Monday, March 30, 2009

approaching lift-off, maybe

Here is a solemn declaration: When I return from my adventure and am forced to unpack the mountains of stuff squashed into corners and cupboards, boxes and bags, under beds and on top shelves and swamping the basement - the unbelievable quantity of STUFF that I have had to stash away to leave room for the family renting my house - I swear that as I unpack those boxes and bags, I will make a giant pile of at least half of the stuff and give it away. That instant. 

I will live more simply. I will live more simply.

Here speaketh the Goodwill junkie. Years of dropping in to find a treasure and then bearing it home in triumph - a pretty plate with a dog on it, an interesting scarf, a nice carry-bag or six, a nice coffee table book or twelve, three really nice jackets, multiplied by nearly twenty years, minus one fire which took care of quite a load. But it built up again, and now I am dealing with it. This must stop. I imagine living from now on in a simple little apartment with one plant on the balcony and six perfect pieces of clothing and a chachka or two. That's it. Not this four-story junk store I live in now, and love so very much. 

So - lesson number one of this trip - don't make it so hard to leave home. 

The goodbyes continue - my dearest friends calling, writing, dropping in. Wayson brought a copy of his new book for me to take with me; what a thrill. I took my children for dinner tonight at our favourite Parliament Street bistro, and for an hour, I forgot my list of things to do and simply enjoyed the company of the two most interesting young adults on the planet. No, seriously, I'm sure those of you reading who have children think your children are interesting, and I'm sure they are, but they're not nearly as interesting as my children. I am absolutely positive of that. Not that it's a competition or anything.

Spent part of yesterday and today trying, one last futile time, to get rid of the raccoons who like to sleep on my small second floor deck and also happily use it as a toilet. Yesterday, vigourous scrubbing with ammonia and application of chili powder. It rained, however, and today - there it was, evidence of my visitors. Today we tried setting up an electronic signal box that supposedly makes a high-pitched sound audible only to and hated by raccoons. But it was definitely audible to me, the high-pitched sound coming from the box right outside my bedroom door. Back to Home Depot it went. 

So - tomorrow's my last full day, and then part of Wednesday. Some chores remain - getting Euros from the bank, finishing putting away files and papers in my file-and-paper-laden office, sorting and tidying, last packing decisions. I ordered a book at the library a year and a half ago, and they've just called to tell me it's in. I don't even remember what it is, but I'm going to try to drop by, take a look, and return it before I take it out. I'm going to try to get to the Y one last time, despite my cold and general state of total exhaustion. I have packed the peanut butter. Must buy Cheesies for my French friend. Must call my mother one last time. Must ... go to bed. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

staying home is better

Dear friends, I've changed my mind. It was foolish, this notion of skipping out of my life for almost five months, sailing away to a foreign land, leaving my daily cares behind. Impossible - it cannot be done. Instead, my daily cares have piled up and are still piling, until I feel like a tiny person inside a mountain of lists, two tiny arms waving uselessly in the air. "I'm inside here! Help!" cries the tiny voice.

So I'll just stay home.  I'll tell the people who've rented the house that they can have it anyway; they will barely notice me, sitting in front of my computer staring into space. I won't bother you, I promise, I'll tell them. Just don't make me go anywhere.

Oh buck up, girl. Somehow I will drag myself onto the plane.  This morning I forgot that I had to go to the doctor to - too much information alert - get an accumulation of ear wax blown out of one ear, lest it get infected en route.  I was sitting in my nightgown emailing at 9.40 when I remembered my doctor's appointment on the other side of town at 10. I called to say I'd be a bit late, got washed and dressed, rode my bicycle furiously to the Sherbourne subway station, ran to catch the subway just leaving, got to Chester, ran to the doctor's office, and was only 10 minutes late.  Stressed, but not too late.

The nurse told me that mine was the easiest ear canal she had ever cleaned. I was proud.

Then I went home to recover from the exertions of the morning, but the rest of the day piled up. There are many things to do, loose ends to knit up, people who want to say goodbye, last minute details to take care of. Tomorrow a Mac guy is coming to save my hard drive onto a little hard drive, or so he tells me, in case my computer is snatched out of my hands on the streets of Paris. Today my daughter came over to help me sort through the clothes to take and not to take. "Oh, your bondage shoes," she says, with ill-concealed disdain, or "Oh, your dashiki," or "How did that make it out of the eighties?" She is invaluable, and now I have chosen. There are two suitcases full. Too much; I'll try to winkle it down, but at least I am not taking the dashiki. 

Oh yes - I am.

The worst thing is that I feel this cold, the cold my mother and aunt and kids had, trying to get into my body. I've been downing Cold FX tablets like candy this past while. It's in my nose, the cold, and is trying to take over the rest of my system, and I am fighting like crazy. I will not will not get a cold just before a transatlantic flight and two days later, a speech in French. No, a cold is not in the cards. I asked the nurse who was dealing with my ear if she had a miracle cure for colds. "Liquids, fresh fruit and vegetables," she said, "but don't ask me - I'm just getting over the flu."


It's always a bit crazy before a long trip, and this is a very long trip with the added issue of renting out my house, and also my sandwich situation - worrying about both my kids and my mother and aunt. I know that most of it will get done, and if it doesn't, the world won't end. One day soon, I'll be sitting in a bistro eating a steak frites and drinking a bon rouge, and all this will seem very, very far away.

I just have to get there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Moet et Chandon

My son has followed the cat across town to his sister's. Now it's just me in the house, though friends are coming for overnight stays as the parade of goodbyes continues. 

A joyful event here on Sunday night, a gathering of theatre people - Nicola Cavendish is in town to continue her triumphant tour in "Shirley Valentine;" we had a pot luck celebration to toast her opening this week, and also to celebrate our friend and fellow actor Nick Rice's recovery from cancer surgery. And just to celebrate. Old Vancouver theatre friends poured in, including Lani who came in from Stratford bearing two pounds of seven-year old farmer's market Ontario cheddar which literally melts in your mouth, and boxes of my favourite dark chocolates from Rheo  Thompson, which also melt but not so surprisingly. And Wayson and my kids were here too, come to join the fun. 

I looked at the kitchen full of theatre artists and writers, not one of whom has ever made what a secretary on Bay Street would consider a decent living, and thought that the world doesn't know how lucky it is that artists cannot help but do what they love, no matter what the personal cost. Nicky Cavendish, the brilliant actress and star, has borrowed my daughter's old bicycle to get to and from the theatre to save on cab fares. After her one-woman show, in which she works on-stage alone for two and a half hours - on Wednesdays and Saturdays she does this twice - she will climb onto the bicycle and cycle home, uphill, to the bachelor apartment where she is crashing with her old friend Philip.  

One guest brought a bottle of Moet et Chandon Champagne, and as we toasted good health and success at work, and then as all drank to my upcoming adventure, I silently toasted artists everywhere, who bring such blessings to the world.

Monday was the last class at both U of T and Ryerson - goodbye to two groups of writers who've become close and dear, both of whom, I hope, will continue to meet and encourage each other without me. I brought to show them a little book just self-published by Beverley, a student at U of T a few years ago who came back to work privately with me.  She's a painter with an "Artmobile," a small camper she takes into the bush where she paints and hikes with her dog. She has produced a beautiful book called "Maiden Voyage," stories accompanied by her photographs and paintings.   It's thrilling when a student finally decides to make the effort to rewrite, edit, find a publisher and make an object we can all hold in our hands. A book is forever.

And now the great rush is on. Suddenly everything needs to be done right away. Here's a partial list of this week's activities: a mammogram, a doctor visit, another visit to the dentist, because another piece of tooth just fell out; a work party with Heyward, my son's friend and the best handyman, to fix everything that's falling apart in the house before I pass it on to strangers, and especially to help solve, yet again, the raccoon and skunk problem; final sessions with clients writing memoirs; a visit to my tax guy and to my hairdresser; final lunches and dinners with friends and family; a tour of the house, giving endless instructions, with the man who's renting it; weepy goodbyes to my children; and, somewhere in there, packing the house and myself.  

I have been invited to two big events on Thursday night, and am also longing to see the wonderful Joan MacLeod/Nicola Lipman one-woman play at the Tarragon, but I fear will not get anywhere. Suddenly, too many invites and not enough time. And I have to be aware that I can't collapse when I get to Paris; I have a talk to give, in French, two days after I arrive.

Then I can collapse.

Just got up to chase a raccoon from the deck. There are many things about my life here that I will miss profoundly, but chasing raccoons is not one. I bet in Paris there is not one single raccoon - or skunk. Do you think that by the time I get back, I'll even be happy to see those masked banditos?

Friday, March 20, 2009

wear your helmet

It's hard to believe that a minor fall on a ski hill could wipe out a beautiful talent like Natasha Richardson's. Perhaps this senseless death will have an unexpected benefit - an only benefit - in convincing people to wear helmets. My son, today, was talking about buying a bike and assured me he'd wear a helmet. Normally, a young man of his ilk would never wear something so humiliatingly safe and therefore uncool. I think that our new awareness of the lethal fragility of the head is due to Ms. Richardson. 

To tell you the truth, I don't wear my helmet much either, and will now. This would be no comfort to her family now, but truly, her death may save many lives.


Further to my Mike Harris rant, columnist Jim Coyne in the Star contributes a glorious rant of his own. "To read the names," he wrote on Friday, "of the hacks and schemers resurfacing along with Harris is like an appalling acid flashback to a period of reckless and ruinous excess ... We had a government of the angry inspired by every half-baked, right-wing quick-fix drifting up from the U.S., aspiring to the sort of greed-fuelled deregulated free-for-all that led that nation (and the world) to its current state."

Wish I could write like that. Elegantly put, Jim. Many thanks. Keep the skewering coming.


I am spending a great deal of time saying good-bye - to family and friends, and also to students, who feel like family and friends. Carpentry teachers must grow fond of their students. But my job is to ask my students to hand me their hearts. They're not only learning to write but to tell the truth, to delve deep for the most important, in some cases the most painful stories. "The hot bits," as says my esteemed colleague Wayson Choy.  So by the end of one term, I know them well, and those who continue working with me become even closer. Once again, I can only celebrate my luck - to love my work and those with whom I work. A rare privilege.

It's officially spring - today was the spring equinox. Toronto was frustrated because it's bloody cold and no one wants to bundle up. Everyone was shivering in too-light coats. But spring is coming, we can all feel it. It's coming - and I'm going. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

the usual rant about Mike Harris

It's 9.30 a.m., I've had my coffee with the Toronto Star, and come face to face with another very good reason why I'm glad I'm going away - Mike Harris's name on the front page. My stomach heaves.

Apparently, rearing his smug mug once again, he is pushing his influence into the leadership race for the Conservative Party of Ontario. Anyone who has been reading this blog for awhile knows my unequivocal feelings about Harris and his Ottawa counterpart, Harper. But of all the politicians I have loathed in my life, including George W. Bush, Harris still has pride of place: Enemy Number One. He destroyed the education system of this province as my children were going through it, and to this day, when they don't know something they should, when I see them flounder as adults, I throw the blame at least partly to him. Just as they got settled in another school year, along came another vicious cut from Harris, another upheaval, another long teacher's strike, libraries gutted, educational assistants fired. He sponsored a massacre that has reverberated through the decades, as now youth from disadvantaged neighbourhoods, where welfare was cut as well as after-school youth clinics and drop-in centres, and of course in-school programs, now spend their time as adults shooting each other.

And then he turned his sights to my beloved city, and proceeded to do his best to destroy it.  

No, I am not rational about Mike Harris, and the thought that his face is going to be around again, his particularly revolting brand of macho, heartless conservative politics, makes me so furious that I'm glad I'll be far away from it. 

I know, I've been writing serenely about not being angry - "Anger shows you where you're stuck," I intone when my friends are ranting about something. I guess I have to admit - I am certainly stuck here, on him. And there's nothing I can do about it except not look at the paper when he's in it, and go to Paris asap to eat croissants. What a good solution. 

It's now 2.30, I've had a look at the Globe over lunch, and I see that escaping the other guy won't be as easy - there he is too, Mr. Bush, smiling in Canada. Jeffrey Simpson has a great op-ed article today about his visit - the headline is, "There he was, in perhaps the only city in Canada that would have him."

"The miserable results of [his] eight years are all around us, and him. You'd think a self-respecting man with such a doleful legacy would lie low for a while. You would have hoped that a self-respecting city such as Calgary would have understood that an invitation to him would hurt the city's image - not for hospitality, of course, but for rational politics.

"But no, there Mr. Bush was yesterday, defending the indefensible in perhaps the only city in Canada where even a quarter of the population thought well of him as president." 

Who the hell are those people, who think well of him as president? How is it possible that a sentient mind could look around at the unbelievable damage he caused and left behind, and still admire him? But then, Mike Harris is described in the Star as "a conservative icon." 

I do not understand. 

"Whatever he earned," finishes Simpson, "it was too much." Bravo.

And now - enough bitter politics. Back to worrying about what to pack.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

the luck o' Tuesday

Today the whole city relaxed and stretched into the sun - many bikes, many walkers, feeling an unfamiliar glow on the skin. I rode my bike to a doctor's appointment on the other side of town, my first long ride this year - what heaven, zipping through the traffic jams with a soft breeze and sunshine. I have a great doctor, a tall gangly woman who takes so much time to talk to each patient and really get to know them that the trick is to be her first appointment; after that, she gets hopelessly behind. But she's worth the long waits, because she's interested in the whole person and just loves to chat.

I had a check-up to make sure the plant is running properly before my trip - also had the computer checked last week, and my teeth - putting as much to rights as I can before I vanish. The doctor said I have grown a quarter of an inch. "Do you do yoga?" I do - is it tugging me up that much? My mother used to be six feet tall and is now shorter than I - I used to be five feet eight and a half but am now closer to five nine. Yes!

The highlight of my day - in the early evening, my son came home from his peregrinations on his way to a St. Patrick's day celebration with Irish friends. He is living here briefly, making messes, dropping clothing and crumbs about the place, devouring the contents of the fridge and entertaining the landlady. I sat on the bar stool in the kitchen, he sat on the counter by the sink, and he told me about his dreams. He has such vivid dreams that he wakes up regularly, shouting. "Don't worry, it's magnetised!" he shouted one night.  He walks at night, too - has woken up on the kitchen or the bathroom floor. Last night his dream involved a knife fight with Tom Cruise. I'm happy to say that Sam won.

He made me laugh, as he always does, and was fascinating, as he always is, and then he got changed and put on some spicy smell, buckled up his leather jacket, kissed the old bag on the cheek and disappeared. One day, he will be immersed in his grown-up life, and another lucky woman will be pondering his dreams. For now, it's still lucky, lucky me.

Monday, March 16, 2009

springing along

I spent from Thursday to Sunday in Ottawa, visiting my 85-year old mother and her nearly-89 year old sister, Do. Do had a bad cold which my mother promptly caught, so I spent much of my time serving tea and making vats of Jewish penicillin - chicken soup. There's always the difficult push-pull of going home - just walking in the door overwhelms me, the items I lived with in childhood, my grandmother's vase, my Dad's Inuit sculptures, pictures of him, of myself as a child, my brother, Mum as a young woman ... I look at everything as if I'm hunting for clues - what does this photograph say about the way we were?

At one point, Mum showed me a book of poems by Rupert Brook that in 1945 she gave the young American soldier who would become my dad. I read aloud the famous "The Soldier" - "there is some corner ... that is forever England," - and Mum's eyes filled with tears. She cries very easily at almost everything.  "Quick!" I said. "Take a deep breath into your belly, deep, deep. Breathe. Be aware of your breath." And the tears went away. We tried it again, several times, as she was about to weep.  My mother has had to leave weddings and many other events because she is so sodden in tears she can hardly see; she goes nowhere without sunglasses to hide her swollen eyes. Perhaps now she can breathe, sometimes, and not dissolve. Worth a try. I'm not against tears, there are times when tears are the only way to cope. But not always; not helplessly.  

On Saturday afternoon my old high-school friend Louise and I went to the cinema to see the Met's production of Gluck's "Orfeo and Eurydice," which was brilliant - costumes by Isaac Mizrahi of about a hundred of the world's famous dead, lined in rows at the back: Shakespeare, Mary Queen of Scots, Jimi Hendrix, Nefertiti, Abe Lincoln - watching the action and then rising to sing. What a glorious thing these films of operas are.  Louise, I'm happy to say, after a bitter divorce, has reconnected with a man who had a crush on her in cello class when they were 15. They both still play the cello and now can do so together. 

I came back Sunday afternoon to the most heavenly day in Toronto, to find my son hacking his lungs out, also with a terrible cold. The world is conspiring to make me sick, and I absolutely cannot get sick - not only do I have a mountain of things to get done in the next weeks, but then I land in Paris and have one full day to get ready a speech in French about my book. THEN, if necessary, I can get sick. But then I will be so excited that my system won't slow down enough to encounter viruses.  So right now - massive doses of Cold-FX. If you have any other miracle preventatives, please let me know.

Another lovely day. But my Canadian heart dare not hope that this is spring - we have more cold to come, surely; it's only March. And already, though I'm thrilled about my trip, I am sad I'll miss the wonders of spring in my city, my neighbourhood and in my garden.  We want it all, don't we? I will have the joy of April in Paris, and yet also, I want very much to spend April in my backyard in Cabbagetown. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lessons from PBS

Did one of my favourite things last night - watched wise people on PBS advising me on how to life my life.  I love those guys (so far, it has always been guys.) Even though there's no doubt that my life is perfection itself, there's always a nugget to be gleaned. 

Last night Daniel Pink was talking about right-brain thinking - the importance of creativity, play and empathy - which he says will soon take over the world, defeating the domination of the macho money- and machine-obsessed left-brainers who've brought us to this pretty pass. I missed the first half of his talk because I was, in fact, engaged in some right brain activities in my office. But in the part that I saw, he said some interesting things. He suggested that we all take the "20/10 test" - that we ask ourselves, if I had $20 million in the bank and found out I only had at most 10 more years to live, what would I do? Would I keep doing what I'm doing now or would I make different choices? The answer might influence decisions you make today. 

He mentioned again the importance of gratitude, finding things every day to be actively grateful for, and writing a gratitude letter to someone who has been vital in your life, then taking it and reading it to them. 

Then next guy, Noah ben Shea, wasn't as good a speaker but I still watched a bit. He quoted Mark Twain: "Good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement," which I wrote down and delivered to my son. He liked that a lot - a good quote for a 24-year old young man who might occasionally have made a poor choice or two.

"Just over every finish line," he said, "are the words, 'Begin here.'"

And he told a great story about creative thinking. He said people going for a job interview were given a kind of riddle to solve: "Your car pulls up at a bus stop and at the stop are three people: an old friend who once saved your life, an old woman who desperately needs to get to the hospital, and the woman of your dreams. You can only pick up one person. Which one is it?"

I also told this one to my boy, who replied, "I'd take the old woman to the hospital." Surely the right answer. But ben Shea told us that the man who got the job replied, "I'd get out of my car, give the keys to my friend and ask him to take the old woman to the hospital. Then I'd sit and wait for the bus beside the woman of my dreams."


Incidentally, I didn't have to take the 20/10 test. No matter how much money I had in the bank or years I had to live, I'd do what I'm doing now - writing, teaching, travelling, breaking bread as often as possible with friends and family. Ben Shea suggested that we ask ourselves, "What business am I in? I mean, what business really am I in?" I'm in the business of stories - telling them, finding them, drawing them out, celebrating them. And there's nothing I'd rather do. Though if I had 20 million dollars, I'd set up a place in the country or by the sea to do this. And if I only had 10 years to live, I'd ... I'd stop worrying about anything but love. 

Because, as a small group of wise and musical men once said, that's all you need.

Speaking of love - the house feels empty today. Yesterday I took the cat over to my daughter's place where she'll live while I'm away. No warm, crabby body on my lap as I watched the wise men on PBS. Still, my empty lap made taking notes for myself, and for you, easier. I'm grateful for that.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

what fine friends I've got

Today I will shut up, for once, and highlight the work of my talented friends. This is a review from Canada's literary magazine Quill and Quire of Wayson's new memoir Not Yet,  scheduled for release in early April. I have watched this book incubate for at least two years, watched it be delivered slowly with much pain and exhiliration, so that holding the book in my hands as I did yesterday, and reading a good review as I did today, feels almost as much my own thrilling birthing as its author's:

The new memoir by celebrated novelist Wayson Choy chronicles not one, but two near-death experiences. Employing a spare, restrained approach, Choy depicts a dramatic series of events through an unexpectedly tranquil filter, highlighting themes of family, home, and the fragility of growing old.

The book opens in 2001, when Choy is 62 years old. He’s wheezing as he attempts to lug two heavy suitcases up a tall staircase. It’s just allergies, he tells himself of his persistent, wracking cough. Within a few pages, Choy is flat on his back in a hospital bed, trembling and intubated, surrounded by medical technicians. It isn’t allergies, but a severe asthma attack punctuated by multiple cardiac events. And this won’t be the last time; his heart nearly fails him again several years later, at the book’s close.

Choy avoids tidy homilies or maudlin melodrama in favour of a matter-of-fact tone. This makes the images he chooses all the more vivid and delightful. The moment he’s first able to breathe again without a ventilator, he notices the bedside monitors beeping in time to his heaving gulps, “Ginger Rogers to [his] Fred Astaire.”

He adroitly captures the surreality of an extended hospital stay and rehabilitation, right down to the hallucinations. Subtle glints of humour – such as his description of an origami butterfly so poorly executed it resembles an ordinary envelope – keep the writing far from the sentimental or precious.

Along the way, Choy provides sufficient personal background for the reader to appreciate the significance of the faces that greet him when he first returns to consciousness. He also notes the ways in which his experience influenced his creative process, prompting him to rewrite his last novel, All That Matters.

Relearning how to speak, write, and walk does not inoculate the author from future risk. Choy demonstrates that self-awareness about the body and its dangers cannot save you from every peril. In lovely prose, he captures the beauty and imperfection of being human.

Reviewed by Shawn Syms (from the April 2009 issue)

Get your copy asap!


And here is an excerpt from an email sent by Patsy Ludwick, actress, writer, writing teacher and poet who now lives on Gabriola Island, B.C. and who has been my best friend since our first meeting in Nova Scotia in 1970. Patsy and I often correspond about writing, about the weather in downtown Toronto and rural Gabriola, about what we are feeling and wondering about today: 

The scientists have been studying "happiness" - which appears to be good for one's health - and one study suggests that those who are "happy" have deliberately chosen that, often in the face of real obstacles. The Buddhists are big on that, too: it's about a way of seeing things, with the attitude that life is extraordinarily precious. No matter what the weather.

Here's an "elfchen" (an eleven-word poetic form: one word first line, two the second, three the third, four the fourth, and one at the end I wrote last year, though it seems to be holding true for this year as well):

and sunshine:
March contradicts itself.
Spring promises nothing but

And another little poem from old friend Nick, still recovering from prostate surgery:

And now I'm confessing
Oh what a blessing
each little breath is ...

and I'll add this thought,
what fine friends I've got,
such as beautiful Beth is.

With friends like these ... how lucky can a girl be?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Penny's Magical Tour

MWAA HA HA - it's snowing in Vancouver this morning, and mild here! How often does that happen? Take that, you crocus/tulip/daffodil-admiring, early-spring-getting, pseudo-Canadians. 

Beth, where does this hostility come from? When so many of your loved ones live on the west coast of this fine nation? 
It's just, doctor, that always, always, I am receiving missives from them about the glorious weather, the flowers, the birdies, their walks through the pine-scented pristine parks and along the sparkling water's edge admiring the otters. And I, here in the grubby inner city with piles of filthy melting snow, bus fumes and one almost-invisible lake, cleaning up garbage strewn by the raccoons. They live in one of the most stunning places on earth and they can't help but point that out. 

Well today, for once, they're shivering, and we in Toronto are ... well, we are also shivering, but not as much. And we don't have to wear boots today and they do.  Yay.


Those of you who've followed this blog for some time know about my grand upcoming adventure in England - that I will be visiting Penny, the sister of my childhood pen-pal Barbara who died in 1966 at the age of sixteen.  Last year, I reconnected with Penny by Google and email, and we've become great friends over the Internet, forty-five years after our first and only five minute meeting in 1964.  Well, I'm going to England at the end of May, partly to visit Penny, and she has just sent me an itinerary of our week together. 

We will be touring Sheffield, the city where she lives, and on Sunday May 24 she has scheduled "a walk in the hills (if fine.)" If not fine, I imagine "a sit in the pub" will be a good substitute.  She wrote recently to ask if I'd like to see a ballet in Manchester - "my favourite ballet," she wrote, "Prokofiev's 'Romeo and Juliet.'" 
"Hard to believe," I wrote back, "but it's my favourite ballet too." So on Wednesday May 27th, we are seeing the Northern Ballet in Manchester in "Romeo and Juliet," swelling along to that magnificent music.  Then on to Liverpool, to stay with her daughter Rosy, meet her son Tom, and embark on "The Liverpool Mystery Tour: Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and the No. 82 bus." A mad Beatlemaniac, I don't even know what the No. 82 bus refers to, but I'll be on it. Or beside it, or whatever. 

Then she has booked "As You Like It," one of my favourite Shakespeare plays - I always wanted to play Rosalind, but only ever performed one scene - in Stratford-on-Avon, then on to her sister Elizabeth in Hertfordshire and then back to London.  On the way, we will stop in Wimbledon, to see the house where she and Barbara grew up, which I visited in 1964 and where Penny and I first met. I have no memory of this meeting, and we are both hoping that standing in front of the house will bring it all back for me. 

I usually travel alone and make up my own plans and itineraries, so having this tour all planned, arranged and booked is heaven. I've spent 25 years exploring my Jewish/Russian/American half for the book about my great-grandfather. But there's the other half, the English half, my mother of British yeoman stock, and on the tour I will also be visiting Potterspury, the village where in 1923 my mother was born in a thatched cottage. 

I told a friend recently about this trip, and she said, "But it's all about the past." Well, yes, it is, I am in many ways going backwards to re-discover what was. But it's also about what is - about right now, me with my new friend Penny, the only woman I know who is as organised as I. 

I can't wait. Stay tuned, because you'll hear all about it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

here comes the sun

What a joyful day it was, yesterday.  Fifteen degrees! Toronto citizens burst onto the streets like long-buried mole-people rediscovering light.  I took my bicycle into the local bike store, Cycle Solutions, and joined the line-up of hopeful cyclists with their rusty steeds. Young Sean the bike mechanic took very good care of me. After my third bike was stolen, I bought this one cheaply on Craigslist, and according to Sean, I made a wise choice.  He stroked various fittings and metal bits, pointing out what good quality they were, chatting in fluent bike-ese which unfortunately I am not able to speak. He filled my tires and oiled various bits, and sent me out into the sun for the first bike ride of the year. A grand moment.  

If your bike needs some TLC, you couldn't do better than Sean, or any one of owner Kale's tecchie guys, at Cycle Solutions on Parliament Street.  Brush up on your bikespeak first, that's all. 

Later my neighbour Monique, a Frenchwoman who married a Canadian, had a "cinq à sept" gathering for wine and nibbles, just of the people in her condo and nearby. It's people like Monique who provide much-needed neighbourhood glue; we can live beside or near each other for decades and hardly ever speak beyond the meaningless "How are you?" Monique brings us together on a regular basis so we can go deeper. There are some really interesting people living a stone's throw away from my front door, and last night, from cinq to sept, I found out more about them.

Yesterday, for those of you who are interested, it was one degree in Paris. Fifteen in Toronto, and one in Paris. Why leave this tropical paradise? I'm staying home. 

No, I'm not. No, I am definitely not. One degree, here I come. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Qui - moi?

A flash from the past - two of my Vancouver friends have written that there's a picture of me in the Vancouver Sun today, a still from the play The Sisters Rosensweig that I went back to Vancouver to do in the mid-nineties. It's a great picture, though unfortunately the article says that Babz Chula, a lively, warm person and actress who played another of the sisters,  now has cancer for the second time. But in Babz style she is fighting all the way. Maybe I can get our friend Nick to write a song for her. Article and picture can be found at:

How odd it is to see that actress-person who looks a bit like me, a younger version wearing someone else's clothes. I used to wear other people's clothes and speak other people's words for a living, but not any more. One nutty me is enough. 

It's beautiful outside - chilly but very sunny; hope leaps up again for us (we? Come on, grammar buffs, let me know) weather-battered Ontarians. 

Wayson called me the other day. "Quick, turn on the TV - Dr. Phil is talking to people who shop at Goodwill!" Surely Wayson Choy and I are the only people who would be interested in this conversation. But it was boring - just people boasting about what great stuff they got for very little money. I've been talking like that for thirty years. What I wanted to know was if they had any new techniques for getting good stuff or saving time, but no. 

Ellen Roseman, who knows of my past romantic life with Sir Paul, sent me the following information. I don't know who half of them are, but I sure know the first three. Half of the Beatles, together again - if I were going to be here, maybe I'd try to go. But sadly, oh so sadly, I cannot because I'll be in boring old Paris. 

Paul McCartney and special guests Ringo Starr, Sheryl Crow, Donovan, Eddie Vedder, Ben Harper, Moby, Paul Horn, Bettye LaVette, and Jim James will perform at the David Lynch Foundation's benefit concert, "Change Begins Within," at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Saturday, April 4th, 7:30 p.m. 

David Lynch, Russell Simmons, Laura Dern, and other surprise guests will fill out the star-studded slate as presenters.

Tickets will go on sale on Monday, March 9, at 11 a.m. through, or by calling 866-858-0008.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

painting teeth and writing songs

A hymn to brave and noble Torontonians, who bore such a look of suffering yesterday! It was viciously cold here - minus 12 with a wind chill of minus 20, the wind so sharp as I walked to work that it brought tears to my eyes, though I was muffled in long puffy coat and hood, face hidden behind a scarf and hands in two layers of mitts. 

The rub is that it's March now, spring in Vancouver and in other temperate climes. But I'm grateful, too, when it's like this; this hideous weather is why Canada is liveable. With our stable political and, now, economic climate, if we had glorious weather to boot, the country would be crawling with Canadians instead of a paltry few million. You have to be tough to survive here - freezing winds or blackflies and humidity. Tough and crazy and, just occasionally, you may have to cry.

Exactly four weeks till I depart for Paris. You will all be sick of this countdown before I actually take off - but then, I hope these posts will enthrall you as I rediscover croissants and a million other delectables. You can follow me step by step as I eat and drink my way through France. But first I have to cross one hundred and fifty-six things off my list and get there.

Yesterday I went to a dental technician. A tooth broke off a few months ago and I have to have a crown installed, but it was too hard for my dentist to figure out what colour to make it as the tooth next to it has been stained grey by the filling inside. So I sat in a chair while a lovely young woman compared different colours of grey teeth with my own. Once she had one of the right translucency, she got out a delicate paintbox and a tiny brush, and painted the crown exactly the right shade. I was impressed with her artistry and asked if she painted on canvas in her spare time, but "I'm too tired when I get home from work," she replied.  There are artists everywhere, my friends. 

Speaking of artists, friend Nick (aka Nickynick) is still recovering well from his prostate operation - he said he's in no physical pain but has had some dark times of the soul. And still, he is able to create his sunny songs. Here is one he wrote for me. How lucky can a girl be, to have a song written just for her.

Though with various matters I'm grapplin',

I don't need a rabbi or chaplain,

'cause I've got a good friend

and the joy she can send,

and that's you, dearest Bethy-Beth Kaplan!