Emmylou Harris and a guava lipstick

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Emmylou Harris and a guava lipstick

Last weekend, I went to see Emmylou Harris and Her Red Dirt Boys play at Vector Arena.   My girlfriend and I met each other in Auckland for this special event.   I listen to Emmylou when I drive my car.   She is my driving music, the background to my many journeys from the bay to the city and home again.  I sing and hit the steering wheel in time to her music.   I try to hit the high notes and imitate the soft throaty whisper.    I’m a fan.   When she sings ‘From Boulder to Birmingham’ I feel her loss, I love the man she mourns, even though I didn’t know Gram Parsons.   She’s seen me through a broken heart, my own.

So, because we live in different cities, we took this weekend out to be ‘girls’, to do the girly weekend away thing and to go to the Emmylou Harris Concert.    We shopped.   We’re older girls now, so we shop differently.   And too, we noticed that not only do we shop differently, but the shop assistants treat us differently.   One of our rituals is to buy a lipstick when we shop together.   It means that if we buy nothing else, we have the fun of knowing that yes, we bought a lipstick on holiday.   Sometimes we’ve been known to buy the same colour lipstick.    The last time that happened it was the colour Raisin.    Raisin has served me well now for several years.  It’s my fall-back lipstick, my almost match my lips lipstick.   But my friend deserted Raisin years ago.

We started at one counter which I won’t name.   This is not a name and shame sort of story.   But any slightly older woman will recognise the story.  Gorgeous young things were seated having their eyes done.   Beautiful young things, who didn’t need eye shadow and certainly not the amount being applied.   We vacillated, trying lipstick colours on our hands.   My friend has a lovely tan and I have pale freckly Irish skin.   The same lipstick turns a different colour on our different hands.   We wiped, swiped and rubbed off the test stripes.   We waited patiently for the assistant on the beauty counter to notice us.   We wiped, swiped and rubbed our hands with tissues.   And then in desperation, we moved to another counter.

And it was here we met the kind of young girl that every older woman buying a lipstick needs to meet.   She joined our fun.   She coaxed and encouraged us.   We took risks with pale and deep and dark and we talked of tones and we spoke of blue-pinks and pinks that are not blue, the true pinks.

“You don’t think it’s too blue and wrong do you?”

“No, it suits you.  I know what you mean, but it’s not too blue.”

Guava is the colour I chose.   Guava, like a split fruit with the ripe pink bleeding.

“Oh, I like it.”

And I do, I really do, although I probably really should have stuck with Raisin – except it sounds shrivelled, and Guava sounds delicious.

Years ago, we might have purchased a dress each.   A rash, exciting, and expensive dress, encouraged by one another, the sense of beauty, the sense of yes, this dress, this dress…   But now we’re older.   We have grandchildren.    We run into bookshops and toy shops the way we used to run into dress shops.    I bought an educational word game for my granddaughter – a German version of scrabble for a five-year old.   We shopped for Christmas decorations for our grandchildren. We shopped for our husbands, looked for boxer shorts that didn’t grip, or weren’t too tight in the legs, and not too shiny, silky and silly.   Neither of us was sure exactly of what size to buy – we took the boxers from the hangers and we stretched them outwards asking one another – will this fit?   We still weren’t sure.  We know each other’s husbands, but we still weren’t sure.   How big is comfortable?    Will they really want boxers or should we be rash and buy the stretch jockeys that look so good in the picture?

And then, en route to find a restaurant, we found a shop selling new, but old fashion.    We stumbled into fabrics that spoke to us.   I found mustard corduroy and it swamped me in something visceral like hot bread, or brewing coffee, but stronger more emotional.    I fondled the mustard corduroy, and I knew the feel of it, the look of it and the colour I could taste if you can taste colour.

We spoke of crêpe Georgette as we fondled a dusky pink frock remembering Vogue, Butterick and Simplicity (especially Simplicity).   The fabrics were not imitations, but copies, identical copies of fabrics we knew.   I saw my mother’s wedding suit – the one she wore to my brother’s wedding and a year later to his funeral.   We both recognised frocks we’d worn to the ‘dance’.     We wanted to wear them again, to go to those dances, but we agreed to settle for Emmylou Harris, the concert, that night.

                Before the concert, we went looking for somewhere special to eat.   The waterfront beckoned, but the tapa bar we chose was closed on Sundays.  Our hearts were set on tapas, but we’re older now and flexible.   We found a bar with a view of the harbour and seating upstairs.  We watched in delight as gorgeous young things in tight-fitting frocks knocked back cocktails.   Nowadays we have to consider what food we order and what drinks we drink, not just how much and how many.   But we were up for bubbles.     And bubbles we had… one glass each and then we eyed the menu for food that wouldn’t be too acid, too fatty or just too…

We walked from the café to the Vector Arena, joining the swarms of baby boomers.    How fascinating to be entirely in your own genre.   It was extraordinary.    The ‘once were sexy brigade’.   The pretty girls crumble the first.    Once pretty faces are now pretty lined.   The handsome girls come into their own.   A handsome face on a woman is a very fine thing when you’re over sixty.    Tall is good, because everyone has shrunk a centimetre or so, except for the very tall men and the very tall women, or perhaps even they have.

It’s a wonderful thing to be sitting among so many ‘contemporaries’ – people who were there during the sixties and seventies and who love Emmylou Harris and her music.    There is something quite reverent about a crowd who remembers.   How lucky are we?   To be there, and to share, and to enjoy the atmosphere – all those pacemakers, titanium hips, the enamel (backed in heavy metal) smiles, and barely a Botox babe in sight.   Well, the lights were dim, but you know when you rock up to watch a girl like Emmylou with her unabashed grey hair (it looked white to me) – my friend thought she might have highlights.

She was the highlight.   She sang I think for two hours, barely stopping to breathe – every song you wanted to hear and she kept the best till last – my favourite – ‘From Boulder to Birmingham’ – after two standing ovations and a stomping encore call – this amazing woman rewarded us.   My heart broke when she sang ‘My Name is Emmet Till’ from her new album.  I cried when she sang ‘Darlin Kate’.  She spoke about being a girl from Alabama who never imagined seeing a Black President.    I think she spoke for all of us.

AWESOME Emmylou and awesome too, the ageing baby-boomers who came out in their droves to listen to her.

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Ursula LeGuin, High Tea and the Menopause

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Ursula K LeGuin, High Tea and the Menopause

Recently, I attended a high tea for a friend’s 70th birthday.   We were all girls and we dined on dainty sandwiches, sipped tea in china cups and ate pretty cakes.

My friend is a writer and she asked if her friends would bring a poem they could read at her birthday.   She especially wanted something that spoke of age and being a woman.   I took my ‘Menopause’ poem and read it.    It seemed to strike a chord.

I’m in that genre now, the one made famous by Ursula Le Guin in her essay on ‘The Space Crone’.  In fact I think I’ve passed through the planet Altair already.  My poem is a response to Ursula’s essay.     It had its debut in New Zealand Books, Volume 17, Number 2, Issue 78 in the Winter of 2007.     I see that New Zealand Books will soon be celebrating the launch of their 100th issue at Unity Books in late November.

Menopause

(Inspired by an essay by Ursula K. Le Guin “The

Space Crone” 1976).

Ursula urges me to

become a Crone

to not bemoan

my declining hormones

to wear grey hair

catch a space ship

somewhere out there

so I can share

my wit, my wisdom

my years of fertility

raising children

(ensuring my humility)

so the fourth planet Altair

can learn about the human race

from a woman (once a virgin)

and now a Crone  (on loan)

But I’m all for my inner space

and I won’t go grey

well, not yet, not today

there’s plenty of time

because I still want to play

to flaunt in the twilight

my age now my highlight

on the cusp of something

almost a Crone – not quite

ready for Ursula’s throne

but not afraid either

thumb out – hitching a ride

not looking back, nor

particularly forward

pausing as they say – oh,

but not for men

for me.

©  Maggie Rainey-Smith