the pleasure of being flâneurs together.

Offically old feels officially strange

 Yesterday, I went to a government service bureau, in response to a form delivered in an innocuous brown envelope. The letter began: "This information sheet will help you complete the application for the Old Age Security pension..."  No euphemisms like "golden age" or "senior's benefit". Stark, crisp 19th century language: you're old, kiddo; want a chunk of change?

How can this be?

Worse than turning 50, buying support hose (which at least I no longer need, thanks to EVLA),or hearing my doctor begin a sentence with "At your age..." was the receipt of an official document in benevolent, 14-point sans-serif type.

I went to them. Fanette, the Service Canada clerk, was twinkly as she led me though the paperwork and notarized some documents, flashing a way to go, girlfriend look when Le Duc filled in his birthdate (seven years after mine) in the spousal info field.  

After being officially old-person processed, I ran an errand but found myself standing in a Mephisto store. What am I, a geriatric homing pigeon? The place was full of head to toe wash-and-wearers, one woman hauling three shopping bags stuffed from a spree at Tilley. I fled.

Home empty-handed, wondering if a martini at 2:45 pm. is somehow so wrong.

Realized I had a boiled-wool and leather jacket scooped off a sale rack last spring, just waiting for a cool fall day. Added my Diamond Jubilee scarf for succor: Her Majesty is even older.

Strode across the street to the park to check out a band playing, "real good, for free" as the Joni Mitchell song goes.

Oh right, as the song went in...1970.

I've always said I don't mind getting older; when I think of friends who are no longer here, carping seems ungrateful. But today, my government formally acknowledged my old age, and it feels so sudden, so weird. 

When the first cheque hits my account in July, I'm choosing some kind of symbol of this passage, funded with a few dollars of this initial payment and also donating to the organizations who work to alleviate the diseases that claimed some of my favourite friends, whom I dearly wish were here to grow old with me.

Retirement: Under-construction dressing

Betsy, whom I met last week for lunch, told me that her newly-retired spouse, Terri, rises, and, still in her pajamas, fires up her Kindle for hours of reading or  watches sports. She occasionally stirs for a short jog.   

Terri's extreme-leisure mode reminded me of the day we gave our twin sons their 'real' beds, and said goodbye to cribs. That night, and for five or six after, the thump of running, bed-jumping and general, well, bedlam was almost intolerable. But it passed; they settled into new big boy lives.

And I think that's Terri's situation, too: without the relentless pace of work (she was in public service), she is tripped out on leisure. "I'm calling it a phase", I said. 

The luster of indolence will fade, and you then have new work: figuring out how to spend your energies and hours. And ultimately, you have to get out of your pajamas.

Terri wore a navy blue uniform for her career. Since retirement she's been raiding Betsy's closet, one benefit of same-sex unions, but Betsy is so eager to get her things back she wanted to pay for express shipping. Terri's style is "a little preppy but not stuffy, and overall low-maintenance", in Betsy's words. Her palette is based on blue, purples and the wine reds– what I call "stained-glass colours".

Terri asked us to choose a few things for her, with a $400 budget; she is "too busy to shop"! (Really!)

Betsy and I met for lunch, hit her iPad, and chose these pieces.

1. A soft jacket

Terri lives in jeans and needs something to 'dress' them. I picked this Land's End jersey blazer: the stripes, like a marinière's, are narrow and balanced, it's washable jersey (let's have more washable jackets, designers!) and the price is $80, but we got it for 40% off, that's $48. It works inside in winter and as a light outer jacket in spring.

2. A good sweater with a versatile neckline

We also ordered this Garnet Hill easy modern cashmere sweater, on sale now for about $100, in a clear violet that is not too harsh. (It's washable too.) This is Terri's favourite colour. 

3. Jeans: One pair in colour, one in blue

Betsy joked that Terri's favourite boutique is Mark's Work Wearhouse (now rebranded as Mark's), so thinking we could have a laugh, we logged on and I ate my words, along with my tuna salad. These Barely Bootcut jeans jeans have the Curve-Tech stretch feature of high-end pairs that cost three or four times as much and were on sale for... $37 a pair. Terri's getting syrah (shown) for fun and India ink.

Betsy chose another Land's End top, a wool/ponté button funnelneck, which she thought would be warm and snuggly. (I'm intrigued by the fabric, 62% cotton/19% nylon/16% wool/3% spandex. It's washable too, on delicate cycle.)

This was full price, $60. I offered to change the buttons (IME a Land's End weak point) to some vintage brass I've collected. We'll see what Terri thinks.

 4. Activity-friendly sportswear

Gah! She oinked up the budget there and I was determined to find something outdoorsy. Betsy and Terri have a place in the country, so I thought a snazzy activewear piece might lure her from the screen. 

We found a lavender SmartWool microlight wool top on sale at REI (limited sizes, but the Medium we needed) and jumped. SmartWool is the best thing since the underwire: non-pilling, comfortable and washable. It is not too rugged to go under the blazer; navy and lavender are an unexpected but harmonious combination. Sale price, $35.

Yes! We spent about $320 not counting shipping or tax and duty, which will be Betsy's treat, as was lunch.

Any woman needs carefree, reasonably-priced pieces for a "life under construction", but the newly-retired are especially price-conscious. As I said to Betsy, there will likely be more good sales/free shipping offers around US Thanksgiving, so she may check those to add a parka to the selection, as her Christmas gift.

Late Life Heartbreak, Part Three: Refusing stereotypes

I received many e-mails regarding Part One and Part Two of posts on surviving the first months of a post-50 breakup. 

One reader offered her experience, which she has permitted me to post. Writing some years after those first months, she provides a longer-term perspective, for which I thank her deeply.
Refusing a Stereotype:

When I read through your list of things to do after a split, this was the one that struck me most, perhaps because it is the most insidious and because I honestly believe this is something one truly can control. I have also seen others who have fallen prey to it - it is unpleasant and I refuse to have anything to do with it or them. In fact I had to cut off a relationship with an old friend who was also divorced - I refused to join her club of anger and self-deprecation.

I am a fortunate woman. I have a career that I love and could never have imagined the level of success I have achieved. I have always had friends but now I have friendships of a depth and importance that I would never have imagined. I have terrific kids who are turning out pretty well. I have serious interests that I have been able to pursue. Shortly after my marriage broke up I entered into another relationship which was not meant for the long-term but was loving and meaningful nevertheless.

There is a Jewish philosopher named Abraham Joshua Heschel who said something to the effect that one should create their life as if it was a work of art. The psychiatrist Victor Frankl said that one of the few things we can control in life is our attitude. I thought about these ideas a lot - I realized that with the divorce I had been given this opportunity to create the life I wanted - that was, the inner adult life I wanted - certainly there are many many constraints on what I can do, but at the same time I realized it was an opportunity that I had not had before. It sounds a bit simplistic but something worked. I think that one of the biggest aids was surrounding myself with people who had a creative and positive (although realistic) outlook. 

If I sound like Pollyanna, you should know that I am not. I am a critical thinker, have serious responsibilities, and refuse to sugarcoat what is in front of me.  At the same time, I refuse to let anyone else write my story for me - it is my story, and to the extent that I can write it, I will insist on that."

What began as two posts drawn from the experience of friends and acquaintances has grown, and I appreciate each comment and e-mail. 

Living through the end of a long relationship is like walking a maze. You may not know what direction to take; the only thing to do is slow down, set out, choose the next few steps, and trust yourself to end up at the center, in the right place.  

The reader who wrote the above comment mentions philosophers whose writings helped her; a book I found invaluable is "Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life" by Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg. One of the women who contributes to the first two posts likes Byron Katie's books, especially "I Need Your Love–Is That True?"

Real people dressing on Thanksgiving

Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving, which included a quick trip to the market for last-minute additions. Even though the temperature, 12C (53F) didn't dictate bundling, we'll spot the shift to fall on real people walking about.

A few shots were grabbed (adhering to our laws), a few solicited, and one actually volunteered.

She embodied the season: scarves and leather, newsboy cap. He looked like Steve McQueen.

A meltingly pretty ensemble of a pink fedora, pink-and-cocoa windowpane coat, blush tights and taupe boots, très rafinée.

Squash shades, from signal orange to mustard, are worn with verve before Montréalers embrace the deeper tones of winter. 

At left, the aqua of the scarf tweaks the tang of the orange. And I love a simple beret in an interesting colour.

At right, a boiled-wool jacket, jeans and boots, the favoured footwear here once women stow their sandals.

Le Duc in ochre...

... and this young man in his mustard hoodie. 
Such a cute couple buying squash. 
I admired her scarf and he beamed at her fondly.

Stripes, shorts, tights, sheepskin boots...

And a clown crowned in sunlight, making twisty animals for little ones.

In a sheltered sunny spot, the afternoon felt nearly summery. They were speaking Spanish, wrapped up in their conversation. 
As the old song goes, I've got my love to keep me warm.

I was grateful for many felicitous moments, including those spent in the Passage, and for you, from whom
I've learned so much.

Want, desire and stopping shopping

During a two-month summer respite from blogging, I was struck by the notion of want, how that Janus word means both "desire for", and "lack of".

Want, the urge for the new, the different and especially the youth-granting is the gas of the still-sputtering retail engine. We are sold by appealing to desire, and also by persuading us that we have pressing, unfulfilled needs.

Removed, mostly, from the workplace fashion show, I'm no longer a Good Little Consumer, needing so little– but I can still be lured by desire, by the beautiful and unusual. And sometimes by the sale. 

Oooh, I envied her bag!
Reading blogs again, I was struck by the continual cycle of buy and display in some. Am I jealous, I wondered? Yes, occasionally; someone showed an antique bracelet that I found magical.

But mostly, I thought, Where do you put it? What did you do with the last four dresses/two bags/antique finials you bought just months ago? Do you use all this?

As they say in AA, when you point a finger at someone, there are four pointing back at you. (If you try it, there are in fact three–but you get their drift.) 

I donated two bags of items to charity and then returned to self-righteously raising my eyebrows.

Twig Hoops by Red Sofa
And I was not immune from spending. The summer's discretionary funds addressed
a) the mysterious disappearance of a favourite earring
b) the supreme stupidity of leaving two (!) necklaces on the hook of a change room in a store.

I was disappointed that someone didn't turn them in to security; fortunately, the jeweler could make replacements.

Joanna of Red Sofa said, "I'm sorry you had to spend this money and not get anything new", but sometimes what we want most is what we have, or had until a moment puffs it away. So much in life is gone for good, once it leaves, and the material is the least important of those losses.

I saw why, when my mother died, I found, among new clothes with the tags still on, soft handkerchiefs embroidered in her maiden-name monogram and a silk muffler autographed by friends in Dad's graduating class. The most-cherished possessions are not necessarily the newest.

"Lady T."
Last month, my son's partner launched a blog about her resolution to stop compulsively shopping and eliminate debt. "Lady T." considers the habit's clutches at "Breaking the (Shopping) Contract", here. She doesn't pull any punches, saying, for example,

"I don’t really like the term shopaholic. I can’t help but think of cute things, like pink dresses, dainty handbags and 6 inch high heels, none of which I own myself. 

The name shopaholic has also been tied to humorous tales of people falling into debt in funny ways and then selling their things and living happily ever after- all while wearing adorable cardigans, name brand skinny jeans and Jimmy Choo pumps. Again, it’s not real or at least, it’s not my reality."

And I admit I've been an Enabler, picking up the odd jumble-sale item ("This will be perfect on Lady T.") and enthusiastically admiring her finds. I realize my attitude of, Why not? She'll look so pretty in that! is actually not helping her. Fingers are pointing back at me, but now, knowing her resolve, I'm cleaning up my act. 

Have you any advice for beating a shopping habit?

The pleasures of a grown child

I'm offline for the next few days, so will respond to this week's comments on the weekend. 

What better opportunity to share thoughts I've had recently concerning a child, 25-year-old Etienne?

Comments about how handsome he is will be graciously deferred to his father's gene pool; Etienne has, through and through, that side's features.

He's known to friends and colleagues as "ET", to his father by his full name, (never the English equivalent, Stephen) and to me as his baby nickname, Ed, provided for my American parents, for whom the pronunciation was daunting. (They tried, rhyming it with "Haitian". It is closer to Aye-TYENN.)

Etienne lives in Montréal with his sweetheart, Tash. We didn't move to be in the same city–young people are mobile–but it's the cherry on the sundae.

Besides those big blue eyes, he has a lively intelligence, presently aimed toward becoming an urban planner, and quirky, ready sense of humour. When I spend time with him, I often think of a colleague of decades ago, Halina who spoke to me of her thirty-something son. "He still surprises me", she told me, "and I enjoy him as much now as when he was a baby."

Everyone tells you about parenthood's first and second chapters: childhood and adolescence, those full, fraught volumes. They speak less of the delights of adult children, which Etienne contributes at every meeting.

Some of you have grown children, some are involved aunts or mentors. Even if this child can now drive you somewhere, you are still the generation ahead. You no longer have the pleasure of wrapping him, pink and wriggly, in a towel after lifting him from the bath, but you have the joy of hearing him discuss an article's logic or cook you a meal that contains echoes of what you gave him at your table.

This is a sweet and unanticipated joy.