Friday, February 28, 2014

Speaking of our prime minister and our mayor …

A recent poll showed that 30% of people in Toronto would vote for the loathsome Rob Ford in an election now. Mind-boggling but true. Thought of his meanness, egotism and self-interest when I read this:

The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. 

And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.

John Steinbeck, novelist, Nobel laureate (1902-1968)

reading next Friday

plans in winter

Yesterday, as I stood waiting for the bus on Parliament Street, the vicious cold cut into me though I was wearing my 50's mink coat, scarf, thick mitts, hat, boots and many layers underneath. Next to me, a shivering man in jacket and shoes. "I hope we remember this in July," he laughed, "when we're complaining about the heat." Now there's a Canadian. Even in the face of this desperately bitter winter - cheerful!

Almost record-breaking cold and snow. Not quite - there have been worse winters. But few. An endurance test. You need to be tough to be Canadian. Except if you're from the West coast, where the daffodils are out. Pussies.

In the midst of the bleak winds of winter - "Heartbeat of Home," a glorious explosion of music and dance, of which my ex-husband is a producer. Kind man that he is, he gave me four complementary tickets - house seats, the best in the theatre - to take my beloved friend and handyman John and his wife and nine-year old daughter to see the show. Last year I gave John tickets to "War Horse" as a Christmas present; he wept all the way through. So now that's our thing - show tickets for Christmas. We loved the joyful stomps and Irish, Latin and African beat of this show. Especially in February.

On Tuesday evening there was a Zumba fundraiser at the Y. I had every intention of going, but the wind, the cold, my warm hearth … Anyway, I was working, one last go-through of the manuscript. The final draft of the book is now complete; I've received a print sample from the publisher's designer, which I love, and the cover is nearly done. I joked to a friend that the book was stuck in the birth canal. "Your book is born," she said. "It's in an incubator getting warm and will be out in the world soon." Yes. Yes yes yes.

So instead of Zumba, I'll go to the Runfit fundraiser at the Y tonight. This weekend, my ex is in town; we're spending all day tomorrow en famille. Haven't seen my booballoo for far too long.

And I'm gearing up for departure. On Wednesday March 19, that is, in less than 3 weeks, I fly to Paris. I have a holdover of a few hours and go on to Montpellier, to spend the weekend with Lynn and Denis. On Monday, March 24 I get the train to Paris, to my wonderful apartment in the Latin Quarter for nearly two weeks. And then on to Italy. I'll tell you more anon.

"Escape From Winter." My next book. Below: from the Could be Worse department.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Downton delight

Just got this welcome email from Canada Revenue:

You have get a Tax Refund on your Visa or MasterCard.
Complete the formular, and get your Tax Refund.

Wow. I have get Tax Refund. Just have to figure out what a formular is.

Last night, season finale of Downton. Oh for God's sake - as if Bates would keep that incriminating train ticket in his pocket for a YEAR. Gosh, he kept thinking to himself, if this were found, I'd be convicted of murder - I really should take out this heavy ticket and throw it away. But I'd better polish his Lordship's shoes first.

Really, Branson? You're going to let that skanky socialist bully you up to the SECOND FLOOR?
Really, Lord Downtown, you have NOT YET FIGURED OUT that Mr. Barrow is a conniving liar?
And most of all, really, Julian Fellowes, on top of keeping all those plot balls more or less in the air, we have to save the monarchy by forging a letter and breaking in? Really?

And yet he redeems himself with wonderful scenes - between Isobel and the Dowager, the pokes between Americans and Brits, Daisy glowing and beautiful, and the final shot of saintly Mrs. Hughes and flawed but adorable Carson, hand in hand, wading into the waves. So much fun, such glorious costumes and sets and actors, who needs believable plot? Fun. But the Depression is coming. Wonder if they'll notice?

Thank God, Olympic fever is over, and Oscar fever begins. And then we can begin to think about spring. And I will get out of here. I'll tell you my travel plans anon.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

red and white

Had an early appointment at the Apple Store at the Eaton Centre - and walked straight into chaos - Yonge-Dundas shut down with hysterical hockey fans. I guess Canada won the gold. So unCanadian, all this mad patriotism! As I left after my appointment, the street was even more crowded, the police were arriving on bicycles, and people were singing 'O Canada.' Made me tear up. Yes it did.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

moving on

My poor son is up at dawn tomorrow after working all day today - his restaurant is open at 6 a.m. for the gold medal hockey game, with beer! What has Ontario come to? 

Amazing events in Ukraine - humiliating Putin, surely, as his Olympics ends. Power to the people! Extraordinary. And Venezuela. And in this country, young Justin, lightweight as he is, sure looks appealing in comparison with What's his face.

Anna and I went across town this afternoon with all my cat equipment to give to HER new cat, Nan, much adored by Eli. Nan is the good kind of cat - you can pick her up and stroke her without being clawed to bits. Nice. The sun shone, and it was mild. A blessing. 

Here's how I feel about life:

The kitchen sofa is empty. 


RIP - Mewmew, 2000 (?) - 2014. The vet, it turned out, was a Russian Jew very interested in my book, so I gave him a copy. He was gentle, gave her a sedative, went away so Anna and I could weep and say goodbye as she fell asleep. Then he administered the final drug. She died peacefully in my arms.

Here's what Sam wrote on Facebook:

If you've been to my moms house in the past decade..ish, then you've met 'Mew Mew'. A ferocious cat-beast, that ruled with an iron paw. She died today. It was time. That cat was a jerk, but I'll miss her all the same.

And here's what Anna wrote on Facebook:

It is with heavy heart I announce the passing of my beautiful and ferocious mewmew. She died with dignity in her grandma's arms. I'll miss your face always. Xoxo

And now all her stuff will go across town to the new cat, Nan, at Anna's house. Miss Mew had a long and very happy life, a blessed life. Farewell. 

Yesterday, sitting in my place on the sofa. 

Macca in Montpelllier

Friend Lynn actually went out into the night to stand with the crowd in front of the building where Linda McCartney's photography retrospective was opening - and Macca was there, with his daughter Mary and grandson Arthur. She went for me. And there he is. You saw it here first! What good friends I have. 

And now, to go stroke my cat - carefully. Last night, I was giving her the nightly brush, our quiet time together, when she hissed and turned to slash me one last time. I'm grateful to her for doing that. for reminding me of years of bleeding cuts. It'll help me not to get too sentimental this morning. The vet comes in an hour. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Two grandpa's.

Be still, my beating heart.

Cirque du Soleil spectacular



all my loving

This is my cat's last day on earth. She has had it - I think the giant lump on her foot hurts her now, she limps and washes it a lot, especially, of course, when it bleeds, and she is extremely thin, I can feel the knobs of her backbone when I stroke her. We've had special times this last while - I brush her every night, last thing; she loves that and even purrs. Sometimes.

This morning, she jumped onto the chair beside me, as usual, and sat while I stroked her, both of us gazing out the window. But then instead of getting back on her sofa, where she has spent the last dozen years, she went into the living room and curled up right in the spot where I sit to watch television. She has never done that before.

Cats know.

My daughter is coming so we can cry together. But it will be a relief too, for this poor old beautiful cat and for her poor old mama.

hockey schmockey

The men's hockey final is on the radio right now, and though I'm only listening with one ear, I have not turned it off. I do marvel that a game matters so much to my fellow Canucks. We're winning. Yay. In fact, anything that might make Stephen Harper happy makes me miserable. So.

The city of Toronto has never, ever, looked so unbelievably hideous as it does today. This time of year is usually horrible, but now it's almost unbearable, the filthy snow and now the slick ice that makes it hard to walk. And high winds. The path to the bird feeder in the yard is a skating rink and a pond.

We'll get through.

Yesterday, my friend Stella, a wonderfully eccentric artist and performer, did me a huge favour - she read the manuscript and gave me her comments. She had mostly praise, but when she wanted something better, I listened carefully. This is my last chance to rewrite before the deal is sealed. So I'll be working this weekend. And then, please, let's put this book to bed.

I also heard from the fantastic lawyer Kate Henderson that I can use Paul's name and a song in the title of the book, and brief snippets of songs throughout. So:

Coming of Age
with Paul McCartney
in Paris

That's what we have right now. Soon, soon it can be yours!!

Last night, Sherlock. That Cumberpatch is adorable. Wonderful actor. Two great lines - Sherlock saying, during his priceless best man speech - "Religion is a ludicrous fantasy designed to provide employment for the family idiot." 

And the pretty woman he sits with at the wedding says longingly to him, "I wish you weren't … whatever it is you are."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

deconstructing Pussy Riot and the White Album

First things first - I actually - yes, I did - just logged onto to check on the men's hockey score from Sochi. They were playing Latvia today and I'd heard it was a close game, didn't know how it came out.

We won, in case you wondered, but barely. Do I care? Well - some of the people I love do, so that's enough. Soon, the gold medal match against the U.S. It'll be a busy night in the bars.

Much more interesting - the documentary "Pussy Riot - a punk prayer" at the Hot Docs cinema. The only thing crazier than those girls is the country they live in. The doc shows their lunatic "performance" on the altar of Moscow's great cathedral, and their arrest and trial. We see three women who are very angry about everything, and a country that can comprehend neither their anger nor their right to show it. A few decades ago, in the old Soviet Union, the story would have ended very differently. I saw the film with my friend Ron, whose partner is Syrian. They would have been executed in Syria, he said.

So Russia is better than it was, yes, but still miles from democracy. Putin is terrifying; they hate him, with good reason. The film says he will probably be president until 2024. Imagine. And yet the women are so incoherent - and, let's admit it, such lousy musicians. And yet wondrously brave. And yet - two of them are mothers, and you wonder where their children are. The most moving part of the doc is interviews with their faithful, long-suffering parents. There is fallout from that kind of heedless activism.

A very interesting film - especially as the same women have just been re-arrested in Sochi.

And then, bliss - last night an event called "Deconstructing the Beatles - the White Album." A man called Scott Freiman makes a living presenting lectures in which he talks about various albums, the details of what was going on at the time in society, in the studio and in the Beatles' private lives. When I walked into the big, completely sold out auditorium at TIFF, I thought, THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! A roomful of Beatle geeks, aged ten to ninety. From Freiman's website:

Scott's presentations tell the story of the Beatles music using rare audio and video of the Beatles in action and populated with anecdotes about the recording sessions. Drawing on numerous first-hand sources, Scott walks his audiences through detailed analyses of the songwriting and production techniques used by the Beatles in recording their landmark albums and singles.

It was fabulous, and I was in heaven, as you can imagine. I thought, if only I had my book here to sell. Ah well. Soon.

It was warm today, almost, with hot sun. Thank you, Lord.

Monday, February 17, 2014


A startling experience - just opened the Sotheby's catalogue for the auction March 7 - Contemporary Curated. It's gorgeous, a work of art in itself, with a stunning image by Richard Prince on the cover.

Started through - mon dieu, Calder, De Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Helen Frankenthaler, Louise Bourgeois, Ed Ruscha, Franz Kline, Jim Dine, a lovely tranquil Joseph Cornell box called "The Nearest Star, an Allegory of Time" ...

And then I turned the page.

My father. There with all the famous art. My father as famous art.

I'm happy they've printed the blurb I wrote about him. It says "Dr. Jacob Gordin Kaplan, a biologist and peace activist, was the grandson and namesake of Jacob Gordin, once the most famous Yiddish playwright in the world. Kaplan and Alice Neel were good friends; he is mentioned in her biography."



And speaking of loss …

Sunday, February 16, 2014

throwing up

I'm sorry to do this to you - sorry that the image that follows is so nasty - but I had to comment.

Here's the fine president of Mexico with Il Presidente de Canada. Look at the expression on his face, our guy. Our Prime Minister. Ye Gods, save us. Long piece today on CBC's "The Sunday Edition" on how Canada's place in the world has become completely debased. And here's why - arrogance, dishonesty and paranoia.

I was just sitting listening to 96.1, the classical channel - a Mozart clarinet concerto, divine - when it ended and suddenly a soft female voice was expressing dismay at Justin Trudeau's proposal to legalize marijuana, exposing her poor kids to all kinds of evil. A vile Conservative attack ad, the wolves baying for blood, long before an election.

I got up, turned to CBC, logged onto the 96.1 website and sent them a note telling them how disgusted I am and that I will never listen to their channel again. Makes me almost physically sick - Mozart, followed by shit. Spare us.

an appointment

All this lying around has given me time for theorizing. Theories ahoy!

First, at Shopper's yesterday afternoon, the covers of several women's mags were displaying anorexic movie stars, with their cadaverous bone-jutting bodies. There are some of those bodies at the Y, painful to see. On what planet is that attractive? I thought again about the moment that body type became the universal western goal for women, in the mid-sixties, with Twiggy. Why then, and why extreme thinness? I look at my cat, who is now extremely thin because she's dying. In any society, in any era, extreme thinness is associated with illness and starvation. No third world country cares about women being "fashionably thin." Why do we, in the first? (For that matter, most North American women of colour, except Oprah, do not care about thinness. Look at the gorgeous Michelle Obama. Maybe many black women, except Michelle, live in a version of a third world country within our prosperous one.)

I know there are feminist theories about thinness; I did have one myself about gay fashion designers wanting women to look like boys. But there are many straight, thin-obsessed fashion designers, and for that matter, women designers themselves have not helped. And yes, all the stuff about the negation of women's power, female self-denial and all that. But maybe it's also that we reached the stage, as a society of extreme comfort, ease and wealth, that the ultimate status symbol is to look as if you're sick and dying, when you're not.

Okay, working on that one. Tell me what you think, we'll develop it together. I'm thinking about this because my cat is dying. Because I came down this morning to find evidence of her distress all over the kitchen floor and on my breakfast table - a definite message from her to me - and sat down and made an appointment with the mobile vet for next Saturday morning. So the equation of thinness with illness is on my mind.

I am not mourning my cat, at least, not yet, though the end of any life is sad, however small. She was a Harlem street cat who has had a fabulous life, especially considering her personality, has lived with comfort and love, is still beautiful, will die neither too soon nor too late, with dignity and in little, if any, pain. We should all be so lucky.

Also talked to a dear friend today who recently had a shower for her pregnant daughter - they as hosts had expressly forbidden expensive presents and were shocked at how much money friends spent nonetheless on gifts. The other day, I noticed a record number of people carrying roses, heart-shaped balloons and other useful Valentine's purchases. The Me to We international charity run by the Kielbergers, which owns half of Cabbagetown - has anyone looked into their finances? - has a sign above their shop on Carlton Street, which sells stuff from third world countries. "Shop," it orders. "Make a difference."

And we do. For baby showers, Valentine's Day, for ourselves whenever possible, we shop. And that's why our planet is doomed - because shopping is fun and feels good, and now that we can buy so cheaply, it doesn't even have to bankrupt us. Just the planet.

Just the planet.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Inside Llewyn Davis" - four thumbs down

Back in bed. Blog reader friend Carole warned me about this bug, "It comes back," but I didn't know what that meant. Now I do. Not as sick as last time, but definitely not well. Phooey. Don't tell my son, who posted on FB, "My mother gave me Norwalk for Valentine's Day." (Norwalk, in Wiki, is succinctly called "winter vomiting virus.") He was sicker than I, and then he had to go to work.

Went to see the Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis" yesterday, expecting after what I'd heard not to like it much, but wanting to see the evocation of the Sixties and to hear the folk music. I lasted three quarters of an hour before walking out. Hated it. The world is crawling with assholes - why waste artistic time inventing one? Why pay money to watch one? The film has had good reviews. I don't get it. Are they trying to say that artists are selfish self-centred pigs? My favourite movie of all time, "Babette's Feast," was on TV a few nights ago and I watched it again, weeping as always during the meal as the feasters gradually open and glow with the marvel of the food and wine offered by the chef. A film about the power and magic, the dedication and generosity of soul of a great artist. Please do not waste your time and money on some schmuck.

As I banged out of the theatre, I thought, This is why I like going to movies alone. No whispered debate, no sitting in discomfort for another hour. That's enough, I'm outta here. Yay.

Speaking of "Babette's Feast," the movie's director Gabriel Axel recently died at 95. It took him many years to raise money for the film - this was before the era of the Foodie. When he took to the podium to accept the Best Foreign Film Oscar, he quoted a line from the film: "Because of this evening, I have learned, my dear, that in this beautiful world of ours, all things are possible."

It is also the Pope's favourite movie. Another mark in his favour.

There was another monstrous artist on display last night - I watched "Gypsy" on PBS, the musical story of Gypsy Rose Lee and her vile mother. We did a number from the show when I was at theatre school - I played Tessie Tessatura - "so much more demurer" - but I'd never seen the whole thing. But again - the character of Rose is so uni-dimensional, so unpleasant and driven and selfish, the musical becomes something of an ordeal. With Llewyn, people complain that the character doesn't evolve or grow, or even change. Neither does Rose. And isn't that what we want from stories? Isn't that why we read and watch?

The film is almost worth it, though, for Natalie Wood's fragile beauty. God, she was gorgeous.

So here I am back in bed, with a pile of newspapers, a cup of tea, and thou.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's bakers

Today, I will be celebrating, not Valentine's Day, but the return of my stomach. (Unfortunately, my son is still losing his.) And the return of the brilliant Sherlock Holmes, who returned to TV last night in stellar fashion.

For those of you who do celebrate this maudlin festival, I give you a picture that brings me the greatest joy. This is Eli and his dad Thomas making Valentine's Day brownies for Anna.

And here's a picture of me and Paul McCartney drawn, well, traced, in 1964. I added the tears and the long hair and the I.D. bracelets, big at the time. His says Paul and mine says BK, in case we forgot who we were. Paul was a really good kisser. Amazing he plays the guitar and piano so well with such small claw-like hands.

Happy Valentine's Day to all sweethearts, real and imaginary, everywhere!

Don't know how to copy a video, but if you paste this, you'll see Macca at work long long ago.  With love from me to you.

Rare McCartney Footage Makes Being a Musical Genius Look Ridiculously Easy
Paul's off-the-cuff performance of a Beatles' gem shows how he cannot not be great

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Roger Angell, Edie and Thea

Getting better, thank you for asking. I'm up, even if I'm not dressed. Two days in my pyjamas, reading and trying to sleep - could be worse, especially because my nursemaid was handsome, six foot eight and highly decorated. Very grateful he interrupted his schedule to take care of his sick mama. When I wanted something, instead of croaking, I'd text him downstairs. Once I sent him out to buy bananas, all I could stomach, and when they did not appear in my bedroom, I texted "Nana!" Up they came.

But he had to go and I had to get up. Tonight I ate a bit of real food and poured, yes, a very small glass of wine, because that is what I do. But I DID NOT WANT IT. That's how strange my insides are. No wine? The girl must be near death.

Just wrote a piece, in fact, on having to kill my cat. Not quite ready yet, though, either of us. And I did turn on the Olympics this afternoon, for six minutes. Two men going very very very fast down a long icy tube. It looked cold and scary. I turned it off.

Tonight, the movie "Tom Jones" that my dad took me to see in Paris when I was just 14 and had to explain all the sex bits that I did not understand - probably still don't - and then a documentary about two famous and ground-breaking lesbian lovers, "Edie And Thea." I just had the great pleasure of reading a stunning piece by Roger Angell in the new New Yorker. He's 93, like Auntie Do - I'll send it to her. A gorgeous, hauntingly honest piece on mortality, aging, loneliness.

Which has nothing, I repeat nothing, to do with me. I'm getting ready to blow this pop stand.

10 p.m. Just watched the most beautiful documentary about two women whose fierce love for each other glowed right out of the screen. One of the heroes of the film is … Canada, where they went in their late seventies, after 42 years together when Thea was dying of M.S., to be married. There is a moving scene of them hearing the vows, exchanging rings, being told, as they sign the register, that the words 'husband' and 'wife' do not exist in Canada any more, have been replaced by 'spouse,' because, the openly gay judge says, 'here, everyone is equal.'

How is it possible, in a country run by the thuggish Harper and his thugs, that such civilized things can and do happen? If anyone out there still, for some archaic reason, feels the slightest prejudice about the validity of gay marriage, please see this heart-warming film about love, devotion and faithfulness, until death did them part.

Reading - Friday March 7

This is a wonderful new initiative whereby writing students and instructors read while the audience drinks. What could be better? Instructors have ten minutes, students have five. Come one, come all. 

the joy of editing

Feeling human today, despite two nights of almost no sleep, shaky body, cotton-wool brain. Got up and made tea and toast - woo hoo! Yesterday, my son happened to be over, so he just stayed and took care of his ancient mum. He even ordered me take-out chicken soup.  I couldn't eat much of it, but he tried.

Did not watch the Olympics, or anything else. Lay in bed contemplating my sins. Imagine, a day with no coffee, red wine, or movement.

Without health, we have nothing. Thank you, universe, for reminding me once again. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

To hell with it!

Just looked up "stomach flu" on blessed Google, and found out that there is no such thing. It's "gastroenteritis." That reminds me of the famous New Yorker cartoon of a young girl facing a plate of vegetables. "It's broccoli, dear," says her mother.
"I say it's spinach," says the girl, "and I say to hell with it!"

And that is how I feel about gastroenteritis. Where the hell did it come from? My stomach is usually made of cast iron. I had a busy day, went to bed, and whammo, erupting on all fronts. It reminded me of that time in India, in Pushkar when I ate something I should not have and paid the painful price.

No sleep. Cancelled the U of T class today - which is fine, it turns out, because almost all of them are sick too.

This may be the perfect day to lie on the sofa and watch the Olympics.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Olympic gold

Do I care about the Olympics? Not at all. Did I rush to watch the TV news about the day's record-breaking Canadian wins? You bet I did. Today, Canada is on top for the medal count - seven! On top! The most medals of any country in the world, at least today! OMG, that makes me happy.

Why? I have no idea; there is no sense in that. I don't care about the Olympics, and yet I care a lot. There you go. NO sense. Can't help but notice that almost all the medal winners are Quebecois. Once upon a time, they would not have been Canadian at all. But now they are, they're ours, they're winners, and all I can say is - WOO HOO!

On the other hand, I called a mobile vet today, a man with a wonderfully thick Russian accent who does euthanasia at home. Our last beloved old cat, Snoozy, died in my arms, thanks to a vet who made euthanasia house calls, and the time is coming again. The crabby cat, who's 13 or 14, has a huge growth on her paw that keeps splitting open and bleeding, and she's eating poorly. She has had it, I think, and might be in pain. It's an odd thing to be able to make life and death decisions for another living creature, but my long-term vet concurs with this decision. I've written to my kids that it's time to come and say goodbye. And in the meantime, she snoozes in her usual comfortable spot on the kitchen sofa, where she spends 23 3/4 hours a day.

Just watched Star reporter Robyn Doolittle on Jon Stewart, pushing her book about the insane Fords. Jon was very sweet, extolling Canadian politeness, decency and conscience - though of course, that "decency" is what has led us to leave this idiot man free to rampage for years. I just heard an excerpt on the news of the Rob and Doug Ford YouTube show, in which Doug asked his little brother why he lied about substance abuse. And what followed is a master class in bald-faced lying with a slightly indignant, self-righteous tone. The man is a master of deceit. Grotesque, and fascinating.

And - a major American football player has just come out as gay. Football. What a brave man.

She Loves You, the essay

I've learned that the podcast of my essay is only available in Canada. Only in Canada, you say? Pity!
So, for Carole and my other friends overseas, here it is:

  On Tuesday January 14 1964, I turned on the big brown radio in our Halifax kitchen and twiddled the knob from CBC to CHNS, where the cool D.J. Frank Cameron was spinning the latest hits. At thirteen and a half, I still played with paper dolls and read Nancy Drew. I’d not taken much interest, yet, in the Hit Parade.
And there it was, the sound I had been waiting for: the new group from England called the Beatles, singing “She Loves you.” The music exploded from the radio, and my heart burst right out of my body. By the time the song ended, I was a teenager.
And not just a teenager, but a Beatlemaniac. I borrowed my neighbour Ricky’s old transistor, and spent evenings with the tiny machine, as small as a deck of cards, pressed to my ear. Waiting for Them: John. Paul. George. And even, reluctantly, Ringo.
Everything changed again a few weeks later when I bought my first L.P., Beatlemania. Each song was perfect. But there was one in particular… That soft, clear husky voice singing “Till there was you.” Whose was it?
It belonged to the cute Beatle – Paul. Paul McCartney. That was the voice, that was the boy for me.
I’d just made the most important decision every kid my age had to make – which Beatle? I was, and I would always be, a Paul Girl. When the Beatles appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” on Sunday February 9 - fifty years ago today  - I and all North America saw them for the first time, in person and in tight black pants. And when Paul sang “Till there was you,” I thought I would pass out.
What followed, though, was a lonely and difficult time. That summer, my father took us to spend a year in Paris. I turned fourteen in a city where I didn’t speak the language and had not a single friend. But I did have a dreamboat. I had Paul.
Romantic fantasies consumed my every waking hour. I wrote endless stories - my buddy Paul helping me with my math homework; my boyfriend Paul and I travelling around Europe, in his snazzy Aston-Martin; my husband Paul catching pneumonia and nearly dying – until I reached under the oxygen tent to hold his hand. The doctor couldn’t believe his patient’s sudden recovery. “It’s a miracle, Mrs. McCartney!” he cried.
I was attending an all-girls’ French lycée, and had no way to meet real boys. Paul was everything. He saved my life. They all did, the Fab Four. Their music pulled me through.
At the end of our stay in France, incredible news – the Beatles were coming to Paris, to play two shows in one day! For the matinee, I paid an expensive $6 for the best seat they had, in the eighth row centre. For the evening show, my $2 seat was on the side but still close.
The concerts were rapture. And agony. There was my love, a living doll, more adorable than I’d ever imagined - and I couldn’t touch him, talk to him or take him home. All I could do was scream. So I did.
On our way back to Canada, my classical-music-loving father - who hated the Beatles, and the fact that his daughter was obsessed by a hairy Neanderthal with a guitar - my father arranged for us to sail home from my city of dreams – Liverpool. I walked the streets my idols had walked, and best of all, I went to the dank, dark Cavern Club, where they got their start. Yes, I went with my mother. But I was there.
Back in Halifax, I turned fifteen in a co-ed high school and immediately had a crush on most of the boys in my class. I discovered a great American folksinger with a terrible nasal voice and powerful poetry, and all kinds of fab rock groups. But the music that flooded my soul, always, song after song, was Beatles.
The summer of 1967, my friend Mark invited me to come sample some marijuana, along with his new album. I was just seventeen, with long curtains of hair and a purple mini-dress, smoking mary jane, and listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, for the very first time. Far out. Groooovy. Wow.
And then the best band in the universe broke up. I didn’t believe it - of course they’d get back together. In the meantime, through the seventies, I was busy with boyfriends, school, then work. And there were always new solo albums to listen to – my Paul playing every instrument; John and Yoko, doing crazy stuff for peace. Until that terrible day in 1980 when John was killed, and the dream of a Beatles’ reunion died too. But I was pregnant with my first child then, heartbroken but immune.
As my children grew up, they knew that if they wanted something from me, they had only to put on Abbey Road or Revolver or Beatlemania, and I’d get mushy and say yes. Even my father came to appreciate their music. One of my fondest memories, shortly before Dad’s death, is of him and my mother whirling around the kitchen, singing along with their favourite Beatle tune, “When I’m 64.”
In the last decade, I’ve been to three Paul McCartney concerts. Though nowhere near the eighth row centre, I sit enraptured, tears streaming down my face, as this ever-youthful, generous, brilliant man plays the music of my life.  
And this year, I’ll turn sixty-four myself. I’m grateful for a fierce new love - my grandson, now almost two. From only a few months old, whenever he was fussing, I’d put on Beatles’ music and bounce, and he’d stop crying. As soon as he could stand, he bounced too. Now, when he’s tired but won’t sleep, I hold him tight in my arms, and as we dance, I sing “Hey Jude.”
“Take a sad song,” I sing, “and make it better.”

And we do.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Thank you, Macca mine

The glorious Beatles special is just over and I have to say - oh God I am so proud to have loved these musicians all my life, to have loved that one musician particularly, that beautiful man so relaxed, blissful, music radiating from his fingertips and illuminating the world. To see the enraptured audience of young and old sing and clap and dance, as I have so often at his concerts - joy joy joy. How lucky we are.

To hear the audience at the end howling and stamping, and - I can't help it - to think that I have written a memoir about being there at that time, being part of what happened to the world in 1964, and two fine, reputable Toronto publishers had not the slightest interest.



Four generations at the Village Café in Ottawa this morning - Do will be 94 in April, I will be 64 in August, Eli will be 2 in May and two weeks before, his mother will be - can it be? - 33. We were having brunch with my brother's partner and son after going to their place in Chelsea for dinner last night. Well well well worth the trek through the snow.

That little bowl of peanut butter and jam in front of us - well, after a large breakfast, Eli was still hungry and I fed him three little packets of peanut butter with a spoon. He would have eaten a fourth but we had to go. Peanut butter, my favourite food, is forever. Glad that faithfulness goes on into the next generation.

Link to the Sunday Edition

Friends are sending such kind messages about my essay on CBC's The Sunday Edition this morning. I was in Ottawa, listening with Auntie Do, who's heard me spouting off on radio many time before, though not recently. My daughter and her famous son (mentioned in the piece) were listening at my brother's house in Chelsea, Quebec, but Eli started howling just as it began and continued throughout; they didn't hear a thing. I hope not a specific commentary on my talents as writer/ reader. 

Here, if I may boast, are a few nice words:

Lani: It's like you took your book and squished it down into 5 minutes!  It was funny and touching and sad and everything in between.  

Chris: It was so evocative in word and sound. I loved “by the time the song ended, I was a teenager…”. All of us who had our rites of passage in those years can feel and hear what you so beautifully communicate here. It was much more wistful and thoughtful than I was expecting; just perfect.

Nancy: Your story was poignant, powerful, funny, and evocative.  We wanted more.

Terry: ... sounded terrific on the radio today, Mrs. McCartney!

To all of you and to the others who wrote and called - thank you all again.

This is a link to today's program. You can't just link to the essay, but it says that my piece, Loving the Beatles, appears at 59:28, so I assume you can fast-forward through the rest, if the mood strikes. 

Cellphone addiction; Socks for the homeless; Colm Feore on Lear; Muqtida Mansoor; Mail Pete Seeger; Loving The Beatles; Mail Traffic Safety; The Science of Hope and Optimism

8.15 p.m. And now I'm watching the TV special - Paul and Ringo in the front row, like royalty. Will I ever be able to listen to this music without weeping? 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Russel Brand

At the airport. Planes are flying. There's hope.
Here's Russel Brand on Phillip Seymour Hoffman and addiction. Telling it like it is, as always.

Russell Brand: Philip Seymour Hoffman is another victim of extremely stupid drug laws

CBC radio, The Sunday Edition, this Sunday

This fine program, which airs from 9 a.m. to noon on CBC 1, 99.1, will be airing my essay about the Beatles at the top of their third hour this Sunday - that is, just after 11 a.m. on Sunday Feb. 9, 50 years to the day after the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan.

If you get a chance to listen, I hope you enjoy it. Someone, please tell Paul.

more snow

Flying out tonight - I hope, if the weather cooperates - to balmy Ottawa (currently minus 15) to visit Auntie Do. This winter is especially hard on the elderly, who are trapped, so I'm there to drive her around and do errands and keep her company. On Saturday, Anna and Eli are coming in for a quick visit, and we'll all spend time with my brother's family in the Gatineau. Ah, famdamly, can't live without 'em.

I'd rather be flying to the Bahamas, but you can't have everything. Or at least, I'd like to be going somewhere with the internet. I'll have to find a cafe and check in - I go crazy without it. Hi my name is Beth and I'm a netaholic.

Was downtown yesterday, happened upon the Sears at the Eaton's Centre, which is closing. What a desolate sight in the blizzard - a nearly empty store, even the fixtures up for grabs, piles of junk on sale at the other end.

Another major snowfall yesterday, very beautiful, very inconvenient. This is my yard.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bill de Blasio, my new crush

I'm in love. Yesterday night, I found a new glorious man to celebrate - wise, graceful, funny, compassionate and TALL - Bill de Blasio, the new mayor of New York, who was on Jon Stewart. Be still my beating heart - two of the finest men on planet earth, together. If Paul McCartney had walked in, I would have passed out. To hear de Blasio talking about raising taxes on the very wealthy to improve early childhood education and make sure all children have a chance … OMG. Fine fine fine.

And of course, as a citizen of the city of Toronto … well, let's shed a tear for what we endure here - a man who also, for some incomprehensible reason, is called a "mayor."

Went across town to visit my daughter and her boy yesterday - and to spend time not just with them but with Eli's dad, Thomas, who is more or less in residence. Is it possible that one member of my immediate family is going to have a normal home life? They looked impossibly like an ordinary nuclear family. Imagine. What a thrill. Eli and I spent quite a bit of time on the floor playing with little cars, which are fun to push around and vroom but mostly to throw into the closet.

Came home to finish reading such an interesting library book - "Madness, Rack and Honey," essays by poet Mary Ruefle - that I had to order it from Amazon, so I can re-read slowly. It's a dense, quirky exploration of creativity and life in a wonderfully original voice. I'm also reading a spectacular book that I bought at the Moth event in NYC - a compilation of true Moth stories, as told during Moth storytelling events, each one moving. Highly recommended.

And … I don't know why this matters so to me, but it does, because the witch hunt aspect is disturbing. Here's a superb and fair-minded analysis of the Woody Allen accusations that puts the matter to rest.

Monday, February 3, 2014

karaoke at the gas bar

Why I love Americans. After spending time in France and England, I try to imagine what would happen in a similar crazy situation in those countries - not much. But these guys - let's GO!
LOL. As they say.

Shaena Lambert and today's Facts and Arguments

My friend from our days in the Creative Writing department at UBC, Shaena Lambert, has been nominated for a Bookie award for Best Book of the Year for her stellar short story collection, "Oh, My Darling." If you trust me, you'll believe me when I tell you that Shaena is a skilful, thoughtful and very moving writer. I would NEVER urge you to vote for a book you have not read, but I do urge you to read it between now and Feb. 5, when voting closes, and then I'm sure you'll vote for it.

Today's Facts and Arguments in the Globe and Mail is by Chetana Panwar, a student in last term's Life Stories class at U of T. She wrote such an interesting story in class about her children's mixed background that we suggested she do a bit of work on it and send it to the Globe. And … voila.

Monday, The Great Beauty

I'm watching a black squirrel hang upside down and scoop seeds from my bird feeder, surrounded by sheets of ice. Once I opened the feeder to fill it and a squirrel popped out. Well, if you have to be a squirrel stuck somewhere, a cosy room full of seeds is a pretty good place.

And I'm thinking about Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and the deaths of extraordinarily talented people who seem to have everything going for them. I'm thinking of the man who delivers my newspapers every morning, an immigrant rising in the middle of the black freezing night for this most thankless job, and how Hoffman's life would be one of incomprehensible luxury to him. And yet, the misery of addiction and a terrible lonely death we cannot understand.

And I'm thinking about Woody Allen. His adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, as a result of Allen's recent Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement award, has published a letter accusing him directly of sexual abuse and trying to shame actors like Cate Blanchett who've worked in his films. I feel very sorry for Dylan, who is obviously still suffering deeply, decades after whatever happened happened. I've heard too many stories of sexual abuse in my class to dismiss anyone. But I also know from class - and from the memoir of incest "The Kiss" that I read recently - that men and women who were abused in every way as children (and "The Kiss" tells an almost unbearable story) can move on, heal and lift above and get on with life.

Perhaps it's harder to do when the man you accuse is famous. And, let's face it, a genius. However, Dylan's allegations were investigated, and no charges were laid. She can accuse him all she wants, but it's unjust to call out actors. If you think Cate Blanchett would turn down a once-in-a-lifetime role because of an unproven allegation of sexual abuse, you don't know many actors. Actors work.

A tiny slump, this end: the woman I'd hoped would be the publicist for my book called. She said she loves my writing and the book itself, but won't try to sell it. She's not even taking fiction right now, only current events non-fiction, the only stuff she can get on the media. "If you'd slept with Paul McCartney," she said, "it would be different."

I did, I so did! In my dreams. So - onward. We don't do this for fame and riches. Luckily.

Two cultural events yesterday - the Italian Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee "The Great Beauty," and Downton. Both visually stunning, full of glorious scenes and beautiful backdrops, fabulous characters and rich costumes - and both, in the end, a bit disappointing. At the end of Beauty, Ken turned to me and said, "I guess I'm just not smart enough." I felt that too - what the hell was that about? It's obtuse and too long - but it's gorgeous. And since I hope to be in Rome this year, a must see. But are the Romans really that grotesque and Fellini-esque?

And Downton is getting a bit … wearying, despite some wonderful scenes; we can see the writer shoving his characters, one after the other except for dear Mrs. Hughes, into crisis. Of course Edith has one sexual encounter and becomes pregnant. On we go with Bates the steaming volcano, Thomas the lying schemer (where did that new lady's maid come from, did I miss something?), a stream of handsome new beaux for cold Lady Mary, who is really tiresome. I'll keep watching, but I might keep a magazine nearby for the scenes without Maggie Smith.

Now that I've brought you up to date - more or less - one more thing. I've been sorting out stuff to illustrate the book. Here's a picture of my parents in 1955, at Lawrencetown Beach in Nova Scotia. Not a bad looking pair, wouldn't you say? Makes my heart constrict.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Be friending

Went to my butcher store, St. Jamestown Steak and Chops, this afternoon to buy a pot roast for Sunday dinner. Ran into a neighbour, an eccentric woman who lives up the street and whom I'd sat next to on the streetcar last week. She'd said she'd send me a Facebook friend request.
"So you don't want to friend me?" she asked. I was astonished.
"I never got your request," I said.
"I sent it," she said, "but in any case, you only have 90 or so friends, so you don't want to friend me. I post constantly, I'm one of those people, I'd drive you crazy. When I have friends like that, I limit their access rather than de-friending them because I don't want to hurt their feelings."

And I thought - if my dad who died in 1988 heard us, he would have no understanding of what we're saying. And yet it's perfectly understandable in 2014. In fact, she didn't say "limit access," she said something more technical only I don't remember what it was.
She also said, as she left, "I'm looking forward to your book."
"What's your book?" asked the server, a young woman with tattoos, multiple piercings through her cheeks and gigantic black rings stretching her earlobes.
"It's a memoir about the Sixties," I said, "and my love affair with Paul McCartney." Her eyes grew wide.
"Did you really hang out with Paul McCartney?"
Be still my beating heart. I told her the truth, but wouldn't it be fun to play for a bit?

I like Facebook. That is, I like lurking, reading what my 90 or so friends are thinking about today. But it just does not occur to me to post things there; I blog. Soon I will have to learn to tweet. And there too, my dad would be utterly confused.

It's so very winter. More snow today; we are overloaded with snow. But I am busy; I had a meeting with the publisher and emailed an essay to the CBC Literary Competition. I'm going to enter competitions now, because it's great to have deadlines to get pieces finished. I don't care if I win, but I want to finish. My tenant Carol said today, "It's as if you've had a breakthrough with your work. What happened?"
"My mother died," I said. "And I'm free."

Today, doing a final edit of the manuscript, starting work on the next essay, doing an assessment of a writing book proposal for a publisher. But now - Randy Bachman is on. If I have ever needed to dance around the kitchen, it's this cold and snowy night.