Friday, December 13, 2019

Knives Out

I am not celebrating the end of the hapless Andrew Scheer. It's much better for our side to have a bumbling retrograde goof than one of the smarter and more dangerous replacements. In the meantime, we mourn for England. "Unbelievably depressing," wrote my friend Penny from Sheffield, "we're a bit of red in a sea of blue. Even Boris Johnson's colleagues don't trust him!"

Yesterday's treat - a movie date with my son, who bought us the tickets and rushed to the Varsity after work. We saw Knives Out, the perfect mother-son film, richly funny with great actors and an unmissable undertone of vicious anti-Trump social satire. A brief chat with a tall young man before he went west and I went east, walking along Bloor St. arm in arm - my arm reaching way up just to loop through his. A glimpse, a sighting of him, and he's off.

The great ongoing treat is finally getting to Season Three of The Crown - just watched the third episode about the ghastly disaster in Aberfan, Wales, which I remember reading about when I was 16. Just about the best hour of film I've seen anywhere - stunning.

Went across town the other day - Ben was sick and Anna had much to do at the school, so I babysat.
Anna's cat Naan under the tree
My daughter is phenomenally organized, despite two small boys in a small apartment. This is the superhero garage.
Her seasonal bins and clothing ones that say "Next season" and "up next." I'm not disorganized, but this wondrous level of meticulous order comes from her dad's side.

Jean-Marc sent this, a shot of my semi-detached house - the third down, with a big car out front - in the late sixties or early seventies, before the stucco was blasted off. Just realized I've lived in this house nearly half my life! Yikes.
That empty lot on the corner was once farmed by the kids of Sprucecourt School using Clydesdale horses from Riverdale Farm. Yes, only 25 years ago or so. Now it's a row of nondescript buildings, of course.

Today, meeting Ruth at the AGO to see the exhibit of early Rubens. I'm glad she asked me to join her; though I make a point of visiting museums in foreign cities, I tend to neglect the ones here, and they're terrific. And it's not too cold and the sun's shining. So - 10 o'clock and all's well. Over and out.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

a tiny bit of gloom

Back to reality: winter darkness, Christmas, responsibility, work. Teaching done till January, so now's the time for writing. I feel I should be doing something about my manuscript, but I don't know what. It went out in July to four or five publishers, and I have heard exactly nothing from any of them. Perhaps I should start again? Send a sharp reminder? Show up naked at their offices and fling pages about in ecstasy?

So new writing has not been forthcoming. Stuck, you might say.

However, I've been reading about writing, which is nearly as good. LOL. Several short sentences about writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg, is a terrific book. And I just got Catching the big fish: Meditation, consciousness, and creativity, by David Lynch, out of the library. All inspiring.

Perhaps it's a failure of confidence. Perhaps I'm feeling that a new generation of writers is taking over and I have no idea what's going on. I just checked Wattpad, a Canadian site for stories, to see what it is, and here's what they say:
From cozy mysteries to LGBTQ+ meet-cutes, technothrillers to cyberpunk fairytales, your story has an audience through Wattpad. Tag your stories. Use genre, sub-genre, descriptive, and trending tags to not only help readers find your story but to also rank in a range of topics.

That's barely English to me. What story does this old white woman want to tell, a vampire meet-cute? I'm feeling a bit lost right now.

However, in response to my last moan about a bad review of my teaching, a former student posted this on my blog, and it's so kind, I'd like to repost it here in the Blowing Own Horn department. I don't know who this is, but I like him or her really a lot.
I can't think of anyone more dynamic or engaged in life than you Beth. You teach 2 university classes, hold biweekly home sessions, write a daily blog all while maintaining a lovely home and tenants. And you entertain two lively grandsons, travel, share meals and special events with your family near and far. You produce storytelling afternoons and dance nights and your local Nativity play every Christmas. And you ride a bicycle 6 or 7 months a year!
Thinking of all you do Beth reminds me of something Fred Astaire once said when he was being praised for his dancing abilities. He said that what he did was nothing compared to Ginger Rogers who matched him step for step, while moving backwards and in high heels. Beth, you are a fabulous writer, grandmother and human being. And as a past student I can say you were a generous, knowledgeable and inspiring teacher

Thank you, whoever you are. It means a lot. I enjoy a bit of self-pity once in a while. A pat on the back, a kiss on the cheek, all it takes to get the spirit moving again. Plus - toothless Bill just arrived to put up the Christmas lights and I got a wonderful gift for Thomas at Doubletake today - a handcrafted canoe paddle for $24. And now it's wine time. More cheerful already!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

New York Day Four

Home. Heaven. A painless return after the shimozzle of the flight in: the 6 train to Grand Central and a short walk to the Newark airport bus. At the airport absurdly early yet again, but had the Sunday NYT to read. Flight on time, sat next to a nice older man who'd been in New Jersey for a wedding and who turned out to be a dual citizen Trump supporter who voted for Doug Ford. "I do not admire Trump's personality," he said, "but I like what he has done for the economy and jobs and immigration." I wanted to scream and did not, but I did let him know, as you can imagine, how I feel about the world's most reprehensible orange blowhole psychopath. We barely had time to touch on Ford. My companion was a surgeon. How extremely self-satisfied and short-sighted smart people can be.

Okay, back to NYC. This is Vija Celmins' work. I loved the way she carefully recreates life with humour and phenomenal care. First, giant things like erasers made out of balsa wood and painted. Then she started to use only pencil and focus on her office. (click to enlarge)
They're huge.
Aren't they alive, these lamps? So funny and human.
And then she got into oceans and deserts - this is all done by pencil. Meticulous. She found nice rocks and recreated them exactly in bronze. Insane. But wonderful.
I went down one flight to their new acquisitions. Agnes Martin makes me laugh. She's from Saskatchewan. How can you tell?
An Ethiopian artist, Elias Sime, uses discarded computer parts and e-waste to make his gorgeous complex panels.
And yes - I did go out again last night to the Met. At 7 on a Saturday night, it's tranquil, overflowing with riches - from ancient Greece to Abstract Expressionism. Wandered in a daze of art love. Three of the million things I saw and admired:
Lewis Carroll took this portrait in 1870 of Alice Liddell, his Alice in Wonderland. She is 18 and doesn't look pleased to be there.
 Shoes, by Van Gogh, 1888. He makes me weep.
One of my favourite artists: Louise Nevelson, who turned scraps into art that looks like shelves and here, like a kind of house. She was born in Ukraine, like all my ancestors on the Jewish side of my family, spoke Yiddish at home, emigrated as a child. I think she is creating homes for herself.

I walked home at 8.30 in the dark and cold, peering into people's windows - lots of Christmas lights, people buying trees on the sidewalk, very pretty. Have to say - everyone I asked directions from or spoke to was kind and friendly. There is a miraculous human scale to this monumental metropolis.

Newark is a shabby old airport. I was put into a special line at security, much shorter than the regular line, I thought because the guy figured I was a classy woman travelling first class, but then I learned: people selected for the special line are children, the military, the handicapped, and those over 75.

Sigh. Oh well. A shorter line was worth it. Almost.

Nothing to eat after security but squishy packaged sandwiches and chocolate bars. Even so, they want to be sure you like them. "How was your dining experience..."! Gotta love those Americans.
What I meant to do but did not: see the J. D. Salinger exhibition at the NY Public Library; have a drink at the Algonquin bar; walk in Central Park. Some things I noted: everyone eats on the street, sitting on walls with platters of food or messy stuff rolled up in foil. Everyone wears sneakers and is fixated on phones, as everywhere; I wonder here if it's sanity, withdrawing from the whirl into your own space. I noted the number of shrieking complaining whining children with irritated parents and felt for both sides. Will the U.S. be filled soon with miserable petulant adults? Mind you - look at their president. I guess it already is.

Oh - and forgot to tell you, at the start of my journey Wednesday, I was up and at 'em early, very organized, set off briskly for Parliament Street to get the bus to the subway - was half way down the street when I realized I was wearing my backpack and carrying my purse but had left my suitcase at home.

I bought almost nothing this trip - just gifts, and for myself, a pair of sunglasses at an extremely reduced price. Usually, there's a pair of shoes or a treat of some kind; this time, nothing. I'm proud of that. Enough. Enough. Enough. At least, until next trip.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

NYC Day Three

5 p.m., lying on Ted's sofa resting my feet, drinking a glass of his great red, and eating artisanal potato chips I bought at the Union Square market yesterday - this is NYC down time. Much needed. In fact, I've done less this trip than I used to on my frazzled stays here, and almost no shopping, but I've accomplished enough. And maybe I'll go out once more tonight, we'll see.

Yesterday, after being overwhelmed by the What's On Today page in the NYT delivered to Ted's door ... (click to enlarge)
I zipped down to Greenwich Village on a cold and sunny morning to explore before lunch with an old friend. Happened on the Union Square market, part of it a green market I'd visited years ago with my uncle to buy veggies and fish and where this time I bought the crisp potato chips that taste like potatoes. There was a Christmas craft market too. I bought a pair of socks for Anna that says "Bitches get shit done." Very her.
 They don't compost in NY - so you can bring your wet waste to the market to compost.
Do you see what I see? Sky. In the Village, you can see the sky.

Sheila and I were good friends in the late seventies, until I left Vancouver in 1982 or 3. We lived for awhile in the same apartment building and affected each other in many ways. Her daughter is about 9 months younger than Anna, and I've always thought Sheila visited me in the hospital, saw the baby, and went home with a purpose. Anyway, we lost touch, so met for the first time in over 3 decades. And - she's just the same, lively, fascinating, fun. An incredible life, working for the UN in Africa and in Pakistan - with Benazir Bhutto - and in other exotic places. Now living in Brooklyn, as is her daughter. We had a great deal of catching up to do. I had two glasses of wine; she never did drink. A marvellous reunion.
But it's a mistake to drink 2 glasses of wine at lunch; I had to go back uptown to nap. Then out again in the cold to see theatre - a play called "The Voice Inside," starring Mary-Louise Parker, about a creative writing teacher and a student. A good play, a bit cryptic, lots of literary language and references, including one making me determined to read the works of James Salter; one critic said it's more like a novel than a play. But gripping nonetheless, in a very good production. And - no small matter - an hour and a half long with no intermission, which meant I was out by 9.30, marching many long windy blocks to the subway home. There was a poem on the subway.

Today, to two of my favourite stores on 3rd Avenue - Maison Kayser for bread and croissants every bit as good as in France, and the Flying Tiger, which we don't have in Canada yet, a store full of craft materials, toys, and kitchenware, beautifully designed and very cheap - I bought stocking stuffers.
All my reading glasses come from here - $5. Slime, a back scrubber, a giant pencil, an hourglass, and so much more.

To Lola's for lunch with her and her daughter Patti who'd come in from New Haven. Lola is 97, now has 24 hour care and can hardly walk, but is still at home and fiercely interested in the world, grey matter all there even if the rest isn't working so well. She told me that in the fifties her husband was concerned their son Stephen would not get into medical school because of my father's strong leftist tendencies - though Dad had lived in Canada since 1950. I love these family tidbits.
Anna, a young friend of Lola's, dropped in to say goodbye; both were professional jewellery makers and met in a class. Anna has just sold her apartment in NY and bought a farm in southern Portugal with a friend, will make it a "glamping" kind of place - and I've already decided to go visit her! A wonderful encounter with a stranger who felt like an instant friend. Plus family and take out Chinese.

Home to dump the stuff then out again - was heading to the Frick when by chance I passed the Met Breuer and remembered there was an artist I wanted to see there, written about in the New Yorker: Vija Celmins. But more about this amazing artist anon. Time to heat up some Manhattan clam chowder from Citarella. Life is good.

I may still go out again to the late Friday night at the main Met - an hour or two more of great art. Or maybe not. Ted says I'm a "chicken Kaplan" for not going to the theatre tonight. And I replied, Yes. Yes I am.

Home, James.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

NYC Day One

This city! So noisy and crowded and frantic and overwhelming, I keep swearing I'll never come again. The wind tears at you, the sirens shriek, the homeless people, the disgusting displays of wealth, consumption, shopping, the exhausted workers keeping this insane place going - why am I here?! I sometimes ask. Get me out!

Well, because, first, there's family. In fact, most of my family, with the exception of my children, is here, since through my mother I have only two cousins left. Here, a few more and memories of many - my grandmother had ten siblings, though she wasn't speaking to many of them, and my grandfather had six. There were a lot of people to visit when we came during my childhood. Now,  I see my father's cousins Ted and Lola. Who incidentally have not spoken in years. But there's also Ted's husband Henry and Lola's daughter Patti and sometimes, for celebratory events, there are others, lots of others.

Plus theatre and museums and more fascinating people per square inch ... but it's still frantic and overwhelming.

The trip here wasn't great. With my usual nervous miscalculation I was at the gate nearly two hours early, but I'd rather that than having to rush. We were sitting on the plane when they told us there was a mechanical problem, we'd have to deplane, another one was on the way. We had to go through the chaos of new boarding passes and milling about waiting, but it was a very Canadian event, hardly any bitching. And we got there, two and a half hours late.

Just in time for the build up to New York's rush hour. I thought La Guardia would be easier than Newark - it used to be - but now they're renovating, and now to get a cab you have to line up and get on a shuttle bus to the cab area. Anyway, again, eventually, I got to 77th and 3rd, not mid-afternoon as I'd planned but at dinnertime, deeply grateful I hadn't missed a connecting flight or an afternoon appointment. Ted came home with a superb bottle of red wine for me - he knows me well - Henry came in from Northport, which is their real home, and we walked a few blocks for a superb Chinese meal. It means so much that Ted adored my dad - "I thought of him as the big brother I never had" - and knew Mum, and I knew his eccentric artistic mother Hazel and lawyer father Leo. Family. Blood.

Today Ted went to work - he's a lawyer in the firm Leo founded, along with his older brother to whom he barely speaks - are you seeing a pattern here? Henry and I went out for a bagel and lox - (click to enlarge)
Fifty-six kinds of cream cheese
dear Henry

and then he went to his volunteer activities and I to MOMA, the brand new building for the Museum of Modern Art. I only found out they'd done a huge renovation from the New Yorker. It's an incredible building, spacious, elegant, even with the crowds there seemed to be lots of room. The collection is vast and they'll change what's on the walls regularly. I didn't go to the modern stuff, but to the fifth floor, 1880-1940 - Impressionists, Bauhaus furniture, photographs, film, prints, a room simply devoted to shapes - glorious. My favourites in all the world - Matisse and Kandinsky - but also a room for folk art, non-professional artists given pride of place, and a great effort to include women artists. One of the best museum experiences anywhere.
Kandinsky - the best. "Picture with an archer."
A close-up of Matisse's pot of pencils or brushes in his red studio.
An amateur artist who did some 800 detailed drawings of household artefacts on looseleaf paper, discovered after her death. Pearl Blauvelt. How wonderful that she and others like her are at MOMA.
Water lilies to sooth the weary soul.

Nearly two hours there, and then, saturated, out into the bitter wind. From the sublime to the ridiculous - to Bloomingdales, to see if I could find a winter coat. Mine, I bought on sale, 25% off, at Bloomie's with my uncle's chargecard 25 years ago. I was amazed to find exactly what I was looking for, a Canadian brand that's light and very warm, and started trying them on - sale 25% off! Another woman was looking and I told her, these are Canadian and really good, so she got interested, found one in size large and decided to buy it. I wanted a large too - the medium was too small. But there wasn't one. They went to look for another in the stock room. None.

When will I learn to shut my mouth? Oh well. My old coat is still warm. Looked around at others but was glad to get out of there.

Then I got on the wrong subway and ended up going west instead of north, got out before ending up way west, started to walk instead, froze, got a cab 12 blocks. Heaven. Bought some soup and cheese at Citarella's and came back to Ted's to rest.

Out again to another feast - of theatre. It's thanks to Ted I came to see Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish; he said it was a superb production that made Henry cry. This time I'd got the subway figured out - Lexington Ave. to Grand Central, transfer to the 7 to Times Square. Emerge into insanity, four trillion people in the dazzle and glare and harsh wind.
The theatre was so far along 42nd Street, it's considered off-Broadway. Oh, my friends, what a treat was in store. I saw Fiddler at Stratford with my friend Brent Carver playing Tevye, thought it was wonderful, and recently saw a documentary about the making of the musical, how difficult it was to produce, how dubious everyone was about its success, and how it has gone on to international renown - not limited to Jews, relevant for everyone.

But seeing it in Yiddish - with English and Russian subtitles - with an enormous mostly Jewish cast - and yet still its universality shone. It's about the devastating difficulties of change, about how hard it is to be a good father. The cast was fabulous, and the music - the music is breathtaking. It meant so much. I started weeping almost as soon as it began, and so did the woman I talked with at the intermission who'd come from Portland, Oregon to see it. The moment when Tevye has to contend for the first time, thanks to his daughters, with the word 'love' in connection with marriage, and he turns shyly to his wife and asks, Do you love me?

More weeping. Very lucky to be there.

And then out, walk along 42nd to the 7, change at Grand Central, Lex north to 77th - leapt onto the train and then asked anxiously, "Is this going uptown?" and several kind New Yorkers assured me it was and laughed about how often they'd gone the wrong way. Home to Ted's - the boys are back in Northport, I have the apartment to myself, had some more soup, wrote to my ex that he has to come and see the show, now writing to you. My legs and feet ache and my eyes are puffy and sore from wind and tears. I will be very happy to go back home. I'm so glad I came.