Main Entry: sot·to vo·ce

Pronunciation: "sä-tO-'vO-chE
Function: adverb or adjective
Etymology: Italian sottovoce, literally, under the voice
1 : under the breath : in an undertone; also : in a private manner
2 : very softly -- used as a direction in music

Thursday, June 17, 2004

what about lewis carroll

Biography, like any form of character study, is a post-mortem; the autopsy of the literary world. A good biographer, like a good pathologist, will bring the right tools to the table, know where to dig and how to identify what he finds, how to weigh it and give it its proper consequence. The writer, at best, need be an objective observer – though none of us is truly objective. We bring our own bruised hearts to the scene. more...

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

xie kitchin, who modeled for Dodgson longer than any other subject. Posted by Hello

Fugue, in a Sharp

I’m just sitting at my desk at work, my office door closed, when my hands get so cold from this condition – Raynaud’s Syndrome , they say– because I have lupus, and because I have epilepsy, and because I have cancer and some other thing called Reflexive Sympathetic Dystrophy, which all amounts to, I’m a physical mess, but a walking miracle, because by most accounts, I really shouldn’t be here. I’ve stepped over this line before. The last time was a few years ago when the first cancer came; the first time was on the day I was born, when half of me died. I should be dead, and those around me know it; they sense it and smell it. It is near.

It’s nothing dramatic, as you would expect. I realize it sounds dramatic, but I have to tell you, it’s not. This feeling is something I am used to now. There’s no panic involved anymore; just curiosity. Will I wake up this time? Will I be on the floor? In the hospital? Will there be a crowd gathered round and a nice EMT feeding me oxygen-nectar through a plastic mask?

I will be working, doing some ordinary and banal thing at my job – I have the kind of job everyone has, pretty much (with the exception of a few privileged people or select geniuses, who are smarter and have jobs as visionaries of some kind and are paid exorbitant amounts of money, or those trust fund children I once so envied). But mine is a good job, and truly, medically speaking, I really shouldn’t even be able to hold down a job; I should be on disability.

But I have this strong and stubborn will. Sometimes I want to quit, just give up, but my pride is too strong. People mistake this for courage. They say they admire me. I think, You fool. It’s only pride. Pride that makes me get back up and say, Oh, I’ll show you. The more they tell me I will die, the harder I fight. One doctor, who I grow to truly love, my oncologist, he tells me that he ‘won’t let [me] die.’ I think that is his pride talking as well. At least we’re on the same page. Pride can be a powerful thing, and if you grow up with everyone telling you that you can’t, then you become a person with something to prove. So you prove them wrong every day, not for you, but just for the sake of one day saying, Ha Ha, Told you so. You see, not admirable at all.

My neurologist calls this a fugue state. These moments of dread when I feel I am dying and everything goes blurry or is doubled (they call this diplopia) and I feel myself slipping away and out of my body. My eyes get heavy, but it’s not fatigue or head-nodding sleepiness. It’s more like a warm bath that I’m slipping into and it seduces me. Really, not too unpleasant, apart from the falling sensation (which is because I really do fall – or rather drop – to the ground). As this happens, my hands get freezing cold. The rest of me remains fleshy and warm and pink, but my hands – they get dead cold. I read about people saying that when spirits are around they feel a chill in the air. That it gets suddenly very cold. Then I wonder if there are spirits around me, or if it’s just that my hands are more susceptible.

These are seizures, sparked by storms in my temporal lobe. Over the years, the spikes have grown sharper, the peaks higher. My neurologist frets over the spikes. I look at them as lightning. I have fire in my brain, and though sometimes it makes me feel I will die, gives me strange visions and makes my body jerk and fight, I am not sorry for this epilepsy. I think of Shamans communicating with the spirits, and I find that in many cultures, in Inuit culture, quite often the village shaman is epileptic. So now I think perhaps I am a conduit, between this world and some other. That I can journey between two realities and bring back tales to the villagers. Perhaps come back wiser.

Sometimes, I’m trying to fall asleep at night and I see these bright, light-like hands, like light-bulb hands made of glass balloons. They reach through the darkness to pull me up. I don’t know where they are reaching from or why they are reaching to me or even where they would take me; do they wish me well or ill, I can’t say. But I know they are reaching for me, and I know who they are. Two are my brothers, both dead. Each haunts me in his way.

One brother, Richard, is a hungry ghost. The Chinese say all suicides or murder victims are hungry ghosts because they can never really be at peace because their death was sudden and unjust. Maybe all death is unjust; I can think of a thousand other unjust ways to die, but these two that I mention, these are the worst, they say. They burn spirit money and create altars and try to placate the hungry ghost so that he will rest. Sometimes he does. Richard had brain spikes too, but of a different kind. He refused to take his medicine because it numbed the spark and verve, and I understand this. But in the end, it was the down-slope of the spike that caused him to shoot himself one raw, January day. The wave dipped, and he could not see his way back out.

He wanders the house knocking things about and being vaguely angry. He pushes things to scare me, opens the door that leads to the basement, even though I’ve bolted it, when I pass by, it is flapping open, the cool dank air from below blowing in the hallway.

He was like this when he was alive. A trouble-maker. A joker. Now I think we don’t suddenly mature after death. That if our energy continues, because I believe that is what gives us life, that what makes the soul is simply energy, and since I read that energy never goes away, that it just converts, I have this think that when we die, we just switch frequencies. In a way, we don’t really die at all. We just aren’t recognizable to our friends, because they don’t expect to see as pulses of light, traveling through fiber-optic wire, or analog waves or whatever. Richard’s energy is frenetic and recognizable. Even though I don’t see his shape, the body that was his, I feel his low, electric buzz like a fuse box.

My other brother, Caleb, was a gentle soul. He died when we were born. We were born on the same day. Well, to be completely accurate, I should say that on September 5th 1966, we were both born, and we both died. We were fraternal twins and as such, Caleb and I were not identical in every way the way some twins are. But in most ways, we were identical. In some deep recess of my brain, I remember Caleb, he and I spooning together in our mother’s womb. .

On a wet September day, my mother and grandmother ran through the grey streets of London to the Catholic hospital. So much blood; my mother has a bleeding disorder called Purpera. It was too early for this; the twins were not developed yet. But the blood came and so they rushed to the hospital.

The nuns at the Catholic hospital thought she had tried to give herself an abortion and looked at the blood as evidence of such. Mother was just over seven and a half months pregnant, so this was illogical, but so it was. The head nun who was the gate keeper, wouldn’t even let us all in out of the cold. She called my mother a sinner and looked upon our Scottish freckled faces with disgust before closing the door in our face. I could feel Caleb struggling in the darkness and I held onto him. I gave him my thumb to suck because he liked that, but he couldn’t take it and instead kept turning and turning and turning. Our mother doubled over in pain, then an ambulance came and the four of us were rushed to another part of London.

So it was that we found our way to Bearstead Jewish Memorial Hospital at the other end of town, frankly, the nicer end of town. So by default and accident and bigotry, I was born in a far ritzier part of London than I had any right to be. I can always claim I was born in a good area.

That hospital teemed with foreign and exotic faces and darker skin and Sephardic looks. Doctors with dark hair and blue-blue eyes like the bluest marbles. They were kind and better educated than the Catholic hospital. I hate to say that, because apart from me, my whole family is Catholic. It is because of this miracle that I am not. After they turned us away, I think my mother knew that she would never force me to be Catholic and so I was raised Church of England, which is Anglican, which is like the default religion when you have blank to fill in.

My Jewish friends tell me that I’m an honorary Jew. This is a great compliment. Only they can say Jew, they tell me; I cannot say this word because I am not technically Jewish – but honorary and honored to be such. They say this of me because I worry and I like to take care of people and I cook and the kitchen is the heart of my home and maybe I’m a little neurotic (as if being Jewish gave you a corner on this market), but nonetheless, since I was saved by Jewish people, I am honored to be considered one of them. My friend Jojo, who is really Jewish, she holds me close like a sister and tells me that I am “a good Jew” and strokes my hair. I am happy when she does this.

At the hospital, they took Caleb from the darkness. Through an opaque film of eye-lid, I saw bright light, sudden and quick – a flash – and then Caleb was pushed out. Beautiful Caleb, suffocating in blood and choking. Drowning in his own mother’s blood. He didn’t make one single sound in this world. His voice was never heard. Not once. Not even when he came out.

Doctors and nurses gathered round, but they lost his heartbeat and he died. They wrapped him, then came to me. There was no time for mourning: I pushed my out, fully expecting Caleb to be there waiting for me. All this time we had been together, it would be another adventure for us, outside of that warm and safe and dark place we inhabited. But it was not to be. I never saw him again, never felt him spoon against me as he slept, or suck my thumb instead of his own when we were inside, or do that funny thing when he would put his leg up so that his foot was behind his ear. I envied that. Wished I could do it. It made me happy when he did it. Our mother thought we were kicking when he did this. We were laughing, really.

I didn’t like being there in the world without Caleb. For months, I was a miserable baby. I cried and cried, as I’m told all preemies do, but this was the sixties and no-one had any patience for preemies, so I was just a frustration and a burden and a sorrow. I think mother wanted a boy more; I should have been the one to die. Did my family, the doctors, the nurses, know that I cried because I felt sorrow? That a whole part of me was gone. That when Caleb died, I died, and when I lived, Caleb lived. That we are one and the same.

I wanted to be where Caleb was. I had followed him down that tunnel, but when I got to the end, there was only bright light and noise and scary and foreign things and I couldn’t see him anywhere. Then I saw what must have been a doctor or nurse carrying a swaddled-in-blue bundle and touching her finger to his little face and there was Caleb, but he wasn’t there anymore. He had already left.

My mother lay on the table exhausted and sad and bereft. The one carrying Caleb took him to her and she held him against her swollen breast and she rocked and she cried and she bled great rivers. My beautiful Madonna mother, the sorrow she felt on that day and, I think, every day since then.

A different nurse had taken me to a smaller table and was trying to wash the blood off of e, but the water was cold and startling. Sound, sensation, light, everything in this new world was sharp and aggressive. I wouldn’t stop crying. I could only see shapes, but I could sense my mother and kicked and turned to see her holding my brother. She was kissing and pushing back his soft-silk brown hair.

As I lay on the table, watching mother holding Caleb’s frail body, I felt his hand reach down and stroke my cheek as he rose up and out of himself, to where I don’t know. Caleb’s light bulb hands, all bright and incandescent like him. I could make out those shapes, and I always knew Caleb anyway. I could always sense him. For a moment, I stopped crying and reached up, my fingers just barely touching the tip of his bright-light fingers and then off he went, light as a feather. He smiled and was happy again and not choking anymore. He whispered something in my ear, but if I write it, you wouldn’t understand because it was our secret language, the one we had used in the womb for seven and a half months. It sounded like hushcoos hashab ibah. All I know is I looked for him everywhere. Most of the time, I couldn’t sense him or find him.

As I got older, I sometimes felt that he was around. I got a shivery feeling in my spine. The doctors said it was epilepsy. That these were what they called “fugue states”, which is like being in a trance and doing weird things and sometimes falling down and convulsing. The epilepsy was caused by a traumatic birth; I knew that. But when I went with my mother and grandmother to the doctor and they asked about any trouble with delivery, all of us sat there in silence. If we spoke, it was to say “no.” It never happened. There was no other child. There was no gale force wind in London on that day. It did not rain like it was southeast asia. The roads were not flooded. None of that happened. Whenever my family has spoken of this day, it is to say that it was an uneventful delivery on a warm, September afternoon. Why I was born at the Jewish hospital takes a bit of explaining, but everyone in my family seems to be an expert liar and exceptionally talented in matters of denial, so we say, it was a golden afternoon and merrily we rowed and I was born and mother glowed and so it was.

My mother was around, then disappeared. She was this beautiful, almost mythic creature, that would show up in my life on some magical evenings, looking so feminine in her work suits and silk blouses and smelling of Caleche and Chanel No. 5. By then, I lived with my grandparents and they were the only parents that I ever knew – of any consistency. They were the every day, and I love them for all that they did for me, for loving me even though I was a reminder of something horrible. I think that’s why my mother gave me to them; I was emblematic of the sorrow and grief that was held in that day. I was a secret. And I often felt that if she had to choose for one of us to die, it would have been the girl – me – that she would have preferred Caleb. I don’t blame her for this. Even though Caleb and I are one and the same, at least, as far as he and I are concerned, I think he was always the more gentle one. I was the child who would butt her head against the wall, who was willful and obstinate and needy and difficult to comfort and afraid. By contrast, Caleb was easy and quiet and lovely. He was the balm to my sting, and he could soothe anyone, even her, I think, so I wish he had lived, because it would amount to the same thing.

We are communicating vessels; his energy in another form may be harder to recognize for some, while my energy is contained in this neat package that says I am alive I am a person. But I do not think I am any more alive than Caleb. I think if you look for the dead, or those who have passed, transformed, they are there.

They are the energy we can’t explain, the hiss on the phone, the shhhhh sound of summer rain, autumn rustle of the tree, and the soft plop-paddle of ducks on the pond, the tinkle of my little windchime I bought in China Town that suddenly moves fast when there is no wind; I find Caleb in all of these things and I know he is energy transformed. I know that when I move my hands, even as I type now, that I am typing for both of us. That these are his freckled hands, that these grey-hazel eyes in the mirror staring back, these are his too. Every time I see my own reflection, it is not lost on me that I am also looking at my brother: that I am looking at two, not one.

This is how we live two lives, and this is how we die two deaths.

When I think am dying, I often wonder if Caleb has similar thoughts but in reverse – does he think: I am being born? When I run fast, or ride my Beachcruiser bicycle and the wind blows my hair and I see the sea and smell the salt, can Caleb feel these things through me, just as I am sure I feel so much through him.

These are not questions I can answer; at least, not objectively, for I am certain that we live on in each other. That death is but a transformation, a loss of the mortal body, and what it takes from us is the ability to hold that person close again, and this is a profound loss. What I would give to hold either of my brothers again. To see Richard or Caleb, standing on a beach, the wind tousling their hair.

I will take these epileptic fugues, I will journey to that world. Be it a trick of the mind, or sudden surge of electricity, a faint fit of this epilepsy, it is what William James would have called an “ecstatic experience.’ It transcends and I am lifted higher and higher and I can see the world and touch Caleb’s light-bulb finger and know that there is so much more than this.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

hazy jane Posted by Hello

sotto vocce Posted by Hello

speak softly Posted by Hello

apres blog Posted by Hello

these days Posted by Hello

Water Life: The Perils of Perrier

I drink so much bottled water every day that I just had to know - Who was the genuis who thought to bottle water from some outback creek and sell it at a huge market up to dumb city folk like me? And exactly how do those bubbles get in Perrier anyway, or any other carbonated mineral water. And more, what the hell is "mineral water" anyway. What exactly is in this mineral water, apart from the obvious?

The fact is, if one drinks as much bottled water as I do, and we're talking upwards of six huge bottles a day (if I have my way, Evian, if it's a bad day at the local market, Poland Spring or Dasani), I really ought to know who the hell came up with the idea of bottling a natural resource and turning a profit. I mean, it's really pure genius. I can just see some guy or gal in the middle of nowhere sitting by the edge of a local spring or mountain stream and thinking, "Shit, I'll just put this in a bottle with a pretty picture of trees on teh front and sell it as 'Mountain Water'or some such, and city folk will buy it."

But was it that simple? I didn't know, and so I set to find out.

In 1798, the term "soda water" was first used. Bathing in natural springs was considered a healthy thing to do and a fun pastime. Scientists belived that the naturally occuring bubbles in the springs, caused by Carbon Dioxide, were the source behind the medicinal and curative qualities of the water. Before this though, drinking water with lemon juice and honey (which is amazingly good hot if you have a cold, flu, or sorethroat) became increasingly popular. It was a company in Paris that patented the elixir: Compagnie de Limonadiers of Paris. The lemon, honey, and water juice was sold all over Paris and soon became popular worldwide. I'm quite sure, though, that somewhere back in the middle ages, someone had put this very same combination together - they just hadn't thought to handletter flyers and brand it. Fools.

By 1767, an Englishman by the name of Joseph Priestly found a way to put the bubbles in water and keep them there. He was the first to make carbonated water that was drinkable and like that one would find in nature. Meanwhile, other chemists fiddled around with various minerals and whatnot, including sulfuric acid and chalk and made "mineral water."
In 1810, the first U.S. patent was issued for the "means of mass manufacture of imitation mineral waters" to Simons and Rundell of Charleston, South Carolina. (source:

People everywhere could now supplement their healthful mineral water dips with healthful mineral water sips, and by 1810, carbonated mineral waters were all the rage. Before too long, others joined the band wagon and began fiddling with other "healthful" additives, such as Birch extract as well as various herbs that they touted as beneficial to one's general health and sense of well-being. The public sucked it up. One could have birch, sasparilla, dandelion, ginger, you name it, it was added to water - and so far, these were all herbs that were beneficial in some way. Credit goes to the Irish for good ole ginger ale, friend of aching bellies worldwide, for it was they who created it in 1851.

As soon as people discovered they could flavor their mineral water, the water market took a turn, and actually began to veer away from what seemed to be the original intent - which was to make a healthful drink, and soon, the concept of "soft drinks" was born. But 1861, the term "pop" was born. Soft drink additives became less healthful and more synthetic. Fruit extracts were popular additives, but with those extracts came sugar - some natural, and eventually, some synthetic. And who doesn't know the story of Coca Cola - with it's extra zest of cocaine, for those who needed a wee "pick me up" in the afternoon.

Then one day in 1885 in the town of Waco, Texas, a guy by the name of Charles Alderton, who worked as a local pharmacist, invented Dr. Pepper, a drink he mixed himself at the pharmacy soda fountain and that locals referred to as a "Waco." According to, Alderton named the drink after a friend of his, a certain Dr. Charles Pepper. By 1891, Alderton was running the Dr. Pepper Company, and by 1904, Dr. Pepper made it's real debut when it was served at the the World's Fair in St. Louis to over 20 million people. To this day, Dr. Pepper is the oldest soft drink syrup in the U.S.

Soon after, Coca Cola was born, then root beer, and the industry boomed.

But you see what has happened here? I started off on a quest to find out about mineral water, and it lead me down a slippery slope to softdrinks. But didn't you ever wonder where Dr. Pepper came from? I did. And if you didn't, forget all that you've read here.

So - who do we thank the most for our bottled water, if we are to thank anyone? Well, we could thank that nameless person back in the seventeenth century who decided to bottle water and those others who set out to market it. But according to one very good source, the true granddaddy of bottled water is a certain John Mathews, an Englishman who emigrated to America in 1832, and knew how to make carbonated water. He spent many years serving fizzy water to the people of New York, and supplying stores that had soda fountains with his fizzy water. Mathews is credited to a huge boom in the soft drink industry, according to

But back to water. Evian, according to their site, trace the origin of their water source to 16,000 BC when the aquafier and glacial sands are formed in the French Alps. The water originating there eventually winds up in those pleasing pink and blue bottles, or, my favorite, the "Evian Nomad" with the groovy handle.

Perrier, again, according to their site, dates back to the Romans but didn't become known until about 1793. Perrier originates from Vergeze. The Perrier we know today, we have because Napoleon III gave the proclamation that it was a-okay to develop the source, and Voila! By 1903, under the management of Dr. Perrier and Sir St-John Harmsworth, Perrier's famous green bottle became popular throughout Europe and was the first bottled mineral water available in the U.S.(source: For the record, Perrier is now owned by Nestle, a little-advertised fact, as it doesn't really go with the high-end image so prized by Perrier and those who drink it.

So after all this, what I set to find out was who thought of this and when... How did this bottle from, let's say Evian at Vergeze, become an item that I could buy today. Surely there is one person who thought of it first. Or maybe there were were various individuals scattered around the globe who all had the same idea: that water that is naturally filtered through glacial paths and silt and rock is naturally better for you and picks up more minerals as it makes its journey. I don't know. It certainly sounds healthier, but then, isn't all water filtered?

As the National Resources Defense Council put it, "Sales of bottled water in this country have exploded in recent years, largely as a result of a public perception of purity driven by advertisements and packaging labels featuring pristine glaciers and crystal-clear mountain springs." We imagine ourselves filling up on healthful minerals, our cheeks pink and glowing, our flawless pseudo-Swiss skin all alabaster and white, our teeth shining like pearls. It all sounds very promising and very teutonic, but I have to say, I think it's all shit.

But the sad truth, and this again from the NRDC, "Even when bottled waters are covered by the FDA's rules, they are subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards than those which apply to city tap water (see chart below). For example, bottled water is required to be tested less frequently than city tap water for bacteria and chemical contaminants. In addition, bottled water rules allow for some contamination by E. coli or fecal coliform (which indicate possible contamination with fecal matter), contrary to tap water rules, which prohibit any confirmed contamination with these bacteria. Similarly, there are no requirements for bottled water to be disinfected or tested for parasites such as cryptosporidium or giardia, unlike the rules for big city tap water systems that use surface water sources. This leaves open the possibility that some bottled water may present a health threat to people with weakened immune systems, such as the frail elderly, some infants, transplant or cancer patients, or people with HIV/AIDS."

So bear that in mind as you swizzle the stick in your Perrier, squeeze the lime wedge and take a long hearty sip. If you wanted to be closer to nature and drink something purer, well you have succeeded. Thing is, I imagine most of us didn't quite know that we were drinking an entire colony of parasites who used to live on the glacier until they moved into their swank, new mineral bottle home. Maybe it's best to stick with Dr. Pepper.

Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti
Authors Note: Author drinks vast quantities of Evian every day; buggies or not buggies.

For more blogs by SRP, check out, and read my biweekly column by Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti

June 8, 2004

Welcome to Sotto Vocce, a Blog for thoughts pure and impure, but always pure of heart and good intention. A site where we can actually think things through, analyze what we read, what we write, what we see, and use as a means to understanding our culture and the role we play. The mission of this site is to publish work that is thought-provoking, original, and whether one agrees with the views herein or not, the object is to get a discussion going and put some thoughts out there. Here we will cover everything from memoir to fiction to reviews and poetry - work of all kinds, and we hope, that work that stirs you and shines a light on places that that have been in the dark for too long.

Welcome all,

Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti, aka Hazy Sadi Jane