Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Good People" and Van Dusen Botanical Gardens

As I walked back to Bruce's an hour ago, a woman came out of her apartment building with her little dog. "It's here!" she exclaimed. "Can't you just feel it? It's here." What she meant is summer. It's March 31, and in Vancouver, it's summer - 17 degrees. Chris got out his shorts. The man downstairs was bare-chested in the sun. Everyone is gardening. It's hot and glorious. Lucky moi.

But my dear friend is trying to kill me. I knew it'd be a test; his hobbies are cooking and walking, both of which he does for hours a day. He can walk for five hours with no problem. I'm not unfit, but in comparison with him, I'm a mushy wimp. Today, we walked from his place in the West End to the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens, an hour uphill in the sun. By the time we got there, I was hot and bushed, so we had lunch and then explored this gorgeous place.
 View as we crossed the Granville Street bridge
The Van Dusen Gardens: cascades of cherry blossoms, magnolias, azaleas, rhodos. Stunning.
 The daffs are nearly finished; these are the last few. Look at that moss. The greens are spectacular.

My energizer bunny companion in his shorts. After our visit, I took my weary legs home by bus. He stayed to commune more with the garden and then walk home. Amazing man.

Last night I went to the opening of "Good People," an Arts Club production at the Stanley, a grand old theatre. Oh it was like old home week in the lobby, all kinds of theatre people I haven't seen for decades, actors - Peter Anderson, one of the best actors in the country - directors, designers, former boyfriends, several people I did a cross-country, months-long tour with and know MUCH too well. The play is extremely good - about how much luck is needed for people from poor neighbourhoods to get out of them - and the production excellent too. A treat; enjoyed every minute.

Chatted with old friend Bill Millerd, the artistic director of the Arts Club who now runs just about every theatre in this town. As we talked, I was very glad that now, I do not need anything from him - not a job, not recognition, nothing. It was not always so.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Vancouver bliss

What a city - in the sun, there's nowhere like it. There are two huge sailboats going by right now, white sails billowing, seabirds calling, fresh winds blowing and the colours of spring everywhere. I love it.

But as I walk around - today downtown, yesterday, with Chris, walking around False Creek to the East End - I have no idea where I am, everything has changed so much. I moved away in 1983, and now the place is unrecognizable. But gorgeous, if extremely expensive. Just read an article in the New Yorker about Chinese billionaires snapping up property in Vancouver so their children can go to school, work and live here. And that over-the-top wealth is visible all over the city. Luckily, a few paupers from the theatre have managed to hang onto their homes.

Yesterday, Chris and I met at 4 for champagne in his bright, tiny, exquisitely tasteful apartment, where he has refinished every detail, including walls of Carrera marble, a designer fishtank and a blonde cat who matches the pine floor.
 And then we walked by the water, had a quick bite and went to the theatre.
We saw a new musical, Onegin, based on the Pushkin story and the opera by Tchaikovsky. At first, I resisted - it was wild and crazy, all over the place in style, content and music. But by the second act, I marvelled at the energy, commitment and courage of the actors and the power of the piece. Those Russians - such drama! And this group has talent to burn, including a singer-actor called Alessandro Juliani, whose father, John Juliani, a producer at the CBC, hired me in the Seventies for several radio jobs. He died some years ago but has left a great legacy in his handsome, talented son, who has won five Jessie awards.

Today Chrissie is busy and I walked downtown and around and back. Later, more champagne with him, then I'm going to an Arts Club opening at the new Stanley Theatre, which I've never seen. Last night we ran into Bernard Cuffling, an actor who has worked in this city for decades and who, amazingly, knew me right away, though when we last met, I was 31. I am re-immersing myself in a past life, my theatre life; that's what I'm here for. One reason, anyway. The other is simply looking out the window.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


The Stanley Park seawall is 9 kilometres of gorgeousness, and Chris and I walked it yesterday, jabbering the whole way as is our wont. I stopped to admire a thick bent cedar which it turned out is one of his favourite trees too. We are soulmates. Despite the fact that he's a lunatic and I am wise and serene, we are soulmates.
And we saw a man swimming. I was wearing my usual 12 layers, the air was chilly despite the sun and the water was freezing, but he was swimming.

A gourmet lunch at Chris's - leftovers from our gourmet dinner, he is such a good cook! - and then home to rest before going out to feast again, this time with old friends Margaret and Roy. As a special treat, Allison and Monty and their daughter Claire were there too. Allison was the designer for the Arts Club Theatre while I worked there - she's designing there still - so we go back 40 years as colleagues and friends. Allison's other daughter has two young sons. Since we last met, impossible as it is to believe, we've both turned into grandmothers. I know. Surreal.

Today, R and R - which includes practicing on Bruce's piano - until meeting up soon with Chris; he is making challah specially for our aperitif - champagne and challah - and then out for a Lebanese meal before the theatre tonight. How much more of this can I stand? How soon before I have to buy a pair of much larger pants? 

Here's my new favourite word - can't get enough apricity:



noun: Warmth of the sun; basking in the sun.

From Latin apricari (to bask in the sun). Earliest documented use: 1623.

“As he stood in the sunshine, apricity began to cover him like a wool sweater.”
Ryan Patrick Sullivan; Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow; Trafford; 2014.

Monday, March 28, 2016

7.30 a.m. Easter Monday

Perhaps I will tire eventually of the view from Bruce's armchair. But I doubt it.

This morning Chris and I are going to walk the seawall, and tonight, dinner with Margaret and other old friends. It's a hard life. Just checked FB - my kids, alive and well, what joy. And got this email from my tenant Carol; last term's student, Mimi, had bought a copy of "Finding the Jewish Shakespeare" for her mother...

Mimi picked up her new copy of The Jewish Shakespeare for her mother to give her uncle. He wanted to borrow her copy of the book, but she would not relinquish it. Mimi's mother is 95 and she is enchanted by the story of Jacob Gordin. Her own mother used to tell her stories about him and she says the book fills gaps and links her memory to new information. She is especially impressed by the extensive research that went into the book.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

settling in

It's 10 p.m. Easter Sunday, and I am finally here. The rigid tendons in my neck are loosening. It was a busy week, finishing work, packing, saying goodbye, getting out of the house, flying to Vancouver, landing at Bruce's just long enough to get the keys, then off to Victoria to visit Lani for 3 days, then back here. The weather has been iffy, often very wet and chilly. There were lots of things to sort out, like the internet vanishing yesterday.

It reminded me of last year at this time, when I landed in Paris - not to my beloved sunny little haunt on the Left Bank, which had been sold, but to a friend of a friend's in the 13th - a noisy charmless apartment with no internet, and the city blanketed in the same wet chill. A miserable few days of solitude and angst. And then the sun began to shine and I figured out how to live there. It didn't take nearly as long here - I know Vancouver and have dear friends, and Bruce's comfortable place is in a glorious location. It's just not home. But that's the whole point. I forget that point, sometimes.

It's spring here - magnolias, bougainvillea, the delicate green of trees, even what look like bushes covered with exploding fat roses that turned out to be camellias - all at least six weeks ahead of Toronto. I'm right on the water, and there's the fresh smell of ocean everywhere, and mountains. It's a wonderful city, and I'm right in the middle of it, and I'm very happy to be here.
Last night was fascinating with Chris, one of my oldest and dearest friends. Those of you who follow his blog to the left know that he has been having trouble with his voice, sometimes losing it completely. But he has discovered that if he speaks in an accent, he can talk. And the accent he does best is South African. So now, you're not in conversation with Chris but with a character we call Roux (from kangaroo) who speaks in a thick South African accent. No one ever said Chris was dull, but now he's actually someone else! Always something new.

It was sunny but very windy today, so we didn't walk the seawall, we took a long walk over the Cambie Street bridge to do some errands and have lunch - more seafood chowder for me, I'm living on the stuff - and then we walked back. It's a special treat to spend lots of time with this man who has been my best friend since we met in 1976. Even if he does sound like he's just flown in from Johannesburg.

the Trudeaus travel

Two reflections on politics - one ours in Canada, today - is this a dream? - and the other about our friends south of the border.
Is it possible he used the trendy word 'narcissistic' in 1920? In any case, how right he was. Unfortunately.
And on the other hand ... the Trudeau family on their way to Fogo, Newfoundland, for the Easter weekend.

back in Van

A wonderful journey yesterday to the ferry, across the water - sitting on deck which was cold but sunny and so beautiful - then the bus to downtown Vancouver and home to Bruce's. And there - crisis, I could not get the internet to work. I was an addict suffering painful withdrawal. Luckily, there was a dinner at Chris's to go to, so brought my computer and had my fix. We had a superb meal, every dish from Yotam Ottolenghi, each more intricate and delicious than the last, and a reunion with old friend and fellow actor Allan Gray and his partner Larry. MUCH theatre talk. It was all beyond delicious. And this morning, I figured out the (very simple) problem and am back on-line. I will survive. 

A man and his dog - Maurice and Bourbon, just before my departure yesterday.

A man and his cat - Chris's elegant apartment and Leon

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ellen Seligman, editor extraordinaire, RIP

Shocking news: Ellen Seligman, the best known Canadian editor whose edited books won countless awards, has died. She was not old, but she was wise. I quote her in So True, my book about memoir, something I heard her say once - that a book is never finished, it is finished ENOUGH.

I knew her a bit through our mutual friend Eleanor Wachtel. She was beautiful, regal, extremely bright - perhaps difficult to please. Many writers will be in mourning. We all need a good editor, and she was the best.

Good Friday in Victoria

From Lani's deck, 8 a.m. 
 Dallas Road, 10.30 a.m.
What a stunning day for a Good Friday holiday.
Art Gallery of Victoria, Emily Carr: "Light Sweeping Through", 1938.

rejecting J. K. Rowling

Never give up, writers - at least, if you've done everything possible to make sure your manuscript is ready. J. K. Rowling, the first female novelist to become a billionaire, has posted some of the rejection letters she received for the novel she wrote under a pseudonym. One suggested she take a writing course. I know a good one, Joanne! 

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Munro's Books, which we visited yesterday, has just been voted the third best bookstore in the world by National Geographic! I believe it - it's gorgeous and packed.

Just had a polite argument with my daughter over FB; after the Ghomeshi verdict, she changed her status to "I BELIEVE SURVIVORS." Should we, I asked her, use the same word for the women in this trial, this particular trial, as we use for people who got through the Holocaust, the residential schools, cancer? She believes that this trial will make it harder for abused women to come forward, and if she's right, that is tragic. But I do not see this verdict as a miscarriage of justice. In this particular trial.

We agreed to disagree on this one.

And Rob Ford is dead. This means absolutely nothing, except that nobody deserves to die young of cancer. And let's leave it at that.

Another gloomy day in Victoria, chilly with a bit of rain. Lan and I got the double-decker bus to the Museum, where John Lennon's Rolls Royce is on display. We saw recreations of the former lives of B.C. - sailing, lumbering, fish, mining, really well done, great for kids. And we saw a huge roomful of the Nature Photography competition winners, stunning, even the ones by children aged 10. What a planet we inhabit. There was a depressing part about extinction and animal cruelty; we avoided that.

 The famous and venerable Empress, on the water.
Blooming in the rain
 Lani and her two men - there's Maurice, in the distance, and there's Bourbon.
The view from their deck. Often there are ducks, kayaks, dragon boats - she says otters but I haven't seen any.

We are doing very little for the rest of the day, which suits me just fine.

Allan Gray just sent me these; I'm having dinner with him and other friends on Saturday night. This is the meal between "Shadow Box" shows in about 1977, Allan looking ghostly on the right, I at the back with mouth open - what a surprise - and in front on the right, a talented young actor called Michael J. Fox.
 -A pic of us in 1979; I just wrote to say, God, Allan, I hope we both still look this good.

The Lady in the Van

 The floatplane from Vancouver to Victoria entered a fog patch and all the windows, including the pilot's at the front, were sheer white, visibility zero. Eventually the clouds parted ...
...and there were islands in the mist.
The gorgeous Munro's Books in downtown Victoria, founded originally by Alice and her husband. Stained glass, murals, space, tons of heavenly books.

A great reunion with Lani and her beloved Maurice, who've rented a house on the water here for the winter. Lani drove from Stratford with Bourbon, the most beautiful and wise dog ever, and will start the drive back on Sunday, just in time for a huge storm back east. It was drizzling all day here. Lan and I walked around Victoria and went to see "The Lady in the Van." I'd thought it would be a celebration of Maggie Smith, which is certainly is, but it's so much more than that, a fabulous film about loyalty, kindness, the power of music, the difficulties of writing, and, once again, the destructive power of the Catholic church. Lan and I adored this film and recommend it highly.

Today - grey, less drizzle. I'm happy. There's a dog.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Wednesday morning, this is more like the Vancouver I know - thick cloud and pouring rain. Especially unfortunate this morning, because I'm taking a float plane to Victoria soon and normally, the flight over the Gulf Islands would be stunning. However.

Off to visit Lani, who hired me for a tour shortly after I arrived in Vancouver in 1975, and who is now the same fierce eccentric she was then. Only now, perhaps slightly fewer drugs and less drink. Oh the Seventies - it's a miracle we're all alive. Viva Lani - the one and only.

People below running, biking, walking dogs on the seawall as if there's no torrential downpour. I'm a big city wuss.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


 English Bay just outside Bruce's apartment
 The view just now from his balcony
His tulips.

This is the most beautiful city in the world, surely. I think I've said that before. There has been a great deal of rain, but today was sunny and stunning. The flight was painless; I watched two movies I'd wanted to see, always a plus: "The Big Short," which was superb and horrifying in equal measure - a must see, a fantastic film with a vital story to tell - and "Remember," an Atom Egoyan film starring Christopher Plummer, a very good film.

Dear Margaret was there to meet me, and what a drive it was into town with those snow-tipped mountains all around and spring exploding, cherry blossoms, magnolias, forsythia - so gorgeous. Bruce's friend Alex was waiting with the key, and here I am, chez Bruce in the most magnificent location imaginable - right on the water. I unpacked and bought groceries and walked and even played a little on Bruce's piano. Supper with a glass of wine sitting in my host's battered chair by the sliding glass door, looking at the ocean, boats, birds, the sunset on its way.

I'm very glad to be here. Brucie, I see by the itinerary he left, is in Venice today. Almost as good.

up and away, minus tiny tiny knife

We're off! I feel better already. On the advice of my savvy friend Richard, I got the new UPS Express to Pearson - wonderful, smooth as air, 25 minutes from Union Station to Terminal 1 on a brand new sparkling train, only $6 for seniors. Now that's a deal. My suitcase and I made it easily to the Air Canada bag drop; the bag weighs 52 pounds but that didn't bother the check-in woman, so it doesn't bother me. Only one glitch - how could I be so stupid? At the last minute before leaving home, I slipped my tiny Swiss Army knife into - not my suitcase, but my backpack. Idiot! Caught by the eagle eye. I could certainly do a lot of damage with a one inch penknife. Maybe it's the nail file they're afraid of. Or the tweezers.

Sigh. I know, better safe than sorry. I'm happy to be safe from wild-eyed women with vicious one inch knives.

Now I'm at the western gates, it's 10.30 a.m. and the travel hungries have started. Though I had a full breakfast at home, I've just had a fat pita full of good stuff and a Starbucks latte macchiato. And thou. My backpack full of snacks, New Yorkers, and ripped-out newspaper articles I haven't had time to read these past weeks. But what I'm going to do right now is a final edit of the essay and send it off from here. Then I'm truly free to explore.

Last night, the last class of the Ryerson term - as usual, they all feel like family. One man, who's in his mid-80's, told me I have joined the list of people who have changed his life. What an honour. He said that all his life, he has resented his cold, judgemental father, but when he started to write about his childhood, he discovered for the first time how lucky he'd been.

And I said, you know, your childhood can be both - lucky, and with a cold, judgemental father. We can encompass all those stories and more. Lucky us.

Lucky me - the big skies of Canada await. Talk to you soon.

Half an hour later: MAILED! And now we go.
To keep you busy and inspired, Event magazine is posting a non-fiction writing prompt every day.

And FYI, holds true for memoir too:

Monday, March 21, 2016

the big rip

ALWAYS, at this stage, I announce to all who will listen that I will never travel again. There is an actual sound, the sound of roots being ripped out of the ground, that is the background as I pack. Ripriprip. Which is how I know I have to get out of here at least once a year. Because I really really do not want to leave.

Had a lovely visit with the little family, and now I won't see them for a whole month. How blessed I am to have an armload of children, a small squirmy one, a bigger squirmy one. Eli and I spent 15 minutes  sitting with my computer looking of pictures of him when he was Ben's age. And now he's nearly four. He drew big rectangles - "here's anudder door" - all over my daytimer.
Snack time - for Eli an apple, for poor starving Ben, his own boot. Delicious.

Now to get into my big girl clothes and truck to Ryerson for the last class of term - our party class with food and drink, which is good, because there's nothing to eat or drink left in my kitchen. It's cold - a momentary sprinkle of snow reminding me why I'm heading for spring. My bag is packed and weighs exactly 50 pounds, yes, terrible - but there's a stack of my own books in there for distribution, my own sheets for Bruce's bed, heavy rainboots for the raincoast, and a lot more stuff I won't wear or need.

I miss home already and I'm still here.

Finished a draft yesterday of the essay I might send to a competition, sent it to my friends and constant editors Margaret and Chris, heard back, did a rewrite, sent it out again. Now I'm entering the tunnel of travel, won't be able to think about writing for a while. It won't be long, though, before I'm back to it.

And for you, there will be pictures of cherry blossoms and mountains and the sea. I promise.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

my kids: a love story

Tonight, a date with the two adults who matter most, and the two small people as well. The plan was that Anna and the boys and I would meet at Value Village, the biggest in Toronto and full of great deals, to shop for half an hour before meeting Sam at his bar the Gaslight, just a block away. And then Sam would treat us all to dinner at Emerson's, a restaurant nearby.

Anna was held up in traffic, so I combed Value Village by myself, ending up with a big Fisher-Price pirate boat for you know who. At the cash, the groovy young woman standing behind me, wearing heavy eyeliner, a vintage cloth coat and battered Converse sneakers, said, "Is that to keep you company in the bathtub?" Yes indeed!

Sam's bar, his second home, is funky and comfortable. At first glance, I mistook the tall sandy-haired young man in the kitchen for my son, and when I told him so, he said, "I'm honoured." We had a drink and then went to the restaurant, where my son and daughter seemed to know every single person who works there - Sam because this is his profession and his 'hood and Anna because most of the kids she went to school with have ended up in the same business - including her friend Grant Van Gameren, who is now the superstar chef of the city.

One of the owners of Emerson's took Ben and gave him a 15 minute tour around, while the other owner sat with his arm around Anna and talked old times with her and business with Sam. Eli  scribbled with crayons and I schepped naches, as the Jews say - revelled in my pride. Oh oh oh, how I wish my father the gourmet, the man who loved good food and wine, could partake of this, the sophisticated cuisine of Toronto - 'cuisine' and 'Toronto', in the same sentence! - and his grandchildren at the centre of it all.
That's Ben in the mirror behind, getting his tour. These two are 100% siblings, yet physically, they have nothing in common. In other ways, though - hospitality, loyalty, generosity, humour, a certain amount of temper and not suffering fools gladly - a great deal.

I am doing laundry and trying to limit what I bring to Vancouver, stacking things up and taking them away. I'm gone for 5 weeks, and it's cold here today so hard to imagine that somewhere else, it's not. I'm finishing an essay to send to a competition, why not, and making lists for Carol, who will look after everything in my absence. I will be glad to get away, but I know I will also be looking forward to coming home.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Suzuki the magnificent

An extraordinary man, one of the most important and vital Canadians ever, Dr. David Suzuki, is turning 80. He was a great friend of my father's, who was also a committed social activist and scientist. And happily for me, David and his family have become much valued friends of mine. His 80th birthday party will be celebrated here in Toronto; I was invited, and how I'd love to be there - but will be in Vancouver! I admire him, his brilliant wife, his accomplished, thoughtful daughters, very much - a superb, hard-working, engaged tribe who have made and continue to make a huge difference to our planet.

David was interviewed about turning 80 by Peter Mansbridge on CBC. Here's this eloquent, humble, passionate environmentalist:


Big news: my student and friend Grace Thompson is on the long list for a non-fiction writing prize. (Link below.) She submitted a story she wrote for my Ryerson class, then worked on with me to read, in a different version, at So True. I'm thrilled for her; she's a talented, vividly honest writer with powerful stories to tell. Fingers crossed that she'll win the prize, which will be announced at the Banff CNF conference. I'll be there, shouting Go Grace!

As for me - an hour in the garden yesterday with my gardening helper Dan, pruning, staking, inspecting the back forty - buds! The joy of buds and green shoots poking through. It's too early, but that's the kind of winter it's been. I'm going to miss early spring in the garden.

Richard came over the other night - his television wasn't receiving the channel which shows the new series "The Americans," and he was desperate to watch the beginning of the new season. And since I like to know what's hip and happening, I started to watch with him. After ten minutes, I left to go back to work. It's described as one of the best new shows on television, about two Russian spies pretending to be Americans. I just could not bring myself to care. Perhaps - is it because it's fiction? And I'm being asked to invest in a storyline which means absolutely nothing to me? I do know that I won't watch anything that's scary or even filled with tension; life is scary and tense enough. I can't watch anything cruel; ugly images stay with me forever and haunt my dreams. So I do my best not to watch anything upsetting. This show wasn't upsetting, just mildly tense ... and of no interest.

Mind you, my dear friend Kate was here for a visit today, and she told me her TV only carries the fish tank channel; all she can see, when she turns on, are fishes swimming around. So I'm a TV junkie in comparison with Kate. But extremely selective, even so.

The mountain of departure is approaching - packing, preparing to leave, saying goodbye, getting organized. I've rented my room for one night via airbnb, so have to clean it up properly before I go. I'm mostly thinking about rain, since that's what Vancouver and Victoria are famous for; their winter so far has been especially rainy. Boots, umbrella, ponchos. I will miss my babies. I will miss the patch of late afternoon sunlight I'm sitting in right now. My kitchen. Children. Garden.

Joyfully embarking on a NEW ADVENTURE.

Finally - can't resist - a very good article from the NYT on my least favourite subject on earth:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

new exhibition on Yiddish theatre in NYC

Thrilling - an exhibit about the Yiddish theatre just opened at the Museum of the City of NY, including, of course, much about my great-grandfather Jacob Gordin. When I heard about it, I found the email address of the curator, Edna Nashon, and wrote to ask if she was including the bronze bust of Gordin, which my grandmother donated to the Museum.  I saw it often in my grandparents' front hall. She wrote back:

The Gordin bust is featured prominently. Of course!
I have your beautiful book.  It's a delight!
I'd love to meet when you come to New York. It'll be an honor.

So - a trip to NYC, probably in early July, to see the exhibit, meet Ms. Nashon, and visit my relatives Cousin Ted, Cousin Lola - who's 94 - and others. And see theatre and visit museums. Yay!

Here's a NYT article about the exhibit, mentioning, of course, my main man:

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

perfectly crazy - me and Sam Bee

Ran into dear friend Richard yesterday, riding his bike home as I walked to Ryerson for the second last class of term. "So I read that your life is perfect now!" he said.

Hmmm. Is that what it sounds like, after my heartfelt piece a few days ago? Perfect?! I think not.

This morning, after a very intense dream - yet another about being on stage and not knowing my lines - I was awakened by an urgent phone call from my son. Due to take his prize-winning flight to Barbados in a few weeks, he discovered that his passport has expired, was at the passport office when it opened where they told him he was presenting his Registration of Birth, not his Birth Certificate. Where's my birth certificate, Mum? he wanted to know, as I awoke. No idea. I made coffee and searched through papers as he arrived by cab, Hurricane Sam, frantic, exhausted. I found the website and applied online for an emergency re-issue while he filled out masses of forms, quickly made me breakfast and, as I delivered lectures about getting some sleep and taking care of yourself, hugged me tightly and vanished.

The phone rang; my daughter - the formula she uses for Ben is on sale at Shopper's but not at HER Shopper's, if I'm around a Shopper's could I buy some she'll send me a picture of what she needs? And then I realized, I have to arrange for transportation right now for my aunt who has two appointments this week and no one to take her there. Several phone calls to Ottawa, finally successful. And then my student Helen arrived, to go over the massive manuscript I'd finished editing on the weekend, an hour and a half of intense discussion. As she left, Wayson called: "I'm on my way over." Wayson and I have a friend who's a jeweller, and whenever we need repairs or watch batteries, we go to Elaine, but unfortunately she's far away, inaccessible by bike. So Wayson drove me to Elaine's to pick up the chain I'd had repaired and to leave a few other things; on the way back I ran to get groceries - so great to have a car. He came in for tea and a chat, and by the time he left, at 2.30, I was limp. Had not had one moment of peace since being awakened.

Some people live like that all the time. Unimaginable. For them, the stress never ends,whereas for me, the flurry was over and I just had to recover - sit here responding to emails and checking websites. Checked in with my friend Kerry Clare's blog, to the left; she has posted an essay she recently wrote for an on-line magazine that I read and loved and am posting here, for your day's pleasure. A beautiful, funny, moving piece of writing.

While Wayson was here, I was showing him recent photographs of Anna's boys, and then at the end of the new ones, iPhoto jumps back a year, and there I was setting off for Paris. I showed him all those shots of Paris, then London, Florence with Brucie, Cinque Terre, Nice, the Alps, Montpellier, Paris again - what a dream life. But how glad I am this year - British Columbia. A complete absence of Caravaggio, yes - but mountains and sea and friends.

P.S. Just read this and must, reluctantly, agree with its premise -
- that Samantha Bee's new show Full Frontal, which I am now addicted to, picks up from Jon Stewart in a superb way that Trevor Noah does not. He's genial, he's handsome, but he doesn't seem to care that much. Whereas Sam Bee cares, oh yes. I wish she wouldn't use crude terms, as she often does, but her heart is so obviously in the right place and so are her brain and her mouth. And so is her show. She has said that as a mother of 3, she didn't want Jon's job. She's doing a magnificent job with what she has, filling a void that needs, in this time of terrifying insanity, to be filled. Brava, Canadian woman.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Why I dance

A quick post on a gloomy, rainy but mild Monday: here's a great video entitled "Why I dance" to bring you joy.
There's nothing I love more than dancing; for years, I've been looking for a place in Toronto that has great music and doesn't mind weird grey-haired women flinging their bodies around. Please let me know if you know of such a place. When I get to Vancouver, I'll go to Boingboing at the Western Front with Jane Ellison, who has fabulous music and lets us loose.

Here's an article I agree with - "I shower once a week and you should too." Yes, I shower and wash my hair once a week, most often at the Y, and yet people do not run screaming from the room as I approach. At least, I hope they're not just being polite. We're over-washing and wasting tons of water. 

And here's family - Auntie Do at nearly 96, wearing my mother's dove grey cashmere sweater, and Eli at nearly 4, building a magnificent Duplo structure with his dad. "Can I smash it now?" he asked, when it was built. And with the greatest pleasure, he did.

Lots to do: I leave in a week for a month away - in Victoria, Vancouver and then the Creative Non-fiction conference in Banff. Such a relief, this year, that I'm only going thousands of miles across the country, not the ocean. I'll still be home, in a sense, not to mention that I have dear friends in Vancouver or nearby and lived there for a long time myself. Hope to reconnect to a past self.

In the meantime, I am trying to finish this draft of the memoir and get it to a few readers. I think seeing it in a strange new place will help me find the flaws, see what's missing, what's needed, and my readers will tell me that too. And all that while walking the seawall and meandering on the beach drinking in that salty air. And then Macca! There will be dancing. Lucky woman.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

back to the land of health

Once again I am reminded, my friends - what matters most is health. I'm in the Porter departure lounge in Ottawa, waiting to go home after a quick visit to the very old, and a too-vivid glimpse of the very sick.

As constant readers know, my formidable aunt will soon be 96; she lives alone and even, until very recently, continued, terrifyingly, to drive. She does not want to move to assisted care, and after a few attempts to persuade her to move to a nice place where she'd be safe and fed, we now do everything to support her decision to stay right where she is. But it's hard. This visit, suddenly, she went completely deaf, couldn't hear anything. She said it was merely ear wax, but of course, this was the weekend, her doctor's office was closed and gave the address of a weekend clinic. This morning, I drove her there, to discover that the clinic probably has not been open for years.

So I took her to Emerg at the Civic, a place I know well from countless disasters with my mother. The Civic - where my son was born in 1984 and my mother, after many visits for many different ailments real and imaginary, died in 2012 at the age of 89. I hate Emerg - but couldn't leave Do deaf, without being able to hear even the telephone, let alone the TV and radio which are her constant, and for long periods only, companions.

So we waited. When we were eventually triaged, we were told 3 hours minimum. I had a plane to catch that afternoon, and my brother was at work. Do's wonderful friend Una offered to come if I needed to get away. Finally, the doctor saw us, diagnosed - yes - ear wax buildup, and at last, three hours later, a nurse named Mike syringed her ears. I told him I have a friend who says that people who work in hospitals are angels. Wayson said that in his great book "Not yet." And it's true.

As we sat, we were surrounded by the misery of humanity, very very sick people, people who looked like they'd been abandoned at birth or whose faces were pale green or yellow or who could hardly walk. A woman with a very young writhing autistic son, both of whom did not look up from their phones for two hours. And we were there for ear wax. But deafness is serious, and how grateful I am that they took care of the problem. She can hear better now, still not perfectly. We discussed, yet again, how she needs more care, she needs people to come to her place to check on her. She doesn't want to admit that she needs help. But she's nearly 96!

And now I'm on my way home, more determined than ever to do what I can to stay healthy, to stay out of Emerg, to stay out of the Ontario health care system for as long as I possibly can. Forever!!!!!

Yesterday I took Do and two dear friends to dinner, to celebrate the upcoming 96th birthday I'll be away for. One has terrible arthritis and the other has various serious ailments, and Do couldn't hear us so we had to shout in her direction. But it was a marvellous dinner nonetheless, even joyful. We toasted "To your 100th, Do!" I bet she makes it.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

a crazy fan

I think I know why the Beatles album made me so emotional yesterday - because the day was a culmination of a kind, the end of a long period of anxiety. I've been worried - not acutely, but worried - about my two kids, about my own future. Yesterday, I felt so much more calm and safe than I have for ages. Listening to my favourite music pushed me over the edge.

My son is almost settled, perhaps as much as he will ever be - ambitious and successful in his gruelling chosen field; my daughter is settled with what she has always wanted, a nuclear family - two sons, a partner, a neighbourhood, a backyard full of slides, bikes, balls and friends. That is a miracle to me; since the divorce in 1990, the fate of my kids has been top of my on-going anxiety list. No more.

And I myself am more settled in my work and life than I've ever been, happy as a teacher, editor and producer, happy as a writer - if making no money - and with the house, my tenants who help keep it going financially, John who fixes everything. A path is clear. Just read this in Abigail Thomas's "Safekeeping":

I lie awake, wishing I had a faith of some kind. I’ve caught glimpses of it now and then, I can even conjure it up for a second or two, but then it fades. It’s a stillness, the polar opposite of worry. It isn’t hope; hope has too much energy, requires constant renewal; faith (if I had it) would just be there.

Perhaps, for me, it's there now - faith in the planet, faith in the future, faith in right here.

I know - if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans. I'm aware how fragile this fine moment is, and grateful; I take nothing for granted. But I remember my dear friend Margaret asking, when our kids were very small, "Do you feel like you're sinking, treading water, or swimming?" I was treading madly, my feet pumping to keep my head, all our heads, above water. Right now, we're all skimming along that water in our separate canoes.

And so I wept at the music, and then finished reading and editing my student's magnificent manuscript, and at midnight, wept again for the pleasure of her success, the culmination of years of working together, her dedication to a beautiful, moving story.

Today I am allowed to be a lunatic. Yesterday I found out that Macca is playing in Vancouver while I'm there. In order to get my ticket, which I did at 11.05 this morning, five minutes after they went on sale, I had to: buy two tickets for a friend of Anna's and her son to accompany them to the Aquarium today instead of me, so I could be home by my computer; pay for the concert ticket itself, another of the exorbitant sound check ones; pay Air Canada to switch my flight to Calgary from Tuesday to Thursday. Luckily, I will save some money on two nights of a room in Banff I will no longer need.

And I have my ticket. It's embarrassing, but I am a superfan, one of the crazy ones; I who buy second hand clothes, second hand everything, allow myself this major extravagance without guilt. The man is 73 - how much longer will he tour? Why does he mean so much? Well, I'm not alone. His first band is the soundtrack of my life, of many lives.

And at the concert, I will bring him my book again. I have sent at least a dozen to people who might get it to him, not to mention bringing two to the last concert, so far to no avail. Maybe one day, he will actually receive his copy. With love, from me, to you.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Macca in Vancouver

It has been an overwhelming day - my son's success and happiness, George Martin's death, sunshine. Two students sent me moving, evocative pieces about depression which drew me vividly into an experience I can empathize with but cannot understand. I spent time looking through photo albums for pix of a little Sam in Barbados, thus reliving two decades of family life, which is joy and pain in equal measure.

And I'm now sitting here after supper, sobbing out loud, sodden, eyes flooded, listening to the red album, Beatles #1, the early compilation that would not exist without George Martin. This music haunts me, feeds me, devastates me. It's not chords and singers, it's my very soul I'm listening to.

When I got home from the Y at 1.30, I found an email from Chris in Vancouver marked Urgent. Oh God, I thought, what has happened to him? But he wanted to tell me that Macca has announced two concerts in Vancouver April 19 and 20. OHMYGOD. I am in Vancouver the 19th but supposed to fly out that day. That can change. OHMYGOD, another Macca concert! He will soon be 74. How many more?

Much arranging. It turns out that the advance tickets go on sale at 11 a.m. tomorrow when I am supposed to be at the Aquarium with Anna and the boys, a long-ago special date set for 10 a.m. But ... I need to get my ticket. So we spent some time rearranging, and it will work out; I will meet them, give them the tickets, go to an internet place on King St. and wait to buy my ticket at 11, then meet them at the Aquarium only an hour and a bit late.

So tonight, thinking of George Martin, I put on the red album. Why do I erupt into sobs? What is it about this music? Am I thinking of my young self? Right now, Eight Days a Week is on, and I am dissolved. That's just the way it is. This universal music and the stellar musicians who made it mean more to me than I can say, cut so deep, as deep as I go. Nothing I can do about it.

Here's "Yesterday," with the string quartet suggested by Martin the perfect background for this limpid, lucent song. Thank you, George, for all you gave. You were lucky, no question. And so were we.

I weep because John is dead and George is dead and George Martin is dead and they were geniuses. And I am somehow, inexplicably, sixty-five years old with grey hair and wrinkles, and all you need, all you need, is love. Hello goodbye.

my son the cocktail champ

Some days are so good, it's hard to believe that other days are not. This morning, I got a call from Anna at 7.45 - it's registration day for Toronto School Board summer programs, parents have to be on the phone dialling madly at dawn, and diligently, she got not only her own son but her friend Erin's into all the programs they wanted - two weeks at camp, t-ball, pre-school. She was thrilled. And then she said, "And I'm so happy about Sam!"

So I read the text my son sent at 5.30 a.m. Yesterday he and 3 other bartenders won the Mount Gay Rum cocktail competition and will receive a free flight to and week in Barbados. What's particularly wonderful about this is the place Barbados has had in our lives. Auntie Do's ex-husband Loris owned a small hotel called the Kingsley Club on the almost-deserted east coast of the island, a glorious place we all thought of as heaven on earth - small and friendly, full of air and light and birds, with a massive beach on the other side of the road. You couldn't swim there, there was a deadly undertow, but you could paddle and dig and run. We could only afford a few trips, but they were among the best ever in our lives, and Loris wouldn't let us pay for a thing.

Bus tours would come through on their way around the island and stop there for lunch. When a big crowd arrived, my kids begged to be allowed to help; they'd stand behind the bar and open soft drinks for the guests. The other day, when Sam was inventing his rum-based cocktails, he named one the Loris and the other, the Kingsley. What goes around comes around, or something like that.

On top of all that, it's spring in Toronto, like May in the first week of March - incredibly mild, sweet soft sun. I've never known a winter this easy. The term at U of T ended yesterday, a group I adored, wonderful writers and people. I am editing the last draft of an autobiography by a former student who's been working with me on it for years, and it's gorgeous. My own memoir is coming along really well. All in all, right this moment, things are pretty damn good.

But soon I'll go to the Y for Carole's class and realize just how old I am. George Martin just died, a great sadness, what a brilliant talent, what a good life.
The patch of sun I'm sitting in just vanished behind cloud. And I am grateful for every bit of it.

Monday, March 7, 2016

How I Won the War

Farewell, dear Downton friends. Skilful work, Julian Fellowes, arranging, for example, to have Anna get pregnant in the late spring so she'd be able to give birth during the last episode on New Year's Eve! Funny how Anna and Bates just fell off the radar. Very clever to get out of the series just before the storyline hit the Depression. I know, it was absurd, neatly wrapping up all those stories with love everywhere abounding - except, of course, poor gay Thomas - and no surprises except that Mary is married to a used car salesman, Edith actually has some backbone, and all the children were as invisible as always.

We watched the Sixty Minutes piece of fluff about our handsome PM, had a wonderful dinner, and then drank Champagne - well, Prosecco - and ate chocolate, strawberries and macarons during the show. And we, like everyone else, are now asking - What will we do next Sunday night?

Here's an idea: my friend and fellow Beatle nut Piers Hemmingsen is producing another great event at the Revue Cinema - this time, a special showing of "How I Won the War," featuring John Lennon. Piers interviewed director Richard Lester for this event and will be speaking about it. Details here:

My Cousin Ted in NYC sent me this joke, which made me laugh out loud and also wince. Hit close to home for me and I'm sure for many of you:

The year is 2024 and the United States has elected the first woman President, Susan Goldfarb.

She calls up her mother a few weeks after Election Day and says, 'So, Mom, I assume you'll be coming to my inauguration?'

'I don't think so. It's a ten hour drive, your father isn't as young as he used to be, and my arthritis is acting up again.'

'Don't worry about it Mom, I'll send Air Force One to pick you up and take you home. And a limousine will pick you up at your door.'

'I don't know. Everybody will be so fancy-schmantzy, what on earth would I wear?'

Susan replies, 'I'll make sure you have a wonderful gown custom-made by the best designer in New York.'

'Honey,' Mom complains, 'you know I can't eat those rich foods you and your friends like to eat.'

The President-to-be responds, 'Don't worry Mom. The entire affair is going to be handled by the best caterer in New York, kosher all the way. Mom, I really want you to come.'

So Mom reluctantly agrees and on January 20, 2025, Susan Goldfarb is being sworn in as President of the United States.

In the front row sits the new President's mother, who leans over to a senator sitting next to her and says, 'You see that woman over there with her hand on the Torah, becoming President of the United States?

The Senator whispers back, 'Yes I do'.

Mom says proudly, 'Her brother is a doctor.'

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Downton ends - sob!

Cold but wonderfully sunny. This afternoon Anne-Marie and I went for a long walk by the water in Ashbridge's Bay. Glorious - ice frozen on branches.

Yesterday, the family visited. My daughter has her hands full. Someone pinched.
I'm busy, as usual - the Y Mega-run on Wednesday evening, a vigorous run-fit fundraiser that had me limping all day Thursday. Friday, the Francophone discussion and feasting group, featuring, among other foodstuffs, a leek and potato gratin to die for.

Tonight - the last Downton! And first, Justin Trudeau on Sixty Minutes. Richard, his friend Paul and Wayson are coming for dinner; we'll watch Justin, take a break and then mourn and celebrate the end of our beloved show.

It was International Book Day the other day.
This hit home - this is my library, only it needs to include library books I need to rush through and return. Sigh.

Time to set the table and change into something Downton worthy. Or at least clean.

You notice I am not mentioning the U.S. election - the apparent rise of racism and profound intolerance there. Too terrifying.

A final image: my son the champion cocktail maker is in a big competition in April. I was at Mark the butcher's this week when he told me he was at a food festival and saw a big poster of Sam. Colour me proud.