Hot for Granny

February 25, 2012

It’s unusually sunny and warm here, and so it seems everyone has grabbed a few pairs of shorts and t-shirts from the seasonal storage bin and set forth in all their pale-skinned, under-moisturized glory.  But have you noticed how difficult it is to remain age-appropriate when dressing for warmer weather?  The conservative couple who normally jog past my house wearing head-to-toe Nike branded track suits, socks, gloves and hats are suddenly wearing less than Victoria’s Secret models, albeit still the Nike brand (because one has to maintain standards).  And I’ve recently noticed several lanky young boys in my neighborhood wearing the type of check shirt and boy scout shorts normally associated with Beaver Cleaver, only to discover upon closer inspection that the youths were in fact in their mid forties or older. Of course the high priestess of age-inappropriate attire is Madonna, who is the subject of my latest column in the Star.  By traipsing around like a teen trollop during the Super Bowl, she has been directly responsible for accelerating my own aging process, and for keeping me out of my favorite 1975 vintage tank top and short shorts, to the relief of my neighbors, I’m certain.  Read Hot for Granny in the Star.

Up the Valley: Hot for Granny

The saying goes “you’re only as old as you feel,” or “as young as you feel” or somesuch. I would suggest, based on recent events, that sometimes “you are only as old as other people make you feel.”

Fortunately, most of the time, we Napa Valley citizens of a certain age feel pretty good about growing older. Not for us the obsessions of our California neighbors to the South, who greet advancing age with a dread we reserve for incoming swarms of glassy-winged sharpshooters. Here the concept of aging has more positive connotations: like a bottle of wine, its naïve sharp edges gradually softened by the wisdom of time, we ripen and mature naturally, becoming more complex and nuanced and hopefully less fruity. Resisting that process would be like Botox-ing a wrinkled prune.

Still, I’m surprised by how infrequently the subject of age arises in conversation here; remarkably less so than when I was working in theater surrounded by actors. And one rarely suffers the reminder of spotting 20-somethings tarted up for a night of partying into the wee hours, the wee being way early in these parts. Plus, so many locals are perfectly preserved specimens — at least that’s the impression I’ve formed as they jog briskly past me Saturday mornings — the impossibly fit women and their spry older gentlemen with their muscular dogs. Yes, I realize that my headband with pony tail may be age-inappropriate, that many of the clothes I’ve worn since high school are now collectible vintage treasures, and that I will soon be eligible for the senior discount at the Cameo Cinema. But so long as Cher and Susan Lucci remain ageless and Eddie at Market still greets me with “Hello, Gorgeous,” I will carry on in blissful ignorance of the passage of time.

That was until Super Bowl Sunday 2012.  I missed the game, so it was indeed a rude awakening Monday morning when I discovered that, overnight, my youth was gone, my middle age terminated, and I had been officially declared an elderly geriatric senior. You see, Madonna, who entertained and/or annoyed an audience of 114 million during the half-time show, was born in 1958 just like me. And word was spreading like a bad rash all over television and the Internet that a woman our age was old, finished, kaput.

Americans might disagree on many things, but they were united in their opinion that Madonna’s ability at 53 to dance around and shake her hiney in 5-inch heels was not only unnatural and unseemly, it was a major medical miracle. Great. Just as cradle-snatching Demi Moore and bikini-rocking Helen Mirren had finally established that sex appeal could flourish in a woman’s late 40s and well beyond, Madonna comes along and prompts a collective pronouncement that our precise birthday marks the point when desirability reaches its expiration date.

Still, I sympathize with the old girl. She put on one heck of a show, yet was upstaged by a younger singer’s obscene gesture — I’m sure she wistfully recalls a time when she was the most obscene thing onstage. Even dignified dowager newsgoddess Diane Sawyer quoted a viewer who said Madonna’s performance “was like watching your grandmother flirt with the pool boy.” Let’s compare this reaction, shall we, to Steven Tyler’s appearances on American Idol? Now Steven is 10 years older than Madonna and me, but younger than Mick and Rod, and only a 6 on the Keith Richards scale of decrepitude. Still, teenage contestants “ooh” and “aah” for the cameras about how cute and sexy he is and how much they want him. And not once have I heard anyone express shock or awe at his ability to dance around and shake his hiney in 5-inch heels.

As for Madonna, I cringed a bit watching replays as she danced in a cheerleader’s costume, her frozen face and shellacked locks staying absolutely still as her legs and pom poms twirled wildly around her. But no one deserves reviews ranging from “I hope I look that good when I’m that old” to “there was an unmistakably musty grandma smell in her aging act.” Nor, come to think of it, do I deserve to be lumped together with toned and tightened Madonna, since I prefer to preserve my youthful patina by packing a few extra pounds on my frame.

Then again, Madonna and I never did have much besides chronology in common, although I do enjoy dancing around to music in my underwear, despite the fact that no one has yet paid millions of dollars to watch me do so (but hope springs eternal). And that would make me feel so young.

(Laura Rafaty is the owner of, a resident of St. Helena, an attorney and former theatrical producer, and an author and columnist.  Read more at


Blue Skies

February 10, 2012

I recently wrote a column for the Star wherein I noted the mixed feelings with which locals have been greeting this unusually warm winter weather.  It seems that blue skies in January and abundant sunshine in February are viewed as signs of impending doom — more than one neighbor wondered aloud whether the plague of locusts was imminent.  You will be happy to know that I took immediate action:  I washed and waxed my car, ran my sprinklers, raised my market umbrella, and placed a favorite cushion on the lounger outside.  As a result, the rain and cold weather have returned.  You’re welcome, St. Helena!

Up the valley: Blue Skies

I was out walking the other day, enjoying another of the glorious unseasonably sunny winter afternoons with which we’ve recently been blessed. Meeting one of my St. Helena neighbors, I remarked: “Beautiful day, isn’t it? Can you believe this weather?”

The response I received was fairly typical of the reaction I’ve been hearing around town as one dry, warm winter day blends into another:

“Oh yes, it’s incredible. It’s gorgeous! We’re so lucky. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m getting some exercise and working in the garden and even wearing shorts. In January! Although it’s awfully cold at night. And of course, we really do need some rain. And I have to admit: it has me worried. Why all this sunshine in January, anyway? Is it global warming? I’m so concerned about the birds and the squirrels and the poor polar bears swimming to their melting icebergs. And my plants are terribly confused. My gardenia has buds and I still had tomatoes last week and just as everything blooms the frost will kill it all. Oh no, this can’t be good. I mean, if we don’t have winter now, this probably means that we will have it later, instead of summer, and that will be bad for the grapes and then the tourists won’t come. And all that rain too late in the season will probably make the rivers flood and the levees fail. Or maybe we’ll miss winter altogether and go straight into summer. Oh no, that won’t be good for the grapes and we’ll be overrun by tourists. And there will probably be a drought and the water rates will skyrocket. This weather is just awful, isn’t it? Well, I’m off to the pool … Bye!”

It seems that many Napa Valley residents these days are afflicted with the same strain of temporary weather-related bipolar disorder, and it’s easy to understand why. A handful of sunny days tossed into a wintry season are one thing; a few dry days can be tabulated and measured against prior years without shattering too many records. But the sun, the smells, the blossoms, week after week — it’s positively unnerving. Is it because we are so disillusioned and despairing of the cloudy economic climate that we no longer believe in blue skies? Do we worry that this is some meteorological version of the housing bubble, and that newscasters will soon be “tsk tsk’ing” those of us who foolishly basked in the sunshine without appropriately assessing the climatic consequences?

Or is it that residents of the wine country, which depends upon agriculture for its livelihood, suffer the effects of weather anomalies directly, and accordingly greet a sunny January with the shrewd professional skepticism of farmers who fear that Mother Nature has misplaced her barometer, almanac and 2012 desk calendar?

Perhaps our unhappy reaction to this happy weather simply speaks to the connection between the Napa Valley’s residents and the bountiful and beautiful surroundings. We feel deep affection, mostly, for our wildlife and flowers and trees and vineyards, and live our lives in comfortingly predictable rhythm with the seasons, from the planting to the harvest. Any atmospheric disturbance of that delicate natural harmony is alarming.

By contrast, city dwellers in New York and San Francisco may be surrounded by nature’s splendor, but they tend to discuss weather

mainly in terms of inconvenience. A New York blizzard means the subways won’t run and the taxis won’t come, and rain in San Francisco provides a bone-chilling wind-whipped horizontal drenching that must be endured several times daily for weeks at a time. But in St. Helena, residents remind me that heavy seasonal rain means plenty of water for wine, greet a hard frost with anticipation of better blooming bulbs and lilacs in spring, and view a late summer heat wave as the perfect excuse to drink rosé before 5 p.m.

Of course, I have my own concerns about all this surplus sunshine. It has obviously led to numerous instances of people wearing shorts and t-shirts when their blanched, bristly limbs were clearly unprepared for this level of exposure.

And I have observed the inevitable return of the flip flops and strappy sandals regrettably paired with wool scarves and heavy sweaters, making the wearers look as if they just awoke from a coma, having commenced dressing in June and completing their ensembles in January. But overall I’m grateful for this stolen summer, knowing that true winter will return and depart again, but I will always have the memory of seeing my pale post-holiday-binge body in a bathing suit in December. And that’s what I call unseasonable.

(Laura Rafaty is the owner of, a resident of St. Helena, an attorney and former theatrical producer, and an author and columnist. Read more at