Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Where I suffer

Here is the terrible dungeon to which
I am confined ... a bedsittingroom as it's known in England - bed on the right (on which lies a crabby cat), then kitchen-living room space, and beyond, a dressing room and bathroom. And lots of garden out the back door, in the spring.

My new office.

My new kitchen.

What more does one need?


Guess who has ventured into the basement to keep me company? Right here beside me, a bundle of stripey fur - el Gato Crabbo. You'd almost think she is fond of me, though of course that's nonsense. What a difference it makes to have this once-nasty beast, a warm living creature, bringing companionship and comfort.

Post-partum has hit - I've spent so much time and energy focussed on the manuscript, and now ... what? I have to think about other work, and life. Two weeks till I'm on the move again, and in the meantime, tons of editing and teaching and reading to be done. Not to mention getting out of here, somehow.

Thrilling to read the rave reviews of "War Horse," which has just opened here, and remember seeing it three years ago, in London, leaping to my feet at the end, weeping copiously. How marvellous that this profoundly moving show should travel the world and end up on my doorstep.

I keep swearing that I'll give up the "New Yorker," which just keeps coming, piling up, sometimes seeming more like a job than a pleasure. But then today, here's the new one, a great cover by Roz Chast, inside a new story by Alice Munro, some laugh out loud cartoons, articles on Davos, altruism, a weapons trafficker, the Bible, plus reviews and poems ... packed with treasure. So I'll just have to keep suffering through it, just as I suffer down here in my hidey-hole. Somehow I'll get through.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

down but up

Yes, it's surreal, this upstairs-downstairs life. I had my first visitors today, several old friends and later an at-home class, trekking down the concrete back stairs to my basement lair. They were all surprised by how nice this little room is, and it is, truly. It's just not my house. I miss light. I don't know what the weather is like until I get outside. Today, I read on-line that it was minus one so got bundled up for a cross-town bike ride, and it was so warm and sunny, I was boiling. From upstairs, I would have known the actual temperature.

I am also wearing the same things every day because going up to sort out wardrobe is just too complicated. However, I am NOT complaining. Well, just a minor bitch or two. But mostly, very grateful to have renters upstairs and a cosy place down.

Yesterday I picked up 3 copies of the memoir from the printer, skimmed it that evening, and decided that it's 300 pages of utter drivel that no one could possibly care about but me. I wrote a long apologia to my dear editors, and mailed one off today to B.C. and delivered another to the Annex. It is simply terrifying to fling one's baby out into the world.

Speaking of braver souls - friend and longtime student, fine opera singer, writer and athlete Chris Cameron had a wonderful piece published in yesterday's "Globe."

And superb writer Isabel Huggan has set up her website. She is offering a heavenly writing retreat in the south of France, and I am to be her first guest and guinea pig, so you'll be hearing all about it. To see the marvellous place I'll be staying for five days in March, go to her website

Sunday, February 26, 2012

killing Oscar

10.05 p.m. It's on right now, and I TURNED IT OFF. Imagine, I've reclaimed a whole evening of my life from the Oscars. I tried to watch, though I was flipping to an opera starring Placido Domingo during the commercials - but when they gave the best make-up award to the team responsible for Meryl Streep's neck wrinkles instead of to the Harry Potter folk, I turned it off. The event is too stupid and meaningless for words, not to mention the multi-millions poured into stupid dresses worn for one night. Meaningless and silly. Anyway, all the good stuff will be on the internet in seconds. There is a live feed I can check on every so often to see what's going on. But in the meantime, I'm reading.

Yes, I'm reading French "Elle" magazine, rather than "Your Brain on Music" or one of the 46 "New Yorkers" waiting or my new library book "Memoir Writing." But at least I'm reading.

Billy Crystal sang the intro off-key. Should have turned it off right then. Bah humbug.

10.27 p.m. Okay, it's on, but on mute much of the time, and I'm not facing the TV, I'm sitting sideways and glancing every so often. When I saw on-line that I'd missed a funny speech by Christopher Plummer, I turned it on. But I'm HARDLY WATCHING AT ALL.

11.19. Big night for France. I hate the awards that are so close. Gary Oldman was superb, and the others too - could have been anyone. But the French guy no one in America has heard of? Who can understand those voters?

my underground home

A surreal adventure, this - living in my own basement suite. What was I thinking when I agreed to rent out my house for 3 months, though I'll only be away 5 weeks? Well, I needed the money and had some vague notion that I'd camp out in my office upstairs, that I'd stay with various friends ... I would have gone mad. By the greatest good luck, my tenant Charles is away the whole time I need a place to live before departing for Europe, so I've sublet from him. I get back end of April, to live down here again until the Belgian students upstairs leave mid-May. And by then, I will be extremely ready to reclaim my own lovely light and space.

An odd scene, arriving back from Florida late at night; the cab pulls up in front of my house, I look longingly at my front door but enter the courtyard to the south, from which you access my backyard. Down the basement stairs, my own key in my own lock, and here I am, in this cosy space. In ten minutes, I've settled in and turned on the TV - it's 11 p.m., time for Jon Stewart. If I can watch Jon, I'm at home anywhere.

The next day, I went to the Y - if I can get to the Y, I'm also home - and made a ton of sorties upstairs; I'd reduced their rent on the understanding that I'd have access to the house - trying to find things I need for my new subterranean life. The Belgians are nice young people, civil engineers doing an exchange at Ryerson. They like the house. I went up later when they were out, and got to stretch out on my own kitchen sofa and commune with my cat, who's confused but doesn't care who lives where, as long as she's fed.

The big news is that yesterday morning, in the chaos, I finished this draft of the memoir and emailed it to the printer. What a relief. It may be the biggest pile of drivel ever written, but at least it's out of my hair, for now. I'll mail a copy to Patsy in B.C. and take one to my editor here, Barbara, and keep one for myself so I can read it later and weep. Or maybe just snivel a bit.

Also yesterday, went across town to see my daughter and her luscious big belly. She has been given so many used baby clothes, she has a chest of drawers full, neatly folded and organized, plus change table and little tiny shoes. All she needs now is a baby to use all that stuff. We went to see "Tinker, Tailor ..." which was good though a bit hard to follow - but Gary Oldman, what an extraordinarily restrained performance. And then I went on to my evening's activities - going to Koerner Hall to see Daniel Levitin, the author of "Your Brain on Music," speaking about "Your Brain on Beethoven," with a full orchestra to illustrate his points. He showed us the various areas of the brain connected to various emotions - "Emotion is a neuro-chemical state," he said. And then the orchestra played Beethoven, to show, for example, how many times the composer used the duh duh duh DUH motif in the 5th symphony - 263 times, it turns out, and our brains anticipate every one of them. It was fascinating and fun.

I wondered about my propensity to weep as I listen to music - as happened last night - and that in fact, it's not being swamped with emotion but a neurochemical reaction that perhaps I can control better. I weep watching parades too and at many other things. It's my cerebellum or somewhere, just too damp.

A lecture by a neuroscientist about Beethoven was the last place I thought to hear the name "Paul McCartney," but Levitin brought him up twice, once as a man who has spent his life making music but cannot read it, and also, exploring the concept of motif. "In 'Yesterday', McCartney uses short short long," he said, "repeated over and over, just like Beethoven." Ah my Paul, I simply cannot escape you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Florida wildlife

Seagull on sandcastle

A serious piece of real estate
sand castle

Two patient fishers

Facing the wind

OMG she's burbling again

You are not going to believe this - and you may be suspicious of my hyperbole - but here goes: I have just had the best week of my life. Yes, I've been sick the whole time - just sick enough that I didn't have my usual restless energy, but not so sick that I couldn't sit still and work and read.

And so I did, and a most productive and spiritually satisfying week ensued. Almost no social life, no friends calling, no interesting shops to go to, hardly moving my aching body at all - absolutely nothing to do except walk on the windy beach, sit by the pool, and go on an interior journey. And watch "Downton" and Jon Stewart and as much of Rachel Maddow as I can stand, and read the "New York Times," too. And then go back to work.

I'm leaving with a solid draft to take next week to my editor Barbara and to send to my other editor, Patsy. Their job is to slash it to bits, and then I'll start again. But this blessed week, I made a lot of progress.

Two blissful moments today - it was windy, so the usual annoyingly chatty crowd had deserted the pool area, and I had it all to myself, silence under the palm trees as pelicans soared low over the bay. I had brought the latest "New Yorker" and read the Michel Chabon story in it, "Citizen Conn." The last paragraph is so powerful, I felt like I'd been hit over the head, felt dizzy and had to recouperate. It's a superb story; find the magazine on-line and read it, I urge you.

Late afternoon, walking on the endless beach, almost empty - a kid with the biggest sandcastle I've ever seen, which I admired, and a fisherman standing waiting, with, nearby, a great blue heron, standing waiting. I am in love with herons. Talk about dignity and patience. Herons have a lot to teach a speedo like me.

Earlier, I rode the borrowed bike a few miles down the highway to Publix, the supermarket, needing only some bread, a half bottle of wine, and the "New York Times" - which perhaps qualifies as "thou," in this instance. They don't sell half bottles, they sell tetrapak containers holding 3 glasses and costing $5, which is what I'm drinking now. How neat is that? Do we have that at home? No! We have to wait years for such advanced technology.

And the joys, JOYS, of email - today, a student writing that a class piece of his has been accepted by the "Globe;" yesterday, a student writing that she'd got in touch with a family member thanks to the course, and they were both grateful; the day before, from an old friend to say that his cousin Tony Kusher, the fabulous playwright who's interested in the Yiddish theatre, is a fan of my book and meant to write me a letter to say so. And best of all, this morning, a phonecall from my mother to say that a heart operation she'd been rejected for is probably going to go ahead after all. My cup runneth over, with cheap Australian shiraz from a tetrapak.

So friends, tomorrow, arriving very late from sun and wind back to winter and Rob Ford; from a view over the bay to no light in my basement abode. It'll be a bit rough, perhaps. But I just got a Facebook message from my daughter, inviting me to her place on Saturday for dinner and a movie. Can't wait to play pat the tummy. Home.

P.S. A few hours later: Petrifying, to publically announce a solid draft. I'm rereading now, and it's cutesy and shallow, I'm sure I'll have to start all over again. Which means - time to get it out to some wise eyes. Or I might throw it into the Gulf of Mexico.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Canada abroad

Improving; still not great. I gather lots of people at home have this vile bug too. Why do they say "Sick as a dog?" Do dogs cough and snivel like this?

I spent yesterday with Cousin David, driving around in his vintage gold Lexus convertible. He drove me to see his new house, in a classy subdivision near Sarasota; he has his own small pool and many luxury features, and lots of artwork done by his mother Chet, a vivacious woman whom I remember vividly, and his father's sister Belle, ditto, talented artists both. There was a sand crane, a tall, dignified bird, stalking along on the sidewalk outside his house. Then we drove around Florida, which means mile after mile of malls. That's all there is - malls and individual shops. I was looking for a watch and a skipping rope, and in order to buy these, we saw more consumer goods than is comprehensible. My watch cost $19.99 and the skipping rope $6.99, and the combined value of all the crap we saw in the shops was eighty million dollars. Or so. Giant people shopping and planning where to eat next, that's Florida.

And yet today was gorgeous, I was able to borrow a bike and ride in the sun and walk on the beach and even, despite my raspy lungs, float briefly in the pool. The number of different seabirds and shells on the beach is stunning. I have had a sublimely tranquil week here, so much work done. Tomorrow, my last full day.

My cousin told me he found it strange to arrive, as a sour New Yorker, in a state where everyone was so cheery. Finally, he said, he realized that "Floridians will say hello to anything that moves. They'll say hello to a palm tree swaying in the breeze. It doesn't mean anything." Made me laugh.

Then he asked whether all Canadians were supporting the filthy tar sands project. Canada now has the honour of being known, internationally, as a pusher of the worst pollutants, and its people as greedy and conscienceless. I've just read in a December "Economist" about Canada being the first country to pull out of the Kyoto Accord, which Harper described as "a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations."

The article in this radical leftist mag (not) concludes, "Canada will eventually have to find something more than a do-next-to-nothing policy on emissions." No kidding.

Ah, they await - Harper and Ford. I've not thought of them for days. Soon, back to the boys, and winter.

P.S. I will be happy to leave this land of Republican lunacy, however. I watch Rachel Maddow, a left-wing commentator, until I just can't stand to see any more of what she's showing about the right. Appalling. Tonight, that Virginia has an incredibly right-wing governor who may be a candidate for Republican Vice-President, and is pushing through a bill forcing any woman who wants an abortion to have a probe inserted into her vagina as an ultrasound. Believe it or not. Get me out of here.

For those who want some very funny, very dark humour, watch "How TV Ruined Aspiration," on YouTube. Hilarious, true, pretty harsh.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Downton - kind of a whimper

Just watched the last episode - for this season - of "Downton Abbey." Yes, a bit disappointing, as I'd heard. Poor Bates still rotting in jail, poor Anna keeping up her stiff but quivering upper lip, conniving Thomas locking up the nice doggie, horrible Sir Richard sent off at last, the servants get to dress up a bit ... and finally, fina@#@ly, Matthew and Mary seal the deal. And then whammo, it's over?

The great scene, the payoff, is telling the good news to the others, particularly the Dowager. Can you imagine what fun Maggie would have with that? The house gets to stay in the family, and the pile of dough too. And we're assuming that more than Matthew's legs are working now, so there'll soon be more than just the poor Irish socialist grandbaby.

I'm sorry, but even allowing Julian Fellowes to stretch the boundaries of credibility, one moment in this one went just too far. Sir Richard the villain, taking his leave, says to the Dowager, "I doubt we'll meet again, Lady Grantham."
And she replies, "Do you promise?"
It's a laugh line. But it's a cheap laugh, which someone with her breeding would never, in a million years, say.

Otherwise, disappointing or not, it's still luscious and a marvel. There's a great piece about it in the NYT magazine today, entitled "Indulging in a Fantasy of a Bygone Era that We're Actually Grateful is Gone," pointing out just what an unreal, rosy portrait of the time it is. The excellent writer, Carina Chocano, concludes, "It's not so much a portrait of an era as it is an advertisement for an imagined ideal of an enlightened aristocracy whose conservatism included a sense of responsibility, not disdain, toward those dependent on it. Which, at this particular political moment, makes it just about the weirdest thing on American TV."

Take that, Republicans.


This is one bad, bad bug, still infesting my lungs. And yet I'm having the time of my life, working far harder than I ever do at home - because I can. So far, no distractions or interruptions, no one to see, nothing to do except walk on the beach, read, and work. And slowly get better.

Worked all day Friday and Saturday, from lunch to late, wrestling with the manuscript, trying to figure out where it works and where it does not. After ten hours of wrangling Friday, I went to bed and read a bit of the "New Yorker," and what I read transformed what I wrote the next day. It was an interview with a 45-year old indie rock-star called Carrie Brownstein, talking about her love life. She's single, not good at long-term relationships, she says.
"Leaving and moving on - returning to a familiar sense of self-reliance and autonomy - is what I know. That feeling is as comfortable and comforting as it might be for a different kind of person to stay."

It rang bells; I feel the same way. She's not judging herself; she's just stating what she knows - that she's more comfortable alone. I had just read a NYT article about singleness - more prevalent and deliberately chosen in our society now than ever in history. All this provoked a subtle shift in the tone of the first bit of my story. I can't tell more now, because all of this may go nowhere. But those little lines galvanized me.

And today, over breakfast, I just read an article in last Sunday's NYT, about how solitude not only fosters creativity, it's essential for it. If I could, I'd set up this little condo as a writer's retreat. An artist's retreat. All my creative friends should have the opportunity to come here and sit under Mum's giant sunny Mark Rothko, palm trees outside the window, pelicans and other sea birds sailing past, the endless beach on one side and the bay on the other, and just listen and think and work.

But today - social life. My cousin David, actually my father's little cousin, now 68, is coming to pick me up and take me to his new house, which I've never seen. We'll tool around in his new convertible, then have dinner, and then - be still my beating heart - watch the finale of "Downton Abbey" on his wide-screen TV. To hell with all this solitary work when two hours of delicious "Downton" awaits.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

down south

Image through the screen of Mum's back window, at dusk.

The beach on a windy day, rain expected, sandpipers happy

The pool on a windy day, rain expected, residents and tourists
not happy

Image from my back door a few days ago ... what is that white stuff?
is it real?

Friday, February 17, 2012

A very good Friday

Here's the good news: brain and lungs returning. Much better than yesterday, though not perky, by any means, still coughing, sneezing, snorfling, still dizzy, with aches. But compos mentis.

Which is perfect, because here's more good news: I am all alone here. Perhaps only another writer can understand what this means - a cosy, extremely quiet apartment, enough food to survive on, no one around - I only know my mother's old friends Jeannie, who's away, Shan, across the hall, and my cousin David who lives nearby, who's keeping away because of my bug. I talked out loud once today, a long call to my mother to tell her, once again, how grateful I am that she bought this lovely place many years ago, and that my father and uncle made that possible. How I wish she and sister Do were still healthy enough to come down for much of the winter, as they did for so long. Only my mother could have found a Mark Rothko print in sunny yellow, turquoise and white, which hangs, seven feet high, on the wall facing me. Rothko, always so dark in his purples and mortal reds and blacks, here like a joyful day at the beach. Which of course is what this place is about.

But - even better - today was cloudy. Warm but cloudy with a hint of rain. So perfect for the writer. I had a stroll on the beach, along with seven other people; I sat at the pool alone, reading, in long black clothes. But mostly, I sat in this living-room, tackling my manuscript. For fun, I read from the nine "New Yorkers" and six "NYT Book Reviews" that I brought with me; this place is about trying to catch up.

As I ate my healthy frozen pizza dinner, I read Thomas Friedman's editorial in last Sunday's NYT. He compares today's Republican voters to people playing Scrabble who look at the letters they've selected and see that no word is possible. They put letters back, hoping for a new outcome, but none appears. He speaks of the 3 great challenges facing America now: how to respond to this era of globalization and information technology; huge debt and entitlement obligations; and how to power the future, and points out that not a single Republican candidate has come up with a solution or even a proper discussion of these issues. They're now a radical party, he says, not a conservative one.
"Would someone please restore our Republican party?" he says. "The country is starved for a grown-up debate."
That's the country I'm in right now. But today, except for being able to watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, which we can't do in Canada, I, sitting here in the deep dark quiet, wouldn't know it.

Another wonderful moment in this silent day: friend Lynn wrote from France, telling me that if I went to the iTunes store and clicked quickly on the Paul McCartney offering as it went by, I could enjoy a 50 minute concert with him. So I did. Just me and Paul and iTunes, he sitting on a stool, that fantastic band behind him, Diana Krall, so beautiful, on piano, a small audience, a small orchestra of strings. Just a nearly seventy year old man, singing the old songs that mean so much to him. I thought of all those ballads, from "Till there was you" on, the sweetness of his voice and his soul. Yes, thank God for the sharp wit of Lennon to pull him up and out. But hearing him croon so simply, it's hard to believe this is the voice that screamed out "Helter Skelter" and other savage rocking tunes. What a range.
"Music I can wish you, merry music when you're young,
And wisdom when your hair has turned to grey," he sang, in that haunting song from my favourite musical, "Guys and Dolls." As it ended, he choked up. "That's a parent giving advice to a kid," he said. "Hoping for the best for them. That one always gets me." Me too, Paul. Because the merry music in my youth came from you. The wisdom, I had to acquire for myself. And it's funny, but wise though we may be, neither he nor I have hair that's turned to grey.

So that was my day. Recouperating, a walk, a concert, a chat with my mother, a frozen pizza with a little shiraz, and work. This, my friends, is bliss.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

today's film script

Scene: Exterior, day. A west coast Florida beach in late afternoon sunshine. Seabirds - curlews, sandpipers, several kinds of gull - skitter at the water's edge. In the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, a pod of dolphins soars and plunges. The white sand stretches to the horizon, covered with pods of lumpy homo sapiens in various stages of baking and broiling.

Enter: the mysterious stranger. Where the others wear tank tops and shorts, she wears black capri pants, a long-sleeved red t-shirt and a fleece vest, a sweater tied around her neck. She moves slowly along the beach, stopping regularly to sit against the dunes and look at the Gulf. What is her secret? What is her @#$% problem?!

She has a bad cold or the flu, that's her problem. On this day in paradise, she is feeling like a fuzzy bag of lint. But she's trying to stick her face and chest into the sun, to burn out this bug that has taken her over for the second time this winter. And she will succeed. But not today.

Today was going to Publix to get some groceries, wandering amongst the bewildering infinity of choices, most of them poor. When I'm down here, I always find myself standing in judgement on my fellow Americans. How is it that the richest nation on earth - or what once was - is full of people who do not know what actual food is? And why must they trumpet their allegiance to their flag? The parking lot, full of enormous cars fluttering Stars and Stripes from windows and aerials. I try to imagine a French parking lot, full of Citroens with the French flag flying, and laugh.

But then, a French grocery store wouldn't be full of people who smile so warmly. Anyone whose gaze meets mine offers a friendly grin. I love these crazy people.

No, I don't. These people might elect Rick Santorum. But still, they are amazingly open and warm. Even I, in my fog, feel that. Here I am, with palm trees and wifi - what could be better? I simply request the return of my brain, my sinuses and my throat.

Fading shot - inside a small, bright condo, sitting near a large box of Kleenex, the mysterious woman sips a Californian shiraz, eats a delicious Fontina cheese and taps with her fingers. Outside the wall of windows to her right, the sun is setting on the bay. The pelicans, herons and egrets are fishing. Even without a brain, she knows she is one lucky mysterious woman.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

sad but true

In the land of the lunatics

getting going

What fun - off to Florida in a few hours, and I've got the flu! Or something like it. A sleepless night with hot, stuffed head and raspy throat. A beautiful day in Toronto, too. However, the beds are made for the tenants, my own stuff is in the basement ready to be transferred into the flat, the fridge is nearly empty, shelves are emptied, and most importantly, my snacks for the trip are packed - I always travel with packs of nuts, Vache qui Rit cheese with crackers, and a large sandwich. You never know. Let me tell you about the time we were stuck for eight hours in the biggest traffic jam in the world on the way to Jaipur from the Taj Mahal, and lived on my crackers and peanut butter. Oh they laughed when they first saw those, but at the end of eight humid hungry hours, they laughed no more.

So soon I'll take my guests on a tour of the house, give them the four page printed leaflet I've printed up, drag myself to the subway and pour myself onto the plane. It's forecast to rain in Bradenton for the next few days. No matter. I will be sitting in a stupor, staring at the heron who fishes in the bay. He and I will be moving at about the same speed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

travelling and PMc.

Okay, now it really gets crazy. Tomorrow morning, my 3 Belgian tenants, plus 4 of their friends, arrive to take possession of my house. The 4 are just here for the weekend, the others will remain until May 16. They wanted the house for 3 months, I wanted to rent it for 6 weeks, they won.

So tomorrow, after showing them around and introducing them to the poor crabby cat, who will not be happy, I dash to the airport and land in Florida, to stay for a week in my mother's little condo. Just me, many "New Yorkers" and other books and papers, and a bathing suit. Next week I return to move directly into my basement suite, which I'm subletting from my tenant who leaves for Cuba that day. I remain down there, surfacing periodically to wander like a ghost through my kitchen - joke, melodrama, I'm leaving almost everything up here and will surface constantly - until I go to visit my mother in mid-March and then leave for Europe. One night in Paris to recouperate, then the TGV to Lynn and Denis in Montpellier, then nearly a week's writing retreat with Isabel Huggan in her farmhouse north of Montpellier, then Lyon for 2 days, then England, then Paris.

And then April 25 I return to move back into the basement until my tenants vacate and my daughter gives birth. Could this be a more tumultuous end of winter and beginning of spring? Yes, because my mother is also making several serious decisions about a possible heart operation, and I'm also planning my paperback book launch in New York. And I have a cold.

Otherwise, all is calm, all is bright. It's good to get out of your comfort zone. Even if it's only as far as the basement.

Great sadness - I did not know my Paul was going to be on the Grammys, so I didn't watch, and now can't find it on-line. And then a friend wrote to tell me about her McCartney experience, copied below. I could have been consumed with mad jealousy, but I am mature and was not.

That's a lie. I am consumed with jealousy. She sent the program, also below. It's so delicious, it defies belief.

A friend and client called us about 6 weeks ago to ask if we would like to attend the 'Musicares' benefit concert honouring Paul McCartney in LA. This concert takes places every year, 2 nights before the Grammys. They choose to honour an icon from the music world, and then a bunch of other music icons get up to sing the songs of that person. Then the honouree typically joins the concert as well.

Our friend not only had tickets, he had VIP tickets. So of course we said yes. As it turns out, our seats were at the very front of the house with nothing but air between us and the stage. Many celebrities were in attendance, in addition to those who were performing.

There was a very small reception for the "VIP" group of about 150 people. And guess who came to our reception? Paul!! He was very nice, not in a rush, and moved through our group with ease. My experience of meeting him was comprised of a handshake and the exchange of a few words…. and it was a real pleasure and a thrill! He was fully engaged and seemed to be enjoying the process. In 'real life,' he is fairly slight in stature (max 5'9" and slim), and looks great.

We proceeded to the dining room, where Paul and his group were seated at a table just a few over from ours… Paul, his wife Nancy, Yoko Ono, James McCartney, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Neil Young, James Taylor, Steve VanZandt, Smokey Robinson…

Paul McCartney Musicares Show

Los Angeles - February 10, 2012

Host: Eddie Izzard


Paul McCartney - Magical Mystery Tour; Junior's Farm

Foo Fighters - Jet

Alicia Keyes - Blackbird

Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas - No More Lonely Nights

Tony Bennett - Here, There and Everywhere

Duane Eddy - And I Love Her

Norah Jones - Oh Darling

Katy Perry - Hey Jude

Neil Young and Crazy Horse - I Saw Her Standing There

Sergio Mendes - Fool on the Hill

Coldplay - We Can Work It Out

James Taylor - Yesterday (with Diana Krall on piano)

Diana Krall - For No One (with James Taylor and Joe Walsh on guitar)

Paul McCartney - My Valentine; I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter (aka Kisses on the Bottom); 1985 (with Joe Walsh and Dave Grohl on guitar); Golden Slumbers; Carry That Weight; The End

Would I have liked to be there? Is the pope - wait, what is he again, German? Anyway, the answer is a heart-stopping yes. Ah well, a girl can dream. And a Happy Valentine's Day to you too.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Caroline, or Change

If you live in Toronto, I'd tell you to rush out and buy a ticket, but I think you're too late - it's sold out. But surely they will bring it back. Just the best local show I've seen in a very long time - Caroline, or Change, book and lyrics by Tony Kushner, music by Jeanine Tesori. I heard a lot about it when it first appeared on Broadway in 2004; it sounded highbrow and affected to me.
Wrong! It's a gloriously heartfelt operatic play - sung and spoken - set in 1963, based on Kushner's actual growing up in Louisiana. His surrogate character is a young boy whose mother has died; his wounded, distant father has remarried a nice woman who's trying too hard, and his deepest connection is to their angry black maid, Caroline, who spends her days in the basement, doing laundry and listening to the radio. It's about courage and defeat, family love and loss. It's about humanity at the deepest possible level.

At the end, we see Caroline's children - her 3 real children, who are about to embark on a brave new world of civil rights, and her other child, young Noah, isolated and alone in his bedroom. All of the characters - the white Jewish family, the black staff, even the washing machine, the radio and the moon, characters too - are richly written, sung and played. You feel that everyone involved in the writing and the production respects not only the characters they write and play, but the audience's intelligence. It was a special treat for me to see my dear friend from Vancouver acting days, Nick Rice, playing the Jewish grandfather, leaping about the stage during the Hanukkah song.

You know those moments in the theatre, those rare moments when everything works and comes together - actors, direction, set, music, story - and magic is made? This production is full of them. It's sheer delight and will surely come back, and when it does, please, don't miss it.

It was winter today, at last, the first real day of winter in mid-February! Cold and snow. Skiiers and snow-plow operators and the local near-homeless man Bill who shovels for a living in the winter - they're happy. Me, not so much. But then, it made a perfect day to go to the theatre and be warmed by the blazing heart of truth.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ellen Roseman to the rescue!

How it pays to have friends in high places ... As some of you know, I moved from the Dark Ages only a few months ago, when I bought my first cellphone. I still don't really know how it works and use it only for a few texts to my kids or for emergencies. When I checked my last bill, I went into shock - I'd been charged $50 for long-distance calls. I called Rogers - two calls to the same number in Pakistan, one 31 minutes long, from my phone.
But I don't know a single person in Pakistan! I said. And even if I did, I never use this phone and have a landline for long distance.
He told me they would not reverse the charges, because there were two calls to the same number. I protested in vain. $50 down the drain! No one I told of the story had ever heard of this happening. Nothing to be done.

Except - cue Wonder Woman music - email my friend Ellen Roseman, champion of the consumer and the little guy. This amazing advocate writes for the "Star" and elsewhere, has two consumer protection websites, gives talks and teaches about wise saving and spending ... and in her spare time, makes individual calls on behalf of distressed consumers. She left a message about the dilemma with someone very high up at Rogers.

Today, I got a call from a nice young man. They will reverse the charges. If it happens again, I'm to contact him immediately. I certainly will. Thank you so much, Ellen - I'm grateful for the return of the money, but even more importantly, for hours of frustration and fury avoided.

Dinner, soon, my place. Indian food.

hooray for faction

Received this email, referring to the last post about "The Man" et al:

I shared many of your views on the Beth Blog today. I read “The Man” at a very young age and was very profoundly moved by it. In fact, I believe I read it a few times. It was prescient. Great Book.

I was also watching “Judgement at Nuremberg” this week and I always find it powerful.

And then, as to this “Richard” you quote on Downton, well I agree with him also. Concordance is a good thing.

The note is from my friend Richard.

Brava to Carmen Aguirre for her Canada Reads win with Something Fierce, her memoir of fighting the Pinochet regime with her hippy mother. She says in the Globe that as she wrote, she thought of the work as a novel, because she hesitated to expose herself:

"I grappled with that till the very end," she says, "Then I thought, 'Well, have some balls and call it what it is. It's your memory and it's your interpretation of events.' That's what a memoir is." WOO HOO!

Jeanette Winterson has just published a memoir called Why be happy when you could be normal? It's a truthful telling of her nightmare childhood, the exact same story that was presented as fiction in her first book Oranges are not the only fruit. I am very happy that writers like Aguirre and Winterson are finally just telling their true stories, instead of pretending they're made up.

The general feeling about Canada Reads this year seems to be that the books were worthy but some of the panelists were not. At least, that is the opinion of a man whose opinions I value highly: Richard.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

a crush on Spencer Tracy

I'm reading a stack of Time magazines from 1964 as research - fascinating. So many cigarette ads, ads for vast automobiles, ad featuring the little woman in her apron in front of a nice new stove. Was interested in a review from Sept. 18, 1964, for a book called The Man, by Irving Wallace. Here it is in full:

This tasteless story is laid in the near future, and it pretends that Douglass Dilman, the first Negro president in history, has just entered the White House. He has arrived there by a singular coincidence of disaster: the Vice President has died of heart attack, the President and the Speaker of the House have both been crushed by a collapsing ceiling. Dilman, as President pro tem of the Senate, is next in line. In Wallace's contrived exercise, Dilman is made to contend with 1) a son who belongs to a Black Muslim-type society, 2) a daughter who tries to pass as white, 3) a Senate that tries to impeach him, and 4) a Russian premier who believes that he must secretly hate the society that rejects him. Novelist Wallace embarked on 'The Man', he reports, by taking up his note pad and pencil one evening "and writing in a frenzy whatever came to my mind until daybreak." Obviously.

Obviously. Nearly fifty years ago, what could have been more tasteless than the thought of a Negro president, even if he gets there only by accident? Mon dieu. Kudos to Wallace. Speaking of prescient art, I watched Judgment at Nuremberg last night on TCM; it started late and I kept hoping it would get boring so I could go to bed, but it was so gripping, so well-written and filmed, with a stunning all-star cast, that my heart raced all the way through. It hits home a message that will never grow stale, about personal responsibility in the face of monsters, about "the banality of evil." How an entire society turns a blind eye and good men are fatally corrupted. Riveting.

The film rekindled another great love - Spencer Tracy. What a fine, fine man. You just believe every single word he says; you want him to be your father, your uncle, your friend. Who do we watch now with that kind of down home honesty and gravitas? Freeman Morgan, that's about it, and we've exhausted the poor man with all the gravitas roles. If you have not seen this film, I urge you to do so. It will be relevant always.

More viewing: what IS going on at "Downton"? Friend Richard thinks the show "jumped the shark" on Sunday. "The minute any show has to resort to amnesia, there's trouble," he said, and I agree - the burned guy with the Canadian accent was just too bizarre. Wouldn't you know, I said to Richard, that if the gay character is the bad guy, the Canadian is an off the wall loonytune. However, I forgive them everything, because it's just so much damn fun to watch.

And ... I can never get over how spammers send out their hopeful entreaties about giving me eighteen million dollars or clicking here to stop my bank from throwing all my money away - but even in the cleverest imitation, there's always a stupid grammar error that gives them away. Wouldn't you think they'd have caught on and hired writers who know English grammar and idiom? But no. The latest was from something called "Publisher's Desk," which caught my eye, looking like a real resource for writers. And then I read more closely.

This is to inform you that the next DESK DAY will be on Monday, February 13th.
Throughout this day all publishers and/or literary agents from your country will be able to see your works, even you not being a subscriber!

Able to see my works! Even me not being a subscriber! Where do I click?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

giving thanks for the friendship of women

Want to share with you this superb essay by Emily Rapp, about the power of the friendships of women. It's a a song of joy and a howl of rage. I send this, with greatest love, to you, Patsy and Lynn, Margaret and Anne-Marie and Kate, to you, other Lynn and Penny and Monique and Michele. To the Crones. To the Carleton crowd, Suzette, Jessica, Elke and Isobel. To all the others who've sustained me, as I hope I've sustained you. We will never need each other quite as much as Emily Rapp now needs her friends. But we will still need and be needed.

I send this out to you too, my women readers, wherever you are. I love you too, you men - but this is for the women.


I just received the notice below and immediately made a donation to Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. I urge you, if you can, to make a donation too, however big or small. Harper's buzzards would love to preside over the death of the CBC and pick the bones clean. Please let's ensure this cannot and does not happen.

Dear Beth,

Just hours after the House of Commons resumed on Monday the attacks started anew.

With encouragement from their colleagues, three Conservative MPs stood in their places earlier this week and tabled petitions calling for thede-funding of the CBC.

You can read their exact words here.

The Countdown to the federal budget is on and we must stand together now to defend public broadcasting in Canada.This latest episode of hostility follows a long list of attacks on our CBC from the Prime Minister and his party – floating the idea of cutting our CBC by more than $100 million in the upcoming federal budget. The consequences of a cut of this magnitude would be devastating.

But, even in the darkest hour there is a ray of hope.

For the CBC, that ray of hope is you and millions of other citizens who love the CBC and understand the importance of public broadcasting as a force forCanadian sovereignty, culture and democracy.

We must stand together to defend our national public broadcaster. I am writing to ask you to make a special investment in our Countdown Fund.

We are pulling out all the stops as we count the days to the federal budget – which we expect will be tabled in Parliament at the end of February or the beginning of March.

We have only a few weeks to show this government how much the CBC means to us and to the country.

my dinner with A.

The regular Francophone soiree last night was particularly interesting – old friend A., a French diplomat, was there. He has spent his life living in different countries, including 3 years in China; recently, he organized the G20 and G8 conferences in France. The French conferences, which cost far, far less than the Canadian events, were organized by 7 people; the Canadian ones by 80. The Americans are mad for organization, he said. When the enormous American delegation arrived, they were so disturbed that all their questions about every aspect of the event were being answered by one man - A. - that he showed them the room where a big crowd of carpenters and sound technicians was setting up. That's our management team, he said. The sight of all those busy people made the Americans happy.

We had to give everyone gifts, he said with disgust. Beach bags with a nice towel, personally approved by Sarko. They're there to discuss how to save the world, and everyone is opening their beach bags to see the towels. In fact, was his conclusion, those meetings can never work – how can you bring thousands of people together to back world leaders - who meet for 24 hours? Jack pointed out that at the Bretton Woods conference in 1944, decisions were made, like the founding of the World Bank, that have remained in place ever since. Now, after these enormous meetings that cost many millions, nothing changes.

There were 3500 members of the world press there, A. told us, who never got near the candidates. They had a good time at the café’s, were handed a press release, filed it and went home.

Re France: A. said that Sarkozy quoted Angela Merkel 14 times in his last speech. They are both now nicknamed Merkozy. He will not survive the next election, he said, and neither will she. A. has lived for the last 2 years in Paris and will be happy to leave. I hate Parisians, he said. Snobbish, rigid, rude in cafés, in the streets. I have to dress someone down about their behaviour every day. I lived in London for 12 years, the happiest years of my life. Such crazy people, the British, funny, creative. I laugh all the time in London. I never laugh in Paris.

That discussion wound down, and we moved on. We discussed daily structure – do we need it to be creative? Or does it impede creativity? And then anarchy, and Bakunin. Has Bakunin been misrepresented by history? someone asked. (Of course I knew the answer but pretended, humbly, that I barely knew what they were talking about.)

Obama – the great disappointment. How, said one of the young people at the dinner, could you have thought he was a man of the left? It’s obvious he’s not.

But think who was there before - he was the opposite of George Bush, the swaggering cowboy! I cried. Obama spoke the English language beautifully, with idealism, passion and depth. He was a Communist poet next to Bush. We wondered why the American white working class supports the Republicans, who are actively working against their interests. But then, perhaps the working class has always been fundamentally more conservative than is logical.

Our final, disheartening topic: Why are there almost no leaders of conscience and principle left in the world? Where are the F. D. Roosevelts and Churchills? Everywhere, the flimsy politics of show biz, spectacle and gossip. There’s no substance; the level of debate is appalling. Is it the fault of citizens who don’t demand better, or the fact that no good people want to enter politics? Except for Jack Layton and Vaclav Havel. (And, I add now, Elizabeth Warren in the U.S., who was so stirring recently on Jon Stewart.)

Nearly every African leader who led his country to freedom, said Jack, who knows almost everything, became a corrupt and brutal dictator.

And on that sombre note, after much wine and dinner, head buzzing with thought, conversation and questions about Bakunin, I went home.