Thursday, June 1, 2023

bloggus interruptus

Lots to tell but no time now, very busy. BUT this is to let you know that two skilled women have been working on an upgrade for my website that involves transferring this blog to a new system. So it may be a few days before I can post again. Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Halifax fires, and the sacred fire of David Suzuki

7 a.m., a silent house, another sweet day dawning, my cat gazing out the back door at squirrels. I'm home, with so much on my To Do list and so much to process, where to begin?

After the conference ended — triumphantly, with a banquet, many connections made, many fine writers re-energized — I spent Sunday morning on Norrey's bike riding along the waterfront, a long boardwalk with lots of informational panels and fun things to look at and do, especially for kids. Halifax has done much that's right — open space, waterfront, parks — for both citizens and tourists. I mourn again the @#$@# dinosaurs who are wrecking our city and our province with their appalling, criminal policies. 

A word about weather: for days in Halifax it was so cold, I wore all my layers, five or six, and was still shivering. And then Sunday, it was instantly 30 degrees, scorching hot, everyone in the province flooding to the beach. Monday, 10 degrees again. Very confusing! I'm proud to have managed such huge temperature changes with what was in my carry-on. 

Midday Sunday Kevin came to pick me up at King's and take me along the south shore to St. Margaret's Bay, where he and his wife Donna have lived for many years. With little money they've managed to travel widely, locally in their camper, and to acquire more acres. Kevin counted 500 trees on their sprawling property before the latest hurricane took out more a hundred of them. 

I've known Kevin all my life. His mother Dorothy — Dee — was the receptionist of Dr. Wiswell, our paediatrician. Dee was British and had complaints in her marriage, as was and did my mother; they became best friends. 

On a blazing hot day, we drove to Bayswater Beach, walked by the water, had a picnic. We drove past many a cove, including this one. I told them about my American grandparents, who'd drive up from New York to visit us in Halifax. One Sunday my father proposed a drive. "No, Gordie," said my grandmother. "Too many coves."

But as we drove, we noticed a thick plume of smoke, growing bigger, and when we got home, found out about the fires not that far from K and D's place. Very worrying, engulfing homes and woods. Climate change. Devastating. 

So far, they're okay. Friends who knew your parents, whose parents you knew — priceless.

In Donna's hat at Bayswater. Not exactly dressed for the beach, but I did my best. 

Kev drove me to the airport Monday morning. Tiggy and the garden are in fine shape thanks to Robin. So much work to be done, a very long list. 

But first, last night, a grand celebration. As you may know, David Suzuki and my father were great friends and colleagues, and David and Tara are now friends of mine. I was honoured to be invited to a celebration at the CBC last night of David's 44 years with The Nature of Things; my plus one was Anna, thrilled to see one of her great heroes, the Indigenous activist Autumn Pelletier. There was music and delicious food and an amazingly diverse crowd; Tara spoke about her life with David — 50 years of marriage — and then David spoke, with his usual eloquence and passion, about saving our planet and the importance of public broadcasting. He is 87, and his fire is undimmed. 

David and Tara's accomplished and beautiful daughters Severn and Sarika, and David's family from his first marrage. 
A hero. Love Earth.

Here I am, a tiny person on a tiny planet, head filled with words and thoughts about writing and activism. Where to begin? One thing: recently I've been feeling just a bit old. But after watching David last night, no more. 

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Halifax, Day Three, feels like Week Three

The conference was triumphant, though today was so beautiful — until now, it's been really cold and drizzly — I played hookey and rode Norrey's bike around town, to the Public Gardens, the gorgeous new library, and Point Pleasant Park. Riding a bike around Halifax for the first time since 1960. 

Too much to say, too tired to say it. Pictures instead, for now.

Last night, walked down to the Arm, and there was the Waeg, the boating/tennis/sailing club we were not allowed to join in the late fifties because Dad was Jewish. I wanted to take a look, but there was a gatekeeper who told me, Sorry, this club is for members only. Excluded again! However, the gatekeeper was a young black woman, so things have changed.
The Halifax Public Gardens is one of the oldest public gardens in North America. It's stunning — serene, full of colour. My mother used to take me there in my pram when I was a baby. 
Behind the bandstand is a little house which used to sell ice cream cones. I loved that place. A groundskeeper told me it was recently attacked and burned twice by arson, and the same people also slashed some of the trees with axes. Incomprehensible. 
The new library is a glorious celebration of books, reading, light, and community — people everywhere, many young people using computers, lots of comfortable chairs, just an amazing and welcoming space
There was a children's violin recital in a performance space at the back
Could not help it, looked myself up — and my first memoir All My Loving is in the system! It's the one with the most Halifax. 
One of the reading lounges. 
The green and pink cover on the bottom - MINE. Next to Thomas King. 
There's even a window where you can watch the staff sorting books for reshelving. 
From there down to Point Pleasant Park where I used sometimes to spend the whole day riding my bike by myself or with my friend Penny
And then back to the conference, which was terrific. Here are some of my peeps, the row of shining white heads. There were lots of young people with us, however. 

So much to process, the workshops and seminars and lectures, the bath in nostalgia and memory. Today, again, riding past the places I lived for years of my young life. When people ask me where I'm from, I always say, Cabbagetown, because I don't feel rooted anywhere else. But I found out, this trip, I'm also, definitely, from Halifax. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Old home week in Halifax

Overwhelmed. I do have to ask myself, why am I living in the smoky hellhole that is Toronto right now when I could be in Halifax, a human-sized city with fresh fishy air, rows of beautiful multicoloured old shingled and clapboard houses, and an ocean around every corner? 

 I grew up here. Street names are resonant - Jubilee Road, that's where Berna lived! There's the church where I went to Brownies. That's where we lived from 1950 to 1956, torn down for apartments but across the street, just the same. 

And then there are old old friends. Chris Banks picked me up at the airport, friend since 1968, long story. He and his longtime partner Cathy Smalley and I know about a million people in common, from the theatre and the arts generally. I asked him to take me to Duncan's Cove, where we both lived the summer of 1970 when we were working at Neptune Theatre, before I moved to a cottage in Dead Man's Cove with Patsy Ludwick who'd become one of my closest lifelong friends. Duncan's Cove is still remote, wild and very beautiful. Of course, Chris ran into people he knew and we ended up visiting Beverley, the wife of the man who originally bought the cove and its houses, in her own extraordinary home on the water, with a wood stove out of a fairytale. 

Chris and Cathy invited for dinner Tim Leary, with whom I toured in a musical version of Under Milk Wood in 1972, and his wonderful wife Martha. "You and I dropped acid one time in a used car lot," she stated with assurance, but I am equally assured we did not, I would not forget something like that. We had a delicious fish dinner filled with reminiscence about the million people we all know. Many laughs — the two couples are best friends. 

Next morning, off to check in to my dorm room at King's, which is reasonable but certainly basic, a single bed, a desk, the bathroom down the hall. Ah well. Lunch with Norrey, from whom we bought our Toronto house in 1986. Norrey moved to Halifax in 2019 - one of her daughters lives here - and is very happy in a condo. She has lent me her bicycle for the duration of my stay. So I set off in the cold drizzle — today was dreadful — for the Halifax Grammar School. 

This school, started by my father in 1958, has now done a ten million dollar expansion and has nearly 600 students. Standing outside the new building with its giant sign, I burst into tears. If only my parents were here to see this. It's extraordinary, a wonderful school; the principal Steven Laffoley gave me a grand tour, and I gave him a scrapbook Mum left behind full of HGS memorabilia. 

Cycled home for a rest before dinner with Ian Thompson, a good friend the one year I spent at HGS myself, 1965-66, and his wife Donna. He gave me a tour too, down to Point Pleasant Park and along the industrial waterfront with its giant cranes for unloading tankers. Downtown has exploded, but much of the rest of the city is beautifully the same, with rows of old clapboard houses painted bright colours. So small, in comparison, so easy to get around. The air so fresh. 


My throat is very sore, from my cold but also from talking nonstop. Just bought lozenges, because tomorrow the conference begins. How will I see the rest of the city, the famous new library, and take a walk in the Public Gardens and Point Pleasant Park? I'll play hooky at some point. And I'll have to come back sooner rather than later, and for longer.

The famous clock tower overlooking the old city, ocean beyond. 

A typical house. There are so many, beautifully painted and restored. 

Beverley's kitchen in Duncan's Cove
I lived in this house, but it was much smaller then.
The Cove. Just rocks, trees, and windblown houses. It was very foggy.
Tim, Cathy, Martha, Chris. The best. 

So impressive. Bravo, Dad, what an amazing legacy. The school started in a small old house in 1958, bought by a handful of parents who got second mortgages to afford the thousand dollars they each put in. They rustled up desks and blackboards, and voila, a school. I passed by, and it's still there, a yoga centre now.

Tomorrow, many writers. The fun has just begun. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Word on the Street and a new title

A quick word. I'm off to Halifax first thing tomorrow, and I have a bit of a cold. Yes, another cold. But let's hope it passes quickly with the excitement of travel, because I have a busy schedule ahead that I hope to share with you. I grew up in Halifax and just seeing the names of the streets takes me back many years. Many memories. It will be a powerful experience and I need all my strength.  

Robin will be holding the fort on the home front, and Sam too sometimes. Tiggy and the garden will be well cared for. I will miss them. 

But first, today's excitement: the Word on the Street webinar about memoir. Last year, Helen Humphreys did it with me; this year, Laura Calder, who writes and speaks about food and France, so we have lots in common. Her book Kitchen Bliss is charming, a series of snapshots - postcards, she said - of times in her life connected to cooking and food, with recipes interspersed. It was again a great conversation, and I hope the nearly fifty people attending were inspired.

I look so serious because I was concentrating on how to take a screenshot in the middle of a conversation. But there it is. 

About Sunday night's Succession - again, truly one of the most brilliant shows I've ever seen on TV. The writing! The acting! The sets! Quite amazing, but an added thrill was seeing Dame Harriet as the mother of three of the Roys at Logan's funeral. She brought so much, such depth, to a character who should have much more screen time. Brilliant. She wrote to me it's hard for her that so many dismiss Caroline as hard and cold, because for Harriet, inside her, bringing her to life, she's not at all. 

For us, though, warm is not the word we'd use...

And finally, THE TITLE. Thanks to all who wrote with suggestions. But now we're heading in a completely different direction. I am not, truth be told, a late bloomer. So right now, we're going with this, on the understanding that it STILL NEEDS WORK: 

                                        MIDLIFE SOLO:

       Writing my way through raising kids, growing old, and finding my place in the world.

I think the subtitle needs umph and a serious indication of what the book is really about. This is getting there. What do you think? Not subtle, I know, but then is subtlety needed in a title? Particularly in a book of essays about a ton of different things? 

Stay tuned. The book is being copy-edited right now and may actually appear. I'll believe it when I see it. 

A bientôt!