Wednesday, March 15, 2006

How rude!

Dearest Hubby took me out to dinner last night for my birthday. I had expressed a wish for sushi, so we headed to the nearest Cape Town Fish Market and ended up at the one at the Paddocks in Milnerton, near Woodbridge Island. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the area, it is an upmarket area and the restaurant has a view of the island, the sea, and Table Mountain.

The sushi bar was busy, full of the rich and the trendy, but we managed to find two seats and began ogling the tempting array of dishes rolling past on the little motorized conveyor belt. The sushi bars at Cape Town Fish Markets are long oval affairs with the sushi chefs on the inside of the oval preparing the sushi, the patrons seated on the outside, and a segmented conveyor belt endlessly rotating, carrying the tender morsels past each customer. When something comes by that you like, you simply lift the little plate from the conveyor, place it in front of you, limber up the chopsticks, and dig in.

Because most diners only take a plate or two at a time and the chefs are continuously busy adding new dishes to the conveyor, you seldom have to wait more than a few seconds for something tempting to pass before your eyes. Despite the fact that the place was crowded, things were going along swimmingly, the regularly occurring empty spots being quickly refilled by the busy chefs. And then the Greedy Twins came in.

I don’t know what some people have against taking their turns. What makes two people so oblivious to the local custom…and the feelings of the other patrons…that they can come in from nowhere and lay waste to the evening’s offerings? A man and a woman walked up to the sushi bar and, without taking seats, began snatching things off the conveyor belt and covering the bar in front of them. They were to my right and the conveyor was moving in a clockwise direction so, instead of the occasional empty space on the belt as it passed before me, suddenly there was the occasional dish of sushi as an empty belt rolled by! Slowly, patrons began looking up from their conversations and casting their eyes around the bar, wondering where the food went, while Piggly and Wiggly added to their ever-growing stash.

What really ticked me off was that the management and wait staff didn’t seem to think there was a problem here. When P&W shoved everything in the direction of a waiter and demanded it be packaged for takeaway, someone should have noted down everything on the bar, returned the food to the conveyor so the other 40 or so people at the bar could eat, and told Piggly and his Wiggly gal pal to have a seat while the chefs prepared their takeaway for them!

As it was, even the painfully thin, brutally nipped-and-tucked Paris Hilton wannabe at the other end of the bar took notice of the barren belt…I doubt she ate more than one California roll at a sitting, but even she saw that the bar full of patrons who arrived ahead of these boors were staring at a barren larder as the latecomers packed it all up and carried it away. It took the better part of half an hour to restock the conveyor, during which time more than a few patrons settled their bills and went home…we among them. After all, if you’ve come to eat sushi and suddenly the cupboard is bare, why hang about?

I have to wonder if those people had any idea how rude they were and how they, basically, shoved themselves to the head of the queue and then took almost everything on offer, leaving a good three dozen people staring at empty space where their dinner was supposed to be.

Nah…if they had a clue, they wouldn’t have done it…would they?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Another year gone by...

Today I am 59 and I have to ask…when does menopause end?

I told my Dear Hubby yesterday that I have just one year left now, that I am capable of the kind of sleight-of-mind necessary to stretch the definition of “middle age” to cover the fifties, but nobody, not even me, can call 60 “middle aged.” In 365 days, I will be officially old.

Funny, but I don’t feel old. I don’t even feel old approaching. According to most people who know me, I’m not looking particularly old, either…but you know friends and family…they probably wouldn’t tell me my age was showing even if I was down to no teeth and wrinkles so profound I was tripping over them. While having my roots touched up last month (yes, I am a natural blonde, just not this naturally blonde) I asked my hairdresser how much grey has sprinkled itself into my tresses and she said about a dozen…I have to believe her because the reason I asked is that I didn’t see any when I checked and Hubby, a wise man who knows when to keep his own counsel, wouldn’t admit to having found any!

While I am postponing the admission of being old, I cannot escape the fact that I am aging. Of course we are all aging…we begin doing that the day we are born…but there is a certain point in life when we look at ourselves in the mirror and realize that some things in our lives are not only gone, they are gone forever…like perky boobs or an unlined brow…and some things are here to stay…like crinkly skin and sagging jowls. Time and gravity take their toll and at that certain age…if you aren’t one of those pathetic people showing your wrinkled belly to the world in obscenely low-cut jeans and your pre-teen granddaughter’s cropped top…you simply cannot deny it any more.

I don’t know if men have a biological rite of passage out of youth, but women do. It’s called “menopause.” We can hand over our pension savings to the cosmetic surgeon, with his scalpels and lasers, suctions and injections, and come away with a temporarily updated version of ourselves, but we can’t fool Mother Nature and our ovaries. At some point in life the oestrogen factories start shutting down and middle age comes firmly upon us, like it or not.

Menopause has been likened to a latter-day menarche, just in reverse. Girls’ bodies gradually prepare themselves for the onset of womanhood and, once the ovaries kick into gear, there are a few years in which the hormones have to get settled down into a predictable flow: adolescence. We know, however, that this “adjustment period” will eventually end…at least physically…and once it is over and our bodies are acclimated to the new chemical brew, life goes on. One would expect menopause to work much the same way, but in reverse: a period of time in which the body reverts to its previous low-oestrogen state, followed by an expanse of years in which we are no longer tormented by cramps, PMS, monthly indispositions, or rabid curiosity about the latest and greatest advances in contraception and feminine hygiene products. And, indeed, that is our eventual destination but just how long is this journey and just how rocky is this road?

Fully twelve years ago I remember getting up from my desk and heading for the copy machine and nearly fainting half way there. Now, this is wholly unlike me…I am one of those indomitable types who would be at the very bottom of your list of “women most likely to faint for any reason whatsoever.” I’ve administered first aid to auto accident victims with gruesome injuries, I’ve endured a robbery in which I was assaulted with fists, feet, and knives, I’ve suffered the sudden and unexpected death of my dearest husband, and sat vigil at the bedside of a comatose infant. If that which does not kill us makes us strong, then I’m among the tougher of my sisters…so what is this nearly fainting half way to the copy machine crap?

So, I figured I was just standing up a bit too fast…blood rushing out of the head sort of thing…so I tried rising from my chair more slowly and, instead of rushing to the copier, being more measured in my approach…to no avail. Half way to the copier, I was feeling faint again. After a few more episodes, one in which I actually saw stars and swirling black clouds, I made it a point to visit my doctor. She gave me a prescription for female hormones and when I objected, she said “just try it for a couple of weeks…trust me on this…” Amazingly, my near-fainting spells cleared up in less than 48 hours and, thankfully, did not return when I stopped the hormones.

A dozen years have passed and, frankly, I have no idea why I am still experiencing symptoms. Oh, the fainting spells are gone and I am finding the odd stray dark hair in places more appropriate to my husband that to me (I’m beginning to think that the Bearded Lady of circus lore was simply any post-menopausal female who has lost her tweezers!), but the classic symptoms don’t seem to want to give up their hold on my physiognomy and retreat into the mists of history: I am still getting random hot flashes, especially at night. I am convinced that the sleep disturbances that are a legendary part of the “change” are really nothing more than nocturnal hot flashes that require the sufferer to awaken to some degree in order to alleviate the discomfort…remove the blanket…remove the sheet…remove the nightgown…remove the husband…point the fan directly at the body…and now you’re awake!

Unlike some women I have known, the hot flashes haven’t been such a problem for me. Some women have told me about trembling spells of rushes of body heat, sweat pouring down their brows, and noticeably reddened faces…I’ve never experienced anything like that, just a mild, uncomfortable overheating, easily remedied by a small fan directed at the face for several hours at a time. My doctor tells me that this is due to my excess weight, that fat tissue produces oestrogen and helps to mitigate my symptoms…who knew?? A positive side to being a pudgy! But that fat tissue must be sleeping at night, right along with my consciousness, because at two in the morning, with a fan trained on the bed, I find myself awake and rearranging the bedclothes and rolling Dear Hubby to the far side of the, thankfully, king-sized bed!

So, maybe the difference between being old and being middle-aged is less one of a number of years achieved and more of development. My body seems to be stuck firmly in the middle ages, and my husband (who is considerably younger than I am) tells me that I will never be old because I don’t know how to be (such a sweeeeet man!).

I dunno…I guess I’ll have to check next birthday and see how I feel then…

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Of bugs and women...

I detest insects. Yah, yah, I know about their place in the ecosystem and all that stuff, but surely expecting them to keep to all but the 255 square meters of this planet I call my house cannot be called unreasonable, can it?

Oh, there are a few of the multi-legged little wretches I find tolerable…lady bugs, praying mantises, dragon flies and, of course, butterflies (although not their creepy little garden-devouring predecessors!)…yup, that pretty much makes up the list. Everything else that ambulates on more than four legs is, as far as I am concerned, a candidate for immediate extermination.

I come from a family of long-lived women. Most of us have lived well into our seventies, and more than a few have marched strongly through the eighties. That being the case, I expect to pack a few more decades under my belt before permanently packing it in…and I would just as soon not hasten my demise by poisoning my environment with toxic chemicals and the like. That is not to say that I won’ use insecticides…I most certainly will! But I have a strong preference for using other, non-toxic methods where possible. Hence my affinity for certain insects that devour their hexapod cousins, such as the lady bug (she loves aphids), praying mantises (anything that comes within range!), and dragonflies, the nymphs of which prey on the larvae of mosquitoes just as the adults eat the nasty little biting buggers themselves. I have a strong affinity for passive, non-toxic, low-maintenance insect control.

Early this week we had a bit of excitement in the house. Priscilla, one of my friends, had dropped by and as we sat at the table chatting, the maid started up a hysterical babble in Xhosa at the front door. She was flapping her broom at a corner and, being rather arachnophobic, I immediately presumed she was trying to kill a large spider…certainly a small one wouldn’t cause such a ruckus? Priscilla interceded, translating for me, and it came to light that the creature causing the commotion was a thoroughly frightened and absolutely cowed little gecko about 12 centimetres long. Swooping down between broom beats, I snatched his tightly curled little body out of the corner and carried him out to the patio, trailed by a wide-eyed Priscilla. I tried to put him on the wall of the house where he could run up and hide in the ceiling boards, but his little gripper pads were tightly adhered to my rescuing fingers and, while explaining to Priscilla that geckos ate bugs and were not poisonous, I carefully unstuck his little feet from my hand. I was actually able to persuade her to lightly run a finger over the little guy’s tail before I put him on the wall and he scurried to safety.

“Never kill a lizard,” I advised her. “There are no poisonous lizards in South Africa and they eat bugs.” I went on to explain that small geckos like the one I had just rescued from a horrible death-by-broom ate such things as mosquitoes and ants, while their larger cousins would make a happy meal of cockroaches and other large insects. “They’re cheaper than Doom,” I told her, “and don’t leave poison around to make your child sick!”

My mother-in-law, who is South African and who has lived her life in Durban, takes a dim view of my dedication to my lizards. Last year I rescued a small chameleon from death-by-curious dog, and at one time in America I kept horned toads (a rather disc-shaped American desert lizard) in the house as a control measure against the cockroaches and other creeping creatures that took possession of the house every night at dark. Like the maid, my mother-in-law attacks the beasts with a broom, although I must commend her for her restraint when I am about, even in her own house. She will even point out to me the occasional iguana clinging to the garden wall rather than beat it away with her broom, and when she is at my house…although I know it costs her greatly…she ignores the little visitors that often festoon the walls.

Occasionally I find a little black curl of gecko exhaust on the tiles, confirmation of their predatory efficiency. My mother-in-law finds this evidence of their existence objectionable, but I simply remind myself of how many dead bugs it must have taken to produce that bit of effluent and carefully remove with a bit of tissue to the loo…a small price to pay for the elimination of the little multi-legged trespassers!

Last night we spotted a new gecko prowling the upper reaches of the bedroom walls, a tiny little fellow no more than 4 centimetres long. He made his way behind the armoire and spent the day snoozing back there, re-emerging this evening to prowl the walls again. I’m happy to see him…I hope tomorrow night he returns again and this time brings his big brothers…