Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jon's rally YAY!

My dear Jon Stewart, I love you even more, if that's possible, after hearing you try to sing during your rally today. It was painful, yes - but you said so yourself afterwards, and apologized. Even your most vicious opponents cannot nail you on questions of ego. You must have one, a big one to be able to do what you do, and yet you are the most self-deprecating and gracious of men.

There is a god, and she made sure that Jon's rally had glorious weather today. How I wish I'd been there. Yes, the American political landscape is not mine, and yet this week in particular, after the election of a petty small-minded blowhard as Mayor of my city - "a big, beefy white guy," as George F. Walker wrote in one of his plays - I felt at one with them all, that vast American crowd just wanting some civility in public discourse, some rational thought and reasonable debate. Not so much to ask, surely, but now in Toronto, we're going to be begging for it too.

There's a wonderful article in Friday's "Star" by Charles Pascal, the best analysis I've read yet about the mayoral upset. His premise is that Ford's victory is "a serious and obvious message that the many who are not doing well with the status quo simply do not trust the 'establishment' to come through for them any more." Ford was appealing as a fellow outcast, Pascal posits, his wealth notwithstanding. "Things are just not working for too many of our neighbours."

"While it is true that you can't be angry and smart at the same time, the anger of many, including many who feel disenfranchised, produced this electoral result. To vilify Ford while ignoring the underlying reason for his success is to miss an opportunity for all of us to be smarter about doing something about those being ignored or left behind."

My hope," he concludes, "is that Ford himself understands who put him over the top."

Sir, dear Mr. Charles Pascal, with this wise and reasonable assessment, you should have been in Washington this afternoon, standing beside the wise and reasonable Mr. Stewart.

Friday, October 29, 2010

great finds

This is the kind of thing that gladdens the heart of this old rag picker ... Last month at my local second-hand store, Doubletake, I found a nice long Jones New York sweater in maroon, which I have since worn several times with pleasure. Today, as I zipped in for a quick scour, there was a short-sleeved Jones New York dress in a similar colour. At home, I saw to my amazement that the dress is the exact same material as the sweater; they're a set, obviously were bought together. What are the chances of my finding the sweater and a month later, the matching dress? For a total cost of $10? Be still, my beating heart.

It's events like this that keep me hooked. Yes, I'm an addict, my friends. I went to the Eaton's Centre on various errands today, and found my jaw dropping at the prices. In fact, the spectacle of all that stuff turned my stomach. But easy for me to say, when I can afford the time and effort to hunt for spectacular deals second-hand.

Cold today - definitely fall. The garden is shrivelling, the last blooms wrapping up, the ground piled high with yellow leaves. My friend Lynn in France read my despairing post about Rob Ford. "That's the trouble with democracy," she wrote. "Stupid people get to vote too."

Speaking of stupid people, my daughter is going out for Hallowe'en as Sarah Palin. She's looking for a snappy red jacket and little rectangular glasses. I suggested she complete her outfit with a snappy shotgun. "Great idea!" she said.
"And maybe a dead moose," I added.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Alice and Beethoven

Mon dieu, today I can't stop sharing with you every single interesting thing that comes my way. This is sublime - a stunningly moving 12 minute film about a joyful musician, aged 106. Makes you glad to be alive, with her. Please watch and be transported.

Jon Stewart's rally, Toronto branch

From the website of Democrats Abroad:

On the September 16 episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart announced his "Rally to Restore Sanity,"scheduled for October 30, 12 noon – 3 p.m., at National Mall in Washington, D.C., just three days before the U.S. Mid-term Election Day. Stephen Colbert announced his “Keep Fear Alive” rally the same day, time and place as Stewart’s.

To support these dueling rallies, the Toronto chapter of Democrats Abroad Canada will host a satellite rally for American citizens living here, to help Restore Sanity and Keep Fear Alive. One of dozens in the U.S. and around the world, the Toronto rally will be held at Spirits Bar & Restaurant, 642 Church St., just south of Bloor East, west side of Church Street, 11:30 a.m to 4:00 p.m.

A day of fun and serious mockery, Toronto chapter members will be celebrating the fact that 80 per cent of Americans are actually very reasonable people who do not shout at one another. Canadian themed signs include “Canada supports American Sanity-We Have Universal Healthcare” and “Take it down a notch America; we’re trying to sleep up here in Canada.”

(See and

Did you see President Obama with Jon Stewart last night? There he was on a Comedy Channel mock-news program, a dignified, articulate, extremely intelligent and thoughtful leader, nearly buried in slanderous rhetoric and vicious politics.

Jon Stewart has been voted by the on-line website as "the most important man in America."

transcript of CBC interview with our new mayor

This is an actual transcript of Rob Ford, whose campaign manager had requested this interview, talking to the national radio program "As It Happens" the evening of his election.

Carol Off: Mr. Ford, congratulations...

Rob Ford: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Carol Off: People are saying it's a, calling it a stunning win. What do you think that—

Rob Ford: Things are, things are going really well.

Carol Off: What drew so much—

Rob Ford, yelling: Coach, half your juniors aren't even here, eh? Alright. Alright.

Carol Off: Hello, Mr. Ford, are you there?

Rob Ford: Yeah, yeah, I'm here, yeah.

Carol Off: Oh, you're at some event or...?

Rob Ford: I'm a coach. I'm a football coach.

Carol Off: Okay, so you're at football practice, then.

Rob Ford: Yes.

Carol Off: Alright well, okay, we'll continue then. What is it that you think drew so much support to your campaign?

Rob Ford: Yeah, it's just people are sick and tired of the wasteful spending. People are sick and tired of wasteful spending, that's the bottom line, that's what it comes down.

Carol Off: Well there—

Rob Ford: You know, I'm the only one that can go down there [Inaudible, then, yelling:] Just go get changed! Go! Out! And get changed! Don't worry about the water right now. [Pause.] Sorry.

Carol Off: Uh-huh—

Rob Ford: So, um, yeah, no, people are just fed up with, uh, with, you know, uh, politicians squandering, uh, hard-earned tax dollars, and they know that I'm gonna get rid of the sixty-dollar car registration tax and the land transfer tax.

Carol Off: Well you know that your campaign has been compared to Mike Harris's Common Sense Revolution, to the Tea Party movement, do you see those comparisons?

Rob Ford: I don't see [inaudible] comparisons [inaudible] what, I don't care [laughs]. I just, I just know, know the taxpayers, uh, want, uh, you know, the gravy train to come to an end, and that, uh, Rob Ford's the guy to do it, and uh [inaudible]—

Carol Off: Do you think there are similarities?

Rob Ford: And, and, I don't, I don't see there's any similarities, I just know that, uh, like I said, uh, I'm, you know, gonna put an end to the wasteful spending, and, know, stop the gravy train—sorry, I'm being distracted [inaudible] so...

Carol Off: So—

Rob Ford: So, that's pretty well it.

Carol Off: Mr. Ford, do you think that though there's not people that who might think that their taxes are too high, or that too much is being spent on things? There seems to be a division in this city. People, in the, ah, you've seen it in even your voting: people who live in the more of the core of the city have different priorities than people in the suburbs. So when you stop the gravy train, some people want to see more public transportation, more bike lanes...

Rob Ford: Right...

Carol Off: ...others want to see better routes out into the suburbs. how are you going to reconcile that?

Rob Ford: Well the first, well the first and foremost concern with people—is money. That's the first and foremost concern. So, I'm gonna make sure our finances, um, you know, are well taken care of, and then we can deal with all the other issues, but uh, money's the first and foremost concern, and, uh, that's what my uh, what I'm gonna concentrate on.

Carol Off: Well sure, that's everyone's concern, but we're not sure what it is that you're going to save moneyon. Are you going to reduce public transportation?

Rob Ford, interrupting: Well I just told you that I'm gonna get rid of the sixty-dollar car registration tax and land transfer tax, so, um, maybe I'm not making myself clear, but I'm gonna get rid of the sixty-dollar car registration tax and land transfer tax. And we're gonna stop the wasteful spending, and not have $12,000 retirement parties, and you know, all the other nonsense that's been going on for seven years.

Carol Off: Um—

Rob Ford, interrupting: Anyways, I gotta let you go here. And, uh...

Carol Off: Well, can I ask you about public transportation before you go?

Rob Ford: Pardon me? I can't talk to you right now—I'm really, I'm on a really tight schedule, so I hate to be rude, but I gotta let you go, and we can chat another time. Really nice talking to you, all the best, buh-bye.

As the man says, "THAT'S PRETTY WELL IT."


If I need something to cheer me up on this gloomy Friday, I'll just look at this - one of my memoir classes (with a few missing.) The picture was taken for a student who has to leave, to deal with cholera in Haiti. As I said to them that night, "Isn't it a marvel that on the first day of class, you sit with a bunch of strangers, and by halfway through, you know each other so well and trust each other so much?"

I was thinking again about fiction and non; how during my decade as a professional actress, it became clear that I didn't want to spend my life pretending to be someone else, some invented character; I wanted to discover my own mind and heart, to explore what I had come to understand. Limited as that focus may be, I still feel that way. And my job is to encourage groups of interesting people, like this, to make the same journey of discovery - not so much into the imagination, though that's part of it, as directly into the soul.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Listen to the idiot, in case you wondered

Waaay worse than I'd thought possible. Listen to the podcast below, my Toronto friends - our new mayor being interviewed by the As it Happens team, who'd been requested to speak to him. He is coaching football as he speaks, and says the same things over and over: end the $60 car registration tax and the land transfer tax, end wasteful spending, stop the gravy train. That is all he has to say, except throw that football harder. He's not only stupid, he's rude. Take a listen, and weep.

And worse - the hateful Mike Harris was at Ford's victory celebration. I had dinner tonight with a man I respect and admire highly - Ben Torchinsky, a multi-millionaire engineer, founder and head of Agra, a vast engineering firm which had a huge role in the Three Gorges Dam, among countless other projects. When asked about Mike Harris at dinner, Ben said, "I hated that guy. What a jerk." Ben dealt with Bob Rae on Highway 407, which Agra built, and then with Harris; he said Rae was fair and extremely astute financially, whereas Harris broke contracts and short-sightedly sold the whole project down the river, cheating the whole province for an immediate return.

Ah well. Let it go. Too stunning a day to get het up. An amazing heavenly day - Wednesday, which means, as you know, Carol's class at the Y. Today, we did the class on the roof. It was sublime - in a tank top at the end of October, in the hot sun with a fresh breeze, stretching and lifting weights and running through the garden and on the track on top of the downtown Y. Unforgettable.

All the yard furniture is put away, the snow shovels are out and ready - and it's hot. And Toronto has Calgary's mayor and vice versa. The world is a mysterious place.

Dinner was good.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ford and depression

There are many unhappy Torontonians today, at least in my neck of the woods; I presume they're happy about him in some godforsaken part of the city. (Sorry, Laurel, but even though you live out there, you're completely different.) On the streets of Cabbagetown this afternoon and at the last farmer's market of the year, all the talk was full of dismay. One nice neighbour even said, "I feel guilty saying it, but he's so fat, maybe he'll have a heart attack." Imagine, we are driven to that! And Craig, who stands in his yard on a busy corner and knows everyone, says he's going to put a sign on his fence: "CABBAGETOWN SECEDES."
We'll form the Municipality of Cabbagetown, he said.
You'll be our mayor, Craig, I said.

Had an interesting experience recently; a student wrote a heartrending piece about depression, a beautifully written evocation of how her despair and lack of will to live are affecting her life. We discussed it as literature but couldn't help also dealing with its subject matter; I went on and on about how I am a profoundly positive person in love with life and simply cannot understand depression ... and then I remembered. My God, when my marriage was is trouble and my soul was confused, miserable, terrified, I couldn't sleep for months and sometimes was wracked with fear. I called it "the pit," that hole in the centre of my being into which I could easily fall.

Finally I went to see a therapist, thinking I'd see her once or twice and be fine. Seven years later, we finished - and that included five years of psychoanalysis, four times a week. Four times a week for five years (it was a part-time job, with the summer off), and then two years to get started and wind down, for me to be fixed and turn into the profoundly positive person in love with life I am today. It was worth every agonizing hour and the many thousands spent, no question about it; a great blessing. But it's funny that when I read the piece about depression, I had no notion that this subject could have anything to do with me. How soon they forget.

If I dwell on the reality of Rob Ford, however, it all may just come back, so this positive person will just try not to think about it.

facing the moron

I slept badly and opened the morning papers with dread. Sure enough, there he is, vowing to cut everything in sight. I can feel libraries, social programs, public transit, all good things battening the hatches, right now, for the hurricane of the next four years. Four years!

But speaking of hurricanes, as I lay in bed listening to the church bell toll five, I thought, wait a minute. Think of what other cities have endured - earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, cholera. This is only a nasty small-minded bully from Etobicoke. It could be so much worse.

I have two words for you, grieving Torontonians: Mel Lastman. We survived him and we'll survive this moron, too.

Though if you have to say that your mayor is only marginally better than a cholera epidemic, it's pretty bad.

Monday, October 25, 2010

this hideous election

Don't talk to me right now, okay? The unimaginable has happened - a beefy-faced small-minded red-neck (what other hyphenated words can I think of?) idiot bully is now the mayor of Toronto. Unbelievable. "The revenge of the suburbs," I heard someone say on the radio before I turned it off.

THANK YOU, MIKE HARRIS, for destroying the old City of Toronto, so "the revenge of the suburbs" is possible. You son of a bitch, you must be really happy. Of all the politicians I have loathed - George Bush! Stephen Harper! - you are still, after all this time, number one, and never more so than tonight.

Ah well. Perhaps this will inflame idealistic people to get involved. I've lived long enough to know that it's possible to feel joyful at election results (Stephane Dion!) and to find out, months or years later, that things were just not going to work out. So perhaps the reverse is also true, and there will be unforeseen positive results from this horrible event. Let us hope. My friend Lynn writes from France that the country is paralyzed in protest against Sarkozy, all classes cancelled, high-school students raging in the streets. I wonder if Canada will ever be like that.

In the meantime, there's a documentary on Bravo about the Rolling Stones, the perfect antidote to tonight. What a strange band they are - Mick, the manic man-boy with no hips and big lips, jerking and writhing in the front, and behind him, the mysterious malevolence of the pirate Keith and the silent background non-entities, Ron and Bill. So totally different from my Beatle boys, four independent, vibrant personalities, and that perfect balance, for most of their musical lives at least, between John and Paul - all of them (well, rarely Ringo) writing, singing, at the front.

I am focusing tonight on the Rolling Stones, so I don't have to think about that piggy red face on the front page tomorrow. As Howard Moscoe said, in the brief bit I watched on TV, "This is a man who as a councillor couldn't even work with the RIGHT WING of council. It'll be a ride."

Yes indeed. As a big band once said, "You can't always get what you want." This time, the city didn't get what it needs, either. But perhaps, next time, it will.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

celebrating Eleanor and voting for Joe

Very fallish today, cold and damp with piles of glistening leaves on the ground. Yesterday, a joyfully busy day in the rain. Why is it that I have no social obligations for weeks and then many great things on the same day? Phooey.

Saturday afternoon, to Harbourfront for the celebration of 20 years of Eleanor Wachtel and her radio salon, "Writers and Company." The place was packed with bookish fans, including many writers and Ellen Seligman, Canada's best-known editor. I've known and loved Eleanor since our Vancouver days in the mid-Seventies. How marvellous to watch this public honouring of her intelligence, sensitivity and skill. Margaret Drabble, who'd flown in from London for the event, spoke with enormous warmth and appreciation about what it meant for weary authors on their lengthy book tours to arrive in Toronto, knowing that Eleanor would be there to welcome them. There was also an airing of excerpts from the show, which ended with Harold Bloom saying, after his interview was over, "Who was that extremely intelligent, kind woman? Tell her thank you. Thank you. Thank you," he kept repeating, as if bewildered that he could be treated with so much respect and acuity.

Then followed a roundtable discussion, four interesting, very different writers with, as usual, Eleanor keeping the conversation lively and flowing and making us, and them, laugh. I've never admired her more. The show will be aired next Sunday at 3 p.m. on CBC 99.1. Don't miss it.

Lucky moi, I was invited to the reception at the CBC afterwards, to join a creme de la creme of Toronto literati, celebrating not only Eleanor, but, in conjunction with the International Festival of Authors which is on now, various of the CBC's other book-related ventures, including a new website about books. I ate mountains of delicious food (beet and chevre salad with sausage and leeks! Mini-hamburgers which for some reason are called sliders!), drank and talked; my neighbour Jian spoke, someone sang, the wine flowed, I ran into friends old and new and was extremely sorry to have to leave the festivities and run out into a cab.

Off to Factory Theatre to see "Billy Twinkle," the master puppeteer Ronny Burkett's lastest show. It's more or less autobiographical, about a gay young man growing up in Moose Jaw, in love from a very early age with puppets, and what happens in his life. There was more than a little self-indulgence in the show, more than enough of the usual gay jokes - spurts of foolishness and vulgarity, and then a scene so moving and tender there were tears in my eyes, and then back to noise and show. Someone should take this great talent in hand and make him cut the cheesy stuff and do only the good stuff. He'd be spectacular.

Two huge blue jays at the birdfeeder, so all the sparrows wait in the nearby trees for their turn. Tomorrow, Toronto's election. I am going to vote for Joe. The "Star" today urges us to vote strategically, because Smitherman is still far better than the horrible Rob Ford. That may be so, but Smitherman has run a spectacularly bad campaign and does not deserve my vote. I have voted strategically too often. Now I'm going to vote with my heart, for a good, honest man who tells the truth and deserves, like Eleanor, to be honoured.

Friday, October 22, 2010

peace, at last - for now

I just talked to my mother, who has finished her first day of a 4-day trial run at an upscale Ottawa retirement residence. She slept extremely well last night, has had several terrific meals, all hot and ready, has already made two friends ... it couldn't be better, so far. Ask some probing questions of the other residents, I told her. Find out what doesn't work. But for now, she is seeing the upside I hoped she would - new friends and interesting people to talk to, no worries about food buying and preparation, and nursing staff nearby 24/7.

On Monday she goes home for a week, where she'll see how she feels about being back in her 3 bedrooms and kitchen, which she'd have to forego if she moves. Then she'll try out one other place, and then - decision time. Whatever she decides, we have explored the options.

For one brief shining moment, friends, my familial worries are at rest. My children are both housed in places they like and can afford, and both have jobs they love. So already, we're ahead of the game. My mother is safe, well-fed, and chatting away to a nice German man about WW2, in which he was on one side and she was on the other and now here they are, in their eighties, in Ottawa, making friends.

Oh no. There's the black and white stray in the garden, hunting the birds. And Rob Ford is still top of the polls. My dear friend with a mass in her body is seeing a surgeon in a few weeks. And the Republican lunatics are on the rise. It's not as if there aren't a million things to worry about. But for one brief little moment, thank you O world of wonders, all of my closest loved ones are just fine. And that means I am too.

P.S. Just finished reading an excellent article on the Tea Party in this week's "Rolling Stone;" (Obama is on the cover, and I'm looking forward to reading that interview.) Journalist Matt Taibbi writes in a hilarious snappy way. "Tea Partiers aren't racists," he says. "They're just earth-shatteringly stupid, willing to believe the fantasy that white people are some sort of oppressed minority."

"At times," he writes, "their desire to withdraw from the brutally complex global economic system that is an irrevocable fact of our modern life and get back to a simpler world that no longer exists is so intense, it breaks your heart."

He marvels that the Republican Party, obliterated in 2008, has revived so quickly. They "managed to get back in the game by plucking an assortment of nativist freaks, village idiots and Internet Hitlers out of thin air and training them into a giant ball of incoherent resentment just in time for the 2010 midterms."

Yes, hilarious. But horrible, too. A giant ball of incoherent resentment is about to sink my city.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

cute but dumb

Annals of idiocy, local division: no, this isn't about Rob Ford, for once, nor about Stephen Harper or the Tea Party. It's about moi. As you may know, I have a Master's degree. Yes, it's in Creative Writing so not terribly useful in the day to day - though very helpful when it comes to editing my friend's books, as I've just started to do for Chris in Vancouver. But to continue - I am fairly well-educated, I've travelled, I'm a sensible person who always pays her Visa bill in full before the due date and manages to run a big old house and maintain a teaching schedule.

What I cannot do is figure out how things work. And yesterday was particularly humiliating. I use a French press coffee maker, and as I was cleaning the plunger, it came apart. So I washed the parts, and then had to reassemble them. Six parts - a stem, four different round bits with holes in the middle, and a silver dohickey. Well, do you think I could figure out which went where? Eventually, of course, I turned to Google and was enraged - there were pictures of the assembled plungers but no INSTRUCTIONS WITH DIAGRAMS in how they go together.

It took me half an hour. I kid you not. Embarrassing. Not nearly as embarrassing, though, as the time when I was trying to frame a picture and told my father-in-law that the glass didn't fit any more - it must have shrunk. He showed me that I was putting it in the wrong way.

Look, I'm gorgeous, brilliant, hilarious and amazing in almost every way, a mix, I like to think, of Doris Lessing and the Dalai Lama. And also, sometimes, a moron. You just can't have it all.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

only good news today

Calgary has a new mayor - a Muslim by the name of Naheed Nenshi! Described by Christopher Hume in the "Star" as "sophisticated, articulate and decidedly intellectual, he is everything (Rob) Ford isn't." Imagine - if Calgary, previously a nest of redneck right-wingers, has an intellectual mayor who talks about the importance of the arts and sustainability, and Toronto elects the redneck idiot whose only platform is rage, who says, "I like arts" and whose solution to car pollution is to get rid of traffic humps. What is happening in the world? France is on fire, and in the States, television pundits like Glenn Beck, unfortunately, and the sublime Jon Stewart have all the power. It's mighty crazy.

Oh yes, good news only. Okay. Thanks to my friend in the COC chorus who emails when cheap opera seats are available, I saw "Death in Venice" last night, by Benjamin Britten. It's difficult musically, atonal, slow, with a ponderous libretto - but this is a brilliant production, haunting, the singing, acting, dancing, sets, costumes beautifully done. A British tenor called Alan Oke plays Baron von Aschenbach, and he's stunning, completely believable as a character even as he sings an extremely difficult score. I was proud that this world-class production has landed onstage in Toronto. Particularly if we're about the elect a right-wing red ... Oh, enough.

I had my eyes tested this morning and I do not have glaucoma, that's also good news. It's hereditary: my father had it, and so did my grandmother. My grandmother also had severe Alzheimer's before she died; she used to talk to Lawrence Welk. When Dad was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer, he said, "Well, at least I don't have to worry about Alzheimer's." What a brave spirit, my father.

And speaking of brave spirits, my mother is going to test drive several Ottawa retirement residences in the next few weeks - four days at one starting tomorrow, and four days at another shortly after. So let's see what happens, on this next phase of that particular journey.

The bad news is everywhere, of course, as we're forced to read about the insane murderous colonel with his neatly filed collection of women's underwear. Imagine, he was a base commander. Does this say something about the kind of man who goes into the air force? We've learned too much, as well, about the kind of man who becomes a priest. I guess there are sickos everywhere - but maybe particularly in the armed forces and the priesthood?

No, let's move on. That story is too ghastly to contemplate. More good news: I took myself shopping after the ophthalmologist (just spent five minutes searching for the right spelling of that word...) and bought myself a much-needed treat. I'm sixty, I'm a professional writer, and it's time I had one. What? An electric pencil sharpener! Enough with the fiddly little plastic things. All my pencils are now really, really sharp. And it's the dusk chorus outside as the sun goes down, all the birds singing out the end of day in the ivy. Now that's happiness.

And here's happiness for you: check out Gordon Pinsent on YouTube, reading from Justin Bieber's memoirs. It's priceless.

Bravo to a trio of fine men - Naheed Nenshi, Alan Oke and the still-handsome Mr. Pinsent. I'd like to give you all a gift of some really sharp pencils.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

no complaints here

I woke up and rushed around, thinking it was Monday when I teach two classes - but it was Sunday! Day of REST. And the Sunday "Star" included a free, condensed version of the "New York Times," how great is that.

And so to really relax, I went to a runfit class at the Y, a strenuous workout after which I thanked my body just for getting through. And later went for a bike ride in the gorgeous fall sunshine on the Don Valley Trail, as you can see. That's Michael Ondaatje's "Skin of a Lion" Bloor Street Viaduct.

And then cooked, as always, while listening to Eleanor Wachtel - today interviewing John le Carré who actually has a very ordinary British name, and speaks in the most beautifully articulate and modulated voice, like Laurence Olivier's. What a pleasure to listen to two highly intelligent and interesting people chat with each other, while making pork chops, potato/leek/green bean salad and, yet again, ratatouille.

An article in the "Times" about a reporter following a popular Democrat incumbent as he campaigns door to door - everyone, every single person he encounters, complained about something, even things not remotely the government's fault. This is the backlash to Obama the Miracle Worker - there are no miracles, so let's blame someone. It's profoundly sad and scary.

But the sky is bright, even if we are not.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

O Canada

Gathered on today's walk

tu whit tu whoo

This morning, my young friend and former tenant John, who is finishing his Master's in Journalism and working at the CBC, came over to show me what Twitter is all about, and to get me going. I signed up to follow literary sites like the "New Yorker" and the "Guardian" book page and "Granta." Groaning, because voila, even more, MORE, to read.

But for me, I think Twitter will be like Facebook, fun to read but not necessarily to use myself. Because I write here. I don't know if I can condense my grand sweeping thoughts into 140 characters. And I was overwhelmed by the implications of all those people connecting relentlessly to each other, every moment of the day. John took a picture of his friend's birthday cake and sent it out to all his followers who can send it on ... so thousands can see the birthday cake in a matter of minutes. Dazzling. But crazy. He pointed out that because his job involves the web, he is on the computer all day, and when he's not, he's on his Blackberry tweeting or texting. His entire life, practically, is focussed on a screen. He does play frisbee occasionally.

What's really fun is that Margaret Atwood is a crazy tweeter. I'm following her. Only John and a friend of his are following me. And that's fine. So far. John took a picture on his Blackberry of my blog book and posted it to his Twitter address, to advertise it. Hmm, maybe there is something useful in this Twitter thing ...

God help me.

The outdoor plants are all in, crowding my inner space and graciously dropping their leaves. The garden has been pruned and cleaned up, and soon the wicker chairs will be put into storage and that's it, we're ready for snow. I'm still moving summer clothes out and winter clothes in - because it keeps getting hot again, briefly. Today - stunning, hot in the sun, but surprisingly cold in the shade. Sweaters going on and coming off. Better the confusion, though, than non-stop chill. Which won't be long in coming.

Not a word about Rob Ford or Stephen Harper today. I'd rather contemplate leaves.

PS I just took a test on a site called Apparently, only 1% of Canadian women in my age range drink as much as I do (2, sometimes 3 glasses of wine a day, occasionally less and occasionally more.) I drank around 936 glasses of wine last year, and because of my weight and therefore the amount of time it takes my body to process liquor, spent 2,074 hours, they told me, under the influence of alcohol.

Woo hoo!

And yet, in all the questions they asked about whether your drinking has interfered with your work, health, safety or happiness, I said absolutely not. So it's my poor liver I should worry about. I will try. Though I live such an exemplary life in every other way, I'm happy to allow myself this one delicious sin.

Try the test yourself, and worry about your liver too.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Hey, how've you been? I missed you! But seriously, how time flies.

You KNOW that I am an extremely nice person, not one to gloat over another person's discomfort. So it will be completely out of character for me to celebrate the failure of Stephen Harper's grab for a Security Council seat. And yet, for some strange reason, I am doing a wild victory dance. WOO HOO! I guess he thought no one would notice all the retrograde stuff Canada has been doing and saying internationally for the past few years. The most disgusting part of the spectacle was our noble government snarling that their defeat was all Michael Ignatieff's fault. Like watching a schoolboy who has lost a race howl that it wasn't his fault, his competitor cheated.

I went on-line to see how the "Globe" handled this, and from what I could see, they reported it fair and square. I resubscribed. Come back to me, lovely colourful "Globe and Mail." We disagree on many things, but you have many very good columnists, who, with my dear funky juicy "Star," will keep me company through the long winter.

Had a great treat on Monday - in the morning, I stuffed the 19 pound turkey and got it into the oven, and then, when Anna and her friend Holly arrived, we all did some peeling and boiling and broiling - potatoes both orange and white, brussels sprouts, bread sauce, gravy, peas, corn bread. And then I went out for a jogette, wandering through the Farm and then the Necropolis, picking up red and yellow maple leaves for our centrepiece. Ran into a neighbour on the way home, who, when she heard we were having our Thanksgiving dinner that evening, cried, "Why aren't you at home going crazy?"
"Because," I said, "my staff is taking care of things."

And they were and did. Anna made a centrepiece of red leaves and candles and set the table with the best china and silver, on a hand-embroidered tablecloth from Zimbabwe, a 60th birthday present from Sarah Blin. The food was sublime - we tried brussels a new way, broiled then baked and tossed with balsamic vinegar, and a new sweet potato recipe, mixed with baked apples, cream and yogurt. Fab. There were ten of us, and we ate and drank vast quantities, and laughed even more, because Sam who doesn't stop with the jokes was in his usual fine form. And then the older guests drifted home, the younger guests loaded up containers with leftovers and left, and I had another little nibble of turkey and went to bed, giving thanks for healthy, hearty, happy children and friends. And, let's not forget, self. I've just heard from a beloved friend that there's a suspicious mass on one of her ovaries; she's in hospital to have it checked. And so a fresh round of prayers begins.

It's my son's 26th birthday today, and we're going to his restaurant for dinner. The sun is shining, the air is crisp and smoky, the trees are breathtaking, with leaves that have never been so richly coloured.

Thank you.

I hope you too had a great Thanksgiving, if that's what you were celebrating this past weekend. And if not, I hope you were celebrating something else.

Back to you Saturday.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

too thrilling not to share

Okay okay, just one little note - I can't resist sharing this ... that right now, it is ten minutes after ten on the tenth day of the tenth month of 2010.

Does life get more exciting than that?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

cutting back, for awhile

You know that I am not given to hyperbole or exaggeration, so you'll believe me when I say that today and yesterday, OMG, were the most beautiful days ever in the history of the world. Hot, hot with a cool breeze and that smoky fall smell in the air - leaves gold and red and falling, gardens closing down, and yet that irrepressible sun - heaven. And tomorrow is supposed to be even better.

As I write, the crabby cat is, as ever, asleep beside me. I just said to her, "What, exactly, is the point of you?" But she just slept on, snoring softly, her paw draped over her stripey nose.

Read a chilling article in the "New Yorker" on Mohammed somebody or other, the actual mastermind behind 9/11 - Bin Laden was a johnny-come-lately who only provided money and support while this guy did all the planning, recruiting and organizing. What's so horrifying is that this Mohammed doesn't seem to be an ideological or religious fanatic; he just wants to destroy indiscriminately, and had plans to kill the Pope and plant explosions all over the globe. Perhaps the most terrifying enemy of all - someone utterly irrational, who wants to kill just for the hell of it.

Speaking of which - Happy 70th birthday, John Lennon. My mother just called to tell me to turn on Randy Bachman's show on CBC, a marvellous 70th birthday tribute to John Lennon; when the show ended to the haunting strains of "Imagine," Mum called back, and we cried to each other. The program highlighted the tender, vulnerable side of John, in songs like "If I fell" and "Woman," as well as his songs about love and peace. What a terrible loss for our planet when that lunatic chose to kill, just for the hell of it. We miss you so, John.

Speaking of loss - I recently had my own little tiny brush with death. I was zipping along on my bike feeling so grand, heading north on Avenue Road from Bloor. A bus was idling next to the curb, so instead of pulling in behind it and waiting for it to move, as I usually do, I decided to go around and pass it. As I was level with the bus, it began to pull away from the curb - I must have been in the driver's blind spot and he couldn't see me, so as he swung out, he forced me further into the centre of the road. I managed to slow down till he drew away and then flee back to the curb. The thing is - as I was wobbling about in the middle of the road, there was a red light at Bloor. If the light had turned green, streams of cars would have hurtled toward me, and I'd have been sunk.

Thank you, whoever you are, for not squashing me like a beetle in the middle of Avenue Road. If only John had been so lucky.

And finally, speaking of luck and gratitude ... Google Analytics tells me that over 300 people follow this blog every month, logging on about once a week - over 1200 hits a month. It's an odd feeling, knowing that more than 300 people, most of whom I've never met, know a great deal about what I'm thinking and doing. I love writing here, to you, but I've been wondering if the considerable time and energy that goes into this blog is taking time and energy away from my other writing work.

Hard as this is, I'm going to cut back for awhile. I've announced this before, and couldn't bear not to write, as it gives me such pleasure - I always have a notebook with me, in case something happens I'd like to jot down and share. But for the next while - the next SHORT while - I'm going to post less often, so that my thoughts and concerns go into a longer work that might actually become a book, get published and make some money. Instead of this blog which I adore but which brings in exactly $0.00. Yes, I'm mercenary at heart, as you've always suspected. It's all about the money.

And if you believe that, I've got a blog book to sell you.

(Not quite sure if that makes sense. I think it does not.)

Talk to you soon. On Wednesday. I'll have lots to tell by then.

This scares me, you know. What if all 300 + of you go away and never come back?

Friday, October 8, 2010

nature watch

Today's walk - it's 25 degrees (celsius!), and this is the scene a fifteen minute walk from Bloor and Yonge, at Riverdale Farm.

And this is the scene in my backyard - another fat Charlotte making herself at home.

THE BOOK and how to order it

Here it is - the perfect Christmas/Hannukah present, 212 pages of liquid prose. The intimate story of one woman's brave journey through life, and more particularly, through France.

$20 plus postage. Order at, and I will sign it, dedicate it to you, and mail.

"Warm, funny and moving - the best book I've ever read."
Sylvia Kaplan
(my mother)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

letter to the sparkly new "Globe"

The other day, I was reading the "Globe," as I am wont to do. I still read it regularly, though I cancelled my subscription after seeing one too many smarmy pictures of Stephen Harper trying out his difficult new project - smiling. And I admire the colourful redesigned format - it's brave to put money into print these days, and I hope their gamble pays off.

But a few lines in Margaret Wente's column so infuriated me that I sat down and, in five minutes, wrote her a letter. As I was about to send it off, I decided to copy it to the Letters to the Editor.

Lo, this morning on rising, there were already two notes in my in-box - both from friends who also like to write to editors - about my letter in today's paper. I was amazed and of course, had to go to the corner store to buy a copy. The piece had gone so quickly from brain to "Sent" that I was afraid I'd be humiliated by its contents. But it's okay. Funnily enough, I had just decided to resubscribe, and now that they've shown such great good taste in their letter selection, I shall do so with the greatest pleasure, even if their columnists - and photographs - sometimes drive me nuts.

Here's it is, edited to the bone (they cut it, expertly, in half) and titled "Low bar":

Excoriating Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty for "fooling around with all-day kindergarten"? (Two and a Half Cheers for Rob Ford, Oct. 5.) Do you think that for the millions of families in this province with young children, all-day kindergarten is some kind of silly frill? Decades ago, my friends in France sent their children to all-day school starting at the age of 2 - paid for by the government.

Our politics now, thanks to the extremely low bar set by our neighbours to the south, is increasingly about getting elected by appealing to people's worst instincts - selfishness, greed, paranoia. Rob Ford would be right at home at Sarah Palin's side.

The first thing I did after reading it? Call my mother, in Ottawa, who I knew would be in bed reading the "Globe." As she was, and proudly read my letter aloud. "Oh dear," she said, "Rob Ford will be really angry at you."
"He's always angry, Mum," I said. "And he can't single me out - millions of us feel the same way."

She's sick today, and I'm not there to take care of her. Now that, at sixty, I am much less worried about my independent children, I'm much more worried about my increasingly vulnerable mother and aunt. I guess for us middle-aged care-givers, keeping the worry level just about even is nature's way of making sure we don't forget we're women.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

thanks to the Y

Everyone's sick these days, as people get when the seasons are changing. The crabby cat and I are fine, however. I just logged on to the Toronto Public Library's website to put a hold on the new book "The Moral Landscape," by Sam Harris, America's well-known atheist, who was interviewed on Jon Stewart the other night, and what an interesting talk it was. I was amazed - the library doesn't even have the book yet, and there were already 90 holds. Now, 91. I'd like to meet those 90 people. I bet I'd like them.

Everyone I talk to recently seems to have an elderly parent or parents making the same decision as we are - should Mum move or stay? And if move, where, how, when? And if stay, how to make her place safe? Imagine, my friends, what the world will be like - the western world, at least - when we boomers start to make those decisions. Millions of 80 year olds who are used to having things their way. I think there will be some pretty snazzy retirement residences. Nursing homes full of bongs. I sure hope so, and that by some miracle, I can afford to live there. I'll give the rich boomers writing lessons, and perhaps they'll let me in.

Everything changed for the better today, however, in our own agonized decision-making, thanks to an encounter at the Y. My locker mate Del and I stood naked and talking, as we often do, and as she has recently helped her own mother move to a residence, the topic came up. Brilliant Del gave me a solution to the insurmountable problem my mother has, the problem of her stuff, the amount she'd have to leave behind. Del proposed to her mother that she move for six months with just her favourite bits of furniture and clothing, and leave the rest for the moment. That way, if she hated the new place, she could just come back home.

So simple - and yet the answer to our problem. I talked to Mum today, and that sounded much more doable to her. So we may proceed yet - she may move on a "we'll see" basis, leaving her condo as it is.

We still have hurdles - I'm in favour of one residence and my brother another, so she'll have to decide between the two - and she hasn't agreed to the move in any case. But at least, this way, she won't have two enormous traumas simultaneously - the decision to move and the move itself, and the million decisions about her condo. We can make those later.

Thank you, Del. I tell you, the Y is a giant Wikipedia - there's always someone there who'll be able to answer your questions and help you out, even when you are wearing no clothes at all.

And, in the I'M GLAD TO BE CANADIAN segment of this blog, I offer this headline from today's "Globe": "Ottawa studying economic benefit of polar bears." The feds have put out a tender, offering $44,000 for the winning company to study "the socio-economic importance of polar bears to Canada ... to estimate the monetary and non-monetary values of polar bears ... derived from trophy hunting ... and other consumptive values (meat, hide, and other parts), non-consumptive values (tourism, art, crafts), scientific/educational value, and existence value or value as an iconic species."

OMG. Existence value. I wonder, if, say, my life were to be analyzed this way, what my existence value would be to the Conservatives? I've had my children already, so washed up as a woman; my writing courses could be taught by someone else; my hide is worthless, and as for tourism, art and crafts ... well, there's this blog, my little offering to the world. Pretty sad pickings for a government that likes to put a price tag on everything. Estimated existence value for Beth Kaplan: $3.75.

Good luck to those glorious bears. They'll need it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

listen to the rhythm of the falling ...

I've said it before and I'll say it again - there are days when being a self-employed pauper are so worth it. Like today. It poured all day, the classic glowering skies and endless sleet of the desolate Bronte moors, only this is downtown Toronto. Not a day for tramping around.

So luckily, I had an editing session with a student and a new afternoon class, both right here. People came here through the inclemency. We had a grand new class, inspiring and stimulating, and then they went back out into the wet. I had an errand or two which I squeezed into a brief dry moment, and then back inside to hide. Now it's 11 p.m., pouring still. There's nothing wrong with rain, says my daughter. She loves all weather. So do I - but sometimes, just through my kitchen window.

Tonight, I confess, I watched "Glee." As you know if you follow this blog, my TV viewing is limited - Jon Stewart, some movies and an occasional masterpiece on PBS. But Chris in Vancouver loves "Glee," so I watched. And found myself weeping, twice. It was an episode about belief in God, yes and no, which of course was just an excuse to have those lovely kids sing fantastic songs. They did a version of the Beatles' "I want to hold your hand" which was breathtaking - not the silly old-fashioned version, of a boy to a girl, but this time, of a boy to his dying father. And similarly, an Aretha Franklin song sung in a gospel church. What fun.

I don't know if I'll watch it again. Usually those shows are so formulaic. Even this time, I was embarrassed to allow my buttons to be so easily pushed. But ... that's what those writers and directors make the big bucks for. They're good at it. Definitely worth watching, once in a while.

In the middle, my son called. "Mum, what's the name of the boat that goes over the river Styx?" I have no idea, I said. In the old days, you'd say, Ask your dad. Now you say, Google it. I just did, but this time, maybe Google doesn't know either. Do any of you? Perhaps the boat does not have a name. Why did he want to know? I won't ask.

Bed will be especially cosy tonight.

Monday, October 4, 2010

sure feels like fall

A confession: I'm a slug and should be ashamed of myself. I missed Nuit Blanche this year. All that artistic activity raging on the city streets, and I sat at home. No excuse - yes, I was tired and it was cold, bla bla bla. I should have been out there, supporting the artistic troops. Troupes, more like it.

Next year, I promise I will participate. And next year, if you weren't there either on Saturday night, I hope you will too.

On Sunday, set off for a class at the Y but it was so lovely a day, and so near the end of this time of lovely days, that I went for a bike ride instead - to various bookstores, among other places. I spent the rest of the day reading - finished Diana Athill's "Somewhere toward the end," a marvellous book about aging and life written by a 90-something woman who knows a lot about both. And nearly finished "Reality Hunger: A Manifesto" which is a fascinating read for a creative non-fiction supporter like myself.

I also listened to Eleanor Wachtel talk to an Italian physicist/writer, while cooking a stir fry and a curry. (Badly stated - Eleanor wasn't cooking while interviewing, I was cooking while listening.) I had a long Skype chat with Lynn in the south of France - what a joyous miracle Skype is. She took me on a tour of their new apartment and showed me her new pretty grey jacket from Monoprix - and I showed her one of my purchases, a big fat French "Elle." And then my son came over, to cook potatoes and eat curry. We watched "The Simpsons" at 8, as we have for 15 years. It's still really good, and so is he.

Today - cold and rainy, brrr. It's fall. The leaves are dropping, and this afternoon, after the first U of T class of term - wonderful as always, a stimulating assortment of lives packed into a small subterranean space - I brought in all the plants that summered outside. Now the house is full of greenery, and the deck looks bare. And just a minute ago, I turned on the furnace. The cold weather hunkering begins. Maybe it actually began on Saturday night, when I stayed inside and missed Nuit Blanche.

Soon off to Ryerson to meet another great assortment of lives. Have I said before that I love my work?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

the disgusting Liberal Party of Canada

Okay, now a huge dilemma - I do not like the Conservative Party and its frozen-hearted leader, as perhaps I might have mentioned once or twice. Now the Liberals have shown, once again, how spineless and unprincipled they are. This past week, Liberal M.P. Gerard Kennedy brought forward a bill to protect war resistors who flee to this country - specifying entry only for those protesting wars not sanctioned by the U.N., such as the war in Iraq.

And when the bill, which is endorsed by Canada's faith groups, came forward for its second reading, a large group of Liberals, led by Michael Ignatieff, walked out of the house, thus avoiding the vote and defeating the bill. God forbid they should demonstrate anything feeble and girly, like compassion. Imagine what he-man Harper would do with that!

I just wrote a letter to to Gerard Kennedy, to thank him for being one of the few politicians of heart, courage and principle. He has posted a blog about the bill on, of all places, the "National Post" website. Read it, and then the responses, most of them enraged Conservatives spewing invective.

And I sent the following to the Liberal Party of Canada.

I just read about the Liberals walking out of the House before Gerard Kennedy's bill to protect war resistors was read. And that is the end of my support for the Liberal Party of Canada and Michael Ignatieff.

I loathe the Conservatives and know the NDP can't make a government, so have been doing my best to support the Liberals. But with that one move, my allegiance is over. The party, once more, shows its cowardice, hypocrisy and lack of principles. A disgusting display. I cannot tell you strongly enough how appalled and angry I am.

I know, they're shaking in their boots.

"I love arts," he said.

A few days ago, I mentioned the mayoral debate on the arts. What a surprise - Rob Ford made a fool of himself. "I love arts," he said. "I took dramatic arts in Grade 13."

Here's an excerpt of Martin Knelman's report in the "Star."

... Front-runner Rob Ford quickly got himself into trouble, confirming his image as a dangerous Philistine almost every time he opened his mouth ... Ford seemed almost ludicrously ill-prepared to address hundreds of dedicated arts lovers, and with each blunder, he became more and more the buffoon the crowd loved to hate.

I'm glad I didn't go. There's no need for more rage in my life. My daughter said yesterday, "Don't worry, Mum. He won't get in." And I believe her. But the other day, a friend from the Y with whom I've chatted for years but never in depth, amazed me by launching into a rant about immigrants. "Here we are responsible about population growth but they're not, their numbers are exploding," he seethed, "and then they feel the need to come over here, and we take them in! I'm going to get myself 100 acres and a shotgun." This, from a mild-mannered, British-born, career civil servant. That's the anger they're all talking about, fuelling Ford and Sarah Palin. People disappointed, unhappy with their lives, finding scapegoats, a highly visible target - immigrants; easy answers to extremely complex questions; and an unscrupulous politician who'll stir their fears and appeal to their basest natures. "I guess you're going to vote for Rob Ford," I said. "I sure am," he replied.

Let us pray.

Here's the brand-new "Globe," how spiffy is the new design! How jazzy and snazzy and up-to-the-minute, with all that colour and shiny paper. Apparently this renovation cost many millions. I wonder if they're paying their writers any better. For example, "Facts and Arguments," still occupying most of one entire page - payment to contributors, $0.00.

Biked off to the market this morning, and by the time I was half-way there, my hands were frozen. Came home and dug out my hats and gloves. This is the first real fall day. The great bundling has begun.

Friday, October 1, 2010

September gone

Thank everyone who calls out your faults, your anger, your impatience, your egotism; do this consciously, voluntarily. -Jean Toomer, poet and novelist (1894-1967)

I who suffer from anger and impatience - but absolutely no egotism, no, I'm the most selfless of women - find this a difficult but important concept.

And ... the plural of geranium, for those of you who want to know, is geraniums. Thanks to Bruce and, of course, the infinite wisdom of Google.

A stunning day here, fresh and warm. I don't want to die. I want to enjoy Septembers forever.