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Tena Loveland Russ

Trying to Write the Great American Sentence

Updated: 2018-03-05T11:45:37.922-06:00


Over and out


T a n g o


Conspirators, we engage in an unspoken conversation.  We lean into each other, foreheads touching, lock-stepped. We do not look at each other, but away, each holding a secret. 

Tango is the body's confession.

Dog Therapy - (a re-post)


Cami and I currently volunteer with the K-9 Reading Buddies, a literacy program for children, and with soldiers in a Veterans Administration mental hospital.  We used to work with autistic children ages 3-6. Our visits were scheduled for every other Thursday, a job I shared with another dog owner. Many autistic children are fearful, including the fear of animals. Cami must have seemed like a big, furry monster. When some of the kids first met her they wouldn't come near. One even screamed in terror. Eventually, the kids’ comfort level improved and some of them enjoyed petting Cami. One little boy would pet her using his teacher’s hand.With the teacher, we'd walk Cami around the school.  I'd give the kids a long leash, so they thought they were “driving,” but I was really using my own short leash.  The teachers and I collaborated on improving the kids’ responses to commands like “listen, stop, go, watch”—behaviors that make the world of an autistic child safer. Cami obeyed these commands and acted as a role model. Sometimes we'd teach the kids new words or phrases. If they were nonverbal and/or enjoy singing, I’d make up a song to the tune of “Mary had a Little Lamb” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and put the child’s name in it. (I’m not above making a fool of myself.)Autism is more prevalent among boys, and each child has his or her own particular set of challenges. Several of the kids we worked with “graduated” to other schools, including one very special little girl.Miss A came to the school when she was five and a half. She arrived with a full-time, one-on-one teacher. She was a wild-child. She threw tantrums. She thrashed and grunted. She had no language. She didn’t seem especially bright.It was thought that Miss A would probably not speak, so she was given a portable computer called a “talker box.” (Think early iPad.) It was about the size of an Etch-a-Sketch, only thicker, with picture icons that were programmed to say different words. Press a button and the talker would name basic objects, shapes, colors, people, and so on. The device could either hang around Miss A's neck on a strap or she could carry it.     Miss A took to her talker like Chopin to the piano. Once she got the basics, she immediately began to "vocalize." If you asked her what Cami was, she'd press the key with a dog image and the talker said dog. Ask her what color Cami is and she pressed a button that took her to different screen. She'd find the appropriate button and the voice said brown. Gold star! Miss A could search for additional information and make refinements. Dog. Brown. Ears. Tail. Feet.One day she kept pointing to an empty key on her talker. I asked if I could see it. At first she was a little reluctant.  Who could blame her for not wanting to relinquish her newly found voice? I asked if there were something she wanted in that empty square. She nodded yes. I asked, “Is it Cami's name?” She looked me in straight in the eye and then placed her hand on my chest. The word she wanted on her talker was my name.  I can't tell you how touched I was. New words had to be programmed in the talker.  I told the school director what Miss A wanted, and she made it happen. The next time I saw Miss A, her face got a “have-I-got-something-cool-to-show-you!” expression. Her talker could now say Tena and Cami.At the end of the year, Miss A was a very different child than when I first met her. She was less fearful and more confident. Her determination to learn was inspiring. The intelligence that had been buried under a mountain of frustration now shone through. With her new ability to communicate, she was eager to learn more words. Having basic communication skills must have been an enormous relief.  Finally, and best of all, Miss A had begun to talk using her own words.  She had a voice. I’m not suggesting that her progress was only because she had the talker. The patience and tal[...]

South America Part V: Parting Thoughts


To those of you who left messages on this blog while I was out of the country, thanks for keeping in touch. Hearing from you made my day.Our last day in Buenos Aires was spent on foot, as usual, with the exception of a ride on the Subte (the Subway) to the Museo Evita. But first, we stopped by the tiny Museo de la Cuidad. This nearly impossible-to-find place was an enigma: Half of the displays were dedicated to the great religions of the world; the other half was devoted to the history of toys. I’m still trying to figure out the connection.The Museo Evita, not to be missed, is in the beautiful Recoleta area. An enormous botanic park is just around the corner, as well as the city zoo. The museum is immaculate. That it is under the direction of Evita’s niece accounts for the obvious adulation of the subject. The propagandistic presentation (likely a sign of the times) of the life of Eva Perón damages her credibility. Her social and political reforms -- voting for women and a foundation for orphans -- could speak for themselves. Other than the film montages, highlights for this visitor included the displays of Evita’s clothes, which are so meticulously preserved that they look almost new. Also interesting were the accompanying photographs of Evita in those very dresses and hats. Her shoes were wonderful. Made in France, they would be stylish today. (Her feet, if I were to guess, were about size five.)Evita wasn’t universally loved. After she died at age 33 of cervical cancer, some cried out, “God bless cancer!” Her body was stolen, recovered and reburied elsewhere, finally ending up in the family crypt in Buenos Aires. In a touching speech, Evita’s sister tells of posthumous wounds inflicted on Evita’s head and body by those who hated her. Someone even cut off a finger. What is surprising is that they didn’t cut her hair, which is shown in a film as still long and flowing.Just outside the Recoleta Cemetery is this enormous tree, planted in 1800: After Evita, for some levity, we went to the zoo. We stayed for a long time, mesmerized by the animals. Some were species we had never seen before. Some were just plain wacky. Back near our hotel, we encountered the stray dogs which were now familiar to us. One was a small white shepherd—a skinny old male—who likes to hang out with the Prefecture. (The Prefecture is/are sort of rent-a-cops who like to stand around in groups to talk, smoke, and tell jokes. Their apparent job is to guard each other.) I’m assuming that they’ve adopted this dog and hope that they’re feeding him. When I called to him, he ambled over and put his head in my lap. When I stroked his head I felt bumps that could have been ticks. Obviously, he receives no medical care. Looking now at my own beautiful dogs, I appreciate their good health and send good thoughts to that sweet stray.Looking back, I’m glad we visited both Uruguay and Argentina. Anytime you travel way outside of your own zip code is good. The people we met were friendly to non-Spanish speaking tourists; the prices (relative to the US) were good; tipping wasn’t mandatory but 10% was welcome, if you were so inclined. Good food; good wine; good scenery.What we missed were peanuts. We looked for them, but peanuts don’t seem to be available in either Uruguay or Argentina.We also missed quick lunches and efficiently run airports. The crumbling, littered sidewalks seem a metaphor for the economic problems of these countries.It’s wonderful to travel but better still to return. Even if things aren’t perfect in the US, being away makes you appreciate living here. Glad to be home.[...]

South America Part IV Tango!


Last night we attended Madero Tango. The food was good but Argentinean tango danced to live music was fantastico, the ultimate in pairs dancing. The show featured five incredibly talented couples and a male Flamenco-type dancer. I have never seen anyone’s feet move so fast that they were literally a blur. Today my husband and I bought a how-to-tango CD so we can learn some steps and amaze our friends and embarrass our children. However, I don’t think we’ll be up to the lifts for a while.

We visited the Recoleta Cemetery. This photo gives you an idea of the opulence to be found here. (image)

Evita Perón is buried in this cemetery but because her body has been stolen many times after her husband’s fall from grace, she’s buried 27 feet underground in a concrete vault. Many of the dead in this cemetery are buried underground, with elaborate above-ground family monuments. This cemetery is beautiful, well-organized and well-maintained, but I must say I prefer the quirky disorder of Père-Lachaisse Cemetery in Paris.

The fifteen or more cats that live in the Recoleta cemetery are provided food by a volunteer women’s group, who also sees to their medical needs.(image) This somewhat flea-bitten kitty is napping beside a canine pal.

We finally went shopping and were happy to find some potential Christmas gifts as well as a few things for ourselves. The Recoleta area is very upscale, especially Ralph Lauren’s store in a turn-of-the-20th-century Art Nouveau mansion. The prices are lower than in the US, but still a bit too heady for the likes of us.

South America Part III: Buenos Aires


Another useful word I have learned in Spanish is demorado, which means delayed (as in, airplane).My husband and I arrived in Buenos Aires on Saturday afternoon. What a difference from Montevideo, which is a relatively small city of about a million and a half people. This amounts to half of the population of Uruguay. Buenos Aires is absolutely sprawling, with about eleven million inhabitants. On the way in from the airport, row after row of apartment buildings cantilever over the expressway. Heaven forbid your cat should fall from the balcony. While both cities have their share of dodgy neighborhoods, crumbling buildings, and sidewalks made treacherous by missing tiles, we felt concern for Montevideo. Lacking BA’s tourist trade, it appears to be losing ground. However, we enjoyed the people and the food was excellent. Inexpensive, too, relative to US prices.Yesterday we walked from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. First we went aboard the Frigate A.R.A. Presidente Sarmiento.Built in 1897 as a training ship for the Argentine Navy, it’s now a museum.Then we walked around both the San Telmo and La Boca districts. On Sundays in San Telmo an open air market stretches for many blocks. The streets are filled with shoppers and wanderers who are looking for bargains and treasures. You can live without most of what’s for sale, but in this area you’ll also find antiques shops and some specialty shops. It’s probably best if you’re on a mission to find a specific item. Since we had no agenda we simply strolled, took pictures, and enjoyed the tango dancers and the music.Our two favorite experiences occurred at the same street intersection. The first was listening to a group named Trio Gotico, who played the most beautiful music on acoustic guitar. We bought two CDs from them, which turned out to be the only purchase we made that day with the exception of a pair of Cokes. The second wonderful thing was a street mime. We’ve seen street mimes before in other cities, but this one was charming. Dressed like an old-fashioned lady, she is clad completely in gold, down to her false eyelashes. She stands perfectly still until someone drops a coin into the can at her feet and then she comes to life. She is especially wonderful with children, bending down to tenderly stroke their cheek or their hair.She’ll give the men a pretend kiss for the camera. For the ladies and children, she places a tiny pink heart in your hand.La Boca is unabashedly touristy with its colorful corrugated tin buildings and street vendors with their assortment of merchandise, food, and street tango dancers. Lots of fun.We’ve had two incidences of attempted theft in BA. The first occurred when someone unzipped my backpack. Fortunately, they didn’t get lucky because the backpack was too deep to reach anything. The second incidence occurred when a young couple came up to us exclaiming that we had something all over the back of our clothes. Indeed, some kind of gray mud had been mysteriously splashed on us. This “helpful” couple came to our rescue by blotting us down with Kleenex, front and back. Those fast fingers were searching for stuff to poach. Once again, we lost nothing. I’ve learned to leave my backpack at the hotel and zip money, etc. inside my jacket. Later, we decided probably a third person had squirted us. Nice try, kids.I am disheartened by the large number of stray dogs in this city. They survive by rooting through garbage bags, which pile up along the curbs. Many of these dogs appear to be distant relatives of the German shepherd dog. One was a car chaser. (You have to imagine the amount of the traffic in this city. One street has sixteen lanes!) This dog lowered his head and actually waited for a car whiz by. Then he ran like hell, barking and biting at the tires. A wonder he's survived this long. Some of the strays simply stand in the street to watch the world go by. Or sleep in a sunny corner.Tonight we’re go[...]

South America Part II: Street People



I’m having a hard time adjusting to the late dining hours. Last night a large group of us had dinner at La Casa Violeta, a beautiful restaurant overlooking the water. They serve salad and meat, period. Oh, and some decadent layered chocolate thing for dessert. But I have to tell you about this meat. It’s unbelievable. We were served thirteen (count ’em) courses of it – everything from various smoked sausages, ham, chicken, pork, to the most tender beef in the world. These are more like samples, not huge pieces, that you can chose or not, and are presented on the skewers they were cooked on. I am all meated out.

Yesterday I wandered around a bit by myself, but not too far from the hotel. I feel like a prime target: the white American female… I’ve been told there’s not a lot of major crime here, but to watch out for purse-snatchers and young boys wearing engaging smiles and larceny in their hearts.

On my return to the hotel, on a side street, I came across a man playing something classical on a violin. I stopped to listen because he seemed especially accomplished. A small crowd gathered but nobody gave him money. When the piece ended, I found some pesos in my jacket pocket and an American dollar bill. Handing him the money, I said that his music was lovely. He thanked me in English. Walking away, I realized that I hadn’t taken his photograph. So I returned to where he was playing and photographed him. When he saw that I had returned, he handed me his CD. I said, “Oh, you don’t have to do that” but he wanted me to have it. It turns out this man is world-class violinist David Juritz! Mr. Juritz is on leave from his job as concertmaster for the London Mozart Players.

From Around the World and Bach:
“On 9 June International violinist David Juritz left London with a backpack and an empty wallet for a 60,000 mile busk around the world, playing Bach's Partitas and Sonatas. He aims to raise money and awareness for a new charity, Musequality, which funds music projects in deprived areas across the world. The first project is the Tender Talents Magnet School for aids orphans in Kampala.”

The CD is beautiful. I’m playing it now, listening to selections from Bach, Vivaldi, Elgar, Debussy and Tchaikovsky. You can be sure that Musequality will be seeing a few more of my dollars. God bless you, Mr. Juritz.

South America Part I: Montevideo


Buenas días, amigos,If we thought twenty-two hours (not all spent in flight) was a long time to get from Chicago to Montevideo, Uruguay, consider that it took a member of our group thirty-seven hours to make the trip from Hong Kong. Thanks to Ambien, I got six hours of sleep on the plane—just enough to keep me from becoming psychotic.All went smoothly until we arrived in Buenos Aires, where our connecting flight to Montevideo was delayed for no particular reason. It seems that airline schedules are somewhat capricious south of the Equator. However, our luggage was waiting when we arrived, unlike last year in Australia when my luggage (but not my husband’s) disappeared for two days without a trace; a nightmare. I didn’t even own a spare rubber band for my ponytail. I digress.The Montevideo airport is guarded by humorless-looking militia men bearing Uzis. These guys appear to be about twelve years old. To my husband’s enormous relief, I curbed my enthusiasm for taking their photograph. In the BA airport, I did take a photo of a woman wearing the most breathtaking array of silver bracelets, necklaces, and dangly earrings I have ever seen on one individual. Unfortunately this shot shows only the rear version, which sort of tells a story of its own. This old girl was probably well into her eighties. Again, I digress.When I travel, my attention tends to digress. I notice the quirky stuff other people with their tour books and maps either overlook or chose to ignore, usually for good reason. My hermana, Laura, is the consummate travel writer with her ability to describe the local scene and illustrate her comments with the most gorgeous photos. (Hint, Laura.)At the BA airport, we had to pay an airport tax. We paid in dollars. At first we thought the clerks were examining the money to see if it was counterfeit. But no. They were amusing themselves—even the police guard was laughing—at some folding trick they did with the bills. Nothing builds a taller wall than laughter in a language you don’t understand.Speaking of speaking, my Spanish is limited to a few words. One of them is hola. I didn’t think I’d learned much Italian when we were in Italy, but in this country I find myself reverting to it. That, and French, a language I do speak reasonably well. But I seem hopeless to learn another language at this point in my life. Say “Buenas días” to me and I will reply, “Buon giorno.” In the elevator, when asked what floor our room is on, I’ll reply, “Dix-huit.” Brilliant.To Richard@LonelyPlanet: the grass is not literally greener here. It’s barely spring and rather chilly. Yesterday was blustery. The day before was a big storm that churned up the water, making it a dirty taupe color. Today is overcast. Soon I will take a walk and discover what the temperature is.The neighborhood of our hotel is a blend of very old and beautiful with ugly Sixties and Seventies-style architecture. Yesterday we found a pedestrian mall with little shops and many street vendors—quite European in feeling. I looked up and discovered angels in the architecture.Dinner in this part of the world BEGINS at ten o’clock PM. It’s impossible to know how people manage to be in their offices by nine AM. Perhaps they’re still a little bleary from all the late-night food and wine.Last night’s group at dinner (marketing people from my husband’s firm) were from the US, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Hong Kong. On meeting each other, everyone exchanged a kiss on the cheek, even people meeting for the first time. It’s a nice custom that sets a friendly mood. We had a lovely dinner at a restaurant called the Partridge (in Spanish) and some good red wine. When my husband and I and the woman from Hong Kong left at about eleven o’clock (we had arrived "early" at 8:30) the rest of the gang was still carrying on, as was a family[...]

Way South of the Border



My husband and I are about to leave for Montevideo, Uruguay (not Montevideo, Minnesota) and from there we'll be going to Buenos Aires, Argentina, the land of heavy meats and Malbec wine. I know, it's tough duty but someone has to do it.

Stop by for more or less daily posts on this voyage.

Adios, amigos~
Tango Tena

September - a re-post since I'm going to reunion in June


Me at age fifteen. This photo was taken in September. I'm wearing my new school uniform for the first time. This is the last view my parents will have of me—and I of them—until Christmas break in three months. Home is 800 miles away, in Illinois. At an all-girl prep school in upstate New York, I’m about to find out how it feels to be a stranger in a strange land.

I have don’t remember exactly what I was thinking behind that bright smile but I’m sure it was a combination of terror and despair. I’m sure I fought back tears as my parents drove off.

Boarding school is not my idea. I do not want to be here. I miss public high school and my friends. I don’t know one single person here. Other girls wearing the same uniform as mine seem to know where they’re going. I don’t even remember how to find my room. Is it somewhere on the third floor, overlooking the parking lot? My two roommates, both East coasters, haven’t arrived yet. One will have the bottom bunk in our tiny room. The other girl will sleep in the adjoining room. For now, the closet holds my new uniforms and a few civilian clothes that I will be allowed to wear only at certain times on weekends. This is a place of rules.

The uniforms arrived at my home in August. Two of my best friends were present when I opened the big box. We screeched at the uncool outfits I would be required to wear the remaining three years of high school. (At fifteen, clothes can make or break the woman.) The spring “unies” as we called them, were one-piece dresses that zipped up the front. The collar spread almost to the shoulder seams. These dresses were cotton gingham in yellow, red, green, or blue check. Also in the box were the dresses required for the evening meal. They were rayon and the same basic design as the daytime dresses but in pastel shades. At dinner, I would be required to wear panty hose and heels. Every night. The winter uniform was an austere white blouse, a “serviceable” gray wool A-line skirt, and a gray flannel blazer. The shoes were to be “sturdy brown tie-ups” such as brogues. (Like Doc Martens, only uglier.) My sturdy browns were gum-soled and resembled a pair of beetles. It was official geekdom. My girlfriends wished me well at boarding school and went off to do their own shopping for cool new school clothes. I wondered if they’d still be my friends when I returned home.

Now, in September, I am reminded of those uniforms and the rules and the pain of being torn away from everything I knew. I remember what was lost but what was gained.

Today, on my way to my writing critique group (my “school” of choice) the song September by Earth, Wind, and Fire came on the radio. It starts out, “Do you remember…?”

How could I forget?