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Here There Be Dragons

Abraham Ortelius, Tehatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1570

Abraham Ortelius, Tehatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1570

Legend holds that, centuries ago, mapmakers marked uncharted areas on their maps with the Latin phrase: HC SVNT DRACONES.

“Here are dragons.”

There are only two maps still in existence that actually have these words on them, but the dragon or sea serpent was often used in map decoration to represent perilous waters, dangerous leviathans, or geographically murky coastlines. I think the expression is so beautiful–“Here there be dragons”–that the idea behind the phrase has stayed with us even if it isn’t on that many maps.

It’s a useful way of saying, “We are leaving the part of the world that we know and hell if I know what is out there but it’s probably scary.”

It’s the Latin form of “Get in. Sit down. Shut up. Hold on.”

I’ve been feeling that way the last few days. Since November started, to be exact. I’ve set myself a goal of writing 1000+ words every day and they are words in addition to what I post here. Words that, if assembled in the right order and around a central theme, might be called a…well, you know.

But I don’t want to jinx it.

In the proud tradition of procrastinators everywhere, I usually end up squeezing in my writing goal between 11 p.m. and midnight. I get my fingers moving across the keyboard. I slog through the warm up, force myself through the sticky bits, finally manage to sail my word ship in the general direction of The Point…and that leaves me in a soggy mess of tears.

I’ve cried myself to sleep every night in November (sounds like a country song). And it feels great.

With all this new territory, something new struck me about “Here There Be Dragons.” The cartographers didn’t put that on there to say “DON’T GO! PADDLE THE OTHER WAY!” Maybe they put the dragons on there as a landmark, a way to know that you’re steering in the RIGHT direction.  If you’re looking to explore the uncharted lands, you are right on course.

The one thing I remember from those sailing lessons that Richard and I took in Maine just before he was diagnosed with leukemia was “Point the tiller toward the trouble.” In the weird physics of steering by wind, if you want to go around an obstacle, you have to point the tiller directly at it in order to maneuver the rudder and the boat around it. (I think I got the terms right. My sister will correct me if not.)

So some of these feelings that I’m stirring up? I hope my face burns from the dragon’s breath and this strange quivering around my heart is stirred by the dragon’s wings. And I hope I don’t fall off the edge of the world.



A Red Marble Sink

My sister said that yesterday’s story about San Francisco reminded her that business trips can be fun.  And since she happens to be on one right now, I thought I would entertain her with another story about a time when I tagged along with her and we had us a fine time in the great big city.

fairmont lobbyThe first time Gay invited me along on a business trip was right after Fartbuster and I divorced.  After 10 boring years, I yearned for some adventure.  The American College of Surgeons held their conference in New Orleans that year…boy, did I luck out!   We stayed at the Fairmont Hotel–which is sadly no more.  They chose not to reopen after Katrina.  I’m lucky to have walked this Moorish style hallway for those few days back in 2001.

My sister is a world-class foodie.  Girl love to EAT.  We travel well together because she books the hotel and makes the dinner reservations and I research the fun little activities to do.  We also both believe in the sanctity of naps.

The first night we were at the Fairmont, I told her we had to go down to the lobby bar and try the namesake drink, the Sazerac.  Never heard of a Sazerac?  Me either, apart from in the guidebook.  It predates the Civil War and is arguably the first American cocktail:  “The defining feature of the Sazerac is the preparation using Peychaud’s Bitters and two chilled old-fashioned glasses, one swirled with a light wash of absinthe for the slight taste and strong scent. The second chilled glass is used to mix the other ingredients, then the contents of that are poured or strained into the first. Various anisettes such as Pastis, Pernod, Ricard, and Herbsaint are common substitutes for absinthe when it is not available; in New Orleans Herbsaint is most commonly used.”  Well, there you go.

I’ll be honest…a Sazerac is more distinctive than it is delicious.  I’m glad I tried it.  So glad, in fact, that after I gagged down the last drop of the concoction, I wiped out the glass with a cocktail napkin and slipped it into my purse.  Then I left a $20 tip to assuage my guilt.  My sister was MORTIFIED.  She hissed, “What are you DOING?  Put that back!  What if we get caught?”  I rolled my eyes and said, “This is New Orleans.  Do you really think this crime wave is going to make the news?”  She giggled but gave me The Look.  The big sister look, like she was going to tell on me.  I clutched my purse tighter.   Ten years of boredom and now I was on the loose in New Orleans.

The night got even sillier after that when we asked the doorman to get us a taxi.  We clambered in the back seat and Gay said, “Take us to the French Quarter, please.”  The driver turned his head and said, “You IN the French Quarter.”  We started giggling harder and I said, “Well, take us to the nasty part.”  He drove two blocks to Bourbon Street and let us out on the curb.  Five bucks to go 2 blocks.  At least it was sprinkling so we could pretend that was why we got a cab.

Like I said, I love traveling with my sister.

red marble sinkThe next night, she got us a table at Broussard’s.  While we were getting ready, the two of us ended up in the bathroom at the same time, brushing our teeth.  Probably to get rid of the taste of Sazerac.   I spat.  She spat.  I looked her in the eye and said, “When we were growing up in that trailer, did you ever in your life think that one day we’d be spitting toothpaste into a red marble sink at the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans?”  

She spat again and considered for a second.  


And then we laughed and laughed and laughed.  

That’s the thing about my sister.  She works HARD for the privileges that she enjoys in life (and shares so generously).  If you asked her what she wanted to be when she was in second grade, she said, “A doctor.”  By about fourth grade, she had settled on being a surgeon.  She never lost focus.  She watched Daddy operate on cats and dogs, and sometimes scrubbed in to assist.  She sailed through college with a double major in Chemistry and Biology.  Finished Vanderbilt Medical School with zero loan debt.  Worked her internship and residency as an Army surgeon.  She scaled every rung on the ladder to get to spit into that red marble sink.  

When Gay was still in high school, she met with the guidance counselor about applying for colleges.  She told the counselor that she planned to go to medical school.  That dingbat said, “Oh, being a doctor is hard.  Why don’t you be a nurse and marry a doctor?”  

Oh.  Hell. No.  

You better believe that lady got a talking to.  I guess my sister did take a little bit of the counselor’s advice–she did marry a doctor.  Eventually.