Archive for July, 2010

If Facelifts Were Smart Phones

Monday, July 26th, 2010 © by Susan Swartz

If face lifts were like smart phones the price would keep coming down, there’d be a tempting new model every few years and people would line up for them in the mall. But so far they aren’t. They’re expensive and risky and most people don’t go around showing them off. That makes them fascinating, especially when it happens to a face you know.

I was surprised when a woman in yoga class announced, not whispered, that she was getting cosmetic surgery. There are certain things that women freely share. How much they paid for their shoes. The status of their sex lives. But cosmetic surgery has been a more private act, confided to only a few, leaving others to wonder “did she or didn’t she?”

But that is not the case with Ellen who openly discussed her plans to have cosmetic surgery. She even invited me to write about her although she didn’t want her real name published. No one has yet said “what a waste of money” or “how can you be so vain?” But she didn’t want to risk the judgment of strangers.

In March the week she turned 59 Ellen spent $11,000 and four hours in outpatient surgery to tighten the skin under her chin, smooth her forehead and minimize lines between her eyes and around her mouth. The money was part of an inheritance from her mother.

Ellen is an artist, swing dancer and kayaker. She’s happily married and lives in Sebastopol, Ca. where I live and where natural is the norm.

We tend not to use fertilizer on our tomatoes and we let ourselves ripen as nature intended.

That is, many do, or believe we should, or at least wouldn’t go as far as being surgically altered. I would probably have put Ellen in the same unprocessed category. I’ve never even seen her in makeup.

She said her goal was “not to look younger but to look better.” And she was doing this for herself. Her husband didn’t object to or encourage her decision. Like writer Nora Ephron, Ellen has long despaired of her neck. “I’ve always had a matronly neck, even when I was young.” The fleshy neck is a genetic trait shared by many of her mother’s side. She and her cousins even named the neck after her mother’s family. She knew she would never have an Audrey Hepburn profile but her goal was to lose “the jowly stuff,” which she’d been camouflaging with turtlenecks.

She also thought she’d begun to look “kind of tired. Gravity was happening.” And she had a sad look. “Sometimes people stop me on the street and say ‘oh, it’s not so bad.’”

She talked about her facelift dispassionately like she was rationalizing a makeover for the living room. Yet even though she grew up in Long Island where among her school friends “a nose job was a rite of passage,” she wasn’t cavalier about getting cut at 59. “Things can go wrong,” she said. “I could die.”

Her reason for telling people her intentions, she said, was so she wouldn’t back out. I told her to go for it; we all have our vanity. I color my hair and whiten my teeth. I’m not entirely wild about my neck either. But I’m pretty sure if I had an extra $11,000 I’d rather take my husband on a trip.

Ellen’s decision inspired that kind of reflection. She said several friends confessed they too might want a little remodeling and she suspected they were mostly stopped by money and courage. I think I’ve seen too many grim photos of botched plastic jobs on the internet. I’m still sad about Meg Ryan and Jessica Lange changing their faces. But after Ellen and I talked I’d go home and push my face around in the mirror. I used to have a sharper profile. One eye droops a little when I’m tired. There is a line between my eyes that is becoming a trench. I imagined Ellen studying me while I studied her and thinking “Good Lord, woman, what are you waiting for?”

Her surgery went fine; the recovery predictably uncomfortable. She was swollen, bruised and had to sleep sitting up for two nights. Her ears hurt where there was a lot of slicing and pulling. With her bandaged head she thought she looked like a nun and called herself Sister Moon Face.

After she healed she liked her face fine. It was a thinner more youthful looking Ellen. I told her I saw freckles which might have been hiding within wrinkles.

But, alas, it was not the neck of her dreams. Her doctor agreed to bring her back for a little more cutting but said the family neck grew outward and could never be tapered into a right angle. Much more surgery could damage her trachea and she said she had to agree “that breathing trumps vanity.”

Four months after surgery and her retouch, Ellen is content with a brighter face and a little less neck. If I didn’t know she had surgery I might notice that she looked refreshed and seems happier, but she’s not dramatically changed. Now she goes up to people who didn’t know in advance to ask, “Notice anything different?” One old acquaintance looked at her hard and said, “Your hair’s gone gray.”

Summer When It Fizzles – Bay Area Style

Sunday, July 18th, 2010 © by Susan Swartz

I don’t know how long you have to live in the Bay Area to accept that our summers are stubborn. Lingering low clouds has pretty much been the lingering forecast. Here it is not the fog that creeps in on little cat feet but the sun. The fog rushes in like a pushy old uncle who stays past his welcome. The sun is a shy child who comes out for a brief wink.

For most of July the common grousing has been about a lack of sun. We call it ridiculous, even pukey. I would add disappointing but I can’t speak for all. The redwoods, I understand, simply adore a foggy summer.

California summers have always surprised visitors as well as locals. There’s the old Mark Twain comment that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. And what Giants fan has not suffered the chill of an August day game? Is there a Sonoma County child who does not equate summer swim lessons with blue lips and chattering teeth?

People here often refer to the summer weather as June gloom, which this season pushed into July.

How hot is it not?

It is so not hot that the first tomato I bought at our farmer’s market was from the northern California growing town of Winters. Where they have real summers. My own Early Girls are still rubbing their eyes and trying to wake up. The brave little Sun Golds are not much bigger than a goose bump.

It is so not hot that when we went to see Macbeth in the park, I wore gloves. My friends wore sleeping bags. Had the lovely Lady Macbeth not done herself in, she might have otherwise succumbed to pneumonia, walking around in bare feet and strapless gown.

One forgets from year to year. You dig out the linen pants and sandals, hang out the patio lights and cross your fingers. Here we do not rush the season, we wait for it. I saw one hopeful woman in shorts. But she was also wearing her Ugg boots.

Oh sure, we’ve had some irregular hot days when the newspapers shows kids eating ice cream in wading pools. Just like the rest of the country. Speaking of which, it has been so not hot here that a Californian can suffer Fahrenheit envy, maybe even wishing she were back in hot, sticky Pennsylvania.

It is so not hot here the dog runs inside and lies down expectantly in front of the gas heater, willing me to turn it on. No, I say, it’s not that cold. And yet I see wood smoke coming out of neighborhood chimneys.

A friend of my daughter’s on vacation from D.C. came over to borrow a bike and I apologized for our crummy weather. He looked at me like I was cracked. He’d been in three digit temperatures for days.

He doesn’t understand that some of us yearn to wake up with the sun on our pillow, to walk outside on a warm deck. To look forward to a balmy night when you can sit under the moon, barefoot and strapless.

But now, we must screw our courage to the sticking place and patiently wait for real summer. It’s usually here by September.

My So-Called Retirement: My Feet in France

Thursday, July 15th, 2010 © by Susan Swartz

There were 64 worn wooden steps on the charming narrow circular stairs that climb to the fourth floor apartment we rented in Paris. Every day I said to myself, “Feet, don’t fail me now.”

I’m a walker. I dance. I do cardio. I’m in pretty good shape. On some vacations I get accused by my lagger companions of doing a forced march. I expected to walk equally strong on this two week trip to France, striding with purpose and vigor, like those chirpy leaders of tour groups stabbing their umbrellas in the air and urging all their chickens to keep up.

But this time my body was forced to do more strolling and stopping. My feet hurt. I grew blisters. I should have packed my trusty tennies, as I was reminded by my husband, the man who covered France in hiking boots. But who wants to take on Paris in tennies?

The stylish French sported complicated gladiator sandals and tall boots to go with flirty tunics over skinny pants and tights. Their legs looked good. Their feet seemed to work fine. They clicked along sidewalks and galloped up and down Metro stairs without wincing.

I wore Moleskin and Dora the Explorer bandaids from my granddaughter’s stash that I found in my purse.

Before the trip I shopped at a healthy shoe store in California for the ideal walking shoes. I asked for something that would be good for walking cobblestones as well as city streets and the clerk said “you mean our go-to-Europe shoes” and produced a pair of dusky green Mary Janes (Clark’s) that were in the dorky-but-hip category. I wore them for a week before I left, in order to break them in.

But by the second day on vacation they were not my friend. Yet I pushed on. We walked up Montmartre and back down. We walked through cheese markets and art stalls, through museums and churches. In Notre Dame I gratefully collapsed in a seat where I could prop my tootsies on one of the giant stone chiseled pillars.

French women use their feet and ride bicycles. I watched a Parisian peer in stylish dress and no helmet point her bicycle into the chaotic traffic of the Bastille round-about. And she did it in high heels.

I came home recognizing two things. I have a body that still works, albeit one that better keep going to dance exercise, yoga and lifting weights. Also, if I want to keep seeing the world I have to put up with some discomfort. No pain, no Seine.

But I ask my sister travelers, what do you put on your feet to trek the world. And still look fairly chic when it’s time for an aperitif?