Wednesday, April 30, 2014

the end of Ford WOO HOO!

OMIGOD he has finally gone! Oh hooray hooray hooray. Can it be true, at last? I was just going to turn off the computer after a long day slaving over a hot screen when I decided to check Facebook. And there it is, at 10.40 p.m. Wednesday evening: "Rob Ford takes leave as new drug tape emerges."

He smoked crack with his slimy drug dealer and someone filmed it and is now selling the tape. IT GOT RID OF HIM, the foul-mouthed cotton-brained loathsome lying sonofabitch automatically always on the wrong side of everything. Thank you, God.

I am a nice person, really I am. I'm not vindictive or nasty. But this man and Stephen Harper - and George Bush and the horrible Mike Harris once upon a time - drive me to say things that are foreign to my sweet nature. And yet there they are.

He's gone. I can't go to bed yet, I have to check Twitter. People will be going nuts.

Beth's writing classes - one student's success story

MY MEMOIR AND CREATIVE NON-FICTION CLASSES START NEXT WEEK at both U of T and Ryerson, and there's room. In fact, so much room, there's a danger of cancelling. If you want to learn to tell your own story, this is where you should go. Check this website under "Teaching" for links to both programs.

U of T student Maggie Jansen came to my class for two consecutive terms and has a beautiful piece in today's "Globe" to show for it. She wrote it for class and then rewrote it for us, and I suggested she submit it to the paper. It's a brave piece of writing, and I'm proud of her.

Floating my way to oblivion 
If it doesn't come up because the "Globe" is trying to "monetize" their site, please go to "Life" and then click on "More stories."

Maggie wrote to me yesterday, "I am excited — it has always been a dream of mine to be published, but I never thought it would happen, until now, 56 years old — thanks to your being such a wonderful, amazing teacher, I see my writing in print. Wow!"

Please let me know if you need more information about my classes. Hope to see you next week. 

Call the Midwife

I am up early because the stove repairman was here at 7.10 a.m. Two days ago the igniter in my gas stove burners started clicking and wouldn't stop, so the stove has been turned off at the breaker. Took the guy 2 minutes to repair it, to the tune of $134.

So now I'm sitting looking out at the dismal scene - Toronto still struggling to find a tiny bit of spring. The weather has been reprehensible almost without letup since I returned; yesterday and today, dark and teeming. It's apocalyptic. I expect Russell Crowe as Noah to appear any minute urging us to get onboard.

Nothing to do but get on with life and work. I'm finishing the next draft of the writing book before a discussion with my publisher on Thursday, making plans for the book launch, doing my best to be a publicist, not my strong point. Spent half an hour yesterday sending word of my book to two Paul McCartney fan websites but have heard nothing back.

But there are the usual great pleasures - eating, drinking, friendship, and two stalwarts, television and books. On Sunday, heaven - the next season of "Call the Midwife," one of the best series ever. I've never watched a television show that is guaranteed to make me cry each episode, but this is it, and I'm not the only one. A gorgeous series dealing with life's most important issues - on Sunday, the intense love between a girl with Down's syndrome and a boy with cerebral palsy, a nurse-nun's loyalty to a dissolute brother, a community's loyalty to her and much much more. The best.

Followed by a program on exploring Italy that took me straight back to that sublime country from the comfort of my living room.

And then to bed, where I have started Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch." Thanks to friend Patsy who gave it to me for Xmas, I am now immersed in a vast, delicious novel. I'm glad to be back on the fiction trail. Maybe it's because my own non-fiction is trembling on a branch in the cold wind of reality - for now, I see the joy in making things up.

Here's a paragraph from Muriel Spark which explains why I miss my pussycat:

I passed him some very good advice, that if you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work, I explained, the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk-lamp.  The light from a lamp, I explained, gives a cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.

Monday, April 28, 2014

In case you haven't heard ...

Here's the back cover copy

A memoir of the vibrant mid-Sixties that illuminates both the real life and powerful imagination of an articulate Beatlemaniac spending a lonely year in Paris. In a series of poignant and humorous fantasies about her romance with Paul McCartney, a young Beth Kaplan writes her way into adolescence, the dawning of sexual awareness and the world of real boys.

 "The child with the Beatles fixation finds her way deep into the reader’s heart.”
–WAYSON CHOY, author of The Jade Peony and other books
“Lovely writing – very revealing and very moving.” –SUZETTE COUTURE, award-winning screenwriter/producer
“All My Loving is honest, evocative, beautifully written and very funny.”
–ROSEMARY SHIPTON, co-founder of Ryerson University’s Publishing Program
“The gorgeous, heartfelt memoir of a lonely, imaginative girl growing up in 1964 with the Beatles as the soundtrack of her life.”
–LAUREL CROZA, award-winning writer
“Kaplan’s very rich portrait of a family and a time draws us inside her years as a misunderstood outsider.”
–JIM PURDY, screenwriter/director/producer  page1image1456

"I am Big Bird - the Caroll Spinney story"

Several huge treats today. Not only is the sun shining (though it's still damn cold with a cutting wind), and not only did I get to go to the movies with my beloved friend Ken, who's 79 with the smile of an 8 year old, but the film we saw was "I am Big Bird - the Caroll Spinney story." If you're in Toronto, it's on at the Hot Docs Festival, and it's a must see.

Made me weep. What a surprise. But also laugh a lot. The very moving story of a man with a difficult childhood - a supportive mother and a very angry father, a miserable adolescence - who loved puppets from childhood and eventually met Jim Henson and was invited to work with the Muppets. He was part of the inaugural season of Sesame Street as both sunny, innocent Big Bird and the bird's opposite, Oscar the Grouch.

At the question period afterwards, I put up my hand but didn't get to ask the question: Do you think you're channelling your parents in your characters - your sweet-natured mother in Big Bird, your furious father in Oscar? I ran into the producer afterwards and asked him the same question. He said, I don't think anyone has ever asked that. But it's so obvious!

The film is a love story. Spinney's first marriage produced 3 children but was wretched; his first wife (like his father, at least in the early days) had no respect for or interest in his work. And this is a man who lives for and through his characters. He was suicidal but managed to divorce and subsequently met the love of his life, Deb, a woman as sunny and loving as Big Bird, who travels with Spinney and keeps him going. In interviews with his now-adult kids, it's clear he was a warm and lively father. "I don't remember a bad time with him," said his son.

The man is now 80 and has spent much of his life - 45 years - encased inside a huge yellow costume with giant orange feet. He has no intention of quitting yet. The film showed how famous Big Bird is around the world, how popular and beloved everywhere - the universal child in us all. It even intimated that Mitt Romney lost the election because he disparaged PBS and Big Bird. Hooray!

At one point, the doc veers off into strange territory about a terrible murder that happened on the Spinney's country property - a man they'd hired to do some stonework brutally murdered a woman jogging through their land. I wondered why this bit was there until it became clear - it was showing the grace with which they handled real life horror and tragedy. The woman's husband remained enraged at the blameless Spinneys, who'd created a garden in honour of his slain wife. Eventually, the husband ran into Spinney at the grocery story and asked for a hug and a talk, and they are now friends.

It's a film about the rare man who spends his life doing exactly the right job and living with exactly the right partner. It's the kind of film that makes you feel bigger as you leave, kinder, more open and connected. Highly recommended.

AND Deb Spinney is a kindred spirit! She says in the film that it's been an honour to meet many famous people, including Bob Hope and Waylon Jennings. The one person she's still hoping to meet is … Paul McCartney! "Just puttin' it out there," she says. She'd enjoy my book, I thought. There was a copy in my purse I was intending to drop off for my bank manager on the way home, and at the end, I gave it to a Festival worker to give to Deb. He came back to tell me she had it.

So Deb Spinney, fellow Paul fan, now has my book, signed "To Dave, with many thanks."

At the question period afterwards, Spinney got Oscar out of a bag, so Oscar was part of question period. And there's no question that he was there.

The two directors, Deb, Caroll, the producer and the interviewer.
And now, Oscar is there too.

In other news, speaking of beautiful and inspiring older men, it was Wayson's 75th birthday the other day, and there was, of course, a celebration.

And - speaking of adorable younger men, a few days before that my dear son came over and cooked me dinner using just what he found in the fridge - salmon with mango chutney and veggies. Paris and Rome had nothing on this.
Blessed blessed blessed. Thank you, universe.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturday Night and "Le Weekend"

Incomprehensible, the human heart. I just looked at the sofa where the cat should be and my eyes welled up with tears. She's not there; the sofa is empty. She was there for ten years, immovable, and now she's not. My mother is not here. My father long gone. I am thinking about loss.

Why this, suddenly, when I'm listening as usual on Saturday night to Randy Bachman's Vinyl Tap - the brilliant "Bohemian Rhapsody" right now - and dancing around the kitchen? No idea. Spring is slow in coming; it's still grey and cold, unpleasant, outside, depressing everyone. And so much is happening here so fast. My life, a sliver of my life is out in the world, in people's hands, and I don't know yet how it's being received. It's the strange limbo in the life of a book and the book's writer, when the work has been launched but before there's word on what people think. Of course, not hearing makes me think that everyone reading hates it and doesn't dare say so.

So to cheer myself up I just found the original video of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and spent a great half hour watching the divine Freddie Mercury. So incredibly talented. And then I think of all the losses to AIDS and get sad again.

One of those nights.

And my city still held hostage to that disgusting cretin, and my country to the other cretin. However. This too shall pass; they too shall vanish.

Went this cold afternoon to a movie: "Le Weekend," with two incredible British actors, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, as a British couple who go to Paris for their 30th wedding anniversary in an attempt to rejuvenate their marriage. A powerful script by Hanif Kureishi, superb performances and Paris - what more could you ask for? Thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Last night, not so - Wayson was poking around in some second-hand bookstore and found a DVD of a mock-documentary called "Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney," which we watched after a sushi dinner last night. It hit a bit close to home - about an obsessive fan, a silly middle-aged woman wanting to get near to Paul. Hmmm. Let me put that one out of my mind.

And so, back in the routine of home. Last Saturday at this time I was watching "Matilda" in the West End of London. The Saturday before that, I was in Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast with my dear Bruce, the one before that with Lynn in Paris, the one before that with Lynn and Denis in Montpellier. And now, here I am, looking at the empty space on the sofa, missing my crabby pussycat and mourning Freddie Mercury. Welcome to my looney tune world.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Bruce just sent a few shots from our trip, including these:

On the Amalfi Coast. Where else??
That's me centre-stage at Pompeii - feeling right at home.

And now I'm so immersed in what there is to do here that I can hardly remember being away. I have a cold thanks to my adorable grandson, and am still woozy with jet-lag, but there's so much to do. Spent yesterday with my fantastic helper Grace preparing an email blast to 250 friends and students, inviting them to the book launch; also set up PayPal and the book's Facebook and Event pages, went to see the Local Gest where the event will be held, and got 100 posters printed. Did laundry, sorted papers, went through mail, checked my income tax returns and spoke to my dear friend John who does them, had lunch with Wayson, did a grocery shop in his car, put a frantic call through to my patient bank manager ETC.

"Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in," said the poet. And I say, Home is where, when you have to go there, you have to do the maintenance and upkeep.

Woke at 4.30 am worrying about various things.

What I learned from this trip: The world is full of treasure. The world is full of tragedy. Every country has its own particular brand of lunacy and light. It's good to rip up your roots and roam. Returning helps you appreciate the familiar.

I know, these are hardly searing insights. Bear with me - my brain is melting into my neck.

Yesterday, I was rushing to RePrint to pick up the posters when a First Nations man stopped me. He was youngish, not badly dressed but in bad shape; he told me his name, that he was looking for an employment centre. I brushed him off. I'm sorry, I don't have any change at all, I said, which was true, and rushed away. And at 4 a.m., I regretted immensely that I had not given him some money. He was not drunk, he was a man in distress, and I didn't take the time to listen or pay attention. What would the loss of $20 from my wallet mean to me, as opposed to him? I'm sorry, my friend. I'll try to be more open as I rush around being home.

Monday, April 21, 2014


Total blisserooney - I am home after a spectacular journey. Thank you, universe.

The trip was uneventful. Heathrow, it turns out, is a giant shopping mall. The flight left exactly on time at 6, and there was an empty seat beside me, so though I couldn't stretch out and try to sleep, I could at least put my feet up. I spent part of the 8 hours watching two films I'd wanted to see. "Saving Mr. Banks" is about the making of the film "Mary Poppins," and about the childhood of P. L. Travers its author - her love for her romantic alcoholic father, which informs the book. A beautiful film with great performances from Emma Thompson as Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.

And "Gloria," about a middle-aged Chilean divorcee who seeks love and learns to love herself. I identified with her - long divorced though amicable with her ex who's remarried to someone younger; one child in late twenties, one in early thirties and a single parent; even glaucoma, which afflicts her and threatens me. Then her daughter gets pregnant and decides to go live in Sweden with the father, and our ways diverged. How glad I am that my daughter and her son live here.

But mostly, she learns painfully that she doesn't need a man to be happy. I learned that a very long time ago.

I also watched "Midnight in Paris" again, and found it much weaker on second viewing, when the whimsy isn't so surprising; all the scenes with poor Rachel McAdam and her parents are one note and boring. The fantasy stuff is still wonderful. But mostly, having just come from Paris, I realized that even the modern scenes of Paris are complete fantasy, as Woody's characters are mostly alone in the shots, alone at Giverny, at Versailles, on bridges, on streets. Ludicrous, when actually there are four million people everywhere.

But enough movie criticism. I was home by 10 p.m. Toronto time, 3 a.m. my time - and oh my beautiful house, so well-kept by my friend and tenant Carol who'd left an orchid to welcome me home and food in the fridge. I dropped my suitcase and rushed to grab my book. It's gorgeous, everything I'd hoped for. Thrilling.

And then oh the joy of my own dear bed and things where they should be. Everything today was a marvel - limitless fast internet; blowing up my bike tires and going to the Y; even the poor winter-battered garden. Sad that there was no pussycat.

But mostly - Anna and Eli. He has grown so much. He wasn't feeling well today, but we went to the farm anyway, and to a restaurant for lunch since there's nothing in the fridge.

Not even two!

Looking at sheep at the Farm.
Eating ice cubes. As we walked the Cabbagetown streets, we kept running into friends - a young man Anna went to kindergarten with, a mother whose son went to school with Anna too, a former student of mine, and Richard my dear neighbour. Our community.

Later, worked cleaning up the garden with Bill, the faithful family retainer.
So much to do, don't know where to begin. Not to mention four New Yorkers, a Walrus, a New Quarterly, and newspapers. I finished a great book while travelling: "Old Filth," by Jane Gardam, an off-putting title (Filth stands for "failed in London try Hong Kong") and a superb novel. Now I want to read more fiction. But tonight, there's a documentary on music I want to see on PBS, and if I can stay up that long - though probably can't - there's JON STEWART! And peanut butter toast for a bedtime snack, and then there's a very comfortable bed looking out over the cleaned-up garden to get into. Nothing better than that.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Wallace Collection

Last morning in London - and what a perfect day to leave, it's grey and pouring with rain - of course. Went for one last gallery hop to the Wallace Collection, a beyond fabulous mansion packed with  treasure - masterpiece paintings from the Middle Ages on, furniture, illustrated manuscripts, snuff boxes, armour, on and on. And on. Let me say one last time - overwhelming. But beautiful, and like all museums in this wonderful city, completely free. And on the morning of Easter Sunday, almost empty.
This is called a clock.
 This is called a filing cabinet.
 A Sevres box.
Rembrandt's tender portrait of his son Titus.
Amazing to see works I've known all my life hanging there on the wall - the Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals
and the winsome Miss Bowles by Sir Joshua Reynolds, among others.
A poster announcing the sale of the contents of the Petit Trianon palace after the Revolution
Marie-Antoinette's writing desk. A lot like mine, really. Mine has more paper on it.

I will never look at another painting or beautiful thing in my life. I'm full now. Thank you, Europe.

And now to pack and get to Heathrow in the rain, for a flight that leaves at 6.00 pm and so lands at 3 in the morning my time. Fun!

Only joking about beautiful things, of course. But not for some time, I need to cleanse my palate. Speaking of beautiful things, however, it's time to turn my attention to … my garden.

London shots

Click to enlarge
221B Baker Street, around the corner from Christopher's - where Sherlock Holmes lived. A huge line-up outside the door. Thank you, Benedict Cumberpatch.
The Marylebone Register Office across the street - where, be still my beating heart, Paul McCartney got married twice, the last time only a few years ago. He was STANDING RIGHT THERE, where the white billboard announces that they've closed for renovations.
The front door of Selfridge's, the world's first department store - you can't see its splendour, giant clock, brass doors so heavy you can hardly push them.
Went to the Photographer's Gallery, among the great work a sequence by the Irish photographer Richard Mosse, who shoots war zones with an infrared camera. So he turns soldiers and killing fields pink, to amazing effect.
What I will buy for Eli next time I'm in London, from Selfridge's toy department - a treehouse bed. A mere $2600 pounds.
From the top of a double-decker - Camden High Street on a Friday night. There's a big market nearby, and the street was impassable. I love the high streets, the way each community in London has its own centre. Here there's Marylebone High Street, full of shops and places to gather. Parliament Street doesn't quite have it. Yet.
There'll always be an England.
Walked along luxurious Bond Street and into the Burlington Arcade, where there's this lovely glove shop, a place called Linley selling only frames and boxes to keep things in, two sellers of vintage watches, Heming Jewellers "since 1745" and the famous Penhaligon's, perfumer "since 1870."
Trafalgar Square. There's a bright blue rooster there, for some reason.
The thea-tah. When you come in and sit down at "Once," the show is already on - audience members standing in the pub set on stage, listening to the music played by the multi-talented cast who all play, sing and act. Then the real folks are ushered offstage by the stage manager, and the show begins.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Once and Matilda

Well my friends, I am, as they say in this country, knackered. Spent done worn right out. This parrot has had it. As I strolled along Piccadilly today, I came upon Sackville Street. My street. Calling me home.

Yesterday I went shopping for a few gifts, and of course to Marks and Spenser to buy underpants, because that's what you do at M and S, and to take a look at Kate Moss's trendy TopShop. That was my exciting morning. Wandered through huge old Selfridges which used to be a stodgy store but is now uber-trendy - as is this whole city, just jam-packed with people and everything going on. Overwhelming as it is, I love London, the energy is phenomenal, and yet Londoners are hospitable and patient and somehow this madhouse of a city runs.

Met Christopher, Cristina and little Marina and took them nearby to lunch to thank them for their hospitality. And then later, went up to Hampstead to have dinner with Tony and Blossom.

I've written about Tony before - he was my boyfriend during my year at theatre school in London in 1971-72. I was 21, he was 31; he wore platform boots and was one of the most interesting men I'd ever met, a dealer in antique musical instruments. And he still is - a fascinating man, still dealing though much less now and about to sell his Hampstead shop. He lives in a rambling house full of paintings of people making music and antiquities; the minute I appeared, as usual, he opened a bottle of champagne which his wife Blossom and I polished off. She's Australian, nearly 20 years younger than he, a sexual health nurse and an honest and funny woman. And then Tony opened a bottle of superb wine to have with dinner. Oh my. And still we talked. And still I managed to stagger onto the tube back to Marylebone.

This morning the family left on vacation and left me the extraordinary luxury of a bright flat in London all to myself. For one day. My plan was to walk all day before going to the theatre tonight, but it was just too cold. Instead I found the half-price ticket place in Trafalgar Square and got a ticket for a matinee.

And then I had a task - just as I brought some of my father's ashes to Paris and scattered them in the Jardin des Plantes, I'd brought some of my British mother's to London. I had them with me today and wasn't sure where they should go - and then I realized, of course, right there in Trafalgar Square is Canada House. Canada was very good to my mother; she loved her adopted home. Luckily Canada House was closed today, so I sat on the steps and discreetly scattered my mother and said goodbye.

Then I got completely lost in the tangle of the West End before finding the theatre to see "Once." I wasn't interested in seeing it when it played in Toronto - I'd seen the movie. But the musical won a Tony and people seemed to love it. And now I can tell you - I love it too. It's a moving show full of heart, wonderfully directed and acted, about hope, love, kindness, music, creativity, trust. Among other things.

Home on the 453 - on the top deck, of course, still thrilling; the busses on the Amalfi Coast gave white-knuckle rides, but London busses are my favourite. A brief respite away from the truly unbelievable crowds and noise of the West End, and then back to the theatre again, so see "Matilda," which has been sold out for years - I booked my ticket months ago on-line. It's playing in New York, but I wanted to see a British show with a British cast. Another huge treat. An explosive anarchic funny yet dark celebration of children and especially one brave and brilliant little girl, who reads books and weaves stories. A story dear to my heart, with fabulous music.

What a feast. Plowed through the millions to Regent Street and there was the 453 waiting for me. And now I'm home, at Christopher and Cristina's, in the silence, about to go to bed on the last night of my journey.

For tomorrow I fly. At least, that's the plan. Take me home.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Out of order: last day in Naples

The archeological museum - this is Apollo
Many members
 Young students taking it all in
Two thousand year old pots! Morandi would have loved this place.
This is a moquette of Pompeii - with the amphitheatre we stood in
Some of the frescoes from Pompeii
… and glorious mosaics
 The best dinner - at the most reasonable place. Bruschetta to die for.
 The restaurant. The couple on the right did not stop eating the whole time we were there.
Bruce's pizza. Oh yes.


And now, as they say, for something completely, mind-bogglingly different. On the train in from Gatwick to Victoria Station, I marvelled at the neat rows of houses, little gardens, all tidy. The people tentative, quiet, polite. Not in Italy any more!
 I am staying with Christopher, the son of my friends Lynn and Denis, and his wife Cristina and their 11 month old Marina, in the apartment they moved into not long ago near the Baker St. station. Thrilled to be with a baby again. We went for a walk in Regent's Park a stone's throw away - stunningly beautiful in the spring, must be incredible in summer when all the roses are in bloom. For some reason, many Muslim women in full veil and orthodox Jews were out enjoying the spring too. 
Click to enlarge.

 Many birds in the park. Floating nests on the pond. And the great pests - Canada geese.
221B Baker Street, where Sherlock Holmes lived. It's around the corner. Long lines to get in.
My new friend Marina. Love at first sight.