Sunday, March 31, 2019

a perfect day in the Cave of Forgotten Dreams

A quick post - it's 9.30 and I'm in bed, I think jet lag finally hit tonight. Or maybe it's daylight savings time which just arrived here or the sun. In any case, I'm woozy.

But today was sublime; I am such a lucky woman. I mentioned to Denis that I'd loved the doc The Cave of Forgotten Dreams about the Chauvet paleolithic cave drawings, that I'd actually seen the cave at Lascaux as a young child on a visit to France with my parents; and Denis discovered that the replica of the Chauvet cave they've created so people can visit without damaging the art is a two-hour drive away. He booked our tickets, and we were off at 10 a.m. He had of course also found a well-reviewed little restaurant nearby, so we arrived at noon and had lunch first. Outside in the sun. On March 31. Yes, I know it snowed in Toronto today. I'm so sorry to hear that.
Our hors d'oeuvre - warm chèvre in a sauce of bacon (lardons) and cream. To die for.
I had aioli - a dish of steamed vegetables and fish that you cover with a thick garlic mayonnaise. With  the first rosé of the year. Divine. It could not have been nicer, the ambience, the food, everything. People kept arriving with their dogs and sitting outside - by the time we left, there were about 8 dogs. Ah, France.

And then we headed to the Chauvet replica, where we were part of a timed tour. It's an extraordinary experience, unforgettable. What you see inside they call "the first human masterpiece" - cave drawings 36000 years old, magnificent drawings of animals - cave bears, reindeer, lions, drawn on the walls largely with charcoal. They have reproduced the layout of the cave, stalagmites and tites and low ceilings and undulating pits and paths, and the drawings exactly, apparently. It was particularly moving for me - because this was the first form of storytelling and memoir: I was here, and this is what I saw! The artistry is stunning, especially when you imagine how dark it must have been deep inside, lit only by torchlight.

We were not allowed to photograph. I just took one shot of Madame Blin in the gallery afterward where they showed us some of the animals. Look up Chauvet cave or the film to find out more and see the art for yourself.
We drove home late afternoon, still in the hot sun, through the winding mountain roads, passing the magnificent Pont d'Arc, a natural bridge formation.
The trees are just starting to bloom here, the bright magenta redbuds are everywhere and delicate green glowing on branches. Beauty for a Canadian hungry for colour.
Throughout, incidentally, I was receiving texts from the house about various tenants coming and going.

Home by 7 after a day of superb driving and shepherding by M. Blin, a simple dinner of salad, ham, and Cotes de Rhone, and I left for my little hotel room. Where my cell rang; it was my first cousin once removed Rob, whom I've met twice, calling from Virginia. His mother Caryl is the last remaining grandchild of Jacob Gordin, Rob's and my great-grandfather the playwright, the Jewish Shakespeare. Rob called to say he and his cousins had been to see one of Gordin's plays produced in Washington and loved it. He was ecstatic and wants us to meet again.

What a treat, on top of this delicious day.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Les gilets jaunes

Saturday afternoon is when the demonstrations take place throughout France. Apparently, today the big one was in Avignon. The one in Montpellier was much smaller than when this all started, Lynn told me.
What I saw was a disparate group of discontented people without direction. They say most of the gilets come from the country, from small towns left behind by globalization, but I saw a lot of what looked like middle-class people from the sixties, comfortably-off people my age, who just love them a good protest. Without a leader or a focus, what is legitimate about these protests has been taken over by the anarchists, the men in black who just want to smash and destroy.
A new Canadian restaurant here. Our claim to fame - French fries drowned in gravy.
 This - believe it or not - is a trompe l'oeil - painted on both these houses on the corner.
A bank near the city centre with windows boarded up and closed on Saturday, as were many shops today, still, though more than usual were open, Lynn told me. The small hotel I'm staying in had a big glass door broken. Lynn has no patience with the demonstrators. She understands Macron was ham-handed in lowering the speed limit and increasing the tax on gas; rural people depend on their cars and trucks to get them around, and fast. As Lynn said, they are not ecologists. But still, she points out, in this country, health care and university tuition are free; there is free all-day schooling from age 3 (with free 3 course hot meals) and a huge social safety net. And still there's so much rage. What is the answer? She has faith that Macron is smart and trying to fix things. But - looking at Trudeau, let alone the rest of the world - except New Zealand - there's no sense that an answer to society's many problems is forthcoming.

I'm happy to be far from the news.

marketing with Madame Blin

A typical humble little Montpellier abode. (click to enlarge)
Lynn is standing in line for cheese. I said to Lynn, this is the pinnacle of French civilization.
Behind this woman, on the top row, are seven different kinds of Roquefort. She is slicing the eighth kind for Lynn. It brought tears to my eyes. I was also channelling my Francophile father, who was with us in spirit, smelling the Roquefort.
 The produce.
Le pain, outdoors on the market square.

All of this equals one happy camper. Incidentally, all is well on the home front. Thank god for texting.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Montpellier report, a mess at home

6.15 a.m. and your faithful correspondent is in bed in a small hotel room in Montpellier, after a delicious 8-hour sleep. To deal with jet lag, I try to stay up as long as possible the day of arrival, take a sleeping pill, and wake up on local time, if a bit early. And that's it, it's done.

And now the travel blog begins. What a strange person a blogger is - the first thing I want to do, on waking in an exotic new place, is write to you.

A bit of surreal bliss at Pearson - the noise-cancelling headphones the kids gave me for Christmas were playing Bach, so I wandered and sat for hours in the surreal purgatory of the departure area enveloped in a cloud of sublime music.
The miracle of modern technology - I was reading the New Yorker as we boarded, and was able to take a picture of this cartoon and send it to the kids.

Whoever designs the seats for Air Canada overseas flights should be forced to sit in one forever. I'd paid extra for an exit row, had the huge luxury of room in front and even a protruding door bit that I could put my feet up on, so I had far more comfort than the sufferers squashed in around me. But the seat was hard, extremely narrow, and rigid, didn't extend even slightly back, so, even with my headphones and eyeshade, a night of writhing. And the food was execrable.

However, the flight left and landed on time and expelled its huge crowd of bleary Canadians into a gorgeous Parisian day. During the hundred mile hike to the other end of this vast airport to find my Air France flight to Montpellier, I slipped outside for a few minutes to turn my face to the sun like a starving plant. Everything is now automated in France, it seems; there was an issue with my suitcase, but luckily an actual French human being appeared to help me work things out. I found the next departure gate and had breakfast - a spinach and brie quiche which, though just in an airport dive, was absolutely delicious. And a yogurt "bio" in a glass jar. Bamboo cutlery.
French people all around. One thing about the French - even when they're just chatting, they sound like they're arguing or complaining. It's just the tone of voice. Though probably they ARE arguing or complaining. Another seamless flight, and there were my dear friends waiting at the airport.

But as I got off the plane, I turned on my phone. Mistake. It's hard to believe, but disaster had already struck at the house; there was a long series of panicked notes from Nicole. Something happened to the sump pump in the basement, it exploded, there was water shooting everywhere like Niagara Falls, the frantic tenant woke her at 1 a.m., she called the fire department ...

I laughed. It was like the house saying, You think you can get away, bitch? I'll show you.

Remembered my former handyman Len, who - as I've recounted here before - said to me once that I must have offended the water gods in a previous life, because the house has had so many problems with flooding and leaking. Once more, the water gods are on my tail.

A long series of emails later, the scene came clear - something had come loose, somehow, in the sump pump, and it did indeed explode. All the carpets in the basement are soaked and the walls and floor in the area are damaged. The tenant and Nicole dealt with it, the firemen gave advice, Kevin came and fixed it. There will be a lot more fixing when I get home.

The plane hadn't even landed before something major went wrong. And here, at this distance, I am thinking, once more - do I really want to cope with this enormous old house for the rest of my life? Is a nice kitchen and a lovely garden and now a renovated upstairs worth the constant, constant stress of all the things that go wrong?

If you hear of a nice bright friendly quiet condo or apartment or townhouse in or near Cabbagetown, please let me know.

Had dinner and much much talk with my friends in their apartment; Lynn, who pointed out that some restaurants in Paris don't even open till 8 p.m., kindly agreed to eat early for a Canadian visitor who hadn't slept the night before. She made her delicious hachis parmentier, an exotic kind of shepherd's pie, with Roquefort afterwards, accompanied by a nice light Brouilly.

It's 7 and I can go down to breakfast. On the way here, Lynn showed me all the destruction caused by the gilets jaunes, who erupt in violence every Saturday and smash windows; banks, hotels, stores here in the town centre - all with boarded or broken windows. Montpellier is one of the hardest hit, so I'll be able to witness it tomorrow.

On the other hand, she was happy to tell me that there is a big sale at Galeries Lafayette, one of our favourite places - their sales are rare and legendary. Today my vacation begins.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

hasta la vista

This is the last thing I'll do on this computer today, I think. It's 2 p.m. Thursday March 28, and in about 20 minutes, I'll leave for Anna's across town, for a farewell dinner with the family and Sam before I head to the UP train to Pearson, which isn't far from their place. The suitcase is closed and I'm in my travel gear - stretchy pants and stretchy bra, with headphones, eyeshades, a travel pillow and two empty water bottles in my backpack, to be filled on the other side of security.

In an amazing coincidence, the final city inspection of the house was an hour ago. We passed, and the white sign came down from the front window. Our work is officially done and approved. Even though, of course, it isn't, there are still myriad small details and even bigger things still to deal with. But the construction is done, the destruction too, thank God. When I write the story of this renovation, I'm going to call it "Men in my House." Even now, Dan the painter arrives at 9.30, Kevin arrived to do stuff today before the inspection. I won't know what to do with myself when I get back and am alone, without forty-two men charging about making noise and dust.


I am as usual nervous and speedy; wish I had my daughter's phlegmatic disposition. Nothing fazes her or disturbs her sleep, except of course her children. Whereas Sam and I are the anxious type. He, incidentally, cooked me a divine dinner of rainbow trout in sauce with potatoes, mushrooms and green beans, and then suggested I watch some of last season's Game of Thrones with him. It's stunningly beautiful to look at and the acting is fabulous, but it's just too violent for me, a murder, a battle, a horrible thing happening every few minutes, and I with my eyes and ears covered. Finally I couldn't take it, spectacular tho' every shot is.

The fridge is nearly empty. The dishwasher has run. Nicole has been briefed about every conceivable thing. All the men have been paid. My bank account is not to be thought about right now. The sky is grey, though the sun came out briefly, and my upstairs hall was awash in sunlight. I will eventually get used to that.

Au revoir, my friends. Happy spring. I look forward to writing to you from France.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

speeding toward the finish line

Crossing things off the list. Today, after about 5 hours sleep, I: got in touch with PEN Canada for the second time about my tax receipt from them, finally got it emailed and printed, got all my tax information to wonderful John, who will transform all those bits of paper into something the government will accept. Wrote to Kevin about various last minute things still undone. Met with Dan who's going to finish the painting - three days, he estimates, and here I thought it was nearly done. We had to choose colours. Met with Jean-Marc, who has been away for the whole last part of this project, though I've been sending him pictures. He went into raptures about his design work - as well he might. So much of his vision has worked out brilliantly.

The first tenant Leonie moved in last night; she lived for a year in the basement and when she left she was pregnant, so at breakfast I looked at pictures of her adorable son, now nearly 3. Took two library books back to the library. Got to Carole's class at the Y where I was even slower, if that's possible, but I was THERE. All my friends there wished me bon voyage and Debra had advice for Milan, so kind. Got to Shopper's for last minute things, travel sized toothpaste etc. Got Sam to get delicious Ontario peanut butter at the health food store to take to Lynn, along with Shredded Wheat. Got to Star Nails to have my toenails trimmed because the big toes get ingrown and I can't cut down the sides myself. (TMI?) Corresponded with Jade, the tenant who's moving in April 1. Corresponded with Gabriel, the tenant who's moving out April 15. Corresponded with my dear ex-husband, who's probably coming to visit in May, so realized I need a bed asap for the spare room, trolled about online and ordered a twin extra-long frame and mattress from Amazon, to be delivered next week. Charged up my headphones. Did two loads of laundry. Paid some online bills. Skated over the backyard ice to fill the bird feeder. Made a list of phone numbers to leave for Nicole who's living here while I'm gone. Edited a eulogy a friend asked me to look at. Showed the house to my oldest friend Ron, who said, "It worked out really well." Wrote to Pella Windows to complain that after installation they left the windows smeared and dirty.

It's 4 p.m.

Still need to: Renew our family membership at the AGO which expires soon. Pay the Enbridge bill which just came in. Check in online for both Air Canada to Paris tomorrow night and Air France from Paris to Montpellier Friday morning. Have dinner with Sam who's here to cook me some rainbow trout.


PS. Parliament Street news: There's a new restaurant at Parliament and Gerrard for "Japanese street food," whatever that is, also a new hookah bar, and a small hairdresser on Parliament St. that has a sidewalk sign advertising its wares and has added "We have private room for women in hijab."

I love my 'hood. That's why I went through all this reno hell - because I want to stay right here. So here I am. And I'm leaving tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

NYTimes obituary of Peter B. Kaplan

This is the New York Times' obituary for my father's cousin, mine once removed, Peter B. Kaplan. One of the words they use here is "relentless," and he was - a difficult, noisy man, a gifted and passionate photographer. I was at his first wedding to Harriet, in Great Neck; he took his own wedding photos with a tripod set up behind the rabbi - "I do," click click click. It was thrilling to visit his loft in the Village, where the bathroom was papered with photographs he'd taken of animals and insects copulating, and his African grey parrot Kosuku dominated the conversation. The world is quieter but diminished without him.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Beth's courses at Ryerson and U of T and upcoming nonfiction conference

Just a reminder for any of you considering coming back to, or coming for the first time to writing school: Ryerson's True to Life, CWWR 336, starts Wednesday May 1. Registration will soon be open or maybe is already.

And U of T's Life Stories, running Tuesday evenings this term instead of during the day, starts Tuesday May 7. Please get in touch if you have any questions.

Oh, and I forgot to let you know that last week, my longterm student and dear friend Ruth Miller had yet another piece in the Globe - her fourth, she thinks, but who's counting? Ruth has also read at more So True events than anyone else. She's a treasure.

And this is coming up, for any of you in Vancouver who want to be dazzled, stimulated, and informed. I wouldn't miss it.

the countdown

Somewhere out there, in the blur of the outside world, I gather that the Mueller report did not deliver what we'd hoped it would - viz, send the damnable crook to prison for life. But that's all I know, because I spent the weekend and today spinning in my reno hampster wheel. Have not heard the name Jody WR, the Liberal trying to elect Andrew Scheer, for days, that's a blessed relief. But all day, I thought it was Tuesday. I gather it's not. A student due to come this afternoon caught the frantic tone in my email voice and, with sensitivity, postponed. Many lists at 3 a.m. last night. I came up with a brilliant solution to an awkward window too strangely shaped for a blind: cardboard. And it works.

You hadda be there.

Today, Kevin, Ed, and Jake got through the last bits - repairs here, finishing there, a giant pile of stuff for the dump. Nicole came to help clean; she vacuumed my office, which is still packed with boxes but at least is now breathable. We put Great-Aunt Helen's Fiestaware back on the kitchen display shelves, removed not because of the reno but because of simultaneous termites.

Usually when I travel, I start many days before sifting through clothes, cleaning, matching, deciding. I leave Thursday and have not yet begun that process, instead am preparing the third floor for the tenant tomorrow night and the next tenant in a few weeks and trying to make the rest of the house presentable. And it is, more or less. The place has begun to feel like a home again. It just does not feel like MY home. When I go upstairs, I'm not sure where I am. I've been climbing those stairs to the second floor hall for almost 33 years and now enter a completely different space. It's disorienting. Good for the brain, I'm sure.

Yesterday, dear friends Suzette and Lynn came to see and talk and offer support. Suzette has been with me throughout, giving advice and counsel on colour and design, so it was gratifying to share the near-final product with her. "Quirky and elegant," was her verdict.

And tonight, my dearest Wayson took me to dinner. He had just been to the doctor and received a diagnosis; the memory is not good. But he's funny and charming as always. At the restaurant, when the waiter brought the cheque, I said, gesturing to Wayson, "Mr. Moneybags is paying." And Wayson said, "I hope he arrives soon."

I will email him often while I'm away and make him dinner as soon as I get back.

Tomorrow a doctor's appointment, more cleaning and arranging, a visit from Anna and the boys and my oldest friend Ron. This is always the way it is, the extremely busy time before a departure, even only for 3 weeks. With a little added intensity this time. I did not realize what a tense person I am; I have taken all this stress hard.

It was really cold again today, after a few mild days. It's 7.30. I want to go to bed.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Getting there, with pictures

Perky is back! Good sleep on the third floor, bounced out of bed and began to sort and clean. Yes, lots and lots to do, overwhelming sometimes, because the morass here also points out just how much crap loiters in every room of this house. But I am sifting and pitching as I go.

A busy day - one tenant coming to learn the laws of the land, then Kirsten coming to take my great-grandmother's wedding dishes that no one in my family wants,
(click to enlarge)
then dear friends Suzette at 2 and Lynn at 5 coming to see the reno and check in. Still many lists, and still have not begun to think about packing. Much much laundry. Much much sorting and cleaning. But - there's hope. A grateful, busy heart.

Some pix - remember, unfinished, getting there:
But first, the office, which has a way to go - but at least is getting cleared of beds and shelves -
My first grown-up linen closet!
The little Matisse room for guests and grandsons.
 My closet. Fab.
Blue bedroom coming together.
The third floor - an improvised shelf on the south side, for now - an Ikea trip needed when I get back. You can't see the mini-fridge to the left, and my teak university desk under the skylight.
My bed for now - on Tuesday, Leonie from Montreal moves in for a week.

The main joy is the atrium, the landing at the top of the stairs now cleared of various ceilings and graced with skylight and west-facing window which were there but invisible. Hard to photograph.
You know there is only one thing to say at a time like this: Glad to have breath in my lungs. Onward.

PS Tenant #2, moving in April 1, just saw her room on the top floor. When she was last here, we were in full turmoil, and she and her dad asked dubiously if it would be habitable. Today she said she was "blown away." And so was I, nearly, literally, by getting it done. But it's habitable.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

no miracles today

Today was the opposite of yesterday's euphoria. I expected to sleep soundly in my aerie and arise filled with joy about my sparkling new house. Instead, I awoke at 2 and after an hour or so, realized I was hungry, but getting something to eat would mean walking down and up two flights of stairs, which my legs refused to do. But my stomach won, so I had toast and Ovaltine at 3 and crawled back up to lie awake making lists.

For the rest of the day, my insides were heaving so badly, I could barely function. Luckily my dear Ken took me to brunch to say goodbye before my trip, so I managed a good solid meal. But then my movers - Thomas and Bill - came over, and Nicole to clean behind them, and I felt like I had stomach flu. What was it? The reality of what we just did, I guess, and of what remains to be done.

Everything stored in my office is filthy and in a jumble. I don't know where things are or where they go now, in the new configuration. And - to tell the truth - it's something of a shock to see my old furniture in a bright new space. Much of what I own was inherited from elderly relatives, and it looks it. Didn't matter before, when the house was similarly shabby, but now ...

But mostly, it's the dirt and dust and the piles of stuff and the stacks of boxes and what goes where? My office, my lovely office, like an abandoned attic.

However, the Billy bookshelves are back in my bedroom, though the oldest are out on the sidewalk, and my chest of drawers (inherited decades ago from Great-Aunt Helen) came up from the basement. So my room looks more like my room, even if I can't sleep in it until the minuscule pieces arrive from Ikea. When tenant #1 arrives on Tuesday to live on the top floor, I will have to move back to the basement. But only for two nights.

I'm a fragile flower today. Luckily Cyril just appeared at the door with another of the $8 bottles of soup that have kept me alive all winter. I am extremely lucky. Just fragile. Wayson was supposed to come for dinner and another friend wanted to come over, and I postponed both. Just need to eat soup and read the paper - or not - and sit here and not do anything.

Though I've vowed to ignore Ottawa, I just posted Heather Mallick's article on FB:

Chantal Hebert had a Star article too, more or less saying the same thing: why are these two women trying to sink their own party and elect the Conservatives? As I wrote on FB, they should just look at Ontario to know how that will play out.

Friday, March 22, 2019

a miraculous day

Dear friends, some of you have followed this renovation journey. So now, tonight, I have to tell you the big news: my house is reborn. After one of the most exhausting days of my entire life, I am going to sleep above ground tonight, in an actual bed, in a clean room. It's astounding. Every bone in my body aches; I went up and down the stairs a million times today. But what a finale.

Up at 7.30 to be ready for the cleaners and Mr. Wu the electrician, here to meet the city electrical inspector, who, when he came, I informed that Mr. Wu is the best electrician in the world. And he is. We passed our inspection. Meanwhile Judit and her friend were vacuuming and scrubbing. Meanwhile Kevin arrived, finally with both Ed and Jake who've been on another work site, and off we went, with a long list of things to do, almost all of which were accomplished today. Yesterday the house was filthy, the floors still covered with dusty paper and rubble everywhere. Today the paper's gone, the doors are hung and they all - yes all - have knobs, yes knobs. And they close.

The small washer and dryer are connected. The bannisters are finished. The beds are sort of assembled - the Ikea one K. and I found on the street is unfortunately missing a few very small parts, so Anna went to Ikea to order them today; I can't sleep in my own bed till they get here, but Jake assembled the bed for the third floor, they struggled up with the foam mattress, and I made my bed and will lie in it. K and I went to Home Depot with a long list and I ordered new blinds to fit the new windows. Oh yes, Viktor the window guy from Russia arrived in the midst of all this with the one window that didn't get installed before. The bathroom, which was beyond filthy, got cleaned and a new shower curtain pole installed. New words I learned today: ball closers and flanges, all installed.

Oh yes, and William the furnace repair guy from Jamaica came and told me there's no carbon monoxide, good news, but there's a crack in the furnace and it will need to be replaced before long, bad news.

Finally they carted a ton of garbage out to leave it in the front yard and went home and I had the house to myself. I ran a hot bath for my trembling legs. There's no blind in the bathroom so I found a piece of drywall to stick in the window for privacy and lay in the hot water in my own bathroom for the first time in more than four months. And then my dearest Annie came for dinner, and I got to share this moment with her, give her a tour. My heart runneth over.

Still more to do, believe it or not, before the place is set up for the tenants who are moving in - and then at some point I have to start to think about packing. Hard to wrap my head around, that after all this, I'm going to be leaving home.

Tomorrow, another busy day. Dear Ken is taking me to brunch as a farewell/housewarming present, and then in the afternoon, my son-in-law Thomas and various others, I hope, are coming over to move some furniture, set up the other rooms and beds. It will be 10 degrees on Sunday. Yes. Yes yes yes.

And with all this - my daughter has a really interesting job possibility, good news, and bad news, I found out my first cousin once removed, the dare-devil New York photographer Peter B. Kaplan, famous for his shot "Moon over Manhattan" from the top of the World Trade Centre, died a few days ago.
Peter B. was one of a kind, a lunatic and an artist. Here's a short film his brother David just sent me, called "High Rise Photographer."

Life is more full than full today. Photos at some point, when my arms can lift that heavy phone.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

disgusted with the news

It has finally happened — I can't listen to the news any more. What is going on in Ottawa, the grandstanding, the hypocrisy, the tempest in a teacup absurdity of the whole thing, is so appalling that it turns my stomach. Especially as what it may lead to is even more appalling - a government run by Andrew Scheer and his band of hyenas. My last night's ruminations at 4 a.m. were less about my reno worries than my worries for this country. And this province, with its own band of hyenas, heedless, stupid, blind, destructive, smashing and crushing.

No, it hurts too much. So — enough. Of course, I'll keep reading the Star, which tho' lefty is bad enough. The media is so complicit in this — let's keep this thing alive because it's controversy! It sells papers!

Tonight, my last home class of term, and how I love this bunch of marvellous writers and people. An oasis of sanity and empathy, not to mention talent. Hooray.

Other things looked up today. On top of everything else, my hairdresser, who's been a dear friend for decades, wasn't well, so was delayed in her appointments; usually I'm shaggy six weeks after a cut, and this time, it was eight weeks before she could take me. I was as bushy as the lion of my August sign. But this morning, there was Ingrid with her blessed scissors, and I look like a person again.

Yesterday Mr. Wu the electrician and his helper worked all day on the complicated wires of this house, but they got it done. The painters left, more to be done later. Today, Kevin worked on the staircase, and he put in the wine rack JM bought at ReStore, covering a place in the kitchen the termites had gnawed. Home improvements.
All the equipment and junk that was in my bedroom is now in the spare room. Look, a floor. There's hope.
This is the eccentric enclosed staircase.
And this is the wine rack, much too big for me, but needed to fill this corner. I'll struggle to find a bottle or two to fill it. And those holes and white plates to the left represent hours of Mr. Wu's time, tugging wires.

Mostly - what's wonderful is that it feels and smells like spring, mild and bright, though there's still some snow on the ground.

Tomorrow is frantic; at 8 a.m. Mr Wu arrives for the city's electricity inspection, and two cleaners arrive to at least start the process of getting rid of mounds of plaster dust and sawdust. That's a huge step. At 10.30 the furnace man arrives to make sure it wasn't carbon monoxide that set off my smoke alarms, though we know it wasn't, because we're not dead. In the afternoon, the second of two queen-sized foam mattresses arrives. The first was delivered this evening and is propped against the piano; I wonder if we'll ever get it upstairs.

On the down side, I asked the guys to put the blinds back on my bedroom and bathroom windows, taken off when the window work was being done. Surprise - the new window frames are a different size, and I need new blinds. Well, why not?

Let me fling some money your way, shall I? I've become a champion. Money flinging, c'est moi.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

There be light! And not.

Though there's a pile of melting snow a few feet away, I'm sitting outside on the deck in the sun - some kind of miracle. Sparrows squabbling viciously in the cedar tree. A few moments ago, before I came out, I saw a large rat foraging outside my kitchen door. That's a first. Templeton!

So - where were we? Oh yes, going mad with smoke alarms. Definitely a low point, especially for a woman with a horror of loud noises. The electrician told me that in all his years, that has never happened to another client. Of course! I now think smoke alarms are like horses - they can sense your fear, and they take over.

The suggestion of the company, Kidde: that you blow them out regularly with compressed air. So add that to my list of chores - squirting air into my smoke alarms. Life is good.

However, we got through a very long day, with Mr. Wu and his team putting up most of the light fixtures - which included my climbing on the high scaffold to hang 54 metallic leaves on a dramatic fixture. And - it works, it's lovely and interesting, as are the other fixtures JM and I bought drastically reduced on the remainder table at Dark Tools.
In the middle of all this, a former student came for an hour of editing and coaching. I managed to get my brain back for the hour. Then it fizzled out again.

On Tuesday I had a final visit with my beloved shrink who has kept me company through this process, and lunch with my beloved friend, editor extraordinaire Rosemary Shipton. Today, the painter is coming to finish, the electricians are here already finishing, Kevin and his team are doing bannisters and door handles, and best of all, my blue bedroom with its fancy fixture is nearly cleared out of tools, paint, and junk. It's happening, folks.

I'm still waking at 4 a.m. to fret. Title of my next memoir, Fretting at Four: my renovation adventure by Beth Kaplan.

Despite the coming of spring, my heart is breaking with world news, and more especially Ontario news; I sense rallies and marches and protests coming, just like 20 years ago. When my kids were in school, the loathsome Mike Harris - I never write or say his name without 'loathsome' in front of it - tried to destroy our education system, and now that my grandchildren are in the system, the disgusting DoFo is doing the same. Makes me sick. Not to mention the shenanigans yesterday during the budget speech - more disgusting. I inadvertently read a tweet from a Conservative MP filled with violent hatred for Trudeau. Civil discourse is no more.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

We are all in the jaws of the rough beast, slouching toward Bethlehem.

PS And the news tonight - the Conservatives shouting about how Trudeau treats women - the Conservatives, that feminist party! What utter hypocrisy. The Ontario Minister of Education saying they're increasing class sizes to make students resilient and prepared for the future. No, it's all too much. What planet are we living in?

Monday, March 18, 2019

wake up call

HELP! That's it, I don't want to do this any more. It was a terrible mistake to decide to renovate and not to sell. Anyone want to buy a large, dysfunctional, freshly-renovated wreck in Cabbagetown?

I've been sleeping badly this whole winter, probably my general anxiety level with this reno. Last night, another terrible night, finally fell asleep around 5 and was awakened at 7.15 from a dead sleep by screaming noise and blinding flashing lights; I thought it was a police raid. Now I know what that must be like. It was the brand new smoke alarms, which now flash as well as shriek, and do so throughout the house. And because there's a rental suite in the basement, there were two right next to me, one on one side of the bedroom door and one on the other. I may never hear again.

Ran around frantically in my pyjamas; I flipped the breaker switch the electrician had told me would disconnect them, only it did nothing, on they blared. I called the electrician who luckily was coming over anyway today but had no idea what to do; finally called Kevin, who picked up the third time I called, at 7.30, and luckily lives just down the street. He came over and disconnected them all, but the two in the basement, even off the wall and in his hands, continued their incredible noise. We wrapped them in cushions and put them in the birdseed box out on the deck, where they continued their muffled cry.

I called Kidde, who told me they'd send two new ones and how to turn these ones off for good. A moment of peace, blessed relief.

And then another siren started somewhere in the basement. Couldn't even figure out where it was coming from. Finally realized - the apartment. Had to bang on my tenant's door, get him out of bed, go in with the electrician; it was the sump pump alarm. He turned it off. A bit of peace. About half an hour later, it started again. Again banging on the door, disturbing Gabriel and his guest, this time unplugging the alarm for good. Realized - that in turning off the breakers to try to stop the smoke alarm, I had turned off the sump pump breaker, so the alarm was doing its job, letting me know the sump was not working.

I hate this house. I hate smoke alarms, never know how to stop them. It has happened before that they went off for no reason, only this was worse because they're even louder, with lights, and everywhere. Before, I could open a door and blow fresh air in and it would stop. Now - nothing stops them, it seems.

I've called a furnace guy to come and make sure it's not the furnace. Kidde had no explanation as to why they might have gone off when the house was asleep. It could have been worse, however. It could have been 4 a.m. And of course, there could have been an actual fire. So, I should count my blessings and crawl back into bed, except that there are two electricians and two painters here and Kevin going back and forth.

Okay, enough. This too shall pass. First world etc. I am however feeling battered.

It really helps to tell you all about it. Thanks for listening.

PS Five minutes later: I think the furnace is not working. There's no heat.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

the sound of painting

The big news is that an hour ago I unearthed one of my deck chairs and sat outside for a bit in the sun. The first time in months. And then a few tiny snowflakes tumbled down.

Very busy here today: Joe and Nabil painting upstairs, Dan painting in the dining room, where the termite damage was. The sound of rollers, the smell of a fresh clean house. I gather some blog-readers have enjoyed following my journey into renovation hell and heaven, so here are a few pix.
Click to enlarge.
 Wayson struggling with a fancy light fixture JM and I got on a remainder table. Now, not quite sure it'll work or how to put it together. Glittery maple leaves? Hmmm. We'll see.
The corner of Parliament and Gerrard - they've completely smashed the building there.
 The spare room, that I will now be calling the Provence or Matisse room. Matisse yellow. The sunroom, for guests!
 The dining room today.
The spare room today - everything from the third floor, where everything from the second floor had been stored, moved back down. Do you recognize those eyes in the middle? My Macca poster from 1964.

Late this afternoon I am having dinner with Anna and the boys and then taking Ben to see Paw Patrol Live, as I did Eli a few years ago. Oh the thrilling life of a Glamma.

Friday, March 15, 2019

getting there?

7 p.m. I posted what's below earlier in the day. Since then, 49 Muslims have been massacred in New Zealand by a man praising Donald Trump. And I just watched a devastating video on child refugees. 

I'm embarrassed by the pettiness of my complaints. I won't delete the post. But I will try to rise above it.

2 p.m. Another former Ryerson student, Paula Turner, has a piece in the Globe today. One of her classmates wrote to point out that she's the fourth person from that class to be published in the Globe. He wrote, Thanks to Beth Kaplan for her influence on our belief in ourselves, technique and stubborn commitment. 

For an impatient person, this last bit of the renovation is in some ways the hardest. My room is finished but uninhabitable, filled with paint and equipment. The painting is taking forever, there are myriad details to be remembered and finished, and in the meantime, I can't get into my office for the scaffolding, can't figure out where most things are in the house, am turning in frustrated circles, my stomach in knots, my shoulders rigid, sleeping badly, making lists at 4 a.m. I know it's silly, but that's how it is.

This too shall etc. But I am showing the stress. The other day, leaping out of a cab to connect with the King streetcar (which I missed), I left my favourite canvas bag behind, filled with clothing for the boys, a letter I'd just written to Eli, my leather gloves, the latest New Yorker. No one turned it in. Yesterday I got up early after a dreadful night to be ready at 8 for the window guys, returning with one more window. When they weren't here by 11, I sent a furious email to the contact person, who wrote back to point out that the appointment was in fact for this afternoon. Things like that, happening a lot. And friends calling with serious, upsetting stories to tell - a husband with Alzheimer's, another with a brain tumour, two - two! - with daughters who want to leave their husbands, a mother who died suddenly but peacefully. We're in the zone.

But on the other hand, today it's 7 degrees; I went in rubber boots into my frozen, slush-and-snow-covered backyard to prune the shrivelled brown clematis. I don't ever remember my garden so icy and buried in mid-March. That's the kind of winter it's been.

Yes, first world problems etc. And we're getting there, spring, my house, and I. Maybe.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

miles to go before I ...

Still hanging onto my hat in the hurricane here, if you'll forgive the alliteration: today, two painters and three carpenters getting in each other's way on the second floor, and me trying to direct traffic. There's a huge scaffold up there now so Joe can paint the high ceilings. Painting takes a long time, and I want it to be over. I want it all to be over, to unpack my life and enjoy my new space, but not yet. "Miles to go before I sleep — in my own bedroom," as Mr. Frost might have said had he ever lived through a renovation.

Somehow in the midst of all this, yesterday, I contacted and then emailed the manuscript to yet another editor. The one I sent it to at the end of December, whom I'd met socially and who responded with warmth to my query about seeing the manuscript, has not responded, even to a request simply to let me know she received it. So after two months I started again, and this time, the editor replied immediately and with great politeness. I know this is almost certainly leading to a no, but having the door opened politely, even if my offering gets handed back to me and the door slammed shut again, means a lot.

And then across town, to have dinner with Anna and family. Before I left, Kevin was up high installing a window.
Time with Ben the gymnast, the mountaineer, climbing and jumping and whacking. I'm thrilled to say I learned how to play Beyblades, the spinning fad, though more at Ben's level than Eli's. At one point, they both appeared wielding their nerf guns, Eli with bullets strapped across his chest like a Sandinista, to protect us from bad guys. And then we collapsed in a heap on the bed to read a book. A heap of grandsons - there's nowhere I'd rather be. And had better enjoy it now, because they're growing up fast, and neither is a cuddler in any case. At least for me. Lots of cuddling for Mama.

When I got home, the house was empty of workmen, and this was in place:
So much light on the second floor.

At the Y today, I was the last in line. This winter has been something of an ordeal for both body and soul, and I am slower than ever in all ways.
 My office.
My bedroom. Sweet dreams!

Monday, March 11, 2019

onward and upward: basement suite rented

Good news all round today, though the sun is not shining. First, the basement suite is rented, wonderfully, to Anna's best friend since kindergarten who grew up around the corner. Shani is now the single mother of a teenager who lives with his dad and a 6-year old who lives with her and has big health problems, so she's thrilled not just to find a safe place to land but one near Sick Kids, where she spends a good deal of time. I reduced the rent in return for getting a bit of help on occasion watering or other stuff. She's a beautiful woman and we've known each other for more than 30 years. Moving in May 1. We're all thrilled.

And when Anna comes to visit, she and her oldest friend will catch up while their sons play in the garden. Heaven.

The closet is almost finished and I'm moving stuff in. Love it.
And the big door to the third floor, a major project that was causing huge headaches yesterday since it didn't quite fit, was rehung by Ed this morning - and it closes! A door that closes. We're on a roll.
After all this pleasure, more: I received a letter in the mail from my older grandson, aged six. Dear Glama, how are you are you having a nice day. Has Sam been there recently? Thank you for helping to sending me and Ben to camp this summer. Love Elijah and Ben.
Be still my beating heart. Yes, his mother already has both her sons organized for camp through the summer. I will be writing back immediately, in nice big print.

Watched some good movies on TV - not feeling much like going out as it's slippery and disgusting out there. The woman who loves giraffes - important to us as a family because my very tall son's totem animal is the giraffe - and what a surprising story this is. Who knew that the first white woman to go alone to Africa to study animal behaviour was not Jane Goodall but Anne Innis Dagg, a Canadian zoologist? She fell in love with a giraffe at a zoo when she was three and has spent the rest of her life concerned with this extraordinary animal. The doc takes an infuriating turn in the middle, when she's teaching at the U. of Guelph. As one article says, Despite her impressive record of academic publications and student attestations as to the quality of her teaching, Dr. Dagg was denied tenure. By multiple accounts in the film, she did not conform to the college leadership’s idea of a tenured professor. There was no place for a groundbreaking woman scientist studying the behaviour and biology of animals in the wild.

She's furious and nearly defeated but eventually is brought out of obscurity and acknowledged by the giraffe community - yes, there is such a thing - as their mentor and leader. She goes back to Africa even now, in her mid-eighties. Inspiring and marvellous, the best sort of documentary.

On Sunday Wayson and I watched The Darkest Hour, about Winston Churchill in 1940, before Dunkirk, as France falls. Again, I didn't know Churchill was urged to capitulate and make peace with Hitler, and how hard he had to fight not to. Gary Oldman is a spectacular Churchill, and it brought tears, of course, to hear him thunder his famous, "We will fight them on the beaches!" speech. His enemy, Lord Halifax, listens glumly and mutters, "He has mobilized the English language and sent it into battle," as the House of Commons erupts into patriotic cheers. I thought of my British mother, her sisters, my grandparents, listening on the wireless in their village Potterspury, my mother shortly thereafter quitting the grammar school she was attending on a scholarship to join the Land Army and do her bit.

Here's to writers everywhere, mobilizing their own language and sending it into battle - though usually, thank God, for more peaceful purposes.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Why Quebecers are unimpressed by the "scandal"

Hooray! Blog-reader Anne has just sent me an article I think is the most balanced overview of this whole tempest, saying beautifully and with humour what I've been feeling from the start: WTF? I am now proud to deem myself an honourary Quebecer. If there's little traffic, I NEVER wait for the light to change before crossing. 

And now time to move on.

It's a gorgeous day - warm sun on the melting snow. There's hope for spring; tomorrow will be even warmer. I went out in sneakers! Sun is pouring into my second floor, which is still rubble and sawdust and giant pieces of sawing equipment, but there's hope there too. Today I am moving my clothes, which have been scattered and crammed into corners all over the house, into my closet, the only new room that's finished, so I can free other other spaces for the guys. In 18 or so days, I fly off to Europe, and two women will be living here. We need to finish, and we have a long way to go.

JM is flying off tomorrow, so came to take a last look at his creation. I have so much to be grateful to him for. We had our issues, we certainly did, but came through it as friends who know a great deal more about each other now.
It's Saturday. Time to sit in the sun and breathe in the hyacinths.

Friday, March 8, 2019

celebrating my men

How to be inappropriate on International Women's Day - I'd like to talk about MEN. The men working here, my heroes - problem-solving heavy-lifters, dealing with my infuriatingly eccentric house where there isn't a straight line or square corner anywhere, and my eccentric taste and JM's details.

Yesterday afternoon at 3.30, my living room was a dump, with 8 and 10 foot-long pieces of leftover moulding and trim stacked along the middle tripping us, and 3 apartment-sized appliances, a washer, a dryer, and a fridge, taking up all one corner, plus various pieces of construction equipment and the hall crowded with seven old doors we were not using or had cannibalized for handles. John came to take the trim away, Bill came to help carry extremely heavy appliances upstairs, Kevin, Ed, and Evan heaved and strained, 8 huge plastic boxes overflowing with rubble plus the doors were carried out to go to the dump, and by 4.30, my living room was respectable again, ready for the vacuum cleaner and my home class at 6.30.

Today, Ed and Evan, plus Dan the painter who was painting my closet, heaved a giant heavy window box thingie into place on the third floor, all 3 hoisting, then Evan holding it up with his shoulders until Ed got it screwed into place.
Hooray for men! Thank you to my guys here for strength, expertise, sense of humour. Gettin' 'er done. However, in case you think I'm relaxing, we have a long way to go:
 My bathroom
My bedroom
The guest bedroom
The hall.


Of course I celebrate women too, every single day of my life, including in my classes, which are 85% female. Last night's class, as always, one beautiful story after another. Lucky moi. And speaking of writing and women and lucky, my daughter just sent me a tribute she wrote today about her grandmother, her dad's mother Connie who died last fall. It finishes, "I am fiercely proud to be her granddaughter, and I think I speak for all my cousins when I say that. To me, she proves, when a woman is allowed to reach her potential, she nourishes the world for generations to come. I love you grandma, and I will carry you in my heart forever."

Tears in the eyes - another writer in the family. Be still my beating heart.

It's still really cold and snowy - I don't remember a winter this tough, not for a long time. But there's blessed sun, and it's supposed to go up to 6 on Sunday. We'll take it.

So - the painters back next week, the electricians back the week after, Kevin and the boys finishing a ton of details - we're on a deadline here. It'll be close, but we're moving right along. Right now, there's a cardinal at my bird feeder, the sun is hot on my face, and the hyacinths Annie brought me last week are perfuming the air with springy scent. Two good men are pounding away upstairs. Life is good.