Sunday, October 22, 2017

home, still hot

The weather is mind-boggling - have I said that before? Hot hot sun, breezy, sublime - not just in Washington but in Toronto, since I came home this afternoon to the same gorgeous weather.

Friday afternoon I went to visit old old friends Judith and Leon Major - Judith's parents were my parents' great friends in Halifax in the Sixties, and so I've known Leon and Judith all my life. They've lived in Washington for decades, Leon teaching opera production. Judith told me that in 1965 my father called them to ask their advice - his daughter loved the Beatles and not Mozart, what should he do? Poor dad. (And now, Dad, I love both. You needn't have worried.)

That night, a family dinner at Barbara's. Her second husband Dan had two adopted Korean children when he married Barb; their daughter Mia came with her Swedish husband and two sons, just a tich younger than my grandchildren. The air rang with the voices of little boys and new family for me. Heaven.

Saturday Barb, Dan, Barb's younger sister Francey and I went for a hike on the Billy Goat trail at Great Falls, on the most glorious October 21 in memory. (click to enlarge)
 Not that far from the White House.
Cousins squinting in the sun. Matching chins.
My Washington family on my mother's side. After the hike, I said goodbye to Barb and Dan, and Francey drove the two of us to Frederick, a hip town in northern Maryland, full of antique and record stores, where I treated her to lunch - the best crab cakes I've ever had and a local hoppy craft beer - and then we drove to her isolated house in acres of woods on top of a mountain. She's a recluse who has an amazing list of hobbies; she's a master knitter and a harpist and pianist who is teaching herself the viola da gamba; she and her husband raise big dogs, right now a wolfhound and a borzoi, and she is very serious about calligraphy.
A concert on one of her four harps.
Brianna lounging. An enormous wolfhound.
Practicing her letters. I spent the night there in the tranquillity of this mountaintop home where, however, the nearest neighbours are rabid Trump supporters. I myself would not want to live so far away from everything, but it suits Francey. Joe her husband was in Japan receiving an award for his work as a physicist. We sat in tilting leather chairs drinking American champagne and watching their giant TV screen - Francey's favourite program about British people who want to move to the country, and then the first episode of the new American series Mindhunter. Disturbing and terrific.

This morning Francey drove me to Dulles, an hour and a half. Luckily she likes driving. I had bought new sunglasses which have magic lenses - everything looked stunning, the colours much more vibrant than they actually were on another heavenly day, as the leaves slowly turn, a month late. We talked too much about You Know Who. Of course.

At Dulles, in the bookstore, a whole section for religious books and various bibles. They are not like us.
A painless fight home - in fact, wonderful, I sat next to a young red-headed Quebecois man who was deaf and covered with tattoos, wearing an anti-fur-trade t-shirt in French - we wrote messages to each other. He was adorable. Home through the usual traffic jam - maybe Toronto traffic is as bad as Washington's.
My tenant Elodie had left me a gift - she's a florist and had bought and arranged these beauties. So good to be home! Pray I sleep tonight.
Gifts from the trip: Francey did some calligraphy for me,
and Barbara gave me these - part of a tea set belonging to my great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Bates in Northampton. So many gifts from both sides of my family. And then I went for a walk in my 'hood, gearing up for Hallowe'en - this is just up the street. Glad to be home. It was a superb trip.
Randy Bachman is blasting on the radio, the back door is wide open, soon there's great Sunday night TV, and then I'll be in my own bed. And what I'd like to say to that is: YES.

Friday, October 20, 2017

after the talk

 Sasha Olenick, who brought to life some of my great-grandfather's great characters, including the grande dame Mirele Efros.
New family - Becky, Jill, Robert, moi, Peggy, Barbara - I'm loaded with cousins all of a sudden! And behind us, the man himself, great-grandfather to four of us.
At dinner that night - exchanging many family stories. So much pleasure.


Where to start? Well, here - leaving my fair city Tuesday afternoon by the island airport, on a stunning day.
Landing in Dulles Airport, Washington, where my cousin Barbara was waiting. Barbara, who's a year older than I, and her sister Francey, a year younger, are my only cousins, daughters of my mother's oldest sister. We haven't spent much time together, but Barb and I like each other a lot, so it has been a treat to get to know her better. Her hospitality - offering to put me up and chauffeur me around - made my speaking trip here possible.

She lives in Bethesda, a leafy suburb of pretty colonial houses amidst old trees, where the only drawback is that you have to drive everywhere; there are no amenities for miles, and the traffic in Washington, apparently, is worse than Los Angeles. From what I've seen of it, that's true. The only other negative about my trip, so far, is that for some reason my brain decided to go on high alert and refuse to shut down, so my first two nights here were almost sleepless, a kind of torture. I haven't used my sleeping pills for so long that I didn't bring them with me. Mistake. But I got through.

On Wednesday I took the metro downtown and walked to the National Gallery of Art.  Ran right into a protest outside the Trump Tower - NO MUSLIM BAN.

I joined them for a bit - hooray for democracy! - then went on to the museum, which is spectacular - in two parts, classic art and modern art. Bathed in the Italians, saw the Leonardo and all the Madonnas, right up to the Impressionists - Van Gogh's thick cream roses. Glorious. Then down to the concourse for lunch and up to the other side, to bathe in the Rothko's. Enjoyed the blue rooster on the roof.
A long walk to Arena Stage, the theatre run by my ex Edgar. I had no idea it was such an enormous, spectacular, modern place, with 3 theatres and many open spaces designed by Canadian Bing Thom. Part of the inside looks like the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, with totem pole-like panels. Below, the front.
Barbara and Dan met us there, the four of us had a superb dinner together nearby - Edgar has been Executive Director at Arena for 8 years and knows everyone, including all the staff at the restaurant - and then he gave us tickets to see a play, Native Gardens, by Karen Zacarias, a young woman who's their resident playwright. Remember that name, because she's going to go far - the play was hilarious and yet profound, an exploration of current American issues of entitlement, racism, classism, even ageism - not didactic but funny. Very hard to pull off.
Edgar met us afterward and gave us a proud tour of the vast backstage; here we are on the set of the show. It was a perfect visit with an old friend, who happens to be the father and grandfather of four human beings very dear to my heart.

One of the joys of my visit here is mornings - Dan puts on the coffee and we all sit, reading both the NYT and the Washington Post, two of the finest newspapers in the world, bemoaning the latest Trumpian horrors. Today, an unbelievable headline in the Post: "Study ties loose concealed-carry laws to higher gun death rates." Amazing - they needed a study to show that if it's easier to carry guns, more people die! Imagine that! Ils sont fous, ces Americains. 

Off to the Jewish Community Centre of Fairfax, Virginia, for my talk on the Jewish Shakespeare. It was all set up - tables for lunch, which was provided free for me and Barbara and included a smoked meat sandwich and a knish, and I was happy to welcome three first cousins-once-removed, whom I hardly know though our grandparents were siblings. Then I spoke to an audience of about 50 about my great-grandfather and my book. In the middle, a fine actor, Sasha Olenick, read excerpts from Gordin's plays. Sasha, it turns out, is best friends with one of my ex-husband's ex-girlfriends. Small world etc. It went very well, it seems; the organizer was rapturous. Luckily, however, I'd only brought 3 books to sell, because I sold 2 - and gave one to Sasha. People may love a book talk but that does not necessarily lead to the sale of the book. Pictures in the next post.

Home in a traffic jam to rest before dinner in downtown Bethesda with my new relatives, this time not from the British side - my mother's - but the Jewish side of my father - Robert and his new wife Becky, and his sisters Jill and Peggy, who all grew up in Virginia. I have relatives who speak in a Southern drawl, are almost as leftwing as I and very nice. New family. Makes me very happy.

That night ... some actual sleep. I guess it was my talk keeping me awake. And yet I've done it many times before. Neurosis!

Today another perfect hot day; I'd considered going back downtown to more museums, but I often see museums and rarely see my cousin so decided to stick with her. Barb, Dan and I walked to the local Y, not far from their home, for a Y Fusion class Barb had heard good things about. It was tough and fun, a dance class with fab music, the 3 of us stumbling about at the back. Loved it. Back home in a day so hot, it was like July. Lucky lucky lucky.

Monday, October 16, 2017

John Dunsworth RIP

A quick word - tomorrow I'm off to Washington D.C. till the end of the week, leaving quantities of instructions for Elodie, my tenant. Winter is coming, so part of today was washing pots and moving plants inside. And yet it's supposed to be warm all next week - 25 maybe, in Washington, if not more. Confusing.

John Dunsworth has died at age 71. Oh that makes me feel old. He played drunk Mr. Lahey on Trailer Park Boys and was a stalwart, apparently, of the Nova Scotia film scene. I knew him way way back; we lived on the same street in Halifax; his father was a child psychiatrist, and, briefly, when I was 9, MY psychiatrist. I did not like him one bit. He had many children - 11 or 12, and I think John was the oldest. One of our family friends knew the Dunsworths well, and when in high school at 15 I was complaining about not having a date for a dance, she called and asked John if he would go with me. He did. He was charming - he was 19, FOUR YEARS OLDER, impressing everyone. Thank you again, John. I wrote to him a few years ago before a trip to Nova Scotia, reminding him of it and thanking him, wanting to meet, but he didn't remember who I was. Obviously our date was not seared onto his memory as onto mine. When my kids were teens and big fans of Trailer Park Boys, knowing that I had once dated Mr. Lahey was my great claim to fame.

Last night, four good shows were on between 8 and 10. Weeks can pass with nothing worth watching and then everything good comes on at once. The Durrells, so entertaining, but at the same time as Suzuki's Canadian seasons show, magnificent footage of Canada's animals through the year - stunning. And then The Life-Sized City, a fabulous Canadian doc about how cities are changing and adapting, at the same time as another fabulous Canadian doc, very beautiful, Sickboy, about a young man with cystic fibrosis who has started a podcast about illness and is now seen and heard around the world. And somewhere in there was Poldark. Thank god for the channel changer.

So - Washington, home of the looney tunes. Staying with Cousin Barbara, seeing lots of family and speaking about the Jewish Shakespeare. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

publish a book and grow rich - lol

In two weeks, there's an event in Toronto you won't want to miss. It's called "Publish a book and grow rich." It teaches you, apparently, how to write a book in a month and then reap vast profits. And if ever there's a truth I subscribe to, it's that books are easy to write and lead to easy and incomprehensible wealth. God knows, just look at my own life, my books flowing from publisher to best seller lists, my mansion, my Maserati. So don't miss the ...
Publish A Book & Grow Rich Weekend Bootcamp

On the other hand, here's a humble event coming up on November 5 that will lead to riches for no-one, except to reveal the wealth of the human spirit. Stories that took a great deal of time to write and edit and rehearse, for nothing. Just because - because writing the truth is hard and important, and telling it out loud too. If you're in Toronto, why don't you join us?