Thursday, 31 December 2009

Duck! Here comes another year!

So,the back half of my molar dropped out a couple of hours ago. I phoned the dentist who is closed until January 4th. I phoned the Dental Emergency Centre and the receptionist told me no immediate action need be taken unless I'm in pain.

So I'm not in pain. Yet. But half my tooth is missing. And I keep thinking the right side of my face is getting numb. And this tooth was, from the look of it, seventy percent filling, so the mercury is probably leeching into my already pitiful brain.

Brilliant! I now have an excuse for every imbecility I commit in 2010!

Wishing you all a butt-covered New Year,

Sunday, 27 December 2009

...and a cup of coffee?

Someone put the link to this on my mother's Facebook and since Demeter pretty well can't access Facebook on her computer at home (which hasn't stopped her from continually acquiring Facebook friends -- which I have to log in and accept for her), we've been checking her page while she's been here in Hades for Christmas. Last Christmas I got all wobbly and tearful over the viral video "Where the Hell is Matt?" Well, this one put we away again too.

Okay, so it's Starbucks. Just watch it okay?

I'm not sure how John Lennon would have felt about the commercial aspect, but surely this is exactly what he meant.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas cards have all been sent... Karen Carpenter used to warble when she had the strength.

Still, I need to sort the presents set aside for the Twelve Days of Christmas (mostly the out-of-town ones) so I'll cheat with some YouTube videos:

First, some Can/con with this delightful poppy number from Serena Ryder. I think this deserves to become a Canadian Christmas classic. For one thing, it's a little more cheery than "River" and "River" is really an Advent song anyway: ...although this one makes me really glad not to be dating...

Next, dascottjr has done another literal video and because Hall and Oates did two versions of the original (which I never noticed), he's done two-in-one. I think the second one is marginally funnier:

Finally, it's Christmas Eve and I used to be able to depend on CBC to play Carols from Kings, but I guess that isn't politically correct anymore. For those of you who keep Christmas (and for those who don't but like the music), here's one of my favourite carols:

God bless. See you a bit later.

Monday, 21 December 2009

O Holy Night, Batman!

We made our annual pilgrimage to the Stuart McLean Vinyl Cafe Christmas concert. After last year's trek through the blizzard without buses, it was rather a relief to take elder daughter, younger daughter, and this year, Demeter on the bus through the frigid Ottawa streets where we had a loge to ourselves. I felt confident that it would be a pretty good show when Stuart McLean opened with a slightly abbreviated version of my all-time favourite Dave-and-Morley Christmas story "Polly Anderson's Christmas Party", but I didn't see what was coming when a young man named Matt Andersen walked onto the stage.

Okay. He looks like a young Meatloaf. Sounds a bit like him too, but just imagine Meatloaf with less melodrama, more soul, a healthy dollop of folks and blues, and a Maritimer sensibility. He started singing, and I thought: He's good. As the song continued, I thought: Actually, he's amazing. And then, I don't know how to describe this, I drifted away on his voice, his performance, the marvelous support of bassist Dennis Pendrith and pianist John Sheard, both remarkable musicians in their own right and regulars on the Vinyl Cafe. The audience burst into applause mid-song and swept to their feet when he finally finished. Now, it's true that Ottawa audiences will give standing ovations to practically anybody; I'm not sure whether they want to be seen as discerning or warm (they are neither), but this time, they had a point. If you have seven minutes to spare please watch this; it will give you some idea of what we experienced. If you have two minutes, listen anyway; that's about how long it took for me to start wondering: Gad. Who is this guy?

When he came on again, they called up his mother from the audience. His parents had just flown in from New Brunswick and it had been his dad's first time on a plane, apparently. Matt sang a duet with his mum and it was...great. Then later, he sang "O Holy Night". I don't even like "O Holy Night" and I was transfixed.

Damn. This guy is good.

The rest of the show wasn't bad either.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Keeping abreast of things

Seven years ago, I found a mysterious lump in my right breast, one that kept appearing and reappearing. The doctor zipped me off to have a mammogram which found nothing, and this apparently qualified me for the dubious pleasure of having more. I've had the experience of three mammograms so far. They're not exactly fun (squishing each boob in a sort of vise twice from different angles, for the uninitiated), but there are worse things.

This year, they've introduced a new wrinkle to the process at the breast screening centre here in Hades. Now, we're submitted to a very long, very thorough manual examination after the squishing. It involves sitting up, lying down, lying on one's side, raising arms, hands behind heads, left-turn signal elbows, etc. etc. etc., while being, not exactly pummeled, but being felt up in a very clinical way. For me it requires careful breathing to keep my reflexes under control, but on a discomfort level, it's somewhere between having one's teeth cleaned and having ultrasound on one's gall bladder.

The nurse was nearly finished. She had to be nearly finished; this had been going on for several interminable minutes. My eyes were shut in self-defense; I was, after all, lying topless with a women kneading my mammaries which is not an erotic situation but a rather awkward and intimate one. I did peek into her concentrating-like-a-concert-pianist face as I noticed her fingers kept returning to my left breast. She'd carefully prod the right breast in the corresponding area, then check the left, her movements slowing down.

Oh crud.

She had me feel for myself. It took a few seconds, but there it was, a hard knobble about the size, as she put it, "of a ball-bearing". I've kept going back to it over the past couple of days. Now that I know where it is, I wonder how I missed it.

Oh well. That's why they have screening clinics, don't they? I keep thinking of that oft-repeated slogan: The only thing worse than finding a lump in your breast is not finding it. Sometimes, that even makes me feel better. Most of the time, not so much.

To put this into perspective: Two of my friends have died of breast cancer. Both had family histories of aggressive cancers. I do not. My mother, aunt, and their cousins all went through a decade or so when they were finding benign lumps on a regular basis. My great-aunt did get breast cancer --- and died of old age years later.

All the same, Merry Bloody Christmas. I should be hearing from my doctor in a few days.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The End of the Innocence

All nations have them: the dates when one can say exactly what they were doing. Some have international significance. Most people over fifty can remember even tiny events of November 22nd, 1963, because John Fitgerald Kennedy was assassinated that day and the minutiae of that November afternoon are preserved like insects in amber. Those over sixteen can probably remember the day Diana died in the tunnel in Paris, and I venture to say that the majority of people living today can remember September 11th, 2001.

Until December 6th, 1989, the Canadian "where-were-you day" seemed to be September 28th, 1972. It's a damned hockey date, of course, but geez, there have been films made about this in Canada. It was rather nice, though that Canadians shared a euphoric memory. Until December 6th, 1989. Most Canadians over the age of twenty-five can tell you where they were that day. If they can't, simply say: "Ecole Polytechnique, Montreal."

I had invited my mother to supper. She was grieving over the recent death of her fifteen-year-old cat, and I sought to distract her. I made the mistake of turning on CBC Newsworld which was then a brand-new channel. I saw the body language and heard the urgent tones of the broadcasters and knew something horrific had happened, but not where. The details narrowed it down, agonizingly slowly: It had happened in eastern Qué the Ecole Polytechnique...

A man had entered an engineering classroom, brandishing a rifle and ordered all the male students out. He yelled something about feminists ruining his life and opened fire. He made his way through the building, shooting people and in the grand tradition of such things, finally shot himself. Fourteen women died. Ten women and four men were injured.

All thoughts of providing comforting companionship to my mother vanished from my mind. I was a sessional instructor in ESL at my local university. In the summer sessions, the great majority of my students were Québecois. Many of them were from Montreal and quite a few attended the Ecole Polytechnique. To make matters worse, the news reported that one of the dead was a staff member and one of my students the previous summer had been a professor at the Ecole. I had to wait more than a day before the names of the dead were released and the names of the injured were never released, so I fired off anxious letters to those students for whom I had addresses. (This was in the days before email and IM, children.) The responses I got were reassuring. They were in shock, but comforted to know that English Canada cared. The professor's husband attended the next summer session of our ESL programme, sought me out at registration and told me that his wife was all right.

But it became evident in the weeks following the tragedy that a deep trauma had occurred. I found myself wandering through my day with Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence" running through my head:
. . . somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
I need to remember this
So baby give me just one kiss
And let me take a long last look
Before we say goodbye

Just lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

The song was about America in the time of Reagan, but Canada, in the wake of this tragedy, had lost some illusions too. We could no longer say smugly, that we were immune from American-style violence. Furthermore, female students seemed terrified. I was taking my Master's at the time, in a couple of classrooms that faced out to a quadrant darkening in early December dusk, and one of my classmates begged tearfully for the door to be bolted. The incident seemed to bring to the surface the dark fears that most women contend with: the suggestion of violence, of death for the crime of being smart, ambitious, pretty, female.

It's hard to believe this happened twenty years ago. This evening, many women will walk out to the memorials that can be found on campuses and in parks across Canada. They will leave flowers and notes, and light candles, even twenty years later.

I don't like to say the name of the murderer. He got his recognition. Instead, I will draw your attention above to the names of fourteen women who will never reach fifty.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Set sorrow aside

Sad November thoughts pursued me through the night, disturbing my rest and making me resort to hippy-dippy rituals. But when we woke up, it was December and younger daughter has been longing for December, so begins her day with the Advent Calendar and gets herself through the interminable school day dreaming of which Christmas video she will watch when she gets home.

Starting on the long return journey from her school (made longer today by one bus being too early and the other late), I found myself between audio books and dinosaur that I am, tuned my personal player to CBC Radio Two which at that time of the day straddles their morning show and "Tempo" the classical music section. Just as we hit the Transitway, the host put on a piano setting of the "Bergamasca" of Otto Resphigi's Ancient Airs and Dances, (arranged by Resphigi himself) and any lingering November gremlins were swept away by one of my favourite pieces of music ever.

One idea I had for my memorial service would be to conclude the ceremony of tearful and mirthful testimonies about how wonderful I was (oh hush, this is my fantasy) with a reflection time during which the preceding movement of the suite "Companae parisienses and Aria" would be played, and then the Bergamasca would come on, signaling the mourners to get up and, remembering me happily, go off and enjoy a nice buffet.

If that's too morbid for you, imagine me on the bus this morning, as the ice pellets gradually became huge white flakes of snow whirling above the Transitway:

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Herd immunity? Of course I've heard of immunity...

I have a healthy respect for pandemics.
Exhibit A: My great-aunt Dorothy who succumbed to influenza in 1919, along with millions of others world-wide. She was twenty-eight years old, and had been married only six months. My grandmother remembered the anxious ride home on the trolley in Wolverhampton when she was called home from her work as a secretary, and her sister's attempts to speak to her husband as she drowned in the fluids of her own lungs.
Exhibit B: Yours truly who was an unwitting and unwilling participant in another recent pandemic. I was eleven and this illness was in the top three of the sickest I've ever been: an temperature of 106º during which I lost track of whether it was day or night and the bed appeared to flip end over end.

Here in Canada, the reaction to the spread of H1N1 virus has ventured as about as close to hysteria as Canadians get outside of a hockey arena. Speaking of which, unvaccinated hockey players on the Ottawa Senators team have been banned from attending charity events. In my hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, a woman who didn't even have the flu was forced off a bus by an irate little old lady. In Hades, the H1N1 vaccine became available the same week two healthy kids suddenly died, so the clinics were packed and the vaccine kept running out. Oddly enough, healthy kids the same age as the victims were not in the priority groups to whom the vaccine was being offered, so the Resident Fan Boy and I had to field anxious inquiries from Demeter on why neither we nor our kids were immunized. Leo Sister and Jolly-Not-Green-Giant Brother-in-law both have asthma, so braved the line-ups a couple of weeks ago. Within two days, my nephew came down with the virus and thoughtfully shared it with his family before their immunity kicked in. They all survived.

Finally, the vaccine was offered to those outside the priority groups (younger children; medically compromised; elderly; medical staff), so the Resident Fan Boy and I took younger daughter to our family doctor's clinic, hoping to avoid the cattle-calls that have been extensively covered by the news for the past month. Well, it was still a cattle-call, but a small one, aimed at children, but with possible vaccinations for parents, should doses be left over.

Younger daughter is normally brave about needles, but got herself worked up into a right state over this one. She told me she didn't want to have a bleeding arm for Christmas. So you can imagine how delighted I was when we were directed to sit on a stool outside an office from whence blood-curdling screams were emanating. (No! Noooooooo! Don't do it!!!!) This continued for about five minutes. Clearly someone was being vivisectioned in there. Finally, the door opened and a puffy, teary four-year-old boy emerged, followed by his parents carrying his perfectly placid one-year-old sister. Younger daughter entered, gave one "Owwww!" as the needle was inserted, and as we exited, the next parents pointed her out to their kids, saying: "See? It took no time at all and she's smiling!" Whew.

We were corralled into a narrow hall where we were required to wait fifteen minutes before departing. The reason for this became clear as we worked our way gradually towards the exit. A boy of about ten or eleven leaned against his mother, sobbing. Gee, I thought. How badly did it hurt?
I saw the mum of this older boy touching his forehead, so I glanced around for some staff, then approached her.
"Do you need me to find someone?"
"Well, it's just he's so hot..."
I darted into the passageway, found someone with a stethoscope and told her I thought a young boy might be having a reaction. She whipped past me, saying: "Thanks, this is what we need to know!"
Boy and his mum were hurried into another area. I never found out what happened.

The puffy little four-year-old strolled by with his parents and valiant little sister in tow: "Well, it did hurt quite a bit and I may have cried..."

The Resident Fan Boy hung around for his shot, and I took elder daughter in to a smaller and even more civilized evening clinic last Thursday. My arm is sore and bruised and I've been falling asleep at odd moments over the past three days. Let's just say we did it for the herd immunity...

Friday, 27 November 2009

Goldengrove unleaving

A couple of weeks ago, we were eating our traditional Sunday lunch of macaroni and cheese (from scratch, mind, okay, not the noodles), and the Resident Fan Boy was plotting his final attack on the leaves in the front yard, it being the final week for the city to pick up the bags of garden refuse. He gets excited about things like that which is rather endearing.

"It's like that poem about 'Goldengrove unleaving'," he rhapsodized. I gave him an incredulous look.

"It is Margaret you mourn for?"
"That's right; it's about the leaves falling, and about being reminded of death."
"But Goldengrove is a man, isn't he? And Margaret is weeping over him, but she's really mourning for herself..."
"No, it's about the leaves falling..."

So out came the Norton's Anthology and this time and this time only, the Honour History major trumped the English Literature major. The poem, by Gerald Manley Hopkins, is actually entitled Spring and Fall: to a young child. The Resident Fan Boy remembered studying it in a First Year English course at UVic; I, despite having a degree in the same at the same, never actually studied it, but knew it from an essay called "The Poet and the Peasants" written by the late Jean Kerr which recounted, in hilarious and poignant detail, her ambitious plot to get her five young sons to memorize and even like poetry. I have never forgotten the article, but clearly, I didn't read this particular poem closely enough:

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

So, to sum up, it's addressed to a little girl, not a heart-broken young woman, and Goldengrove is a place, not a heartless young man. Couldn't have been more wrong.

So I went out to walk in the "unleaving" neighbourhood just before the late afternoon sunlight got gobbled up by the over-eager twilight of late autumn, where the last of the maple leaves were being scooped into paper bags by the more civic-minded, the rest being left to blow anti-socially over others' yards. It has been an unusually balmy November and there are whispers of a rainy rather than snowy Christmas this year.

I bent my steps in the direction of the Rideau River and thought mourning-for-Margaret November thoughts while watching ducks on a current so slow and in air so still that they might have been swimming in a pond. Then I strolled further and noticed for the first time that there are beavers living along the river bank. Mind you, I've never seen one in my nine years in Hades. I suppose the squirrels could have been getting extra hungry and ambitious; I wouldn't put it past them.

Finally, I nearly got ploughed off the sidewalk by a car which roared up the side-street and inexplicably tried to wedge itself between the sidewalk and another car making a right turn into a driveway. Honks and words were exchanged between the two drivers, as I checked to see if my heart hadn't jumped out of my chest and dazedly mused about the lack of control we have in what happens to us, plus the fact I'd told the RFB I'd be home in half an hour and his potential progression of annoyance to worry to panic if I'd not shown up. This, of course led to morbid thoughts of the events of a year ago. Come to think of it, I was mourning for Margaret then, too.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Any way the blog blows...

I have several blog posts I could write, but seem to keep blocking myself. Obsessively watching pirated episodes of Never Mind the Buzzcocks doesn't help. So while I continue to stall, watch this. I love this. This is going to go viral. I don't care. This is magnificent.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Sorrow, remembrance and blood

Living in The Nation's Capital has an extra resonance in the days leading up to Remembrance Day. Not only are we in close proximity to The National War Museum and key Armed Forces offices and bases, but being resident near Rockcliffe Park, our daughters have attended school with children and relatives of prime ministers and high ranking officers, both foreign and otherwise. Remembrance Day is taken very seriously here. The wearing of the poppy (which, by the way, I think is a rather better-looking poppy than that available in Britain) is not exactly mandatory, but the custom is heavily observed, and Ottawa streets are strewn with lost poppies, dropped from the flimsy pins.

Coming from Victoria, where I grew up between the naval base and the army base (not that pleasant experience for an adolescent girl, soldiers and sailors being what they are), I bring my own strategy for making my poppy stay put. I wrap the end of the pin with scotch tape. However, Ottawans have another excellent method which doesn't work for my thick Irish cape, but does nicely for blouses and lapels. They removed the pin and black felt poppy centre and replace it with a maple leaf or Canadian flag pin, the kind you stick straight though and anchor with a metal clutch on the other side of the fabric.

Lately, there's been a debate in the papers about wearing poppies. A columnist in The Ottawa Citizen worried that poppy-wearing might symbolize support for Canada's involvement in Afghanistan. I was rather startled by this idea as I've never viewed wearing the poppy as supporting the idea of any war. I wear it because I associate it with sorrow, blood, and remembrance.

There has also been a flurry of letters to the editor in the debate over In Flanders Fields, which being written by Dr John McCrae of Guelph, Ontario after watching a close friend die at Ypres and before succumbing to pneumonia himself, is a staple of Canadian Remembrance Day ceremonies. John Finnemore recently discussed his problems with the poem in his blog, and once again, I was a bit perplexed. John McCrae was a doctor in the army for both the Boer and First World Wars. He would have seen the very worst war can offer. I don't think he had any rosy ideas about war being glorious or desirable, although I do think he thought it was necessary. The stanza both the writer of the Letter to the Editor and John Finnemore had trouble with was the third one which begins: Take up our quarrel with the foe . . .

Well, I don't boycott plays like The Merchant of Venice for anti-Semitism, nor books like Huckleberry Finn for its use of the "n-word", nor pretty much anything written or performed over the centuries for its depiction of women. Art is a reflection of its era. Good art transcends this. I happen to think both statements apply to In Flanders Fields, which, like the poppy, expresses sorrow, remembrance, and blood.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Write of Passage Number Six: The clash of the stereotypes

A number of thoughts crossed my mind when the big brutha with a ghetto blaster sent up camp at my bus stop. One of them was: A ghetto blaster? Seriously? Is he partying like it's 1979? He stashed his blaster on top of the shelter, thought better of it, then swooped it past my ear a couple of times, while shouting along with the rap lyrics and making those hand signals that seem to have been co-opted by boy bands. (I found this video to try to find out about rapper/hip-hop hand signals, but it's only marginally helpful):As I tried to studiously ignore this guy as he strutted up and down, grinning widely beneath his baggy wool cap and neon-yellow sunglasses, my next thought was: Oh Gawd. Please. Not on my bus. These appeared to be the precise thoughts of the bus driver as I climbed on. He glanced over my shoulder, then back at me and we raised our respective eyebrows. Sure enough, as I took my seat, the brutha-from-anotha-planet made his entrance and proceeded past me. Judging from the facial expressions on the swiveling heads, I'd say roughly half our fellow passengers were thinking: Oh Gawd, not on this bus, and the other half were thinking: A ghetto blaster?? Seriously?
It looked like we were all going to sit this out in quiet Canadian martyrdom, until the song finished and the next one started. That's when a number of guys started shouting back at our homie. A very large man who looked like he rode Harley Davidsons when he wasn't using public transit, was particularly incensed and insistent.

"Have some respect for other people. We don't want to listen to your &%#@."
"Stick in some earphones, like everyone else!" someone else added, while the bus driver pulled over, got out of his seat and pointed meaningfully at the door.

Our homie rose slowly with a few choice words and a face-saving shrug and made his way to the back door... closely followed by Motorcycle Man who, uttering a string of imprecations, gave him a mighty shove. Homie measured his length on the sidewalk for a split second, then sprang up and hurled himself at Motorcycle Man, while those of us still on the bus gasped and gaped. Motorcycle Man soon had Homey pinned on his back, his eyes white and wide without his sunglasses which were scattered across the sidewalk along with his ghetto blaster and several other belongings.

"He picked the wrong white guy to piss off," offered someone.
I had my face buried in my hands and looked up at the young girl seated next to me.
"That was totally unnecessary," I said wearily. "He was getting off the bus."
The girl and a young man standing by us nodded vigorously.
"He didn't need to shove him," they said. A lady in bright yellow Brunhilda braids tried to explain how Motorcycle Man was justified, but no one paid much attention; our eyes were glued on the drama outside.

Our bus driver sighed, waited a moment, then got out and strolled over to tap Motorcycle Man on the shoulder as he continued to pin Homey to the sidewalk. I guess some sort of truce was arranged as Motorcycle Man got up, and Homey struggled to his feet. M.M. tried to hand Homey a yellow book of scripture which had fallen in the melée, but Homey was spitting. There were a couple of additional angry exchanges, before a young fella handed Homey his ghetto blaster and got an embrace in return. Motorcycle Man, thank heaven, did not get back on the bus.

It was only when the woman in Brunhilda braids got off at Elgin Street that I realized she was an office worker dressed for this last day of work before Hallowe'en. I was beginning to wonder how many people on that bus had been in costume.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Things David Tennant makes me do

Okay, I admit that this is evidence that I may be losing it. See, I put together one of these using my family's heads for Facebook, but then it occurred to me: I have a few pictures on DT on my computer....

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Do you think someone will sue me?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

All you zombies

I don't go to cemeteries looking for dead people. I can find them far more easily online. No, even though I'm a family historian, all my dead rellies are buried across the ocean. Or are burnt to a crisp and scattered somewhere. I happen to live about a twenty-minute walk from Beechwood Cemetery which is really old (by Canadian standards), really historical, and really, really beautiful. Particularly in the autumn. So when I saw people on the sidewalks clutching phones, cameras, and mini-camcorders, my heart sank. It was the one perfect autumn Sunday to stroll up to the cemetery and there were policemen and a huge crowd ahead. Suddenly, the crowd lurched (yes, lurched) to the far side of Beechwood Avenue, cramming themselves on the narrow sidewalk, while the police patiently instructed them not to walk on the road. I had stumbled across the Annual Zombie Walk, and even though I had my camera with me, I didn't take pictures. (I stole this one from the Ottawa Citizen web site. Ashley Fraser took this as various people in rather disgusting make-up staggered across the St Patrick Bridge en route to the Parliament Buildings.) Did I mention I was squeamish?

As the rotting crowd of about 300 tottered away, I entered the cemetery driveway and passed two attendants who were chattering amiably as they stayed long enough to ensure that no undead blundered amongst the graves. I don't think the dead would care, but their living visitors might have taken umbrage. I climbed the steep hill that leads to the burial grounds and for a long time, I could hear the roars and moans of the fake zombies who were all very young and probably largely untouched as yet by death.

I am old enough to have been touched by death but, as I've said, I don't go to the cemetery in search of the dead, although I am happy to walk companionably beside them. The trees at Beechwood Cemetery vary wildly in age, and certainly in recent decades, they have been deliberately planted for variety, which usually means a full palate of colours at this time of year. After an unusually wet summer, the colours are not as vibrant as some autumns, but, you have to admit, they're not bad.

This particular afternoon, I headed as far east as time would allow. Beechwood Cemetery is enormous and I didn't even make it as far as the military section. Quite a few people drove through, and I climbed off the path to let them pass, while looking at recent monuments and poignant memorials to more ancient families, together at last.

The leaves on the ground scuttled and whispered between the stones in sunset-coloured herds, and I waited to catch my second leaf of the autumn. Finally a golden beauty fell directly in front of me. I snatched it and made a wish for elder daughter. The first wish is always for younger daughter who has so many needs. If I catch enough, I'll make a wish for the Resident Fan Boy although I somehow think that he has all he wants. Maybe that's a tad presumptuous. His last name is on one of these tombstones, but there's no relation, thank goodness.

Much of this weekend was spent in the company of the Resident Fan Boy's dead relatives. Research last winter led to the true identity of the second wife of the RFB's paternal grandfather. Further research a few weeks ago led to the name of his first wife. Last week, a sheaf of birth, death and marriage certificates I'd ordered from the General Register Office in England arrived, and they seem to confirm that the Resident Fan Boy's late father and his late paternal uncle were, in fact, half-brothers. Paternal grand-dad had two children with his first wife, three children with second, returned to first wife and had another child (said uncle) before first wife popped clogs, leaving him free to marry second wife. My late father-in-law had carefully given me enough false information to blow me off course, and the three children of the two brothers had no idea, other than something strange had been going on. So, at the Resident Fan Boy's request, I carefully composed a time-line to lead his sister and cousin (the one who's not speaking to me) through the tangled web of deceit designed to protect delicate Edwardian sensibilities. Both women profess to be quite uninterested, but have been pelting the RFB with further questions...

I was thinking about this as I turned my toes westward, in the direction where the zombies had vanished. I imagine both my late father-in-law and his (half)brother would not have been pleased with me for dragging these skeletons out of the closet. However, I discovered an aunt and an uncle (both long dead) for my husband, his sister and cousin. Not everyone wants to know the truth about their family history (if the truth is indeed what I've uncovered -- people did lie, even on official documents), but, as I've said before, there is a certain comfort in reclaiming long-dead relatives, and I do think we forget them at our peril.

Is that why, I wondered as I wandered, hundreds of kids were staggering through Ottawa with extruded eyeballs and fake blood dribbling from their mouths? Because they can't remember where they come from? Are they so afraid of death that they think the state of un-death might be kind of neat? Or are they so unacquainted with death that they think spoofing it is a hoot? They probably haven't given it much thought. I'm probably giving it way too much thought.

When I got home, I told the family about my adventures. Elder daughter rolled her eyes. "I can't believe you've never heard of the Annual Zombie Walk. It's been going on forever." Eight years, actually. That's forever to a seventeen-year-old.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Giving thanks from the heart (well, maybe a bit lower down)

Thanksgiving in Canada, as I keep having to remind my American and British friends and relations, is celebrated the second weekend in October. Canadians have no particular links with The Mayflower or Plymouth Rock; we do have a rather shorter growing season in most parts of the country than in the US, and since many Canadians have English forebears, there is that connection with the Anglican Harvest Sunday. Coming from Victoria, the Resident Fan Boy and I are still struck by urgency of the traditional Harvest Sunday hymns. In a climate like Ottawa's, you better durn well have the crops in. The first frost is on its way.

All the same, this has never been one of my favourite holidays. For many Canadians (the more affluent ones, anyway), this is a weekend to get away. The last camping reservations fall on this weekend, and those with a cottage (in central Canada) or cabin (in British Columbia) usually retreat there for a final sojourn by the lake. This means, aside from the nightmarish gridlock that begins mid-afternoon the previous Friday, that those of us who remain in town have fewer options. The arty films of the autumn will not be opening just yet, there is little in the way of theatre and concerts, and most stores shut down, many for Sunday and Monday.

This means you'd better have all your ingredients for your Thanksgiving dinner ahead of time, whether the big dinner is on Sunday (when you have guests) or Monday (if you don't). And there's another thing: it's a holiday that requires me to spend several hours in the kitchen. We don't do turkey, but this year, because younger daughter seems unusually excited about Thanksgiving, we decided to try a new recipe, Pollo con Zucchini Fritti, which is actually an old Vancouver Sun recipe which I pasted in my book then promptly forgot to try. It involved a lot of sauté-ing, and quite a bit of scotch whiskey, chardonney, port, and cream. It was bloody delicious actually, and was followed up by the mandatory pumpkin-pie-completely-from-scratch-including-the-pastry-thank-you-very-much.

It wasn't until about 4 am that I realized that I might be in a bit of trouble. It took a while for my sleep-hazed brain to understand that the mild indigestion of the evening before had localized to rather more discomfort in a small knot below my rib cage on my right side. Y'know, where my gall bladder is.

I discovered I had gallstones five years ago when I attempted to take both daughters to a second viewing of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, then had to call the Resident Fan Boy at work to pick them up at the Rideau Centre because the pain in my side was enough to bring a sheen of cold sweat on my forehead and upper lip. I headed home on the bus, wondering if I'd just sent my family off to watch a lengthy film while I had a heart attack. I got home, and the pain (which, by the way, was almost as bad as my labour pains and that's saying something) suddenly vanished. It kept recurring over the next week as our annual retreat to Victoria, along with a side excursion to Disneyland, approached. My doctor's locum decided I needed antacids and a bland diet. I figured out myself that it was somehow connected to peanut butter.

Since then, I've had one or two attacks, always on a holiday involving rich food. I decided against surgery since avoiding peanut butter seemed so much easier, but in the past couple of years, I've been foolishly indulging in Kraft Smooth again in a sort of nutty Russian Roulette.

So the Pollo con Zucchini Fritti came home to roost. I shifted myself carefully, praying the pain wouldn't escalate into the cold sweat phase which actually requires labour breathing. Please, no, please. I won't do it again... I took some Tylenol which has worked for me, and woke up functional and only slightly queasy two hours later when I had to get up and escort younger daughter on the long bus trek to school. As we walked through the rainy streets to the bus stop, I was filled with the euphoria similar to that I exuded when they finally gave me the epidural in both my labours. One function of pain: it feels so damn good when it stops. So I did celebrate Thanksgiving this year -- at 7:20 this morning.

Maybe I should substitute one percent milk for the cream in the Pollo...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Spin around ninjas

Last night elder daughter wrapped herself in a bath sheet before her shower and excitedly told me about a literal video. I guess she forgot to tell me earlier.

Now, literal videos are one of the things that have gone sort of quasi-viral on YouTube. I saw my first one when Stevyn Colgyn featured Dusto McNeato's literal video of "Take On Me". Elder daughter, all long legs and grey towel, sat on the stairs and told me that "the guy who did the Total Eclipse of the Heart literal video did the Barenaked Ladies' One Week".

As you might imagine, I had to get her to repeat that a few times until I got the gist of what she was saying and she was really ticked off with me in short order.

"You mean Dusto McNeato?"
"No, the guy that did the "Total Eclipse of the Heart" literal video, the one you showed me."
Now I was really confused. I don't remember ever showing her anything to do with "Total Eclipse of the Heart", a song I never liked with a video I liked even less.

Which makes it, I guess, the perfect subject for a literal video. After elder daughter vanished into the mists of her shower, I checked YouTube and discovered that our mystery literal video wizard is "dascottjr" who, classy guy that he is, credits Dusto McNeato at nearly every turn, while making some pretty damn fine literal videos. Gotta love the name of the "literal singer" for this one. Update - after repeatedly getting his literal videos creamed at YouTube due to copyright issues, "dascottjr" moved this one to the safety of Funny or Die, so the below video won't work but the Funny or Die link will:I still can't for the life of me remember showing this to elder daughter. (I mean, would you forget this one in a hurry?) One of us clearly has a faulty memory.


Anyway, here's the one elder daughter liked:Gotta love that Can/con.

"dascottjr" has done a whole mess of these things, even more than Dusto McNeato, I think, using videos from the sixties, eighties, nineties, and aughts. I like this one for The Killers:I'm now summoning up the courage to see what this guy did to "Love is a Battlefield"...

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The things I do for David Tennant

Some things may have already been established, if you are one of the half dozen people who regularly read this blog. (Hello. I'm always so glad to see you...): 1. I have issues with things involving numbers and technology. 2. I am squeamish. 3. I like David Tennant. This weekend has brought these three items together in surprising and disturbing ways.

On Friday evening, while blog-browsing, I became aware that the 2001 BBC Radio Four production of Much Ado About Nothing (featuring DT as Benedick, "the married man") is available at for something like £75. Now, as much as I like David Tennant, that's a bit rich for my blood, but legal audio downloads of the same are available in the $20 price range. So, I, the legal audio download virgin, embarked on a frustrating evening of typing, clicking, pasting, what-have-you. The site I'd chosen fervently assured me of how easy the whole process was, but my computer failed to access their helpful how-to video, and their so-call contact site refused to recognize my password. After several attempts, I managed to download both halves of the play, verify my licensed right to view and burn the same (this required obtaining permission, ooooh, about five times), then after several bouts of filthy language and attempting no less than three media players, actually was able to listen to the thing. After a suitable calm-down period, I will be enlisting the resident seventeen-year-old's aid in burning it to a CD. Or two. This I will do for David Tennant. (As an aside, younger daughter heard a portion of the play during breakfast and vanished upstairs to get her anime version. She wanted to know where the kiss was.)

David Tennant was also instrumental in our procuring tickets for Vision Theatre's production of The Pillowman at the Arts Court Theatre in downtown Ottawa last night. I knew from what I'd learned about the play that it wouldn't be my cup of tea, but David Tennant had waxed lyrically about the script when he appeared in the world premiere at the National Theatre in London alongside Jim Broadbent. Elder daughter declined, after reading the review in The Ottawa Citizen, so the Resident Fan Boy accompanied me. A blind-folded man in a prison jumpsuit and sock feet sat at a table on the stage as we took seats in the very front row. He sat there silently until the stage lights abruptly came on and the play began.

Oh. Dear. Let me say right now, the writing in this play is very very good as were the performances of the actors: David Whitely and Bradley Cunningham Long as the sadistic but horrendously funny good cop/bad cop interrogators (Whitely was playing Ariel, the role played by Jim Broadbent in London and Jeff Goldblum on Broadway); Geoff McBride as Michal the damaged brother who is innocently guilty and wisely simple; and best of all, Kris Joseph as the bewildered, tortured, enraged, and passionate Katurian.

If you're ever planning to see this play, the following may spoil it for you. Or not.

After an hour and a half of listening to Katurian's disturbing short stories of the torture and murder of children (illustrated at first with sort of animated chalk drawings, then silhouettes of deranged puppets), Katurian's brother lay lifeless, staring upwards on a mattress in a prison cell, as the audience departed for intermission. The Resident Fan Boy and I sat frozen in our seats, contemplating another hour of prison torture and the promised revelation of the gruesome details of another Katurian short story involving a mute little girl: The Little Jesus.

"I don't think I can face it..." I finally stammered to the Resident Fan Boy.

And so we left. Not because it was a bad play. It isn't. Not due to any lacking in the performances. There wasn't. As a matter of fact, the long agonizing revelation of the true horrors of the plot as Katurian and his brother await further torture and execution is an amazing tour-de-force for the two actors, Kris Joseph and Geoff McBride, who come off as a kind of twisted version of The Smothers Brothers (which, considering the end of the scene, is perhaps a little too appropriate). Katurian, listening in growing shock to what his stories have led the childlike (and oddly logical) Michal to commit, swings from brotherly patience to enraged exasperation to tearful protective love.

The simple fact is that I couldn't take any more. The violence is relatively bloodless, much less than other productions from what I can make out from photos online, but that makes it all the more horrible. Anyone making this into a movie would probably show everything in graphic and gory splendour, but this production (even the bit with the severed toes) restrained itself and let the narrative do its blood-chilling work.

As we made our way to the elevator, the woman from the box office hastily checked that we weren't leaving because we thought the play was over, which has apparently happened several times due to the length.

"No," I assured her. "The writing is great; the acting is great. I just can't bear anymore." She thanked us for coming.

On the bus home, I mulled over my decision, thinking of a psychologist friend who left American Beauty in a fit of disgust, thus missing the strangely redemptive ending. Looking at a synopsis of The Pillowman, I somehow doubt we were missing redemption, just more death and despair, with a couple of plot twists. Besides, I wasn't leaving in disgust. I can't say the same for the Resident Fan Boy who was appalled at the laughter during the interrogation scene. I told him that it was supposed to be funny, in the blackest possible way, but he was sure that the audience took too much delight in it, and that this is another symptom of society's growing callousness to suffering.

Maybe so. I was chagrined last year when elder daughter saw Roman Polanski's Macbeth and failed to fathom what had scarred me for life when seeing it when I was her age. (The Resident Fan Boy and I were discussing Roman Polanski and his arrest for the drugging, raping, and sodomizing of a thirteen-year-old girl three decades ago while waiting for The Pillowman to begin, another queasy quasi-relevance.) She also viewed The Exorcist for a school project with no qualms. Clearly, exposure to graphic violence has toughened up audiences over the years.

But not me. I'm not sorry I went. I wonder, however, if I would have found the stomach to continue had David Tennant been in the lead role. Part of me hopes not.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Ghosts of September

I've been leafing through my journals for a glimpse of past Septembers as my days on NaBloPoMo draw to a close, particularly appropriate as the NaBloPoMo "theme" for October is "haunted". I've discovered the hard way that I shouldn't do this before bedtime; the past of John Mortimer, even the slaughter of the Romanovs, is a good prelude to sleep while my own past keeps me awake.

The last time I did this exercise (both NaBloPoMo and journal-review) was in February, that frozen little limbo in the dead of winter that seems to go on forever. September is different, a inexorable engine of transition, being in many ways the true beginning of the year. Fluttering back into my own past, I found my daughters plunging into the unknowns of new schools, the struggle of adjusting to new homes, new neighbourhoods, new cities. I relived the starts of my pregnancies (both confirmed in September), and the first hospitalization that led to my father-in-law's final slide into death. I remembered other crises: an abortion in the family, and my own marriage trembling precariously on the brink. It isn't all Sturm und Drang, but September never has been a month for eager anticipation; it's more a gauntlet to be got through, so one can lick one's wounds in October.

Since my mind is on ghosts and September, let me keep a promise I made in August. At that time, I wrote about elder daughter's encounters with her paternal grandmother who died three years before elder daughter was born. I was inclined to believe my daughter's story and here's why: Less than twenty-four hours after my mother-in-law died, the Resident Fan Boy had a vivid dream in the early hours of a September morning. His mother came to his bedside, as she used to do when he was a small boy in the rectory, except this time her breathing was laboured as it had been in the hospital during her final week.
"I'll be dead in three days," she told him, "but I'll be out in the living room if you need me."

The Resident Fan Boy woke with a start, desperately needing to go to the bathroom, but terrified of passing by the living room in our small apartment...

Three hundred and sixty-four days later, on the eve of the anniversary of my mother-in-law's death, I too was awoken in the wee sma' hours -- by a very large moth which "strafed" me, zooming from one ceiling corner of our bedroom, down right past my ear so I could hear the small motor sound of its wings, then up to the other side of the ceiling. It did this about four or five times until I wailed in terror, waking the Resident Fan Boy. I peeped out from my refuge under the covers and noted uneasily that the time on the alarm clock was the exact hour of my mother-in-law's passing. Then I mused over the coincidence of "moth" and "mother" beginning with the same letters. She never liked me much....

Well. So much for September. As I've said before, my comfort level is really about two posts per week, so I'll be leaving NaBloPoMo for now, and see if I actually accomplish those things I've neglected while posting daily. Seeing as I've been working with short months first, I plan to "NaBloPoMo" it again in April 2010.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

My mind is what I miss the most

I think it was spotting the Burger King on Clyde Avenue near Baseline Road. Although it really began with another one of those interminable dreams I get about needing to get somewhere and having something to finish first. Perhaps you get them too? The kind of dream from which you awake in a cold panic, realize that you don't have to do that or be there, only to realize there's someplace else you need to be, and that you do, in fact, have to get up.

This meant I was sitting on the #118 sometime after 8 am, en route to younger daughter's school, carefully counting off landmarks and fighting off the feeling of having been dragged through the broom ass-backwards. Clyde Avenue is my cue to count down bus stops, because we get off at the fourth one. That's when I spotted the Burger King, which started me on a free association of my year spent in Toronto, for some reason. (Probably because that was back in the days when I actually liked fast food and could eat it without gaining four pounds within twenty-four hours.) What with my sleep-deprived brain, the misted-out bus windows, and the dreary rain-washed wasteland of strip malls, I drifted off into a reverie, and suddenly came to, not knowing how much time had passed, and not recognising where we were.

Panicking, I rang the bell, and we clambered off, while I tried to get my bearings: Ferguson Street. Where the *#$%& is Ferguson Street? I glanced wildly around for land-marks, but recognized nothing, Baseline being as about as pretty a thorough-fare as its name suggests. All I could see were rows of unprepossessing houses, with endless traffic relentlessly buzzing along a road with infrequent traffic lights.

There was nothing for it but to head back the way we came, wondering how many bus stops I'd missed. After we'd been walking for about five minutes, I did finally recognise a landmark: the rather surly teen-aged girl at the next bus stop, whom we usually pass when we head up Erindale. Sure enough, the street beyond her was our turning, and I strode ahead of patient (probably oblivious) younger daughter, glancing at my watch and feeling for the first time how very long the trek up Erindale is. Fortunately, we weren't even late, and I managed to catch my bus back, but standing there in the rain, it occurred to me that I am going to make every mistake in the book while mastering this four-and-a-half-hour commute. Oh well. As long as I don't make each mistake twice, I should only have a transit crisis every week or so...
(The painting is "Bus Window" by folk-artist Cheri' Ben-Iesau.)

Monday, 28 September 2009

Thirty-five films to ease the time in Hades

Marie Phillips over at The Woman Who Talked Too Much asked about favourite movies today, and I thought: "Hey! An easy post for Day 28 of September's NaBloPoMo! I'll just copy my trusty list from Facebook..."

Anyway, here's the 35 of my top movies (in no particular order) that I came up with when I established my Facebook profile a couple of years ago. Thirty-five is not a magic number; it's just what it is. It will become thirty-six and so forth as I run into more movies that I love. Not "the best films ever", mind, just films that I love and will watch repeatedly:
#1. Harold and Maude
Bud Cort, Cyril Cusack, Ruth Gordon, Vivian Pickles
My desert island flick. The movie I watch when I'm feeling down and dusty. I first saw this at age 19 and my perception of this story changes markedly as I age.

#2. Sense and Sensibility
Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant
I just never get tired of this one. It features a dream-cast, Emma Thompson's delicately funny screenplay and the indefinably wonderful direction of Ang Lee. The commentary by Emma Thompson is worth the price of the DVD.

#3. The Ice Storm
Allison Janney, Christina Ricci, Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood
This is the one film about the seventies about which I've been able to say: "Yes, that is what it was like."

#4. Broadcast News
Holly Hunter, William Hurt, Albert Brooks, Robert Prosky
I love the writing and I adore Holly Hunter in this. One of the few films that admits that women actually wear pantyhose instead of topless stockings.

Anton Rodgers, Bernadette Peters, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Mandy Patinkin
A funny movie and fantastic cast. Gorgeous from start to finish.

#6. Jésus de Montréal (Jesus of Montreal)
Lothaire Bluteau, Catherine Wilkening, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Rémy Girard
A parable featuring clever parallels to the Easter story. Extra pleasures for those who know anything about Quebec culture.

#7. Swing Time
Betty Furness, Eric Blore, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore, Helen Broderick
My very favourite Astaire/Rogers outing. I'm like a little kid on Christmas Eve when waiting for them to finally start dancing in "Pick Yourself Up", then I glow...

#8. Monkey Business
Chico Marx, Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Zeppo Marx, Thelma Todd
My favourite Marx Brothers movie. So many wonderful moments: The crew can tell they have four stowaways because they are singing a barbershop quartet. (But wait a minute, isn't Harpo a mute?) All four brothers try to sneak through Customs on Maurice Chevalier's passport. It's heaven...

#9. Snow Cake
Alan Rickman, Callum Keith Rennie, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sigourney Weaver
The writer of this film has an autistic son, and my younger daughter has special needs, so I was deeply touched by this movie. I particularly love the know-it-all lady who thinks she understands autism because she's seen Rainman. It's heartbreaking without being depressing.

#10. Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)
Alastair Sim, Kathleen Harrison, Mervyn Johns, Hermione Baddeley, Michael Hordern
This is the version of A Christmas Carol for me. There are many parts of it that weren't in the novella, but somehow seem as if they should have been. I watch it and weep every year.

#11. 84, Charing Cross Road
Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench
Loved the books by Helene Hanff, and was delighted that this movie is not a disappointment. Obviously a labour of love.

#12. A Room With A View
Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott, Julian Sands, Simon Callow, Judi Dench, etc., etc.
Gosh, this is just a treat for the senses from start to finish! Wonderful cast and cinematography.

#13. Au Revoir Les Enfants
Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejtö, Francine Racette, Stanislas Carre de Malberg
Louis Malle telling tales out of school. Not a breath of melodrama, just a gentle story of inadvertent betrayal.

#14. Bedazzled
Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron, Raquel Welch
Forget the recent junky version. This is the original, full of pithy comments about the nature of evil. ("Julie Andrews!")

#15. Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould
Colm Feore
Not so much a portrait of the legendary (almost mythical) Canadian pianist, as a series of impressions. What's even stranger is that Colm Feore has portrayed another legendary (almost mythical) Canadian, Pierre Elliot Trudeau. That's pretty much all the two have in common...

#16. The Sweet Hereafter
Ian Holm, Maury Chaykin, Sarah Polley, Bruce Greenwood
Based on a novel by Russell Bank, this story has been re-set in a small town in the BC interior where a catastrophic school bus accident has left a debris field of shattered lives. The film has a dreamlike quality; one could say nightmarish, but there is startling beauty amid the broken shards.

#17. The Seventh Seal
Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson
I took my husband to see this early in our marriage, waiting for him to enjoy it as much as I did. He fell asleep. Miraculously, our marriage survived this disaster.

#18. The Miracle of Morgan's Creek
Eddie Bracken, Betty Hutton, Diana Lynn, William Demarest
I'm not quite sure how this film got past the censors in 1944. I guess there was a war on. Really, really funny.

#19. Le Déclin de l'Empire Américain (The Decline of the American Empire)
Dominique Michel, Dorothée Berryman, Louise Portal, Pierre Curzi, Rémy Girard, Yves Jacques
This movie has entertained and perplexed me for years. When I first saw it in my late twenties, I was mystified by how supposedly good friends of long standing could treat each other in such a fashion. As I age, I understand it a bit better. Back in my teaching days, I used to have a lot of Québecois students. They told me that this was a pretty accurate depiction of university professors in Montreal. It doesn't hold out a great deal of hope for women and men understanding each other...

#20. Testament
Jane Alexander, William Devane, Rossie Harris, Roxana Zal
I watched this made-for-TV movie twice, once before having children, and once after. Two different kinds of devastation. I have never forgotten it.

#21. Some Like It Hot
Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft, Joe E. Brown
An excellent argument for never dating musicians! A hoot!

#22. Shakespeare in Love
Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Judi Dench, etc.
Adored the very wittiness of this, and especially enjoyed the pokes at playwright John Webster (creator of such feel-good bloodfests as The Duchess of Malfi) who is portrayed here as a particularly creepy little boy.

#23. Da hong deng long gao gao gua (Raise the Red Lantern)
Li Gong, Cuifen Cao, Saifei He, Shuyuan Jin
This, to me is a perfect illustration of how oppression leads to the oppressed undermining each other. Suppose the women really had treated each other as sisters; would the power the man had over them been as devastating?

#24. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Charles Durning
Full of haunting music and lovely lines: "We thought you was a toad!" "Do not seek the tray-shure!" "He's a suitor!" The odd ritual run-and-sing of the KKK is one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen on film...

#25. Monty Python's Life of Brian
Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam
One of my two favourite Easter movies. (The other is Jesus of Montreal.)

#26. Looking for Richard
Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Estelle Parsons,Aidan Quinn, Kevin Spacey, Winona Ryder, etc, etc.
I think my favourite aspect of this documentary was the juxtaposition of the earnest "Method" approach with the scholarly musings of members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. On one side, you have a sort of deliberate ignorance (maybe innocence is the better word), aiming for purity of character development and motivation, and on the other, actors who simply know Shakespeare within their bones. Which is the correct approach? Who cares? The play's the thing! (Wrong play, I know!)

#27. Le Roi de coeur (King Of Hearts)
Geneviève Bujold, Alan Bates, Michel Serrault, Madeleine Clervanne
This film stole my heart when I saw it in my university cinema as a young student. What fun to hear Alan Bates actually speaking French throughout the movie. (Dubbed versions of this film are pointless!)
#28. Kissing Jessica Stein
Jennifer Westfeldt, Heather Juergensen
I married early and never really experienced the dating scene. This film reminds me why! Although it is nice to know one has options...

#29. Arsenic and Old Lace
Cary Grant, Edward Everett Horton, Jack Carson, James Gleason, Vincent Massey, Peter Lorre
One of the two perfect Hallowe'en movies of all time! (The other is the 1963 version of The Haunting.) The play itself is a delight, but the movie has such tricks and treats as Cary Grant doing several triple-takes, and Raymond Massey being truly creepy. Very funny, and for a faint-heart like myself, not a little scary...

#30. The Haunting
Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn
The terror in this film is derived entirely from camera angles and sound effects. And it works, mate! Don't watch it alone at night! As a side-dish, you can enjoy the pseudo-sophisticated psychology of the time. Apparently, Clair Bloom's penchant for dressing in black Mary Quant is a dead giveaway that her character is a lesbian. (Gee! Who knew?)

#31. Tootsie
Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Bill Murray, Sidney Pollack
My 3 favourite things about this movie (aside from the writing, direction, and Dustin Hoffman): Teri Garr as the bewildered girlfriend-who-never-was: "You schmuck!"; Bill Murray in what I believe was an uncredited role as the laid-back room-mate: "You slut!"; and director Sydney Pollack as Michael Dorsey's long-suffering agent: "I begged you to get therapy..."

#32. Amélie (Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain)
Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus
Charmant! Tout simplement. (Actually, I think of Amelie every time I tap the crusty top of a crème brûlée...)

#33. Singin' in the Rain
Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen
How many musicals have a great screenplay? I'll tell you, next to none! This movie just entertains from all angles: singing, dancing, acting, and laughing! My goose-bump moment: The minute Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor stop singing "Moses Supposes" and let-er-rip with an amazing dance on a desk-top.

#34. Life Classes
Jacinta Cormier, Leon Dubinsky, Leo Jessome, Frances Knickle
Dammit, I just love this film. A Nova Scotia girl whose idea of art is paint-by-numbers gets knocked up and heads to the city. Eventually she stumbles into being a nude model at an art college, and from there moves into the world of art herself. I've always thought this film was a small gem.

#35. Romeo and Juliet
Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey, John McEnery, Milo O'Shea, Michael York, John McEnery, etc.
The PTA actually put a ban on this film in 1968 -- which really got the viewing numbers up. (You get to see Romeo's bare bum for all of thirty seconds --- shocking!) But the magic of this film is seeing the lead roles acted (very well) by very young actors, close to the ages Romeo and Juliet were supposed to have been. The rest of the cast is amazing: a very young Michael York as Tybalt, the acerbic John McEnery as Mercutio, and the lovely voice of Laurence Olivier as the Prologue. Then there were the music and costumes. Sigh...

It's taken me hours to edit and link this list. That'll teach me to try for an easy post...

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Tasty, with a chance of social satire

It's raining in New York City. We know this because we have been cyberstalking elder daughter again, looking longingly at the drenched steps leading to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she spent this morning. After lunch and last-minute shopping, she'll be bussed back here by late evening. She's seeing Central Park and Little Italy, Billy Elliot and West Side Story. We saw....Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs....

And you know what? It wasn't so bad. In fact, it was rather good.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a rarity in that it's one of the few children's picture books that I haven't read. I've shelved it often enough while volunteering in school libraries over the past nine years, but have never actually opened it. The movie takes a germ of an idea for a jumping-off point into a wild and wacky tale about an inventor whose inventions are marvelous, miraculous, but all seem to have a fatal flaw. Or several.

Our hero is a large-eyed, tousled-haired fellow in a long coat who can fix problems through mad improvisations with every-day items and is a wee bit out-of-it in recognizing romantic cues from women. Remind you of anyone? Okay, make the big blue eyes big brown ones and a imagine a slightly dodgy London accent. So that's part of the charm right there, but the film is full of sly blink-and-you'll-miss-it jokes that made the adults in the audience roar. (And quite a few adults showed up at this matinee without kids.)

My favourite bit was when the hero finds the heroine attractive when she puts her glasses on. There's a tiny bit of scatological humour, but younger daughter loved the idea of a town being blanketed with food (particularly ice cream) and the Resident Fan Boy and I enjoyed the digs at American news-reporting.

Younger daughter's verdict after the film? "It was tasty!"

Yeah, it is. Have a light snack before you go see it.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

All the old dudes

I nearly missed this item buried in the "More from Entertainment" section of the BBC news web site. I was amused by two things: first the wry comment that the two sold-out Mott the Hoople reunion gigs (of a total of seven) are at "the rather less well known Blake Theatre in Monmouth", and secondly, that none of the pictures of the band members are current. I remember seeing a documentary of the Rolling Stones done to support one of their more recent world tours and thinking how they all looked like aging shop-keepers. As Mott themselves declared in two of their songs ("All the Way from Memphis" and "The Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll"): Ya gotta stay young, man; you can never get old...

Still, would I were there. I went scrolling through YouTube for some of my favourites, thinking of mornings when I would put on the headphones and blast Mott into my ears, searching for the courage to leave the house. First, here's a 1973 (or 1974?) Top of the Pop lip-sync of "Roll Away the Stone", although Ian Hunter is singing over his recorded vocal: Next, in a video that screams "Eighties" is a non-Mott song from Ian Hunter, "All of the Good Ones Are Taken." The sync is a bit out here, but the other versions of the video are not as clear. This is back when many music videos actually had some sort of story-line. I like the humour in it; although the posing sex-bombs kinda date it (or do they?):Finally, one of my very favourite Mott the Hoople ditties, "I Wish I Was Your Mother". This is a gorgeous recent version Hunter recorded in Oslo for a DVD/CD entitled Strings Attached which is going right on my Christmas wish list: Sigh. Would I were there...

Friday, 25 September 2009

The cheese stands alone

We've finally got younger daughter a lift to school --- but only for Fridays. Nevertheless, that meant I could hang around the television set and look frantically through the crowds that congregate outside NBC in New York during the weather portions of the Today Show. Elder daughter's school tour was scheduled to stand out there this morning. I'm not sure if they did; it was listed in the itinerary as optional. At any rate, I didn't see them.

I used to watch the Today Show quite regularly when I was much younger. Was it always this bad? We had the show on for two hours, and I learned four things:

1) President Obama is in a sweat over the discovery of an "underground nuclear facility" in Iran.

2) A pretty woman has disappeared after being in police custody. The fact that she was young and pretty seemed to weigh heavily.

3) Apparently children who have been spanked have lower IQs than those who haven't.

4) Michael Jackson is still dead.

They spent quite a bit of time on the Obama item, a little bit less time on the disappearance, less than three minutes on the spanking; and tons of time on Michael Jackson. The rest of the programme, totaling about ninety minutes I'd say, was spent on weather reports, local news (we get the Detroit feed), and commercials. Interminable, loud commercials, the longest of which focused on some guy who sits on his deck reading and petting an animal while the voice-over details a very long list of side-effects to the drug being advertised.

I turned off the set at 9 am, having failed to glimpse elder daughter and with the feeling that my brain had been turned to cheese. There are people who routinely begin their mornings this way. How can they bear it?