Tuesday, March 31, 2020

My Brilliant Friend and the new reality

Last night, sheer joy: My Brilliant Friend on HBO. Breathtakingly good, superb Italian actors, detailed period shots of Naples in the fifties and early sixties. In one short scene, the clever, defensive Lila, who has quit school and married a man with money, has bought new textbooks as a gift for her clever friend Elena, who's doing well in school. Elena brings the 3 bags of books home to the small apartment where she lives with her parents, who have very little money, and siblings. Her mother looks at the books in awe, picks one up and smells it, and bursts into sobs. "They're new!" she cries, grabbing our hearts with the depth of her lifelong poverty and despair.

A feast of artistry.

Today I finally realized - this is it, this is going to be life for weeks. At least another month. I've been planning to go to NoFrills, even to the big Loblaws, which sells my greatest necessity, Adam's  peanut butter - I only have half a pot left! But every article is urging people over 70 to remain at home and depend on others. I know, I'm only 69 1/2. But still.

So today, Anna is coming across town with a huge load of groceries she's bought for me. This is a woman looking after her own family, which includes, as you know, two hyperactive boys and various children from other families. But she is going to shop and deliver for her perfectly healthy, active mother who's champing at the bit to get outside.

Insane. Our new reality. And, to boot, today is the bleakest yet - grey and cold. No desire even to go for my customary short slow run to the Riverdale Hill stairs, up and down and home. I'll do the NYT Seven Minute Workout, which is all I can bear right now. If that.

BUT - my house is full of books, seven million of them to be exact. Not to mention what floods in via this little machine. Tons of work to do. I'd like to volunteer to help, somewhere, or to do what others are doing, making useful videos, putting stuff online - Lynn, making up stories for her far-flung grandchildren, filming and sending - what's wrong with me, slug that I am? Well, today I am interviewing a nonfiction writer with a book coming out and will write it up for our CNFC website, so I am doing something useful. A tiny something, but something.

This morning I went through the fashion magazine that arrived free with the Star, put out by the luxury store Holt Renfrew, and if ever there was a tone deaf document, it's this, written as if we're all without a care in the world. Here is one of the fashions, an attractive ensemble I will definitely be wearing this spring:
The puffy shorts, below the knee socks and delightfully shiny mid-brown will perfectly complement my figure and colouring, don't you think?

And here's what wealthy Toronto socialite Suzanne Rogers says on the last page:
As soon as winter starts to subside, my thoughts - and my heart - turn toward London. It has long remained my favourite city to visit, and is more glorious in springtime. Over the years, I've established some essentials: the wonderful Mayfair Suite at the Dorchester, with its impeccable butler service (starts at $2700 a night); lunches at 5 Hertford Street and Loulou's; and a visit to the Wallace Collection at Hertford House... I will be packing a few new wardrobe must-haves. I adore young British designer Richard Quinn, who extends his love of florals this season, including a gorgeously dramatic coat ($1,945.) I'll pair it with boots from Paris Texas (though made in Italy) in my favourite shade of pink ($930, with 3-inch heels.) To finish off, I'll add a delightful floral bag from Dolce and Gabbana ($4,620.) It seems an ideal ensemble for lovely spring days spent rediscovering the magic of Mayfair.

An ideal ensemble indeed, though I think a pair of those lovely shorts would look great with all those flowers, Suzanne. Get the butler to pick you up a pair.

Monday, March 30, 2020

today's excitement

Guess what happened today? A new New Yorker arrived in my mail box! Also, I received a lot of emails, including many links to articles and funny memes and music and grotesque pictures of Trump. My friends know me well. Also IT STOPPED RAINING and I went for a jogette! 15 minutes around the 'hood. And guess what else, there was a big raccoon lumbering around the yard at 4 p.m. He or she must be really hungry to be out foraging so early.

More excitement - the next 20 pages of valuable editorial comments arrived from Sam. Anna went to Costco for her family, her brother, and me; she had to line up to get in, to find - no tp, no paper towels, no chicken breasts, no bleach.

What more breathtaking events can I share with you? Yesterday there was rain till mid-afternoon and then the sun came out hot and bright, and the whole neighourhood, I swear, sprang outside for a walk. The air smelled delicious - warm and wet and springy, and I did a bit of pruning when I got home, so good to work in the garden. My friends Curtis and David arrived safely back from Mexico, straight into quarantine. I made a stir fry while listening to the fascinating, funny Masha Gessen on Eleanor Wachtel's Writers and Company - highly recommended. And then I actually did the dishes! Had a long talk with both my children. 60 Minutes interviewed Brené Brown, who's an interesting woman, and then, heaven, the new season of Call the Midwife began, one of the best shows ever that without fail makes me cry every single time. I stayed up till 11 to watch John Oliver, broadcasting from his house, as full of good sense and grit and humour as anyone on earth.

So life is full of thrills and pleasure. Yes, today was bleak the whole @#$# day, a pewter sky and drizzle, but it wasn't cold. My daffodils and croci are almost ready to burst open. And I have a roof and a kitchen and a family, out there somewhere, staying strong. What more do we need? Well, a hug from someone, the touch of a hand, would be nice. Maybe in June. July?

As Ken texted today, "How much I took for granted!" I'm sure we can all say the same.

Here are yesterday's shots:
I always walk in the Necropolis, amongst the old stones, which these days are filled with a chartreuse pollen that makes the usually hard to read wording stand out.
This tranquil spot is where we scattered my parents' ashes and later Uncle Edgar's as well. I visit them regularly and keep them up to date.
The entry to the Necropolis, with a notice about Covid that's on fences and doors everywhere.
People are posting charming, encouraging pictures and sayings on lampposts and in windows. My neighbour's kids have made a big colourful sign: WE CAN DO THIS! And we can.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

the wise old woman

It occurred to me that people pay a lot of money to find the kind of quiet isolation we're getting now. I paid, twice, to fly to the Banff Centre to sit alone in a cabin in the woods to finish the Jewish Shakespeare book. People pay to go on yoga retreats and not speak for a week. Now we have all that quiet solitude for free! Hooray!

Here's my daytimer usually, and my daytimer next week. Hoping for line dancing at 11 on Monday. My sole destination.

I don't have any idea what happened the night before last; my body was electrically charged, as if I'd drunk two cups of coffee before bed, which I most assuredly did not. Anxiety? Perhaps. I was just reading in the NYT about the work of an Australian doctor called Claire Weekes, who specialized in anxiety disorders. She has some interesting techniques. If your body starts to be electrically charged, check her out.

I was up early today and was going to go to the big Loblaws, their early opening for the elderly, to get supplies. But it was pouring. When I told Anna my plan, she shouted at me via text: Do NOT grocery shop. She's going to do a run to Costco next week and will pick me up stuff. I'd just sent her an article about how we can shop and receive packages as long as we wash our hands a lot.
But when I imagined being in the ER and a doctor looking at my chart and saying, "69 1/2... To the trash heap with the old bag!" I decided to stay in.

People are charging through Netflix series. I don't know what's wrong with me; somehow the day vanishes without Netflix, though I do watch a bit of what's called 'destination television'. Because I'm old, the kind of old that will get me denied the ventilator. The kind of old, however, that will keep me calm during this pandemic. And now, time to do some exercise with the internet.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

a frightening wake-up call

Last night, a wake-up call, both literal and metaphoric: after my last perky post here, after a bit of TV - Steve Paikin interviewing fascinating experts on the future of our world after this crisis passes - and reading, I went to bed at 11.15 and realized I felt strange, wide awake, my body tingling and speedy, no possibility of sleep. And then - OMG, my throat felt sore. No, not possible. Fear. Lay for ages worrying, finally got up to make a hot drink, which I've heard we should take because it washes the virus from the throat to the stomach; chewed a zinc table though it's not the chewable kind and tasted vile, and went back to bed. They're saying that those over 70 are most at risk; I'm 69 1/2. Speedy, tingling, sore throat.

My first concern was that if I had the virus, I might have infected my friend Mary and her husband Malcolm, whom I'd visited that afternoon. Yes, we sat six feet apart outside, but I took them some of the cake John had brought by the house that afternoon along with a bag of birdseed. I'd washed my hands with soap before cutting the cake, but still...

And then I thought about death. Yes, I know, a big jump from a tingly body at midnight to death, but that's the world we're living in now. I was glad I have a will and thought I'll get it out of the file drawer so it can be easily found, in case. I thought about the things I'm proudest of: Anna and Sam and Anna's sons, my dearest friends - I made a list, thought of each one, the people I turn to and would turn to for advice, help, companionship in a crisis - the house and garden, my many hundreds of students, and - yes - my slender output of books and essays. I thought, even if I'm sick, I will at least finish the memoir and get it out. What about the books I've been meaning to write, the stories I want to tell but have not yet because of distraction and busyness, and now would never be able to?

But I hoped I would not die, that should this actually be the murderous virus invading my body, my relative fitness and positivity would work in my favour.

I sat up and read more of Parisian Lives by Deirdre Bair, that I'm enjoying immensely. And then, at 2.30 a.m., I took a sleeping pill, finally fell asleep, woke at 11.

I think I'll live - at least a few more years. No cough this morning, no sore throat, not feeling 100% but not actually sick. But yes, a wake up call. I will not be cavalier about this bug any more. I will take isolation seriously. Anna is going to rent a car for a few days and offered to buy me groceries, and I said heavens no, I'm fine, I can go to NoFrills. I was planning to ride my bike to the market this morning. No. There's lots in the freezer, and I will ask my daughter to get fresh stuff next week and leave it on the front steps. Line dancing will start again next week and if I'm feeling better I will go but will stand rigorously far from the others.

As everyone is now realizing, this is the new normal and may be for months to come. People have compared this to 9/11, but it's completely different because it's affecting every person on earth. Most are struggling to survive financial and personal disaster; I have the luxury, the incredible gift of relative security to use this event to contemplate what I hope to achieve in whatever time I have left.

This is what John brought yesterday: a freshly-baked cake, a jar of his wife Sylvie's pineapple jam with "May you find hope and joy this Easter season" printed on top, a handmade card with images of Paris, and an Eiffel Tower keychain made by his daughter Emilie. Also in the shot, a spring bouquet of rubber gloves I found under the sink, and my mother's battered
measuring cup, unearthed when looking for the gloves, that brings back countless times watching her bake. Treasure. Thank you.

Friday, March 27, 2020

finding family

No line dancing today, but we will start it up again Monday, after learning that you're allowed to use playground spaces but not the equipment - maintaining distance, of course. The sun was heaven today; I sat outside in a t-shirt for awhile and was hot. Talked at length to various friends including Judy in Vancouver. Went to neighbour Mary's for a distanced chat in her garden, and sat on my second floor deck having aperitif with Monique below, on her deck. We'll get through. 

A friend who's reading the manuscript emailed: I've got 3 chapters to go to finish your wonderful memoir! I'm absolutely loving it! I've taken a few tiny notes... But basically - it's soooo good!!

While life as we knew it is screeching to a halt, that is good to hear. 

Life: who knows what curveballs will come hurtling through your window? Hmm, where did that lame metaphor come from?

Anyway, I was sitting here minding my own business, clicking and scrolling, as usual, when Geni came up in my inbox, a genealogy site relatives on Dad's side signed me up for. Messages come through regularly about distant cousins I've never met in distant American cities celebrating anniversaries of various kinds. Today, what came up was my great-grandfather Jacob Gordin, about whom, because of researching my book, I thought I knew almost everything. On the site is an extremely long post I've never seen before, with bits and pieces of information I didn't know, including the fact that his mother's name was Ida. We know his father's name was Michael because HIS name was Jacob Mikhailovich - son of Michael. But in all these years, I have never known his mother's name and none of the relatives I interviewed knew either.

I checked more closely and found the post was edited by someone called Eilat Gordin Levitan. So I wrote to her, to ask how she came by this information. Checking the site again, I learned that she is the wife of Dr. Daniel Levitan. A month ago or so - in that previous lifetime we all vaguely remember - I watched Dr. Levitan interviewed on Steve Paikin's TVO show and was so impressed I went out immediately and bought his book about aging successfully. He's an engaging, intense, attractive man; in fact, he reminded me a bit of my dad. And now I find out - he's a close relative of mine! Isn't that amazing? I wonder if Eilat will write back. Maybe one day I can go visit. 

Also, I did write to the distant relative in South Carolina tracked down by the young researcher in London, whom I will visit on my next trip to England. Fascinating!

Well, okay, not that close.

Dr. Daniel Levitan is your second cousin once removed's wife's great niece's ex-husband's great uncle's wife's great nephew.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

the arts to the rescue!

The floodgates have opened - it's overwhelming. Museums, theatres, film series, concerts, poetry readings, talks pouring online - we could spend the next six years doing nothing but sitting in our houses digesting it all. The National Theatre will broadcast free plays, including The Servant of Two Masters, the show that made James Corden a star, which I saw in London just after he left. It was hilarious without him, I can only imagine how funny with his rare gift. Thursday April 2.



Once more, the arts step up to save the day. How proud I am to be part of this coterie of lunatics who barely make a living and yet make such a difference.

Today's thrill, besides a CNFC board meeting via Zoom - love you all! - a researcher has been looking into my great-grandfather Jacob Gordin's life and just wrote that he tracked down his sister Masha in Russia and found a son who emigrated to the U.S. His grandson is still there. A distant relative in South Carolina. Should I get in touch?

Another grey, chilly day. No exercise yet, at all - must go out for a walk. Anna's friend Mitsuko came to help disinfect surfaces and door handles. I triumphantly unearthed a big bottle of bleach from the basement, and we used that, until I read online that bleach has a best before date. Who knew? This bottle is at least ten years old, so - useless. Most of my cleaning products are gentle and organic - useless. We started again. The window man came, the contract is signed, there will be two new windows by June.

Anna has finished her will. It rips my heart out.

I wrote to a friend who'd complained about coughing two weeks ago and then vanished. Was very concerned, but she's okay, just holed up. Suddenly, our concern for our friends and loved ones is more acute than normal.

Someone wrote on a FB Beatles site that there are 162 'nahs' in Hey Jude. You needed to know that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

distancing day 463

The Canucks are getting tough now, weeks after many other countries have put in place necessary draconian laws: mandatory 14-day quarantine when you come back from somewhere or fines or arrest, and all playgrounds in Toronto closed. This might mean the end of our small local pleasure - today, in the bright sun with a bunch of women six feet apart, figuring out where to put our feet in line dancing. Such fun. Perhaps gone as of now, though we'll see. We're not using the equipment, just there, and careful. Surely they're not going to arrest a group of local (older) women line dancing. But who knows.

It's like a squeeze around the neck, getting steadily tighter, the list of things vanishing from our lives, like hugs and city amenities. Lynn wrote that Mauritius, where one of her daughters lives, suddenly closed all grocery stores. Anna wrote today that we should all have a good supply of Tylenol - not Advil - and cough medicine in case we, like Prince Charles, get it. So I went straight to the drugstore, where there was still some Tylenol left, though supplies were low. Lots of cough medicine however. Bought hand cream for my well-washed hands and Lindt chocolate bars, because.

Tomorrow, a very busy day: at 11 Judy's cardio session on the playground, I hope, then at 1 Anna's friend, a single mother who needs work, comes to help me scrub surfaces; at 1.30 Jemal the window guy comes to check out the two windows that need to be replaced - might as well order them now since they take months to arrive - and at 4, a CNFC board meeting on Zoom. At 7, a choral fest online, if I feel like joining. And in between, as this funny guy says on Twitter,

Shawn Micallef
Well I have completed my morning's clicking and scrolling. Time for lunch and then I will get started on the afternoon's clicking and scrolling.


Read a review in the NYT of a book about the evil power of FB. Resolved to be even more vigilant in controlling the time I spend clicking and scrolling. It's addictive - and Zuckerberg knows that.

It was a lovely day and is going to get warmer this week, a blessing - daffodils coming up in the garden. Thomas says he's going to start planting soon. Planting - doesn't that sound normal and good?
Oh, and how can I forget the very welcome news I got today from the University of Syracuse Press, publisher of the Jewish Shakespeare book - that a royalty of $59 will be deposited in my US account. That's $59 U.S.! But - where can I go nuts with this vast influx of cash, except No Frills?

Here's the other music session from Ben Zander. Hope you enjoyed yesterday's. Sending you love.
Fauré Elegy

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

"I have it yet about my heart..."

I've been up since 7.30 a.m., now it's 8.30 p.m. and another day in isolation has somehow passed. Only not that isolated. But what filled those hours? I hardly know.

Judy Steed offered to teach a cardio class in the Sprucecourt playground on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, the days Gina is not leading us in line dancing. So 3 of us met there today and improvised a short workout, lunges, stretches, marching around the running track. Once again a toddler stood open-mouthed as the biddies did their thing. But we were together, laughing and moving.

Then Monique suggested a walk, so we meandered about the 'hood a few feet apart, jabbering in French, and later she came for l'aperitif on my deck, bringing her own wine and sitting six feet away on the other side of my table.

Had a nap b/c of waking so early. Talked to various friends and family, including hearing from Kevin Ball, a family friend from Halifax in the 50's who was featured twice in the Star and on As It Happens because he and his wife were stuck for awhile in Spain, now safely home quarantined in Nova Scotia. Received more edits from friend Sam - she is working 20 pages at a time, reading so carefully, a real treat, but at the end of each email I'm anxious to read what she'll say about the next bit. I listened obsessively to the radio and trolled FB, Twitter, the NYTimes.

Anna is writing her will. Practical and wise, but just thinking about it hurts.

So rightwing Americans have decided that grandparents should sacrifice their lives for the economy, have they? A stark example of foul Republican logic. But we fight back: #WontDieForWallStreet.

I'm determined tomorrow to get it together, stop wallowing in news, get stuff done. God knows, there are a million things that need doing. And knowing what lunacy is emerging from down below doesn't help me get through the day. So - as our Prime Minister said yesterday - That's Enough!

These grey days, I've not been photographing. But my friend Stella asked on FB, What's the oldest thing in your house? Send a picture. I was going to send a selfie, but someone else had that idea, so I sent this sampler, made by my British great-great grandmother Eliza Branson in 1846. One of my treasures. Hope you can read the poem.

Today's joy: a friend from high school, Louise, a cellist from Ottawa, sent two master class videos from a musician and teacher called Ben Zander. The young musicians are marvellous, and then Zander takes them in hand and turns them into something sublime, and delivers life lessons while he does so. For me, a lesson not only in music theory and expression but in teaching skills. I'll send one today and the other tmw. They both - what a surprise - made me cry.  Thank you, Louise.
Bach 1st prelude

Monday, March 23, 2020

music and spaghetti - life is good

Grey and rainy today; no line dancing. Music was needed. I listened to Jacqueline du Pré play the Dvorak cello concerto and wept, for the glory of the music and of that frail, lovely young woman playing with such power and depth, surrounded by an orchestra entirely of men. To know that only a few years later her incandescent talent would be felled by multiple sclerosis - it's one of the cruelest fates I know; after those zillion hours of practicing and entrancing the world with her skill and talent, her body shut her down.

On the same page is Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, another exquisite piece of music.

And Robbie Robertson somehow brought together a world of musicians, including Ringo, to play The Weight.

I've spent all day sitting in my kitchen or my office, listening to music, as you can see. More edits from my friend Sam, but mostly emailing, reading online, trying to learn what is going on out there. Where does the day go? Talking to no one except a few words from my tenants downstairs and up; Robin upstairs has to work from home so has turned the spare room into his office. So now he walks downstairs to go to work.

People are emailing wonderful links or posting them on FB. Our Prime Minister is getting stern with us; today he said, "That's enough!" to people still meeting in groups, in the same tone I used to say it to my kids and Anna says it now.

Tonight I am looking forward to the next instalment of My Brilliant Friend.

My contribution to your wellbeing, besides all that music: this wonderful NYT recipe. Made it for dinner, with a salad - easy and delicious. Highly recommended.
Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and kale
1 pound spaghetti
1 pound cherry tomatoes, halved (about 2 pints)
2 lemons, zested
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 bunch kale or spinach, washed and chopped
Parmesan for serving

1.     Bring just over a quart of water to a boil. Meanwhile place spaghetti, tomatoes, lemon zest, oil and salt in a large, dry, shallow pan. (The pan should be large enough that the dry spaghetti can lie flat.) [I broke the ends off to make it fit.]
2.     Carefully add the boiling water to the pan with the spaghetti. Cover pan and bring up to a boil. Remove lid and simmer for about 6 minutes, using tongs to move the spaghetti around now and then so it doesn’t stick. Add kale or spinach and continue cooking until remaining liquid has reduced to a sauce and the pasta is cooked through. Taste, season with salt and pepper, and top with Parmesan. 

While you make this, listen to the Pergolesi. Weep salty tears into the pot. Enjoy. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

All Covid all the time around here

What did we used to talk and read about, do you have any idea? There were other crises, remember - the Indigenous blockade, pipelines, refugees in Greece and Turkey, war in Syria, the gilets jaunes protests in France - what is happening, has all that shut down too? Just pandemic pandemonium. Thank God for the CBC - those steady familiar voices talking us through. Thank God for Trudeau and his sensible, calm cabinet.

Yesterday was rough because my son came to visit. He's a big guy with lots of friends, and though he assured me he's washing his hands religiously, his idea of sanitation and mine are different. He needed to get out of his small apartment for a bit, and I was very happy to see him, but also not. He's my son, my blood, and I was a bit ... frightened. I'm not sure I want to see my grandsons. This is appalling.

Sam did wash his hands, but Chris FaceTimed us while he was here, and my son put his arm around my shoulders while we talked to Chris. I shuddered. My son is a hugger, a toucher. But now, he's learning that has to stop.

Everything has to stop. How frightening it is, how vulnerable we feel. We are at war with an unseen enemy that could be lurking anywhere, on anyone. It's a horror movie. I know, most people who get it recover. But none of us wants to be a statistic.

Sam watched TV; I sat in the kitchen watching the first 2 episodes of BBC's recent adaptation of Agatha Christie's And then there were none on my computer. So good! What skill she had. After Sam left, I went around washing what he'd touched, but of course did not get everything. How obsessive is this? And yet - it's what we have to do. I have other friends who are simply not going anywhere or seeing anyone. But I'd go insane with no socializing at all, and going insane is not good either.

Heard from friend Carol in Ecuador - the same, everyone in masks, distancing, isolation, concern. Again, today, I saw a man walking by bent double under his load of toilet paper. The absurdity of it. But what the hell.

It was sunny but cold again today. Come on, we want to say to the weather gods, give us a break here. But I did my jogette anyway, ran into Ruth with her sons, then Monique next door, who earlier had entertained her nephew; she brought him a chair so he could sit in the parking lot while she sat on her deck, and they talked through her fence.

A brief Zoom meeting with my social media assistant Sophie today. But my head is just not there. Though friend and student Sam has been sending me her invaluable comments on my manuscript, what she likes and what she doesn't. So I'll get to work soon, when I stop listening to CBC and checking social media and washing my hands.

Tonight I'll watch 60 Minutes which will be about - let me guess. Then a panoply of choices. Bruce, who FaceTimed today, says the Met in NYC is showing free operas every night; he has watched six - Eugene Onegin tonight. Antoinette wrote from Edmonton that the Berlin Philharmonic is airing free concerts. There's so much marvellous stuff online, humorous too, beautiful little films, uplifting articles and commentary.

Today would have been my first full day in Paris, walking around with Lynn, finding a restaurant for a superb lunch, popping into a shop or two, wandering by Notre Dame to see how she's doing. But I'm in my kitchen instead and overjoyed to be so.

We'll get through, friends. But it'll be quite the ride.

If you start feeling sorry for yourself, give this doc that aired this morning on the Sunday Edition a listen and be inspired by a great unsung hero. Just try to imagine what she's doing through - it's almost impossible.
All in the family: Justine Kennedy is a very busy young Indigenous woman. At 23 years old, she is the eldest of 14 children. She's married, and a full-time university student. And now she is raising her seven young brothers — all under the age of 10. Fiercely protective of her siblings, Justine Kennedy is hellbent on keeping the boys together and out of the foster care system — the system in which her sisters grew up. Alisa Siegel's documentary is called "What's One More?”

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Day six


Cold but wonderful bright sun. Walked the 'hood with Ruth and her son's little beagle. Bought 4 bottles of wine. Got some more edits from one of my readers. Sat in the sun in my office reading them, plus FB, plus any news. Any news - what's new? What's happening out there? Long talk with Anna, who's fine. The boys are fine. I'm fine. Ruth is fine. The beagle is fine. There were snowdrops and croci on our walk. Spring will come.

Life is strange.

FB is a wonderful - my friends are out there. News too.

Had a fascinating email exchange with my British actress friend Harriet, reminiscing about our time in theatre school. Went for a short jogette in the cold sun, to get the body moving. Ate meals. Drank wine. Sam was going stir-crazy in his apartment and came over here; I hope he does not have germs. I watched a terrific Agatha Christie movie on my computer while he watched TV in the living room.

Happy birthday, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Day Five

This morning was blissfully mild and sunny. Line dancing was great fun, as always - Gina is the most upbeat person ever - until a sudden rainstorm sent us running home. I ventured to No Frills for groceries; there was line outside, only a few people allowed in at once. Some empty shelves, but plenty there - one woman with a cart loaded with, yes, toilet paper. Saw a cartoon on FB today: two dinosaurs looking up in horror at a large round object hurtling their way. One says, "It's an asteroid!" The other says, "Quick! Let's buy toilet paper!"

We're all just getting through here, so if massive quantities of toilet paper bring you comfort, go for it.

All kinds of funny and moving stuff being created and distributed online - it's marvellous. My U of T class is going to reassemble into an on-going writer's group. Bill wrote, in the group email, While we will be free of the tyranny of Beth poking at every last blemish, the best tribute we can pay her is to try to exert this tyranny on ourselves. Thank you Beth, and next time you go through customs you can say, like Oscar Wilde: ‘I have nothing to declare but my genius’.


The trampoline was good, I gather from the FaceTime this morning - much bouncing. When the rain came, Anna took the big box the trampoline came in and turned it into a construction site for Ben.
Many many emails and texts, plus the Star, the online newspapers, FB, Twitter, Instagram, and then back again. What's happening now? The latest Trump outrage, insulting a reporter, beyond belief. Lock him up! My local city rep, Kristyn Wong-Tam, sends out a newsletter every day, updating us.

I sent the manuscript to some of my home students, and one has been sending me her comments. Hard, sometimes, but vital. Being read is vital. Thank you.

Friend Lani sent a bit of money to my kids to help them through a hard time. What a kind, thoughtful thing to do. Thank you!

Since it was so mild, I invited several neighbours to come sit on my deck for a drink. Ruth came, though by the time she arrived it was cold again. So we sat in coats, six feet apart on the deck, drinking wine and talking of nothing else.

May have drunk a tiny bit too much wine.

Late this aft, Uncle Sam took the boys to the beach.
Tomorrow is Johann Sebastian Bach's birthday. That's all I've got.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Covid homestay Day Four

It's hard to believe that only a few days ago, Ruth and I had dinner together, and a few days before that, I was out and about to movies, the ballet, the theatre. The speed with which our world is shrinking and everything has shut down is breathtaking. And it's still not extreme here in comparison with France, where Lynn writes that you are forbidden to go out at all except for food shopping or care of the elderly, only alone - not even with a spouse, not more than 2 k from your home, and with a downloaded note of authorization from the government. If caught without the note you pay a large fine - a particularly French detail.

Have to say that I think our government is doing a stellar job of making us feel informed and cared for. Trudeau seems to be doing a press conference every day, answering hard questions, sometimes with vague answers but he's there, he says money will be flowing to those in need. I hope our government's actions are appreciated. Especially in contrast with - need I say more?

I went for an evening walk and saw clumps of dog walkers chatting away, not taking social isolation seriously. But the streets were strangely still, except for more joggers and walkers than usual. On the way out I reached in to tidy the books in my Little Free Library and then realized - I TOUCHED STRANGE BOOKS. Stranger danger! Pulled out my hand sanitizer. Terror lurks.

But despite our isolation, thanks to our devices we are not isolated. I taught the last U of T class via Zoom today, emailed friends from around the world, FaceTimed with Anna and the boys, who were waiting impatiently for Thomas to set up the new trampoline - she doesn't waste time, my daughter - and did a few minutes of an online exercise class produced by the Y before finding it too absurd and dull. Now watching Steve Paikin's show about - what else - how to keep safe.

As a friend of Anna's wrote on FB, one day when our children or grandchildren are listening to their own kids complain about some deprivation, they'll talk about this time when they had to do without so much for weeks, possibly months. "This is their 'walked 2 miles in the snow to school' moment," she wrote, and it's true. It's also a kind of 9/11, in that it's something that touches the whole world and that none of us will ever forget. Though unlike 9/11, this disaster directly affects nearly everyone.

Now work is over for the term, and possibly for NEXT term, who knows? The calendar is bare. Every single thing is cancelled except Gina's miraculous line dancing.

An interesting time. Steve just speaking with a pain doctor who reports they might have discovered a vaccine in Marseilles. Fingers crossed. Otherwise - Tylenol.

Funny - just got this from Air Canada, a reminder that I was due to leave tomorrow evening for Paris.
I guess someone there isn't paying attention to the news.

And then, there's this, to cheer us up:

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Pandemic, Day Three

This morning, 20 women showed up at the Sprucecourt playground for Gina's coronavirus line-dancing class. A few local kids joined in, at first making fun of us and then trying to follow. It's hard! At the end I suggested we all bring a tooney each time to pay our leader for her efforts, but she absolutely refused.

So, except in inclement weather, we'll be line-dancing in the playground every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the foreseeable future, keeping a strict six feet apart.

And that's it for today's schedule. All this time to work, to read, or to tidy - and all I want to do is go online and find out what's happening on the planet. Just watched a pianist play on his apartment balcony in Barcelona, joined by a sax player in another building, the concert applauded by all the surrounding apartments. Human beings, coping.

My daughter is a coper, yes, but she is a ferociously social animal, has been since birth, never happier than when surrounded by tons of people. This is brutal for her - not just dealing with her energetic boys and other kids, but not being able to invite people over, as she does all the time, or go visiting herself. She started a thread on FB - her lament echoed by all her friends with young children, all going nuts. I wrote that when they look back on this, they'll feel like my parents did remembering the war - that it proved how strong and resilient they were. But cold comfort in the middle of a crisis. I can't imagine what I'd be doing if I had young kids with nowhere to go, still cold out though thank God not raining or snowing, and the possibility of infection everywhere. A nightmare.

I've offered to buy a trampoline for the kids, a birthday present for Eli in advance. Something to absorb some of that phenomenal boy-child energy. Waiting to hear if they think it's a good idea.

Otherwise - silence. I hope we all find out how strong and resilient we are. Because this is definitely a kind of war.

PS. Now this makes me happy - a two-hour long McCartney concert with interview footage. Woo hoo! Singalong!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

note from the trenches

Student Marcie, who lives in Italy part time but happily is not there now, just sent this - wise words from Italians. What pleasure to listen to the flow of that beautiful language.

Last night, a huge treat, in Italian - the next season of My Brilliant Friend began on HBO, one of the best series ever. Superb.

Yesterday's line dancing class was a triumph. Gina is a twig, a lithe grandmother who looks seventeen. Her energy, humour, and great music kept us going through the cold wind. A toddler came from the playground nearby to stand staring at us in disbelief.
Portrait of courage or lunacy: Frozen Canadians, dancing.

I invited two friends over afterwards; one of them is going through a serious depression, to the point that we're very worried about her. So - tea and a long urgent talk about medication. Of course, this is not a good time to need a health care professional for any other reason than the virus.

Later, a CNFC board meeting via Zoom and a decision to cancel our conference and reschedule - not in the fall, as I'd thought, but next year at the same time and place. What a relief. We have a year to re-program.

And then, the last Ryerson class, also via Zoom - nine students on my screen, discussing each other's work. They've told their most important stories, learned some craft and technique, and now know each other very well. I hope they continue to meet.

Sam is off work for at least two weeks, but luckily he has savings. Luckily I have savings and tenants and can work virtually, and Anna is used to living on almost nothing and has more childcare work than she can handle. What this means for countless people who live on the edge = disaster. I hope the money the government promised will get to them asap. In the meantime, my daughter, in addition to looking after many children, made a vat of green curry soup yesterday and offered it online to anyone not too far away who needed food. So later she went out delivering soup. She's an atheist who lives the ideals of Christian charity. Don't tell her I said so, though.

Here's what the rest of the week holds: today a Skype editing session with a student, and then a walk with Ruth and her dog. Tomorrow, another line-dancing class. Thursday, the last U of T class via Zoom. Friday was supposed to be a book club meeting about Middlemarch, cancelled. It's the day I was due to leave for Paris. Saturday is Bach's birthday. In my daytimer - nothing, absolutely nothing.

But I'm used to that. I work from home; we self-employed writers are used to filling our solitary days. I am drowning in solo things to do - writing work, reading, endless reading, organizing and sorting, cleaning and tidying, cooking, piano practice, the garden, much more. All that matters is the focus to get it all done.

Focus. Aye, there's the rub.

Ciao, bella!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Pandemic Week, Day One

Monday of Pandemic Week: I'll be teaching the Ryerson class tonight, some 12 to 15 people, via Zoom. That will be interesting. They've been emailing their pieces and we'll discuss virtually; will do the same with the U of T class Thursday. I can teach wearing a respectable top and pyjama bottoms.

At 11 today, a real treat - my neighbour and friend Gina, who works at the Y which is now shut down - yes, hear Beth howl to the moon - wrote to say she is bringing her boombox to the Sprucecourt school grounds today at 11 and will teach a line dancing class. We can stay as far apart as we want, but we'll move. Hooray!

With all this crisis, the absurdities of hoarding and toilet paper shortages, human nature rises to the challenge; people are talking, open, laughing, helping. Jason wrote that he and his truck would be happy to deliver anything I need. We are going to take care of each other and get through. Those cheerful Italians, singing and exercising on their balconies!

For me, I figure that if I'm going to get it, I have it now, after a weekend with my grandsons, who touch everything in sight. I did my best to get them to wash their hands and to keep my own clean or to wear gloves. Just not possible sometimes. While they were here, Bruce sent an advisory for seniors issued by the NYTimes, including "Visits with grandchildren are not advisable." Too late. Anna will be on the front lines from today for the foreseeable future; she is babysitting a family of three this week and after that has offered to take the kids of two single mothers who have to go to work. So she'll have eight or nine children from 18 months to 7. With every resource in the city closed, except playgrounds. So there will be a lot of time at the beach by the lake and at playgrounds. What if it rains? She will cope.

But I wanted to give her a day off beforehand, so the boys were here overnight. Nearly killed me. "Glamma, you're it!"; they wanted to play tag, as we went from playground to playground. In desperation, I accosted a mother at one and got the names of her babysitters for next time. They're too much for me to handle alone, even just for 24 hours - nonstop relentless energy. I need back up.

We watched most of Lego Movie 2, which managed to have lots of action for them but also a complex existential plot with very funny bits for me - a rest break for us all. But I was happy to hand them back to Anna yesterday afternoon, her apartment spotless, her freezer jammed.

My fridge also is now full; I went with Gretchen to the market on Saturday morning and loaded up with veg, nuts, bread, coffee beans. The lineup at the Mennonite butchers was insanely long so I gave up, went to Mark's, also very busy. We're all planning for the apocalypse, in case we can't get out; I will be cooking a lot. Sam is preparing for his bar to shut down, though it has not yet. Tenant Robin will be working from home. My hairdresser Ingrid has cancelled this week's appointments including mine; my ex's theatre in Washington is closed. This city is closed. None of us has experienced anything like this; SARS was scary but over there, at a distance. This is everywhere.

Thank God for the internet, and books. Luckily I'd just bought the excellent Parisian Lives by Deirdre Bair, about how she wrote the biographies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir. So I'm in Paris now, in a way, with 400 books waiting, not to mention what's on the other side of this little screen. And the good news is: they say his appalling handling of this means the end of the orange blowhole. It took that level of criminal incompetence for America to wake up.

In the midst of all this, I got word from her daughter Patti that my father's cousin Lola died yesterday, at 98, in her own home. When we spoke last month, she was angry, ready to go, so it was time. But still, it makes me sad - she is almost the last of that generation. A big empty space on my next visit to New York.

Okay, off into this strangely quiet isolated day. Be safe, dear readers. Be well. Be well. Be well.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Meeting the Beatles in India - and a certain virus

The happy news first - friend Ruth and I went the other day to a free presentation of a wonderful documentary, Meeting the Beatles in India, by Paul Saltzman. It's a great story - in 1968, young Paul left Montreal on a spiritual quest that ended up in Rishikesh, where the Maharishi was training the Beatles in meditation. Saltzman became friends with them for a week, took some of the most beautiful pictures of that time, and heard a few of the White Album songs as they were being written. For the film, he goes to Hawaii to interview the actual Bungalow Bill, who shot a tiger while at the ashram with his mother and was condemned by John first in person and then in song. ("I haven't owned a gun since," he says. "I'm a conservationist.")
Hey, Bungalow Bill
What did you kill
Bungalow Bill?
He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun
In case of accidents he always took his mom
He's the all American bullet-headed saxon mother's son.
But the doc isn't just about the fab four, it's about meditation itself, what the practice has meant to Saltzman and to filmmaker David Lynch, who has a foundation devoted to furthering the word, and others who were interviewed. So the film is both about the Beatles, their music and joyful humour - "It was obvious they were brothers," Paul says - and about the powerful spiritual exercise of sitting still and going deep.

Loved it.

And now, for the reality of a global pandemic. Wow - this Covid-19 crisis gives a tiny hint of what the declaration of war must have been like for my young mother in England in 1939 - suddenly, in a moment, everything changes, there's panic and uncertainty. It's incredible how fast things are moving here and how obsessed everyone is, talking of nothing else. No Frills was crazy today, people buying like mad in case they're quarantined; I figure if it happens to me, it'll give me a chance to explore the freezer of my fridge, where some stuff is at least a few years old... A friend at the grocery store told me he watched two men fighting over a chicken.

The last classes of term next week are cancelled at both U of T and Ry, but we immediately arranged for online classes, so students don't miss out. I told them I might enjoy a tiny glass of wine while we work over Zoom. The grandkids will be out of school for at least 3 weeks, so for that alone, I'm glad I'll be around; Anna babysits for a working mother, so will have 3 extra children including a tiny 18-month old plus her own, and most activities shut down in the city including sports classes for kids. I may be able to help. The boys are coming for a sleepover tomorrow to give her a break, though she did warn me they may be carriers. Well - I'll take my chances.

Some of my home class came last night; others cancelled. Those who were here had a rollicking time, though no hugs, only elbow bumps and Namaste's. Terrible to be so frightened and suspicious - of hands, of surfaces, of strangers. It's crazy - there are few cases in Canada, almost no one has died here, most people recover, the flu is worse. But the media is having a field day revving us up, and terror is everywhere. Cancellations and closure announcements are pouring in, including one from the Harry Ransom Centre in Austin, Texas, which I visited once at least 8 years ago. We're trying to figure out whether to cancel our nonfiction conference, which took many months to organize.

And the stock market is plunging and Trump is plainly losing what little mind he has and things are pretty damn dire right now. But - it's after 5, time to put away the teacup and have a glass of wine and some cheese. And then maybe I'll watch some Netflix on my television for the first time and then Bill Maher. Pleasure is always possible, my friends.

Just invited my neighbour Monique for aperitif, which we often have together. But she's just back from a flight from the States so is in self-imposed quarantine for two weeks, no contact allowed. Incroyable.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

"Emma," and a satisfied student

My tenant Robin came in last night and told me I should see the new Emma, that he'd just seen it a second time and thought I'd enjoy it. "I've just been, this afternoon," I said. "I loved every minute."

It's heavenly - just the sets alone, stately houses and verdant English villages, swards of green and rolling hills dotted with photogenic sheep (where it never, implausibly, rains) - my heritage on my mother's side. The china and furniture, the costumes, oh the material of those costumes, the jewelry and ridiculous hair, all of it perfect. The genius of Jane Austen, a story more than 200 years old set firmly in its time and place, and yet providing up-to-the-minute social commentary and insight into human flaws: greed, vanity, selfishness, snobbishness, hypochondria. What a sharp clear eye she had, this writer.

Quibbles - for me, mostly that the actress playing Emma, Anya Taylor-Joy, is so odd-looking, with a tiny face and a teeny bow mouth; though a good actress, she seems too arch and too young. Otherwise the cast is spectacular, including Josh O'Connor as the venal, vain minister, like Mr. Collins in P and P; how Jane loved to skewer ministers. Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse - no one but Nighy could make the insufferably self-pitying Mr. Woodhouse so sympathetic and understandable. And especially - be still my beating heart - Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley. Who could imagine the stern Mr. Knightley sexy as all get-out? But here he is, a tousled blonde, manly and smouldering with a nude scene, luscious in every way. (The Guardian: Johnny Flynn, combining vulnerability with a weapons-grade animal magnetism notably absent from Austen’s novel.)
Five stars. Give me weapons-grade animal magnetism any day. One headline read, "Move over Mr. Darcy." And that's saying a LOT.

Still working to cancel the many aspects of the trip. Getting there.

Received this today from a former student, a minister - a very nice minister, not a Jane-type minister - whose book is doing well; she forwarded a rave review. What pleasure to hear from her.

Hey Beth, my first ever book review - this is a book trade journal in the UK/Europe. My book is going really well and a German publisher has just bought the rights so its going to be translated!

I Just wanted to say thank you for your class and your book - it was so instrumental and formative for me. You challenged me to dig deeper, tell less and show more, take more risks, cut more adverbs!

I know I'm still just a new writer and have a long way to go to develop my craft, but I'm deeply grateful for all I learned from you. You are an extraordinary teacher and I wanted to give you my deepest thanks.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Hamilton, and the Sit Spot

I booked my March-April flights to and from Europe on points. Yesterday, an hour on hold with Air Canada's Aeroplan, only to find out that I'd forgotten the booking was with RBC Rewards. So, this morning, an hour on hold with RBC Rewards. With a $150 penalty - because Air Canada is not issuing refunds for trips to France - I have cancelled my trip.

Today it was reported that a woman in her sixties just returned from France with the virus. So - good call, Beth. Tho' I have much less concern about getting sick and more about being stuck under quarantine in France, driving my friends crazy.

Then I cancelled the little Paris hotel I'd booked for the end of my trip and must write to a bunch of friends I'd arranged to visit. Lynn is negotiating to cancel the airbnb flat she booked for us both and Bruce our train tickets and flats in Venice, Vienna, Budapest. Now I'm on hold with RBC travel insurance to see if I can get anything back for the EasyJet flights booked with my Visa card. Another hour with that hideous music designed to drive you mad. And then I need to try to cancel the health insurance I took out for the trip. It's more complicated NOT to travel than to actually go somewhere!

Now I'll be around for the advent of spring in Toronto. I like to leave when the teaching terms end at the end of March because April is so interminable, still so cold when we're ready for heat and light. But - the sun is bright and this afternoon it's going up to 16!

As if in comfort, I was listening to CBC while on hold and heard the end of an interview with Richard Louv, who has written about Nature Deficit Disorder, how we need regular contact with nature and with animals. He recommends a "sit spot" where you sit quietly on a regular basis, just listening and watching and sensing. I have just the spot at the end of my garden, will go down there as soon as I get off @@#$#@ hold, and sit.

More rapture: yesterday saw a matinee of Hamilton and was overwhelmed with its incredible originality and nonstop action and dancing, music and history, its blend of the political and the personal. What infinite confidence to produce something so groundbreaking: a jazzy hip hop musical with a cast mostly of colour about key moments in early American history, what lunatic thought of this? It assaults you, in the best way, from the first chord and never lets up. Phenomenal. And it was an understudy, fantastic, in the lead role!

I thought, no wonder the Americans, for better and for worse, with their limitless chutzpah and drive, ended up being the most powerful country on earth. Once upon a time. No more.

And now - to my Sit Spot.

PS. Sat for a bit in the sun but then had to get up and prune dead branches from the clematis. And then a young sparrow hawk hurled himself into a tree and tried to catch some lunch - the squawking of protest from his intended meals as they flew away! Made myself sit for a bit without worrying about what needs to be done in the garden. A marvel.