Saturday, February 27, 2010

Time Fades

I remember as a child, I was always anticipating the next thing that would happen. I was notorious for getting in the car for a long, family trip somewhere and not less than five minutes later, ask, "Are we there yet?" "How much longer do we have?" "I'm hungry!" "I'm thirsty." "Now I need to go to the bathroom." And, as if something had changed in the last 2 minutes, I'd ask again, "Are we there yet?" "Are you sure we are not there yet?" "How much longer do we have now?"

That was me throughout my entire childhood. I could never truly enjoy the moment because the moment just seem soooooooooooooooooooo long and nothing seemed as worth it as the next thing that was supposed to happen. Perhaps today, someone would have diagnosed me with severe ADHD, given me medication, and I would have enjoyed a lot of those family trips. But instead, I was constantly admonished for being so restless, so impatient, so antsy and branded as a royal pain in the neck.

And so that branding stuck with me. I grew up into my teens, twenties, and even thirties always looking beyond -- never satisfied with the now and here.

Of course, that was always part of my drive, that inner workings of my mind that always made me work that much harder to get where I wanted to get, and I wonder how much I would have accomplished or overcome in life had I not had that drive that always made me yearn for the other side of the mountain.

And speaking of mountains, I will share with you a story that my mother will never let me forget or live down for as long as either one of us lives. When I was just 6, my family went vacationing with one of those camping trailers in the snowy mountains of Bariloche in Argentina. Restless from the lack of excitement on the camping grounds and with no snow in sight (and what is a vacation in Bariloche without snow?), I convinced my parents to take an excursion to a nearby mountain which I had heard through one of the campers had snow on the top.

We drove to nearby Serro Lopez only to find out that the lift to the top of the mountain was shut down for repairs. But there was a dirt road that wound up to the top..... so, practicing to be the lawyer I would later become in life, I put on a case as to why we needed to see the snow and why we needed to drive up the mountain -- my mother, father, brother, two younger sisters, my grandmother Aida, and our two dogs.

The dirt road was narrow and treacherous -- a rock wall on one side and an abyss on the other side. But, did I mention that there was white snow on the top of this mountain?

So we slowly drove up the mountain (or should I say, my father slowly drove up the mountain). As murphy's law would have it, it started to rain halfway up. The rain started coming down hard and turning the dirt road into slush. The wheels of our station wagon were not equipped with the proper traction and having no 4 wheel drive, the car started sliding from one side to the other. What started out as a neat adventure, soon became a nightmare. The car started sliding backwards and as my father would try to accelerate, the wheels would get stuck in the mud. And then, with no traction to move us forward, the car would start sliding backwards again and into the abyss!!!

I started to pray the Hail Mary. My mother started screaming at me for always wanting something more. My grandmother was screaming at my mother to stop screaming at me. And our dachshund, Frankfurt, peed on himself.

The road was steep and narrow and there was no place to turn around. There was no place to go but up with the hope that either we would find a clearing wide enough to turn around and go down, or that it would stop raining and the ground would settle.

Suddenly, my father stopped the car and ordered us all out of it. Dogs, kids, grandmother and all, we all got out of the car. My father emphatically declared that if the car was to slide off the mountain and into the abyss, he would rather die alone than kill his entire family. Yes, I know, a bit dramatic I would say, but drama is something that simply oozes in our family.

So we started our pilgrimage on foot -- 20 ft behind the car as my father maneuvered the station wagon up the mountain -- all of us walking in the rain, praying, crying, making promises of changing our ways if only we were spared this once, etc. I must have prayed 20 entire rosaries in what seemed like an eternity but, in reality, was no more than 1 hour of sheer hell.

Just when we thought it could not get any worse, it stopped raining. My father was able to get better control of the car, and he drove up to a clearing on the road where other cars were parked. Hallellujah, praise the Lord!!! We were saved!!!!! As we walked up, muddy and wet like homeless people to where the fashionable, ski jacket wearing people were gathered, a girl came running up to me and said, "you need to see how beautiful the snow is! It's right around the bend up there!" By now, my entire family had piled back into the car and my father had turned the car to go back down the mountain. I opened up the car door and said, "Mom, Dad, the snow is just up the bend! It's right over there! Can we go????"

Well, I can't remember much else of what happened after that because the pain from my mother's slap across my face hurt all the way down the mountain. To this day she won't let me forget how we all almost died because of my urge to always see what else is out there. As for me, I always wonder how white the snow really was and if it would have made all the difference in the world for us to have seen it. I guess I'll never know.

As I've grown older, much older, like 41 years much older, and have weathered the passage of time, the birth of my children, the death of my father, I've grown to appreciate the "here and now" more and more each day. Don't get me wrong, I still wonder what else is out there for me in life, what other adventures may lie just around the corner, and if the snow is truly whiter on the other side of the mountain. But I don't have that insatiable yearning as I did when I was a child to find out. I realized with the death of my father that life is just so short. In a blink of an eye, life just happens and before you know it, all those things that you yearned for are now behind you.

So now I take each day as a gift. Live each day fully. And notice every little detail of that moment. My kids are still young. I know they are just 6 and 4 years young, but already, I miss those 4 and 6 years of time that flew by me while I was busy practicing law, rebuilding my house, and just plain stressing out about life. It took the loss of a loved one for me to realize just how fast all of this goes by.

Like sunlight reflecting through the crystals of my lamp on my writing desk, one moment the rainbow is there and another moment it is gone. So capture it, savor it, knowing that there is no moment as beautiful and precious as the one you're are in.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

All Creatures Great and Small

I can't remember a time that animals were not a part of my life. When I was a little girl, we never had less than 3 dogs in the household. My father was a lover of animals -- all kinds of animals. Perhaps he would have liked to have been a veterinarian, but his family, modest, middle class working people, didn't (couldn't) give him much of a choice and sent him off to the merchant marine academy at the early age of 15.

Still, his love for animals was always with him. He told me a heartbreaking story once that stayed with him for all of his life and had much to do with his respect and admiration for all kinds of animals. He was a young officer (a plebe) sailing on a large vessel down to Antartica. In the evenings, the older officers would engage in games/sports on the bridge to pass time. One evening, as my father was keeping watch, he heard a combination of what sounded like shots, laughter and what he described as the most piercing cries. The cries sounded human and he went to see what was going on. He found the officers engaged in a hunting game of sorts -- they were shooting at the dolphins that often travelled alongside the vessel and kept them company. As the dolphins were shot, they would let out a cry that sounded human. Although it was an honor to be included with the older officers in whatever sport or activity they were engaging in, my father refused to be a part of that. His eyes would well up and he would choke when he told the story of the sounds he heard that night -- the sounds that would stay with him forever until he was very old. Later, when he became a captain, he forbade any type of sporting game on his ship that involved any type of killing or hurting of animals, especially dolphins. To his death, he donated to all types of "save the dolphins" foundations and was a loyal lifetime donor to the Defenders of Wildlife group and the American Humane Society.

He imparted his love for all creatures to us. There is not an animal I won't help or a bird I won't feed. We currently have 3 dogs. Two of them are wire haired dachshunds from Germany. Yes, Germany. I was engaged to a german guy years ago and for my birthday, he gave me two german, wire haired dachshund puppies (two sisters). We flew out to Germany to get them. The german did not last (in fact, I met my now husband on the day I was supposed to marry the german -- I'll tell you that story one day) but my dogs did. Their Deutschland kennel club names are Xara and Xandra Von Frunkenberg, but I renamed them Thelma and Louise. They have been my companions for now 9 years. They are twins and inseparable. They follow me everywhere I go and, as I always tell them, they were my very first babies. I can't imagine life without them ever.

As for my third dog, well, he was not in the plans. After Katrina, as you know, we ended up living far away. We had to cross a long, long bridge across Lake Pontchartrain. One evening, as I was returning home from work with kids on tow, we encountered the usual traffic getting off the bridge. But this time, among the traffic coming and going, I saw a beautiful black lab going up to driver's windows to be petted. Everyone was petting him as they stopped at the red light, but once cars started going again, you can only imagine how dangerous it was for him. Feeling a sense of duty, I went to pull over to get the dog out of the highway, and I saw him cross over to the other side of the highway, dodging cars, to the parking lot of a bank. He had seen some kids walking up with their mother to go into the bank and he obviously wanted to play. The kids, however, started screaming and so did their mother. The lab was wagging its tail and trying to jump up to lick their faces. But they were frantic and screaming! So I saw the security guard come up to him and pull his gun on the dog. This all happened so fast. I pulled my car over and jumped out of the car and jumped between the dog and the gun. (yeah, like, what was I thinking???????). The guard warned me that the "dog could be rabid" and told me to step aside. Like, make me.

So I told him that I would take him in my car and I asked him for his help in putting him in which he refused to do. So I shoved this heavy, huge dog into my front seat (my kids were in car seats in the back). I called my husband and told him I picked up a stray dog. He asked how big of a dog he was to which I responded, "maybe 75 lbs but his paws are still big!" He was still a puppy, much to my surprise! Although we put ads everywhere and checked him for a chip, no one responded. He was just one of those Katrina dogs that someone had left behind.

So now Satchmo (as we named him) has been part of our family. Our Katrina rescue dog. He is a pure, gorgeous black lab that at age 4 is all muscle and weighs 90 lbs. He sheds like crazy and I spend my life vacuuming my white floors. Still, I can't imagine him not being part of my family. My dad was very fond of him and although he never could see him (he went blind during the last 5 years of his life), he was able to pet him. Although he never said it, I know he was proud of how much we loved and cared for animals. Now that he is gone, I see him and his presence in everything that lives -- from the little sparrow that sings in the morning by my window, to the funny looking big eyed lizards that reside in our garden during the summer.

And, in case you are wondering, I have carried on his devotion to dolphins and donate, in his memory, to all causes that protect this noble animal.


My sweet Louise

Even my furnishings echo my love for animals. Here is my "rumply linen dog bed."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Only on Thursday

During the years following Hurricane Katrina, when I was alone with the kids in our temporary home in the country, while my husband was waiting tables at night and going to accounting school during the day, I filled my nights dreaming of what my new house (if I could ever rebuild it) would look like. One day, as I was walking through the kitchen in my law firm, I saw an old copy of Victoria Magazine that caught my eye and took it home. Little did I know that that would be the start of something big.

I became mesmerized and absorbed with the photos and stories of women who had followed their bliss and of places in France and other parts of Europe where people lived according to a different time clock. While the rest of the world was/is on the Internet, most of these people were busy planting their herb gardens, captivated by the progress of a creeping turtle, spending six hours slow-roasting a leg of lamb and just plain living. I thought to myself, "how amazing would it be to have all the time in the world. To dedicate oneself to an earlier, simpler, more provincial way of life?" Of course, in all practicality, it is difficult to make a living doing just that when one has a family to raise, but the thought of perhaps achieving some balance between that and my own life, was something I became obsessed with.

In one of my readings (and by then, I had obtained several copies of back issues of Victoria since the Magazine had sadly ceased to publish at that time), I ran across a feature that completely inspired me to my present day venture and passion. It was a story about Dominique
and Pierre Bernard-Depalle. The couple live in the heart of Paris just as if they were living in the heart of the French countryside. The time is not the present but some unhurried, uncomplicated moment in the unspecified past.

Not wanting a conventional storefront that gives directly onto the street, the Bernard-Depalles installed their antiques shop in the first building on the right. Vivement Jeudi ("Only on Thursday," as the shop is aptly named) is filled with mostly eighteenth and nineteenth century French, Italian and Swedish objects and furniture (gently worn upholstered pieces are good, but threadbare is better). As its name suggests, the boutique is open only on Thursdays (and by appointment).

The line between the shop and their home is blurred. The contents and furnishings of one could live happily in the other. And in both places, the couple espouse the kind of spontaneous, emotion-driven decoration that defies most laws of order or symmetry. Dominique likes to, as she calls it, "seeding the rooms with the past. A Louis Seize chest of drawers speaks of the silks and perfumes it once held."

And to me, back in New Orleans, faced with a backdrop of sheer destruction, lost, worn or broken pieces, Dominique and Pierre's world could not have been more fitting. Worn and faded silks and velvets became beautiful pieces of fabric to me. A chipped and worn dresser with its original green patinaed hardware inspired creativity. And aged mirrors with gilded, broken frames became an obsession.

I had found my passion and it lied in discovering and embracing the beauty of all that which, just a few years before (pre-Katrina as I usually refer to it), I did not notice. We were all torn and broken. We were all damaged in some way. Katrina had left its scars in each and every one of us and it was up to us to find the beauty in all that.

And so it was with Dominique and Pierre's story and images of their home and shop that the seed of change was planted in me. You will find traces in my style of their world. Humble, primitive stools and tables are placed next to a beautiful, nineteenth century french gold gilded settee. Worn velvet (like those on my blue velvet Louis XVI chairs) are left in their original glory -- to speak of the dinners and celebrations they once partook of. To me, they speak of a time gone by. They are treasures that cannot be replaced or even measured by any mass produced, modern day furnishing. I feel priviledged to be the guardian of such gorgeous pieces of history, even if for a fleeting moment in time. And they can only get more beautiful as they travel through time and through the lives of those who will take them home to share their history, dinners, laughter and experiences.

So if you happen to be in Paris on a Thursday, look up Dominique and Pierre Bernard-Depalle. Chances are, you will find them in their garden, pinching back a plant or greeting the turtle as it makes its day-long travel across the courtyard. And maybe, just maybe, you'll find me there too.
Vivement Jeudi, 52 Rue Mouffetard, Paris; 011-33-1-43-31-44-52.

Dominique and Pierre Benard-Depalle.

Their dining room. The 19-foot custom made cabinet is filled with the couple's collection of French faience.

Mixing things up, "the salon de soir" has a fanciful and ornamental feel, with a rococo armchair, and a voluptuous 18th-century chest of drawers and venetian lanterns.

Pierre's office is furnished with an Empire bd and an 18th century Italian table and chairs. Dominique finds the chairs' tattered old undercoverings too beautiful to mask with new fabric.

The simplicity of Swedish furniture is beautiful next to the gold gilded candelabra.

The salon the musique... and Chine, the couple's rascally Yorkie.

The entrance hall's Directoire amoire, filled with shells and other mementos from Dominique's native Brittany.

The salon de musique is casually arranged with an 18th-century Provencial open-arm chair, a pair of primitive stools, and an 18th-century English settee in its original velvet.

Photographs courtesy of Victoria Magazine. Photographer: Gilles de Chabaneix

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Favorite Valentine's Story

On this day, I'd like to share with you one of my favorite Valentine's stories that I heard when I was a child. It always stayed with me and I have somewhat lived my life with this story as an inspiration.

It was 1955 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Dora Zazzetta was 19 and just stepping out into the world. The youngest of 4 children of Italian immigrants, Dora was by far, one of the most beautiful, most charming, and liveliest girls around. She had the dark, exotic beauty of a modern day Natalie Wood with the charm and innocence of Audrey Hepburn. And what was so engaging about her is that she went through life not realizing the effect she had on everyone she encountered.

It was 1955 and President Juan Peron was in power. Evita had died only 3 years before. Dorita (as she was called) was involved in all of Peron's art and educational programs which he, with Evita, had founded to promote and motivate the young generation of Argentina. As a lover of music and having an older sister who was a professional opera singer, Dorita loved to sing anywhere she had a chance and had the voice of an angel. It just so happened that on that summer of 1955, her student group had the opportunity to perform before President Peron at the most prestigious theater in Buenos Aires -- El Teatro Colon. Sitting at his presidential balcony, Peron heard Dorita sing and was enraptured by not only her voice but by the young girl performing with such life and vigor. He called her after the performance to his balcony and told her that he was so impressed by her talent that the government would pay through a special scholarship for her to study voice in Milan, Italy, for a year. She would be staying with the Argentina Ambassador's family in Milan during her studies and travel to and from Italy by way of an ocean liner.

Dorita was ecstatic about this opportunity. Little did she know that this would change her life forever. So she traveled to Italy, with a trunk full of handmade dresses her mother had lovingly sewn for her. They were too poor and too humble to afford new clothes, but her mother was so talented that she could make the most beautiful dresses out of hand me down fabrics. So off she went to conquer Europe in her handmade dresses and take in all she could from this once in a lifetime experience.

Six months into her year long trip, President Peron was overthrown and all government programs terminated. She was recalled back to Argentina and given a second class passage for her return.

Sadly that her luck had run out, Dorita did the best she could to keep her spirits up and those around her. El Corrientes, the ship carrying her home, was one of Argentina's most prestigious passenger/cargo vessels which at one point had been an American navy aircraft carrier but at the end of WWII sold to the Argentine government and refitted for passenger travel.

Still, second class was not as comfortable or well appointed as it probably should have been. Although she was not used to luxuries, as the daughter of Italian immigrants she was accustomed to good food which was nowhere to be had in second class. According to Dorita, boiled potatoes made up the majority of the meals and after a couple of days of that, she felt compelled to do something about it. As the "voice" of the second class passengers, she made her way to first class and was determined to "discuss" this situation with the captain of the vessel himself. She found the captain's quarters and knocked on the door. A well dressed older secretary opened the door and advised her that the captain was not to be disturbed as he was having his lunch. Well, I guess that pushed Dorita's buttons as she marched right past the secretary and into the Captain's cabin where she found the handsome 36 year old captain, fully decked out in his uniform, eating what seemed to be a 6 course feast. He looked up at her in surprise and was immediately enraptured by her beauty and determined look. Ignoring his greeting and offer to join him, Dorita just let him have it about the injustice of social classes and the issue of the boiled potatoes that her fellow second class passengers were made to eat. She was so into her ripping speech that she did not even notice the captain's smile throughout her discourse. When she was finished, she marched right out and felt that she at least had accomplished the task of telling the captain exactly what she thought of him and his ship. Little did she know that she had also captured his heart forever.

Needless to say, second class enjoyed a new menu from that day forward, but Dorita didn't really know much about it as she spent the next few days in the infirmary with a tremendous bout of sea sickness due to the ill weather they encountered.

When the sea finally calmed and Dorita began enjoying walks and games on the deck with the officers and friends that seem to always flock her, she kept looking up at the bridge where the handsome but alooft captain kept watch. Having had attained his position as captain at the young age of 27 (in fact, he was the youngest captain in Argentine merchant marine history), he rarely socialized with his officers as doing so, he felt, would not be proper or fitting. So he kept to himself, alone, while everyone enjoyed the transatlantic crossing. But in his heart he could not stop thinking about that young, beautiful, vivacious Italian girl in handmade clothes. And he watched her from above, envious and amazed that she could enjoy such a carefree life.

Finally, in their last port stop before arriving to Argentina, in Rio de Janeiro, he mustered enough courage to ask Dorita out on a day trip. Having been to Rio on various occasions, he knew the places to visit and the restaurants to go to. She reluctantly agreed (as she really wanted to go with the young crowd that was sight seeing that day) but she sensed a certain sadness and solitude in this handsome man who was not much older than the rest of the officers on board.

They spent the day together in Rio, he showing her all the wonderful spots in town and later, treating her to a lovely dinner at a small romantic restaurant by the port. There was something so charming about Dorita, so alive and so contagious. She could breathe life into anyone and everyone. She adored life and life, obviously adored her. He, for the first time in his life, felt truly alive and happy. Years later, he would tell people that life for him began when he met Dorita.

It would take many years, 7 years in all, for him to finally make the jump and marry her. It is a difficult story what transpired during those years, but needless to say, the two married and stayed married for almost 50 years until his death separated them. They had four wonderful children in all and they fought all of their lives for that family to always remain together.

I am so fortunate to have been the second of those four children.

Happy Valentine's to all.

El capitan, Mario Raul Gentinetta.

My parents, Mario and Dorita.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Remembering my Father

Sometimes I find it difficult to write on this blog. Forgive me if I sound trife at times. This is all so new to me. Frankly, I am a bit scared with all of this. My new venture, my new life, my new passion. I was always one to not take too many chances. I calculated my every move. I did what was "right" and expected of me. I want to succeed at this. Gain your confidence and respect in all that I do. For all of my life, it was my father whose approval I sought. A year ago this month, he left this world. Without him, I have felt lost. Without him, I feel that I have lost that pilar of strength that used to guide me when things did not look so clear. I wonder what he would say if he knew I left the safety of my legal profession to follow my bliss? He would not have approved. I know. He was the one who convinced me to give up art in college and pursue a more "lucrative" career. But now, now that he has gone through the experience of life and death, will he still feel the same? Would he tell me to seize the day because he himself now realizes how short it all was?

Just before he died, I held his hand and told him how much I loved him -- something that because of our huge generation gap and distant relationship, we never truly voiced out loud. He looked angrily at me, but not in a "I can't believe you said that" way, but rather in a "you don't have to say that because I always knew" way. He was blind at the end but he took my hand and said, "I know!" and patted my hand.

Oh, how I miss him!!!!! Forgive me for being so silly and emotional. He was in the hospital for two weeks during this whole Mardi Gras festivity last year. It was the end for him and we all knew it. On Mardi Gras day last year (which fell on February 24), he turned 89. Knowing him, he hung on to show all of us he could do it. He died the next day while the entire city celebrated something distant to us.

So if I have been boring or down on this whole Mardi Gras, partying thing, is because I'm still grieving and now more than ever as I am reminded of losing someone I loved so dear.

My father and mother were/are (because my mother is still alive) the most amazing, strongest, most passionate people I have ever known. His death left a huge void in all of our lives. There is not one day that I don't talk to him -- in the shower, as I brush my teeth or put my kids to bed. He is more alive to me now than he was then. But still, I wish I could hold him just once more.

I started to write a book in the weeks after he died but could never finish the first chapter as it was too painful to do so. Every day, when I'm alone in my shop, I take the pen up again. I want him to know how much he meant to me and I want the world to know who he was.

I don't know who each and every one of you who reads this blog is, but if I may, for his sake, I would like to share that unfinished chapter with you. This new venture of mine is as much his as it is mine. His death made me want to live to the fullest and I think he would have wanted me to. So, Papa, I am remembering you today and every day.

Here goes:

Chapter 1

Something yanked me out of my comatosed sleep. Something was ringing. I instinctively picked up the alarm clock and moved the on and off switch several times. But the annoying ringing kept going and I couldn’t make it stop. Forced out of the blissful ignorance of my sleep, I realized that it wasn’t the alarm going off but the phone that kept ringing. Now, fully aware, my heart sank. The dreaded call at what I saw was just before 2 a.m. I had survived through many of those calls unscathed, but I always dreaded them. A call at that hour of the night could bring nothing but bad news. And this time, I knew. This time it would not be an inadvertent wrong number or a prank call or even one of those collect calls from some unknown person in prison. This time it was the real thing. This time it was the call that I never wanted to get. But it was here -- the call that would end the dreaded anticipation of any other further calls in the middle of the night.

I picked up the phone. It was Glenda – the youngest of my siblings and the one who always got the first call. I couldn’t get my voice to work – my heart was beating in my throat. “Mom just called,” she said with a cracked voice. “The nurse said he is taking his last breaths.” I knew this moment had to come eventually but I wasn’t yet ready for it. I would never be ready for it. How do they know this time? How can they be sure? He had beat so many odds in life. He had challenged life so many times before. He had stared death in the face and always beat it -- for us, for Dorita, for the only people that mattered to him. He had spent a lifetime fighting for his family. He was invincible. He was immortal. The thought of him not being there – here, alive, whether for better or for worse -- just didn’t factor into the equation. “Are they sure?” I asked as if challenging the inevitable.
“Yeah,” she said softly.
“I’m on my way.” And then, as if it needed reminding, “Did you call the others?”
She had. Of course, she had. All for one and one for all.

I slipped on the same sweat pants and sweat shirt that I had tossed on the bedroom floor just a few hours earlier when I had returned from yet another full day of vigil at the hospital. Ironically, it was the same set of sweat pants and sweat shirt that I had come to wear for every momentous occasion in the last couple of years – the birth of my two children, the last minute evacuation from Katrina, the emergency room visits in the middle of the night for my father which had become more frequent in the last months. There was something so comforting and so predictable about those gray, worn out sweat pants and sweat shirt. They even had paint stains from a hideous, obnoxious yellow that I had made AJ paint our first born Liam’s nursery and then made him paint over the very next day. They were part of my history and with each stain, each tear, a new memory was carved.

AJ and the kids were long since asleep. As I was walking out the bedroom door, AJ opened his eyes. I looked at him and gave him the all-telling look. “I’ve got to go. Glenda just called.” He knew as I did.

Everything was dark outside. Was it my imagination or did it seem darker tonight? My hands were sweating as I grabbed the steering wheel. Thank God we were back in New Orleans instead of an hour and a half away as we had been for the past 3 years since Katrina changed our address and our lives. Katrina took everything – well, maybe not everything. It had left our family, our entire family, intact -- but that too was about to change now.

My eyes were burning from tears that would not come. I had cried so much the past few days that my eyes seemed to have run empty. The streets were deserted as I sped down Causeway Blvd. towards Ochsner Hospital. Only 8 minutes had passed since I got the call and less than 5 remained before I’d reach the hospital.

Suddenly, I heard his voice. His calm and soothing voice, “Now, remind me, how does it go? You know it, hija. How does it go?” He started reciting, “All creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful…or is that all things bright and beautiful? No, wait, All things Bright and Beautiful and then all creatures great and small? Or is that backwards? Tell it to me. How does it go?”

“Be quiet. I can’t think,” I told myself. How can you be thinking of that stupid poem at a time like this? But his voice kept going and going and I couldn’t make it stop.

“You remember that poem, hija, don’t you?” his voice continued. Of course I did. How could I not? Afterall, it was that poem and the books by James Herriot that inspired Marcelo to become a veterinarian. All of us had read each and every one of those books and watched the BBC television series. All of us had loved the James Herriot stories and wanted to be country vets when we grew up or at least have a dozen animals in our house. Most of us ended up having a dozen animals in our house, but only Marcelo became the vet … and he, I believe, was and still is the happiest.

“Allright, Allright. Let me think,” I cried in an attempt to quiet the voice. “I think it’s All Creatures Great and Small … All Things Bright and Beautiful … No, wait, I got it wrong. Damn, how DOES it go?” I became more and more frustrated with myself as my brain would not engage.

My cell phone rang. Damn, can’t she just wait until I get there? I’m almost there, for God’s sake! No patience, I tell you. But then again, who had patience in our family? Not me, that’s for sure. Hell, my patience these days came from 10 mg of Lexapro each night.
“I’m almost there!” I yelled into the phone.

“Ok,” I heard Glenda say softly and then she paused as if she wanted to tell me something but hesitated. But something changed her mind and she did go on. “He’s gone. You don’t have to hurry to get here. He’s gone.”

“No!” I cried. No, he can’t be. “Just wait, Goddamit! I’m almost there!” and hung up. That’s right. Ignore her. That will change things. I sped through a red light. I’m almost there. I’m almost there.

The parking lot was empty. I found a spot right infront of the Second Floor entrance that connected to the hospital. I ran. I ran as fast as I could, skipping steps down the stairs, and running through the empty corridors. Thank God I wasn’t like mom who, in every crisis situation, insisted on wearing the most uncomfortable, the most impractical, but the most decadent pair of high heeled shoes she could find.

I had run through these same halls, wearing these same sweat pants and these same damn tennis shoes twice before in the past 5 years. The first was when I had Liam. I was new at the child bearing thing and I had visions of a wheel chair comfortably transporting me through these halls. But the wheel chairs were non existent and had I waited for one to become available or for AJ to find one, Liam would have been born in the lobby of the hospital. So I ran. I ran down those long halls to the elevators in between labor pains. When the labor pains came upon me, I would stop and curl over in pain. And then, once they went away, I would straighten up and run again.

By the time Roma came along, I was a pro. So I started off running from the start with AJ trailing behind. It was obvious he did not have any great motivation to run to Labor and Delivery like I had.

This time, however, life did not await at the other end of the hall and the pain in my gut was not from labor pains. There was nothing exciting about this time.

I got to the elevators and hit the button. The doors opened right up as if they had been waiting for my arrival. I hit the number 3 button. “Come on, come on, move!”

It seemed like eternity before the doors opened again and then I took off running again, past the Visitor’s Garden where we had spent many a night the past 2 weeks crying, laughing, shouting, sleeping, eating, consoling, reminiscing, accepting…

As I sped by the nurses’ station, two chatting nurses stopped upon seeing me and gave me grave, sympathetic looks. I don’t want your sympathy! I want you to keep talking as if nothing happened! Tears started rolling down my eyes as their looks confirmed what I already knew but just didn’t want to believe. Just a few more steps….

I ran into my father’s room and stopped dead on my tracks. There he was. Lifeless. Just lifeless on the bed. The tremendous life energy just gone from what had been such a strong, relentless body. “NO!” I shouted.
“I didn’t get here in time. I didn’t get here in time!” I turned for support to my mother who sat next to my father, sobbing either in disbelief or in real pain, I couldn’t tell. But she offered nothing but her own suffering. So I threw my arms around the man who knew me better than I knew myself. The man who sat by my hospital bed when I broke my arm on my first day of kindergarten. The man who never refused to take my hand and, in fact, insisted on it, when my own insecurities and anxiety made my palms sweat profusely. The man who had struggled all of his life so that all of us could have a better one. I hugged him and I wanted him to hug me back. I so wanted him to hug me back, but he was no longer there. His body was just a shell. He was cold. He was so cold and I tried with my arms to warm him so that he would wake up. But he wouldn’t wake up and there was nothing I could do. For once, there was absolutely nothing that I could do. I was sobbing like a child and the pain I felt was suffocating. This could not be happening. He can’t be dead. It was a pain that kept getting stronger as the realization of his loss kept forcing its way into my reality.

I noticed Glenda standing on the other side of the bed next to him. Her face also swollen with grief. And then Vanesa. I barely notice her walk over to the bed. She had been the strong one throughout all this. But the reality of it finally set it and she too sobbed. She half smiled in between tears and said, “You know, I kept hearing his voice all the way here. You know Dad. He kept asking me, ‘Did you check your tires? When was the last time you checked your tires? And the brakes? Have you checked your brakes?’” I manage to actually chuckle amidst my crying, all of us being all too familiar with the “Have you checked your tires?” drill of my father’s. His thing was, your car could break down at any time, any where and chances were, you’d be okay, just stuck in a bad place and inconvenienced. But if your tires blew out, chances were that you’d crash and may not be okay. And that to him was unimaginable. So every Sunday, we checked our tires and every Sunday, he asked if we had.

I looked over to the bed again. I just couldn’t believe that he was gone from us – that someone so strong, so dominant, so much a part of our daily lives, our existence, our universe, our being, could no longer be alive, breathing, telling us what to do. And as I stared in disbelief, it came to me like a prayer, “All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful… The Lord God Made them All.”

As if on cue, I felt Marcelo’s presence behind me. He was somber, almost expressionless, already all-too familiar with the reality and finality of death, albeit of animals and never his own father’s.

Still, I saw his jaw tighten and his eyes well up as he saw the motionless figure of dad. He was fighting it as if it strength of emotion was expected of him. Instinctively, I went up to him and hugged him, something that as brother and sister we never did. And I felt his muscles relax as he hugged back and sobbed.

Okay, deep breath, we can get through this, I told myself as I straightened my shoulders and wiped my tears. “Now what?” I asked. It seemed like a callous question to ask considering the circumstances but I felt as if we needed to do something, to take action. We needed to keep moving forward like my dad always did.

“I guess we clean up,” Vanesa suggested. Cleaning up had always been our family’s answer to any crisis. We cleaned. Everything was always handled better when things were cleaned and organized. So, like in every other crisis in our lives, we all went through the process of tidying up the hospital room from the domestic and medical clutter of two weeks’ worth of round the clock vigilance. Cleaning involved mostly the throwing away of all evidence of what had transpired during those two weeks—unused catheters, bloodied suction sticks, creams, lotions, diapers, spitting buckets.

When we came to my father’s clothes – the clothes he had come in to the hospital with and expected to leave with – we paused. “Just leave them,” my mother said quietly. One by one we walked out of the room. I was the last. I looked back and I rested my eyes on my father. He was finally sleeping peacefully -- no more pain, no more blindness, no more suffering. And although it was against everything I felt at that moment, I turned off the lights and closed the door behind me.

We walked in silence down the long hallway, down the elevator and through the hospital lobby. We looked like wounded soldiers going home after a long, losing battle. My mother was leading, as she had had to do many other times in our lives. And we, the four children, followed in unison like we always had. Together always. And as I took in the view from the rear of the troops, I realized that this was the same exact scene of 30 years earlier when we first arrived in America from our home country of Argentina. My mother leading through Miami Customs, venturing into an unknown and unfamiliar new world, with us children, tired, scared, silent, following behind. But this time, my father would not be waiting for us on the other side of the Customs’ doors ready to take us to the home he had prepared ahead of us in New Orleans. This time, we would have to keep walking together alone for a long time without him.

I wiped the tears from my eyes and looked up again to my brother and sisters and mother as they walked ahead of me, their heads down ... and then, something happened -- a powerful and unexpected feeling overcame me. And I felt our father walking with us. I felt him! I truly felt him! He was there! He was with us – guiding us as he always had. And as his presence uplifted me from the sadness of the moment, I wiped the tears away. We had not left him behind in that dark hospital room! He was with us, now and forever, in each of us, in the family he had so much loved and fought for. He had gone ahead of us, as he always did when we moved countries, to prepare the way for us. And he would remain with us as we had with him. This family would survive and get through this like we had with so many other challenges in our history together. Afterall, we were each others best friends, worst critics, faithful guardians, loyal advocates, and life-long companions.

We would keep marching to our own drum, like he taught us to do, and we would be a testament to who he was and had been.

My father once said that life began for him when he met my mother. They lived hard, they fought hard, and they loved hard. And we were a testament to who they were and what they lived for.

My beloved father, Mario Raul Gentinetta, 2/24/1920-2/26/2009


It is freezing and rainy in New Orleans and just plain miserable. What's worse, I don't think anyone in New Orleans owns a coat heavy enough for this kind of weather. So, instead, we all tend to huddle together.

This sofa in my store is very tempting right now. It is oh sooooooooooo comfortable in white linen and down cushions. But you should ask Bonjour Madame. She bought this one from my shop! Thank you Bonjour Madame for loving my things.

Christine Smith in New Hampshire ordered the white linen, down cushion, one arm sectional for the house she and her fiancee are building. I tell you, they are the most comfortable sofas ever. All hand made in the U.S.A. with imported Belgian linen. Sigh....... I think I'll have to take a nap on it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wednesday after Superbowl

It's Wednesday and no one (and I mean, no one) has gotten anything done in this city. I mean, Sunday was Superbowl and do I need to tell you who won the Superbowl???? Do I??????? Okay, so you get the point. This entire city celebrated into the wee hours of Sunday night like it was 1999. So I've heard ... because I was home fast asleep in my cozy little white bed after my boys won the big game. I mean, I saw it, I cheered and then I went to bed. My kids go to bed early and if I'm not in bed early too, there is all hell to pay the next morning.

So then comes Monday -- kids are off from school. No, not because it's Lincoln's birthday as I later found out, but because the Saints won the superbowl and so, naturally, everyone is off from school or work. Can you imagine? Okay, then comes Tuesday. You'd think we'd be back to normal but, as I mentioned in another post, this city can find any reason to celebrate. Sooooo, the city puts on the biggest parade it has ever seen with all the Saints players, school bands, etc. Schools and offices shut down early because all streets were closed off as of 3 pm. for the parade. It was the biggest parade ever with thousands of people in attendance in 30 degree weather. So I heard... because I watched it with my hubby from the comfort of my white linen sofa on TV. I am such a loner, aren't I? Pathetic, maybe? Boring? All of the above?

So today was the first somewhat normal day. I went to the shop and spent the day taking photos of some new things I have at the store which I just posted on my Etsy shop. Troy Evans of the Saints and his pregnant wife stopped by to shop for some things for their daughters' room and that was the highlight of my day. I got to see a Saints player up and personal and in the comfort of my little shop. How's that for being spoiled?

So here is a peak at some of my treasures I posted on Etsy today:

This little vintage boudoir lamp is soooo cute and I found the antique lampshade in a flea market in Paris years ago. So sweet!

My collection of vintage european books. Perfect for any tabletop, desk or library. I love the natural bindings!

Just posted the french chippy urn that comes complete with those beautiful dried hydrangeas.

And these are my little french treasures. Original French Louis XVI dining chairs in their original blue velvet and paint. Gorgeous patina! I won't touch the fabric as it is the most beautiful shade of blue. I just love them! Here are some close-ups.

So maybe tomorrow will be a productive day??? Not. We have Valentine's on Friday and Mardi Gras this coming Tuesday. There is no hope to get anything done in this city, except to just go with the flow and celebrate until next summer.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My love affair with white

"White ... is not a mere absence of colour; it is a shinning and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black ... God paints in many colours; but He never paints so gorgeously ... as when He paints in white."

-- Gilbert Keith Chesterton [British author, 1874-1936] "A Piece of Chalk," Tremendous Trifles (1909)

I adore white. White to me is the color of all colors. When I look at a white piece, I am forced to focus on all the nuisances in texture, the various shades of white and the dimensions that a white piece may offer. White to me is calming, refreshing, pure -- it is everything I long my life to be and strive for every day.

My personal style reflects my love affair with white. My home is white. And as one of my dear neighbors ardently described to one of my clients when she asked if my house was anything like my store, "I tell you, her house is white, inside and out, and when I say white, I mean white! The floors are white, the walls are white, the kitchen is white, the furniture is white -- everything in her house is freaking white!!!" Okay, so I like white-- a lot. And it's true, my house is white but not ALL white -- I happen to have a black labrador. Geez!!

You see, when I built my house, I decided it would be a blank canvas -- a blank canvas upon which I would paint the colors and history of my life and my family's. So when I hang something on a wall, or I put a photo on a tabletop, that is where your eyes focus -- on the things that are important to me.

People ask me if decorating with white is difficult or suicidal especially when you have young kids. Frankly, I have two kids under 6 and three dogs. Yes, I do vaccuum daily (could someone have warned me that labradors shed like crazy?????), but I find that white is the most forgiving color for a young family. Something spills on the white linen sofa, I take the slipcover off and wash it in the washer (oh yes, ask me about my washable belgian linen sofa line -- it's to die for and oh, so easy to take care of). Something falls on my white painted wooden floors, I wipe it right off. That white is difficult to keep clean is an urban myth. Trust me. I adore white and I'm living proof that it works and that it is beautiful. My home is my haven and when I come home after a hectic day out in the world (back in the days when I was in the courtroom all day fighting big bullies), there is nothing more soothing, more calming or more beautiful, than walking in to a little piece of heaven.

Here are a few photos of some of my most favorite white places and things.

My shop.

Don't you love my custom white belgian linen tablecloth? I just want to put that on my bed!

This chandelier is right by my front window at the shop.

My kitchen (or at least part of it).

A peak into my family room. I got that thread bare rug for $85 in the French Quarter!

One of my bergere chairs at the shop. I love the vintage white matelasse fabric on it!!! Just pop the cushion cover in the wash and whola!

One of my favorite signature chairs. In fact, Bonjour Madame Stephanie has a pair of them in her living room which she got from me! They are sooooooo beautiful and I love the ballerina ties in the back.

The 18th cent. armoire at my shop and on Etsy. I absolutely love the hand-carved cabbage roses and the white on white is so dreamy!

Okay, Ms. FrenchBlue, where can I get my hands on this beauty? Have you all visited her blog? If you haven't, please go ..... Now! She has some gorgeous white on white creations.

And this, my dears, is one of my favorite dining rooms. Of course, I can't always convince someone to add a french settee on one side of a farm table, but doesn't it look grand?
That's how I have it at the store. Is there any other way?

So when you need a jolt of whiteness, just drop in to my little corner shop or home where white is the color du jour. I promise you, you will fall in love.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Every church bell in this city is ringing right now. The Saints did march in tonight!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Introductions are in order

Before we get any further into this blogging relationship, I must confess that I have two groupies that are by far, my favorite groupies. Sorry that I have to break it to you all this way, but I believe in full disclosure before things get too intimate.

So here are my two ardent groupies who have been following me around practically all of their lives! They just won't leave me alone. I wake up in the morning and they are there. I go to sleep at night, and they are there. Do you ever get that feeling that you are being followed???? I get that all the time from these two. But, oh well, what can you do? They are kind of cute and they have grown on me. I guess I'll let them worship me.

Introducing Liam Sebastian and Roma Aida.

The Calm before the Hurricane

So I was at my store yesterday. It was a beautiful, but cold, cold day (well, as cold as it can here in New Orleans). I'm sure for you yanks up there, it was a spring day. This was my view from my desk at the shop.

So anyway, there I am doing whatever I do when I'm alone -- thinking, dreaming, freaking out about the future, wondering what I'm going to cook for dinner, etc. Suddenly, I hear drums outside. In New Orleans, you are used to expecting anything, but it was only 10 a.m. so I'm wondering what all the commotion is about outside. I step on my porch (yes, I have a porch with an iron fence and all!) and there is a small group of people second lining down the sidewalk -- already celebrating either Mardi Gras or the Super Bowl or both. I tell you, the city has gone crazy lately. I wish I had photos because then everyone started dancing on the street and clapping their hands to the beat. Everyone was dressed in black and gold and everyone was celebrating the Saints going to Miami.

I cannot tell you how living in this city is. Everything is reason to celebrate. Someone is born -- everyone celebrates. It's a nothing special Friday -- everyone celebrates. The sun comes out -- everyone celebrates. There is always a reason to open a bottle of wine and boil some crawfish. In my own little neighborhood of Lakeview (that still has many left over blighted houses from Katrina and empty lots waiting to be rebuilt), we are always outside on someone's porch talking, drinking a glass or two of wine, while the children are all playing in the front yard. We often bring the barbeque pits outside and we have one communal grill. And it's just our block!!!

New Orleans has seen so much tragedy, destruction, corruption, crime, etc., yet, the soul of the people always seems to live on. I don't know if it's in the water, but regardless of what is going on, there is a terrific faith that tomorrow will be a better day. And it usually is.

New Orleanians have followed the Saints like a religion. Frankly, being from Argentina, I am an avid soccer fan and I don't really understand football that much. But I am in awe of how everyone here, young and old, rich or poor, is rooting for the Saints. I guess in a way, it represents a belief that anything is possible. If our Saints (the world's worst team for so many years) can make it to the Superbowl, well then, dreams do in fact come true. And who does not want to believe in that?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

You like me!!!! You really, really, like me!!!

I keep thinking of that acceptance speech by Sally Fields at one of the Oscars -- "You like me -- you really, really like me!!"
Well, that's exactly how I feel. I cannot believe all of the kind words of encouragement and support all of you have offered me in these past few days since I entered the world of blogdom. In just a few days, I have met and made more friends than in all my years of schooling! All 20 of them if you count graduate and post graduate degrees.

Kit Golson -- you are beautiful, inside and out and please, please show me how you reply to each comment like you do in your blog. I've tried to do that but can't figure out how to do it! Believe me. I want to thank each and every one of you and I don't know how to do it!!!!! Kit -- you and your husband are delightful and you are welcomed anytime in your hometown of New Orleans. Next time, stay longer than 15 minutes and have a glass or two of wine with me at one of my farm tables at my shop which is quickly becoming the place to hang for all my new groupies. Seriously, I have women who have become regulars at my little shop and we just sit around my 19th century farm table and chat about everything. I think I need to keep some champagne splits in my little refrigerator for those moments.

Stephanie aka Bonjour Madame -- you are my inspiration. You are the sweetest, most kind, most sincere person in this whole world and I have been honored to meet you and help you turn your house into the beautiful nest it has become.

Ms. A la Parisienne (aka Mandy) -- thank you for the countless of hours you've spent making this blog so beautiful and thank you for the patience in teaching me how to navigate through it. For everyone who has absolutely no clue how to blog (yes, come on, you know who you are), Mandy is your girl. She can make a blank screen light up with magic and ooooze with all things french.

Claudia Strasser --- Ms. Paris Apartment -- as I mentioned yesterday, I believe this is the start of a beautiful friendship. You have a gift and you are willing to share that gift with so many of us. Thank you for being accessible to us novices.

Anya Caliendo -- Ms. Absolutely OMG Stunning Milliner of Milliners!!!! Your hats make me want to go back in time. As God is my witness, I will get your "Confidante" hat if it's the last thing I do ... and I shall never be hungry again. For all your hat freaks (and I am one of them, trust me), I have never seen hats more beautiful and more elegant and more Ooo La La than Anya's. Please visit her website. And not just to look at her amazing creations, but also to see the touching tribute to her Russian grandmother.

To everyone, thank you. I am humbled by everyone's comments. Please keep them coming. I was/am the nerd in high school that no one ever considered a popular girl. I was the valedictorian for Christ's sake. No one was supposed to be my friend.

I was the nerd who couldn't afford any sororities in college and so I spent my saturday nights studying at the library.
So to me, this is amazing. To think that there are people out there who want to hear my story and actually get my love for my furnishings. Wow.

I feel as though I've won the Oscar afterall.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Plunge

Someone once told me that if you jump, the net shall appear. Well, if you are anything like me, I need to see the net first. There is no way in hell that I will jump unless I know for darn sure, absolutely one hundred percent, no chance of any marginal error, that a safety net exists. So show me the net!

But I found out that life is not always about safety or predictability. As an immigrant (yes, I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina and I will tell you all about that chapter in my life later), I was used to starting over. So in a way, I was somewhat prepared for the complete and utter loss that Hurricane Katrina brought upon me and my family and the rest of us who call New Orleans "home." When I tell you we were left with nothing, I am not exaggerating. We evacuated just 30 miles from New Orleans to the country (a little house in the middle of nowhere that my father in law had the foresight to buy as his little "getaway" from the city). My entire family -- mother, blind father, brother, two sisters, their spouses, my two babies (then 4 months and 18 months), my sister's inlaws, and 17 cats and dogs -- all evacuated to a 3 bedroom cottage in Nowhere, USA, just outside of New Orleans. We rode out Katrina and lost all power and connection to the outside world. We heard through a crank up radio that the levees had breached and New Orleans was underwater. Little did I know that out of all of us, my house was right where the levees broke and I had lost everything. We had an overnight bag with a couple of changes of underwear and socks and that was our entire inventory. I remember being in Austin, TX in the weeks after the storm where one of my husband's friends was kind enough to offer us his guest room and going into a Gap and looking around like a dazed homeless person. When the sweet, bubbly, teenage clerk came up to me to ask if there was anything she could find for me, I broke down crying. I mean, where do you start? "I need everything," I told her, sobbing. I have no clothes, no shoes (except for these old tennis shoes), no nothing!!!!

But we had our health, and our jobs (at least, we hoped we still did), and a bank account (albeit in a back submerged in 10 ft of mucky water, and each other. And that was more than 99% of most people in this world.

So we started over. From scratch. And we commuted every day with 2 small kids in the back of my station wagon from the little country house to my office in downtown New Orleans for 1 1/2 hours each way. It was miserable. The months after Katrina. Going back and forth to a city that looked like the napon bomb had exploded. Not knowing where to start, how to rebuild, where to begin.

But we did. One step at a time. Baby steps at times. And slowly, the fear started leaving me and it was replaced by a strength and determination that I didn't know I had. And I worked the long hours, and then some more at home in the evenings, so that we could rebuild and I could put my husband through accounting school (he had lost his job and it was difficult to be employed unless you were a professional) and keep the family going. I worked very hard at giving my children the stability they needed in a world that wasn't stable anymore. And throughout all those years that it took to come back home (three and a half before we rebuilt and moved back here), I realized that it was during my most desperate moments -- during those times when I felt so alone and so miserable and so scared and lost -- there was a net holding me, holding us. It may not always have been so obvious (trust me), but we made it through safely.

So it is now, as I take a step into the unknown, leaping from the stability and certainty and safety of my legal profession (which made me so stressed and tired and worn out for so long) into the uncertainty and insecurity of something that I absolutely adore (which is to fill my life with beauty and bring that beauty to others), that I must remind myself that the net is all around me, even at the times when financially, it seems like I made a huge, huge mistake for me and my family. But I'm leaping and I'm leaping because in this life, nothing is certain and you may wake up one day and find yourself with nothing but the clothes on your back. But a net is always there, waiting to catch you so long as you are not afraid to free fall for a while.

This is my net. My new shop in beautiful, rebuilt New Orleans.