Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Cold water wash

I don't want to complain, but I'm battling a spring cold, which is only a shade less unnatural than a summer cold.

Periodically bursting into lopsided nasal showers, I do the relay up and down the stairs to the laundry room. Sharing machines with the thirty-four other units in the building is something I haven't had to do for years. Doing it with a cold is even less fun.

Young daughter is rehearsing this song for her spring recital. I find myself tearing up a little as I listen, partly because I'm sick, partly because it's a song sung by a girl with her arm in a sling because her boyfriend beats her and she's dreaming of a life with a kind man, and partly because -- dammit -- I miss having my own washer and dryer.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Staring at my hands

I played this for younger daughter in preparation for seeing a local production of Working. I've loved this song by James Taylor for years.

Now, my grandfather was a sailor
He blew in off the water.
My father was a farmer
and I his only daughter.

Took up with a no-good
mill-working man from Massachusetts
who dies from too much whiskey,
and leaves me these three faces to feed.

Mill-work ain't easy.
Mill-work ain't hard.
Mill-work, it ain't nothing
but an awful humdrum boring job.

I'm waiting for a daydream
to take me through the morning,
and put me in my coffee break
where I can have a sandwich
and remember...

Then it's me and my machine
for the rest of the morning,
for the rest of the afternoon,
and the rest of my life.

Now my mind begins to wander
to the days back on the farm.
I can see my father smiling at me,
swinging on his arm.
I can hear my grandad's stories
of the storms out on Lake Erie,
where vessels and cargos and fortunes
and sailors' lives were lost.

Yes, but it's my life has been wasted,
and I have been a fool
to let this manufacturer
use my body for a tool.

I ride home in the evening
staring at my hands,
swearing by my sorrows
that a young girl ought to
stand a better chance.

So may I work the mills,
just as long as I am able,
and never ever meet the man
whose name is on the label.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Perpetual light

On the morning of my nicest birthdays in a long time, I headed down Linden street, which has been in a perpetual state of spring since January.

They've just planted one of these in front of our apartment building and the tag is still on it, so I know that this glorious melding of scarlet leaves and dangling white bells is a japonica ("Mountain Fire" variety, I think).

This has been their week.  The relay of cherry blossomings across the city is coming to an end; pink magnolias are littering the sidewalks now, and the star magnolias are constellating all over the place.

And this birthday morning was perfection.  My kind of perfection.  I perfected it with some happy noodling on my family history timelines, then we strolled out -- the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter, and I -- to rendezvous with a pal at a deconsecrated church where the Tallis Scholars were appearing in Victoria for the very first time.

As the singers entered, there was a powerful wall of applause -- as if they'd already performed.

An expectant silence, and then -- a creamy blend of ten voices - two in each vocal range - pouring out Josquin, Palastrina, and other choral composers of the 15th to 16th centuries.

I nearly burst into tears.

They didn't sing this, and some of the singers were different, but it will give you an idea.

There were two items from the twentieth century. The first from Arvo Part (famous for his heart-rending Spiegel im Spiegel).  This was called The Woman with the Alabaster Box -- a sort of tone poem based on the gospel story of the woman reproached for "wasting" the expensive oil on anointing Jesus.  (After the concert, I reminded younger daughter of the version of the same story that is part of Jesus Christ Superstar.)

During the intermission, I was reminded, yet again, that I'm in Victoria.  A woman approached me, head cocked to one side, saying my name in a tentative manner.  She apparently remembered me from my hospice volunteer days - of which there were several.  She definitely remember elder daughter, who was something of a hospice mascot as an infant and toddler, so I could place this lady in time, but not quite in face.  I gazed into her eyes and saw vestiges of familiarity, inwardly marveling at her ability to recognize me after all this time and too abashed to ask her last name.

I'd also recognized one of the singers from last summer's ChamberFest in Ottawa.  He'd been one of the members of Cinquecento  - another transporting musical experience.  Elder daughter confirmed that he also sings with the Tallis Scholars, and that he's "very gracious and very British".

With the second half came the second 20th century composition, surrounded by beautiful, more ancient numbers - mostly masses for noble patrons and patronesses who had died five centuries ago, with lots of  "Dies irae" and "Let light perpetual shine upon them".

But this was a song for a young woman who had died in a cycling accident when elder daughter was one year old.  A family friend of the composer, she had loved Shakespeare, poetry, and drama.  It was extraordinary to hear "Song for Athene" by John Tavener sung by only ten voices -- especially given that the bass continuo was performed by one person, who seemed to not pause for breath during the entire seven-minute piece.

I don't have access to a recording of the Tallis Scholars singing this, but here's a very lovely recent rendition:
When the last note died away, the applause rose amid rolling stamping.

And we moved out into the late afternoon, down the cool but sunny streets, to my favourite Italian restaurant, where I ate risotto, and was toasted by my husband, younger daughter, and good friend in the light of the candles and fireplace.  Not perpetual, but few lovely things are.

Sunday, 4 March 2018


This has to be some kind of new record for me.  I've seen seven of the nine Oscar nominations for Best Picture this year, and I would have seen eight, if this weren't Victoria, where movies rarely stay for more than a week or so.  However, Victoria is also the reason I've seen the seven films; we now live within easy walking distance of two of the city's four multiplexes, and one of the city's two art-house cinemas.  (Also, this is one year when I actually wanted to see most of the films -- except Get Out, because I'm not great with horror flicks, no matter how witty.)

One film I caught last summer.  Younger daughter wanted to see Dunkirk because Harry Styles is in it.  I was keen to see Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance.  It was clever and sprawling; I'm not sure it would work on a small screen.

We saw The Darkest Hour because Gary Oldman is a front-runner for Best Actor.  Excellent cast, dark, bleak -- and I'm afraid I nodded off at one point.  Woke up and Churchill was sitting in the Underground - had no idea why.

The Post is another Stephen Spielberg patriotic epic; it reminded me strongly of Lincoln in scope and attitude.  It's set up - probably not deliberately - to segue into 1976's All the President's Men.  It has Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, fer gawd's sake, and has proved to be extraordinarily well-timed.  Recent events in the current American administration have made it all too pertinent, and there's more than a nod to the renewed awareness of women's rights - or lack thereof.

Lady Bird was our New Year's Day film this year.  I like Saoirse Ronan, and have always adored Laurie Metcalf.  The film is charming, heartbreaking - and also a bit alarming that we're clearly moving into Aughties nostalgia - the film is set between Autumn 2002 and 2003.

The Resident Fan Boy loved The Shape of Water -- I didn't.  He says it's because I'm not crazy about science fiction.  Maybe he's right.  I thought the art direction was amazing, with the feel of the early 1960s -- even though there's not enough men wearing hats; they wore hats, people.  However, I didn't enjoy the gratuitous violence, particularly an unnecessary scene showing the villain rutting his helpless wife. This was a long movie, that somehow didn't find the time for character development.

Elder daughter particularly wanted to see Call Me By Your Name.  I don't think she did, but I just managed to catch it yesterday, when it showed up unexpectedly at the art-house cinema.  It's undeniably well-done, and is being sold as a bitter-sweet coming-of-age flick.  Okay, a seventeen-year-old boy falls in love with a twenty-four-year-old man.  It's 1983, just before AIDS became well-known.  It's Italy.  The parents are unobtrusive, and understanding - as is the shoved-to-one-side girlfriend.  Suppose females were cast in the lead roles.  Would it be believable?  Would it be uncomfortable, rather than bitter-sweet?

Which brings me to Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, a film I was rather scared to see, as I've seen a live production of The Pillowman, and a "live-stream" Cineplex presentation of an English production of Hangmen, both harrowing, both by Martin McDonagh, who wrote and directed this film.  I did know that this would mean fabulous writing.  And I adore Frances McDormand.

So I went. By myself.  And was engrossed.

Wonderful acting.  Character development.  Unpredictable plot.  We have a winner.

Tonight, I'll watch the Academy Awards.  I may be tempted to throw snack food at the screen, although,  if Three Billboards doesn't win it, I'll be fine if Lady Bird does.  I have a feeling The Shape of Water will win, so I'm keeping the vacuum cleaner charged.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Not some message in the dark

 Younger daughter's voice teacher in Ottawa (who is a Facebook pal now) posted this today.  I've been drawn to a song by Dawes before, but this song seems to be about despair and redemption at the same time.  I guess that's why it's called "A Little Bit of Everything".

With his back against the San Francisco traffic,
On the bridge's side that faces towards the jail,
Setting out to join a demographic,
He hoists his first leg up over the rail.

A phone call's made; police cars show up quickly.
The sergeant slams his passenger door.
He says, "Hey son, why don't you talk through this with me?
Just tell me what you're doing it for."

"Oh, it's a little bit of everything:
It's the mountains, it's the fog;
It's the news at six o'clock;
It's the death of my first dog.

"It's the angels up above me;
It's the song that they don't sing;
It's a little bit of everything."

There's an older man who stands in a buffet line,
He is smiling, and he's holding out his plate,
And the further he looks back into his timeline,
That hard road always led him to today.

Making up for when his bright future had left him,
Making up for the fact his only son is gone,
And letting everything out once, his server asks him:
"Have you figured out yet, what it is you want?"

"I want a little bit of everything:
The biscuits and the beans,
Whatever helps me to forget about
The things that brought me to my knees.

"So pile on those mashed potatoes,
And an extra chicken wing.
I'm having a little bit of everything."

Somewhere a pretty girl is writing invitations
To a wedding she has scheduled for the fall.
Her man says, "Baby, can I make an observation?
You don't seem to be having any fun at all."

She said, "You just worry about your groomsmen and your shirt-size,
And rest assured that this is making me feel good.
I think that love is so much easier than you realize
If you can give yourself to someone, then you should.

"'Cause it's a little bit of everything:
The way you joke, the way you ache;
It is getting up before you,
So I could watch you as you wake.

"So on that day in late September,
It's not some stupid little ring;
I'm getting a little bit of everything."

Oh, it's a little bit of everything:
It's the matador and the bull;
It's the suggested daily dosage;
It's the red moon when it's full.

All these psychics and these doctors,
They're all right and they're all wrong.
It's like trying to make out every word
When they should simply hum along.

It's not some message written in the dark,
Or some truth that no one's seen.
It's a little bit of everything. 

- Taylor Goldsmith 

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

A wind in the door

I was sitting in St Matthias Church, which is compact and rather lovely, waiting with younger daughter for a production of Jesus Christ Superstar to begin. This was an interpretation by "Company P", who, I gather, are affiliated with the Canadian College of Performing Arts on Elgin Street, just a few doors up from one of our frequent house-sits. The school has been around for twenty years, and they have a "Company C", consisting of Third Year students who put on productions. "Company P" is probably an alumni group?

The actors strolled up and down the aisle and on the periphery of the sanctuary, dressed in garb that was supposed to suggest Jazz Age, while music was tapped in - numbers by Louis Armstrong, "I Wanna Be Loved by You" performed by Helen Kane, and, rather more incongruously, numbers from South Pacific, which, as younger daughter pointed out, is not the right era.  There was no programme to explain the concept being aimed for; the names of the performers were looped on a slide presentation, made to look rather like the credits for a silent movie.

I gazed out the stained glass windows, as the afternoon sun shone in. One window reminded me of Proginoskes, the "singular cherubim" who figures in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door, the sequel to A Wrinkle in Time.  I thought about how those books are about different kinds of time, of being outside of time.

This didn't help much.  The performers congregated at the front of the church, swigging from bottles and pulling biblical robes over their suits and drop-waisted dresses, as the music changed to the unmistakable electronic twangs of the overture.  It is a rock opera, after all.

The score was sung to a pre-recorded cyber-orchestra, with the exception of Mary Magdalene's "I Don't Know How to Love Him", accompanied on piano - very well - by the performer playing Jesus.

The singing and the acting were, on the whole, very good - especially Gabriel MacDonald as Jesus, who had great depth, range and projection.

Judas was played by a young woman called Sadie Fox, who sang and acted well, but ended up shouting quite a bit.  (I was also keeping in mind that this was the first of two performances for the day.)

Other featured singers and chorus, very good.  (Dancing, not.)

Younger daughter was nonplussed by the roles of Judas, Simon Zelotes, and Pilate being performed by women.  She's quite literal that way.  I explained that in community and school productions, male roles are often taken by women, reminding her of a production of Hamlet we saw at Camosun College a few years back, which featured a Lady Hamlet.
"But did you enjoy this?"
"Yes.  It was different."

That's my girl.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Magic mushroom

In Victoria, weather forecasts are a wee bit less useful than in Hades, due to what I call "mushroom-cap clouds".

Not mushroom clouds. Now, that would be a real problem.

Yesterday, for example, I had walked into Cook Street Village to retrieve a parcel from the Post Office on a fresh and sunny morning. Having done so, I was standing on the sidewalk, juggling my parcel and bag, when I realized my phone was ringing. (One of my great Christmas blessings is a new FitBit which, because it's linked to my phone, vibrates when calls and texts come in. This is a great boon, because my winter coat is an effective phone muffler.)

Elder daughter was calling from Hades, having been blindsided by a work-related lapse in diplomacy on the part of her boss. I put my burdens on a bus stop bench, and when I realized she needed a lengthier vent, started trudging toward the coffee shop, only half-aware of how dark the skies had suddenly become.

It was one of those mushroom-cap clouds: broad, vaguely circular, brownish-grey. The rain drove me quickly into the patio of the Moka House - where a tall, elderly gentlemen, in his cohorts' uniform of leather jacket and jeans, dropped the door in my face.

With a bit of further juggling, I managed to re-open the door, held it open so two further men of a similar vintage could exit, then watched as oblivious elderly gentleman (perhaps "gentleman" is a misnomer) took one of the two remaining tables. I grabbed the other one, and sat to hear elder daughter out, discussing strategems and chatting about the impossibly girly baby shower she was to attend that afternoon.

Feelings soothed, I got my coffee and set out my work. Two tables away, two fellows sat down, got out their guitars and started playing. It was rather like a conversation between their instruments while the rest of us listened in. They leaned toward each other intently, improvising. I thought of Stéphane Grapelli, then stopped myself. No, he played violin.

Got out my phone, that amazing pocket-computer, and found Django Reinhardt.

Eventually, the staff got the hint and turned off the piped-in rock music. Outside, the sun shone once again on the shiny street.

A tall bassist arrived, unwrapping his instrument, which matched him in height, but it was time for me to go. I stopped by their table, and told them how much I enjoyed their music. One of the guitarists, his face suddenly youthful when not concentrating, grinned up at me: "Right on!"

I don't think I've heard "Right on!" in some time. Ah, Victoria....

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Fences and neighbours

Growing up in Victoria, I'd had opportunities to live in many neighbourhoods:  the Gorge, View Royal, Esquimalt, and Fairfield.  House-sitting during my Hades exile introduced me to more:  Oak Bay, Gonzales, Camosun, Gordon Head, Saanichton, Royal Oak, Hillside, and Sidney (which isn't Victoria, but is where Victoria International Airport is).

When we took our apartment, we assumed we would be in the downtown neighbourhood of Harris Green, but we're actually in Fernwood, a 12-minute walk from the Belfry Theatre, which, up until now, has been really my only reason to visit Fernwood - aside from Summer Band in the long-ago past.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in February, I decide to seize the opportunity to explore my new neighbourhood, which is one of the older neighbourhoods in Victoria.  A few decades ago, it was rather a hippy-dippy place; now it seems to be a popular neighbourhood for committed lesbian couples.

It retains its quirky feel - as I looped my way around the ancient houses, the high school, and the tiny cluster of shops and watering holes, I looked over a fence and found this odd mini-theme park of rusting armour and frogs.

Odd in any neighbourhood but Fernwood.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

The first rose of winter

A few days into the new year, I came across a planter on Fort Street.  It had flowers in it.  Real flowers.  I touched them in disbelief, even though I grew up here.

It's my first winter in Victoria after seventeen years, and though, intellectually, my mind knows that flowers can grow outside in Victoria, evidently, my heart and soul, shriveled by Ottawa Februaries, had forgotten.

A few weeks into the new year, I made my way up Fort Street and spotted a tiny pink rose, no more than two inches by two inches (and possibly less), burgeoning bravely amid the rose hips.

Roses?  Rose hips??? I thought to myself, turning the corner to find my street exploding with robins.

Friday, 23 February 2018

No scents

About this time last year, I was collapsing back into bed on a daily basis.  I had what I presume to be a variation on the flu that was going around.  (I hasten to add, I'd had my shot.)  I heard a lot about this virus (or whatever it was) that winter and into the spring, as it hit friends and acquaintances.  A strangely debilitating bug, that didn't seem as bad as it was, presenting a new symptom each day.  Every time I swore I was getting better, I was felled by a sore throat, then, the next day, a racking cough, followed by congestion,  then shakes...

For nearly two weeks, I didn't have the energy for much more than television - a depressing prospect in the daytime.  I was never more grateful for the Turner Classic Movie channel, and their annual "31 Days of Oscar". Last winter, they picked films with wins and nominations in rather esoteric categories, such as Best Song or Best Makeup, so I saw a raft of films I wouldn't ordinarily have seen.

When my strength finally returned, I had a lot of catching up to do.  As a result, it wasn't until last April until I noticed that my sense of smell had vanished.

Generally, the loss of a sense is unmistakable.  You notice instantly if you lose your sight or hearing.  Loss of touch is something else missed the moment it happens.  Losing the sense of taste will register pretty damn quick.  But the sense of smell?  That can drift away unheeded.

My first clear memory of the realization occurred on elder daughter's birthday.  She adores scented candles and gleefully brought them to me to sniff.  I don't recall being surprised when I couldn't smell them, so I must have been faintly aware of the absence of scents.  I had continued to be somewhat congested since my illness.

Then May came, and I couldn't smell the lilac.

Smell is connected with taste, and I began to realize that I wasn't always aware of spices the way I had been, but on the whole, I could taste, and still can.

I'm wondering now if my brain is filling in the gaps, the way you can "hear" a familiar song that's far away, or covered by other noise.

As the year has progressed,  I've come to a fuller and sadder comprehension.  I can't smell the sea - once a recurring joy of returning to Victoria, and now poignantly ironic now I've returned for good.

All roses are fragrance-free.  At Christmas, the lingering odors of tourtière, mandarin oranges, and evergreens do not linger for me. The aroma of toast, baking bread and cookies -- gone.  The Resident Fan Boy has given up the ritual of bringing me the bag of freshly ground coffee when it's first opened; there's no longer any point.  I can't smell the rain on the streets - I only know that the outside air is odorless, while indoor air smells vaguely metallic.

When I use a powerful cleanser, or bleach, I feel only a strange tightening in my nostrils.  I worry a little about not smelling smoke, and find myself paying extra attention to personal and domestic cleanliness, because visual clues are all I have now.

Mostly though, I feel a resigned sense of no scents.