If I had the money I suspect a pair of billionaires have whom I watched debate whether or not to buy the Steinway Mansion in Queens on the Home and Garden channel tonight, I would….would… what?
O, where to start. And perhaps what I’m really getting to is that when I look at what I would do with a lot of money, it tells me where my happiness– my “bliss” per Joseph Campbell– lies.
I would buy a home. It wouldn’t be a starter castle in the foothills, or a horse ranch in the Maroon Bells– one of Colorado’s most beautiful mountain ranges– at this point in my life.
But I would buy history and character. I would be torn between a hacienda in Old Town Plaza in Albuquerque where my mother’s side of the family was established and where I was born, or a classic adobe built by my Stamm cousins in Santa Fe or Espanola. The Southwest is in my blood and bones, especially revived as I’ve watched the great series Breaking Bad, set in Albuquerque.
Of course, I would buy a villa in Verona in the old quarter, or in a Calabrian town where it would be safe for a woman alone.
I say that because the beautiful region I fell in love with many years ago on a chance trip down the coast of Italy to Reggio Calabria and then a visit to the exquisite fishing village of Scylla on the Strait of Messina remains a dangerous place.
The ruthless Calabrian mafia known as the ‘Ndrangheta still meets at a shrine at Polsi in the Aspromonte every year; the organization, the feuding and vendettas and the periodic assassination of anti-Mafia prosecutors is still part of life there. Perhaps my adventuresome side is drawn to the region, or perhaps I feel that I need to align myself with the people who take pride in their homeland but who struggle to make ends meet– perhaps I have learned to do with less and know that I would never be happy with grandeur.
I have pined and pined for a small villa with two rooms built into the seacliff, a kitchen with a brick archway and a terra cotta floor, with a writing desk looking out over the ocean. Hardly practical for someone with one leg shorter than the other and a hip slipping in and out of its socket who can only navigate fifteen feet at a time with a cane, but what a lovely dream.
Imagine life within rooms built 500 years ago. Imagine shopping for seafood and vegetables and fruit in the market in the “centro historico.” Imagine “brindisi”– the toasting and loquacious gettings together in the seaside cafes. And who might one meet?
The exquisite Scylla is pictured below.
For now I’ve sublimated this particular dream in my novel-in-progress, La Rosa di Scilla.
My current spot on the planet is a small apartment in a four-plex where my yearning for character and history gave way to practicality; this is a ranch-style brick building with a lawn service and a shared laundry and parking close to the door. I got very lucky in that I have a real back door so that the place is a bit like a real house– somehow I am the only one with a barren strip of backyard long enough for my Golden Retriever, quite the digs for one dog; she has an old stone patio I wet down for her, and we throw the ball for her once a day. In May I planted four miniature rose bushes along the cedar privacy fence that went up last year. There is no disputing that this is home– for now.
And writing of my dog returns me to my wish list. If I had the money I would import a beautiful European male puppy from the Kalocsahazi Kennels in Hungary. My Golden has their foundation bitch in her pedigree behind her dam. The town of Kalocsa is on the Danube in a gorgeous area and the owners of the kennel campaign their dogs in the field and in the show ring, breeding for retrieving desire and conformation, unlike the American breeders.
My puppy would be the son of one Giorgio the Dream Team, imported by the kennel from Sweden, and he would look like his sire:
I would breed my Munch– Gilded Peak Scrumptuous Munchkin– to this gorgeous male and I would smother myself again in puppies, their love and beauty.
And I would import several bitches and I would build a kennel right against my house, along the back, with an exercise area that would have a real pond. I would rotate my dogs through the house with me and they would have everything they need to be happy.
Now I’ve gone far afield of the Veronese cream, the Calabrian fantasia.
I had some of this dream in my kennel on the north end of Fort Collins, for nearly twenty years. Today the kennel is virtually empty, in good weather housing our two Jack Russells and my old Golden Tess aka Gilded Peak Don’t Rush Amor, Munch’s grand-dam.
I look back at how I gave myself to my Golden Retrievers, and put my literary career on hold because of the sheer weight of the caretaking. I was obsessed and driven, founding a bloodline and far more ambitious than my resources could manage. Yet I’ve seen that bloodline be capitalized upon in breeding my dogs to champions and now great-great-great grand-get of dogs I either imported or bred myself are the stars du jour.
But isn’t it the case with dreams that we don’t have them come true like gilded pinatas rupturing and pouring bounty upon us? And doesn’t every dream have its drawbacks?
To realize my dream of living in/renting/buying a villa in Verona on the Piazza di Dante, for example, where I believe my muse would be most likely to flourish, I would have to do a number of things I’m afraid to do, aside from coming into a windfall.
I would have to overcome my distrust of surgeons in the wake of the failure of the repair of my right leg and have the leg re-broken, a new knee put in and a long rehab in an inpatient facility. Meanwhile I would have to do something about the hip that has worn down because I’ve been afraid to get the leg fixed, and angry at the doctors and other powers that be for their mistakes in the first place.
I would have to give myself permission to go for it– while there is time. While I have my overall health and energy. I would have to overcome the agoraphobia that set in years ago when I had a panic attack on the interstate between Minneapolis and Des Moines, after I came back from Europe, and that plagued me so much that in the late 70’s, before I returned to Colorado to take care of things after my father died, I became afraid to fly. I had planned to go to a friend’s wedding and thought I was having a heart attack on the plane, and I haven’t set foot on a jet since.
So, setting aside these daunting obstacles and theories of happiness for a moment, I think about my progress since my mobility became so compromised– as a writer. It will be a full five years since I fractured my leg this September. In early 2010 I started a blog and made my first online friends.
Now I have several blogs, and I have written several collections of poetry in circulation, a memoir and a novel.
I had to close out my life in the country and take this apartment that is more functional than it is beautiful, with character confined to original oak woodwork in the kitchen. I would far rather be living in a vintage house in Old Town than in a more modern and convenient place near the hospital.
But I have discovered the euphoria of seating myself in the moment with my work, writing and listening to Bach. I’ve had blissful interludes doll-making, painting with acrylics in the morning light.
I just signed the lease for a fourth year here, and several of my neighbors have been here for a number of years. There is much to be said for continuity, and everything to be said for making a home, the ability to import character and the artifacts of familial and cultural history into the present.
Italy is a long way away for someone who can’t walk, who survives on a disability stipend and housing assistance.
But, then there is the dream that visits me at night like an old friend, tugging at my arm, saying, what if you could sell your novel. what if you got the leg fixed and could walk again. what if you took one of those flight desensitization classes and tried a few short trips.
Perhaps it isn’t over. Perhaps something will happen that is good– perhaps I will summon the courage and will to make it happen.
What about you? What would you do with a windfall to further your own happiness?