Thursday, February 21, 2019

Michel de Montaigne, my new hero

OMG could she be more boring? I apologize, dear bloggees, for the tedium of paint colours. I did get a bit obsessive there for awhile. The firstest of first world problems. Onward.

In the midst of my "wind's breath" trauma, I've been reading (skimming a bit, I confess) two library books that need to go back today: Sarah Bakewell's How to Live: or a life of Montaigne, which is wonderfully dense, and Patricia Hampl's The Art of the Wasted Day, which also deals, partially, with Montaigne. Grief-stricken after the death of her husband, Hampl wanders in the book a bit too much but ends up in France, visiting Montaigne's tower near Bordeaux, where he retired in 1571 to write his Essais - the essays that, 450 years ago, began the art of autobiographical non-fiction.

Now it's on my list, to go to Montaigne's tower. To pay homage to the man who fired up the love of essays. Here's how Sarah introduces him:

This idea – writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity – has not existed for ever. It had to be invented. And, unlike many other cultural inventions, it can be traced to a single person: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a nobleman, government official and wine-grower who lived in the Perigord area of south-western France from 1533 to 1592.

He wrote 107 essays: Of Friendship; Of Cannibals: Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes; Of Names; Of Cruelty; Of Thumbs; Of Experience … They rarely offer to explain or teach anything. Montaigne presents himself as someone who jotted down whatever was going through his head when he picked up his pen, capturing encounters and states of mind as they happened. He used these experiences as the basis for asking himself questions, above all the big question that fascinated him… How to live?

How to live, indeed.

And here's Hampl: The great contract of literature consists in this: you tell me your story and somehow I get my story. If we are looking for another reason to explain the strangely powerful grip of the first-person voice on contemporary writing, perhaps we need look no further than the power of Anne Frank's equation: that to write one's life enables the world to preserve and, more, to comprehend its history.

Now I need to read Montaigne's essays myself. And especially to write a few; my work has been interrupted by reno trauma. Perhaps that's what I'll write about: On Paint Chips.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

discovering greige

A cold but sunny day, and I'm trapped inside by the painters, who've been here all day doing the priming coat - I needed to be around to supervise. Have barely moved my sluggish bod, just sitting here enjoying the paint fumes.

Or perhaps not.

A great treat, though - on the recommendation of my old friend Duncan Fremlin, who is a banjo-playing real estate agent, no, a banjo player who makes a living selling real estate, Lucie Brand came today to consult on paint colours. She doesn't charge a lot and she came with a huge briefcase bulging with swatches; we spent an hour making decisions. The cool grey I chose for the hall is too much of a contrast with the soft beigey-yellow of my living-room - who'da thunk it? We chose a "greige" - a grey-beige, instead. "Wind's breath," it's called, how can I resist? My hall will be the breath of the wind! I will breeze through it like a swallow. The other colours I'd chosen, a yellow and a blue, she liked; I just needed an expert's approval. And then we chose a slightly darker greige, Revere pewter, for the chimney brick. Obviously, somebody makes a living coming up with these names; what a fun job. Or perhaps not. I can see eventually going mad.

Ridiculous to need a hand to hold through such a simple process, but it was a great help. Because - 158 different shades of grey.

There are 3 guys still upstairs at 5.30; we'd hoped they'd be finished priming today and be ready for colour tomorrow, but not even close. Of course.

My dear Wayson came for our usual Sunday night dinner last night, bearing 11 red roses. He can be my Valentine anytime. And then we watched Steve Paikin interview Anna Porter and Barry Callaghan about their careers in CanLit. Barry was particularly apt when he talked about how he hates Stephen Harper so much, he can hardly bear to mention his name. Me either.

Please be careful, Canada. There's a bit of a scandal swirling around Trudeau, yes, though it's not something appalling by any means, and I'm sorry he's had to lose his closest advisor because of it; that's not good for any of us. And just look at the alternative, the leering hyena Scheer, made in the Harper mold. Please God, no.

Monday, February 18, 2019

superb Oslo

Tell someone you're going to see a play about failed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and watch their brows wrinkle. That's the thrilling plot of Oslo, a powerful, important play about what it takes to be a peacemaker. A Norwegian couple with links to the government took it upon themselves, in 1992-93, to bring Palestinian and Israeli negotiators to the table in neutral Oslo, to try to find common ground, gambling that when these men came to see each other as human beings and not as monstrous enemies, progress would ensue. And that is what happens. The characterizations - in the script and on the stage - are superb, the tension mounts; one Israeli is arrogant and the next is worse, one of the Palestinians is a surly hardline Communist who hates everyone, surely nothing can happen here.

And yet it does, inch by inch, as you hold your breath. At one point, two of the men find out they have daughters with the same name, a tiny moment with vast repercussions. They manage to make a deal. Tragically, it did not last, but for a brief moment on our embattled planet, peace broke out. A deeply moving play in a fantastic production.

In the spirit of letter writing mentioned last post, I just emailed Mirvish Productions to thank them for making this town so rich with theatre. At Oslo, I talked to the couple sitting in front who are from Timmins; they fly into Toronto regularly to see theatre and eat at good restaurants. They'd seen the new Sting show,  then The Father, a great new production of a French play about Alzheimers by a very small theatre company, and Oslo. The woman sitting next to me, with whom by the end I exchanged email addresses - we will, it turned out, be in Paris at exactly the same time in April - goes often to the theatre alone, like me. What a richness of choice we have, with so much on offer. Grateful.

And grateful to former students who write to tell me their news; just got this: Just wanted to send you a note that I have finally completed a memoir that was sparked in your class. I’ll be self publishing in June. I would love to invite you to the book launch in Toronto in mid August. Thanks for your class.

It's Family Day, a holiday, and all is still. No one here, no banging, no drilling, mudding, or sanding. There's beautiful fresh snow to shovel, a house in chaos to sort out, a Wayson to invite for dinner. We are alive, my friends. It doesn't get better than that.

PS Wish I could show you - there's a cardinal at the feeder, flashing scarlet against the snow, in the sun. Winter is brutal but with moments of great beauty, even more appreciated because ... rare.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Margaret walks the Camino

First, most importantly, friend and student Margaret Lynch wrote a beautiful essay for my home class on walking the Camino and now has read it on CBC radio's The Sunday Edition; it will air tomorrow but she sent us a copy. It brought tears to my eyes, not just for the fine writing and thought, but because Margaret has come so far as a brave and honest writer with a powerful story to tell. She has just begun; you'll be hearing more from her. Brava! 

And while I'm in celebration mode - I got a moving email yesterday from one of the greatest stars of the Canadian stage, Martha Henry, to whom I'd written ten years ago about a Stratford production she directed that I loved. The note speaks for itself - a blessing.
My dear Beth - I’m clearing out some old papers today and came across an email from you from 2009 which I had printed! - talking about our production of Three Sisters. I read it again and nearly wept, I was so happy at what you said and so proud. Thank you. I may keep this for yet another ten years......! How thoughtful and kind of you to write this. It meant a lot to me. Clearly!   

I've made a lifelong habit - sometimes to the amusement and even scorn of my friends - of sending letters of both complaint and praise. How great that this one made a difference. A mitzvah. When someone impresses you, let them know!

It's Saturday, but Kevin and Ed are here. They need to finish mudding, patching, sanding now, because Monday is a holiday and the painters come in Tuesday. Yes, the painters - we still have no doors, tons to do at a basic level, but it seems like a good time to paint.

So I am going mad. JM suggested I hire someone to advise about colours, but a request to a local tastemaker let me know he charges $700 for a "colour consultation." We won't be having that, thank you very much. "How hard can it be?" I said blithely. And now have been to Home Hardware twice for sample colours, until they ran out of sample size pots, so this morning I went down to a paint store on Queen Street East and came back with one pot that's almost identical to one I already had.

$700 for an expert eye is starting to look more like a good investment. (Joke!)

I have found a beautiful yellow for the spare bedroom; done. But I would like a soft grey-blue for my bedroom and a soft grey for the hall. What I now know is that the paint chips do not in any way resemble what goes on the wall. My first attempts at being Mark Rothko - a grey that's too white, so next, a grey that's too dark, like concrete. 

First world problems.

The sun is shining but it's cold, and the sidewalks are icy. Today's note in the Annals of Aging - as I walked carefully along Queen Street this morning, wearing my maroon velvet hat and scarf, I passed a woman not dressed for the weather and high on a drug of some kind, crack or an opiate. She said something, and then passed me and said, "Oh I'm sorry, I thought you were a man." And then she went on, "My mother taught me to always be polite to elderly people, so I'm really sorry."

A knife in the heart! I'm hopeless at choosing colours, and I look mannish and ... elderly! Elderly! I, a mere, a youthful 68! The only thing that will make me feel better about that is chocolate. And remembering that I did a tiny thing that made the magnificent Martha Henry happy.

And thinking about my family. Since Anna and fam will not be going away for Family Day, she decided to spring for a treat - she, her best friend Holly, and the boys are all staying in one room at the Delta Chelsea down the road, where there's a swimming pool, games room, playroom, self-serve restaurant... I took them for dinner there last night and then we went to the playroom, where my grandsons were bounding leaping falling throwing whirling dashing bouncing building sliding joking crashing chatting vrooming. Non-stop.

Went home to recover and watch The Philadelphia Story. I've seen bits of it but never the whole thing. A wonderful film. Imagine working with Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart, talk about the dream team.

My dream team is sanding outside my office door. Happy Family Day to you all. This elderly person - NOT! - is off to eat a lot of chocolate and fuss about paint chips.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

one-bedroom basement suite for rent

My basement apartment will be available May 1 - now not a bachelor but a furnished one-bedroom apartment with washer/dryer. At least, that's the hope - that I'll have moved out of that bedroom myself by then. If you know a quiet someone who needs a nice place downtown and can be flexible about time - because who knows when you're @#$@#$ renovating? - please get in touch.

Re Reno-land: Ed just said, if we let any more people up here, we'll have to charge admission. Not only are he and Kevin up high on ladders, mudding and sanding, but today, four Ukrainian window installers are here, plus, for a bit, their very hefty boss. TAK, I am hearing. The old windows dated from 1980 and several no longer closed. Now they're better insulated too. I hope my heating bills reflect that.
 middle bedroom
 my bedroom

Moving right along. We will paint next week, apparently. Still tons to do, however, including the entire third floor which has not even been started yet - big electrician holes in the walls with insulation pellets spilling out. Joy.

But it's sunny, bright hot sun; after the last two wretched days, it's bliss, and thank god, because the windows are out but it's not nearly as cold as it was. Yesterday was particularly appalling - it had rained on the snow, and the streets were awash with slush. (Say that fast.) I got to the Y for Carole's class, but barely, and then came home to shovel. And shovel. Why go to the Y for exercise when you live in Canada, the great northland?