Spotlight: Zuzu

By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on April 26, 2010

♪♬ Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens ♬♪....when I think of Zuzu, I always think of these words by Rodgers and Hammerstein. I know no one else who lives in a paradise of roses surrounded by kitteny whiskers, no one but Zuzu. Come with me and let's spend some time with this very special lady....

*I felt very much at home while talking with Zuzu, her words paint pictures for us, and I could see everything through her eyes. I'll let her tell you her story, and we'll ask questions later....(be sure to hover over the photos for descriptions).

Zuzu: By the time I was born in South Korea, revolutions and war had already forced my family to flee Russia, China and North Korea, so no one was particularly surprised when war came to South Korea, too. We moved to Japan at the start of the Korean War and then to the United States three years later. 2010-04-23/Sharran/90f6a72010-04-22/Sharran/0b6fdd

I traveled extensively before I was married, visiting 28 countries, and I spent some time at college in New York, but California has been my permanent home since I arrived there in America 57 years ago. I grew up in San Francisco and lived there and in Piedmont for more than 30 years, but I wanted my son to grow up in a less stressful and hectic environment, so I moved to my present home in Sebastopol, a small town 60 miles north of San Francisco, 25 years ago. 

My professional career has been diverse. I worked at dozens of jobs when I was putting myself through school, ranging from ballroom dance instructor to theater manager. After college, I reviewed books for the San Francisco Chronicle for 5 years and taught comparative literature at San Francisco State University for 10 years. When my son was born, I stopped teaching and took a job translating for a government agency because I could do the work at home and not depend on nannies. I passed retirement age a couple of years ago, but I spent my money less than wisely all my life, so I'm still translating for the same agency and have no plans to retire. Ironically, after chasing academic degrees all the way up to a doctorate, I'm doing a job I probably could have done without a higher educatio2010-04-22/Sharran/28d0b5n.

I haven't had a car for the last 30 years. I'd like to sound virtuous and say I 'w2010-04-23/Sharran/a543c8ent green' long before it was trendy, but the real reason is that a car seemed like a needless luxury after I started working at home, and walking wherever I had to go compensated somewhat for my continued existence as an unrepentant smoker with no plans to ever quit.

I have several collections, most of which make little sense. I have an entire closet full of white lace blouses, for instance, but I go almost nowhere but out in the garden, and they're hardly appropriate as weed-pulling attire. I have hundreds of pieces of cloissone', but most of them have to stay in cupboards and closets so that my house won't look like a Chinatown gift shop. The main collection, of course is my collection of cats. I can't say no to a cat with a sad story. I currently am housing 25 of them: 14 of my own, 9 feral cats slated for taming, neut2010-04-23/Sharran/b368feering and spaying, and ultimate adoption by others (although I suspect I'll be keeping them myself), and 2 "on loan" from a friend currently between jobs and apartments.

I've always had gardens, but I never had much time to garden until I m2010-04-22/Sharran/3b5d54oved away from the exciting and eventful Bay Area. Irises were my original passion, but the garden looked so boring after they bloomed that I started planting a few rose bushes here and there to relieve the monotony. I now have more than 1500 rose bushes and the poor irises are reduced to space fillers between the roses. I never wanted a formal rose garden, however, striving instead to have merely a garden with lots of roses in it, so I grow anything that blooms, from alpines to tropicals, and cram them all together so that there's no bare earth showing anywhere. I suppose I'd describe my gardening style as chaotic but entertaining.

*I'm enthralled, Zuzu, with everything you tell me. You've traveled extensively. Is there any one place that is more outstanding in your memory than a2010-04-23/Sharran/294669ny other?

Zuzu:  There are so many places that stand out in my memory as the perfect locations for specific pursuits. If teleportation were a reality for just one day, I'd spend the morning on the beach in Trinidad, then take the train from Bergen to Oslo to satisfy my aesthetic needs (no teleportation along the way, because the landscape there deserves to be savored for hours), do a little shopping in Copenhagen, have dinner in Valencia and dessert in Vienna, and end the day nightclubbing in Lisbon. There was a Charleston bar there in the sixties that was the ideal place to unwind. We'd dress like flappers and gangsters and do the Charleston all night.

If I had to choose one place that had it 2010-04-22/Sharran/323467all, however, it would be Lugano, an incredibly beautiful city in southern Switzerland with great restaurants and clubs, an overall atmosphere of serenity, and friendly and intellig2010-04-23/Sharran/7eb14aent people. That's where I'd live if I were independently wealthy.

*Would you please take me with you...I think I can still do the Charleston, and I do have that dress with a dancing fringe. Seriously, though, do you have other hobbies besides your gardens and your cats?

Zuzu:  I think gardening is the first real hobby I ever had. I did design and sew my own clothes when I was younger, but that was a necessity rather than something I did for fun. I hate to cook and I don't like sports. I've been buying art supplies for a few years, dreaming of painting flowers on my garden benches and murals of roosters on the garage walls when I retire, but I'm beginning to doubt that I ever will retire.

I suppose if singing and dancing can be2010-04-23/Sharran/03e6fb called hobbies, then those were my hobbies, although I wanted them to be more than hobbies. I was always drawn to the performing arts, b2010-04-23/Sharran/becbaaut I never found the right niche. I wanted to be a ballerina, but I was channeled into gymnastics because of my size. That did not satisfy my passion for the dance at all. I did keep up with all of the latest ballroom dances, however, and I even taught ballroom dancing at one time. 

I also toyed with the idea of a singing career for a few years. Work was easy to find in San Francisco, especially during the psychedelic era, when the girls who sang with the bands were often "incapacitated." The problem with that kind of pinch-hitting, however, was that I always had to copy their voices instead of developing my own style. I had just started doing that, singing at a piano bar in the city, when I turned on the radio one day and heard Linda Ronstadt singing "Long, Long Time." I saw no point in competing with that voice, so I went back to college right away and that was the end of my singing career.

2010-04-23/Sharran/89f52c*Zuzu, you are a really unique woman. Do you have any personal heroes, anyone whom you admire more than most?2010-04-23/Sharran/e4035b

Zuzu:  When I was younger, Rosa Parks was my hero. Her courage and dignity were so inspiring. As I grew older and more selfish, however, I focused more on myself than on society at large and I switched allegiances from Rosa Parks to Tasha Tudor and Laurel Burch, two women who rose above disappointing families and marriages to create productive and meaningful lives for themselves.

Tasha Tudor was inspiring and fascinating because of her eccentric lifestyle. She not only gave up her earlier social standing, but also retreated from her own time, choosing to live as though she had been born a hundred years earlier. 

Laurel Burch also had to escape family demons, but she had the added burden of osteopetrosis, a rare bone disease that causes endless fractures and gradually obliterates bone marrow. I think it's absolutely astounding that someone who spent so much of her life in hospitals and in great pain could produce such vibrant and joyful works of art. 2010-04-23/Sharran/ce6823

Both insulated themselves from the negative aspects of the world, but they didn't alienate themselves from it. Instead, they presented it with wonderful works of art and wonde2010-04-23/Sharran/5bf64erful personal examples. They both died in the last two or three years, and I feel the loss deeply.

*Let's talk a little bit about your roses, Zuzu. You are known extensively for your glorious roses. Do you have favorites? What's most frustrating about growing all those roses?

Zuzu:  There's nothing I like more than a perfect hybrid tea bloom, so most of my roses are hybrid teas. I'm particularly interested in the wonderful roses of the 1950s and 1960s, many of which have virtually disappeared from commerce, so I'm always excited when I have an opportunity to get one of those. The worst thing about collecting those roses is the near impossibility of finding them in grafted form. I'm not a fan of own-root roses. Besides, the roses I like the most are the ones that don't gro2010-04-23/Sharran/2dcf54w as well on their own roots.

The most frustrating thing about growing roses, though, is the thorns, 2010-04-23/Sharran/c5e0b1of course. I am a hemophilia carrier, and I'm a symptomatic carrier, which means that I bleed easily and for a long time. On pruning days, I usually come back into the house with blood streaming down my arms and legs from a thousand cuts.

*One last question, of all your cats, is there one who touches your heart more than the others?

 Zuzu:  I love each and every one of my kitties, of course, but the most moving experiences I've had with a cat were with Millie. Millie was locked in a pool house by a group of children when she was a kitten and was tortured daily by them for the next year and a half. When the mother of one of the children learned what had happened, she took the cat to a vet to be euthanized. The vet treated Millie's sores and broken bones instead, keeping her at the clinic for six months. Millie then moved into someone's home for a couple of years, but had to live in a cage because the homeowner's dogs terrorized her.

When Millie moved into my house, she was still terrified of people and animals. I tried keeping her in my office for the first few days, but she bit me every time the telephone rang, so I gave her a room of her own. It was at the end of a long hallway, and I replaced the door with2010-04-23/Sharran/e4bc77 a glass door, so that Millie could watch what was going on in the household and feel safe witho2010-04-23/Sharran/863622ut feeling lonely. It took her more than two years to come out of that room into the rest of the house and another couple of years after that to go outside. When I saw her outside one day, rolling on the ground and playing with the other cats, I was overcome with emotion, simultaneously happy and sad. My sweet Millie, at the age of nine, finally was able to act like a carefree kitten.

*The best part of our Spotlight Cubit is getting to know such incredibly interesting people. I've been fortunate to call Zuzu my friend for several years, and every time we talk, I learn something new and wonderful about her. Thank you, Zuzu, for answering all my questions, and for sharing your story and photos with all of us. Oh...I just checked. My dress still fits, its fringe still dances, and I think the Charleston is coming back to me; so when you're ready to visit Lisbon again, I'm ready, too...

You can visit Zuzu in her Cubits:  Roses and California Living


Folks, if you'd like to chat with Zuzu, please do so right here on the comment threads that follow this article. 

♬♪ Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...♪♬


Related articles:
California, cats, feral, feral cats, kittens, rescue cats, rose bush, rose bushes, rose gardens, roses

About Sharon Brown
I am a retired Art and Humanities teacher living in western Kentucky. I love writing and art with equal measure, but I also have a passion for nature and plants.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Hello, Zuzu! nap Jan 8, 2011 10:31 PM 30
Zuzu Cottage_Rose May 13, 2010 12:56 PM 1
nice story Ridesredmule Apr 28, 2010 5:58 AM 2
Wonderful story Karen LiliMerci Apr 27, 2010 7:52 PM 1
Zuzu daphne Apr 27, 2010 7:51 PM 1
Nice to really met you Zuzu! starlight1153 Apr 27, 2010 7:49 PM 1
Wonderful article about a wonderful lady PollyK Apr 27, 2010 7:48 PM 1
Hi Zuzu and thanks Sharon LarryR Apr 27, 2010 5:01 PM 2
And a generous spirit, to boot ... sheryl Apr 27, 2010 1:02 PM 2
hello~ kaglic Apr 26, 2010 11:32 PM 2
Love the story! Pixydish Apr 26, 2010 11:17 PM 1
Thank you, Zuzu! Sharon Apr 26, 2010 10:50 PM 7

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