Saturday, July 30, 2016

Stratford hooray

Just back from a marvellous overnight visit to Stratford. My beloved friends Lani and Maurice are selling their Stratford house and moving 40 k. away to another small town. I've stayed many times with them, drinking beer and talking in their garden, seeing plays, and best of all, snuggling with Bourbon, the most beautiful dog in the world. No more - at least, in Stratford.

So I took the Festival bus - a fantastic addition to our lives, a luxury bus that costs $25 round trip direct from downtown Toronto to the Festival - for a last visit to Lani's. She had been given comps by her - our - friend Martha Henry to see her production of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" in the afternoon, and in the evening I went to the musical "A Chorus Line, " which I've seen twice already through the years but love so much. This morning, Lani and I went to the Stratford Farmer's Market, full of fresh deliciousness, and then I went to the matinee of "Rebellion," the first part of the "Breath of Kings" compilation from Shakespeare's Henry plays. At 5, the play ended, the bus was at the door, we sailed through the corn and soybean fields, and despite the chaos of Caribana downtown, I was home by 7.30. Amazing.

Stratford is a miracle - this plump little farming community with a world-class theatre. Here's the big Festival stage and the trumpeters that signal that the show is starting soon:

And today, when I walked out at the intermission from the Tom Patterson Theatre, this is what I saw just across the street:
The shows were terrific - talk about showing off the breadth of the place's talent, a three-act Greek tragedy by a modern American playwright, a big Broadway hoofer musical and a complicated blend of Shakespeare's history plays ending with a big sword fight. Flaws in all, not perfect - a theatre friend on the bus back complained about the Festival's thrust stage and the Patterson Theatre's stage in the round, which means the actors are constantly twirling about so all sides can see. But cavils aside, the place is something to be truly proud of. I stood by the river at intermission, listening to two American visitors try to figure out who Henry Bolingbroke's sons were.

Home, to find that my weekend newspapers had been stolen off my front porch. Ah well.

Before I left, I harvested a bit from the garden. My gift for Lani, who eats almost no vegetables - one of my garden's first cucumbers.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Obama = heartthrob city

Friend Margaret called from Vancouver with early birthday greetings - the big day is Monday, no no, please, absolutely no telegrams or gifts - well, if you insist, a nice bottle of rosé never goes amiss - and told me she is watching the Democratic convention because of reading my blog. One by one, I'll turn you all into television-watching political junkies! Hooray!

Speaking of which - last night at the Dem. convention, again, what a phenomenal line-up. I missed a few at the start, but was enthralled by Tim Kaine, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and then - introduced by a marvellous elderly woman who lost a son in Afghanistan and was inspired by Obama to move onward and upward with her life - the most beautiful man on the planet, POTUS. Kaine charming, Biden impassioned, Bloomberg hilariously dry - one of the best lines of the night, about Trump - "I'm a New Yorker and New Yorkers know a con when we see one!" Let's vote for someone sane and competent, he said, and immediately on the internet an image appeared of Hillary with SANE underneath. Imagine, being sane is now a key qualification for President of the United States. Sane and Kaine, that's the Dem's ticket.

Obama was simply superb - physically so beautiful, graceful, his face warm and alive as he pleaded the opposite of the Republican story, that America is a kind, generous, open place full of decent hard-working welcoming people. The truth I'm sure is somewhere between his rosy vision and the grotesque hell of job loss, poverty and paralyzing fear portrayed in Cleveland. But after 3 nights, I can assert that American oratory is in great shape and second to none.

Cousin Peter B. Kaplan, who's famous as a photographer of the Statue of Liberty, was paid for the use of one of his iconic images in a video about Hillary. In the end, though it's a stirring feminist film narrated by Meryl Streep, they didn't use it, but Peter sent it out to family so we could see the film and his Lady of Liberty (just before the 10 minute mark), and through the email link I found out that our mutual cousin Robert is actually there, at the convention in Philadelphia. So tonight, as Hillary speaks, I'll be scanning the crowd for Cousin Robert.
A heavenly day - hot but not overwhelmingly so, the garden fresh after a nighttime rain. And more than ever, I count my blessings. The other day I went to visit a dear friend, a vigorous writer and editor who was stricken a few years ago with ALS and is now in a power wheelchair, her mind as strong as ever, her body wasting away. There's news that the Ice Bucket Challenge has produced significant results for those with ALS. Quick, guys. There's no time to waste.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Democrats and show biz

A friend today quoted Margaret McMillan, the famed Canadian historian, as saying the world is in the same kind of upheaval now as it was in the years before the first world war. Now that's the kind of heartening observation that makes you glad to be alive. As in - let's enjoy today, because who knows about tomorrow? With a Trump-Putin alliance, anything is possible, and none of it will be good.

But on the other hand, we have the Dems, preaching love and kindness in Philadelphia, bless their little furry heads. Last night the Big Dog, ex-Pres. Bill, spoke with warmth and eloquence about his wife, though we all wondered if he'd make even a joking reference to his crimes and misdemeanours. He did not. The Dems are phenomenal at showbiz, it turns out - the event is stage-managed and orchestrated brilliantly, famous people coming and going, glorious speeches, stunning film clips, musicians - Alicia Keyes, fabulous if invisible beneath her tangled hair - the audience holding a constantly shifting barrage of signs. Well - artists are almost entirely Democrat and are on board. Apparently Hollywood's J. J. Abrams made one of the little films.

What does it all add up to? A good op-ed in the  Star today points out that though to Canadians it looks like meaningless, flashy hucksterism, what these huge conventions mean is engagement in the political process. All those faces we see on screen, weeping and shouting - those are people who care about their government and are involved. And that's a good thing. Maybe we need a bit more show biz here in Canada.

It's incredibly hot here - with humidity, 37 degrees. I spent the morning huddled in a library with baby Ben, taking care of him while his mother had a doctor's appointment. He tried to pull every book off the shelf and made too much noise for a library, but it was blessedly cool.  I think he is not going to be a sitting still and reading kind of guy. He likes to MOVE. Tonight, I'd like to go to a nice cool movie but I think I'm stuck, once again, with the Democrat show. Barack, give us some of that hopey changey stuff, please.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Michelle Obama for President

It was a scary start to the Dem convention last night, with disgruntled Sanders people shouting their anger and booing Hillary's name. I was distraught at the thought of the Democratic Party disintegrating before our eyes, blowing itself apart just when it's needed most.

And then Michelle Obama spoke. One of those thrilling moments when you watch history being made, right in front of you.

I never tweet. But I logged into Twitter as she spoke and wrote, "Michelle Obama for President!" Many were expressing the same sentiment. What a magnificent, wise, compassionate, brilliant woman. What a speech, that lifted the whole squabbling mess into the stratosphere.

Elizabeth Warren did a great job, as did others. And then Bernie Sanders spoke, and my admiration for him quadrupled. He has done the absolutely right thing in wholeheartedly endorsing the candidate who can and must beat Trump.

It's like two different planets - the small bit I saw of the Republican convention, the fearmongering, the darkness of their vision of America and the world, speaking about guns and banning abortions, the virulence of their hatred of Hillary and any kind of government. And then the Dems, speaking about social justice, education, health care, infrastructure, women's right to choose. Not sinking to their level, as Michelle said. Do these red/blue people even live in the same country?

And if I may be disgruntled myself, a word about the Greens, who wanted Sanders to head their party and are apparently courting his angry voters - who are these blind idiots who want to splinter the vote on the left? Remember Ralph Nader - we had the Iraq war thanks to his misguided and selfish ideals. And also, it does piss me off that the Americans go on and on about a woman being nominated, historic, groundbreaking, without a single reference to the many, MANY other countries where women are or have been heads of state. Unless it happens in Amurrica, it doesn't register.

Tonight, more of the same. I'll watch as much as I can stand. Still very hot out there; in here, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. And more loathsome lunatics killing the innocent - a priest, in a French church. Unbearable. It does feel as if some vile anarchic and violent force has been released in the world, unleashing Trump, Marine LePen, Isil, Brexit and more. Is the rough beast upon us, at last?

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Go Democrats.

A full day writing workshop in the garden Sunday - 9 writers, 4 from my classes, 5 complete strangers, gathering in the morning, writing through the day with prompts from me and a very big lunch midday. The day could not have been nicer - after two boiling muggy days, it was mild with some blessed cloud. At the end, we sat on the deck with a glass of wine, eating bread and cheese and talking about our writing, our lives, the day. They stayed an extra hour and by the end, felt like old friends.

And I fell over with fatigue. It's a wonderful event and very tiring. Onward.

I'm watching the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. Oh these Americans with their jazzy, absurd show biz. But the fate of the world depends on this one.
Chomsky: Today’s Republican Party is a Candidate for Most Dangerous Organization in Human History.