Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Onward to 2020

Dear friends, the decade ends in a few hours. Some crazy people I gather are out insisting on wild times. This bird is at home, watching Lincoln Centre Live on PBS, a celebration of Sondheim, other shows coming on later. I will not be watching the ball fall. My oldest friend Ron, from Halifax days, came for dinner; he has had a very tough year, I was glad to host him and listen. He asked me out in 1965 and I said no.

Not an easy decade. My mother gone in 2012, my aunt in 2018, dear Wayson this year. But still, these deaths were not unnatural - Mum 89, Do 98, Way relatively young at 80. But now I fear unnatural deaths begin - friends my age or just a little older, at risk. Loss. Loss. Loss.

Not to mention the planet. Let's not mention the planet, not tonight. Except - Greta. Miracles do happen.

Now watching a documentary about the sex educator Dr. Ruth. Adorable, the quintessential Yiddishe mama. Last week I watched a doc called What is it about the Jews? about why the Jewish people have achieved unparalleled success - many interesting thoughts, which I will elucidate at some point, but one of them is that Jews, unlike Catholics, embrace sex as a natural and vital part of life, meaning that rabbis marry and reproduce, whereas priests ... say no more. And here Ruth is, a Holocaust survivor aged 90 with limitless energy and a fabulous sense of humour, telling Americans how to enjoy sex. A fine way to bring in the new year.

Yesterday was a first - not one but two little boys for the night. And it was wonderful, if like being under seige. Luckily the weather was lovely and mild, so we burned off some steam at the farm and the playground. Big bowls of pasta, a bath with a great deal of splashing and water everywhere, into jammies, stories, lights out by 8.30. Unbelievable! Eli was on the mattress on the floor and Ben in the bed, but when I got up to check on them, they were squished together on the floor. The sweetest thing I've ever seen. And then those faces at my bedroom door at a very late 7.45 a.m.

I'm still watching Dr. Ruth and feeling like a slug. What an amazing woman, a tiny powerhouse.

Today we went briefly to the Y and then home for pancakes, throwing a ball endlessly, reading Spock's beautiful Oh the places you'll go and finally, meeting their mother for the end of the stay.

A late Xmas present - Kawhi Leonard of the Raptors jerseys. Ecstasy. Their Uncle Sam now wants one too, and their dad.
At the Y. The image of my father.

Nicole came to help me clean up from kids and Christmas; it took both of us some time. But now the house is more or less back to rights. Until next time. "Are you going to die soon?" asked Ben.
"I don't think so," I said. I hope not.

Dr. Ruth! Laughing out loud. She keeps asking people - her drivers, strangers, friends - "Did you eat?" I remember my grandmother, always with the food: "Ess ess, mein kind!" She loves everything. Inspiring. I'm only going to be seventy in seven months - that's nothing. Someone just asked her, "Why keep publishing books at 89?"
"What a stupid question," she said.

Happy New Year to you all. May you flourish, may you find joy and laughter, may you be healthy and doing work you love, may friends and family keep you company sometimes but not too often. May our world survive the cretins.

Happy New Year, friends. On we go.

Monday, December 30, 2019

63 Up: the subject tonight is Love.

Calm before the storm - tonight I'm hosting both my grandsons for a sleepover for the first time. Till now, I've not felt ready to handle both bouncing-off-the-wall energizer bunnies on my own - and didn't even have another bed. But yesterday I bought a mattress and squeezed it into the small spare room, and there they will be tonight, wreaking, undoubtedly, havoc.

On Friday to the Hot Docs cinema to meet Ken, Anne-Marie, and Jim, for 63 Up.  It's a unique and phenomenal experience to follow the lives of these British people from age 7, every 7 years to now. All of us in the audience were I'm sure considering our own lives in light of theirs. They've suffered divorce, ill health, estrangements, the death of parents, and one of them has actually died. But they're all fine human beings now, extremely likeable, so much wiser than they were. Perhaps many of us are that way? Even Neil, the adorable sparkling 7-year old who was a scabby penniless recluse by 21 and ended up homeless, struggling with mental illness, is now a civic politician and lay preacher who, amazingly, owns a house in France! I loved them all.

We hope for 70 Up, though Michael Apted the director is in his eighties and may not be up for it. I could watch this series forever. A magnificent achievement.

And then to a pub for dinner with three of my dearest friends, where we discovered the Friday special deal of a bottle of wine for $21. Couldn't pass that up.

Saturday, I happily dispensed with Christmas - took down the tree, put away the wreath and the table coverings and the hooha. Done and done.

Yesterday, to old friend David Rothberg's end of Hanukkah party. A friend from university days, David became a successful businessman; we lost touch during the busy years but have reconnected with pleasure recently. His house in the Annex is impressive, vast rooms with modern art and unusual furniture, including a fabulous very long wooden table that someone said David made himself. I'm not used to such splendour - a young woman greeting us at the door to take our coats, then inside, caterers carving real Montreal smoked meat for sandwiches, platters of other goodies being passed around including latkes, a bartender serving drinks. And the most interesting people in Toronto - David is connected to the film business, writers, everyone. I ran into Ian Pearson who was an editor at Banff when I was there, then David Macfarlane, the superb writer, and his wife Janice Lindsay. Rick Salutin of the gloomy face wandered in, David Young the playwright appeared with a tray of oysters - it was that kind of party. I felt lucky to be there.

Today my Christmas present to myself arrived. Perhaps you remember the winter coat I wanted to buy at Bloomingdales but the last size Large was snatched from under my nose. Well, I found the same coat in a Boxing Day sale online, and it arrived today. I can give away my second-hand coats; with this one, I will never be cold again. In fact, I'm sorry the weather is so mild right now, I want to try it out and it's too warm outside! Never did I think I'd be saying that.

Ken gave me a book of poems by the 14th century poet Hafiz and asked me particularly to read this one.
   The subject tonight is Love
And for tomorrow night as well,
      As a matter of fact
   I know of no better topic
         For us to discuss
             Until we all


Thursday, December 26, 2019

survived another one

Giving thanks for the breath in my lungs and for so much else, on this mild, gloomy Boxing Day. Anna is feeling better and has opened her presents. I just made lunch - hot turkey sandwiches - for old friend Kathleen, nicknamed Fla, my first roommate when I moved out of home to an apartment in Ottawa at 18. She lives in Montreal, and we see each other rarely.

Then I made turkey soup while listening to CBC 1 play Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," one of my favourite pieces of music, just magnificent - and it was the National Youth Orchestra of Canada too. He builds such tension, such strident power and darkness, and then the Juliet music shines through - how could a forty-something Russian capture the lightness of a young girl so perfectly? That last note - Juliet's high note of hope, held forever - goosebumps.

And now Shostakovich, something sweet, unlike what I know as his music. Thank you, CBC 1.

Last night, after the family left, laden down with gifts and leftovers and Anna's pile of presents, I did more cleaning up and then turned on the Call the Midwife Xmas special, set this time in the Outer Hebrides. This is a show brimming with heart, just beautiful; I adore it.
Wept - not just for the babies, for the loveliness of the show - but for the world, for the fact that somehow, despite the horror, the doom-laden forecasts, we have no choice but to go on. To love one another, celebrate one another, do our best to be open and caring and generous and kind.

Speaking of kind, a student wrote, on Xmas Day: I took your class at Ryerson a couple of years ago and attended your 'writing in the garden' workshop last summer, both experiences I hold close to my heart. Wanted to share with you that a piece I wrote was published in the Globe yesterday. I'm very proud, and wanted to say thank you for teaching me much of what I know about writing a personal essay. "No beautiful sentences" is something I try to remember! 

Now I will walk to the Y to sit in the hot tub and recuperate, and then the real post-Xmas time begins. I have two weeks till teaching begins again, though I do have a talk to prepare for next week. And a fridge stuffed with leftovers and soon, soup. A radio pouring out music. A warm house, a heart full.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas 2019 = the flu

The best laid plans etc. Thank heavens we are not a family that cares particularly about creating a perfect scenario at Xmas. Because we're way off track this year. On Monday morning, Ben and Thomas were sick and Anna was coping with Eli, so I came to get him. Luckily I was pretty organized here for presents and food. So we had that day, a sleepover, and all next day together, by the end of which - after several playground visits in the mild air, where he wanted to play tag - Glamma was utterly spent. There was a lovely moment as I was chasing him around the playground, when I looked up to see a woman in a hijab beaming at us.

Eli and I spoke about missing Wayson - our first Christmas in many years without him. The ache of loss.

Anna by then was also not feeling well, but she came across last night to get Eli after the Xmas pageant which he and I attended together. Thank God, again, that I was not producing this year. The holy family dropped out at the last minute, and they recruited a family which had come to see the production; instead they found themselves gamely sitting in the straw with their baby. Perfection.
Everyone gets a gift of a home baked cookie as they leave the barn. On the way home, as Eli munched his treat, I was explaining the myths of Xmas - the baby in the barn, the star, the Wise Men - and he said, "This cookie is really good!" So much for myths. I realized this time that producing the pageant is like corralling cats - so many things go wrong. And yet it's indestructible because so essentially sweet and spiritual. Standing, singing carols surrounded by hundreds of neighbours, small children, the very old, I always weep. Mary, Stephen, and I started this thing 20 years ago. What a blessing. I wrote to Mary today, it will show well on our ledger sheet when we're standing at the Pearly Gates.

Last night, after Anna and Eli left, I went to Mary's annual post-pageant party in the loveliest house in Cabbagetown, with the fire blazing and a huge feast and people I've known for 35 years, since our kids were very small, and now we're grandparents.

Today, Anna is really sick and Thomas only a bit better, though Ben has recovered. Sam was nearly  here when he had to turn around and go back and get the boys. So the boys are here, and Anna and Thomas are at home, probably will not make it over at all, their stack of presents still under the tree. We cancelled the friends with a new baby who were coming for dinner - risky since there's sickness around - so it'll be the four of us. The turkey, sweet potatoes, and stuffing are in the oven, potatoes are mashed, brussels ready to heat up, crackers to pull. We'll watch The Polar Express, give them a bath, and then Sam will take them home to their poor parents.

No, just learned Thomas is going to come soon. Hooray. We'll be five.

So - Christmas 2019, another memorable one, perhaps not for the right reasons, but c'est la vie. Lani gave me socks that are patterned with library stamps, Lynn sent from France some sparkling peridot earrings, I've been given TONS of chocolate and a big framed picture of ... the Beatles. The racetrack I bought the boys is set up in the dining room and they've been zipping around. Sam just took them to the playground and as everything cooks, Glamma is having a moment's peace with J. S. Bach and thou. The kitchen smells divine.

What matters most is health. My beloved Patsy, dear friend since 1970, had a devastating diagnosis this year but so far is fine. She always sends a beautiful poem for Xmas, and this year was no exception. It's on the tree, with a delicate drawn oak leaf below. It reads:

     each leaf
knows when to
to fly with wind
                  then drift
      to ground
  and trusts the Earth
      will bring
            new leaves
come spring
It made me weep, of course.

From my house to yours, I wish you health, both physical and psychic. May you have a joyful day and a healthy, happy, prosperous 2020. And thank you for sharing my journey through this blog. As Wayson liked to say: Onward.
With love,

Saturday, December 21, 2019

it's the winter solstice and all's well

The house up the street. And a Cabbagetown Christmas to you too.

What's different this year? It's Dec. 21 and I'm not frantic! And I realize - this year I'm not producing the pageant on Christmas Eve at Riverdale Farm. It was a tiny bit more stress at a stressful time; I was one of the producers for nine years while my children were at home - Sam playing Wise Man #1 for some years and Anna holding up the illuminated star ahead of the carollers. I quit with relief and then came back after a bit when it seemed they could use a producing hand. And now I've left again; they're a capable bunch. I'll attend on Tuesday evening with the audience, including, I hope, my grandsons, and then we'll go to Mary's magnificent house where the fire is burning and a feast awaits; the smoked salmon is the best anywhere.

On Thursday, a gathering with Y friends, the nicest people in the world, people with real jobs - lawyers, financial analysts, civil servants - I'd never have met anywhere else. It was a great get-together at Fran's but small and noisy. Next year, we decided everyone from class should come here for a potluck. It's fun for us to meet each other with our clothes on. A Y joke.

Yesterday, dear friend Nick Rice and his lady love Beth Anne Cole the actress and singer came for dinner. Nick and I appeared in a number of shows together in Vancouver in the seventies. He is still an actor, dashing off to regional playhouses on a regular basis, and working as a supply teacher in T.O. to keep himself afloat. Heroic.
Sent this to Nick today. Never was a truer word said.

Another no on the memoir arrived in the mail yesterday. It was however a very nice, almost regretful note that gave me a bit of comfort. Onward.

Tomorrow, lots going on, but today, completely alone, had lots of options, did none of them, barely left the house despite the blessedly sunny day — decorated my $20 Charley Brown tree that's tied to the wall to keep it upright and wrapped presents, using colour comics and advertising flyers from the newspaper - thank you Greta.

It's the winter solstice and Chanukah. Whatever you celebrate, may it be without stress.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Beth speaking Jan. 2 at the Yiddish Vinkl

The next meeting will take place on 
Thursday January 2nd at 12 Noon
 At Free Times Cafe, 320 College St.

 We invite you to hear 
Beth Kaplan speak about Jacob Gordin, The Jewish Shakespeare. 
Beth Kaplan, MFA in creative writing, is the author of three nonfiction books: Finding The Jewish Shakespeare: The Life and Legacy of Jacob Gordin, the biography of her great-grandfather; All My Loving, a memoir of the sixties; and True to Life, a guide to writing a memoir and the textbook for her courses.
She has taught memoir and personal essay writing at Ryerson University for 25 years and for 12 years at U of T as well, where in 2012 she was given the Excellence in Teaching Award. A former actress, Beth produces So True, a curated reading series for her long-term students and herself twice a year at the Black Swan in Toronto. 
Her website and blog are at bethkaplan.ca.
Beth will speak about her journey of many years in search of her great-grandfather’s extraordinary story: his idealistic early life in Russia, his flight to the Lower East Side, the rapid start of his career in the Yiddish Theatre, his worldwide success, and the tragedy of the last years before his untimely death in 1909. And she will speak about her bond with him - the power of his on-going genetic legacy through family 
members and her own theatrical and literary calling.

Please go to the website do more information yiddishvinkl.com

 Cost:  $23.00. 
Includes buffet lunch (brisket, latkes, blintzes, salads, non alcoholic beverage and dessert); Includes tax, tip, and program.
We are unable to reserve seating. However, it would be appreciated if you RSVP to yiddishvinkl@yahoo.ca so that we can prepare for the appropriate size of the audience.

Please pass this on and keep the first Thursday of the month open.

Spongebob Squarepants

Quick update - the busy season is upon us. It's bitterly cold out there but warming up a bit this weekend, apparently - yesterday, walking to dinner at 6.45 p.m., I wore a down coat under my other winter coat to keep me alive.

Dinner was at former student now dear friend Jason's and his partner Louie, dear men. Louie persuaded me to down a vodka shot, something I've never done, when I arrived, frozen, at their door. And yes, it warmed me up instantly. On to the wine, and much much talk. For the walk home, I was so warmed by friendship and food that I did not feel the cold. A few nights before, another fine dinner, this time with Gretchen; we ate in front of her fireplace. I said, I'll just stay here till May.

The excitement on Tuesday was meeting Anna and her boys for an early dinner and then taking Eli to see Spongebob Squarepants at the Sony Centre. I've never seen the TV show, though of course he had, but had read rave reviews for the musical version. I'm happy to report they were right; it was fantastic, imaginative, funny, with great music by musicians like David Bowie and The Flaming Lips, and an unmistakable anti-Trump message about how when people are frightened, they turn on each other, on those who are different, on science and the media. Cheerful, kind Spongebob saves the day. Truly fun.

And then a sleepover with my older grandson, our bedtime story Alice In Wonderland, a copy given to me by my British grandparents in 1957 when I was 7, the age he is now. Next day he beat me cold at Sorry and later, at the Y, at basketball. How phenomenally lucky I am to have very young people in my life, and very old people too.

Tonight, a social event for the Y runfit class. Always fun to meet each other fully clothed, doesn't happen often. Sunday, two more events. It must be Christmas.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Rubens and "Manon"

I was changing after a class at the Y Friday and said to a friend, "I'm on my way to the AGO to see Rubens - a bunch of corpulent naked women," and she said, "Why go to the AGO? Just look around you!"


Two viewings of great classical art this weekend, invited by friends, as both are things I would almost certainly not have been to on my own. Friday afternoon, the early Rubens exhibition at the AGO with Ruth. Have to say - have never been much of a Rubens fan and am still not. He had a marvellous life as a very successful artist whose second wife was 16-years old, but he's not for me.  Lovely to sit in the elegant members' lounge, though, for a cappucino and dessert.

Ruth's beautiful essay that she read at So True, about her husband Eric's death and her subsequent widowhood after 57 years of marriage, has been accepted by CBC's the Sunday Edition; she's taping next week, so she came over today for a rehearsal. What an inspiration she is.

Yesterday, in the pouring rain, to the Met on film with Eleanor - one of the great treats of our modern age, sitting in a cinema watching opera singers so close-up, you can see their tonsils. It was Manon by Massenet, and we both concluded it's really not a great opera, in fact, even more ridiculous than most, with event after event completely defying belief. BUT the leads were stupendous. Lisette Oropesa, an American with Cuban parents, was made for the role, and her co-star Michael Fabiano was magnificent also. It was very long, four hours with two intermissions, during the first of which El and I are our picnic lunch. If the singing hadn't been so good, I would have left after the second intermission. But the singing was exceptional. And when we did get out, it was still raining.

In between all this, I've almost finished my binge of season three of "The Crown." Except for the slow and rather dull episode about Philip's mid-life crisis triggered by the American moon landing, I'm finding each episode gripping, powerful, beautifully written and produced. Just a stellar piece of art, all round. Who knew Anne was so feisty and tough? We feel sorry for shy hesitant Charles, for his mother who'd love to work with horses and is trapped in a job she doesn't want, for his bully of a father whose own mother was crazy and neglectful. A profound act of empathy, the writing here.

Was just listening to Eleanor's radio show - haunting interviews about Primo Levi, the brilliant Italian writer and survivor of the Holocaust - when there was a huge crash. A picture fell off the north wall of my dining room, the wall adjoining my northern neighbours, and smashed and with it lots of the Fiestaware inherited from Great-aunt Helen. Ah well.
Today's lesson: ask my neighbours to let me know if they're doing something to their south wall. Also, do not get attached to material things. Done.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Knives Out

I am not celebrating the end of the hapless Andrew Scheer. It's much better for our side to have a bumbling retrograde goof than one of the smarter and more dangerous replacements. In the meantime, we mourn for England. "Unbelievably depressing," wrote my friend Penny from Sheffield, "we're a bit of red in a sea of blue. Even Boris Johnson's colleagues don't trust him!"

Yesterday's treat - a movie date with my son, who bought us the tickets and rushed to the Varsity after work. We saw Knives Out, the perfect mother-son film, richly funny with great actors and an unmissable undertone of vicious anti-Trump social satire. A brief chat with a tall young man before he went west and I went east, walking along Bloor St. arm in arm - my arm reaching way up just to loop through his. A glimpse, a sighting of him, and he's off.

The great ongoing treat is finally getting to Season Three of The Crown - just watched the third episode about the ghastly disaster in Aberfan, Wales, which I remember reading about when I was 16. Just about the best hour of film I've seen anywhere - stunning.

Went across town the other day - Ben was sick and Anna had much to do at the school, so I babysat.
Anna's cat Naan under the tree
My daughter is phenomenally organized, despite two small boys in a small apartment. This is the superhero garage.
Her seasonal bins and clothing ones that say "Next season" and "up next." I'm not disorganized, but this wondrous level of meticulous order comes from her dad's side.

Jean-Marc sent this, a shot of my semi-detached house - the third down, with a big car out front - in the late sixties or early seventies, before the stucco was blasted off. Just realized I've lived in this house nearly half my life! Yikes.
That empty lot on the corner was once farmed by the kids of Sprucecourt School using Clydesdale horses from Riverdale Farm. Yes, only 25 years ago or so. Now it's a row of nondescript buildings, of course.

Today, meeting Ruth at the AGO to see the exhibit of early Rubens. I'm glad she asked me to join her; though I make a point of visiting museums in foreign cities, I tend to neglect the ones here, and they're terrific. And it's not too cold and the sun's shining. So - 10 o'clock and all's well. Over and out.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

a tiny bit of gloom

Back to reality: winter darkness, Christmas, responsibility, work. Teaching done till January, so now's the time for writing. I feel I should be doing something about my manuscript, but I don't know what. It went out in July to four or five publishers, and I have heard exactly nothing from any of them. Perhaps I should start again? Send a sharp reminder? Show up naked at their offices and fling pages about in ecstasy?

So new writing has not been forthcoming. Stuck, you might say.

However, I've been reading about writing, which is nearly as good. LOL. Several short sentences about writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg, is a terrific book. And I just got Catching the big fish: Meditation, consciousness, and creativity, by David Lynch, out of the library. All inspiring.

Perhaps it's a failure of confidence. Perhaps I'm feeling that a new generation of writers is taking over and I have no idea what's going on. I just checked Wattpad, a Canadian site for stories, to see what it is, and here's what they say:
From cozy mysteries to LGBTQ+ meet-cutes, technothrillers to cyberpunk fairytales, your story has an audience through Wattpad. Tag your stories. Use genre, sub-genre, descriptive, and trending tags to not only help readers find your story but to also rank in a range of topics.

That's barely English to me. What story does this old white woman want to tell, a vampire meet-cute? I'm feeling a bit lost right now.

However, in response to my last moan about a bad review of my teaching, a former student posted this on my blog, and it's so kind, I'd like to repost it here in the Blowing Own Horn department. I don't know who this is, but I like him or her really a lot.
I can't think of anyone more dynamic or engaged in life than you Beth. You teach 2 university classes, hold biweekly home sessions, write a daily blog all while maintaining a lovely home and tenants. And you entertain two lively grandsons, travel, share meals and special events with your family near and far. You produce storytelling afternoons and dance nights and your local Nativity play every Christmas. And you ride a bicycle 6 or 7 months a year!
Thinking of all you do Beth reminds me of something Fred Astaire once said when he was being praised for his dancing abilities. He said that what he did was nothing compared to Ginger Rogers who matched him step for step, while moving backwards and in high heels. Beth, you are a fabulous writer, grandmother and human being. And as a past student I can say you were a generous, knowledgeable and inspiring teacher

Thank you, whoever you are. It means a lot. I enjoy a bit of self-pity once in a while. A pat on the back, a kiss on the cheek, all it takes to get the spirit moving again. Plus - toothless Bill just arrived to put up the Christmas lights and I got a wonderful gift for Thomas at Doubletake today - a handcrafted canoe paddle for $24. And now it's wine time. More cheerful already!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

New York Day Four

Home. Heaven. A painless return after the shimozzle of the flight in: the 6 train to Grand Central and a short walk to the Newark airport bus. At the airport absurdly early yet again, but had the Sunday NYT to read. Flight on time, sat next to a nice older man who'd been in New Jersey for a wedding and who turned out to be a dual citizen Trump supporter who voted for Doug Ford. "I do not admire Trump's personality," he said, "but I like what he has done for the economy and jobs and immigration." I wanted to scream and did not, but I did let him know, as you can imagine, how I feel about the world's most reprehensible orange blowhole psychopath. We barely had time to touch on Ford. My companion was a surgeon. How extremely self-satisfied and short-sighted smart people can be.

Okay, back to NYC. This is Vija Celmins' work. I loved the way she carefully recreates life with humour and phenomenal care. First, giant things like erasers made out of balsa wood and painted. Then she started to use only pencil and focus on her office. (click to enlarge)
They're huge.
Aren't they alive, these lamps? So funny and human.
And then she got into oceans and deserts - this is all done by pencil. Meticulous. She found nice rocks and recreated them exactly in bronze. Insane. But wonderful.
I went down one flight to their new acquisitions. Agnes Martin makes me laugh. She's from Saskatchewan. How can you tell?
An Ethiopian artist, Elias Sime, uses discarded computer parts and e-waste to make his gorgeous complex panels.
And yes - I did go out again last night to the Met. At 7 on a Saturday night, it's tranquil, overflowing with riches - from ancient Greece to Abstract Expressionism. Wandered in a daze of art love. Three of the million things I saw and admired:
Lewis Carroll took this portrait in 1870 of Alice Liddell, his Alice in Wonderland. She is 18 and doesn't look pleased to be there.
 Shoes, by Van Gogh, 1888. He makes me weep.
One of my favourite artists: Louise Nevelson, who turned scraps into art that looks like shelves and here, like a kind of house. She was born in Ukraine, like all my ancestors on the Jewish side of my family, spoke Yiddish at home, emigrated as a child. I think she is creating homes for herself.

I walked home at 8.30 in the dark and cold, peering into people's windows - lots of Christmas lights, people buying trees on the sidewalk, very pretty. Have to say - everyone I asked directions from or spoke to was kind and friendly. There is a miraculous human scale to this monumental metropolis.

Newark is a shabby old airport. I was put into a special line at security, much shorter than the regular line, I thought because the guy figured I was a classy woman travelling first class, but then I learned: people selected for the special line are children, the military, the handicapped, and those over 75.

Sigh. Oh well. A shorter line was worth it. Almost.

Nothing to eat after security but squishy packaged sandwiches and chocolate bars. Even so, they want to be sure you like them. "How was your dining experience..."! Gotta love those Americans.
What I meant to do but did not: see the J. D. Salinger exhibition at the NY Public Library; have a drink at the Algonquin bar; walk in Central Park. Some things I noted: everyone eats on the street, sitting on walls with platters of food or messy stuff rolled up in foil. Everyone wears sneakers and is fixated on phones, as everywhere; I wonder here if it's sanity, withdrawing from the whirl into your own space. I noted the number of shrieking complaining whining children with irritated parents and felt for both sides. Will the U.S. be filled soon with miserable petulant adults? Mind you - look at their president. I guess it already is.

Oh - and forgot to tell you, at the start of my journey Wednesday, I was up and at 'em early, very organized, set off briskly for Parliament Street to get the bus to the subway - was half way down the street when I realized I was wearing my backpack and carrying my purse but had left my suitcase at home.

I bought almost nothing this trip - just gifts, and for myself, a pair of sunglasses at an extremely reduced price. Usually, there's a pair of shoes or a treat of some kind; this time, nothing. I'm proud of that. Enough. Enough. Enough. At least, until next trip.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

NYC Day Three

5 p.m., lying on Ted's sofa resting my feet, drinking a glass of his great red, and eating artisanal potato chips I bought at the Union Square market yesterday - this is NYC down time. Much needed. In fact, I've done less this trip than I used to on my frazzled stays here, and almost no shopping, but I've accomplished enough. And maybe I'll go out once more tonight, we'll see.

Yesterday, after being overwhelmed by the What's On Today page in the NYT delivered to Ted's door ... (click to enlarge)
I zipped down to Greenwich Village on a cold and sunny morning to explore before lunch with an old friend. Happened on the Union Square market, part of it a green market I'd visited years ago with my uncle to buy veggies and fish and where this time I bought the crisp potato chips that taste like potatoes. There was a Christmas craft market too. I bought a pair of socks for Anna that says "Bitches get shit done." Very her.
 They don't compost in NY - so you can bring your wet waste to the market to compost.
Do you see what I see? Sky. In the Village, you can see the sky.

Sheila and I were good friends in the late seventies, until I left Vancouver in 1982 or 3. We lived for awhile in the same apartment building and affected each other in many ways. Her daughter is about 9 months younger than Anna, and I've always thought Sheila visited me in the hospital, saw the baby, and went home with a purpose. Anyway, we lost touch, so met for the first time in over 3 decades. And - she's just the same, lively, fascinating, fun. An incredible life, working for the UN in Africa and in Pakistan - with Benazir Bhutto - and in other exotic places. Now living in Brooklyn, as is her daughter. We had a great deal of catching up to do. I had two glasses of wine; she never did drink. A marvellous reunion.
But it's a mistake to drink 2 glasses of wine at lunch; I had to go back uptown to nap. Then out again in the cold to see theatre - a play called "The Voice Inside," starring Mary-Louise Parker, about a creative writing teacher and a student. A good play, a bit cryptic, lots of literary language and references, including one making me determined to read the works of James Salter; one critic said it's more like a novel than a play. But gripping nonetheless, in a very good production. And - no small matter - an hour and a half long with no intermission, which meant I was out by 9.30, marching many long windy blocks to the subway home. There was a poem on the subway.

Today, to two of my favourite stores on 3rd Avenue - Maison Kayser for bread and croissants every bit as good as in France, and the Flying Tiger, which we don't have in Canada yet, a store full of craft materials, toys, and kitchenware, beautifully designed and very cheap - I bought stocking stuffers.
All my reading glasses come from here - $5. Slime, a back scrubber, a giant pencil, an hourglass, and so much more.

To Lola's for lunch with her and her daughter Patti who'd come in from New Haven. Lola is 97, now has 24 hour care and can hardly walk, but is still at home and fiercely interested in the world, grey matter all there even if the rest isn't working so well. She told me that in the fifties her husband was concerned their son Stephen would not get into medical school because of my father's strong leftist tendencies - though Dad had lived in Canada since 1950. I love these family tidbits.
Anna, a young friend of Lola's, dropped in to say goodbye; both were professional jewellery makers and met in a class. Anna has just sold her apartment in NY and bought a farm in southern Portugal with a friend, will make it a "glamping" kind of place - and I've already decided to go visit her! A wonderful encounter with a stranger who felt like an instant friend. Plus family and take out Chinese.

Home to dump the stuff then out again - was heading to the Frick when by chance I passed the Met Breuer and remembered there was an artist I wanted to see there, written about in the New Yorker: Vija Celmins. But more about this amazing artist anon. Time to heat up some Manhattan clam chowder from Citarella. Life is good.

I may still go out again to the late Friday night at the main Met - an hour or two more of great art. Or maybe not. Ted says I'm a "chicken Kaplan" for not going to the theatre tonight. And I replied, Yes. Yes I am.

Home, James.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

NYC Day One

This city! So noisy and crowded and frantic and overwhelming, I keep swearing I'll never come again. The wind tears at you, the sirens shriek, the homeless people, the disgusting displays of wealth, consumption, shopping, the exhausted workers keeping this insane place going - why am I here?! I sometimes ask. Get me out!

Well, because, first, there's family. In fact, most of my family, with the exception of my children, is here, since through my mother I have only two cousins left. Here, a few more and memories of many - my grandmother had ten siblings, though she wasn't speaking to many of them, and my grandfather had six. There were a lot of people to visit when we came during my childhood. Now,  I see my father's cousins Ted and Lola. Who incidentally have not spoken in years. But there's also Ted's husband Henry and Lola's daughter Patti and sometimes, for celebratory events, there are others, lots of others.

Plus theatre and museums and more fascinating people per square inch ... but it's still frantic and overwhelming.

The trip here wasn't great. With my usual nervous miscalculation I was at the gate nearly two hours early, but I'd rather that than having to rush. We were sitting on the plane when they told us there was a mechanical problem, we'd have to deplane, another one was on the way. We had to go through the chaos of new boarding passes and milling about waiting, but it was a very Canadian event, hardly any bitching. And we got there, two and a half hours late.

Just in time for the build up to New York's rush hour. I thought La Guardia would be easier than Newark - it used to be - but now they're renovating, and now to get a cab you have to line up and get on a shuttle bus to the cab area. Anyway, again, eventually, I got to 77th and 3rd, not mid-afternoon as I'd planned but at dinnertime, deeply grateful I hadn't missed a connecting flight or an afternoon appointment. Ted came home with a superb bottle of red wine for me - he knows me well - Henry came in from Northport, which is their real home, and we walked a few blocks for a superb Chinese meal. It means so much that Ted adored my dad - "I thought of him as the big brother I never had" - and knew Mum, and I knew his eccentric artistic mother Hazel and lawyer father Leo. Family. Blood.

Today Ted went to work - he's a lawyer in the firm Leo founded, along with his older brother to whom he barely speaks - are you seeing a pattern here? Henry and I went out for a bagel and lox - (click to enlarge)
Fifty-six kinds of cream cheese
dear Henry

and then he went to his volunteer activities and I to MOMA, the brand new building for the Museum of Modern Art. I only found out they'd done a huge renovation from the New Yorker. It's an incredible building, spacious, elegant, even with the crowds there seemed to be lots of room. The collection is vast and they'll change what's on the walls regularly. I didn't go to the modern stuff, but to the fifth floor, 1880-1940 - Impressionists, Bauhaus furniture, photographs, film, prints, a room simply devoted to shapes - glorious. My favourites in all the world - Matisse and Kandinsky - but also a room for folk art, non-professional artists given pride of place, and a great effort to include women artists. One of the best museum experiences anywhere.
Kandinsky - the best. "Picture with an archer."
A close-up of Matisse's pot of pencils or brushes in his red studio.
An amateur artist who did some 800 detailed drawings of household artefacts on looseleaf paper, discovered after her death. Pearl Blauvelt. How wonderful that she and others like her are at MOMA.
Water lilies to sooth the weary soul.

Nearly two hours there, and then, saturated, out into the bitter wind. From the sublime to the ridiculous - to Bloomingdales, to see if I could find a winter coat. Mine, I bought on sale, 25% off, at Bloomie's with my uncle's chargecard 25 years ago. I was amazed to find exactly what I was looking for, a Canadian brand that's light and very warm, and started trying them on - sale 25% off! Another woman was looking and I told her, these are Canadian and really good, so she got interested, found one in size large and decided to buy it. I wanted a large too - the medium was too small. But there wasn't one. They went to look for another in the stock room. None.

When will I learn to shut my mouth? Oh well. My old coat is still warm. Looked around at others but was glad to get out of there.

Then I got on the wrong subway and ended up going west instead of north, got out before ending up way west, started to walk instead, froze, got a cab 12 blocks. Heaven. Bought some soup and cheese at Citarella's and came back to Ted's to rest.

Out again to another feast - of theatre. It's thanks to Ted I came to see Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish; he said it was a superb production that made Henry cry. This time I'd got the subway figured out - Lexington Ave. to Grand Central, transfer to the 7 to Times Square. Emerge into insanity, four trillion people in the dazzle and glare and harsh wind.
The theatre was so far along 42nd Street, it's considered off-Broadway. Oh, my friends, what a treat was in store. I saw Fiddler at Stratford with my friend Brent Carver playing Tevye, thought it was wonderful, and recently saw a documentary about the making of the musical, how difficult it was to produce, how dubious everyone was about its success, and how it has gone on to international renown - not limited to Jews, relevant for everyone.

But seeing it in Yiddish - with English and Russian subtitles - with an enormous mostly Jewish cast - and yet still its universality shone. It's about the devastating difficulties of change, about how hard it is to be a good father. The cast was fabulous, and the music - the music is breathtaking. It meant so much. I started weeping almost as soon as it began, and so did the woman I talked with at the intermission who'd come from Portland, Oregon to see it. The moment when Tevye has to contend for the first time, thanks to his daughters, with the word 'love' in connection with marriage, and he turns shyly to his wife and asks, Do you love me?

More weeping. Very lucky to be there.

And then out, walk along 42nd to the 7, change at Grand Central, Lex north to 77th - leapt onto the train and then asked anxiously, "Is this going uptown?" and several kind New Yorkers assured me it was and laughed about how often they'd gone the wrong way. Home to Ted's - the boys are back in Northport, I have the apartment to myself, had some more soup, wrote to my ex that he has to come and see the show, now writing to you. My legs and feet ache and my eyes are puffy and sore from wind and tears. I will be very happy to go back home. I'm so glad I came.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

heading to Noo Yawk

In a frantic flurry, as always happens before I travel - mind you, only to New York and only for four days. I like many others have sworn not go to a U.S. dominated by the now officially impeachable Trump and his disgusting party. But to me, New York is not the U.S., it's a separate place entirely.

I'm going tomorrow morning, for two main reasons: to visit my father's cousin Lola, who's still living in her apartment at 97, the age my dad would also have been if he'd lived, and to see Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Apparently it's a marvellous production, directed by Joel Grey - the original written by Sholem Aleichem, a contemporary and rival of my great-grandfather. Most big Broadway shows now come to Toronto shortly after NYC, so I want to see things that definitely won't come, like Fiddler in Yiddish. There's a play about a creative writing teacher, if I can get a ticket at TKTS, I'll see that.

Also the new MOMA and dinner tomorrow with Cousin Ted and his husband Henry, and then they go to their big house in Northport, leaving their apartment at 77th and 3rd empty all weekend. A great blessing. Otherwise, I would not be going regularly to the great city of my birth.

But everything always goes wrong just before I leave. Big crisis with downstairs tenants, John came over to fix things which took the morning; then my printer simply decided to stop working and it took half an hour with my tech guy Matt to get it connected again. How could a printer decide at a fraught time to disconnect from my wifi? But it did, all by itself. Now I've printed my boarding pass and all is well. Robin upstairs will keep the plant running, and Sam may come by to watch the cable TV liberated from his mother's grasp. Or not. (His Dark Materials last night, Doc Martin tonight. Love is.)

Dear friends Suzette and Jessica came for dinner Sunday night, and we discussed current television at length. Also our frustration with political correctness, various aches and pains, the generational differences in female pubic hair. What use was feminism, someone asked, if women are now supposed to be as hairless as children?

An upsetting experience: U of T sends assessment questionnaires to its students every term, to evaluate how well the course and its instructor are working. These are anonymous and forwarded to my boss and then to me; it's valuable to find out how students really feel. I'm happy to say my assessments are almost always pretty damn good. This term I thought it was a great class; several have said they're coming back in January. But one assessment came in that devastated me; a student who'd given no indication of being unhappy vented for paragraphs about the huge problems of the class and its teacher, who, it was asserted, is limited and made insensitive by her "white, middle-class" viewpoint. The U of T needs to train its instructors better or else it needs "more dynamic and engaged" professors. And much much more.

I read it over and over, knew immediately who it was, a student, also incidentally white and middle-class, who'd given no indication of distress, and felt as if I'd been kicked in the gut. However. My boss supported me 100%, and it's over. But God - I've had many good reviews, but the review that haunts is - of course - that one. Aren't I dynamic and engaged? I think I am.

Plus much much snow, Christmas looming, life. Waking at 5 a.m. from vivid dreams, including one about a beautiful house in the woods where I'd love to go write but where I knew in the dream I couldn't live because I'd be afraid of such isolation. Not solitude, but isolation - no neighbours, no one to go for help, fear of intruders and big spiders and things breaking down. Yet I can see the place now.

So, feeling a bit strained and drained. But as always, once I'm there, the thrum of the metropolis will sweep me up, and I'll have four exciting days before returning, with enormous relief, to the tiny little town of Toronto and its snowy December.