Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Clybourne Park"

A hideous day - heavy wet snow turning instantly to slush, an entire day of snow and rain. Miserable. I'm amazed at how many people don't have boots, navigating their sneakers along sidewalks a foot deep in mushy liquid. This, I'm sorry to say, includes my son and his trendy black Converse high-tops. Trendy, black and, I'm pretty sure, wet, Converse high-tops.

Yesterday's adventure - I set off on my bicycle for U of T, but it was so windy and I started so late that I decided I wouldn't get there on time, so locked up my bike at the Sherbourne subway and got the TTC. After class, took the subway back and went to reclaim my bike. Surprise - the bike key had vanished. There I was on the sidewalk, groping in my pockets, scrabbling through my purse - nada. Did the key fling itself out, desperate for freedom? I had to abandon the bike and get a bus home, where I called Cycle Solutions, the Parliament Street bike store, to ask for advice. "Call a locksmith," he said, "or rent a drill." Oh God, I thought, with another class due at the house in less than two hours. And then he remembered a guy who cuts locks and got me his number.

40 minutes later, I was back at the bike meeting Andrew and his trusty buzz saw. Two minutes and a forest fire of sparks later, the lock was sawn in two and the bike was mine again. It's worth $40 just to watch skilful Andrew ply his trade. No, actually, it's not, considering that the lock itself cost $65. But if you have to free your bike, he's your man. I told him I'd put him in my blog and here he is: Andrew Wade, bike liberator, 416-318-8584. If you have a bicycle, keep this number handy, unless you're a hell of a lot more organized than yours truly.

Today's treat - "Clybourne Park" with Wayson, a superb, prize-winning American play in a superb Toronto production. It's about humanity's racial divide, shown in an American neighbourhood over a span of 50 years, from 1959 in the first act to 2009 in the second. What a change! And yet - not so much. Fascinating, funny, beautifully written and acted. We could tell how good it was because, among the large audience of black high-school kids, right in front of us was Mr. Cool with baggy jeans and baseball cap. During the first ten minutes, he kept adjusting the music on his brightly-lit iPhone. But then he was drawn into the play, and until the end, he didn't look at his devices again. Now, that's a hit. Highly recommended.

One moment from the weekend keeps playing in my head - my ex-husband dancing around the living room holding our grandson, both of them laughing. One of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Makes me forget the desolate landscape outside. Anyway, patience. It's nearly March.

PS Listening to "Ideas" on CBC, on wisdom. Monty Hall, of American TV, just gave a great bon mot that his mother used to say to him. "There are two types of people in the world," she used to say, "givers and takers. The takers eat well. But the givers sleep well."

Love it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscar phooey

Important decision: I am going to do my best not to feel guilty any more about my many mistakes as a mother. My ex-husband has been here for a few days, and mostly it has been a wonderful visit. The baby turns us all to mush, a unifying force like no other - if only the Israelis and the Palestinians had a few babies in between, things would be different. Not that Edgar and I were embattled any more, not at all. But there is nothing but love left now, as I watch him dandle his grandson, as he and I pass that lucky boy back and forth.

We got a chance to do some troubleshooting with our own kids - what a tremendous relief, to have someone else around for once when a minor crisis hit, someone invested in the situation. At night, afterwards, I fell into the usual giant sleepless pit of remorse and regret - about all the things I did wrong when the kids were young, and about the separation and divorce which was at my instigation. Murderous guilt.

But tonight, I've decided to focus instead on what I did, and am doing, right. Which includes hosting the father of my children for three days, a giant Oscar feast, and tonight, a dinner party for a couple who were our close friends for most of our marriage, a friendship which disappeared after the divorce. I emailed to reconnect us and to invite them for dinner, and here they were. A grand reunion, hearing about their now-grown kids, and them meeting ours.

These three days were, to tell the truth, a lot of work. I do not begrudge it, not for one second, but I made myself take note of the work I've done through the years to keep us together as a family. And here we are, close, in some ways, closer than ever. A rich reward. Time to stop beating myself up over all the many, many flaws of my parenting.

Woo hoo.

Okay, now to important things: the Oscars. As always, when it's finally over, I say to myself, "Well, there's 4 hours of my life I won't get back." Why oh why put in the time, what the @#$ does it matter? And yet there we all were, the four of us and baby after a giant roast beef dinner ($108 worth of prime rib) with our extended family Holly and Wayson, stuck to the TV, hour after turgid hour. The main highlights, I thought, were classy Daniel Day Lewis and Michelle Obama, and a few funny moments. He's cute and talented, Seth McFarlane, and my kids liked him a lot, but to me, he was disturbingly callow.

We watched "Beasts of the Southern Wild" on Pay per view that afternoon, as the beef and veggies cooked - what an extraordinary film, and what a performer is that little girl. Quite amazing. I got lost at the end, but am very glad I saw it, particularly then to see her in her Oscar best, flexing her muscles.

My ex goes back home to Washington, D.C. tomorrow. When I visit Washington in April, I hope to meet his daughter, my children's sister, who's 3. My grandson has a 3-year old aunt. The modern family.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


 A boy and his spoon head off to do some mixing.

November 1985 - young Sam, who is now six foot eight, starts to walk.
 Last night, in the same hippo suit, young Eli gets ready.
 February 1982, Anna, now a mother giving bottles herself, with her grandmother.
Last night, Eli with his grandfather.

Moving beyond this orgy of family memorabilia - here's an important petition, involving the revolting Fox "News" north. Please take heed.

Today's quote, from a review in the "Star,"and something I tell my students all the time: 
"A good story is real life with the boring parts cut out."

And finally, today's chuckle: a delightful word from "Word a day" - I hope this makes you laugh as it did me, on this dark February night:


noun: A word or phrase resulting from mishearing a word or phrase, especially in song lyrics. For example:
"The girl with colitis goes by" for "The girl with kaleidoscope eyes" in the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds".
Coined by author Sylvia Wright when she misinterpreted the line "laid him on the green" as "Lady Mondegreen" in the Scottish ballad "The Bonny Earl of Murray". Earliest documented use: 1954.
"Since I live in Thailand, the most meaningful mondegreen for me was my own mishearing of a line from The Jam's Eton Rifles. Instead of the correct 'What chance do you have against a tie and a crest?', for years I heard 'What chance do you have against a Thai in a dress?'"
Richard Watson Todd; Much Ado about English; Nicholas Brealey Publishing; May 1, 2007.

Saturday night

After that last post, I received a stern warning from dear Lani that it's not a good idea to announce to the world, via my blog, that I am about to toss out old income tax forms. Identity theft, she scolded. Shred! Luckily, this time, I saw them go right into the truck. For the next time, I do not have a shredder, so I think I'll do what usually happens with important forms around here - I'll just spill coffee all over them, and my identity will remain impenetrable.

It's Saturday night. There were several options for wonderful entertainments tonight, including a cabaret show starring the sublime Brent Carver, and, in an attempt to get my Oscar quota more up to date, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," at TIFF. Not to mention dinner with my beloved family - my ex-husband, who's staying here till Tuesday, and our children and grandson. An embarrassment of riches.

Instead, total withdrawal - wanting to do nothing, beyond listening to Randy Bachman and reading and sitting. And for excitement, writing to you. I feel tired to the core of my being, not such a bad thing, and not surprising, perhaps. Plus, it's February, almost every day is grey, and the city is its usual hideous midwinter self.

So. Retrench. My mother died almost exactly two months ago, and here is my dear ex-husband. We had Chinese food here last night, time spent mostly watching the antics of Eli, scooting across the floor, staggering along the sofa, strong, confident, eager to learn more about this fascinating world. Here we are - our version of family, pretty damn close and pretty damn lucky.

For some reason, thinking about it makes me cry.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


My friend the hawk is back, perched on a branch in the garden, surveying the white emptiness. He has a dark brown back, a beige chest, and wonderful striped tail feathers when he flies. I am honoured that this is his hunting ground, though it's not so good for the little birds, who are hiding in the ivy.

This morning, I am keeping my resolution not to become a paper fiend like my mum. Every recycling day, as well as my regular stuff, I've decided to fill one of the old blue bins with paper. So I have just put out my income tax material for 2004 through 2006, extensive notes for an article I wrote in 2005, and two fat old drafts of the memoir. A heavy load, and my, it feels good. More, much more to come. What was the fear that made me, my mother and her father hang onto things? Whatever it was, time to let it go.

Yesterday, I saw the surgeon at St. Mike's about my parathyroid operation - quite routine, day surgery if all goes well. The intern who did most of the explaining was from Thailand, Dr. Premsuda Sombutham, competent and kind with English that needs a bit of work. She talked of my "tyroi grand," which is how I will refer to it myself from now on. My grands. "The lisk is low," she said, to my relief. She stuck a camera down my throat to look at my "wocal co." It was good to enjoy myself in a hospital.

Thence to class and then to the west end to visit Booboo and his mother. Only 2 weeks away, and he's huge - a little boy now, not a baby. He moves all over the room on his belly, knees or bum, and staggers to his feet, clinging to tables like a drunk. We ate a vat of strawberries together, and he slept curled into my chest. Greater love hath no grandma.

OH! Just caught the recycling guys going by - they didn't empty the small blue bin so I had to rush after them, in my slippers in the snow. Apparently they don't take the small ones any more. Imagine, after that Herculean effort of throwing out, I almost had to bring it all back in. But he dumped it for me, this time. From now on, I will keep blue recycling bags in every room of the house. I promise.

Here's a beautiful little film from the BBC: <

Monday, February 18, 2013

hello to Rick Mercer, farewell to Matthew

Oh my beautiful, relatively dust-free, relatively clutter-free home. In fact, it's pretty dusty and it's crowded with clutter, but it's my dust and my clutter and I love it.

Okay, important things first: poor Matthew in "Downton" - "Off with his head!" The actor was crazy to bail on this wonderful series - the actress who played Sybil too. Think of Rob Lowe leaving "West Wing" in its prime and never finding anything else as good. I read a fascinating interview with the writer Julian Fellowes about how he decided to kill the two characters. Yes, writers are godlike, but this is ridiculous. Anyway, a delicious end, can't wait for next January. As I said to Jean-Marc and Richard when they came in for our viewing party, "Welcome to Sackville Abbey, gentlemen. Anna, bring tea."

Unfortunately, the servants have taken the decade off. Maybe the century.

One of Maggie's best LOL lines: "That's the thing about nature - there's always so much of it."

Speaking of people with funny lines, I sat on the Porter flight back from Ottawa right across the aisle from the witty and ascerbic Rick Mercer. I couldn't stop myself - apologized for disturbing his privacy, but had to tell him that I've been a fan since Codco and his one-man show. "When I saw that fantastic show," I told him, "I knew you'd go far."
"That was twenty years ago," he said. "I wouldn't have the guts to do that now."
"Please, for all our sakes," I said, "keep skewering the prime minister."

Rick, like all media personalities, is shorter in person than on the screen; he's solid and shaggy, like a very small buffalo. A polite but restrained receiver of fandom. I wanted to tell him that I'd appreciate him almost as much as Jon Stewart if he'd do less goofy stunt stuff, fun as it is, and more political satire, but didn't. I'm sure he would not have appreciated my critique, but also, it isn't true. Good as Mercer is, no one can touch my Jon.

Family Day today, spent with the cat. Well, she's family, and in any case, there's been just a bit too much family in my life this last while. And more to come; my ex-husband is coming in on the weekend to see his children and grandson, spending three days in my basement suite, which was just vacated because the pretty young tenant's boyfriend proposed to her at Casa Loma in January, and she left to get married. There will be a lot of family time; it's a treat that we all enjoy each others' company so much, 22 years after the divorce. So, it was good on this Family Day to enjoy a bit of solitude.

Speaking of all that, I liked this quote from the "Globe" on Valentine's Day: "There is no holiday celebrating friendship, but only since the mid-19th century has romance been elevated above other types of love," writes Simon May, author of 'Love: A History.' "For most ancient Greeks, for example, friendship was every bit as passionate and valuable as romantic-sexual love. Aristotle regarded friendship as a lifetime commitment to mutual welfare, in which two people become 'second selves' to each other.

Today friendship has been demoted beneath the idea of romance, but they should be on equal footing."

I'm with Aristotle.

Finally, most importantly of all and speaking of a love that's passionate and valuable: Booboo gets home tonight, and I'm going over to see him tomorrow. He has been in Saskatchewan with his mother for two whole weeks, and now has three new teeth and can skate and speak fluent French. Well, almost.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

BK and St. Jerome

Just came from dinner with my mother's friends in this building, Una and May, and Auntie Do - a very welcome invite from Una, as the dust is thick in Mum's place, and chaos abounds. For some strange reason, the conversation at dinner turned to death and its mysteries; May, who's in her late 50's, talked about her father's death, and Una, who's nearly 80, her mother's; Do, who's 92, talked about her parents', and we all talked about Mum's. And our own, and whether, though we are all non-religious, there is any spirit. Una said that she was in Canada when her mother died in England, and she knew when it happened, she was visited and actually touched that night.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio ...

Today - dealing with thousands of photographs. Boxes and bags and more boxes of photographs. I don't understand Mum, keeping things in such a jumble - very old shots of her family mixed in with my kids, with our travel shots from the 60's, photos of my father's professional life, hundreds of people we don't know or of miscellaneous landscapes. Do came to help identify the Leadbeater photos - there was Auntie Hattie in 1924, not a real aunt but my great-grandmother's best friend. Hattie Cumberpatch was her fine name, I've been wearing her ring for many years and have never seen a photo. A strong face. Do went through the others. There are too many Sams and too many Nellies, was our conclusion.

Earlier, I went through more files and the boxes of 78's and boxes of my father's writings and articles by and about him, a considerable pile since he was a high profile peace activist, academic and scientist. Very hard to know what to do with it all - all his (and his father's) New York high school yearsbooks, and nine hard cover bound volumes of his collected scientific papers, for example. A book of his entitled "Nucleo-cytoplasmic relations in micro-organisms" that I wanted to keep just for the pleasure of its title.

My brother came with his friend Mike for a couple of hours to take massive loads of all my sorting work down to the recycling and the garbage. My brother and I opened my father's briefcase, left as it was since he died in 1988, and shut it again. Too hard. It's all too hard now; I have reached the end, can't stand it any more. I'd hoped I could finish and not have to come back, but there's simply too much.

As soon as I get home, I promise to throw out everything I own. I will live naked in a hut, like St. Jerome, and commune with the birds and the beasts. Rather than leave my children a ton of dust.

Wonder how long before I forget this particular resolution - any bets?

Friday, February 15, 2013


If I weren't so tired, I might have a bit of a cry, but that would take too much energy. Drank too much wine last night during dinner with Auntie Do, and didn't sleep much. It's an extremely windy day in Ottawa - I went to get groceries and was standing still at one point with my legs moving, pushing against the wind, surrounded by mountains of dirty snow. What a climate. Toronto is Florida in comparison.

An amazing amount was accomplished today, however. My friend David came to take away the sheet music - string quartets, piano music, songbooks that were my British grandfather's, a choirmaster and organist for the village church. Happiness and pain to see it all disappear, 7 boxes plus recorders, music stands and a box of Bach cantata CD's. The language of string quartets - of music not just listened to but played - was a language my parents spoke fluently with each other, that their children did not speak. How I regret that lack in my life, as my mother predicted I would when I quit piano lessons at 13. David will donate the stuff to a childrens' orchestra and to CAMMAC, the Canadian Amateur Musicians Association, at whose summer camp my parents spent many happy summers.

And books - today, about 14 boxes of books went to Goodwill, and more mountains of stuff down to the condo recycling table, or into the bins.

Today I found all the letters and telegrams my mother received when I was born in 1950, and when my father died in 1988; I found all the airlines tickets she'd used in decades; all my father's scientific publications and daytimers for the last 20 years of his life; every letter ever sent to my mother, including ones from her lovers over the years, from the 40's through her marriage. I found all her own writings, essays from her school years, from the London School of Economics that she went to in 1957, her French notes from her time at the Alliance Francaise in 1964. My father's notes on wine, his own tiny diaries, and my British grandfather's exhaustive diaries, which detailed every single day of his life. He kept his daily affairs in one kind of little book - broken down into M, A, and E, which wasn't hard to realize meant morning, afternoon and evening - plus other little books with lists of everything he spent and every penny that came in, and every letter he wrote and received and what was in it. Now I know where I got it from, the exhaustive chronicling of life.

As I looked through before discarding, I found myself in there - in a letter from my grandmother to my mother about a conversation with me - veiled references to my impulsiveness and lack of good sense, at 26.  In my grandfather's diary, August 1965, my cousin Francie and I both visiting London, going to see "Help!" at the Hammersmith Cinema. Feb. 1979, after my mother had moved my grandparents from London to Ottawa - "A: Beth dropped in - without warning!" That crazy girl. There are boxes of photos and slides and a whole bookshelf of photo albums. I am drowning in my family's past.

But I'm going to spend the evening sorting what I can - more files, filling those recycling bags. It's brutal, this process. It's like throwing lives away - my mother's, her parents', my father's. And in the process, my own life begins to seem futile. One day before long, my own children will be doing exactly the same thing - my own decades of diaries, OUT, my books and music, all the stuff from this place I'll be bringing back to Toronto - out. Seeing the cycle of lives so clearly, as I have today, part of me wants to ask, what's the point? Your busy, self-important life just leads to the moment when you are no longer there, when all your work, your collections, your great loves, your letters and travels and reading - meaningless. Vanished. And the residue and souvenirs, the chronicles, simply a burden on those you've left behind.

There is sadness today. Not a surprise.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Sitting in the Porter lounge with my free "Globe" and two free lattes. So much to be grateful for. For one, that I'm not going to Timmins, like those folks boarding now. For Porter itself, which has made going back and forth incomparably easier than the five or six hour train ride, the incredibly boring and endless drive, or the tedious trek to crowded Pearson.

For the fact that my mother's decline was not drawn out endlessly. Steve Paikin's program last night was about eldercare - the difference between retirement homes and long-term care facilities, the poor palliative care available in Canada, the difficulty of decisions - and I relived it all, this difficult last year as we struggled to understand the options. Some people do this with and for their parents for many years. My tenant Carol will soon celebrate her mother's 99th birthday. Yes, my mother's decline was precipitous, and we wish she'd had many more years of health. But at least she did not linger. She would not have wanted to.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Please forgive me if I bitch. It's 9.30 p.m., I leave early tomorrow for Ottawa, and I have not begun to get ready. Have to pack, water the plants, put out the cat food so that Carol, my upstairs tenant who has just returned from Ecuador, can keep the cat alive. Leave phone numbers, run the dishwasher, put out garbage and recycling, clear out the iffy food from the fridge. Etc.

I do not want to do these things. I don't want to go to Ottawa. How many times this past year? Many. Porter Air and CP Rail have done well by me. I would like just to stay in my house. The amaryllis Annie gave me is just coming into magnificent frilly pink and white bloom, and the purple hyacinth from Wayson also. I want to watch them bloom. I do not want to fly to a frozen city and clear out more huge piles of paper and stuff, books, vast quantities of files, clothes, music, letters and photographs, dishes and silverware and art supplies, underwear and medication and kitchenware and ...

It must be done, and it will be done. But I am weary.

P.S. Just cheered myself up with television. Saw the last chunk of "I remember Mama," a 1948 film about a girl who wants to be a writer. And what is the lesson she learns at the end, just as she's about to give up her dream? WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.  Non-fiction. Instead of fantasy, she writes a true story about her mother; her story is accepted for publication and she receives a cheque for $500!

Wow. $500 in 1948. Lucky writer.

And then I saw some of "The truth about exercise," a British documentary, which concluded that two things will help you gain a good level of healthy fitness: three minutes of high intensity workout ONCE A WEEK - and constant movement throughout your day. The chair is a killer, said the host. The chair is a killer. Stand. Walk. Take the stairs. Try to keep off your bottom.

So - write what you know, but do it standing up.

And now, time for Jon Stewart. Sometimes, the television set is a source of wisdom and comfort.


Sitting by the back window eating my breakfast and watching a small white-breasted hawk high in the neighbour's tree do the same thing - he is tearing pink meat from a bone, perhaps the carcass of a bird - the black squirrels nearby are unconcerned, so it's not squirrel. Looks like a meagre meal. Now the bird is pulling out his own breast feathers, fluttering down like snow. This morning, the "Star" reported that a coyote found roaming the streets of Cabbagetown just a few blocks from here was just shot by police, provoking outrage because coyotes are not dangerous to human beings.

Civilisation indeed. A thin veneer. Underneath, we're savages in a savage world.

Speaking of which, my mind keeps flashing on John Boehner's face yesterday, the flickers of disdain playing over the eyes in that smooth tan, as he listened to Obama speak about equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage.

I was also just looking at my iPhoto gallery, because my Booboo is away in Saskatchewan with his mother, and I miss him terribly. When you reach the end of your most recent shots in iPhoto and click once more, it sends you back to the pictures taken a year ago. I was blindsided by this shot that just came up - exactly one year ago, in February 2012, my tall mother, strong, independent, beautiful, with a friend.

A different kind of missing terribly.

Young hawk finished breakfast. He sat preening in the sun for a moment and then flew off. Time for me, too, to fly into this bright cold day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The State of the Union

Here is something I don't think I have ever said: Tonight, for once, and perhaps briefly, I am proud to be an American. I hold two passports, one for the country in which I was born and where I lived for the first 2 or 3 months, and one for the great northland country where I've spent the rest of my life. In fact, I have never considered myself even minutely American, because I wasn't born in America but in New York City, which is a separate country.

And yet tonight, it isn't, it's part of the country that voted in this terrific man. Yes, he was all over the map in his speech. But he spoke passionately of things that matter most, climate change, early childhood education, voting reform. And mostly, he spoke of citizenship. It was a great speech, especially, of course, the chant about the vote on gun control. But the part that made me tear up was the focus on individual citizens who have made brave, unselfish choices, and the camera focussing on their faces in the audience.

And now my brief moment of pride is over - the Republican is rebutting. I'd heard that this guy was a moderate and one of the better ones - but when he said the U.S. housing crisis was caused by government programs, I had to mute him. And not forget that almost half the country voted for his party of narrow-minded gun-loving bigots.

Well - it was nice while it lasted.

Yesterday, my student Odette delivered the final draft of her memoir for a last read and edit. It's magnificent - 390 double-spaced pages in a maroon binder. Odette had never written when she came to my class a few years ago, but she wanted to tell the story of her life, not for publication, but for her five children. The story of her early life in a village in the Philippines, her parents and siblings, the political upheavals, her education and prestigious jobs, her marriage and eventual divorce. After taking my class several times, she continued to work with me privately; at one point, her boss wanted to reward her hard work and asked what she'd like, and she asked for my editing services to be covered for awhile.

It took her years of writing, getting up early before going to her job, and she had to take several breaks from the work. I told her that after following the decades of her marriage, the reader had to see its eventual end, and she told me she could not stop crying as she wrote. But write she did, and rewrite after many edits, and now here is the manuscript, for one last look before it goes to her family.

This is a hare and tortoise story. I've had many students with tons of confidence or time. But Odette got it done - a shy Filipina with a full-time job and a burning need to tell the truth. I am so proud of her.

Monday, February 11, 2013

If it's directed by Christopher Alden, run.

I made the mistake tonight of going to the opera. A friend is in the chorus and sometimes sends out notice of a fantastic deal - $25 orchestra seats on a slow night. So I changed my home class time, cut my poor students off at 7, rushed out into the night to grab a cab and dash to the Four Seasons Centre, to see Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito," which I'd read, distractedly, was not a great production but had wonderful music.

Well. The music - sublime. The singers - wondrous, though it was an odd night to begin with - a different conductor just for tonight, and the famed Michael Schade, they announced as the curtain rose, was "indisposed" and would be replaced with a member of the chorus. People are generous at these times, hoping for the best, though most of them had paid a great deal more than $25 for their seats.

Jesus God. Hideous. A grotesque production. Everyone in ancient Rome was a lesbian - women groping each other, fondling, kissing, one of them a jogger in big glasses, a tunic and Adidas. The emperor wanders about in purple satin pyjamas, clutching a long bedspread over his shoulders, as his lesbian friends sulk drooping against the wall. The Roman centurion, on the other hand, is in full Roman gear, only his helmet bounces like plastic and there's an unbelievable bit of business about a cramp in his leg. The set is a solid sheet of fake concrete perfect for the graffiti that gets painted on it in Latin, and there's a K-Mart chandelier and a brass - yes - garbage pail. The chorus comes on dressed like Italian bag ladies, with masks. Yes. Bag ladies with masks.

And heartbreakingly, through all this absurd, mind-boggling grotesquerie, the music shone, glowed in all its beauty, the singers sang Mozart's enchantment, the voices clear and pure and gorgeous. Their artistry attempted to vanquish the work of this foul director. To no avail.

I couldn't bear it, even though I spent much of the act with my eyes closed, listening but not watching, and decided to leave at intermission, only to run into a Cabbagetown friend who was also leaving and offered me a ride home. So we vented; she felt just the same. When I got home, I wrote a letter to the COC.

Dear COC:
As I left the building tonight at the intermission of Mozart's beautiful opera, I remarked to my friend that the last opera I saw at the COC, I had also hated. When I got home, I did some research to discover - that the same benighted man directed both! From now on, when I see the name Christopher Alden, I will know that a production that massacres any beauty, any delicacy, even the slightest common sense, will follow, and I will run screaming in the opposite direction. I walked out of Fledermaus last fall, and I left at intermission tonight, though the music and singers were so heavenly that it hurt to do so. But the concept - lesbian Rome, the great leader in pyjamas and a bedspread, the chorus a kind of Italian supermarket mime group - grotesque, stupid, insulting - the kind of direction that draws attention to itself and has nothing to do with art.

The fact that you employed this man once, for the monumental travesty that was Fledermaus, can be forgiven; I understand that you are trying to interest new audiences and try new things. But the fact that you employed him twice - shame on you. Shame shame shame on you. 

Beth Kaplan

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Hamilton in the snow

Piffle - we in Toronto got a mere 12 inches of snow yesterday, whereas parts of the Eastern seaboard got 3 times that! Still, when I read on-line last night that the express bus to Hamilton had been cancelled due to the storm, I was not happy with the weather gods. My workshop at the Hamilton Public Library was to begin at 10 a.m. this morning, and the 8.30 express bus got in at 9.15. The train would be much more complicated and longer. So I rose at 6.15 a.m. - can't remember the last time I got up so early - to get ready for the train.

Posted at 6.11 a.m.: All busses now running normally.

It was a gorgeous day - bright sun which will melt the piles of snow in no time, and then there will be floods. My host Jill met me at the bus station. Jill came every Monday recently all the way from Hamilton to my Ryerson class. She has decided to start a weekly writer's group at the library there, and asked me to run a writing workshop to help get it started. The snow deterred some, but still, 19 Hamiltonians (and one homeless woman who wandered in and out) came through the snowdrifts to sit in a sunny room for 3 hours, to talk about writing and do some on the spot. It was wonderful. One of the participants, who'd been a lively part of the workshop, came up at the end to tell me that he is 95 years old and just beginning his literary career. I'd told them about Diana Athill and the bestseller she wrote at 92 - I hope this man will top her.

The homeless woman said at one point, "So, writing - does it come from your imagination, or from, like, just from the top of your head?" Good question. "Both," was my terse reply. "What about from your heart?" she said. Oh yes. From there most of all. Thank you for pointing that out.

The participants seemed to get a lot from the day. So now I have ready a 3 hour workshop template I can run anywhere. Just ask.

The kind librarian gave me a very impressive Public Library of Hamilton notebook with matching pen. Afterwards, lunch with Jill, who works with street people and is one of the good people of the earth, and her daughter, and back to the bus. A bunch of artist friends have moved to Hamilton because life is calmer and housing much cheaper than in Toronto. The downtown has a nice vibe. But living there, I'd feel in exile, so near yet so far from the real thing - the big city.

But then, I'm a city girl.

Friday, February 8, 2013


snow day

Wow - if there's two feet of new snow outside, this must be Canada. And it's still coming down. I have shovelled twice and my homeless friend Bill once. Bill has now disappeared, probably because he wore his scrawny body out shovelling, and also made so much money that he can afford to comfort himself at some local happy hour.

It's beautiful out there, especially the happy birds at the feeder against a backdrop of white. The city is muffled, and my friend Sam the teacher was anticipating an easy day at school with only a few kids. The cat is sleeping with her paw over her eyes and has not awakened even to eat. My son is in bed at home, still recovering from some vile bug, and my daughter and grandson are visiting friends in Saskatchewan, where it's even colder and snowier.

February in Canada: a good time to be self-employed.

Today I added up the travel agent work I did on-line yesterday, and am proud to report that I am traversing the North American continent, flying non-stop direct from Toronto to Washington to Austin to Los Angeles to Vancouver to Toronto for less than a thousand dollars. How amazing is the internet. Not to mention airbnb, that my friend Shari Ulrich told me about - I've got a big bright room in someone's Austin home for $44 a night. How did we travel before? Oh yes - people were employed in the travel agency business. A whole industry wiped out - one of many.

I spent this afternoon preparing for tomorrow's job - leading a three hour writing workshop at the Hamilton Public Library. Quite a few have registered already, but I have no idea of the final size of the crowd or the demographics, as Jill, a former student of mine who organized it, told me she was aiming at the homeless people who live around the library. So I'm getting the bus tomorrow to Hamilton with general notes about writing and writing exercises to do with - 20 or 30 miscellaneous Hamiltonians. This will be interesting.

And then Jill is taking me to a Nepalese restaurant for lunch. Great, as long as there's not too much yak's milk, I said.

I have just had a huge platter of macaroni and cheese for supper. When I had recovered from a childhood illness, my mother made macaroni and cheese. It's a dish of comfort and celebration. So please celebrate with me - we've survived the snow, we've survived everything else so far, we're alive on this Friday of February 2013, and the only word that matters is: Onward.

PS. Bruce just sent me this - a gay Conservative - Conservative! - MP's plea in British parliament for the equal right to be married. Eloquent and moving. And by the way, he's a Conservative.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

travel bug

People are getting worried - four days without a post - is anything wrong? All is well, thank you for asking. Sometimes, I just cannot scour my soul for insight or even gossip and movie reviews. Time to lie fallow, not dig anything up.

The weekend in Ottawa was hard - my mother's whole life being ripped open for us to pillage. Of course, we did so lovingly - except when I was cursing her hoarding tendencies - but still, there's something brutal about it all. At one point I clutched her threadbare teddybear Donald Leonard Brown, aged 89 like my mother, and sobbed.

That was Saturday. Now it's Thursday afternoon, and there's a blizzard on the way; my class tonight may be sparse. Donald Leonard Brown is safely settled on the bedroom bookshelf beside my own British teddy bear, imaginatively named Teddy, who's a mere 62. The rest of my share of Mum's stuff is still on the floor in her spare room - I'll be back next weekend to continue sorting, piling, discarding, giving away, recycling, dividing. Until her apartment is empty, and some of her things live with my brother, and some with me.

On Monday, after my return, I went across town to see magical grandson Eli, who now wriggles across the floor like a seal. We went to Toys R Us to buy baby gates and little socks with rubber bottoms. An emporium for children - what an overwhelming place, I'd never been there. Anna wandered in a daze of desire. We'd arranged to meet her childhood friend Shani, whose first son is now 11 and who has just had another - Leo, a week old. There they were, two friends since senior kindergarten who used to play Barbies and then scream for the Backstreet Boys, now gurgling at their babies. More beautiful than ever, those girls. Keeping our planet populated.

Speaking of which - my goddaughter Jessica, Lynn and Denis's daughter, just had a baby boy, Jules, in Sydney. Now Lynn and Denis have one grandchild in Australia, three in Kathmandu, two in Dubai, and one on the way in London. Their youngest daughter lives in Africa and is not yet pregnant but undoubtedly before long ... The Blin family, populating the planet all by itself.

Yesterday, yet another medical appointment, to have yet another bit of my insides inspected. It's surreal when a male doctor greets you with a smile and then shines a flashlight straight into your nether regions. And then says, "You're beautiful inside and out." How many people can actually tell you that? What a charmer. I should have said, I bet you say that to all the girls.

The most beautiful word in the English language: "benign."

Today, as the snow falls, I have spent hours booking my April getaway - an exciting trip which involves: flying from Toronto to Washington D.C. to visit Cousin George on Dad's side and Cousins Barbara and Francey on my mother's; from Washington to Austin, Texas to visit Lynn, friend since 1967, who has come from Montpellier to spend a term there; from Austin to Los Angeles to stay with my dear screenwriter friend Suzette who has a beachfront apartment in Santa Monica; from Los Angeles to Vancouver for the opening of Chris's musical about his life; from Vancouver to Bowen Island to stay on the ocean with musician extraordinaire Shari; from Bowen to Vancouver Island to stay at an oceanfront cottage in Tofino with Patsy, friend since 1971. Back to Vancouver to say goodbye, and home. Thrilling, to be seeing so many family members and good friends, this trip.

And, even though the mild Pacific is inferior to the mighty Atlantic, I'll be overjoyed to get my fill of ocean, which, as a Halifax girl, I sorely miss. Paris? Who needs Paris?

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Saturday night in Ottawa, and my friend Lani and I are passing out after a second long, hard day, delving into my mother's lifetime accumulation of possessions, and trying to figure out what should go where - to me or my brother, to my kids or someone else or to Goodwill or recycling or garbage. Mountains of stuff - cupboards, drawers, boxes and bags full of stuff. It makes me want to live in a pristine, empty white room - except that somehow beside me, as I write, is a cavalcade of new possessions that at some point will make their way to Toronto and into my house. Which already is not, shall we say, pristine or empty. Or, for that matter, white.

My mum was very bright and energetic, poor in childhood, lived through the deprivation of the war, then, as women did, she married and had children and stopped work. Her work was us and my dad. When he died in 1988, all of that ambition and energy had nowhere to go. She had no job, and so her job became ... to shop, and to collect. I've already posted a list of her collections, to which today we add - eggcups, letters - every single letter ever sent to her, since the Forties, other papers, including dry cleaning reminders and ticket stubs; she collected tools, shoe shining equipment, knitting and sewing stuff, art, art books and art equipment, sheet music, pots and boxes, calendars, brooches, old English pottery - and mostly, my mother collected silver, particularly Georgian silver, mostly Georgian silver spoons. Many many spoons. When we opened the trunk today, Mike and I thought we were rich, at last - gorgeous spoons, all hidden away in cloth bags with tags telling what date and from where - Edinburgh, 1789. Beautiful fish knives, ladles, teapots and creamers, trays ... bought at antique shops and flea markets for decades, one by one, often at great expense.

 Mike checked the website of a man he'd met who deals in Georgian silver, to see ONE spoon of the kind we had listed at $350. Drooling, he called. And then the dealer explained that no one is buying silver these days; that that spoon had been listed there for years; that he buys silver now by weight, not for its beauty or age. Mike has not given up - he is taking in the oldest spoons and ladles and the beautiful fish knife, in the hopes this guy will fall in love and offer the earth. But now we know better. And then I'd open another drawer and find - more spoons. More pots, more boxes, more more more.

Moral: when you are a highly intelligent and energetic widow, get a job.

Mike had brought his friend, named Mike, to help him, and I had Lani, and with the help of these two, we got through two brutal days. My brother and I have the same taste - whenever there was a choice of two similar items, we both liked the same one. So there were many toss ups, times when he gave in or I did. The important thing is that one of us always did. So in the end, though I lost some things I would have liked to own, so did he, and we both got a goodly percentage of things we coveted - a bit of furniture, a few old books, some art, a rug or two, and, yes, spoons. All of which will eventually have to go to our own poor kids. We gave some stuff to Auntie Do, who exclaimed, "A silver teapot! How lovely - I've never had one." Win/win.

Much, much more to be done - many boxes of my father's stuff still, and records, including a box of 78's, and family photo albums - endless. More weekends in Ottawa, for sure. But the worst of the choosing and distribution is over.

And now I must pay tribute to a beloved friend. Lani and I met in January 1975; she saw me in my first show in Vancouver and instantly decided I should be the other woman in a travelling theatre troupe she was putting together. We toured the Kootenay Mountains in an ancient Dodge bus with four crazy actors, and thus began one of the great friendships of my life. Lani is a sublimely eccentric, fiercely loyal, kind and loving and very short redhead; she chainsmokes and ingests many other substances, at least she used to, and considers ketchup her only vegetable. We did many more shows together, and have continued to write and talk ceaselessly through the years; she and her wonderful partner Maurice and beautiful dog Bourbon - "a borderline retriever," Lan calls him - now live in Stratford.

A few weeks ago, when it was time to consider this very difficult sojourn in Mum's condo, haggling over scores of sentimental items with a brother with whom sometimes I have not gotten along, I knew I must have someone at my side and on my side, someone sensible, hard-headed and organized. Lani was the first person who came to mind.

She volunteered immediately, and this is what that meant: getting up at dawn on Thursday to drive in a blizzard to her brother's in Mississauga; getting him to drive her to the Go train to Toronto; sitting without a cigarette for the 5 1/2 hour train ride to Ottawa with me; and then spending two solid days in a bitterly cold city helping warring siblings sort out family issues and silver spoons. She - and my brother's Mike - saved our lives. I have no doubt that though my bro and I had both resolved to be level-headed and fair, the minute we were at an impasse, we would have jumped back 50 years and been at each other's throats. Instead, we bartered and teased like grown-ups all the way through, the work got done, and we are still friends. Thanks to our friends.

I can never repay Lani for this gift. She says all she wants as payment is for me to do the same for someone else one day, as friends helped her after her mother and then sister Charley and then her father died.

So I will. But not in the near future. Please, please do not ask. I would cry.