Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Dammit, I want these....

...but I can't have em...

Isn't that always the way? (David Tennant is even cute when he's chubby, isn't he?)

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Of burning babes and gin-haired strangers

Well, here it is, the Second Day of Christmas, otherwise known as Boxing Day, but we eschew that questionable Canadian tradition of braving the box stores for bargains and plan to spend the day treasuring our love offerings.

I could, if I chose, indulge in a David Tennant frenzy. Not only is the Space Channel showing a marathon of Doctor Who specials (which, until this evening's Canadian premiere of Matt Smith's first Christmas special are all "Tennanted"), but I got a Tennantude of wonders: People Like Us, the wincingly funny mockumentary from Chris Langham (before he, rightly or wrongly, became a pariah); A CD of Shakespeare's sonnets (DT being among the readers) and an audiobook version of How to Treat a Dragon's Curse by Cressida Cowell, narrated by you-know-Who.

However I also received not one, but two books with 366 poems each, one for each day of a leap year. Eagerly I opened one to see the poem for December 25.


As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow ;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear ;
Who, scorchéd with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I !
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns ;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiléd souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I calléd unto mind that it was Christmas day.

Evidently a poem for one with Catholic tastes, this one is by Robert Southwell, priest, something like sixth cousin to William Shakespeare. Southwell was eventually imprisoned, subject to a variety of tortures by Richard Topcliffe (sadist, rapist, and Member of Parliament) then, of course, butchered on the gallows in that delightful Elizabethan way. He was canonized in 1970.

A little shaken, I turned to the other anthology, and for Christmas Day, found a poem better suited to December 28, but which also fits in spookily with nativity by Peter Anderson, the play I saw at the National Arts Centre earlier this week:

Who's that knocking on the window,
Who's that standing at the door,
What are all those presents
Lying on the kitchen floor?

Who is the smiling stranger
With hair as white as gin,
What is he doing with the children
And who could have let him in?

Why has he rubies on his fingers,
A cold, cold crown on his head,
Why, when he caws his carol,
Does the salty snow run red?

Why does he ferry my fireside
As a spider on a thread,
His fingers made of fuses
And his tongue of gingerbread?

Why does the world before him
Melt in a million suns,
Why do his yellow, yearning eyes
Burn like saffron buns?

Watch where he comes walking
Out of the Christmas flame,
Dancing, double-talking:

Herod is his name.

This poem, by Charles Causley, was written during a Cold War Christmas and bears marks of the Flanders and Swan ditty "Twenty Tons of TNT" (even though that may have been written later):

Children have no need of sharing;
At each new nativity
Come the ghostly Magi bearing
Twenty tons of TNT

I discovered that Causley's poem has been put to music by folk-musician A Show of Hands. There's a YouTube video set to this. I'm not a great fan of anime, but it's the clearest recording I could find:

So, as usual, even in the glowing haven of Christmas, the world will keep barging in. Well, never mind, this family is wrapping itself up in the Twelve Days of Christmas. I'm off to ferry the out-of-town presents down to their rightful place under the Christmas tree, where we'll gradually enjoy them until January 5th.

Take that, you gin-haired stranger.

Friday, 24 December 2010

In "havenly" peace

I've always seen Christmas as a dark but brightly lit harbour, and the old year as a stately ship (or at least a ferry boat), slowly drawing in to the quay. This past week, I've felt the engines change, and despite the Christmas flurry around us, a drifting sensation as we close on the safety of land, if only for a brief time before we get shoved back out to sea in January.

Christmas in Hades has much of the same comforting familiarity as anywhere else, I suppose, providing you do, in fact, take comfort in Christmas. Last Sunday, we were enveloped in the warmth and laughter of the annual Vinyl Café Christmas concert. I looked down from our loge upon a theatre jam-packed with pullover-wearing university types of all ages, and once again felt myself swept away by the performance of Matt Andersen who sang "People Get Ready" and "Silent Night" (and I'm not even that enamoured of "Silent Night"). John Sheard played "The Rocking Carol" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" (the English version) and I was assailed by memories of Sunday School at the Unitarian Church of Edmonton. Actually, we sang another song to the tune of the latter:
The children of far-distant lands
With joyful song we greet
Hold out to us your friendly hands
Our circle to complete.
Around the world, so very wide,
Our circle it shall be
Goodwill and friendship need no tide
Nor ships to cross the sea.

As the week has passed, I saw the same sort of things you probably see as you have walked out these last days before Christmas: a family with one young blond girl in flowered snow boots carrying the potted poinsettia; two women sitting in a cafeteria, talking intently with the gift bags they've exchanged resting by their feet; a large blond dog trotting in and out of the traffic jam on Beechwood Avenue.

Wait -- you don't usually see that last item? Yes, I thought it was odd, too. I was on my way to the post office when I saw the dog and heard the frantic woman in pursuit: "Puppy! Here, puppy!" He gave her a "You talkin' to me?" look and continued to wend his way between the cars, some of which were impatiently trying to move. She followed, increasingly frantic: "Puppy! Puppy!"

Hmmn, I thought. She doesn't know his name. He trotted up the opposite sidewalk, very quickly, without actually running (he was very large), and the woman called ahead to a man waiting at the walk signal. I saw him duck, but the dog reappeared, now smack in the middle of the intersection of St Patrick and the Vanier Parkway which has a record of being one of the five most dangerous intersections in Ottawa. Another man appeared, clutching a red leash, and after some heart-stopping circling the dog managed to get to the traffic island on the far side, next to the Saint Patrick bridge, then loped toward the cycling path that follows the Rideau River, where he could theoretically proceed relatively unimpeded along the edge of Vanier, clear to Riverside. There was a car parked near the traffic light, bearing a sign reading "Pet Care Cab". I had the sinking feeling that this dog was being kenneled for the holiday and had escaped his caregivers. Yikes. It's one thing to lose your own dog, but someone else's dog...

May you never lose your dog. Or someone else's dog. May young children bring you love offerings and may you share a meal with an old friend. Most of all, may you find yourself in the warm and comforting dark of this holiday harbour, in the company of those who love you.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Birth and death

So I'd noticed there was a Tuesday matinée for nativity at the National Arts Centre this week, and the Resident Fan and I took gross advantage of younger daughter's student status and between that and my subscription discount, got three tickets for the price of one. In the front row.

Browsing through his programme, RFB asked me what a "production dramaturg" was. I glanced over my shoulder and noticed Peter Hinton, the artistic director of the NAC, wandering through the aisles, clutching his coffee mug and making small talk which seems to have been his habit since taking over the position. I hopped up and waylaid him and he said she was a person that kinda drew every aspect of the production together. I guess it's something like one step out from being the director. He said it was an interesting question, but I bet he says that to all the theatre patrons.

Back in my seat, I glanced over to the seats rising to our right and noticed a really pregnant lady. I didn't want to stare, so quickly averted my eyes. Peter Hinton did his usual quick intro to the play, asked the audience to turn off cell phones and unwrap their candy now and got a huge round of applause for forbidding texting and blogging during the show. He then strolled out a side door, mug in hand, and I briefly wondered where he'd go before I heard raised voices a few feet to my right.

Two ushers were loudly questioning the really really pregnant lady and her husband about their tickets, and they said the box office had lost them and the ushers said that was shame but there was no room in the theatre. And the play had begun.

It was exactly what I'd hoped it would be, for younger daughter's sake: a musical, animals, about Christmas. We launched into a modern slant on a medieval mystery play with shepherds complaining in verse, a trio of angels doo-wopping in the background, and songs ranging in style from bossa nova to Stephenish Sondheimish, pulled off by a rather frighteningly talented cast. One of the shepherds, just for an example, was Diane D'Aquila who, among other things, created the role of Elizabeth I in Elizabeth Rex. Many of the other actors in a sizeable cast (even when doubling and tripling up on roles) had CVs that resembled encyclopedia entries, and, oh look... there was Peter Hinton. I learned later that for the final week of the run, he'd taken over the roles for Marcel Jeannin (another fabulous actor, by the way) who'd had to bow out for personal reasons.

The guy who seemed to be having the most fun was Réjean Cournoyer (one of the lengthier CVs) who was playing Herod as something like a cross between Captain Hook and J. Pierpont Finch. And then. And then the play veers from slapstick and camp into medieval mystery territory again with the slaughter of the innocents. The Angel of Death stalks the stage, and Herod turns into that most terrifying thing of all, the pragmatic politician, sending those who did his dirty work from the banquet to the place of execution. The heart-broken mothers sing the dissonant harmonies of the Coventry Carol. Because Christmas has myrrh in it. Christmas also has loss.With the enraged Herod sprawled dead beside the banquet table, we were back into the spirit slapstick and pantomime with the "Coyote Christmas, which I suspect was a separate play at some point. Three starving coyotes invaded the audience, looking for something to chomp. They debated over the five-year-old sitting next to the Resident Fan Boy (a modern kid who didn't seem the least bit frightened by the prospect of being eaten by coyotes), before figuring out the audience was comprised of humans and not sheep. So, as you can imagine, when the angel told them about the Lamb of God, they got the completely wrong idea. In the mayhem that followed, younger daughter, the RFB and I had to keep pulling our feet in to avoid tripping up the Holy Family in hot pursuit of three coyotes tossing Baby Jesus like a football.

It turns out for the best though. (How else could you conclude a Christmas play?) When the Roman soldier (Peter Hinton again) comes looking for a baby to impale, the coyotes continue to insist they've got a lamb, and Jesus is saved. The joyful musical finale was complete when the lady who'd been about to be tossed out the theatre in the beginning announced: "It's a girl!"

Back at home, still glowing from the show, I posted a link to the review in the Ottawa Citizen at Facebook, but couldn't get an appropriate photo to come up. (The pictures in this post were taken by Andree Lanthier.) Instead, I kept getting a thumbnail of a group of men in orange jumpsuits kneeling by what appeared to be the Rideau Canal. I later learned they were at the Rideau River. About the same time that younger daughter, the Resident Fan Boy and I were settling in to enjoy the play, a nine-year-old boy slipped into the Rideau River not far from where we live. Because Christmas has myrrh in it. Christmas also has loss.

Oh sisters two, how may we do
To preserve this day?
This poor Youngling for whom we sing
Bye-bye, lulle, lullay.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

A ghost of Lennonmas present (write of passage number seventeen)

On the Transitway, a temperature of -10C is feeling more like -15 with the windchill. It's just before 9 and I've been on the go since 7:20 and this bus is my fourth of the morning -- so far. I get on at the front of the articulated bus, so by the time I make my way to the back, most of the few remaining seats have been grabbed by those who nipped in by the rear doors.

A woman has a cell phone glued to her ear. There's a pillow in her lap and two large designer purses on the seat beside her. She also appears to be wearing two long wigs. The bottom one is white-blond; the top one is magenta. I pause expectantly by her seat. In Canadian Bus Body Language, this means: "Will you take your stuff off, please, so I can sit down?". Madam Double Wig stares determinedly into the middle distance and mumbles into the cell phone.

"May I have this seat?"
No reaction.
I adopt a cheerful, motherly tone: "Excuse me, sweetie, did you pay for two seats?"
She glances at me, then back into the middle distance. I'm beginning to suspect that no one is on the other end of her phone call. An elderly Asian couple gaze on this scenario in mildly appalled wonder. I look to the very back where there's one seat wedged between two large adolescent males busily texting.
"I see," I say, a shade less cheerily. "You're just rude." I stalk off and carefully dock my butt in the free space.

I'm comforting my wounded feelings with the folk/rock/soul mix of CBC Radio Two's Morning show when I see a large group of commuters board at the Lincoln Fields stop. An elegant and formidable lady spots the seat I failed to get. She's dressed in what I think of as Civil Servant Winter Issue: a long, slim-fitting immaculate black wool coat crowned with a fleece cloche hat. She assumes the traditional Bus Body Language position I described earlier and when ignored, firmly puts the two designer bags in Madam Double Wig's lap. MDW slams them back into the empty seat beside her. Few words appear to be exchanged (I'm several seats back with ear buds in), but Elegant and Formidable Lady isn't budging.

After an impasse that nearly lasts the Transitway stretch of the Ottawa River Parkway, EFL manages to sit down. In honour of the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon's assassination, CBC Radio Two is playing "All You Need Is Love". I listen to Lennon while watching the seatmates conversing, with MDW's gestures gradually growing more extravagant:
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game. It's easy.

Now I can't resist slipping the ear buds out. The two are facing away from me, but a few words make it back, all from Madame Double Wig:

"Ride the f@$@#ing bus..."

Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time - It's easy. (I got the general idea, so I'd slipped in my ear buds again.)

Elegant and Formidable Lady has evidently had enough and transfers herself to a seat that has become available down in the next section. Madam Double Wig is now declaiming to the crowd below, some of whom are energetically remonstrating with her.

"And you can f*&$% off..."

I stick my ear buds back in. Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.
It's easy.

Back in my section, people are animatedly discussing the situation in pairs, nodding and smiling. Chatting odd couples: a fellow with a long grey ponytail with a pretty office worker in a bright tuque; a Muslim lady with a baggy-panted young fella. The appalled elderly Asian couple offer their seats to Madame Double Wig's next unsuspecting seat partner as they exit the bus. The unsuspecting seat partner smiles and politely refuses the offer, looking mildly confused.

- My goodness, I think to myself, as the song fades in my ears. Madame Double Wig is actually a kind of catalyst.

Nobody told me there'd be days like these. Strange days, indeed. Most peculiar, mama!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A ghost of Lennonmas past

And there went out a decree from the radio station CHUM that all should head down to Nathan Phillips Square with a candle and a black armband. This was tricky because winter had come early, even for Toronto and keeping candles lit was a tall order.

Hundreds of twenty-and-thirty-somethings gathered in front of an outdoor stage where Lennon's music blared and periodically a DJ would holler what one assumed to be platitudes. It was hard to tell so far back. A tall skinny fellow with a mass of black curls glanced over his shoulder, then looked again, sharply.

"Just how old are you?" he challenged a pair of young girls.
"I'm sixteen," said the more confident one, inclining her head toward her friend. "She's fifteen."
"What are you doing here?"
"We're here for John!"
"No, you're not, there's no way. You're too young."
"We are not!"
"You are too. You're telling me you know anything about his music?"
"We know all his stuff!"

By this time, tall curly guy's friends were wandering over to listen in, grinning and shaking their heads.
"Prove it."
"Give me the lyrics to 'Happiness is a Warm Gun'."
"And not the obvious part at the end," put in one of his pals.

So the young girls recited them in a monotone, stumbling over each other in their haste to establish their worthiness. Sometimes the young men supplied a word.

The girls stayed. We left. It was damn cold.
I know no one can do me no harm because... happiness is a warm gun, mama. Bang bang; Shoot shoot.

Bloody cold.