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.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Quite early one morning

From our apartment, we can see the middle school which our daughters would have attended had we stayed in Victoria, rather then heading to Hades.

It's been upgraded in the intervening years and is now a rather handsome off-white building with Mondrian-like squares amid stencils of trees and sea landscapes.

I've learned to close the door of the en suite bathroom before using it.  All manner of people bring all sorts of dogs to the schoolyard outside of hours - something unheard of in Rockcliffe Park, where dogs were banned from school property.

At recess, the yard fills with kids ranging in ages eleven to fourteen.  Small knots of them make their way to the fence where the grass slopes down rather suddenly to two or three ancient trees.  This puts them out of sight of the school, but I'm not sure it occurs to them that they're in full view: of the quiet street, where people park their cars to walk to the shops on the busier thoroughfares, and me, sitting on the bed, while I put on my make-up.

This morning, I open the curtains to see the distant figures loping up to the school entrance, some clutching instrument cases, all wearing packsacks and clad in variations of jeans.

The young couple are obscured from their classmates and teachers by the slope of the grounds and by the tall tree by the chainlink fence, but I can see them clearly.  I doubt they'd care.  She's blond and bespectacled; he's her height, dark-haired in baggy jacket and light trousers.

How old are they?  Certainly no older than fourteen, possibly as young as twelve. Feeling self-conscious, I step away from the window, but they're oblivious to everything but each other.

I sit down on the other side of the bed, back to the window, to put on my shoes, wondering if they'll have any memory of this morning years from now: the chill of February, the half-light, the swish of the morning buses and cars.  The smell and taste of each other.

Shoes on, I stand, turn, and they've vanished; I can't even see anyone crossing the long field back to the school, where final stragglers are melting into the doors, some running, some plodding.  It's past 8:30.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Or maybe you didn't

There was such a wind this morning that I saw a tall narrow shrub, more than ten feet high, that is planted by our second floor balcony, bend like a bullrush.  It's a sunny morning, and if I had left the building with decent gloves and had less to carry, I'd head down to Dallas Road to watch the waves crash.
Instead I'm sitting at a table at Moka House, trying to identify a song with the Shazam app.  It's not picking up, possibly due to lively café conversation, so I try a corner with not so many people around, holding my phone up to the speaker.

After two tries, I get a result.  A guy with a toque looks up from his magazine and grins.
"It's Weezer," he says.

He's right.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

A poor roll model

Demeter is taking advantage of the fact she now has family in town. Well, that was the idea, so I agree to accompany her shopping. She thinks of this as a happy thing.

I'll let her think that.

I've never cared for shopping, accompanied or unaccompanied, so the day before the expedition, I do a dry run - a wet run, really, as it's pouring. I do a circuit of likely items and stores.

On the appointed day, I lead Demeter through, pointing out likely items. This works well.

I reach to stop the elevator at the Bay Centre as a woman with a stroller approaches, because that's what I liked to have done for me in my stroller days. It turns out she's going down, so she elects to wait.

"I never hold the elevator," Demeter explains. "You never know which direction they want."

"Yes," I say. "But I think, in the long run, it's better to acknowledge a person's presence. She knows that we knew she was there. That can change a whole day."

We're nearly done, but Demeter decides to make a three-block detour to buy green tea for elder daughter. Three blocks is quite a consideration at the tail-end of an ambitious shopping day - especially if you're at the tail-end of your eighties. I see Demeter tiring out, and suggest a restaurant, reaching out to prevent her from entering a crosswalk at which the signal is ticking down; she'll never make it across with her walker/rollator.

She decides to trundle past the bus stop instead. I move to the inner sidewalk to avoid a tangle of strollers, walkers, and wheelchairs by the shelter.

Demeter presses on past a blond woman standing in front of a pole. The woman looks after her furiously and exclaims, "Seriously!"

I'm bewildered, but join Demeter at the cross signal.  While we're waiting, the lady approaches us from behind and scolds:  "A simple 'excuse me' would suffice!"  As I gaze at her blankly, she declares, "She ran right over my foot!"  I think I might have felt tempted to apologize if it weren't for the self-righteous glare and the schoolmarmish tone. 

Even then, it's not my place to excuse my mother, who hasn't really heard her, anyway. As we cross, I relay what was said.

"I didn't run over her," Demeter says flatly.  "I feel lines on the pavement; I would have noticed her foot had I run over it."

I feel discombobulated and distressed, even as we settle into lunch.  I'm also a bit wary, because the woman looked familiar -- but then, everyone in Victoria does.

I wonder if what really pissed her off was not being acknowledged.