Tuesday, September 18, 2018

notes about Macca and the Little Free Library

I wrote to Liel Leibovitz, the author of the McCartney article I posted yesterday, to tell him how much I liked his piece and my own bond with Macca. He wrote back today, thanking me and telling me he had ordered my book to keep him company until Macca plays next in New York. How nice is that?

And another nice note: a woman in a power wheelchair got a friend to put a note through my front door today. I saw her and spoke to her on the street later. Her letter was on paper ripped from a day-timer, and this is what it said:
Sept. 18, 2018
Dear Little Library:
Wanted to thank you and yours a big greatful thanks for the efforts and energy that you all put into providing this beautiful community assest. When you shut down for a few weeks I was very sad because we thought your frustration level was growing. Do not allow this to happen. If a person steals book - pray they get money to buy what they need or want. It may save houses from break ins or avoid a senior from having their purse being snatched so that the thief can get food and drugs.

From a further prism - lots of poorer people access the books - like me and my grown family and grandsons. They love the books. We "loan" the books to others and it is like a mini book club. Wow the big treat for me is the occasional New York Times especially Sunday.

So thanks for re-opening and keep the free library going. The community loves it and feels darn lucky.
With sincerity, 

Now that keeps a woman going, for sure. The vanishing books are not from an addict who sells them for food or drugs, however; it's a hoarder. I confronted him again yesterday, as he stood in front of my library with a full backpack and large satchel, I'm sure bulging with the contents of all the local libraries that he pillages daily. But yes, I've decided we have to put up with him because even so, people still put books in and take them out. As, in fact, do I.

Thank you, Penny.

First class of the Ryerson term last night - the class limit is 18, and there were 17. A very full class but wonderful, interesting faces and stories, one back from many years ago and two from last term, who feel like old friends.

Packing for Montreal - more time with Lynn and then the two of us seeing Macca on Thursday night, how exciting is that? Staying at an auberge b and b downtown. And then on to Ottawa to visit my aunt, who is not in good shape. Nicole will be staying here to keep the house going. When I get back fall begins for real - courses running, work, putting away the tank tops and getting out the sweaters, piling on more clothing, closing down the garden; the new season will start.

But in the meantime - roses and cucumbers, endless piles of tomatoes and cucumbers, and so - more gazpacho.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Gospel of Saint Paul

At last, the world is waking up to a powerful truth I have known for decades but others have been slow to acknowledge - that John Lennon, though a musical genius, in no way compares, in accomplishments, skill, and heart, to his bandmate and fellow genius, Paul, aka Macca.

Cool people - guys especially - seem to think it's wimpy to love Paul, because he unselfconsciously sings adoring love ballads as well as screaming rockers, because he loves women and children and doesn't eat or wear animals, because he has tried out just about every musical genre and not succeeded at all of them.

This writer gets it, at last. A terrific article, except for what he says about the left at the beginning, which nearly destroyed the whole thing for me but couldn't.
I must send the author my book, so he can read about a lifelong fan, not a Johnny-come-lately. Am leaving for Montreal this week, for the great thrill of going with Lynn to see Macca at Montreal's Bell Centre. Scream.

Here's today's joy, in the absence of my friend, who's back in Montreal: the north side of the garden this morning.
The fall-blooming clematis on the fence gets me every year, with its swath of scented white stars. Am about to go and pick the season's umpteenth fat cucumber.

Teaching starts tonight, the Ryerson class nearly full. Back in harness. Onward.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

"Let it go" dance party, Eli's protest signs

Sitting with my dear friend on a very hot day, as she wrestles with her brand new if refurbished iPhone (much less expensive than in France) - she has been online solving problems with various experts most of the day but is getting there. I in the meantime went to recuperate from last night's dance party in the hot tub at the Y, and then on to Queen's Park for what was not a demonstration against our hideous premier, but a picnic, a peaceful gathering on the grounds, just to remind them we're out here and not going away. Anna was there of course with her boys, and I was proud to see that Eli had written his first protest signs. His education in democracy begins. Meanwhile, Ben was kicking a soccer ball and trying to squash the bubbles a young woman nearby was blowing for him. Our people.

"I HOPE NEXT ELECTION DOUG FORD LOSES." He told me what he wanted to write and I helped him spell it. We all agree with you, sweetheart.

On Thursday, a thrilling event - former student and editing client Rollande Ruston launched her book "If the Rocks Could Talk" at a gorgeous house on Admiral Road. We worked for several years, going back and forth, and she produced a beautiful book about her childhood in the Gaspé, not just a personal tale but an important piece of social history - she has traced her family back to the 1700's. She was kind enough to speak at length about my class and help in getting her book out, and I spoke of how much hard work and dedication she put into it and how proud I was of her and the book.
And then leapt onto my bicycle and tore home for my 6.30 home class, just made it in time. The term begins, and how glad I was to see those faces and to hear their words.

Last night's Let It Go dance party was a triumph of one kind if not of another. There weren't enough people for me to break even - in fact, I lost $150 on the venture. And I discovered that not everyone enjoys dancing to even one Glenn Miller piece or to an obscure but terrific African musician, whom I'd gone to considerable lengths to discover and include. By night's end there were about 25 people, 10 or 15 fewer than I'd hoped; they were dancing madly, which was a joy to see, but periodically something would come on and clear the dance floor. Except for me, Lynn, and Jean-Marc, who danced to everything. My people. Old friends came, friends from the Y and from the neighbourhood, but I had done too little to promote it. Lesson: I am good at ideas and producing and lousy at marketing. I knew this but didn't fix it.

However, very early, a middle-aged woman came alone, very shy, didn't speak to anyone, but she danced and danced. And she is exactly the person this was for. So I hope it happens again, only next time, the playlist should be by someone younger, and someone else should promote it.
Madame and me getting ready to dance.

This morning, my body ached from head to foot - three solid hours of dancing plus a little bit of worrying about venue, attendance, money, music. A soak at the Y helped, and a kindly protest. Soon Lynn and I will go out to meet our good friend Eleanor Wachtel, who is fitting us into her very busy schedule, and then we'll celebrate our last night together (at least in Toronto - she goes to Montreal tomorrow and I go there Wednesday) with take out fish and chips accompanied by a good Chablis and Randy Bachman on the radio, followed by HBO. And talking. Talking talking talking. She leaves tomorrow. I am already bereft.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

our dictator

The beautiful weather has returned, blessedly. I was sitting here after lunch with the back door wide open when I heard a strange splashing noise and finally located it - a plant saucer left on the railing had filled with rainwater, and now it's full of sparrows, waggling, splashing, drinking. The fat pink roses are back for a second glorious round, everything else still in full bloom - no sense of an ending. Not yet.

Last night was democracy in action - ten people of the thirty or so I'd invited actually came to meet Megann and talk about local issues: the many safe injection sites nearby, transit, affordable housing, bike lanes, and much more - all the stuff city hall should be dealing with instead of fighting this cretinous premier and his bullying ways. Once again, heartbreak. Though I had to laugh this morning - writing to an American friend, I complained about "our dictator" and she wrote back, "Our dictator is worse than your dictator!" This is a contest I'm happy to lose.

Lynn is away visiting a high school friend, so I've been alone yesterday and today, getting back to the memoir, making some of the edits suggested by the most recent editor - honing, cutting, getting the damn thing in shape. In the meantime, I myself am feeling completely OUT of shape. A roll of four or five pounds more than I'm used to sitting around my waist, making every waistband uncomfortable, slower than ever in Carole's class. Is this inevitable aging or is it just my own personal disintegration?

My friend Linda is a brand new grandmother, her first grandson named after her husband's twin brother who died twenty years ago. So pleased to see her beaming face, to hear her sound just like every other grandmother: "I had no idea! I mean, I love my kids, but I've never felt anything like this!" Yes indeed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Old Friends

Two of our dearest friends, Jessica and Suzette, came for dinner last night; we all go back to Carleton University in the late sixties. Jessica became a well-known curator of modern art, and Suzette is an acclaimed screenwriter who lives part of the year in L.A. Together, we are a gaggle of vibrant biddy buddies who go way back and have a great deal to say.

Here are Jessica's pictures of us after dinner:

It made me think of the beautiful Simon and Garfunkle song, Old Friends, so I looked it up.
Old friends, old friends,
Sat on their parkbench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
of the high shoes of the old friends
Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends
Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a parkbench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy
Old friends, memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fears

How terribly strange to be seventy, we thought way back then. And now here we are, or almost. Unimaginable - and yet we are redefining age as we go. No dust on our shoulders, quiet folk sitting on park benches in this neck of the woods.

And incidentally, speaking of old folk, my aunt is getting better, the pain is less, her brain is fully functional even if her legs are not. How terribly strange to be ninety-eight is more like it.

Tonight, I'm throwing a neighbourhood event for Megann Willson; poor woman, she bravely threw her hat into the municipal ring some months ago and now is facing unprecedented chaos as our dictatorial premier challenges the courts. A nightmare. So tonight, instead of listening to a serious progressive candidate speak about her platform, we will try to figure out if there is actually an election and what has happened to democracy in our province.

Thursday, work starts - my home class, getting me up to scratch before Ryerson launches next Monday, the class there almost full already. What happened to summer? Over in a blink.

It's mild and not actually raining after yesterday's dreadful cold downpour, but cloudy and grey. To cheer me up, I remember Eli on the weekend. He and Holly were looking at the enormous maple tree in my front yard, and Holly asked him, "What do you think that tree would say if it could speak?"
Eli considered carefully.
"WHY AM I STUCK HERE?" he said.

A reminder for those of you in town: this event coming right up.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

André the Anti-Giant

On with our busy week, my BFF Lynn and I, we have places to go and things to eat. And drink. And drink.

On Tuesday evening, a swim in the divine pool of my other friend Lynn and dinner on her deck - a treat to sit between my two favourite Lynns.

On Wednesday, Sam came over to cook us dinner, Holly and Nicole came to organize the garage sale stuff, and then Lynn and I went to one of my favourite events of the year, Gina Dineen's Cabbagetown Short Film Festival. Such a grand community occasion, many neighbours and friends packed in, glass of beer or wine in one hand and a free slice of pizza in the other, to watch short films from around the world. One this year was especially moving - André the Anti-Giant, a doc about a man with severe disabilities who became a standup comedian. If you want to see a portrait of courage and humour in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties, see this uplifting, marvellous film. That is, if the director Kim Saltarski can get it launched, and we sure hope he can.

Thursday Lynn went to Hamilton to visit one of her oldest childhood friends, and I to a staff event at U of T, food and drink and many colleagues. And on Friday, after she introduced me to Aquafit at the Y, which I've never done and is much more fun than I'd imagined, Lynn and I met our friend Ken at Rebel House for lunch. Sam worked there for years, the owner is a friend, and as we sat, he brought a plate of special hors d'oeuvres, "a gift from Sam." All of this delicious in so many ways. On the way home, a tiny bit of shopping at Winners, another thing my friend and I do so well, she especially, a discerning Frenchwoman who likes a bargain.

The shock to come was the weather. Wednesday was so incredibly muggy and hot, it was hard to breathe, and by Saturday, at the start of the Cabbagetown Festival, it was freezing. We piled on layer after layer to survive. Holly and Nicole were here by 8 a.m. to get our garage sale set up, and the two marvellous saleswomen spent the day trying to flog my possessions. At one point, I wept; I'm such a sentimental fool and find it hard to see things my relatives left behind, or that I've owned for years, out on display being pawed over by strangers. Who didn't buy much in any case; most of what went were the records. To my dismay, a lot of stuff came back in at the end of the afternoon, though we did leave a lot on the sidewalk, from whence it vanished.
Much fun with my grandsons at the kids' play area, bouncing in the bouncy castle and drumming and bouncing and face painting and bouncing. Non-stop energy from them, if not from Glamma. And then Wayson came and we had street Thai food for dinner and watched A Monster Calls, a lovely film which made me weep again. Two weeps in one day - exhausted.

This morning, supposed to run the annual 2 k. fundraising mini-marathon, but it was so cold and I so tired that I did not. Another Aquafit class at the Y with my eager friend instead, the two of us bobbing about like mermaids in the little warm Y pool. Anna and family came back for more bouncing and street food, and then Lynn and I had aperitif with Monique and much talk in French.

Next week busier than ever before my friend leaves on Sunday. I have not done any writing work for days. Weeks, really, if I'm honest. But I will get back to it as soon as I can. I will.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

my great-grandfather at Ashkenaz

I guess this is a thrill not many people have - sitting in a crowded room to watch a dramatic film adaptation of a relative's play. My great-grandfather wrote what is considered his masterpiece, Mirele Efros or the Jewish Queen Lear, in 1898. In 1939, his most produced work was adapted into a Yiddish language film, and yesterday, it was shown at the Ashkenaz Jewish festival here.

I assumed there'd be seven elderly Jews and me in the auditorium, but it was packed with I'd say 200 viewers, maybe more. Amazing. The producers knew I'd be attending because I'd offered to speak, even briefly, about the film and the man; as usual, there was no interest, but they did introduce me as his great-granddaughter and biographer. The film has been remastered with English subtitles - still a bit blurry and sometimes the words illegible, but the film came alive. At the start, there's a long shot of the famous bronze bust of Gordin, with a note about his importance in the world of Yiddish theatre and film. How proud I am of the old man! The film had humour, pathos (of course), fine acting - especially its powerful heroine, a warhorse part for generations of actresses. Gordin the socialist feminist created the role of a very clever businesswoman who's also an adoring mother - though he was not a feminist at home; his wife Anna, the mother of his 11 children, was in the kitchen making soup like a good Jewish wife.

I have offered my services to Ashkenaz before, and this time was surprised and even hurt, once again, that the producers have no interest in the playwright's great-granddaughter who happens to live right here in Toronto. It's too bad; I think audiences would be interested to hear about the man and his work. But there you go. I was grateful to see this fine film.

Lynn and I are still having a great deal of fun and rosé. On Sunday night Anna and family came for dinner, and afterward Lynn and I watched Gone Girl, an edge-of-your-seat dark film by Gillian Flynn who wrote Sharp Objects. Last night we saw RBG, a doc about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and what a magnificent, inspiring woman she is. We are eating huge quantities of corn, ribs, Cheesies, and baked potatoes, which Lynn cannot eat in France. We are laughing constantly. And here we are, with two fellow actors, in a play in 1969, playing people frozen like automatons by modern life.
As far as we're concerned, we look exactly the same. But perhaps not.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Stratford - Coriolanus and friends

Fun! Food! Art! Friends! What's not to like about a trip to Stratford?

Wednesday evening we had a Francophone gathering here to welcome Pierre, who brought a bottle of Pol Roger champagne, now there's a classy guy. Drinking rosé and talking about France versus Canada: Jean-Marc an Acadian, Monique a Frenchwoman who married a Canadian and spent her adult life in Canada, Lynn a Canadian who married a Frenchman and spent her adult life in France. Pierre has lived in Canada only a year and just bought the house across the street. When asked what he likes about this country, he replied, "Everything." And we like everything about him.

Thursday morning, Lynn and I got the direct bus at 10 a.m. and were in Stratford by noon. Old friends Anna Stratton, a film producer, and Tom Campbell, a visual artist, picked us up. They moved a year ago from Toronto and now own a light-filled house with a huge two-story studio in the garden for Tom - painting on the main floor and sculpture upstairs.
We had a gabfest, then off to visit two of Lynn's teachers from Chateauguay - Zella, her Grade 4 teacher whom Lynn had not seen since 1958, and husband Jerry, who taught Lynn math in Grade 10. They reconnected through Facebook.

It was a wonderful encounter - they remembered Lynn well and were thrilled to see her again, to hear about her amazing life in Europe; and she told them how fondly she remembered them, how they'd stayed with her all those years. It meant a great deal on both sides. A beautiful warm couple, both with the kind of open face you'd trust on sight with your life.
A walk along the Avon River, where I saw friend Ellen Roseman taking a picture of her husband Edward Trapunski and ran to photobomb them. They'd also come on the bus to see Coriolanus.
A wander through town to a delicious dinner with Anna and Tom; Lynn and I had moules frites. And then off to Coriolanus, directed by Robert Lepage. This Quebecois director is now an international superstar making his debut at Stratford, and about time too. I've had mixed feelings about his work in the past - always brilliant, imaginative use of technology, but sometimes overdone, too much focus on moving things around and not enough on story. Well, here again - this is a difficult play, surely one of Shakespeare's weakest, and the production did not clarify a convoluted, wordy plot. But the production values were stunning, a use of projections with gorgeous backdrops constantly changing - I don't know how he did it, the narrowing of focus like a camera, then widening, then there's Coriolanus driving a car; the interplay of ancient Rome and modern day - sometimes done so awkwardly - seamless, nothing out of place, even, at one point, two centurions texting each other, with clicking sound effects and emojis - hilarious, and it worked. The acting was extremely good, as we'd expect from this fine company.

The most amazing moment of all - the curtain call, when we saw that the set was actually just a box. Everything was done with video and projections. Incredible. Richly satisfying, even if obtuse and dense, more or less incomprehensible.

We walked back to Anna and Tom's, fell exhausted into our comfortable beds, had an enormous breakfast with much talk next morning; our hosts had found a Ralph Fiennes version of the play on film that they said was better for both the lead character and the play itself.

More exploring, then lunch with another of my oldest friends, Lani, who had driven in from Ingersoll to meet us.
There is no one on earth like Lani - one of a kind, eccentric with a heart as big as her small body can hold; today she had a perfect little Lani handbag and pink and maroon streaks in her hair. After lunch we did my essential Stratford shopping at Rheo Thompson, the chocolate store, $45 worth of dark chocolate including my faves, mint smoothies and peanut butter cups. And then once more to the theatre, a matinee courtesy of Lani; I'd chosen the play Napoli Milionaria! before it opened, because of the director, Anthony Cimolino, and the star, Tom McCamus.

Hmmm. Have to say - mixed reviews. An interesting, long play with a vast cast, set in Naples during and just after WWII, about how people survive war, how they lose their souls, or don't, when a society is upended. Could, should, be very moving. But - badly miscast. McCamus is a talented, charismatic actor, but as a voluble working class Italian - non bene. And Cimolino's shrill actress wife as an Italian matriarch - also non bene. A few others out of place, including a young actress who had to play a woman with an uncontrollable laugh, a very difficult part, excruciating. So scenes that should have been moving were hollow and did not work. But still worth seeing, with some terrific stagecraft, including a perfect set and intermission set changes done by actors in costume.

Goodbye to Lan and straight out to the bus for the ride home. We'd bought half a bottle of red to share on the way with a little snack, so the ride was painless until we hit the heart of downtown Toronto at 7 p.m. on the Friday of a long weekend, with an Ed Sheeran concert and Fan Expo clogging an already clogged Front Street - we crawled along for an hour. It was good to get home.
Lynn, who is in charge of our rosé supply, has made friends with the cashiers at the LCBO on Parliament Street.  "Come visit again soon!" the woman said to her today. And she will.