Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Steps

What do you do to relieve stress? Often I clean the house, or putter around and do a project. I am sure many of you do the same thing.

Black stairs, white risers and balustrades

The house I live in is alive with Alberto. Every nook and cranny was touched by his handiwork. He always went along with my decorating schemes and ideas, wiring chandeliers, making cabinet doors, doing repairs, anything and everything I asked him to do. I run my hand along a piece of trim on a cabinet door he made, and know how he taught himself to do this. It is alive with memories that make me smile and cry.

All black stairs

Black has been accepted in decorating. It started with chalkboard paint and black kitchens, and segued into black bathrooms. Then black doors became hot. And media rooms and stairs painted black. I love it.

Black stairs by Kelly Wearstler
We have (notice I still say we) a stairway in our kitchen going up to the camel back second floor. It is very builder looking and not elegant, wood, with open treads. A carpet runner was not possible. The stairs have sandpaper like safety strips. I could never peel or scrape them off. The stairs also had ingrained dirt that never came out no matter how much I scrubbed them.

Carpet stair runner - charcoal with black edge

So I decided to paint the stairs black. At first I was going to do the whole thing, steps and hand rail, and balustrades. But I thought it would be too heavy. There are also some other wood elements in the kitchen, a tall cabinet with chicken wire doors that holds cookbooks and dishtowels, place mats and napkins; an armoire; there is an elaborate wood casing around an archway. The wood stairs always made sense with these other wood elements since they all had a similar mid tone stain.

Whimsical painted stair runner in black

So I just painted the steps. It was my therapy, another small step, on one of the countless nights I couldn't sleep. I painted right over the sandpaper strips. I like the two tones that occur since I only painted the steps. It's not fancy, but I like it, and I know Alberto would have liked it too.

I painted the stairs black and left the rest of the wood alone

I painted over the sand paper safety strips that I could not remove


What have you painted black lately?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Raise A Glass Today

Today is Alberto's birthday.

Alberto on his birthday in Buenos AIres
Part of me wants to sit and stare. I have been invited to drink champagne with dear friends who love us, and toast Alberto. I could ignore his birthday and just pretend it's another sad day without him. The son of Miss Anne, a dear friend to Alberto and me, invited me to a ballroom dance championship of elementary school kids, much in the vein of "Mad Hot Ballroom". 

I have been checking Alberto's email, unsubscribing form the dozens of political sites he followed, and letting friends know about Alberto. He had a circle of friends who mainly sent him jokes. One was a childhood friend from Buenos Aires. Another was Miss Anne's son. I hate to ruin a punch line, but I answered these emails recounting the sad state of affairs.

Alberto with his childhood friend Tavi and his wife Clara in the airport in Buneos Aires

So the invitation was offered a few weeks ago. Miss Anne's son told me he understood the depths of my pain, and how he appreciated Alberto and me loving his mother and being there for him when she passed away. It's been a few years, and I could still feel his sorrow, and I know he could feel mine. He is another kindred spirit, as I have found in so many of you telling me your experiences in your generous letters, cards, and comments.

When I first met Alberto 18 years ago

I remarked that the night of the event happened to be Alberto's birthday and perhaps this might be a good way for me to pass the time. I told him that we once taught a children's class to fifth and eight grade students, and how much we loved seeing the future realized in the formation of these children as dancers. Alberto and I always wanted to pass our knowledge onto the next generation, someone to keep the Argentine tango alive after we had left this earth.

Alberto Paz in Buenos Aires in front of Club Fulgor

As the birthday loomed, I had mixed feelings, as I do about everything now. I have been keeping busy. I am working. Being alone wears me out. Couples share chores, and now that Alberto is gone I find I my time is constantly filled with doing my job and his too. I am still not sleeping well, but I do exhaust myself so that the segments of sleep are deeper. So today I have a lot to do.

 I thought about begging off the invitation. But Alberto and I always wanted a friendship with Miss Anne's son. She had asked me to become his friend, to look out for him. We did reach out, and he did get together with us a few times, but a friendship was not fully realized. I understand now, that this is how grief works.

In the spirit of love, I decided to keep the date tonight. I got a tender email the other day, saying he would pick me up at 5:15 and that he would be wearing a suit, but no tie. I imagine he is coming from work. We haven't seen each other for a couple of years. I wanted to tell him I will be wearing radiant orchid hair and a face ravaged by grief, but with a smile for him.

Wherever you are today, tonight, raise a glass to my Alberto, and wish him a happy birthday.

I have been hosting our weekly tango dances again. They are called milongas. I myself have not danced yet. Of course the men in our community have asked me to dance, but I have not been ready. I have been going to another milonga hosted by someone else. Still just sitting with friends by my side. Last Friday the tango ("my" tango) "La Mariposa" was played, and I just broke down and cried. Not ladylike tears, but deep sobbing with a deep longing for the embrace of Alberto. Many arms embraced me. Many words of comfort soothed me. I was the life of the party. Life is the key word here.

So tomorrow night at our weekly milonga, I am having a birthday party for Alberto. We have birthday customs at our milongas. There is cake, sometimes champagne, and the custom of the birthday boy or girl taking to the dance floor. For the man, every women cuts in and dances with him, and vice-versa for the woman. When I announce the birthday dance at our milongas, I always say, "Ladies (or Gentlemen), wear him (her) out."

I will alter the custom a bit. I will take to the dance floor "sola," alone, even though it is not my birthday. I will invite the gentlemen to dance with me, to wear me out, for Alberto's birthday dance. Every week people at the milongas look to see if I am wearing my dance shoes. They (like me) are wondering who will be the first to break the ice. I am going to be the first. It's my birthday gift to Alberto.

Watch this little video clip of Alberto dancing his birthday dance last year. We had a "I Heart the 70s" party at our milonga, and dressed the part. Today he would have been 71.

Alberto's birthday last year

Another commemoration of Alberto's birthday is happening today in Buenos Aires. His beloved sister and his niece are doing something I asked them to do. We have not been to Buenos Aires since 2009.
Alberto's health curtailed our traveling by airplane. I can feel the sorrow his sister and his niece and nephew feel for not being able to see their beloved "Lito" again, to embrace him, to let him know how loved is was. Closure is even more cruel when a letter, or email, or phone call tells you a loved one is gone forever. The cost and distance was too great for family from Buenos Aires to come to New Orleans for the funeral. I would l love to be there with them, but again cost and distance makes it impossible.

The last time we saw family in Buenos Aires

Hermosa familia en Buenos Aires

I sent some of his ashes to his sister and her daughter, his niece. Today, on his birthday, they are going to Chacarita, a rather famous cemetery in Buenos Aires, to scatter his ashes in the section dedicated to the greats of tango. I wish I could be there with his children and our friends Jessica and Jon.

Valorie and Alberto visiting Chacarita cemetery in Buenos Aires

Alberto and I always visited Chacarita when we went to Buenos Aires. There is a custom of placing a lighted cigarette in the hand of the giant statue of Carols Gardel, who always held a lit cigarette when he performed. Alberto loved to do this. Then we would go over to the section with all the tango greats, and look at the monuments of the people we admire, whose music we listen and dance to. 

Here's a little video when we were there for Alberto's birthday in 2008: A Visit to La Chacarita Cemetery

Today my beloved is going home, again. Nos vemos mi amor.

And if you have time, please go to our blog The Tango Life, and read this remembranza by Jon Racherbaumer.

And one of our students Mario Girard wrote a beautiful poem that you can see on my Facebook Page.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Brian Boitano Decorator

It's two months today since Alberto is gone. I have been keeping busy. Each little milestone like today is hard. Let's face it, every day without Alberto is hard. So many of you are going through the same thing of missing someone you love. My heart goes out to you.

In the spirit of keeping busy, I am trying to do more decor posts. Back to the new normal.

Brian Boitano goes back to his roots in Italy to renovate a ruin of a family home

A few weeks ago I chanced on an HGTV show called The Brian Boitano Project. From HGTV: "On a recent vacation to the old country, Olympic figure skater Brian Boitano discovered his Italian family, and the town his relatives migrated from. He also discovered, and ultimately purchased an old family home in desperate need of repair."

The house was a more like a ruin with some old family furniture. The Italy Boitanos really didn't know their famous American relative, and it is sweet and funny to watch the bonds of family connect. One funny episode involved two aunts selling Brian the furniture in the house. He was very excited about this, not only for the sentimental value, but also for the help it would be with his limited budget. He went back to the USA after making the initial plans to renovate, and when he returned to Italy to work on the project found that the aunties had taken all the furniture. Something was definitely lost in the transaction.

The show aired in January. It was hard to find. Then there was a marathon of episodes on the sister channel DIY Network one Saturday. I wish HGTV would stop all the House Hunter spin offs and the constant rerunning of them and get back to more shows like The Brian Boitano Project.

Enjoy this round-up of images I culled from the Internet.

The kitchen before

The kitchen and dining area after - Brian spray painted the chairs lacquer green at his uncle's auto body shop

The chandelier was made from a huge wind jug that was found on the property - a fixture from Ikea was put inside the glass

Installing the wine jug chandelier



So cute



All the walls were washed with color to maintain an antique patina

The master bedroom

Detail of nightstand

Little niches were carved into the walls all through the house

The master bath

A vintage table was used for the sink base and old stone was left revealed

Another bedroom - Brian shopped at the local Ikea


Ikea pillow

Another great bathroom using ordinary fixtures to maximum effect and anotherr great exposed stone wall


Another niche cut into the stone


Another cute bedroom

I love these niches all over the house

And another great little bathroom

Old shutter hardware

Brian Boitano did a great job renovating his new villa in Italy


And please indulge me....

Beautiful Alberto

Monday, March 31, 2014

Back On The Horse

It's coming up to two months since Alberto died. Grief will not be hurried. But thanks to friends and family and tango folks and clients and you my fellow bloggers I manage to put one foot in front of the other. I am trying to get back on the proverbial horse.

This is the Year of the Horse on the Chinese calendar. It will be a fast year full of conflicts according to some astrologers HERE 

But it's a great year for decorating with horse inspired home accents.

Uber designer Jamie Herzlinger masterfully uses a painting with horses

Check out my guest product picks at Houzz inspired by The Year of the Horse. I am sure you will find something you like.

In the meantime, I am hanging on for dear life.  Each day I remember the love Alberto had for me. His love will ultimately get me to the other side of grief.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Preservation Resource Center 2014 Shotgun House Tour

When I joined the committee to help organize the PRC 2014 Shotgun House Tour, I had no idea how much my life would change by the time it rolled around. I love the work the PRC does, and this is the only committee I work on.

The weather is going to be gorgeous, so come on over to the neighborhood known as the Audubon Corridor.  It's Uptown close to the zoo. As usual the houses are adorable and inspirational, and the homeowners are generous and sweet to let all of us looky-Lous traipse through their rooms. There are homes done by designers, contractors, and just regular folks like us who have the knack, Each shotgun house floor plan is utilized in an interesting way. The shotgun house is the most plentiful housing stock in New Orleans, so chances are you live in one. This tour will give you a ton of energy and ideas for your own home, and raise money for the education department at the PRC,


One of the homes on the 2014 PRC Shotgun House Tour - photo by Ian Cockburn


I will be at tour headquarters signing my book from 1 - 3 PM,  with the proceeds going to the PRC.
Come on out and say hello and get a book.




Thursday, March 13, 2014

Back To Basics

Sometimes I feel like a pathetic zombie going through the motions of everyday life. I have panic attacks that come from Alberto simply not being here. Memories only go so far.

It's funny how something can take center stage in your life. If you ever have had to be a caregiver for someone who is ill or in the hospital, the routine of that care takes over your life. When Alberto was in the hospital in Canada three years ago, I called the daily routine that evolved "hospital culture". The same thing happened when I cared for my sister when she was hospitalized. Your life and schedule and vocabulary all revolve around doctors, tests, nurses, medications, care giving, the hospital cafeteria, and other families and patients you meet. At the end of very long days you collapse into worried half-sleep.

And so it goes with planning a funeral.

Amy Cunningham, a former magazine writer, is now a funeral director and writes about the industry on her blog, The Inspired Funeral. Photo by  Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Like so many of us, Alberto and I casually talked about our wishes, but made no concrete plans. Don't be quick to judge. Many people plan, but many do not.

So along with our dear friend Jessica, who was by my side the whole time, we were thrust into a whole new world of "funeral culture". This was not totally unfamiliar. Sadly, I "buried" many dear friends at the height of the first casualties of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s. I did my mother's funeral along with my siblings nearly twenty years ago.

But this was so different. It was Alberto.

It all boiled down to things that seem grim. Where? Cremate? Bury? Embalm? Viewing? What kind of service?

I chose a family run funeral home in business for 140 years and steeped in the traditions of New Orleans. New Orleans is a place that has a unique bond with its dead. If ever an experience could be made"nice", the gentle man who was my consultant made it so, and guided me with warmth, grace, humor, experience, and New Orleans charm. He loves his work, and this made the experience positive.

There were certain things I did not want. There were certain things I wanted. He never judged my choices, and made it all happen with the least amount of trouble for me. He was conscious of budget, always working it in my favor, never trying to up sell me.

I chose to have Alberto laid out for a viewing. His children had to come from far, and I wanted them to have closure in the most positive way. Embalming never renders a person looking their best. But Alberto looked more presentable than being seen by his children in a morgue-like setting many days  after he died.

Once the children arrived, they got involved with the arrangements. It was very hard for them at first. They are young adults and have little or no experience with death. Again, our gentle consultant made their journey into "funeral culture" easier for them.

One of the things that I requested was to have Alberto's whole body showing. He was a dancer, and I just could not abide one of those half casket things hiding his legs. His daughter hated the idea of renting a casket (we had opted for cremation, so one rents a casket for a viewing). As I said, I hated the idea of those tufted satin cookie cutter caskets that only opened half way. I asked about a plain, elegant wooden casket that could be opened fully. I wondered if the one used for cremation would be okay.

Our consultant was great, and referred us to a local abbey that makes lovely hand made wooden caskets. It looked like something that Alberto would have enjoyed making. He was able to be viewed wearing his signature red socks (and dance shoes) that he wore when we performed or when we taught workshops. I had his feet crossed at the ankles.

I also asked that only two spectacular and very large flower arrangements be displayed. I asked our friends Nancy and George Seegers at Tommy's Flowers in the French Quarter to do them. There was a slide show of photos that his children and I chose over days and days of editing. The funeral industry is tech savvy now, and includes slide shows, and Internet legacy sites. I had recorded music of tango (the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese) playing during visitation.

After visitation the standing room only service took place in the simple, lovely chapel of the funeral home. The pallbearers consisted of Alberto's son, and five other men who are friends from our tango life. The processional music was the tango "Recuerdos" ("Memories") played by Osvaldo Pugliese. Pugliese was one of our favorite orchestras and was someone we revered, and loved to dance to.

Though we are Catholic, we are lapsed. I asked a minister who has a church on the corner near our house to do the service. He knows us as neighbors. He is Baptist, and he calls it preaching the service. And preach it he did. It was personal and dynamic and not all fire and brimstone and woe. It lifted everyone up. His wife and their children sang gospel. Two of our tango dancers who are glorious singers sang. One sang "Ave Maria" at the beginning, and another sang the aria from Madame Butterfly when the lovers say goodbye. Another dancer who is a beautiful singer had to cancel because tragically her own father died suddenly days before Alberto's funeral. Jon (Jessica's husband) and Jessica did the eulogy as partners, to emulate the partnership of Alberto and me. Some people got up to share a memory. Jon and Jessica also wrote Alberto's obituary.

After the service, everyone came back to our home for what is called the repast here. Several tango ladies had all the food prepared and arranged. My sister and my dear friend Michael Pelkey had the house all ready and did all the serving and clean up. Michael also did some cooking.

I had Alberto's favorite Jazz band come and play. In New Orleans there is the tradition of the second line at the funeral. A Jazz band walks from the church or funeral home to the cemetery in front (the first line) or behind the funeral car with the casket. The family and friends walk behind, forming the second line. The procession weaves its way through the neighborhood of the departed, stopping in front of places he/she frequented, and playing at each location for a few minutes.

We could not do this traditional second line, so I asked the musicians to play in front of our house. They played the very traditional "Just  a Closer Walk to Thee".  Another dancer who is a beautiful singer sang the hymn. It's played as a dirge first, and then segues into a joyous Jazz rendition. A crowd gathered, and some second line dancing broke out. Afterwards, the band came in the house and set up in the living room and blew the roof off the place. People danced in the room we used for private tango lessons. Alberto would have loved it.

I am sharing these details as usual to inspire you. It seems like there are going to be a lot of funerals on the horizon as we baby boomers write our last chapter.

There is an apropos article in today's New York Times, called "The Rise of Back-to-the-Basics Funerals" by Susan Chumsky. It is interesting how I am drawn to reading about this now. A couple of very sweet girls left a gift on my doorstep. It was the book "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion. Another friend had recommended it, but after checking it out on Amazon I felt too queasy to get it. I didn't want to read about something so close to my fragile home. But once the book arrived on my doorstep I took a deep breath and ended up reading it in one setting.



I also have been reading a lot about the mourning customs of the Victorians, who made grief and mourning into an art form. Jessica gave his children and me beautiful antique Victorian mourning pins, and I have a black wreath on my door very much inspired by the Victorians. I had a Victorian style locket with Alberto's photo and a lock of his hair in it made for Jessica. I also am strangely drawn to the beautiful blog "The Inspired Funeral."

Mourning wreath on my front door

Why am I writing about this? Well, I am a writer. Most of these days are spent going through empty motions of "living". I am starting to work again (a good thing). There are many chores and paperwork involved in this process that I numbly attend to. I often rush back to the house when I have to go out. It's my haven, but then that haven becomes my torment as night falls. I miss Alberto so very much. I try to "do" things to distract my heartache and longing. Often I am rendered paralyzed and drained. If I am lucky I will lapse into a depressed state of sleep with a nap. I only sleep in segments.

Remember that Alberto pushed and encouraged me into writing my blog when I was depressed after Katrina. That blog has lead me to writing and design jobs I love to do, and to extraordinary friendships. Remember Alberto and I published and wrote our tango magazine El Firulete for many years. Remember we wrote a tango book (Gotta Tango) together, that was started before Katrina, interrupted by Katrina, and finished after, becoming a better book because of that interruption. Alberto encouraged me to write what became my first design book. So here I am again, using the blog to help me, using my creativity and the sweet memory of Alberto's unconditional support to save me, and needing all of you to be my side in the hopes that we can share and inspire.

Here's a link to Alberto and I dancing the tango Emancipacion played by the Osvaldo Pugliese.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mourning

Those most affected by the loss of a loved one often observe a period of grieving, marked by withdrawal from social events and quiet, respectful behavior. Mourning. Hang in here with me.

Weeping Angel in a New Orleans cemetery - You can get this beautiful image photographed by Rod Broussard HERE


I have been getting some thoughtful, heartfelt cards, letters, and emails from you. Thank you thank you thank you. Many of you are asking me about getting back to blogging. I will. I want to. I need to. I just need a little more time.

My blog passed a milestone. I have had over one million visits. It may not seem like much considering the years I have been The Visual Vamp. But as you know, my blog is a bit pokey,  personal, and non commercial. It's become kind of a quaint dinosaur in the accelerated age of social media.

Alberto would have been thrilled to see that million mark met and exceeded. He was the one who talked me into doing a blog.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sign The Guest Book Please

Planning a funeral. What an experience. The process has evolved using some of the very tools we use on social media. There was a beautiful slide show of photos selected by family. There is an internet site where you can sign the guest book so to speak, by leaving a comment. You can view the slide show in a photo gallery. I can add pictures, so if you have a favorite photo of Alberto please email me a jpg and I will put it on his internet guest book. It is certain that we will all die, and that the internet is forever, a legacy so to speak.

Please go HERE to become a part of the legacy of Alberto Paz by leaving a comment in the online guest book.

Please go HERE to sign Alberto's guest book

Please go HERE to sign Alberto's guest book

Please email me a favorite photo you might have of Alberto Paz and I will add it to the online photo gallery in the legacy guest book - I miss him so much

Videos at the repast showing a New Orleans tradition:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S49rJjhn85EAlberto Paz repast

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SIMMC5QGKw

The band is Alberto's favorite, Smoking Time Jazz Club

Monday, February 17, 2014

Remembranzas - Memories

The tango Remembranzas was written in 1940, lyrics by Mario Battisella, music by Mario Melfi.
It was printed on the prayer card for Alberto's service that took place on February 15. Go to the link, the Planet Tango Lyrics Page Alberto created with hundreds of tangos translated from Spanish to English, and often with a link to a recording so you can hear it. We performed to this tango many times, our favorite version by the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese with the singer Jorge Maciel.
Go HERE to listen.



Remembranzas

Como son largas las semanas
cuando no estas cerca de mi.
No se que fuerzas sobrehumanas
me dan valor lejos de ti.
Muerta la luz de mi esperanza
Soy como el naufrago en el mar,
se que me pierdo en lontananza
mas no me puedo resignar. Ah!… que triste es recordar,
despues de tanto amar,
esa dicha que paso,
flor de una ilusion,
nuestra pasion
se marchito.
Ah!… olvida mi desden,
retorna, dulce bien,
a nuestro amor,
y volvera a florecer
nuestro querer
como aquella flor.
En nuestro cuarto tibio y rosa
todo esta igual, como otra vez
y en cada adorno, en cada cosa
te sigo viendo como ayer.
Tu foto sobre la mesita
que es credencial de nuestro amor
y aquella hortensia ya marchita
que fue el canto de mi dolor.
How long are the weeks
when you are not close to me.
I don’t know what superhuman strengths
give me courage far away from you.
The light of my hope having died,
I am like the shipwrecked in the sea
I know I get lost in the far horizon
but I cannot resign myself. Oh! how sad it is to remember
after having loved so much
that happiness that went by
flower of an illusion
our passion
has withered.
Oh! forget my scorn,
return, my sweet,
to our love
and it will bloom again
our wanting
like that flower.
In our warm and rose colored room
everything it’s the same as it was
and in each ornament, in each thing
I continue looking at you like I did yesterday.
Your photo on the little table
is a witness of our love
and that already withered hydrangea
which was the song of my pain.
Copyright (c) Planet Tango 1998-2010 All Rights Reserved


The recordings of Osvaldo Pugliese were played throughout visitation. La Mariposa, La Yumba, Desde el alma....all of our favorites we danced to. Recuerdo was played as the processional with the pallbearers, six men that loved him including his son and our students and friends.
Go HERE to listen, and say a prayer for Alberto.

If you would like a prayer card please email me your address and I will send you one.

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