Wednesday, March 31, 2010

a night's sleep really helps

Writing from an internet cafe because my poor MacZine is completely confused. I tried two different places for wifi this morning, and, idiot that I am, I changed various configurations trying to get online, ended up annulling my entire internet access system, I think. So it's cafes until I get to London and can go to the Mac store and/or find a genius. Oh Bruce my own personal genius, where art thou, now so sorely needed? Selfishly rehearsing in Victoria! Heartless fiend.

Roman Polanski saved the day. I was toppling over with jet lag yesterday evening, wanted just to sleep at 6 p.m. with the floor moving under me, but managed to get to a cinema to see "The Ghost Writer" which is a most paranoid, excellent and exciting film. Kept me wide awake seeing plots everywhere. Took a sleeping pill at 10 and slept for 10 hours. En forme today, had a grand creme and a croissant in a great cafe nearby which said it had wifi, and then ... let's not talk about it.

Then I met my friend Michele who is 71 going on 32 - thick black hair and a vital spirit; we meandered, arm in arm, for hours, stopped for a cafe and then for a wonderful 3 course lunch at Polidor, a restaurant in the heart of the Latin Quarter which dates from 1837 - and the toilets, dinosaur feet, have not been updated since! When I joked with the waitress, she said, "They don't want to modernise anything here. It's the Polidor Museum." Well, the toilet, anyway. The food was timeless, and so is Michele. She has gone home, I missed another downpour by ducking in here, and now the sun is shining.

I had several moments earlier where I realized that I was sitting with a dear friend in a beautiful old restaurant, just like a Parisienne. But this time, I'm not walking with my mouth open, moaning every five minutes with pleasure. This is Paris, and I am here. Only two moans of ecstasy today - when I bit into my croissant at breakfast, and tasted my soup - cream of lentil soup with foie gras mixed in - at lunch. Moans. I will go out now and find something else to moan with joy about. It will not be hard.

London tomorrow, where the weather forecast is - snow.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I guarantee that of all the places you expected me to write from in my first post from Paris, McDonald's was not one of them. Travel lesson # 6973: when booking your charming little inexpensive boutique hotel, ask if they have wifi. Because if they don't, you might end up at the Macdo across the street. And while you're there, you just might buy a filet o' fish and some fries. In Paris! Yes. It's true.

It's been a rocky day, as, it seems, the first day always is. Being woozy with jet-lag and getting drenched in a downpour in beautiful downtown Paris added to the general joy. All will be well, no question. All is already well. There are these little tests, that's all.

Once I had navigated the metro from the airport into the city - and the French transportation system did just about everything in its power to make that trip as complicated and difficult as possible - I got out at the familiar Port Royal stop and began a familiar walk. One of the reasons I chose this hotel is because it's so close to where I lived last year. I began to walk down the familiar Boulevard Port Royal, where it was market day - and I immediately came face to face with cheese, counter after counter of fresh cheese. Ah, now I remember why I'm here!

This internet site has just downloaded every email and every bit of junk mail I got in March - hundreds. I have to go. More anon, never again from here.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Count down - I leave for the airport in a few hours. Here's the latest: went to return some library books and saw a greenhouse truck in front of the garden centre on the corner, unloading mountains of tulips, pansies, daffs, hyacinths, croci. It'll be 21 degrees here in Toronto on the weekend. So I logged on to check out the weather where I going.

It'll be 1 degree on Wednesday in Paris, with a chance of hail or snow. And the entire six days I'm in London - 95% chance of rain every single day.

Joy! Something to kvetch about! What I live for!

My son visited yesterday to say goodbye, and I see has left me a tender little note. "Hey BUTT HEAD!" it says. It's these things that make a mother's heart swell. Neighbour Richard just appeared at the door with a small guidebook to Prague; a Czech friend of a friend has just sent me Prague websites and phone numbers. My bag is full but not overwhelmingly heavy and I'm still trying to take things out. Only three pairs of shoes - comfortable loafers, sturdy walking shoes, sandals. That's a major accomplishment in itself. All my gear for the plane - stretchy pants, inflatable pillow, earplugs, eye mask, moisture cream, SNACKS, seven "New Yorkers."

Loving but clear-eyed W'son, with whom I went to Goldie's event yesterday, commented gently that though I may no longer be very neurotic, I am still slightly neurotic. Let me tell you, the dip from very to slightly is a major accomplishment in itself.

Talk to you soon, from over there in the sleet. Onward.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

saying goodbye to Goldie

What a loss, what a loss. Today was the memorial event for Goldie Semple, a luminous actress, dead of breast cancer at the age of 57. The Shaw Festival did her proud - the theatre was jam-packed, the event beautifully produced with gorgeous slides of her life and work, a series of moving speakers, and afterwards, food and drink in the lobby for a schmoozefest of her colleagues and friends, a Who's Who of the Canadian theatre world.

The speakers were marvellous, no surprise; even the Shaw costume mistress spoke with respect and affection - "She was never difficult, never complained" - let alone Goldie's husband of 33 years, actor Lorne Kennedy, and friends. Her daughter Madeline, who's 15, sang "For Good," and an actor sang the devastating "Send in the clowns" that Goldie herself had performed on that stage. Then a surprise - a woman who was not from the theatre but a neighbour and fellow mother talked with great humour and passion about their good times together. Goldie was a rarely fine human being and talented, versatile performer. Heartbreaking.

Jackie Maxwell, the Artistic Director, said to me in the lobby afterwards, "We did one of these for Neil Munro not long ago, and now Goldie. I said to the crew, 'Let's not get too good at this. This is enough.'"

Well, hard to believe but tomorrow I hit the road again. I'm not quite packed, not quite ready, but you know what? It'll be fine. The days just before departure are the worst, the lists, the waking in the night with more lists ... And then you're there and the only thing that matters is ... onward.

Onward, in memory of the beautiful Goldie Semple. Impossible to believe she's gone.

Friday, March 26, 2010

wise and not quite so wise men

My friend Margaret yesterday sent me a link to a YouTube film of Paul, George and Ringo sitting around the studio on Abbey Road, trying to remember who played what on the cut of an early song. "Did I play bass? No, maybe it was you, George. It was me on piano, wasn't it?" said Paul. From there I trolled around, watching all kinds of Beatles' stuff from TV interviews. There's a hilarious one of John and Yoko smoking cigarettes as they chatted on the Dick Cavett Show. Dick asked John about the break-up of the band, and John said it was going to happen anyway. "I don't want to still be singing 'Yesterday'," he said, "when I'm, like, fifty and have asthma and tuberculosis."

And then he did an imitation of a croaking old man singing "Yesterday." I guess it was a swipe at Paul, because of course it's Paul's song. Paul, who is way over 50 and still singing "Yesterday."

If only John were still here; he'd be nearly 70, and he'd certainly still be singing. And I bet without asthma and tuberculosis. 50 seemed so very old, back then. Were we ever so young?

And ... my dear W'son is here, doing some reading in a tranquil place. We were talking about writing, of course, and I confessed that I never lose myself completely in the work; my goal is to become so immersed that I forget the passage of time. "That happens to me often," said Mr. Ch*y. "I get lost in the work. No, not lost. It's in the work that I am found."

gearing up

Confession: I've been dragging my heels about this upcoming trip. As spring descends on my garden, it's sure that if I hadn't booked another journey just after returning last year, I wouldn't be going anywhere this April. However, I am, and as soon as I land over there, I'll be back in travel adventure mode. If I had to paint an image of myself during last year's trip, it would be a dog with his head out of a speeding car window, ears and tongue flapping, eyes wide - where are we going now? What's that interesting thing? Can I eat it?

I've asked myself recently, What has been the fallout of that nearly five-month trip? Has anything changed? Two things for sure - food and clothing. The cheese mania has lessened, to resume as soon as I land in Paris, but I am always aware, now, of the importance of sitting down to a hot meal with lots of vegetables. And I'm not as worried whether what I pick to wear from my second-hand wardrobe is in style. True style simply means a combination of confidence and taste, and I'm working on those. But in the end, who really cares?

It helps for this new journey that the euro and the pound are so low against the Canadian dollar, which means my Visa bills won't hurt as much when I get back. I'm leaving the house filled with three tenants who'll keep the cat alive and take in the mail; my courses are set up for the first week of May, and it looks as if, besides both first level courses, the advanced class will run at U of T and perhaps at Ryerson; teaching four courses will be a great help with the bills. But mostly, justify it as I may, I'm taking a flying leap once more which makes absolutely no sense and will do me a great deal of good. At least, that's the plan.

Last night, I worked at the Creative Writing table at Ryerson Information Night. One young woman asked, first, "How do you make a living writing?" "You teach at Ryerson," I replied, and then gave her the serious answer about writing because you need to and keeping your day job, at least until you've sold the film rights to your work. She asked about my course so I told her. "It sounds a lot like therapy," she said dubiously. I gave her the answer I always give: creative self-expression can of course be therapeutic, Beethoven was expressing the needs of his soul when he composed, Van Gogh when he painted - in autobiographical writing, it's a more transparent process. My interest is not in the therapeutic results of the writing but in the writing itself. Etc.

And then I thought, Wait a minute - what's wrong with a little therapy in these hard times? We're not sitting around nursing wounds - we're writing clear, hard, vigourous prose. If the writer feels good afterwards, so much the better.


Today's news clippings, just for you: a small headline in the "Star" - "Fake matzah alert issued." Apparently Israel has been flooded with pirate matzah, made with non-kosher flour and supplied with fake kosher certificates. Omigod, can you imagine? What could be worse?

Reading this brought back a memory of a very wild party at my friend Henry's house in 1968. Henry's parents, who were of course away, kept kosher, and at about 2 a.m. Henry discovered that his friends had cruised the cupboards for snacks and were eating cereal with milk on the meat plates. Henry was very stoned and very, very distressed. "My parents will go to hell!" he kept crying, as his friends snacked on.

I also like to remember my sardonic great-aunt Helen, 89-years old in her kitchen in Queens, speaking about kosher food. "What use were all those rules," she snapped,"once the Jews got ice-boxes?" My sentiments exactly.

And the latest Obama alert: he has asked his staff to pick ten letters a day from the thousands he receives at the White House, for him to read and sometimes to write back to. These personal notes mean so much that he carries them around. If it's possible, I love you even more now, Barack Obama, knowing that you value the reading and writing of letters.

And you out there, blog fans, you're reading this so I know you do too.

P.S. The Feeling Old Department, a story about how kindness can hurt ... The other day, on a crowded streetcar, I was standing looking out the window, when a man's voice behind me said, "Excuse me, ma'am?" I wondered who he was talking to. Turning around, I discovered to my horror that he was offering me his seat. I smiled as nicely as I could and said no, I was fine, many thanks, but inside I was in turmoil. Do I look that old and helpless? How could that kind young man be so mistaken?

Ah well. The first time I had the shock of getting the senior's rate at a movie without even asking, I got over it and appreciated the savings. Next time I'll just smile gratefully, hobble over and sit.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

living out loud

Oh, the good news from Washington! The health care vote is a miracle. Hats off to the incredible flying Obama and his team. And oh, the Republican tantrums, all of them lying on the floor howling and beating their tiny fists and feet. They deserve to be sent to their rooms with no supper. For the next decade. I'm sorry Jon Stewart is off this week - he would be having fun with all this. We'll have to wait.

I note that our own David Frum seems to have become the relatively sane voice of the moderate American right, if such a thing is not an oxymoron. Welcome back to relative sanity, Mr. Axis of Evil. It was incomprehensible that someone connected with the marvellous, open Barbara Frum could be as shrill and small-minded as you became in your Bush years.

And that's it for the searing political commentary of the day. Except to mention a heartening ad taken out in the Star on Saturday, entitled "Can you trust Stephen Harper?" put out by "thousands of ordinary Canadians just like you who are deeply concerned about the future of Canada" at Wonderful; I'll join. The trouble is, who is on the other side?

I was in the Epicure deli on Parliament Street this afternoon when David, a neighbour I don't see very often, came in. "So you're going to Prague," he said. It's the oddest thing to have your life be common knowledge. I know, I'm the one broadcasting, it's not as if this is being done to me. It's just odd. Today my son was over, and I mentioned that I'd blogged about his terrible experience last year, when his friend died. "I'd like to read that," he said, so I found it for him. My children avoid my blog at all costs - yet more maternal blathering. He liked what was there about Devon, about his own grief. My kids too, friends and neighbours, all living out loud here along with me.

Just finished teaching, coaching and editing until the first week of May; now to focus on the upcoming mad journey. But this time will be so different, as I keep saying, away only one month with one small-ish, well, not too big suitcase. In fact, I'm not sure how I managed last year's gruelling trek at all; I must have been out of my mind. This time, when I land in Paris and London, I'll know my way around, the busses, shops, routine - an old hand. My new test will be Prague.

Happily, as I fumble my way along, I'll have all of you out there to keep me company.

PS. Those of you following from last year will know what this means: today the brand new sump pump in the basement stopped working, and the basement almost flooded again. This house knows I am planning to leave and is trying to stop me! Help!!!

It got fixed. For now.

Just read an article in Businessweek listing the countries in the world whose citizens are happiest. Natch, the northern Europeans came out on top, Denmark #1, then Finland, Sweden, Iceland, followed, strangely, by Bhutan. The U.S. was at 23, Britain at 41, Zimbabwe and Burundi tied for last. Canada was #10. We are the tenth happiest citizens in the world.

If my basement floods or Harper wins a majority, I'm moving to Copenhagen.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday morning

I know, I'm falling down on my job here - sorry to have gone AWOL. I'm busy getting ready for yet another venture into the unknown, and one of the big jobs before I go is getting the last 3 years of this blog ready to be self-published. That means cutting. I'm cutting huge chunks, almost every comment about the weather - my God, I've cut almost all of Provence, most of the posts consist of me rhapsodizing about lunch, dinner and every morsel of food in between. Does this woman ever shut up? Enough already!

So, newly aware of my volubility, perhaps I've not wanted to underscore it by jabbering once more, on and on, to you. Yet jabber I must, because it's my self-appointed job.


Well, there's not that much to tell you - except about the weather. Last week we had record-breaking warmth, one soft sunny spring day after another, a great blessing even if it's terrible for the polar bears. Yesterday I put on rubber boots and washed my bicycle, covered with mud from one particularly ill-advised ride to the dentist through a foot of slush. As I scrubbed, a great Downchild Blues Band concert was blasting from the radio, MC'd by old friend from Ottawa days, Dan Ackroyd. I danced and sang and washed, and now my bike is sparkling. Today, back to more normal temperatures with a bite in the air.

Morris and Ken's production of "Art" which W'son, Mary Fay and I saw in dress rehearsal last week has had the best reviews. "Run don't walk" to see it and "This production is near perfection" in the "Globe." So what are you waiting for, my Toronto friends? Run! And Laurel Croza's gorgeous book "I know here" has just received a rave review in the "Globe" as well: "emotional resonance and visual impact," it says, "a beautifully wrought tale." Run don't walk to buy that, too. Great to have such talented friends. It's too bad about old Dan A., though - he showed such comic promise in 1968. I wonder what happened to him.

Speaking of talent, Mr. Ch*y has done me and other editor friends the honour of sending 20 pages of his new novel for feedback. What a privilege to see into the workings of his fine, rich imagination, his phenomenal skill with words and images. He's well launched, at the beginning of a long journey. It's going to be fabulous.

My student and friend Helen, who's Czech, came yesterday for an editing session, bearing the key to her apartment ... in Prague. She's kindly lending it to me for a week in April. Prague! Everyone who has been there adores the place. I sense more rhapsodizing coming on. I have eight days to get organized before flying out to Paris the Monday after next. But this time, unlike last, I'll be travelling light, friends are staying in the house ... it'll be so much easier than last time that I'll barely notice I'm leaving, and neither will you.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

reading the paper

Several delightful items in the newspaper to share with you. Loved the brief article in the "Star" yesterday, which told us that "Oscar winner Marion Cotillard gasped in pain after France's culture minister accidentally stuck a pin in her chest as he decorated her ... Francois Mitterrand, who praised Cotillard's 'charm, natural grace and beauty,' inadvertently skewered the actress as he pinned the medallion onto her blouse. In the same ceremony, he also decorated U.S. director Tim Burton."

Given that President Francois Mitterrand died in 1996, that was some skewering. Tim Burton of all people, however, would relish being decorated by a ghost.

Loved the headline, "Celibacy, sexual abuse not linked, Vatican says." Yo, Mr. Pope, sir - you just keep that head firmly in the sand, where it belongs.

Did not love the headline, "Canadians' values shifting to the right, poll suggests." Horrifying. Say it ain't so, Canada. If you want to read what shifting to the right really means, where our reputation is in the world today - sad as it is - check out this distressing piece.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

summer already, in March

It is simply mind-bogglingly beautiful out - like early June, 15 degrees, hot sun, chirping birds, yet no flowers or buds on the trees because it's still WINTER. Too bizarre. No one is complaining. It'll continue like this all March Break week, and then it's predicted to be zero degrees on Monday. Nice of nature to take the vacationing schoolchildren into account, for once.

On Saturday, W'sn, my new tenant Mary Fay and I went to see a dress rehearsal of "Art," directed by Morris Panych and designed by Ken MacDonald, the Lunt and Fontanne of the Canadian theatre world. What a supremely talented pair they are. Seeing the dress rehearsal was thrilling, the play and performances nearly there but still in transit. We all found it a highly entertaining, well-written play, well directed, well acted, a great evening of theatre all round, and not just because it was free. Kudos to all concerned.

Hard to believe that I am preparing to depart once more, but it seems to be true. I booked this trip last year, as soon as I got home, perhaps a bit rashly and fast. However - you'll be happy to have something new to read about, won't you, bloggees?

Friday, March 12, 2010

right or wrong

Ah me. On Canada Reads this morning, the beloved Choy man was ousted at the last second by a dark horse if there ever was one, "Nikolski" from Quebec. Well, Wayson's book got a great deal of attention and praise - right till the end, no one dissed it, but, despite the eloquence of the book's defender Samantha Nutt, strategic voting won the day. I hope "Jade Peony" sales skyrocket anyway, as readers try to figure out if the vote was right or wrong.

Mild, dark and very wet, perfect weather for testing my travel clothes. I'm not going to make the same mistakes as last year, you can be sure; this is how I prove that I'm a smart person, because this trip, I'll make a ton of NEW stupid mistakes but not the old ones. This time, I will travel light and bring nothing new and untried. I just went strolling in the pouring rain to make sure my new second-hand jacket really is Gore-Tex. And it is.

Saw a very good play at Tarragon last night, "Communion," by the multi-talented Daniel MacIvor who also directed. An all-female 3-hander with terrific roles for all 3 women, I bet it does extremely well for that feature alone, not to mention the fact that it's a very good and powerful play. Its skilful depiction of the client-psychiatrist role made me wonder why I've not written more about my own experiences on the couch. One day I will, that's for sure. MacIvor does it beautifully.

Still, I am a tich surly today. "Nikolski." Bah humbug.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Mr. Choy survives to reign another day. He and I listened to Canada Reads on the radio again today, waiting to hear which book had been eliminated - Douglas Coupland's Generation X, sorry buddy, but there you go. So far, not one of the panellists has said a bad word about Jade Peony. My 25-year old son is reading it and asked me to give a message to Wayson - that he was moved to tears by a recent chapter.

Wayson loves this event. Yes, it's a bit forced and melodramatic, all that competitiveness, aggression and tension about 5 novels - but why not? It's great to have such excitement building about works of Canadian literature, and the level of discussion and critique during the show is impressively high. Onward! As my friend likes to say, and often says.

Yesterday, I walked home from St. Lawrence Market where I'd visited the honey man - for those of you in Toronto, I cannot recommend him too highly, he's on the bottom floor, has the best honeys around and is lavish with his free samples. On my way home, I passed another of my favourite stores, the Salvation Army on Parliament Street, which has recently had a bit of a renovation and is tidy and organized. At the back, where they stack the donated posters and prints, I was drawn to two glorious faces on posters from a 1994 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, "Early Renaissance Florence, 1300 - 1450." I was sure they were by Fra Angelico, whom I saw in another special exhibit at the Met a few years ago. Finally, I couldn't resist - what a surprise! I bought them and hauled them home.

These two delicate beauties triggered a day-long clean-up of my office. I've sorted, tidied, filed and rearranged. Now my angels are hanging nearby, keeping me company, and my office is pristine for the first time in months. I checked online - they are indeed by Fra Angelico, one the angel announcing to Mary and the other Mary being announced to. Stunning in golds, reds, yellows, blues, they illuminate my office walls. The portraits that used to be there, two of my heroes Colette and Matisse, are now on top of the bookshelf beside portraits of two other heroes, my great-grandmother Anna Gordin and Paul McCartney. Beside me is a long, sleek, nearly empty expanse of desk.

This will not last, I know. Papers will pile and files will pile. But the heavenly art behind me, created 550 years ago, is glowing over my shoulder. "It's karma," said Wayson, who helped me hang them. And I think it is. They are shining. I have no choice but to shine too.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Canada Reads and reads and reads

Wayson, my hot date, sure knows how to show a girl a wild time. This morning, he came over ... to listen to the radio. For those of you not here in Canuckistan, the CBC is running a literary competition called Canada Reads, in which five important Canadians pick five important Canadian books they think every Canadian should read and battle to defend them. Each day, a book is voted off the island. The winner enjoys astounding sales. Wayson's "Jade Peony" was picked by Dr. Samantha Nutt, founder of War Child International. Some have criticized the book, apparently, because "too little happens." The fact that the prose is as liquid, clear and vital as a freshwater stream does not matter; there's almost no sex and not a single car chase.

So Mr. Choy came here to have company, in case today was the day he was axed. How many times, recently, no, ever, has my heart raced while listening to the radio? It did today. My neighbour Jian Ghomeshi did a great job as host, balancing the speakers, asking pertinent questions. Then, they cast their ballots for the weakest link. I clutched Wayson, and Jian said the fateful words: "Tune in tomorrow to find out the result." Phooey!

As we calmed down, we had a great talk about teaching. I opined that a good teacher gives a great deal of him or herself, but Wayson disagreed. "A good teacher opens up so wide," he said, "that students can reach in and take what they want and need." A great, if slightly disconcerting, image.


The weather is beyond heavenly - 14 degrees, hot sun, sweet breezes. There may be snow by the weekend, but for now, spring has sprang.

Last night, my Ryerson student Scott lent me "A Man without a Country" by Kurt Vonnegut, because he thought I'd like it. I do.

If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, March 8, 2010

throwing off the chains of Oscar

Friends, at 10.07 p.m. last night, I cut myself loose from the shackles that have bound me for so many years; I picked up the channel changer and I TURNED OFF THE OSCARS. Only two hours wasted, instead of nearly four.

Just couldn't stand it. The look on George Clooney's incredibly handsome face whenever they panned to him said it all. "Who are those #$@%* idiots?" he was clearly thinking. The whole thing was so foolish, so far removed from life, like watching fancy tropical fish float about in a sparkly tank. I watched the half hour before the ceremony, with fawning interviewers showing us the dresses, all those talented women squashed into brightly-coloured cream puffs - young Carey Mulligan with giant chandeliers hanging from her earlobes, intelligent Vera Farmiga drowning in maroon ruffles - ye gods.

And then the show itself, with two cynical, unfunny men leading us through. One more lame, tame, self-centered joke from Steve Martin - how for Queen Latifah, working with him was the highlight of her life - and I thought I'd climb through the TV and punch him. How I missed Jon Stewart, the Hollywood outsider who brought some sharp-witted relevance. Or the wonderful Hugh Jackman, a singing dancing joking dervish. Our hosts last night quipped and drawled themselves, and us, to sleep.

There was no Canadian content to root for, no National Film Board, no Ellen Page. James Cameron's "Canadian roots" don't count, and Christopher Plummer didn't stand a chance. What a wise and lively face that great actor has, though. If the camera had simply swung between Plummer and Clooney for most of the night, that would have been fine. And what was with the long shots, so that you couldn't even see the presenters? Colin Firth, Keanu Reeves - yes, Canadian content - Kathy Bates - tiny figures far away, filmed from New Jersey.

The only bit of true humour I saw, before liberating myself, was Robert Downey Jr. and Tina Fey arguing about who is more important, the writer or the actor. "Sickly little mole people!" he shouted about writers. It's true that with Kathryn Bigelow's win, the evening was a triumph at last for female directors - and also for ex-wives. The night provided a runway for big, juicy women, hooray. Thank God for the documentary category, which forces consideration of the planet's meatier, dirtier stories.

But otherwise, I thought the Oscar show last night was a parade of shallow.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

book launch, spring launch

6 p.m. later that same day, and what a day ... Stunning outside, 9 degrees, hot sun. Apparently last year on this very day, it was 19 degrees, and a week later it was minus 12. They call this "false spring," but, false though it may be, all of Toronto was outside enjoying it. I took the Queen streetcar across town, and the driver told me that all the routes were far behind schedule because of the traffic on roads and sidewalks. Queen Street was jam-packed with happy citizens, basking.

I went to the launch of Laurel Croza's book I Know Here, held at Type Books, a marvellous bookstore on Queen West. Their subterranean space was also jam-packed with Laurel's friends and family, and the illustrator Matt James's as well. As I mentioned, Laurel first wrote the story in my Ryerson class; I'm very proud of what she has accomplished. Her husband Mike told me that she had always loved writing, but it was when she got very ill and recovered that she decided life was too short, she'd better get on with it, and registered at Ryerson. And there she was, signing away. When it came time for thanks, after her loved ones and the publisher, she said she'd also like to thank "a special friend, mentor and teacher, who taught me everything I know," and that was me. Tears in my eyes - though it's nonsense, all I did was get her launched and tell her how good she was, and keep telling her when she forgot.

I walked along Queen Street West afterwards, amazed at the crowds, the incredibly trendy stores and people. Toronto takes a back seat to no city, at least this section of it, in terms of modern style. I stopped at the Healthy Butcher, which I've heard about but never visited, and bought some pork which they guarantee was raised and butchered humanely. I haven't had pork for months; am looking forward to tomorrow.

Tomorrow and Monday, it'll be even warmer, and then they think winter will come back. It's bizarre, all this. But heavenly.

Blind Date - a must see

A unique and delightful theatrical experience last night - I urge those of you within reach of Harbourfront in Toronto to see Blind Date next week, its last week. Blind Date features a lovely young woman in a clown nose - Rebecca Northan, an actress and expert improviser from Calgary. The show opens with her as Mimi, desolate, sitting in a Paris cafe in a stunning red dress with her red clown nose and a pretty good French accent. Her blind date has stood her up, she tells the audience, and then gets an idea ... maybe she'll find a substitute in the crowd. So she picks a young man out of the audience. Northan has done a bit of trolling before the show started so it's not 100% random, but still, it's a huge risk. She brings a complete stranger on stage, and the date begins.

Last night, Jordan was at first impossibly stiff, awkward, self-centered - hopelessly inept. You realise that Northan has two jobs - one is to teach a non-actor how to improvise - how to commit to the theatrical fantasy both are weaving, rather than bailing out with laughter or inappropriate behaviour. Last night, she taught a self-conscious man how to pay attention, listen, be in the moment; how to act. But she also gave him lessons in how to be a good boyfriend - how to pay attention and listen specifically to a woman for whom he cares or is learning to care. As their interaction advanced and Northan gently issued her lessons, couples around me were nodding; a couple in front, after vigourous nodding in agreement, started to smooch.

By the end of the date, the scene has shifted to Mimi's bedroom, and we are all waiting to see how far this theatrical adventure will go. And yet, it's always warm and safe, never smutty or sensational. There's only so much you can do with a woman in a clown nose. And at the end, when Mimi tells Jordan why she loves him, it's so surprisingly moving that many, including of course your correspondent, were in tears. Blind date Jordan was relaxed, funny and open, a hundred times more attractive than when he started. You realise that this silly improvised clown show is about the deepest matters: what men and women need and want, what love is, how to trust.

Good improvisation is about saying yes - taking what is offered and finding a way to make it work. Northan manages always to say yes to her dates, to take even their most inappropriate stumbles and turn them into something positive for the show, while maintaining a wicked sense of humour - making us laugh yet keeping to her own truth. A very difficult tightrope to walk, which she navigates with ease. She pushes her men into daring to be themselves, taking that risk in front of hundreds of strangers, and it works because she is obviously a tender, humourous, risk-taking person herself.

My favourite kind of theatre - you laugh, you cry, you walk out a wiser person. Don't miss it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

waist not, want not

A full house here last night - someone in every bedroom and on the sofa too. A new tenant, Mary Fay, a young actress from Halifax, just moved into my spare room, usually called the Vancouver room. Charles still inhabits the top floor, Maggie and her boyfriend live in the basement flat, and last night, my son came for supper, stayed for Jon Stewart and crashed on the couch. It reminded me of the days (and nights) when my kids' friends seemed to live here, and there were bodies everywhere. Live, hungry, noisy bodies. My current guests are quiet, thankfully, and feeding them is not my job. A whole new world.

The weather is unbelievable - so warm and sunny, you'd think you were in some civilised climate and not Canada at all. The heat is scarily inappropriate - ten degrees tomorrow! - but it's hard to stay disapproving for long. I walked to Yonge Street in the sun today, to buy some new jeans. (Everything I wear is from second-hand stores except underwear, shoes, jeans, and fashionable but cheap stuff from Monoprix, in France. And yes, I know it's strange to declare myself a frugalista who flies to France to shop at the equivalent of Woolworth's. Ah well. My right-wing friend Paul has called me a champagne socialist for years. Actually, I'm a Prosecco socialist.)

Anyway, some months ago, still under the influence of sensible French eating, I went jeans-shopping at Gap with my daughter and came home with a pair of size 4 jeans. Even as I paraded about in them, I knew this was absurd - size 4? Who are we kidding? I'm not eating THAT sensibly. Must be a special new kind of sizing to flatter the middle-aged. And though not as low-rise as hers, they were still low enough that I always had to tuck in my stomach when wearing them. Tiresome.

Anyway, I am in full carb-loading-to-survive-winter mode, and the little jeans hurt. As my mother-in-law used to quip, "My shoe size is an 8, but a 10 feels sooo good." So I went to the Levi's store on Yonge Street and poured myself into a bigger pair. And what a pair - designed, obviously, for bulging old farts, they're a deliciously stretchy design called Figure Enhancers. "Perfectly slimming," says the tag. "Flattens your tummy and slims your shape. Sits at waist." That's the important part - SITS AT WAIST. Despite the usual teeny tiny zipper, they rise up to the waist like real pants, not like the silly, shrunken, stick figure suck-in-your-gut muffin-top pants. They hold the belly IN, not force it to dangle over the waist band. All that spandex molds the folds. What a marvel, eh? We boomers now get geriatric Levis.

I think Stephen Harper brought in a budget today. Luckily, I was too busy trying to do up the teeny tiny zipper of my new magic high-rise pants to pay the slightest attention.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

P.D. James is flying home

Just heard the mystery writer, Baroness P.D. James, talking to Jian Gomeshi on CBC. She was a marvel of warmth and graciousness. "It's construction," she said about successful novels of any kind. "That's why I admire Jane Austen. Emma is the best constructed novel in the English language, I think."

At the end, he commented that she was now 90; would that affect her output? She said that yes, perhaps she might have finished with her time-consuming detective novels. "Writers have go on writing," she said. "That's what they do. I might write something shorter, in the hopes that I'd have time to finish it. Before it's time to fold up my tray table and fasten my seat belt and ... hope for a soft landing." And she laughed.

It's been a very good flight for this Baroness, chair of the Booker committee with honourary degrees from 6 universities. Not bad for a mere mystery novel writer. And more, she hopes, to come.

Suddenly, the fact that I am turning 60 this year seems like nothing. 60 - piffle! P.D. James at 90, full of youth and energy and humour. As was my friend Muriel Duckworth, at 100. Such role models.

So I'm going to take my perky self outside today - it's 4 degrees and sunny with a bright blue sky. Time to stride vigourously about, feeling very, very young.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

hockey report from Vancouver

Chris wrote from Vancouver about his Sunday, the day of the Canada- U.S. hockey game, which, by the way, broke the viewing records - at some point, 80% of this country tuned in to the game, and more than 16 million Canadians and 27 million Americans watched it all. In Toronto, crowds flooded downtown and paralysed Yonge Street for hours. And in Vancouver, Chris, who had breakfast with one friend and then walked across the bridge to have dinner with another, wrote,
On the way to breakfast, AT EVERY BAR AND RESTAURANT WE PASSED, there was a line up of people dressed in red waiting to get in. When, after eating, I went to the washroom, I was shocked to see the pub and lobby of where we were PACKED with people watching TVs. There were TVs throughout the restaurant so everyone could watch the game. The streets were empty. Flags hung from every balcony. Clearly, virtually everyone in Canada was watching the game.

In my house for a quick change before leaving, I heard this DEAFENING roar coming from the city and I knew we had scored a goal. I headed off to walk to my friends in North Van. When I reached Denman and Davie, I heard another deafening roar and I knew we had scored again. The whole city was shaking.Then I headed into Stanley Park.

When I got to Prospect Point in the park, there was not a soul there. That is something I have never seen. The staff told me the score was 2-to-1 for Canada and I headed over the bridge. At Park Royal on the other side, I heard it was still 2-to-1 and that there were only 2 minutes left in the game. I walked thinking, I will know in a few minutes because cars will be coming by honking their horns when we win. But that did not happen. At 14th and Marine, I went into a 711 store and heard we were going into overtime, that the US had scored in the final seconds.

As I reached John and Bunny's place, literally as I was crossing the street to their driveway, I heard the ships' horns in the harbour sounding and I knew we had won. John came running out and hurried me in to see the replay of Sidney Crosby's winning goal, and I saw what I like most—the celebration.

After dinner, when my bus home hit Georgia Street, I knew I was in trouble; you could see the flashing lights up ahead. The cacophony was deafening. I walked dodging the BILLIONS of people on the street. Traffic could not move. There was citizen anarchy on the roads—people were in control. Cars were idle. Horns were honking and it was about 9:15.

I made my way home and the noise from the streets was deafening and it lasted until 3:00 am when I finally took an Atavan so I could sleep. Vancouver partied like never before last night.

Now we have a break until March 12th when the Paralympics begin.

Monday, March 1, 2010

retirement? no way.

Just sat listening to the CBC morning radio program with tears pouring down my cheeks. Andy Barrie is leaving after 15 years as host of the early morning program; today's show honoured him and greeted his successor, a cheery young local man called Matt Galloway. Moxy Fruvous were there to sing a wonderful song about Andy to the tune of the 50's hit "Venus." "Would you get really mad/if we were to call you Dad?"

Jill Dempsey spoke to Andy's 93-year old mother in New York, and his daughter, a doctor in Albuquerque; both told us what we already know, that he's a great man, a loving son and father. We all know that Andy's beloved wife died some time ago, and that he himself has been diagnosed with Parkinson's. He is warm, humourous, highly intelligent - a great companion. I regret that I so rarely listened to the radio in the morning. This morning, it was like being part of a big friendly club, which is how the CBC used to feel all the time.

I auditioned, once, for a job there, and spent an entire day moving from one studio to the next, reading news and weather copy for the then producer of the morning program. He spoke about hiring me, and suddenly I realised what that meant. Jill Dempsey spends every weekday morning at a small central desk in the middle of hundreds of busy people, waiting for her moments to read at the mike; she watches the clock constantly because at odd times - 6.42, 7.15, 8.33 - she is required in Studio A or B with this or that copy. It is the least private and most fractured of lives, and I realised that I would go mad.

But to those who do the work, many thanks; you do us a great service. I wrote once in an article about Gzowski that when listening to him, I felt like a kindergarten kid following the teacher on a walk, hanging onto a piece of string with all the others so we wouldn't get lost. Here too, in the city of Toronto, we followed a great teacher, hanging onto the ribbon of his voice. He'll be much missed. I wish him joy in his retirement.

Speaking of joy in retirement, my dear friend Denis, from Provence, retired from his practice as a psychologist in December, and next week will leave for a month in Haiti, to work as a psychologist with Handicap International. What an extraordinary adventure. This is exactly why he took retirement, not to sit still, for once in his life, but to have ever greater adventures.

I wish the same for Andy.