Persephone Abbott

Idle Opportunities – Meeting a Parisian Man

Posted on February 8, 2024

Cynthia Murray moved to Paris to become an opera singer and escape her dysfunctional Californian family. The problem is some of the family escaped with her to Europe, and now she’s scrambling to find new ways to take her career to the next level. But will she manage to circumvent the family dramas and create a solid musical foundation for herself? Set in 1992 Idle Opportunities lifts the curtain to reveal the backstage antics of the opera student world and the drama of a blended Californian family that holds a DNA mystery. The story unfolds as Cynthia moves between Paris and the Netherlands, culminating in an opera production of The Magic Flute. Excerpt read by Persephone Abbott

Bucket List?

Posted on February 6, 2024

Visiting all 50 states is not really on my bucket list, but studies show that out of 50 states, 8 is the average number most Americans have visited. Sadly, many never leave the state in which they were born. Directions: Put an X by all the states you have been to. Put a XX where you have lived. Just going through an airport doesn’t count but driving through a state does. The average is 8 for Americans and for Europeans the average is 10 (this last statement is heresay and constitutes wild boasting).@Veronica Gilbert
1 Alabama X - Ah, in our early thirties we were coasting through the Redneck Riviera coincidentally around spring break time and my ex cohabitant with his age defying hyperdermis was carded. I wasn't.

2 Alaska - No, but about a hundred years ago, one of my relatives got mauled by a bear up there. Might have even been one relative on each side. People still talk about these bears + their mauling.

3 Arizona X During the Four Corners Manhunt back in the day, my ex cohabitant and myself were in a white rental car, driving out to Hopi and then back north down nearly washed out dirt roads, listening to the Navajo radio stations as one does. Once we had gotten to Hopi, we figured out that the only reason we were there is because growing up I had heard that word "Hopi" way too many times. On the way back north, I was deeply concerned about driving over a booby trap and being blown up under the clouds hanging in the sky. Memorable.

4 Arkansas - Naw

5 California XX God help me. In the 70's and 80's and still a minor. And, to my credit, I didn't run away from home. But I think I got the essence of dysfunctional CA in my novel Idle Opportunities (available on Amazon).

6 Colorado X Sigh. There was that last time, we just couldn't get out of that state (in a white rental car) fast enough. We walked down the driveway, started the car, pulled up twenty feet to the stop sign, my ex cohabitant turned to me from behind the wheel and said, "I am glad we are not staying another day." I sat in silence, still in shock from the night before.

7 Connecticut X Sadly we did not visit Mark Twain's house. I regret this now. This could have been a great opportunity to get into an altercation with my ex cohabitant, who had never and I am guessing still has never read any Mark Twain, about tourist activities while on vacation. In fact I think I started down that road of contention but then somehow I thought that it wasn't worth the hassle and gave up. So it might be all on me that I didn't set foot in Mark Twain's house. I just might not have had enough breath that day to argue hard for the sake of literature. Where was the spirit of Mark Twain that morning?

8 Delaware X ....and I'll leave it at that

9 Florida X - I've always enjoyed Florida. Despite my initial reservations back in 1997 on my first visit, I've found it a wonderful place spend time in.  (And I am not one to be found the attraction parks or at the beach.) 

10 Georgia X Well, once while in Atlanta I had time on my hands and my ex cohabitant was off to an electricity plant in a white rental car or it might have been a big black ten seater van paid for by GE and so I decided to head to a mall somewhere, maybe in Marietta, for a few hours. As I walked across the street from the hotel towards the shopping center, an African American man came up to me. He was deeply concerned and said, "Why you walking, lady?" I informed him, no worries, that I was just going to the mall and pointed at the building in front of us. "You shouldn't be walking, ma'am." I thanked him for his sound advice.

11 Hawaii Soooo, my Uncle Harold is buried under a breadfruit tree in Hawaii. The consensus in the family is that we don't know which breadfruit tree. Sometimes I think it would be nice to go visit with him, but it's a very vague notion. 

12 Idaho X I still remember that lunch stop in Coeur D'Alene. I had a sandwich. With chips. It was pleasant. We got back in the car. It might have not been a white rental car. It might have been red. It was my turn driving and I had heard about the speed limit in Montana. My foot hit the gas pedal once we crossed the state line. 

13 Illinois X I had prepared myself well for Chicago. I had even prepared my ex cohabitant well. We went to see the Wright House without having a heated discussion about this outing beforehand. You see, it's all about educating oneself to the manner in which information can be taken in while educating one's loved ones about what they should be looking for in cultural occasions.

14 Indiana X - This is where desperation comes in when planning a road trip, because there are miles and miles to cover and something to make it worthwhile is needed. Indiana Wine Country. Need I say more. 

15 Iowa X Spent some time, more than an hour, in Pella, named after Decapolis, which is rather deceptive because the abbreviated place was founded by Dutch immigrants.

16 Kansas - See it was a choice of Kansas or Nebraska and NB won. Primarily because of the sod hut museum-pit stop. Gotta know your priorities when you plan a road trip.

17 Kentucky - Nope. But I still remember this vapid singer at college who was from the state. Wonder what happened to her. What was her name? Can't remember her face but she had thick hips. Liked to chat. Also had difficulty reading music. We think about this differently now.

18 Louisiana X So many great times in this state. There was that NYE on the bayou where Nathan and His Zydeco Cha Chas were playing and the venue hadn't sold hardly any tickets (unfortunately for them). But we had a great time and, yes, they played, "Follow me chicken on out to the barn".  And it was the one night of my life when my father danced with me. If I had to live in the states, I might  consider living in Lousiana.

19 Maine - X (Post Gluten Intolerance Diagnosis) Now this is where I had done my research. We pulled up to the roadside restaurant along the coast. It had a sign that said, "Lobster Rollls". I led my ex cohabitant to the counter. I watched him eat a lobster roll. I asked him, "Is it good?" and he shrugged his shoulders.

20 Maryland X -- Oh my, out of the fog of the past lodged somewhere in my mind, I once visited Peabody for an interview. I was seventeen and had just returned from an AFS experience in Germany. I stumbled out of the train station, down some ragged streets, fearful of rats leaping out at me, and then gazed in astonishment at the administrator who was not impressed by my stilted conversation. To my defense, I was having a hard time figuring out where the heck I was at that moment.  Later I located the waterfront and ate a crab cake.

21 Massachusetts X Saw The Rock at P. Didn't exactly know what to think about this matter. 2+2 wasn't equating 4 and it wasn't for lack of trying.

22 Michigan X (Post Gluten Intolerance Diagnosis) Now this is where, again, I had done my research. We pulled up to the roadside restaurant in Upper Michigan. It had a sign that said, "Pasties". I led my ex cohabitant to the counter. I watched him eat a pasty (pronounced pass-tee). I asked him, "Is it good?" and he shrugged his shoulders.

23 Minnesota - Stayed with well-to-do relatives during my school breaks from conservatory, got dropped off at a mall once with the only twenty dollar bill I owned and it was in my wallet and when I climbed out of the back seat I was told, "Now don't spend ALL your money in one place, sweetie!" Then the Jaguar rolled away and I went to Ross and bought myself a pale yellow skirt suit for nine dollars. Thin cotton with little black swirls typical of the 1980's and the gear of a dentist receptionist. I have no idea what I thought I would eventually end up doing in life and I remember pulling the clothes out of the bag and putting them on like they were a costume. Did I like them? No. Did I think that they looked good on me? No. But they seemed to impart something decent that people would recognize, at least in the midwest. And, in those days, I wore curlers at night. 

24 Mississippi X Greenville + Soul Food + 1997 You have to picture it. There we were, once again in a white rental car, and I was looking for soul food and had read Fodor's guidebook. We followed directions to Doe's Eat Place. I was feeling uneasy, given the neighborhood. We pulled up. A truck was parked out in front of the place, in the flatboard bed of the truck was a lawn chair, in the lawn chair was a white man in overalls with a shot gun across his lap. I turned to my ex cohabitant and for the first time in my life said, "Park the car. He's got a gun." (Note: per YouTube evidence these days, there's a sheriff parked out front of the establishment.)

25 Missouri - Nope

26 Montana X Just one of those oddball experiences and memories that made a serious impact on my life fifteen years afterward. I've been writing about it. "At that point, a day after eating Uncle Woody’s famous potato sausages at the family reunion in 1980 on Vickery Ave, Polly was traveling over highway I-90 through the dead of night in Great Uncle Baby Jimmy’s camper on her way to the town of Superior in Montana." Cut to 1997 when, in the dawn of internet, I called a phone number listed in Superior Montana attached to a name that I recognized and said I was looking for my grandmother. She called me right back.

27 Nebraska - Lincoln! Now there was a place, we were travelling in a white rental car from west to east, that hands down me and my ex cohabitant both agreed that it was time for a museum. After hours of flat horizon, even he came to the conclusion that Something Must Be Out There To Look At. I just remember that the cultural and art area had a lot of cement involved, and not just the parking lot.

28 Nevada X There was a time when my father was poet-in-residence in Nevada, teaching at schools. This was back when I was about eleven. He took me with him to NV once during the school year. I don't know what town it was but it was his last day on the poet in residence tour. Just before we got back in the beaten up Ford Maverick to drive to CA, the kids at school decided to throw a farewell party. Keith made sure that I sampled the honey and peanutbutter on a saltine and showed my appreciation of the spread before he got behind the wheel, put on a 9 track tape of Ry Cooder and with great determination headed west. 

29 New Hampshire X I remember Vermont.

30 New Jersey X Memorable 40th birthday, just recently came across the photos again....

31 New Mexico X Was rereading my old 1983 diaries and discovered that I went sheep herding in New Mexico more than once during my stay. For all these years I was convinced that I had followed a flock of sheep while on the back of a horse for one day only. Apparently.....okay well I think the time that I ate a can of fruit cocktail while on horseback on a Navajo Reservation in front of a flock of sheep while drivers of the trucks appearing in the far distance slowed to a stop, plumes of dust raising behind them, to make sure that they were not hallucinating, was foremost lodged in my memory and took precedent over the other times when I wasn't eating a can of fruit cocktail on a horse. 

32 New York X In 2021 I was all on my own for two weeks, the first visit to the Big Apple unattached, free to decide what I wanted to do or not do and I had a blast walking around and meeting friends and family. Freedom, FREedom, FREEDOM....

33 North Carolina X It was at a Holiday Inn on the coast. They offered activities to guests. I was treading water and the instructor of the water aerobics session, wearing a swim cap and nose clip and lipstick, peppered her class with phrases like "now remember  to flap your little angel wings!" She demonstrated this with a big smile while squeezing and blinking her eyes to avoid splashing water.
34 North Dakota - I am afraid not.

35 Ohio XX I occasionally spent the night on a brown plaid couch owned by a family of Jehovah's witnesses who had about ten kids whose names all started with L. 

36 Oklahoma  - No. 

37 Oregon X Classic. 2 am in Denny's in Roseburg. The kind of moment I think is always iconic, sitting behind a mountain of chopped lettuce ("that salad is bigger than your head" my ex cohabitant noted dryly). Every time I am stateside, I just think "there's always Denny's when all else fails". 

38 Pennsylvania X Absolutely 100% fail here, yes we had an giant argument in front of the queue at the Independence National Historical Park. I thought we should see the museum, my ex cohabitant thought otherwise. He didn't see the point. I hadn't prepped him because it seemed a no brainer to me. For the life of me I don't know what I missed out on, so I guess he might have made the better assessment.

39 Rhode Island X I believe we had lunch in Providence but maybe we just drove over a big bridge. 

40 South Carolina X I'd love to return any time! Three times is just not enough to satisfy my craving for boiled shrimp or boiled peanuts or looking at Charleston and all those handyman vans parked out front, making repair calls on the old mansions. 

41 South Dakota X Yes, absolutely -- even had a beer at an American Legion Bar one early evening. It was a quiet place at that moment in time. I had no idea of what to do, but my ex cohabitant handled it well.

42 Tennessee X Oh my, it was raining hard in the Smokey Mountains and there was no turning back the bad tempers in the white rental car either.

43 Texas X Christ. I nearly wanted to jump out of the car and climb the chain mail fence to get into the parking lot of the cruise terminal while holding my luggage in one hand all thanks to the final thirty agonizing minutes of that last disastrous trip to see my ex cohabitant's inlaws who were cocked and loaded. 

44 Utah X Bad planning. Spent most of the night driving through this wonderously beautiful state, worried about hitting a deer or more than one deer due to the numerous amounts of deer hanging around the roadsides.

45 Vermont X You see, there was this really fluffly big old cat at the farm that sold maple candy in the basement. A massive cat that was more than ready for the snow. That, my friends, was Vermont.

46 Virginia X Not a clue to what happened there. Nada.

47 Washington X The mystery was finally solved when my step-grandfather showed me the way to the Almond Rocca factory store where they sold seconds. And then I knew where my grandmother had sourced all those goodies......That was a mini Willy Wonka experience. I had no idea that Almond Rocca came in those kinds of variations. I can't wait to go back.

48 West Virginia X See, no idea about this matter of Virginia or West Virginia. Might have stopped for gas.

49 Wisconsin X We didn't see Taliesin. I don't think you need to hear my explanation. Bummer, though. 

50 Wyoming X Saw a rodeo there. We were informed that to practice roping a calf, the contestants first drove their mail delivery vehicles real slow down the the shoulder of the road and then jumped out to wrestle mail boxes. At the time it seemed to make sense, in a way, but it also seemed a little extreme. 

51 Washington DC There was that evening when we all went to a club and I couldn't manage the noise, the people or being there at all. Now, why did I think it was a good idea? What possessed me? But there we have it: I went to a Club in Washington DC. Let me see, where else did I go to a club? One time in Singapore, once in San's definitely not a long list. But DC: checkeroo! And I think we all had to leave early because of me.

Lamento: All That I Read

Posted on January 22, 2024

All that I read
is not my story
piled under pieces
of furniture I’ve
collected books from 
other people’s bookshelves like 
the air delivers dust and in my
home it gathers in the form of 
blocks of prose 
behind my reading chair
under the wardrobe
jammed against the wall
between the kitchen and the bathroom
just in case I might pause 
midway for some literature.

This week I finally
cracked open a 1960’s pelican
Hypnosis: Fact and Fiction
reminding me of 
Mel Brook’s “Get Smart”
so unlike today’s 
mindfulness courses
and fentanyl addictions 
back then in Cold War time
a spy could be managed 
by another’s persuasion
sent off to deliver ciphers
that might save the world
pigeon carrier style
strapped to a hippocampus
besides everyone was  
on their own for anesthesia 
when they caught some spot of
women’s trouble and no one 
was listening and everyone 
lay prone as the soft shuffle of feet 
faded down the white corridor

From under an old sled 
a hardcover called out
I turned my attention to “I.M.”
a love story  – did Connie Palmen
open her old agendas and write
vignettes about her dead lover
- a man who interviewed others -
to carefully construct and reconstruct
“I love you - you loved me”???
it was charming, at least
the fourth that I read in which
the author apologized for
writing the novel, divorcing
herself from her critics 

This same week I also felt I ought to 
examine the three volumes of 
The Book Collector, a quarterly review
hiding under a yoga accessory
the publications looked so exciting
in their solid colors so
chock a block full of 2017 knowledge
I accessed merely by opening 
a cover and stepping into an all male
old world appreciation where 
15th century books on medicine
were sold for astronomical sums
even though the content was ludicrous
serving no purpose but to show how
laughable the notion of education
became and the danger of being
an expert when the bottom
could fall out at any moment
but the leather binding retained a 
je-ne-sais-quoi of irresistible mystique
to be caressed and possessed

Pausing my lecture, I looked up
with some consternation and dread,
anticipating the gaze of the man 
behind the counter at The Book Exchange 
who never knew what to expect when 
I walked in the door and who always said, 
“Thank you for bringing these in,” 
after handing me some spare change
for my troubles.

Mending the Blue Sky: A Postcard Short

Posted on January 6, 2024

In 2016 the book “A Sample of Gouda” with photographs by Vinita Salome and postcard short texts by Persephone Abbott was published by Carl Bink Printing Press, and edited by John Graham-King from AngloINFO South Holland. The texts were inspired from the 2013 publication of “Gouda: City of 126 Nationalities”. In the book “A Sample of Gouda” I explore the identities of the local people of Gouda and the expat community or visitors to Gouda from other cultures. Here is the first story called: Mending the Blue Sky which touches on the Dutch colonization of Indonesia and the old fashioned heavily Protestant community in Gouda.

In Memoriam P. B. 1939 – 2023

Posted on December 25, 2023

The Best Cup of Coffee in the World

It was most delicious - especially
prepared for me by a dying man
bone china he said tapping the saucer
bought two cups in France
souvenirs sourced at a thrift shop
you can’t find such nice ones 
here in the Netherlands
He was standing in his kitchen
managing the coffee machine
a one cup of coffee at a time type 
he’d been on his own quite some years

By all accounts my exfatherinlaw
should not have been standing in front of 
his coffee machine on his own two feet
but he even had a little bit of oat milk left

I noticed the fridge needed cleaning
a smattering of fuzzies caught my eye 
as I closed the door 

He frothed the milk up and poured it out
I set the cup on the saucer
then he sat down in front of the large 
infrared panel my ex promptly secured
when the patient discharged himself 
that week from the hospital 
heading back to his underheated home

Fifteen degrees is fine he said one year
it turned out that seventeen 
was even finer the next

Nothing wrong with me 
I want to play my oboe he said 
to the doctors who mouthed 
the word hospice and had already 
prescribed large quantities of morphine.

I eyed the unopened boxes 
lying on the kitchen counter

He watched me drink my coffee
I find that I drink my coffee 
really slow now he said
like I have all the time in the world

Out of the blue diagnosis
one week left to live

No need to rush I said
savoring my cup of coffee
he set his oboe reed in water

Upstairs he played through his pieces 
sitting behind him I didn’t correct 
the rhythmic mistakes I thought 
he sounded fine in the flow

When playing the oboe 
between the tumor in his belly 
and the rest of the bronchitis 
took too much out of him
he picked up his trombone
bought at a second hand store
in Rotterdam - only a hundred euros - 
and played the start of Adeste Fideles 
how does it go he asked
I picked up the tune where he’d left off
and sang the line for him 
we started the verse again
together we went through
a whole stanza because he wasn’t 
going to the church in ten days time
to play his trombone

Dreams of Paris in the Hospice

Do you think
I asked my exfatherinlaw 
time is passing slowly or quickly
he sat still for a while
I don’t know he finally said 
in the brown and orange hospice room
and then dozed off in his chair

Did you dream?
I asked when he opened his eyes
I dreamt of Paris he told me

Hearing those words
I thought it would be mighty fine
if dying meant to dream of Paris
where time passed 
neither slowly nor quickly

But let’s not kid ourselves 
he suffered horribly
I was scared to death 
he said to me, returning from emptying
his stomach into the bathroom sink,
that I wouldn’t make it in time
behind his head the blue and white tiles

Dudok in Rotterdam in December in Tears

I sat down at a small table,
anticipating the two-hour-trip
back to Amsterdam and ordered:
slices of deer 
mashed potatoes
and, Dutch style, red cabbage

I wasn’t too crazy about the red cabbage,
a sweetened winter dish, 
but my exfatherinlaw always exclaimed,
 “Ah, rodekool!” with such pleasure
and out of of nostalgia I just wanted to say
“I’ll have the special of the day, please.”

Trying to get my thoughts together
 - I ordered a white wine by mistake -
Dudok, when I was twenty-six, had been 
 - listened to the melange of voices and - 
the place of courtship and warmth 
 - rattling dishes and unobtrusive music -
at a time when I hadn’t much of anything 

Sitting there alone, in my inner ear
I heard my exfatherinlaw protest, 
as usual, after we would point out 
that he had paired the wrong wine - 
“Ach - het smakt prima!”

The Time He Took Orange Juice to the Airport

It’s not a great story
and it’s hardly worth

He’d poured orange juice
into his breakfast cereal
that morning, aiming 
to use up the carton while
at my friends’ apartment
in Greenwich Village

I found him looking 
vexed in the kitchen
when I came to ask 
about his luggage 

In the back of the yellow cab
he gingerly set his black backpack 
down on the seat next to me, 
patted it lovingly and smiled

Rhino Ritz: An American Mystery read by Persephone Abbott

Posted on December 10, 2023

Here I start a series of videos in which I read and explain Keith Abbott’s novel “Rhino Ritz: An American Mystery with Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein & friends” (1979). Plot: The Classic American Authors are immortalized and living happily ever after in Paris – recently relocated in downtown San Francisco. Then Sherwood Anderson disappears. Ernest “Rhino” Hemingway and F. Scott “Ritz” Fitzgerald form the Rhino Ritz Detective Agency to track him down. The plot heats up when Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Tolkas are abducted by Japanese terrorists, who force Ms. Stein to write their communique – which no one understands. In the end, after many misadventures, our heroes stumble onto a siniter conspiracy involving the future of American Literature.

Persephone Reads the Opening Paragraph Aloud

Posted on October 13, 2023

Do you suffer from nerves at auditions? What can be done about this matter? What do opera singers do? Idle Opportunities, a comic novel, reveals just how bad things can get when you’re trying to make it in the opera world. Available on Amazon. Synopsis: Cynthia Murray moved to Paris to become an opera singer and escape her dysfunctional Californian family. The problem is some of the family escaped with her to Europe, and now she’s scrambling to find new ways to take her career to the next level. But will she manage to circumvent the family dramas and create a solid musical foundation for herself? Set in 1992 Idle Opportunities lifts the curtain to reveal the backstage antics of the opera student world and the drama of a blended Californian family that holds a DNA mystery. The story unfolds as Cynthia moves between Paris and the Netherlands, culminating in an opera production of The Magic Flute. Available on Amazon in paperback, ebook and Kind Unlimited.

Keith Abbott reading his poems in 1975

Posted on September 26, 2023

I was recently reading some of my father’s poems that were published in a collection called Putty.  And today I found a video on YouTube of Keith reading from this book in 1975.

I happen to own the copy that he dedicated to his parents-in-law, Hannah and Lloyd Hansen, in 1971, the year we were living in Bellingham, Washington not far from Tacoma.

Keith, recollections from his daughter

Posted on September 16, 2023

Keith Abbott, Poet and Writer
Recollections from his Daughter

I am unable to remember when I met my father.
He told me he recalled the moment even though
The nurse thrust a substance upon his person
To keep him (well mustached at 23 years of age) from fainting
And falling on the hospital floor in a heap.
He admitted he liked both:
The baby and the intervention.
It was a good day.

I remember my father busy in the mornings writing something important.
Then he’d come out of his lair for coffee.
He was adored and admired for his charm and wit but he also drank coffee.
He ground the beans first.
It’s not a secret to making good coffee.

When I was a young girl, my father sometimes invited me
To go with him to the municipal dump.
I thought it was very exciting and I always said yes.
I also hung around him and his buddy Richard, who bought me
Steamed clams in Chinatown, but only occasionally so I
Didn’t miss too much school. But I
Tended not to go to school before lunchtime anyway.

My father and I enjoyed Amtrak together.
Multiple times.

My father taught me the best way to collect money at a golf club.
He’d never taken a short iron rod in a brown paper bag to a golf course,
But he thought I should know about golfers’ kneecaps
As part of my education.

When I was fourteen my father bought me a piano,
And, circumventing the school system, he found me private
French lessons. Following up on these two notions later:
I moved to Paris and studied music. Simple as that.

I once asked him what he thought about reincarnation.
He stared at me and did not utter a single word.
I believe he had a point.

The last thing he wrote me was a postcard of a stone frog. It said:
“Persephone I’ve got a place in the CHOIR!”
“I can’t wait!!” he added along with a large splat of ink at the end.
Then he croaked.

Tears ran into my coffee
Feeling salty, I took the dog to the park.
She likes the park and I do too.
She’s slow, selective of hearing, bow legged,
Benefits from poor eyesight and just like my premonition
I watched her slide from behind a favored tree down the slope
Enacting the part of a slow motion replay
Plonk into the canal, panic registering in her cloudy eyes.
It figures, I thought, that I end up jumping into an Amsterdam canal
The day my father is cremated,
Separate elements, each of us chasing a dog.

Keith Abbott, poet and writer