Saturday, September 29, 2018

"Egypt Station" and "Colette" - divine

Many enormous pleasures today. I should feel guilty about enjoying anything as our world crumbles, but what the hell, what good would being miserable do? So - pleasure.

The market this morning - honeycrisp apples, sourdough bread, the first tomatoes I've had to buy all summer. A sunny day, glorious. The gardenia is going crazy, as if she doesn't know the end is nigh, and soon she'll be coming in for six months.

Jean-Marc came over to discuss my options in the house and had some good ideas which I'll consider. What matters: options.

Walked downtown late afternoon. My goal was to buy the new Macca CD, Egypt Station, which, he announced at his concert in Montreal, was then and maybe is still #1 in Canada. I had to Google record stores - there used to be loads and now they're rare. But I found one on the way to my date - Dead Dog Records on Church Street. The CD was sold out! So I had - with great joy - to buy the record. The LP. This is the first time I've bought a new LP in decades. I'm listening to it now. Talk about sense memory - slitting open the plastic, withdrawing the big black disc, placing it carefully on the turntable, blowing dust away from the needle - and there, that beloved voice.

As the review in Rolling Stone said, "Make a list of all the songwriters who were composing great tunes in 1958. Now make an overlapping list of the ones who are still writing brilliant songs in 2018. Your list reads: Paul McCartney. Sixty years after “Love Me Do,” his legend already inviolable, Macca keeps adding new gems to his songbook, with nothing to prove except he’s the only genius who can do this."

Even the very young woman behind the Dead Dog cash register - or the debit machine, anyway - told me she was impressed by this record. As am I. No surprise there. It's not just a wonderful album, it's a brand new shiny record on my turntable, just like the very first in 1964!

And then off into the sunshine, walking downtown for a bite to eat with Ken, getting caught up, and off together to see the film 'Colette.'

Another enormous treat - a wonderful film. Of course Colette is one of my heroes - I've had a framed photo of her in my office for many years, looking expectantly, with a touch of impatience, at me. "Get on with it," she's saying. Such a brilliant writer, with an encyclopedic knowledge of nature and of human feeling and experience. But the film shows what an extraordinary woman she was, so many years ahead of her time, bisexual, flamboyant, fearless. It also makes us understand how very free the French are sexually in a way that would be unthinkable in any other culture - the kind of freedom Colette and her husband Willy allowed each other and took for granted.

The notebooks. Sitting by the hour writing in her notebooks. A film about the early career of a writer who became so famous and beloved, she was given a state funeral despite her scandalous life. A film about Paris and writing, two of my favourite things on the planet, with Ken, a dear friend, and then home to listen to Macca. Does a day get better than that?

Friday, September 28, 2018

the confirmation hearings and I, screeching to a halt

I keep clicking on the NYTimes to see what's happening now, as it changes minute to minute. We are watching a country tearing itself apart. I can only imagine what amusement Putin is getting out of this. For awhile the fate of the country, maybe the world, rested on the slim shoulders of Jeff Flake. Who came through, sort of. Bring on the FBI.

What a magnificent woman CBF is, to get through that experience with such grace. I don't diss her, as some are, for being so polite. Thank God for politeness. I could not watch the disgusting spectacle later in the day. Ye gods. What a melodrama for our times.

In the meantime, my own drama. Today an engineer came to let me and Jean-Marc, the renovation project manager, know what would be needed to hold up a new apartment on the second and third floor. A lot, it turns out, because, as I've known since we bought this place, the original work done here was not done properly and so, much needs to be fixed. Three beams would have to be put in from the third floor to the basement, which would entail ripping out my living room walls and much of the basement. This, besides completely decimating the second floor and most of the third. I'd planned to live on the main floor through the process, but obviously this would be impossible; JM told me I should live somewhere else for perhaps six weeks, and my downstairs tenant would have to move as well, because the electricity and plumbing would sometimes be shut off.

I cried Uncle. Enough! But what choice did I have - either sell this house and move to a condo or go through this excruciating renovation? I'm just not ready to move. Yet.

And then JM blew my tiny mind. "You have a third option," he said. "Don't do anything."
My jaw dropped.
"Keep living here just as you are," he said, the words that changed my life. For now, anyway.

It's funny how you get locked into a pattern and cannot see any more where you are or what you need. But of course. I was building the reno because I live in a big house and wanted to share my space, but not with a tenant like I've had before who'd use my kitchen and my shower. I don't need rental income while I have teaching income; the reno would be so expensive, it would be years before the loan would be paid off and there'd be income anyway. It was mostly to use space that's not being used. I was going to shield my privacy from the tenant by creating her own space.

But what if I simply do not have a tenant? Leave the room for occasional rentals and friends? For awhile, anyway?

"But," I said to JM, "there's a housing shortage in Toronto. I wanted to create housing for someone."
"You don't need to take that on," he said. "You do enough."

I will pay thousands to various people, including today's engineer, for work done to no avail, but I will not have to go through that horrible experience. At least yet - I'll give myself five years. In the meantime, new condos will be going up on Gerrard; maybe I'll find something close by that I like, and it'll be time for the big shift.

In the meantime - I'm right here, in my kitchen, where I belong.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Christine Blasey Ford, speaking for us all

I can't look away - have been live-streaming the human drama emanating from Washington this morning, as Christine Blasey Ford, who looks exactly like a nice Republican woman - almost all Republican women, as well as right-wing female TV personalities, seem to have long blonde hair - tells the world about a sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh when she was 15. As someone who has been more or less raped, as have I'm sure most of my women friends, it's heartrending and nauseating. In my day, being jumped, being forced into sex acts against your will, was simply part of growing up while female. It didn't occur to me to report my experience; I was drunk and did not say no, because I was more or less incapacitated. As he well knew. But the whole thing has stayed front and centre in my memory, though it happened almost 40 years ago, in 1979.

I will never say a categorical "Believe survivors," as does my radical daughter. First, I dislike the term survivors, because it's used for people who have lived through the Holocaust, and as my own experience testifies, though the memory is horrible, it in no conceivable way resembles genocide. And also, women are not automatically saints. Some do tell lies; a few have used an untrue accusation of sexual assault to discredit a man. We saw this happen in my alma mater, the UBC department of Creative Writing; what happened to its head Steven Galloway is a shocking example of groupthink and condemnation without trial or proof.

But mostly, there's no question that the vast, vast majority of accusations of sexual assault are true.

The investigation continues. I just made cucumber and yogurt soup while listening, using up two whole cucumbers! Thanks for the recipe, Ruth.

Apart from that, the good news is that my cold has nearly gone in only a week, so my good health karma remains. It's too bad the timing was so poor, but that's life. I spent most of Monday and Tuesday in bed working on the manuscript, which is my idea of heaven; got it printed and went through it yesterday, and now have more work to do.

I also finished Atul Gawande's "Being Mortal," and would like to say this: if there is an old or ill person in your life, or if you think one day you will be old or ill, read this book. It's a powerful indictment of how we treat the frail and elderly and very sick, how we've allowed the medical establishment to take over their care, which means all the focus is on safety and not on quality of life. It's terrifying to be forced to realize how vulnerable we all are, living as we do as if invincible, when at any moment, the flying fickle finger of fate might point at us. As it has to some of my friends, or their husbands, this last while. And everything changes.

We face this now, my brother and I, because my aunt has done another of her miraculous 180 turns - from seeming near death, she's now much better, more coherent, eating well, apparently, so now we are looking for a longterm care facility in Ottawa. A decent affordable place that feels welcoming and homey with kind staff - even better, kind staff who are properly paid - does such a thing exist? Unfortunately, she could have been in such a place earlier - Unitarian House - but they only take the ambulatory elderly, and though her mind is again sharp, she is far from ambulatory at the moment.

Once again, as I did with my mother seven years ago, I have lists and phone numbers by my computer. My brother will go to see a few places, she gets put on a list, and we'll see where she's assigned a bed. If worst comes to worst, she can stay where she is, but the home is expensive and she's isolated there. It's a disgrace, how little is available, and how poor what's available is. What will happen in only a few years, as we boomers hit old age and debility?

Before going to Montreal, I also read some of "The Overstory," a brilliant and extraordinary novel by Richard Powers about trees, their effect on human life, a few intertwined lives especially. (It was a library book and I didn't get through it before having to return it - it's a big book.) It was just put on the short list for the Man Booker prize. I think I will go out in the yard now and hug some trees - healing, after the morning listening to a woman spill out her heart and a female prosecutor try to portray her as a neurotic liar.

Monday, September 24, 2018

one more adventure

Electricity! Light, power sockets that function, hot water, what grand luxuries awaited me when I got home.

I'm in bed with computer, phone, newspapers, and my latest library book, Atul Gawande's "Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End," about how we treat end of life in our society, which is very relevant at this moment. I'm feeling dreadful and have to teach the big Ryerson class tonight, so today is about trying to get better.

Forgot to tell you one other cataclysm on my trip to Ottawa - after wrestling suitcase and groceries through the high winds to Do's apartment building, I got to the 18th floor and put my key in her door, and it didn't work. The locks had been changed and I was sure I had the new key, but obviously not. It was 4.20 on Friday afternoon; the management office closes at 4.30 for the weekend and sometimes they leave early. By the greatest good luck, I had the number and the manager was still there. I explained my dilemma, could she please let me in? She said, Do you have power of attorney? I said yes, and she said, We need to see it in order to open the door.

I don't usually travel with my aunt's will in my pocket, I said. My brother has it, in the Gatineau.
That's not far away, she said. Tell him to come in.

I nearly wept. The thought of my brother having to come in at rush hour on Friday in the wind and rain - it wasn't going to happen. I begged her to do something, that I was sick and here to visit my dying aunt, and sat down in the hall. A call back - she'd phoned my brother, who also by some miracle was available as he often is not; he'd confirmed my identity, and she was going to have her assistant cut me a key.

I sat on the hall floor for half an hour until my key arrived.

If the office had been closed, or if she'd insisted on actually seeing the documents, or if my brother had turned off his phone, or if the tornado had killed the power then instead of a bit later, I would have had to go out in the chaos of the storm looking for a hotel. There are always adventures when travelling, but everything feels more difficult when sick. After many months without a bug, I can't believe I caught one at such a ridiculously inconvenient time. But there you go.

Now - the joy of home, the coffee machine that works, my own bed on a cold gloomy day, my nice cold fridge empty except for three cucumbers, but the freezer is full. Went into the garden yesterday - the last cucumbers and tomatoes, but the time for gazpacho is over. What to do with four big cucumbers? Any ideas?

Sunday, September 23, 2018

on top of everything else: a tornado!

6 p.m. Saturday.
A surreal experience, this little weekend trip to Ottawa. Who could predict that a tornado would hit just after I got to town? The bus trip from Montreal was slow but painless – the bus was nearly empty, so I put my feet up and read. In Ottawa, I got the rented car and drove in rush hour to Do’s, stopping on the way for essential supplies: a bottle of wine, salad and soup from Farm Boy.

As I got out of the car at Do’s, the wind was violent, almost knocking me over, and the light in the sky turbulent and electric, very strange. Inside her apartment the lights kept flickering – and then whammo, no power. I assumed it’d be temporary, not knowing about the tornado producing the worst power outage in Ottawa history, worse than the ice storm; that it will take days or even weeks to put things to rights.

I found a big white candle I bought for Do at Ikea long ago, and then scrabbled in her very full drawers for matches. Found a big box and tried them – useless, too old, past their prime like so much around here. I thought, I'm doomed to darkness! But then I found another box. So I had a candle, and I had my phone, and that was it. I couldn’t leave because I thought – incorrectly, as it turned out – that the elevators would be out, and I was on the 18th floor, with a cold.

So – an evening of reading by candlelight, both the New Yorker I brought with me and various sites on the beloved phone that was my lifeline. And the wine too. Thank God for the wine.

Today I headed for Do’s nursing home. All the traffic lights are out in this part of town, and I tell you, Canadians are the calmest, kindest people. The traffic was running smoothly, everyone waiting patiently for others to go, even at complicated intersections – the best of human nature at work. Luckily, the nursing home did not lose power, so when I got there I was able to ask for two cups of coffee, or at least a coffee-like substance – no hot water for coffee at home this morning, the worst punishment of all.

My aunt, it was pretty clear to me, has had enough. People have been trying to get her out of bed and forcing her cheerfully to eat, but I could see immediately, this is not a good idea. My brother who came later told me the decline in only a few days has been dramatic. She is ready to go, and our job is to make sure she’s comfortable, hydrated, and accompanied. Otherwise, leave her the fuck alone. Poor soul, she has shrunk to almost nothing; she mostly sleeps and groans. It’s heartrending, and so is the place itself with its cheery floral facade masking the parade of walkers and wheelchairs. Aging is cruel and brutal. Cruel and brutal. But the alternative is worse. Or maybe, as my daughter texted, quoting Dumbledore, "To the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."

In any case, I spent the day in a very hot room with my beloved sleeping aunt, periodically waking her to give her some water or Ensure. And then going out into the beautiful sunshine to walk, finding a gorgeous park nearby which saved my soul. The staff where she is are mostly kind, and one, a Filipina called Anna, is a saint and an angel – but it’s just heartbreaking.

So now it’s 6 p.m. and I’m back at Do’s. People from the apartment building are outside cooking happily on communal barbecues, as are people in nearby Britannia Park where I walked before coming back here. My candle is ready, my phone got fully charged at the home. It’s apocalyptic – I’ve been dealing with my aunt’s impending death, the lack of all the mod cons we take for granted, and the fact that even my aunt’s dear friends, whom I was going to take to dinner, don’t want to see me because of my cold. 

My computer is at 10% so this will be cut off soon. I can’t work on my memoir tonight. Need to find paper. Need to find paper. And will spend part of this evening throwing out everything in her fridge and freezer, which are already starting to smell. 

As I was getting ready to leave today, I held Do’s tiny claw of a hand and told her I loved her and that I’d be back tomorrow. She opened her eyes, her bright blue eyes, and looked directly at me. “Thank you, love,” she said.

6.30 p.m. Sunday
Home, after a most wrenching journey - seeing the sublime Macca in the best concert, but seeing him while sick and unable to sing ...

in the packed Bell Centre hall before the concert -
and inside as it filled up to the rafters ...

...saying goodbye to my best friend with whom I've spent the better part of a solid month, including devouring a tiny smoked meat sandwich in Montreal...
Lynn, whom I describe as "human sunshine," uncustomarily serious facing a mountain of meat

the fact that the weather changed as I was in the air to Montreal, I'd brought all the wrong clothes, had to buy warmth; arriving in Ottawa to a tornado which took out the power in a wide swath of the city, leaving me for two days in an apartment with no power or hot water; and most of all, sitting by Do's bedside willing her to let go. And yet today - she perked up a bit. So who knows? As my brother says, she has rallied before. She's amazing.
I walked again in the nearby park to get some air and stretch my legs - as Britannia Park saved my life on numerous visits to Mum and Do in Ottawa, the park near Do's nursing home was a lifesaver this weekend.

When it was time for me to leave, I told her again that I love her, and she told me she loves me and to travel safely, and thank you, and sorry. She says thank you to everything, always polite, and still apologizing.

Then drove to the airport down Carling with no traffic lights (and no gasoline at any pumps anywhere) and marvelled again - people stopping at every light, letting others go, it gave me true hope for humanity. As did the kindness of beautiful Anna at the home, who told me she was a doctor in the Philippines and could not get accreditation here, so because "I love a life of service," she has worked at this nursing home for twelve years.

At the park, there was a birthday party for a little kid, everyone gathered singing happy birthday, presents and balloons - it made me cry. Because all those people, including that kid, are going to get old and die. It's brutal to watch my independent aunt so dependent now on nursing home staff and visitors. But at least she does know she is loved. I hope it helps.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Macca forever!

A quick update from the Monteal bus station. Here's what's happening: I am sick, my phone isn't charging properly, and the bus to Ottawa I came to get is full, there's another in an hour and a half. My aunt fell out of bed last night, went to hospital by ambulance for the third time in the last week, and has been sent back. My brother and I have found out there's no DNR, so the poor soul will keep being brought back from the brink. There's a torrential downpour outside here, and probably in Ottawa too.

Otherwise, everything's hunky dory.

The weather changed the moment I got on the plane from Toronto to Montreal. It was hot when I packed, and the report said it'd be about 20 and up in Montreal except for rain on Friday, so I brought sleeveless dresses, short sleeved t-shirts, one pair of light pants and a sweater for the hell of it. By the time the plane landed, it was freezing, and it has not warmed up. So first, I got sick - which Lynn thought was also perhaps the stress of my aunt's disintegration and the beginning of teaching - who knows? In any case, suddenly my throat was raw, my head ached, my nose was running, it was a nightmare - I wasn't sick once all winter, and now this.

Luckily Lynn and I had some shopping to do, so I bought long warm socks, a hoodie, a pair of warm pants, all useful for winter but needed right now. It is so much fun to shop with as savvy a shopper as my friend, who's had a lifetime of shopping in France; she's extremely thrifty and has a fierce and trained eye for exactly the right thing at the right price. Usually I dither, but not with her.

We had two meetings with old friends - a visit with Sherry, a university professor and translator who's interested in Lynn's work as Lynn is in hers, and the next day, with Michael Climan, who was the best friend and roommate of our beloved friend and mentor Bob Handforth in the late sixties. We hadn't seen Michael since then, at least as I recall. He is unchanged, a bit greyer, but as funny, sweet, and lively as ever, a wonderful person, long married and a father of two. We got caught up on the last decades of our lives, but we talked a lot about Bob, who was brilliant and creative and prescient. He died of AIDS in 1987 or 88 and haunts many of those who knew him. Robert Handforth has a Facebook page.

But I spent a lot of time in bed at our lovely auberge b and b, trying to get better before the Macca concert, filling myself with Advil and throat lozenges. I'd rented the place because it was only 5 minutes from the Bell Centre, where the concert took place. Lynn liked the Beatles but is sane, not a madwoman about Paul like I am, so she was lukewarm about going to this concert. First, the number of people floored her - the place was packed, perhaps 20,000, and such a diversity, all ages, two, three generations there together, many young people. We were at the back, and behind us, a row of people in wheelchairs. The excitement building, and then the roof-raising roar when he came out - unforgettable. And there he is, slender and handsome and 76 years old, rocking like no one can rock with his incredible band, lots of film and amazing lights and of course the flashpots during Live and Let Die - he never stops, doesn't even take a drink of water, going from screaming rock to tender ballads and the song he wrote with Kanye West, old Beatles, Wings stuff, and everything in between, for three hours. Just extraordinary.

This was the ninth time I've seen him, the sixth time for him solo, and it was the best show yet. But the extra-special treat was seeing my friend singing at the top of her lungs, beaming, laughing, swaying - it did, of course, make me cry. She said it was the best show she's ever seen.

Or maybe my tears were just my raw throat. It's the first time I didn't make a sound during his concert - could not sing or shout, just appreciated silently. Adored from afar, as always. Along with 20,000 or so others.

So - sitting here in the Montreal bus station, coughing, watching the rain outside, on my way to visit my aunt who is dying but not letting go. I am sucking a lozenge and have water and made myself a peanut butter sandwich at breakfast at the b and b this morning, so I'll be fine. I'd rather be home in bed, yes. But - onward.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

notes about Macca and the Little Free Library

I wrote to Liel Leibovitz, the author of the McCartney article I posted yesterday, to tell him how much I liked his piece and my own bond with Macca. He wrote back today, thanking me and telling me he had ordered my book to keep him company until Macca plays next in New York. How nice is that?

And another nice note: a woman in a power wheelchair got a friend to put a note through my front door today. I saw her and spoke to her on the street later. Her letter was on paper ripped from a day-timer, and this is what it said:
Sept. 18, 2018
Dear Little Library:
Wanted to thank you and yours a big greatful thanks for the efforts and energy that you all put into providing this beautiful community assest. When you shut down for a few weeks I was very sad because we thought your frustration level was growing. Do not allow this to happen. If a person steals book - pray they get money to buy what they need or want. It may save houses from break ins or avoid a senior from having their purse being snatched so that the thief can get food and drugs.

From a further prism - lots of poorer people access the books - like me and my grown family and grandsons. They love the books. We "loan" the books to others and it is like a mini book club. Wow the big treat for me is the occasional New York Times especially Sunday.

So thanks for re-opening and keep the free library going. The community loves it and feels darn lucky.
With sincerity, 

Now that keeps a woman going, for sure. The vanishing books are not from an addict who sells them for food or drugs, however; it's a hoarder. I confronted him again yesterday, as he stood in front of my library with a full backpack and large satchel, I'm sure bulging with the contents of all the local libraries that he pillages daily. But yes, I've decided we have to put up with him because even so, people still put books in and take them out. As, in fact, do I.

Thank you, Penny.

First class of the Ryerson term last night - the class limit is 18, and there were 17. A very full class but wonderful, interesting faces and stories, one back from many years ago and two from last term, who feel like old friends.

Packing for Montreal - more time with Lynn and then the two of us seeing Macca on Thursday night, how exciting is that? Staying at an auberge b and b downtown. And then on to Ottawa to visit my aunt, who is not in good shape. Nicole will be staying here to keep the house going. When I get back fall begins for real - courses running, work, putting away the tank tops and getting out the sweaters, piling on more clothing, closing down the garden; the new season will start.

But in the meantime - roses and cucumbers, endless piles of tomatoes and cucumbers, and so - more gazpacho.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Gospel of Saint Paul

At last, the world is waking up to a powerful truth I have known for decades but others have been slow to acknowledge - that John Lennon, though a musical genius, in no way compares, in accomplishments, skill, and heart, to his bandmate and fellow genius, Paul, aka Macca.

Cool people - guys especially - seem to think it's wimpy to love Paul, because he unselfconsciously sings adoring love ballads as well as screaming rockers, because he loves women and children and doesn't eat or wear animals, because he has tried out just about every musical genre and not succeeded at all of them.

This writer gets it, at last. A terrific article, except for what he says about the left at the beginning, which nearly destroyed the whole thing for me but couldn't.
I must send the author my book, so he can read about a lifelong fan, not a Johnny-come-lately. Am leaving for Montreal this week, for the great thrill of going with Lynn to see Macca at Montreal's Bell Centre. Scream.

Here's today's joy, in the absence of my friend, who's back in Montreal: the north side of the garden this morning.
The fall-blooming clematis on the fence gets me every year, with its swath of scented white stars. Am about to go and pick the season's umpteenth fat cucumber.

Teaching starts tonight, the Ryerson class nearly full. Back in harness. Onward.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

"Let it go" dance party, Eli's protest signs

Sitting with my dear friend on a very hot day, as she wrestles with her brand new if refurbished iPhone (much less expensive than in France) - she has been online solving problems with various experts most of the day but is getting there. I in the meantime went to recuperate from last night's dance party in the hot tub at the Y, and then on to Queen's Park for what was not a demonstration against our hideous premier, but a picnic, a peaceful gathering on the grounds, just to remind them we're out here and not going away. Anna was there of course with her boys, and I was proud to see that Eli had written his first protest signs. His education in democracy begins. Meanwhile, Ben was kicking a soccer ball and trying to squash the bubbles a young woman nearby was blowing for him. Our people.

"I HOPE NEXT ELECTION DOUG FORD LOSES." He told me what he wanted to write and I helped him spell it. We all agree with you, sweetheart.

On Thursday, a thrilling event - former student and editing client Rollande Ruston launched her book "If the Rocks Could Talk" at a gorgeous house on Admiral Road. We worked for several years, going back and forth, and she produced a beautiful book about her childhood in the Gaspé, not just a personal tale but an important piece of social history - she has traced her family back to the 1700's. She was kind enough to speak at length about my class and help in getting her book out, and I spoke of how much hard work and dedication she put into it and how proud I was of her and the book.
And then leapt onto my bicycle and tore home for my 6.30 home class, just made it in time. The term begins, and how glad I was to see those faces and to hear their words.

Last night's Let It Go dance party was a triumph of one kind if not of another. There weren't enough people for me to break even - in fact, I lost $150 on the venture. And I discovered that not everyone enjoys dancing to even one Glenn Miller piece or to an obscure but terrific African musician, whom I'd gone to considerable lengths to discover and include. By night's end there were about 25 people, 10 or 15 fewer than I'd hoped; they were dancing madly, which was a joy to see, but periodically something would come on and clear the dance floor. Except for me, Lynn, and Jean-Marc, who danced to everything. My people. Old friends came, friends from the Y and from the neighbourhood, but I had done too little to promote it. Lesson: I am good at ideas and producing and lousy at marketing. I knew this but didn't fix it.

However, very early, a middle-aged woman came alone, very shy, didn't speak to anyone, but she danced and danced. And she is exactly the person this was for. So I hope it happens again, only next time, the playlist should be by someone younger, and someone else should promote it.
Madame and me getting ready to dance.

This morning, my body ached from head to foot - three solid hours of dancing plus a little bit of worrying about venue, attendance, money, music. A soak at the Y helped, and a kindly protest. Soon Lynn and I will go out to meet our good friend Eleanor Wachtel, who is fitting us into her very busy schedule, and then we'll celebrate our last night together (at least in Toronto - she goes to Montreal tomorrow and I go there Wednesday) with take out fish and chips accompanied by a good Chablis and Randy Bachman on the radio, followed by HBO. And talking. Talking talking talking. She leaves tomorrow. I am already bereft.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

our dictator

The beautiful weather has returned, blessedly. I was sitting here after lunch with the back door wide open when I heard a strange splashing noise and finally located it - a plant saucer left on the railing had filled with rainwater, and now it's full of sparrows, waggling, splashing, drinking. The fat pink roses are back for a second glorious round, everything else still in full bloom - no sense of an ending. Not yet.

Last night was democracy in action - ten people of the thirty or so I'd invited actually came to meet Megann and talk about local issues: the many safe injection sites nearby, transit, affordable housing, bike lanes, and much more - all the stuff city hall should be dealing with instead of fighting this cretinous premier and his bullying ways. Once again, heartbreak. Though I had to laugh this morning - writing to an American friend, I complained about "our dictator" and she wrote back, "Our dictator is worse than your dictator!" This is a contest I'm happy to lose.

Lynn is away visiting a high school friend, so I've been alone yesterday and today, getting back to the memoir, making some of the edits suggested by the most recent editor - honing, cutting, getting the damn thing in shape. In the meantime, I myself am feeling completely OUT of shape. A roll of four or five pounds more than I'm used to sitting around my waist, making every waistband uncomfortable, slower than ever in Carole's class. Is this inevitable aging or is it just my own personal disintegration?

My friend Linda is a brand new grandmother, her first grandson named after her husband's twin brother who died twenty years ago. So pleased to see her beaming face, to hear her sound just like every other grandmother: "I had no idea! I mean, I love my kids, but I've never felt anything like this!" Yes indeed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Old Friends

Two of our dearest friends, Jessica and Suzette, came for dinner last night; we all go back to Carleton University in the late sixties. Jessica became a well-known curator of modern art, and Suzette is an acclaimed screenwriter who lives part of the year in L.A. Together, we are a gaggle of vibrant biddy buddies who go way back and have a great deal to say.

Here are Jessica's pictures of us after dinner:

It made me think of the beautiful Simon and Garfunkle song, Old Friends, so I looked it up.
Old friends, old friends,
Sat on their parkbench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
of the high shoes of the old friends
Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends
Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a parkbench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy
Old friends, memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fears

How terribly strange to be seventy, we thought way back then. And now here we are, or almost. Unimaginable - and yet we are redefining age as we go. No dust on our shoulders, quiet folk sitting on park benches in this neck of the woods.

And incidentally, speaking of old folk, my aunt is getting better, the pain is less, her brain is fully functional even if her legs are not. How terribly strange to be ninety-eight is more like it.

Tonight, I'm throwing a neighbourhood event for Megann Willson; poor woman, she bravely threw her hat into the municipal ring some months ago and now is facing unprecedented chaos as our dictatorial premier challenges the courts. A nightmare. So tonight, instead of listening to a serious progressive candidate speak about her platform, we will try to figure out if there is actually an election and what has happened to democracy in our province.

Thursday, work starts - my home class, getting me up to scratch before Ryerson launches next Monday, the class there almost full already. What happened to summer? Over in a blink.

It's mild and not actually raining after yesterday's dreadful cold downpour, but cloudy and grey. To cheer me up, I remember Eli on the weekend. He and Holly were looking at the enormous maple tree in my front yard, and Holly asked him, "What do you think that tree would say if it could speak?"
Eli considered carefully.
"WHY AM I STUCK HERE?" he said.

A reminder for those of you in town: this event coming right up.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

André the Anti-Giant

On with our busy week, my BFF Lynn and I, we have places to go and things to eat. And drink. And drink.

On Tuesday evening, a swim in the divine pool of my other friend Lynn and dinner on her deck - a treat to sit between my two favourite Lynns.

On Wednesday, Sam came over to cook us dinner, Holly and Nicole came to organize the garage sale stuff, and then Lynn and I went to one of my favourite events of the year, Gina Dineen's Cabbagetown Short Film Festival. Such a grand community occasion, many neighbours and friends packed in, glass of beer or wine in one hand and a free slice of pizza in the other, to watch short films from around the world. One this year was especially moving - André the Anti-Giant, a doc about a man with severe disabilities who became a standup comedian. If you want to see a portrait of courage and humour in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties, see this uplifting, marvellous film. That is, if the director Kim Saltarski can get it launched, and we sure hope he can.

Thursday Lynn went to Hamilton to visit one of her oldest childhood friends, and I to a staff event at U of T, food and drink and many colleagues. And on Friday, after she introduced me to Aquafit at the Y, which I've never done and is much more fun than I'd imagined, Lynn and I met our friend Ken at Rebel House for lunch. Sam worked there for years, the owner is a friend, and as we sat, he brought a plate of special hors d'oeuvres, "a gift from Sam." All of this delicious in so many ways. On the way home, a tiny bit of shopping at Winners, another thing my friend and I do so well, she especially, a discerning Frenchwoman who likes a bargain.

The shock to come was the weather. Wednesday was so incredibly muggy and hot, it was hard to breathe, and by Saturday, at the start of the Cabbagetown Festival, it was freezing. We piled on layer after layer to survive. Holly and Nicole were here by 8 a.m. to get our garage sale set up, and the two marvellous saleswomen spent the day trying to flog my possessions. At one point, I wept; I'm such a sentimental fool and find it hard to see things my relatives left behind, or that I've owned for years, out on display being pawed over by strangers. Who didn't buy much in any case; most of what went were the records. To my dismay, a lot of stuff came back in at the end of the afternoon, though we did leave a lot on the sidewalk, from whence it vanished.
Much fun with my grandsons at the kids' play area, bouncing in the bouncy castle and drumming and bouncing and face painting and bouncing. Non-stop energy from them, if not from Glamma. And then Wayson came and we had street Thai food for dinner and watched A Monster Calls, a lovely film which made me weep again. Two weeps in one day - exhausted.

This morning, supposed to run the annual 2 k. fundraising mini-marathon, but it was so cold and I so tired that I did not. Another Aquafit class at the Y with my eager friend instead, the two of us bobbing about like mermaids in the little warm Y pool. Anna and family came back for more bouncing and street food, and then Lynn and I had aperitif with Monique and much talk in French.

Next week busier than ever before my friend leaves on Sunday. I have not done any writing work for days. Weeks, really, if I'm honest. But I will get back to it as soon as I can. I will.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

my great-grandfather at Ashkenaz

I guess this is a thrill not many people have - sitting in a crowded room to watch a dramatic film adaptation of a relative's play. My great-grandfather wrote what is considered his masterpiece, Mirele Efros or the Jewish Queen Lear, in 1898. In 1939, his most produced work was adapted into a Yiddish language film, and yesterday, it was shown at the Ashkenaz Jewish festival here.

I assumed there'd be seven elderly Jews and me in the auditorium, but it was packed with I'd say 200 viewers, maybe more. Amazing. The producers knew I'd be attending because I'd offered to speak, even briefly, about the film and the man; as usual, there was no interest, but they did introduce me as his great-granddaughter and biographer. The film has been remastered with English subtitles - still a bit blurry and sometimes the words illegible, but the film came alive. At the start, there's a long shot of the famous bronze bust of Gordin, with a note about his importance in the world of Yiddish theatre and film. How proud I am of the old man! The film had humour, pathos (of course), fine acting - especially its powerful heroine, a warhorse part for generations of actresses. Gordin the socialist feminist created the role of a very clever businesswoman who's also an adoring mother - though he was not a feminist at home; his wife Anna, the mother of his 11 children, was in the kitchen making soup like a good Jewish wife.

I have offered my services to Ashkenaz before, and this time was surprised and even hurt, once again, that the producers have no interest in the playwright's great-granddaughter who happens to live right here in Toronto. It's too bad; I think audiences would be interested to hear about the man and his work. But there you go. I was grateful to see this fine film.

Lynn and I are still having a great deal of fun and rosé. On Sunday night Anna and family came for dinner, and afterward Lynn and I watched Gone Girl, an edge-of-your-seat dark film by Gillian Flynn who wrote Sharp Objects. Last night we saw RBG, a doc about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and what a magnificent, inspiring woman she is. We are eating huge quantities of corn, ribs, Cheesies, and baked potatoes, which Lynn cannot eat in France. We are laughing constantly. And here we are, with two fellow actors, in a play in 1969, playing people frozen like automatons by modern life.
As far as we're concerned, we look exactly the same. But perhaps not.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Stratford - Coriolanus and friends

Fun! Food! Art! Friends! What's not to like about a trip to Stratford?

Wednesday evening we had a Francophone gathering here to welcome Pierre, who brought a bottle of Pol Roger champagne, now there's a classy guy. Drinking rosé and talking about France versus Canada: Jean-Marc an Acadian, Monique a Frenchwoman who married a Canadian and spent her adult life in Canada, Lynn a Canadian who married a Frenchman and spent her adult life in France. Pierre has lived in Canada only a year and just bought the house across the street. When asked what he likes about this country, he replied, "Everything." And we like everything about him.

Thursday morning, Lynn and I got the direct bus at 10 a.m. and were in Stratford by noon. Old friends Anna Stratton, a film producer, and Tom Campbell, a visual artist, picked us up. They moved a year ago from Toronto and now own a light-filled house with a huge two-story studio in the garden for Tom - painting on the main floor and sculpture upstairs.
We had a gabfest, then off to visit two of Lynn's teachers from Chateauguay - Zella, her Grade 4 teacher whom Lynn had not seen since 1958, and husband Jerry, who taught Lynn math in Grade 10. They reconnected through Facebook.

It was a wonderful encounter - they remembered Lynn well and were thrilled to see her again, to hear about her amazing life in Europe; and she told them how fondly she remembered them, how they'd stayed with her all those years. It meant a great deal on both sides. A beautiful warm couple, both with the kind of open face you'd trust on sight with your life.
A walk along the Avon River, where I saw friend Ellen Roseman taking a picture of her husband Edward Trapunski and ran to photobomb them. They'd also come on the bus to see Coriolanus.
A wander through town to a delicious dinner with Anna and Tom; Lynn and I had moules frites. And then off to Coriolanus, directed by Robert Lepage. This Quebecois director is now an international superstar making his debut at Stratford, and about time too. I've had mixed feelings about his work in the past - always brilliant, imaginative use of technology, but sometimes overdone, too much focus on moving things around and not enough on story. Well, here again - this is a difficult play, surely one of Shakespeare's weakest, and the production did not clarify a convoluted, wordy plot. But the production values were stunning, a use of projections with gorgeous backdrops constantly changing - I don't know how he did it, the narrowing of focus like a camera, then widening, then there's Coriolanus driving a car; the interplay of ancient Rome and modern day - sometimes done so awkwardly - seamless, nothing out of place, even, at one point, two centurions texting each other, with clicking sound effects and emojis - hilarious, and it worked. The acting was extremely good, as we'd expect from this fine company.

The most amazing moment of all - the curtain call, when we saw that the set was actually just a box. Everything was done with video and projections. Incredible. Richly satisfying, even if obtuse and dense, more or less incomprehensible.

We walked back to Anna and Tom's, fell exhausted into our comfortable beds, had an enormous breakfast with much talk next morning; our hosts had found a Ralph Fiennes version of the play on film that they said was better for both the lead character and the play itself.

More exploring, then lunch with another of my oldest friends, Lani, who had driven in from Ingersoll to meet us.
There is no one on earth like Lani - one of a kind, eccentric with a heart as big as her small body can hold; today she had a perfect little Lani handbag and pink and maroon streaks in her hair. After lunch we did my essential Stratford shopping at Rheo Thompson, the chocolate store, $45 worth of dark chocolate including my faves, mint smoothies and peanut butter cups. And then once more to the theatre, a matinee courtesy of Lani; I'd chosen the play Napoli Milionaria! before it opened, because of the director, Anthony Cimolino, and the star, Tom McCamus.

Hmmm. Have to say - mixed reviews. An interesting, long play with a vast cast, set in Naples during and just after WWII, about how people survive war, how they lose their souls, or don't, when a society is upended. Could, should, be very moving. But - badly miscast. McCamus is a talented, charismatic actor, but as a voluble working class Italian - non bene. And Cimolino's shrill actress wife as an Italian matriarch - also non bene. A few others out of place, including a young actress who had to play a woman with an uncontrollable laugh, a very difficult part, excruciating. So scenes that should have been moving were hollow and did not work. But still worth seeing, with some terrific stagecraft, including a perfect set and intermission set changes done by actors in costume.

Goodbye to Lan and straight out to the bus for the ride home. We'd bought half a bottle of red to share on the way with a little snack, so the ride was painless until we hit the heart of downtown Toronto at 7 p.m. on the Friday of a long weekend, with an Ed Sheeran concert and Fan Expo clogging an already clogged Front Street - we crawled along for an hour. It was good to get home.
Lynn, who is in charge of our rosé supply, has made friends with the cashiers at the LCBO on Parliament Street.  "Come visit again soon!" the woman said to her today. And she will.