Wednesday, January 9, 2013

No Sex in St. Tropez


If Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother showed up in my boudoir and offered to give me a make-over, I’d ask to be changed into Barbra Streisand—the voice that is second to none, the profile that is the eighth wonder of the world, the yummy hubby (aka James Brolin) who is the ninth wonder of the world, and all of the rest.  But, if that request were impossible—if there were too many people in line ahead of me with the same request, which more than likely would be the case, my alternate choice would be to be cloned as Ohio author, Rosalie Linver Ungar. 

While some of you are aware of Rosalie, many of you aren’t, therefore, I’ve decided to make it my job today to tell you what I know about her.   At the end of my soliloquy, you might want to become her too, but you are on notice that I got here first, so you’ll have to get in line behind me. 

You will note that Barbra and Rosalie share at least four characteristics of which I am aware:  they are both Jewish; they are both lovely; they are both talented; and they both have chutzpah—that’s Jewish for gutsy.  Barbra’s chutzpah is well-known and needs no endorsement from me, but to authenticate my claim of Rosalie’s grit, I offer as evidence her forthright and seriously entertaining memoir, No Sex in San Tropez, a story about her exploits, well maybe it is more accurately described as her odyssey, in 1974 in the United Kingdom, France and other locations in Europe. 

1974 was a year that was not only pivotal in Rosalie’s empowerment as a person, but it marked a time when the Women’s Liberation Movement was in full force.  In no small measure to the credit of two inspired feminists:  first, the American journalist, and social/political activist, Gloria Steinem, who is recognized as the leader and spokesperson of the movement, and second, Canadian singer, Helen Reddy, whose hit song, I Am Woman, struck a chord with its “divinely inspired”[1] anthem, “I am strong; I am invincible; I am woman,” and set in motion the conversion of countless women of their day from doormats to powerhouses.  Along with Rosalie Linver Ungar and the others, I was one of those women.

The switch was slow-going for many of us—many of us only secretly harbored a dream of our freedom and our equality in our hearts and minds—some of us only took baby steps in that direction—but intrepid Rosalie…well, she took giant steps and seized hers in actuality.  Faced with a second divorce, a humdrum job, and her two teenage sons having elected to live with their father more than two thousand miles away, rather than becoming paralyzed by her grief and guilt, Rosalie chose to transform her pain into an adventure—the greatest adventure any of us can take:  she went inside of herself while in the guise of a care-free, thirty-six year-old, itinerant domestic on the other side of the planet.

What kind of courage does it take for a woman to defy convention, as well as the exhortations of her very Jewish Mother (we all know about the powers of manipulation of very Jewish Mothers), quit her job, and on the uncertain hospitality of a friend of a friend in England, pack her one suitcase, $2,500 in cash and a couple of soon-to-expire credit cards, board an airplane in California where she lived at the time, and fly into an unknown destiny on the other side of the world?  My respect for her would have been enormous if she had trekked from one coast to the other of her own country…but to set sail for England, ultimately alone, no less, as a way of nursing her broken heart…?!

Don’t get me wrong.  Never is the phrase, “My broken heart,” penned to paper in her charming memoir.  Even as she bluffs her way into a position as a French-speaking au pair in St. Tropez, when in actuality she had never uttered a word of the language, and ends up with the entire town at her feet, you get the sense that in caring for the two children and running the household, that Rosalie is working through the maze of her own hurt and disappointments.  But to detect it, you have to read between the lines because I think she had discovered by then the value of some well-placed denial, at times, a mind-set that keeps her memoir an upbeat and entertaining read.    

Even though her children had actually left her, “Am I a bad mother for leaving my children?” does show up once in awhile in the book, but she presses on despite personal uncertainty and her mother’s guilt-trip-laced letters, and takes control of her life.  A friend says to her, “Rosalie, you live a charmed life.”  But I have a sneaking suspicion that she lives a charmed life because, as demonstrated in her book, she has an impeccable sense of timing, feels comfortable in her own skin and in her own stretch of real estate with never a doubt that all of the rest of the planet is her oyster, as well.  But mostly she is who she is, and she lives the way she lives, because she has chutzpah, I think, and the positive aspects of a very Jewish Mother ringing inside of her head.  All of us could do well with a bit of that kind of mothering.

No Sex in St. Tropez is a tour de force you shouldn’t miss.  The book is available in paperback and eBook at      

[1]Helen Reddy, 2003 interview in Australia’s Sunday Magazine (published with the Sunday Herald Sun and Sunday Telegraph).

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