Saturday, 31 December 2011

Singing out the Seventh Day of Christmas (and 2011)

Well, I've made it to the National Arts Centre twice within the past twenty-four hours, first, to see Oliver, and this afternoon, The Blue Man Group, and only managed to hack during "As Long As He Needs Me", so I don't think too many theatre patrons want to kill me. "ALAHNM" is such a lame song, don't you think?

However, my cold has left me with no singing voice whatsoever, so I'm leaving it to good ol' Uncle Jay to sing out the old year. He's American-centric, but damn funny:



Oh yes. And the very best of 2012 to everyone. May it be an improvement. We could all use improvement...

Monday, 26 December 2011

Getting zymotic on the second day of Christmas

My sore throat persists (please Gawd, not another strep throat), so I lingered in bed and re-watched the final ten minutes of the new Doctor Who Christmas special because I had dozed off last night. Space Canada evidently doesn't view Doctor Who as a family show; they screened it at 9 pm which is a little too close to my bedtime, particularly after a day of guzzling spiked egg nog and battling off whatever it is I've got.

So this Boxing Day has been too quiet to say much of interest, but if you've been following this lame excuse of an alphabetical series of posts, two or three looming problems may have (just may have, let's not tempt fate, shall we?) been resolved.

We are reading through Watership Down with younger daughter, roughly three chapters a day. Even though we took Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off (we're not monsters), we have got through sixteen of the fifty chapters. Very encouraging.

This morning, I took younger daughter up the snowy hill with the Accent Snob to return overdue books through the slot of the closed library and to give younger daughter a chance to walk the dog with little traffic to worry us. This proved to be a good thing because younger daughter is still learning the ins and outs of a retractable leash, so the stroll was punctuated by shouts of "It's not my fault!!!" However, she clearly enjoyed the Boxing Day strollers' greeting the dog and persevered for the fifteen minutes up and ten minutes down the hill.

The afternoon of the Collar-less Coronary Incident, the Resident Fan Boy marched the Accent Snob down to the local pet supply store to fit him with a harness. It has become clear to us during the past seventy-two hours that this dog has been wearing harnesses most of his life. Not only is he calmer and less liable to pull, he actually co-operates in getting the harness put on.

Finally, elder daughter used my account at Digital Theatre to download Tennant and Tate's take of Much Ado About Nothing on to her laptop. I watched it today, smooth and non-jerky, even during the dance numbers. Now I want my own laptop, but I won't hold my breath.

So, life throws challenges at us and we actually cope sometimes. And I managed to flame the plum pudding this year. I seem to succeed in this every two years. Still, mustn't get cocky...

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Yule be home for Christmas (and so will we)

On the first day of Christmas, my daughter gave to me --- a fabulous post-nasal drip. Gee, thanks, younger daughter.

Elder daughter appeared at the bedroom, as I dozed on and off, floating in a pleasant haze of cold medication, sat cross-legged on the bed and opened her stocking which included a humane spider catcher The problem is, the kit includes a plastic spider for practice and elder daughter is creeped out by it...

We'll have patience with her arachnophobia, however, because we learned yesterday that she had been awarded the George B Pickett Prize for "highest aggregate grade in First Year Journalism" at the University of King's College. An early Christmas present? More like a really late summer's present. She only found out that she had got this when she went to check her Christmas exam marks online and noticed that this had appeared on her page. Still, it's an encouraging sign that she's picked the right major. (Clearly, entomology would have been a bad move.)

Younger daughter waited until no one was looking, then quickly took her groaning stocking to her bedroom and shut the door. I could hear her reading aloud, no doubt deciphering the lengthy explanatory notes provided by her grandmother. Later, she appeared in the kitchen, clutching hazelnut spread and two bags of tealeaves: chocolate cream chai and egg nog. "Santa brought them," she informed me briskly. She had carefully sorted and put away her treasures, which is a bit of a pity, because I can't remember what they were...

As for me, I got Turkish Delight (the good stuff, not the dollar store perfumed kind) and enough chocolate to do minimal damage. And in the grand tradition of book-giving between Demeter and myself, a biography of Beatrix Potter which I have to give back. This time, Demeter has actually read it, but wants it for a friend of hers.

The Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter have trudged off to church amid the new-fallen snow (Good Ottawans rejoice) after a breakfast of home fries prepared by elder daughter. Presents this afternoon and for the very first time in Canada, new Doctor Who on Christmas Day itself! Just like in Britain! Only with commercials.

I hope your day is shaping up as well. (If not, God bless you.)

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Xmas Eve

I've never cared much for writing Christmas as "Xmas", but you may have gathered that I've been loosely doing a sort of alphabetical theme this month. This is because by the end of November I had only posted seventy-four posts and I'm just obsessive enough to want to have written at least one hundred posts per year. Faced with twenty-six posts wanting, I thought: What the a-b-c...

Christmas Eve here in Hades has been a mixture of busy and quiet. Younger daughter, who has been ill this past week, made it clear that she wanted to go out, a sure sign she's getting better. (Naturally, I feel a sore throat coming on.) So out we went to see Arthur Christmas which was pretty charming, actually. Hard to go wrong with a film made by the Wallace and Gromit team, voiced by the likes of Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton among many others.

When we emerged from the multiplex, the western horizon was an amber glow, and younger daughter impatient to get home: "C'mon! It's dark!" We grabbed a half-filled bus and hurried through the Rideau Centre which seemed to be full of women in hajib, all shops but the snack bars and the drug store shuttered up.

Christmas is tomorrow. Our gifts are wrapped; the tourtière is in the freezer. The best thing for now is a song in a John Rutter setting, the anti-Semitic lyrics of the original mercifully expunged, leaving a lilting, lovely choir piece. These young ladies are in the Oxford High School Caritas, in Oxford, Michigan.


May you dance, too.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Pray tell me sir, whose dog are you?

Things were going so well this morning. I got up early-ish and, while listening to holiday music offerings from Otis Redding and Bruce Springsteen on CBC Radio, glazed one of the tourtières I had prepared yesterday, popping it into the oven for the Resident Fan Boy's office holiday luncheon which used to begin at noon and now begins at 10 am. Then, sipping egg nog, I prepared breakfast for younger daughter who has been home with a frog in her throat all week so "White Christmas" is moot. I then read another chapter of Watership Down with younger daughter. As a matter of fact, I was going to call this post "Watership Countdown". Witty? No?

Then elder daughter returned home just before noon, after I finished wrapping the last of the Christmas gifts, so I thought I'd grab the opportunity to take the Accent Snob for a walk.

It was a brisk morning, a light icing sugar covering of snow from last night, and ice crystals drifting in the air. Our pooch, as we've discovered during the past few weeks since his adoption, is not an avid walker. Generally, he lifts his leg in the shrubs in front of our house, then tries to go back inside. I pulled him up firmly and set off to the corner, then across our street.

Once the Accent Snob realized I was determined to make this a proper walk, he headed straight for some bushes to make a deposit. Then attempted to turn tail and go home. I gave a quick yank and struggled to get under the shrubbery row with my flushable poop-bag. It took a few more commands and yanks to twist the bag and clip it with a clothes-peg, then as the dog plunged around the corner, I struggled to get my gloves back on, the bag in my left hand and the retractable leash in my right. Immediately, I began to feel an uncomfortable cold trickling down the back of my neck. While I'd been retrieving the dog deposit, the bushes had deposited a cup or so of snow in my hood.

At each cross-street, the Accent Snob made a dive to the left, knowing by now that this is the way home. Tempted as I was, given the chill settling between my shoulder blades, I sternly pressed on, intent on a riverside walk in the brilliant, heat-less sunshine.

We reached one of the entrances to the stretch of pathways beside the Rideau River, and the Accent Snob became entwined around one of the posts that serve to discourage through-traffic. As I tugged his leach to disentangle him, he suddenly broke into the expanse of shallow snow, collar-less and leash-free.

The awfulness of my predicament took a fraction of a second to sink in. The pathway that stretches east to west by the river was deserted, this final weekday before Christmas Eve. The Accent Snob was looking with great interest across the nearby road as he made wide galloping circles around me. Suppose he made a break for the streets? I knew from past experience that he is clueless about cars. Furthermore, his identifying tags were dangling from the collar in my hand.

I spent several increasingly desperate minutes calling him, trying to sound enticing rather than frantic and failing miserably. The Humane Society had warned us that he didn't respond to his name and that he was not a candidate for off-leash. I had fleeting and ironic thoughts about a runaway dog I had witnessed exactly one year ago. The lady in that nightmarish scenario didn't know the dog's name. I knew this dog 's name and it didn't matter. I tried sitting down on the snowy benches. He did approach me then, before scampering nimbly sideways when I reached for him. This is cute as all get-go in our living room, but in the deserted, frozen park, it was infuriating. I knew there was no malice in this dog, but vacillated between wanting to kill him and fearing for his life, particularly when he made repeated forays down the bank to the river's edge where I could hear the ice creaking under his paws. More than one dog has been swept away by the freezing currents of the local rivers.

What to do? I could try going home, and he'd probably follow me, blundering into the paths of oncoming cars. I could stay here, but how long? And what would my daughters think when I failed to return?

To the west, a figure in a parka appeared with a long-legged gangly white boxer who was tumbling about in floppy dog-boots, a common sight in this neighbourhood. The Accent Snob shot toward him. When he's leashed, the AS is rather stand-offish with other canines, but he seemed to recognize a fellow free spirit: "Look at us, we're off-leash!"

I followed rather less speedily and smiled sheepishly at the young woman. "I'm afraid I'm in big trouble," I said and explained what had happened.

"Oh," she said in concern and called her dog (who came promptly, of course). Accent Snob followed and I was finally able to nab him. My fingers were now too cold to feel the catch, so I held AS while my saviour clipped on the collar, then held his lead so I could struggle to my feet.

"I'm so glad you came by," I told the girl fervently, and feeling stiff, wet, and cold, took the Accent Snob home by the nearest short-cut.

When I posted my sad story on Facebook this afternoon, I was told kindly by one of my Facebook pals that she has a harness for her pooch who also slips out of his collar. I guess we'll be making a trip to the pet supply store.

I'd ask for a strait-jacket for myself, but I don't think they carry those.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Vanishing Christmas

When I was twenty-three, I belonged to a small choir directed by a talented musician and composer. We sang one of his compositions for holiday concerts and services. Being an alto, my part sounded something like this: ♫OOOOOooooh -oooOOOoooh - Ooooooh - we'll remember, we'll remember - OOOOOoooh - Christmas - as it was today, as it was today...♪

As a result, I can't really remember the lyrics, but I do remember the gist of the song, a cataloging of things to do with the modern Christmas.

It occurred to me when I was listing "Christmas essentials" yesterday that there are aspects of my remembered Christmases that are already gone or on their way out. I can think of three offhand:

1. Magical, moving shop window displays. I'm trying to figure out when these vanished; I don't recall seeing any in the nineties. I gather they still do them in New York, but then, they would have the cash, wouldn't they? I don't think there was anything as grand as this on Douglas Street or Jasper Avenue, but there used to be ambitious mechanized Christmas tableaux that appeared in Canadian shop windows the day after Remembrance Day. Now we get sulky, skinny mannequins.

2. Decent Christmas television. Plays, variety shows, concerts. In Canada on Christmas Day, you're pretty well stuck with The Sound of Music (that great summertime Christmas movie complete with Nazis) and White Christmas They've even stopped showing "Christmas at Kings". I see the BBC promos for Christmas Day telly, and sigh heavily.

3. Christmas cards. We still get quite a few of those, but the eternal and infernal so-called "Christmas Letter", with its carefully laundered and impersonal list of familial accomplishments and travelogues, has been gradually transforming our Christmas card strings into something resembling a clothesline. Increasingly, we get the letter as an email attachment which is a sort of improvement in that it can be deleted with one key-tap.

It all comes down to money and time, I suppose. Shop windows need staff to maintain them and someone to fix the moving parts. Shows must be thought up, produced, acted and paid for somehow. And snail-mail? So last century, expensive and labour-intensive.

I'm not really looking forward to explaining to my grandchildren (should I have any - children are so last century and expensive) about shop windows, television and stamps.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Ultimata

The Grinch in Doctor Suess's classic story may not have been able to stop Christmas from coming, but unlike the Whos in Whoville, I seem to need certain things to be and to happen, in order for it to be Christmas. I crave:

1. Mandarin oranges. The loose leathery feel of the peels which come off so easily and the readily separated sweet segments... When we first came to Hades, all we could find were disappointing Clementines which aren't the same at all. Now the Resident Fan Boy keeps a careful watch out for the precious cardboard boxes in which the Mandarins come. We squirrel away a few for stocking toes, and eat the rest way too quickly.

2. Egg nog. The commercial egg nog here in Hades is wretched, but when we started getting our milk delivered in glass bottles (it really does taste better) from Cochrane's Dairy in Russell, Ontario (to the southeast of Ottawa), we discovered they make their own egg nog. It's fabulous. I can't decide if I prefer it with rum or brandy or just straight up. I don't ever want to know the calorie count. It's only available during December, after all.

3. The lone child-soprano beginning "Once in Royal David's City, preferably on Christmas Eve.

4. Alaistair Sim as Scrooge. No one better. (This bit always makes me cry.)

5. I've had artificial trees and real trees. I must say, I do love the smell of the real ones and the fact that they're different each year. However, the realness of the tree is not essential. I do demand that they be cluttered, completely covered with decorations from Christmases past. The Resident Fan Boy does not agree, but he values his life.

6. Chocolate gold coins in my Christmas stocking. One of my favourite Christmas memories is that of elder daughter (6 at the time) informing me that there was frankincense in her stocking. The coins were inscribed republique français.

7. Multi-coloured lights. None of this tasteful, all-in-one-colour crap, or, for that matter, the all-white "icicle-lights" that were all the rage fifteen years ago. (This year, it seems to be hanging oversize glass ornaments on deciduous trees -- in Hades at least. It's pretty, but probably trendy.)

8. Dancing Day by the Toronto Children's Chorus and The Bells of Dublin by The Chieftains. I don't know if I would find it impossible to enjoy Christmas without these albums, but by golly, when I've had a tough Christmas, these really help!

9. A Child's Christmas in Wales, the 1987 Welsh/Canadian production starring Denholm Elliot. This isn't my favourite bit, but it's the only bit on YouTube. Demeter's favourite line has always been: "Go on to the Useless Presents!"

I like to think that, were I deprived of these things, Christmas still would be Christmas. My inner child would be heart-broken, though.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Terpsichore loved these guys

A few days back, I posted the Nicholas Brothers dancing to Glenn Miller's "I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" because I adore the song and I adore the Nicholas Brothers. JoeinVegas sent me a link to this Nicholas number from the movie Stormy Weather with the incomparable Cab Calloway. I'd seen the last minute of it many times, but had never seen the entire number, where Mr Calloway makes way for Fayard and Harold. Hold on to your hats:


If we can trust Wikipedia, Fred Astaire himself told the Harold and Fayard that this number was the greatest movie musical sequence he had ever seen. Well, he would know. Here's my absolute favourite Astaire/Rogers moment from the movie Swingtime:


Gee, those final climactic few seconds are among the most exhilarating in movies and dance. Think I'll float off to bed now and try to dream I can move like that....

Monday, 19 December 2011

Soup and Stuart

Up in our favourite loge at the National Arts Centre, I peered over the edge with my trusty bird binoculars as the seats filled for this year's Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert. The Resident Fan Boy and I have been going every year for the past seven or eight years, and for this is the fourth one to which we've taken the girls. Elder daughter usually likes the stories; younger daughter loves the music.

The focus of these concerts is the "Dave and Morley" story; the Christmas concert usually offers two or three. At that time it's just Stuart McLean who created the Vinyl Cafe radio show about twenty years ago, a lectern with notes, and a microphone. He sort of dances as he tells the stories, sometimes his left foot kicks back, and his long fingers roll through the air before he draws them to his chest like a rabbit.

Younger daughter particularly enjoyed the jazz stylings of Christmas songs by the so-called "Vinylettes", three young women who have just completed the Jazz Performance Certificate at Humber College, a performing arts college in Toronto. Elder daughter was very pleased that the guest performer this year was Hawksley Workman. (Yes, that is his stage name; he was born Ryan Corrigan in Huntsville, Ontario.) I was pleased too; anyone who spends much time listening to CBC Radio Two will have heard him at one point or another. I'm always delighted to listen to the beautiful back-up of Dennis Pendrith and John Sheard who have to be amongst the ablest session musicians in Canada.

After the concert, we swam through the crowd (these concerts nearly always sell out) and the Resident Fan Boy bought Hawksley Workman's Christmas CD for elder daughter. Here's a sample of how he sounds. This YouTube film of a performance in Toronto a few years back joins him as he's beginning the second verse:


Let's make some soup 'cause the weather is turning cold
Let's stir it together 'til we are both grey and old
Let's stir it together 'til it tells the story of its own
Let's make some soup cause the weather is turning cold

Pumpkin and parsnip, carrots and turkey bones
Bay leaf and pepper, potato and garlic cloves
You stir a moment while I put more wood in the stove
Let's make some soup 'cause the weather is turning cold

Moon's almost full and the candles are burning low
It's almost midnight you wouldn't even know
The light gets reflected on freshly fallen snow
Let's make some soup cause the weather is turning cold

We'll make enough to feed everyone we know
We'll make enough to feed everyone we don't
No one is different and everyone's alone
Let's make some soup cause the weather is turning cold

Let's make some soup because everyone feels the cold
Let's make some soup cause the weather is turning cold

Almost a full moon
almost a full moon
almost a full moon
almost a full moon

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run...

Watership DownWatership Down by Richard Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Younger daughter, who is on the autistic spectrum, needed a novel for her independent reading project, so I googled "middle school books" and up came Watership Down which I'd never got around to reading. Perfect, I thought. It's about animals, which younger daughter adores, and there's a well-reviewed animated film which will provide badly-needed visuals for her very concrete-thinking mind.

In preparation for helping her get this read over the Christmas holidays, I downloaded an audio version from our public library, and listened to it on bus commutes. Ralph Cosgrove's narration is lively and doesn't distract the listener from the story. I particularly enjoyed his portrayal of Kehaar the gull as a straight-talking Scandinavian. Three things you need to know about this novel: it's gripping; it's dated; it's looooong.

Adams tells us in the forward that the novel came out of stories he would tell his young daughters on lengthy car rides. Apparently, it was the girls who suggested the stories were good enough to be written down. I can see why. This is the epic tale of a group of rabbits, led by the heroic and self-effacing hero Hazel, who flee their warren on the basis of the mystical warnings of Hazel's psychic brother Fiver. Their journey to establish a new rabbit colony in Watership Down in Hampshire is dangerous and full of death-defying deeds. (I trust it isn't a spoiler to say that surprisingly few rabbits die during the course of this novel.)

Dated? Well, it was published in 1972, and despite the fact that Adams was writing these stories for his daughters, all the main characters are male. We get a hint of heroism from the doe-rabbit Hyzenthlay who helps in the escape from the oppressive warren Efrafa, but she barely figures in the story and few of the other does are even given names. It is clear that Hazel and his fellow-bucks expect little from the female rabbits except for breeding purposes. Adams includes a rather quaint apologetic passage explaining that rabbits are practical and not romantic by nature -- as if the attitudes of the males in the story somehow differs from the attitudes of men of Adams' generation. (Adams' military background is very evident throughout.)

That said, it's an entertaining and clever book, but it does go on, including four or five rabbit legends which, although illuminating, break up and slow down the narrative. It's going to be tough going over Christmas. I wonder if younger daughter will ever forgive me.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Qu'est-ce c'est? (Fa-fa-fa-fah, fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fah...)

This morning, my Friend With Whom I Have Coffee turned up on my doorstep to whisk me away to select our Christmas tree from the Byward Market. (I am known throughout her van as the woman who can pick a tree in under five minutes. And that usually includes paying for it.)

FWWIHC knew our dog was a veteran of francophone homes and as she stepped over our threshold, bathed our new pet with caresses and endearments Québécoises. We had been told by the Humane Society that the dog responded more readily to French commands. We had noticed no such thing over the past week (the Resident Fan Boy being reasonably conversant en français), but, judging from the joyful tail-wagging and shivering, it became painfully clear -- we have opened our home and hearts to an accent snob:

Madame! Sauvez-moi des têtes carrées!!

Ungrateful brute.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Poop post

I have gone on record as stating that I have little patience with those who refer to their pets as their "furry children". I have children. I have never locked them in the house with food on the floor while I went out for a few hours.

Now I'm a dog-owner, I'm being inundated with emails, flyers and pamphlets addressing me as a "pet-parent". Puhleese.

I'll tell you, though, there is one particular parallel between caring for babies and caring for dogs: you find yourself thinking about in-put and out-put a lot. Particularly the output.

I'm not quite sure when it became mandatory in Canada for owners to pick up dog droppings, but this occurred after the last time I owned a dog, when I was very much younger. We just walked the dog, and, uh, left his leavings. In the interim, after poop-scooping became the rule, I would come upon dog-droppings and shake my head: Another irresponsible owner. Shouldn't be allowed. Doesn't deserve to have animals.

I came up against the hard (well, rather gooey) reality about this time a week ago when I took our newly-adopted canine for his first walk after the interminable ride home from the humane society. He made a beeline (dog-line?) for a neighbour's garden and did his business in a pile of dead leaves. I realized that I couldn't possibly locate what he'd done in the dark and shamefacedly skulked off into the night. I've resolved this problem by being the one who does the daytime walks. The Resident Fan Boy, who is a bit more O/C about this matter, has been out more than once with a flashlight, searching for the contents for the little blue bag.

And rather like when we had babies, we quickly got over our queasiness, and I find myself, along with my fellow neighbourhood dog-walkers, making the rounds with the dog pulling on the lead in my one hand, while the other clutches the little bag, which means I find I have to ignore any itches on my nose until I can get home to flush the thing. The past week has been full of little discoveries like these.

Children grow up to be toilet-trained voters if one does one's job. It seems, however, that this is unlikely to be the case with a dog. So, I'll pass on the title of "pet-parent", thank-you. I'll also refrain from writing on this topic again, for which you may possibly thank me.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Oblivious (write of passage number twenty-three)

I could hear her long before I saw her, the steady and inane chatter of someone on a phone in transit: "OH HI!....I'M ON A BUS...YEAH, WHAT'S YOU UP TO?...."

When I rose to make my way to the exit, I found my way blocked by the usual crowd of people who cling to the space near the exits. One was a stocky woman, shopping bags slung on her arms, both hands gripping the bars on either side of the door. She had her head severely tilted to one side, gripping her cell phone between her ear and her shoulder, her eyes fixed in the middle distance, talking incessantly.

As we reached our stop, I managed to trade places with one young fella, so that I was standing at yakking lady's shoulder. The door opened and someone stepped down. The woman's arm dropped but she had not moved, so I nudged into the narrow space between her and the door.

"I'M GETTING OFF AT THIS STOP, SO YOU DON'T NEED TO PUSH," declared Yakking Lady over her shoulder as she clambered out. She proceeded up the flights of stairs, keeping up the commentary into the phone, with periodic backward glares at me. When I got to the bridge over the station, I watched her toddling off down the road and into the evening, cell-phone glued to her ear, packages swaying, possibly regaling her listener about the pushy woman on the bus. (The nerve.)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Wake me up before you nonny-nonny

Watching David Tennant and Catherine Tate in a filmed performance of Much Ado About Nothing downloaded to my computer is a bit like the live-stream videos of the Sunday services at my mother's church. Now there's something I never thought I'd be saying.

See, last week word came from DT fan sources that last summer's West End production of MAAN at Wyndham's Theatre would be available on DVD come February. Almost immediately, Amazon.co.uk seemed to back-pedal, announcing it wasn't happening just yet. Then word came through Doctor Who channels that this production is available now for downloading. You have to install something called Digital Theatre (DT - nice symmetry, wot?), and the downloading process takes more than four hours. Mind you, my computer is a bit of a dinosaur -- the programmes on it are almost two years old -- so that may be at the root of what ensued.

When I finally completed all this and settled down to watch, I found the images beautifully defined -- when the actors don't move much. Unfortunately, this production involves plenty of physical comedy, a revolving stage, and gyrating to eighties-style pop. When this happens, the images tend to freeze and jerk, and often the speech isn't quite synchronized to the moving lips. As I said, it's rather like the live stream of Unitarian church services in Victoria, which tends to freeze every time the camera pans or the congregation rises to sing a hymn. When the actors are still, they are beautifully visible, though; if you want to feast your eyes on Tennant's stubble and Tate's mole, you can do so. The audio, likewise, is crystal clear.

Anyway, it took me the first half hour to get over the distraction of the flashing and freezing and get into the story.

I've probably seen more productions of Much Ado About Nothing than any other Shakespeare play, although I've never sat down and done a tabulation. It is the one play I've seen at Stratford-upon-Avon (set in the British Raj with a line of Indian guards bellowing: "Stap in the niem of the Prince!"). It is a fine play, a rollicking play, but I actually have more difficulty with it than I do with The Taming of the Shrew or even The Merchant of Venice. This is because I find it hard to concentrate on the humour when, like Beatrice, I want to kill Claudio.

I wrote about a Company of Fools production of MAAN a couple of years ago which dealt with the problem of the Hero-and-Claudio plot by making both wronged Hero and cloddish, self-righteous Claudio attractive airheads. It worked very well. After all, why else would they end up married at the end of the play after Claudio has shamed Hero at their first attempted wedding on the flimsiest of evidence, unless both parties were not all that bright?

Tennant and Tate's version puts heavy emphasis on the rage of the wronged family: the reactions of Beatrice, Leonato, Ursula, and finally, Benedict to Claudio's (and the Prince's) appalling behaviour and lack of remorse. There still remains the problem of restoring the Prince and Claudio back to the status of "good guys", so we get to see Claudio go into paroxysms of grief in a vigil for the supposedly dead Hero with the aid of a bottle of whiskey, a ghetto-blaster and a pistol. He doesn't use the latter because he catches a brief glimpse of Hero whom he presumably mistakes for a ghost before the Prince arrives to escort him to his wedding to Hero's "cousin" (who turns out to be Hero herself, of course). It still doesn't quite work, but it's a nice try.

Things I liked about the production:

1) The neat conceit of paralleling Hero in this eighties-flavoured show with the late Diana, Princess of Wales, right down to her wedding dress. Too bad they didn't find a jug-eared actor to play Claudio.

2) The predicaments in which Benedict and Beatrice find themselves as they eavesdrop on their friends' staged conversations about their passion for each other. Benedict gets tangled up with cans of paint, and Beatrice is hoisted aloft by the seat of her pants (although the harness is clearly visible).

3) The serious scenes following Hero's shaming at her own wedding. I found myself, despite the technical distractions of this download, getting totally absorbed in events and believed, for the first time, that there was indeed a deep connection between Benedict and Beatrice. There was a truth there that simply hadn't been in the comedy which, coming from performances by Tennant and Tate, surprises me. Maybe they did too good a job of eighties shallow.

4) Elliot Levey's portrayal of the villainous Don John. This is a fiendishly difficult role to pull off because Don John is supposed to be a thoroughly unlikeable chap. He's shown here as being rather socially inept and it's clear that his princely brother Don Pedro loathes him. This rescues him from the second dimension and makes his actions more understandable.

On the downside, the director and Catherine Tate evidently decided to give Beatrice an awkward side. When Don Pedro suggests marriage, and when Benedict declares himself to her, Tate dissolves into odd vocalizations and hyperventilation. I can see what they were aiming for, but I found it more grating than humanizing and it rather spoiled my favourite line in the play (and possibly in all of Shakespeare), when Don Pedro comments that she was born in a merry hour and she replies: No, sure, my lord, my mother cried; but then there was a star danced, and under that was I born. In a flash of lyrical poignancy, we get the measure of Beatrice, but I think it was lost here.

I also didn't care much for Tennant's and Tate's more obvious playing to the audience. I'm sure it was far more amusing for those actually there, but it leaves us poor schmucks who couldn't come up with the airfare to London out in the cold.

All in all? It's good fun, but I feel I'm missing a lot due to the technical difficulties of this download and I really hope this is released to DVD soon.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

They did the Christmas Mash...

Followers of this blog (a small and discerning group) may have noticed that I have a bit of an irritation going, on the topic of songs about winter being called "Christmas Carols" -- when they're neither. Vancouver's musica intima (they go for the lower case) may have found a way around this:



Mind you, we'd always shout: "Like a flashlight!" then "Like a lightbulb"; and we said "Monopoly" instead of "Basketball"....



Ya gotta love the YouTube commenters who have never heard of "Once in Royal David's City". Bless. It's not quite such a tradition on this side of the Atlantic ocean unless you have British parents, or are Anglican.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Psychology lab

Way back in the dark ages, children, if you wanted a dog, you went down to the SPCA, picked a dog and brought him home. You fed him, played with him, left him in the house or tied up outside if you had to go out. You didn't buy him coats and booties, you didn't spend hours crate-training him, and you certainly didn't send him Christmas and birthday cards.

We put in our application with the Ottawa Humane Society just under a year ago. There's a multiple-choice form you fill out, which you are encouraged to answer keeping your "ideal dog" in mind. We soon found out that you need to think of a "less-than-ideal" dog, otherwise you won't be considered a candidate for any of their animals. Strikes against us: we live in a semi-detached without a fenced yard; we don't have a car, we lack recent canine experience (the Resident Fan Boy and I last had dogs in our adolescent years); and we made the mistake of ticking "non-shedding" (well, they said "ideal") and apparently that sort of creature rarely shows up at a shelter. We also don't jog, which seems to be the criteria for several of the more active breeds there.

After our application ran out twice, we resubmitted it last fall and broadened our parameters considerably. We saw dogs everywhere, being walked by people who apparently were far worthier of dog ownership than we. Perhaps everyone in New Edinburgh purchases their dogs through puppy mills?

Last Thursday, a co-worker, a hard-core animal-fan whose dog lives in her car while she's at work so she can walk him during breaks, encouraged the RFB to try for a ten-year-old lab cross. His profile (the pooch's, that is) indicated that he was afraid of riding in cars. We'd hoped for a younger specimen, but heck, we're car-free and this was a medium-sized dog, short-haired and not small and yappy, so we decided that, after eleven and a half months, it was now or possibly never.

Dog-crazy co-worker offered to drive us out to the Humane Society which, in the past year, has moved from its accessible quarters near Dow Lake to an isolated crescent way the hell off Hunt Club Road, a half-hour hike from any bus stops. With the Friday evening traffic, it took the better part of an hour to drive out there, even though the RFB and DCC had left work at three-thirty.

Once arrived, we went through another long vetting process. We were required to read the dog's full profile, which included a report from a recent month-long fostering. Then we had to wait for an available staff member to bring the dog out to meet us. We followed a strict protocol: a long greeting session, followed by a walk outside on the AstroTurf, then a play session in a small room. All during this process, we were giving a dizzying list of tips, including never saying goodbye and not greeting him effusively on home-comings to allay separation anxiety. Oh. Okay...

Then the staff member was required to remove the dog back to his holding room while we made the decision.

By this time, we'd been there well over an hour and our kindly ride was now late for a dinner being given in her honour for her fiftieth birthday. (We hadn't known this.)

"He's very thorough," I offered, apologetically.
"He's slow," she scoffed. "The other guides don't take this long," She purchased a large bag of dog food and assisted me in picking out a collar, lead, and (gulp) crate, probably to speed us along as much as anything. Meanwhile, our thorough (slow) staff member was typing up the forms on the word processor -- with one finger...

Finally, we bundled our canine companion into the back seat between younger daughter and me and yes, he really hated the car ride, all thirty minutes of it, whining piteously and only stopping for red lights and heavy traffic. (Sandy Hill was closed off, if you please, by police monitoring the demonstrations at the Congolese Embassy.) During the final five minutes, the dog made a dive for the very back and thrashed around a bit. We arrived, and I quickly escorted him indoors. Our ride had made her escape by the time we'd completed a lightening tour of the house.

On the first night, we discovered that Labradors chew. Our duvet will never be quite the same. By the third night, we discovered this dog is obsessive about marking the boundaries of his territory, and the Resident Fan Boy was a whiter shade of pale from fretting and lost sleep, blaming DCC for "pressuring" him into adoption. He seemed to have a particular horror of this dog-gone fella piddling and pooping in the house.

I pointed out that our new family member did not bite, kept the barking to the occasional mild woof, and, best of all, waited quietly in his crate for us to return from two (2) plays over the weekend. (We'd bought the tickets before we had any idea we were imminent dog-owners.) As for the occasional accident, hadn't his boyhood pet ever messed in the house? No, declared the RFB stoutly, but admitted that, since the said sainted pooch had joined his household when the RFB was but a pup himself, he doesn't have any real memories of actually training her. My bet is, his mother, a farm-girl from Alberta and rector's wife to boot, did all the dirty work. (She usually did.) At my childhood home, the rule was, whoever discovered deposits and/or puddles had to clean them up, the result being that stuff would sit around for days. My late mother-in-law wouldn't have been a bit surprised.

This evening, we're at the seventy-two-hour mark. The Resident Fan Boy seems to have spent most of his day swapping doggy tales at the office. Younger daughter has banned our new friend from her room because he makes off with the long dis-used items in her toy basket, but greets him joyfully on her return from school. Me? All of a sudden, I have way less time, but this seems to be forcing me to do things without dithering. And my pedometer is looking impressive.

The best moment of all was elder daughter's face when she saw the lithe black form on Skype. When she was eight, she did an oil painting for art lessons entitled "Dream of Having a Dog". We've hidden it in the basement all these years, possibly to spare our late cat's feelings.

Let's see how well the Resident Fan Boy sleeps tonight...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Kalamazoo-zoo-zoo-zoo-zoo-zu-zoo-zu-zu-zu-zooo

Must go to bed. Might tell you why tomorrow. In the meantime, you've heard of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, but did you ever hear of the fabulous Nicholas Brothers? Watch and learn....

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Take joy

It's not Christmas yet, but it's bearing down upon us. This has been an extraordinarily stressful weekend. Not sad, depressing, or hopeless. Just a weekend of great change about which I will write.

But not yet.

I found this famous prayer long ago and liked it so much that I made copies to stick in with my Christmas gifts in that distant year. Demeter still has her copy on her fridge, because it's not just for Christmas:

Fra Giovanni’s Christmas Prayer
I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present moment. Take Peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take Joy!

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.


And it's a little early for the following, as well, but I'm ready for it, even if I have written only six Christmas cards. It's beautiful, and I love the exhortation: "And therefore, be you merry/ Rejoice and be you merry/ Set sorrow aside. . . .":

Friday, 9 December 2011

Isle of Dogs

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered why our next door neighbour keeps her dog in a cage when she's out of the house.

We live in a neighbourhood full of dogs, and it's easy to get judgmental. There's the appealing little fella across the way whose people let him wander in their unfenced backyard. There's the lady around the corner whose bichons frises younger daughter and I discovered crisscrossing the road two blocks north of where we live -- in the midst of after-school traffic. They had dug their way out of her yard, and she swore they had not been gone for more than half an hour -- even though half an hour is the time they'd spent at our house after we'd carried them all the way home. Opposite us is a lady who also let her tiny white dog wander up and down in front of the house without a leash. When I pointed out to her that he had crossed the street and was now wandering up to the opposite corner, she was astonished: "He's never done that before..."

When we discovered that our neighbour in the other side of our semi-detached keeps her Jack Russell terrier in a cage (rebranded a "crate") when she's at work, we felt so sorry. We can hear him barking and yelping and call through the wall: "Hi Jerry!" There's silence and then the barking resumes. He's not a loud barker, but we worried about his being bored and lonely.

The Sunday before last, I was dusting around the living room window. I was probably avoiding doing something else, but the dusting was badly needed. I happened to glance out the window and spotted our semi-detached neighbour's weekend guest on the sidewalk with her own small dog on a lead while she checked her cell phone. I went back to my work, and heard her steps on our shared front porch.

What happened next was so quick, I couldn't quite fathom what had happened. In a brown streak, Jerry had zoomed across the street as a car screeched to a halt. Next-door Guest dashed after him, hauling her own dog. Jerry had crawled under a parked car and was cheerfully ignoring her pleas, until (swoosh!) he dashed back to our lawn, halting another automobile. NDG attempted to find a lull in the traffic to get back to Jerry, but he flashed across the street one more time. By this time, I was on the porch, wondering if he could be tempted into our place, which has always held some fascination for him (perhaps due to lingering whiffs of our late cat who departed this house and this life a little over a year ago). NDG was so frantic, she had dropped her own dog's leash. A lady rushed to her rescue and helped her corral Jerry, then thoughtfully caught the little white dog's leash and held her while NDG bundled the unrepentant Jerry back to his door.

"Has Jerry been naughty?" I inquired kindly, remembering a long-ago afternoon when I nearly lost a close friend's three Schnauzers. (I should tell you about that some time. Imagine three Schnauzers wandering unconcernedly up the longest street in Burnaby.)

"Jerry has been very naughty," she agreed emphatically. "She usually keeps Jerry in his crate, but I don't know how to latch it, so I didn't put him in, then he slipped out when I opened the door..."

Occasionally, we catch a glimpse of Jerry some mornings through the window in the neighbour's front door. He sits glumly in his crate, staring at the opposite wall. We're less sympathetic now. The rogue.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The hell below Haggerston

The Blackest Streets: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian SlumThe Blackest Streets: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian Slum by Sarah Wise

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got this book out of the library for two reasons: 1) someone recommended it in the Goodreads reviews for Lost London: 1870-1945 which I'd recently bought; 2) I thought, based on my struggles with working out historical London streets, that I had ancestors living in the Nichol around 1840. I've since discovered that my lot were actually in Haggerston, several blocks to the north, but never mind.

This is a very readable account of the neighbourhood behind St Leonard Shoreditch which, for about one century, had the reputation of being the dirtiest, poorest, and most dangerous place in London. Sarah Wise doesn't dispute the dirt and poverty, but she has some perspective to offer on the danger. The Nichol was a dangerous place to live, no doubt, but more for malnutrition, disease, and domestic violence than murder. Wise tells the story of how a rather rural area surrounded by gardens became a dark warren of poorly constructed and overcrowded buildings in a few decades. We hear what it was like to grow up in such an area, why so little was done for the residents, and finally, the grand plans to transform the neighbourhood into a wholesome and aesthetically pleasing community for the "deserving poor", with predictable results.

It's an interesting angle on the nineteenth century and underlines how much, and how very little, has changed.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Go West

And so this is Christmas. Well, it's really Advent, but Christmas stuff is getting in full gear, including younger daughter's school's "holiday concert" which, of course, has nothing to do with either Christmas or Advent, since we have a mix of Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and non-practising types. Fair enough.

(Actually, what really used to amuse me was the situation at the public elementary elder and younger daughter attended which featured a holiday concert and un soir de Noël for the French Immersion students which invited involvement from the English Stream French classes. The former was scrupulously secular, and the latter blithely consisted of carols, presumably because it was somehow politically correct to warble Christian ditties in French.)

Younger daughter was all set to perform Macavity from Cats, as she did TS Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats for her poetry project earlier in the fall. However, yesterday at the bus stop, she struggled for the words - a sure sign that something is desperately important to her - and announced she wanted to do something "Christmassy" instead.

I dropped her off at her voice teacher's apartment where it was decided that "White Christmas" might work. Despite the "C" word, it's a very secular song. I hurried off down to Lees Station to waylay a bus, pondering what people perceive as Christmas music today.

When, for example, did "My Favourite Things" become a Christmas song? Sure, it mentions "silv'ry white winters" and "brown paper packages", but those things happen without Christmas, and besides, The Sound of Music is set in the summer. With Nazis.

"Jingle Bells" is often described as a Christmas carol. It's a) not a carol; b) not about Christmas. Same deal for "Winter Wonderland", "Sleigh Ride" and "Jingle Bell Rock". Check the lyrics. They're songs about winter. You could sing them in February. "Baby, It's Cold Outside"??? C'mon, people!

Then, of course, there's "Santa Baby". Okay, Christmas is involved. But still, it's not a carol. And Marilyn Monroe never recorded it. I've got nothing against these ditties, y'understand, I just think they're radically mis-categorized.

I gazed out the bus window, wrapped up in these thoughts and only vaguely aware of the salmon-coloured sunset. Wait a minute. The sun sets in the west....

I suddenly realized I was barreling west along the Queensway. Our house is to the northeast of downtown Ottawa, nowhere near the Queensway. I had absent-mindedly boarded a 101 Bayshore bus. After a second's disoriented panic, I noted that the automated voice had called out "Catherine/O'Connor" and hastily made my way to the exit. From there, I scurried another block west to Bank Street, and peered into the glare of the headlights in search of a #1 bus home, while Elton John's "Rocket Man" played on CBC Radio Two in my earbuds. (Also not a Christmas song, despite the bit about Mars being cold as hell.)

And I think it's gonna be a long, long time...♪

It wasn't, really; I got home a few minutes before the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter....

Too bad younger daughter has opted out of Macavity. I think her version would have been dynamite, although probably minus the swivels and wiggling you'll see in the DVD version:

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Fashion for the unconscious

There was a wide variety and ages and voices at younger daughter's holiday recital. Well, seventeen sopranos and one very brave baritone, but a wide, curving range of ability, style and motivation. Three little girls with anxious mothers, half a dozen mature singers pursuing pleasure and self-improvement, and adolescent and post-adolescent young women in search of...themselves? A vocation? A career in music and theatre? Probably all of the above.

This was my third visit into this rarefied world of performance, the first two being younger daughter's first festival competition and the spring recital with much the same crowd as this one. As younger daughter becomes used to this sort of thing, so do I, and I found myself relaxing more and taking in the whole performances.

Which includes, although maybe it shouldn't, what the singers chose to wear. The little girls were, of course, in variations of little-girl-party-wear which these days seems to be a sort of shift affair with ballet shoes or Mary-janes. The mature ladies went for dressy-casual, some dressier, some more casual; usually a scarf was involved.

Nearly all the young women were in black minis. And here's the problem. It was an afternoon recital. In a church. Not a church service, mind, but the key words here are "recital" "afternoon" and "church".

I was most startled when I heard a clomp-clomp-clomp and up hobbled a girl in a spaghetti-strap chemise-top over a body-con miniskirt, complete with lace stockings and backless shoes with six-inch heels. She did wear a sort of black cardigan over this ensemble, but she still looked -- oh, how aged do I sound? -- kinda like a hooker...

Looking back without checking the programme, I can remember what the little girls and the mature ladies sang. I only remember what most of the adolescent girls wore.

(Oh. Younger daughter sang a gospel song, and a clear and expressive version of "Jingle Bell Rock". She wore a hot pink tee-shirt and mini-skort with dark pink tights and flats. She looked lovely. Her totally objective mother thanks you for asking.)

Monday, 5 December 2011

Enervation


So many things I would have done -- the clouds got in my way.Stuff from left field again. I drugged myself with family research and funny videos on YouTube, and every time I stopped, the pain came seeping back like a burned finger. I won't burden you with it.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Clever Dick (Duke?)

This is bloody amazing. The Duke of Clarence speaking in two dozen voices, some English, some American, a Scot, a Welshman, and one Shakespearean Canadian actor (although I doubt he did this role):

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Things that could be improved with cats

I was watching It's a Wonderful Life tonight. It's not my favourite Christmas movie (that would be Scrooge with Alistair Sim), but it's full of wonderful moments. I particularly love the bit when the angel in charge of Clarence (Angel Second Class) tries to explain his shortcomings to his superior: "Sir, he has the IQ of a rabbit!"

If it were my favourite movie, I'd invest in a DVD. As it is, it takes three hours to show the darn movie on television because there are fifty minutes of commercials. That got me to thinking of this, which showed up on YouTube recently:



"People don't want to watch ads; they want to watch cat videos." Damn right. Come to think of it, that's what It's a Wonderful Life is missing --- cats...

Friday, 2 December 2011

Bah humbug

Don't get me wrong, this little flash-mob at Vancouver International Airport has its charms. They even have a live band! However, it has "spin doctor" written all over it. (Our national airline has been struggling with cut-backs, financial crises, strikes, and rather lack-lustre service for years.)

Then we note the date this took place: December 18th, 2010. Oh dear. Were any of those passengers en route over the Atlantic, say, to Heathrow? I think there were thousands of people who didn't even manage to get where they were going. Then, a huge storm hit the eastern US just after Christmas, and those who had made it where they were going had real trouble getting back. It was not the holiday to be flying, unless you were St Nicholas himself. Maybe that's why no one really seems to remember this.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

An Advent apple

April may be the cruelest month, but for younger daughter, November is the loooongest month, with little to break it up but Remembrance Day which isn't even a school holiday in Ontario. Last Friday, she came home from school and rustled around furtively in her DVD collection. I heard Christmas music and realized that she had noted that it was a month until Christmas and it is now permissible to break out the holiday movies. For someone with memory challenges and a radically different sense of time than the rest of us mortals, this was huge.

This morning, to younger daughter's intense relief, the Advent calendars came out: the permanent one that we set up in the living room, with books to be read aloud, then hung on the Christmas tree (when we set that up a week before Christmas); an online one this year sent to us by an Albertan cousin; tiny Christmas-card-size ones sent by Demeter, and the morning ritual of opening the large cardboard ones, in our bedrooms.

As a child, my very favourite Advent calendars were the ones where the doors opened to show what was happening behind; a meal being cooked in a kitchen, an animal hiding a present under a bush. I haven't seen those kinds in years, although this December I have a very traditional German calendar with rabbits and hedgehogs exchanging gifts under a brilliantly lit woodland tree and huge double-doors for Christmas Eve which will almost certainly reveal the Holy Family in the stable. Door Number One was an apple, which seems appropriately Lutheran somehow. (A casserole, perhaps, for American Lutherans?)

My shopping is only partially finished, and when I think ahead to the extra cooking and cleaning, I could almost wish November back -- except when I see the glow from the corner where younger daughter is. These are the most precious days of the year, a month when she is truly happy. When December ends, we will have to let go of Christmas to allow it to return. However, for her sake, and hers alone, I would keep Christmas all year if I could.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

They had us until the fish

I wasn't sure if it was hair dye or a forest green fascinator.

There I was, passing the minutes before the ballet, training my bird binoculars on the audience below. If you're in the loges at the National Arts centre, it's always fun to do a crowd comparison. The kind of audience that shows up for a symphony concert (reserved and dressy) versus those coming to see a musical (mixture of jeans and flamboyance) versus the Vinyl Cafe aficionados (pullovers). The ballet brings out a distinctive crowd. Oh, you have the usual bun-heads, those humourless and skinny young girls accompanied by their equally skinny and usually blond mothers, but you see some pretty unusual garb in the ladies room, and some head-turning male fashions as well.

You can also pick out the boyfriends and husbands who came along; some sons too, I noted as I scanned the first row where you usually see the more rabid balletomanes. Someone had brought two preteen boys, decked out in plaid baggy shirts. They were in full slump, propping their sneakered feet on the edge of the stage.
"I'll bet their parents are francophone," I muttered to the Resident Fan Boy (who, to confuse other ballet-goers, turns up at performances in a pullover). Anglophone families, in our experience, don't bring their sons to watch dance.

Directly below our loge, I could see a rather ungainly girl taking her seat in the front row. Well, I could see the top of her head anyway, and the front part of her head looked forest-green and feathery. I watched her with interest as I tried to decide, peering through my binoculars, whether she'd dyed half her head, or was wearing those fascinators that young Royals seem to think are nifty. She appeared to be clad in a rather shapeless dress with short sleeves and as she fidgeted with a sheer scarf which she kept smoothing out over her knees, I noticed she was wearing over-sized beige gloves. Well, I thought. It's for a Pina Bausch, after all.

We included this performance of Danzon in our subscription because I recognized the name. It turns out that these two Ottawa performances by Tanztheater Wuppertal were the only Canadian ones on this tour, and we had something of a hot ticket. I've seen bits and pieces of Pina Bausch works on television, so I was prepared for quite a bit of surrealism.

No disappointments there. We started with two women in white shifts struggling on their backs like overturned beetles while a man in an large diaper rolled stones at them, then, like a child, experimented with pinning them down with the rocks. Then a lady in an elegant swirly summer dress strolled across the stage ("I am here and you are there!") and plucked someone from the audience to share the view. It was, of course, the fascinator-lady I'd been studying earlier, and she turned out to be a man and clearly a member of the troupe.

Things got weirder from there. It was rather relaxing, as I learned long ago not to labour on attaching meaning to modern dance performances. It usually emerges on its own, and if not, so what? We saw naked women in bathtubs being slowly removed, one by one, by a blindfolded man. Couples literally rolled in the hay. A cross-dresser in an evening gown and full-blown Bette Davis mode, drawled through a meandering monologue. Tents were set up and campers listened to excerpts of Bambi and long jokes, roaring with laughter. Nude people behind a translucent screen showing flowers and crashing surf, chased each other, piggy-backed each other, and appeared to frolic in the waves. (The Resident Fan Boy told me later that younger daughter shielded her face behind her programme during that bit, but as you can see from the photo, we couldn't see much. I bet those preteen boys in the front row were straining their eyes.)

It was, as elder daughter might say, random, but in this small company with a pleasing family mix of young and old dancers, it felt as we were getting to know each individual character.

Then, out of nowhere, we were confronted with a large screen featuring close-ups of schools of various tropical fish. In front, a very young man in black, whom we'd not seen before, stood and fluttered his hands. This seemed to go on for a good ten minutes. That's the first time during the evening that I found myself trying to see my watch in the darkness. The other dancers returned and did various odd things with dirt, but it felt as if the spell had been broken.

At the end, the company came out for their curtain calls to rapturous applause. (The preteen boys in the front row were in a non-clapping slump.) The dancers clung to each other in a long line, with the young man who had been fluttering with the fish looking closed down and rather out-of-place.

As we descended from the upper levels to find the exit, the Resident Fan Boy commented: "I was fine until the fish." I giggled. I had been thinking almost the exact same thing. Younger daughter, however, declared she had liked the part with the fish, especially the one which reminded her of Dorey from Finding Nemo. So I guess it was a win-win, seeing as we had enjoyed the rest of the performance.

It being the one Canadian venue of the tour, there were detailed reviews from both the Ottawa Citizen and The Globe and Mail, both reviewers singling out the moving tribute to the late Pina Bausch. Apparently, she had choreographed the fish solo for herself.

I guess, then, if you were "in the know", that would be your reward. I think, though, that being unknowing isn't always a bad thing when watching dance. I'm certainly glad we didn't miss this.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Hallowe'en at fifteen

When I felt the egg yolk oozing down the back of my head, I probably should have headed home. I could have stayed out of a lot of trouble. I would have missed my most exciting Hallowe'en ever, but excitement and danger are over-rated. Aren't they?

Back in the days of my misspent youth, the cut-off age for trick-or-treating was generally thirteen, the age I happened to be when we moved from View Royal on the outskirts of Greater Victoria to Esquimalt, a municipality closer to town. When I was fifteen, my best friend Julie suggested I come back to my old neighbourhood for the bonfire. There were Hallowe'en bonfires throughout the city in the community parks, usually run by the local Kiwanis. Nothing special, but it beat the prospect of staying home watching television and shelling out candy.

I turned up with Mindy, another friend from our junior high. Mindy was wide-eyed and energetic, and dated boys five years her senior. In fact, I'm not sure how she happened to be free that evening to join us.

We entered the dark playing grounds, and tried to pick out Julie, a husky-voiced and high-coloured girl with permanent turn-out. To our horror, Julie was in the company of two other fellow Grade Nines: Rudi and Mick. Like Julie, I had been at school with Rudi since Grade Six, so he had been the buzz-cutted, bespectacled bane of my existence for three years. Mick was Rudi's constant companion. His chief identifying characteristic was his strangled voice, which was in continual adolescent flux. The poor boy sounded like Gonzo the Great until university.

It was when we girls were huddled in conference about our plans (there were none), that Rudi broke the egg on my hair. This was apparently his declaration that he and Mick would be passing the evening with us. I really should have gone home.

Since nothing was happening at the bonfire, we got the brilliant idea to seek out the house of our much-hated French teacher, a woman who had made the fatal decision to spend what very few years remained of her career teaching middle-teenagers, a task for which she was spectacularly unsuited. The unfortunate woman lived on the other side of the Trans-Canada Highway, not far from my old house.

Her home was dark when we got there, so Rudi and Mick scrawled witty epithets on the windows, mostly on the theme of the French teacher's rather old and very ill-fitting wig. We made our way back, passing my old house, crossing the disused railway where I used to go on long walks with my dog. There was a short slope leading down to the highway, and Mick and Rudi, for reasons comprehensible only to teenaged boys, lit one of the fireworks they had brought along and tossed it into the oncoming lane of the busy road. A car screeched to a halt and a man leapt out.

Thinking it out from a rational distance of several years, the smartest thing for Julie, Mindy and me to do would probably have been to stay our ground. We hadn't tossed the flaming thing, after all. But panic hit us in a wave, and carried us up the hill, then along the railway tracks, the man roaring at us to come back.

Running along railway ties isn't easy in daylight, let alone in the dark. As we scrambled and tripped, Rudie looked back and swore: "He's coming after us!" I glanced back and saw a swinging flashlight. I faced forward just in time to spot my companions disappearing down the side of the embankment. I wondered where they thought they were going, plunging down a steep slope of loose gravel dotted by clumps of bushes, but I was now the sole quarry on the track, so I plunged after them, and in the struggle to stay on my feet didn't realize that I had lost sight of them until I was more than halfway down.

I had no time to wonder where they had gone. I found a space between two scraggly bushes. My one thought was how to blend in, because I knew our pursuer had a flashlight. I was wearing a light-blue coat, which I ripped off and stuffed underneath me, I shoved my glasses in my pocket and pushed my hands into the sleeves of my dark sweater. Pulling my knees to my chest, I buried my face in them, praying my long dark hair would cover the white nape of my neck. I willed my shuddering breath to slow, and kept as still as I could, not daring to look up or out.

An eternity seemed to pass. I could hear nothing but the distant swishing of passing cars on the highway. I wondered how long I would need to stay there, how long I could stay there and how on earth in the dark, in my near-sightedness, in my inability to look, I would ever know when, if ever, it would be safe to move.

Finally, hissing voices called to me, guiding me to a culvert tunneling under the embankment where the others had crouched, watching in terror as the beam from the flashlight swept the slope. I had been just a few feet away.

Mick's state of agitation had wedged his wobbly voice up several octaves to a semi-permanent state of boy soprano.

"He was gonna kill us! He was gonna kill us!" he kept repeating, as the others tried to shush him.
"He had his flashlight on you the whole time," Mindy informed me. She really seemed to be enjoying this.
"I think he couldn't decide if you were really there, or not," said Julie in grave quietness. She was the grand-daughter of an Anglican priest and hadn't been enjoying this quite so much.
"Okay," said Rudi, "We'll head out the other end. We can get to Helmcken Road from here."

So we crept out of the culvert, scanning the rails above and the roads below us anxiously, but our stalker had evidently given up on us. Chattering excitedly and breathing easily, we dropped Julie off at her house opposite the bonfire and followed Rudie to his house on the crescent behind the park where his mother offered to drive Mindy and me home.

Rudie's mum, a relaxed (and possibly oblivious) lady who had adopted Rudie and his brother and sister, but managed to look exactly like them, chatted easily in the car, asking questions about our evening and ignoring our muffled giggles, exchanged looks, and overly nonchalant replies. Looking back, I'm rather glad I had no clairvoyant powers as I sat in the back seat, marveling at our survival. Within the year, Mindy would be packed off to private school after an abortion, and within five years, Rudie's kindly mother would be dead from cancer. Rudie himself married a pal of mine straight out of high school, had a couple of kids and got divorced. Julie married a much older man and had step-kids her age. She was widowed in her thirties. I don't know where Mick is now; I heard his brother died.

I got out at my house, thanked Rudie's mum, gave my mother a sanitized account of the evening, and went upstairs to wash the egg out of my hair. The next morning, my hair seemed particularly shiny. I suppose it was the extra protein.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

When we alteration find

"Samhain", I just learned today, translates roughly into "summer's end". As cold as the last week has been (I've been finally driven into wearing coats and capes), this afternoon was sunny and warm. I popped down to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for our infamous "Witches' Fingers". The store was a zig-zagging of carts, each with at least two pumpkins in them.

As has become my tradition in NaBloPoMo's, I've spent a bit of the month going through past journals and checking ancient Octobers. As when checking past Februarys, Septembers, Marches, etc. (October is the seventh month I've NaBloPoMo-ed), this has been an ambivalent exercise. They don't call it "nostalgia" fer nuthin'. It can hurt to look back. So much has vanished forever.

Each time I go diary-diving, I check to see if a theme emerges. It turns out that October is a complicated month. Several possibilities ambush me: "stress", "momentum", "in progress", "aftershock", even "haunted".

I've always thought of October as the month when we establish equilibrium; after the adjustments of September, we hit cruising altitude.

My journals tell a different story. I look at samples of our schedules, particularly when the girls were in preschool and elementary school and wonder how on earth we coped. I see myself sinking under the load of keeping things up and running by myself when the Resident Fan Boy was in another province. And I see worlds crumbling around us: someone close to us had an abortion in a bygone October; another friend lost her pregnancy in another October. A baby born next door died in less than twenty-four hours; we received word that a marriage we had thought impregnable had fallen to pieces.

A theme for October?
Shift?
Careen?
Lurch?

It's not all bad, of course. October is cool and colourful and there's the thrill of a long line of Hallowe'ens: my childhood ones and those of my children.

And the sweet, long-lost memories of my girls as very small children. Elder daughter was, at age two, having such a good time at Sunday school that she ordered me to "Go home!" She then decided to soften the dismissal: "Go home, dolling..." Younger daughter in a past October when she was about four or five, snuggled into a towel that had been warmed up for her in the dryer: "Mmmmmn...you love me!" Seeing me looking thoughtful that same month, she tucked herself next to me on the couch: "Don't worry, Mum, it will be all wight..."

And as this present October slides away forever, I find myself thinking of one of my favourite poets, Phyllis McGinley, musing about her own teenaged daughters many years ago:

Neither my friends nor quite my foes,
Alien, beautiful, stern and clannish,
Here they dwell, while the wonder grows:
Where in the world did the children vanish?
Prince, I warn you, under the rose,
Time is the thief you cannot banish.
These are my daughters, I suppose.
But where in the world did the children vanish?


Phyllis McGinley: I should write a post about her, some time...

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Nice day for a black wedding

These skeletons in a medieval woodcut style (actually styrofoam) appeared last week around the shared entrance to our local bookstore and SconeWitch. If you can't quite make it out, the five skeletons to the left are clutching books and those to the right have scones and mugs, although if you click on the picture, you may get a larger version. I think it rather gives the impression of entering a Gothic cathedral, possibly a Spanish one.

I quickly snapped a few shots, then boarded a bus with the Resident Fan Boy to accompany younger daughter to a voice lesson.

Our route took us past the former St Brigid's Church. Well, I guess it is still St Brigid's, but I believe it stopped being a church about five years ago, to great outcry from the faithful, of course. I saw a knot of people out front, lots of deep purple stockings. I thought it might be some sort of art gathering, as that's what St Brigid's is used for a lot these days, but a closer look revealed that it was a small wedding, the members gathering on the steps for a group portrait. I figured out who the bride was by her bouquet; she was draped in a black dress and her attendants were clutching individual and simply huge blood-red gerbera daisies.

Well, I guess you can still get married at St Brigid's even if it's deconsecrated, provided you have a marriage commissioner to perform the ceremony, or clergy from one of the more liberal faiths. However, given the colour scheme of this wedding, the SconeWitch, particularly as it looked today, would have worked too.

Friday, 28 October 2011

More things in heaven and earth

The evening is crisp and cold, the twilight sky a deepening blue. The Resident Fan Boy throws on his jacket, and I follow, enfolding myself in my cape and slipping on my glow-in-the-dark skeleton gloves.

No, we're not going out Hallowe'ening; I wear a cape and skeleton gloves every autumn. (This may be why people hesitate before sitting beside me on public transit.)

The RFB has just read in the paper that the space station will be passing overhead in a matter of minutes. We've seen the space station before, stepping out in a freezing February twilight two and a half years ago in aid of younger daughter's science homework. Younger daughter doesn't have space homework tonight, and elects to stay inside and watch Anne of Green Gables.


Knots of people scuttle by on the street; mostly under-dressed, probably in quest of Friday night frolics. We scan the northwest sky and glance at our watches.

"There it is!" shouts the Resident Fan Boy. I can't see a thing and look at him warily.

"You can't see it?" He's incredulous. "Look! Just above the telephone wires."

And I gasp. It's suddenly there, just like last time, a bright ball barrelling eastward across the northern part of the sky. We run up to Putman and track it.

"Are you sure it's not a plane?" I ask, but I know it isn't. It's too high and too fast. As our eyes are drawn to the east, I exclaim and point: "Look!"
"What?"
"There, between the trees!"

A bigger and brighter point of light has appeared. It's Jupiter. The paper warned us about that too. It looks like the two brilliant pin-pricks are going to collide, but they're not. They're impossibly far away -- from each other and from us.

Shivering, we hurry back inside. The Resident Fan Boy has brought eclairs and vanilla slices from la Pâtisserie de Gascogne in Westmount in Montreal.
They're pretty heavenly too.