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Beware, take care, strange things are happening….

Muriel2017

photo by Chandra Joy

We live in a rain forest. We’re used to rain. We have umbrellas and rain jackets and are okay with getting wet. What seems different is the amount of fog we’ve been experiencing. When I see it through my window, I recall with nostalgia the horror films I enjoyed as a kid. Those films usually had fog in them so creatures could emerge from the dark woods or the ‘deep lagoon’.

belalugosi

I remember Bela Lugosi as a vampire

The films I liked best were in black and white and most often featured that fog — I think they played them on TV. Some of the actors I saw were Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and who could forget ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ on TV (1955-1965) or his oh-so-famous ‘Psycho’? (1960)

Peter Lorre #2

Peter Lorre

Creepy Peter Lorre’s whining, groveling voice alone could make my blood curdle. He often played assistant to a mad scientist — there were so many mad scientists in those plots. I believe I saw him eating spiders in a film once. (Is that true or did my head make it up?)

Old Horror films could be a little scary, but not as terrifying as the ones they make today. You could always back off if you felt too uneasy, (and I did) and say to yourself: ‘This isn’t real. It can’t be

Mummy#2

Mummy in tattered bandages

real.’ After all, no self-respecting mummy would appear in those hanging tattered bandages. What kind of mummy fashion statement would that make?

Now horror films are not as much fun for the likes of chickens like me. They’re way too realistic and gory, and too scary to be fun.

Bela Lugosi appeared in ‘Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man’, ‘Ghosts on the Loose’ and ‘Return of the Vampire’ all made in 1943; ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ and ‘One Body Too Many’ followed in 1944. They surely cranked them out quickly. Lugosi starred in many other films until he became addicted to Morphine and became unreliable. (Morphine made me sick when I had surgery in 2017 — perhaps a lucky thing.)

boriskarloff as Frankenstein

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein

‘The Haunted Strangler’ (1958) starred Boris Karloff. In it a dead strangler possesses a researcher. Karloff scared me again in ‘Corridors of Blood’ that year, in which a doctor becomes addicted to anesthetic. The title I so like ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (1954) is once again about scientists, who try to capture the beast for study.

Elegant-vincent-price

Always elegant Vincent Price

The oh-so-distinguished Vincent Price, a favorite, could make me cringe just by introducing a show. Price starred in ‘The Fly’ (1958). Again, another unfortunate scientist has an accident with a teleportation device — whatever that is. (Scientists sure got into a lot of trouble.) Price then appeared in ‘The Return of the Fly’ (1959) probably because kids like me loved ‘The Fly’ to begin with. He was a real talent and appeared in ‘The House of Wax’, ‘Tales of Terror’ along with Peter Lorre, and ‘The House on Haunted Hill’, ‘The House of Usher’ and many more.

We were innocent and easily taken in. They created zombies, ghosts, vampires, mummies, and creatures of all kinds who most often appeared through fog, the same kind of fog we’re having right now. What fun. I love it.

CINEMA-FILES-BIO-HITCHCOCK-BIRDS

Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) during the shooting of his movie ‘The Birds’.

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‘The last time I saw Paris….’

photo by Susan Kauffmann

photo by Susan Kauffmann

9 a.m.: Installed on a bench, I’m pouring over the map of the famous Pere

Through the Chunnel, 1st class boring, regular class more fun

Through the Chunnel, 1st class boring, regular class more fun

Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Friends in England teased me about wanting to visit nothing but dead people. Indeed,

I had taken the Chunnel from London to Paris solely for this reason. It is where the likes of Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Bizet, Chopin, Isadora Duncan, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Marcel

The famous 12th century philosopher Abelard & his Heloise, at last united in death

The famous 12th century philosopher Abelard & his Heloise, at last united in death

Proust, Simone Signoret, Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde are buried. Here the 12th century lovers Peter Abelard and Heloise were finally united in death.

If I pay proper homage and breath deeply at the gravesides of these brilliant/talented people, I might even absorb a little of their creativity. I mark the location of each grave I want to see and select the most logical route along Avenue des Peupliers towards Bizet’s final resting place. Just in case no one else has, I tell him his opera ‘Carmen’ (which he believed ‘a definite and hopeless flop’) is popular, famous and beloved today, 130 years later.

Frederic Chopin's tomb, Pere Lachaise cemetery

Frederic Chopin’s tomb, Pere Lachaise cemetery

That duty dispensed with, I turn onto Avenue des Ailantes, looking for Balzac’s grave. What is this? Right between Bizet and Balzac is an ancient, moss-covered tomb with my own family’s surname on it! If I had a name like ‘Smith’, I wouldn’t have given it a thought, but my maiden name ‘Ruch’ is not common. My dad, who immigrated to Canada from Lithuania during the 1920s wasn’t in touch with family left behind, and none lived where I grew up in Montreal.

Was it possible? Could it be? Was I walking around with the same genes as the people in this very tomb? I drop onto a nearby bench contemplating this unexpected turn of events, giving thought to the family I have never known. Unbidden, tears run down my cheeks. I approach the tomb and run my fingers along the rusted gate. I peer within the dark interior, but nothing is revealed. Without flowers to leave behind, I pick up a small pebble from the ground and carefully balance it on the peaked roof as a sign of my visit. Perhaps it is still there today.

Sarah Bernhardt's grave at Pere Lachaise

Sarah Bernhardt’s grave

After whispering goodbye to the “Famille J. Ruch” ghosts, I continue on my way, but that tomb won’t leave me alone. I visit each grave marked on my map, yet questions continue to plague me. How many relatives survived World War II? Where are they? What are they like? Do we look alike? Do any share my interests as well as my genes? Would I like them if I knew them? Would they like me?? How do you locate family you don’t even know?

Later, by mere chance, a friend told me about a genealogy website. I found it, typed in my maiden name and – hey, someone else was looking for people with the same name. I immediately sent off an email to Amanda, who lives in Longmeadow, MA. (USA). We ARE related; our grandmothers were sisters. She has created a family tree and because we found each other, she was able to fill in a few blanks. Amanda sent me a copy. When it arrived, I quickly tore the package open and set to work taping all 20 pages together. There, in black and white, were names and locations of dozens of relatives — in South Africa, Australia, England, Israel, Canada, and the U.S. Some had been murdered during WWII. One, whose dear ones had all perished took his own life; some made it through. Their tragedies and triumphs are, in part, my own.

An inquiry went off to Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Could they put me in touch with any descendants of ‘Famille J. Ruch’? They didn’t respond, after all it IS a very old tomb. And, are Amanda and I alike? Well, both of us are writers…..

Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Full of surprises

Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Full of surprises