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?

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: " 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!"
"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.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

A matter of time

This picture was taken in October.

October 19th, 1910, to be exact.

I love the timelessness of it, although the rain of that long-ago day has ceased, the pavement dried, the leaves rotted, and actually, the building itself, built in the eighteenth century, was demolished in London in 1960. In 1850, a seven-minute walk away to the west, was the last residence of the Resident Fan Boy's great-great-great-grandmother Harriet Hammond Croose Pasquier where she lived with her second husband, an artist. Between 1820 and 1825, a six-minute stroll northwards from Queen's Square (would it have been called Queen's Square then?) would take you to the house of the RFB's great-great-great-grandparents in another branch, solicitor Matthew and Ann Elgie. This is where they lived briefly with their young, large family and where two of their small boys died. (The Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, which borders Queen's Square, was not yet built.) And a twenty-minute walk to the east, in 1826, my great-great-great-grandparents Richard and Virtue Hales were living in Jerusalem Passage. After a rather disastrous foray into innkeeping in the Barbican area, Richard was back to being a printer and book-seller.

I know about where our ancestors were because I've been plotting them in one of several Google Maps, after being inspired by a British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa lecture a few years ago by John Reid. I now have some idea of what our ancestors in London may have passed on a daily basis because I stumbled upon Lost London: 1870-1945 by Philip Davies in a Chapters bookstore last week. It's a coffee table book, chock-full of gorgeous plate photographs of a London demolished to make way for new structures -- or bombed all to blazes during the Second World War.

The row of buildings in the second picture (taken September 1908) used to stand on Aldgate High Street and are now where The Hoop and Grapes pub is located, one of the oldest taverns in London, with cellars dating back to the thirteenth century. If you walk for six minutes to the north, you'll find yourself in Petticoat Lane, where, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, my great-great-great-great-grandfather William Hales ran another public house, and where his children, including my three-times-great-grandfather, were born. Steps away from the houses in this photograph is St Botolph Aldgate where many of my ancestors were christened and married, probably buried too.

This bleak block of houses (taken just before its 1931 demolition) is Provost Street, Shoreditch where my great-great-great-grandfather James Janes lived with his wife Sarah and my great-great-grandmother Jane was born in 1827, the youngest of five. James worked as a tailor and was still living here at the time of the 1841 census. Did Provost Street look this forsaken at that time? I sincerely hope not.

So many others: the Strand as the Resident Fan Boy's grandmother may have remembered it; the busy streets around St Paul as the RFB's great-grand-father may have recognised it (although he probably would have been shocked by large advertisements cluttering up the surroundings just before the First World War -- he died in the 1890s); sights south of the Thames no doubt passed daily by some of my more recent ancestors.

There were several copies of this lovely book at Chapters, at a rather reasonable price....

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sudoku and the inner bitch

Three years ago, I took up Sudoku. I was warned sternly against this by Jaywalker, author of the deliciously desperate Belgian Waffle, but I persisted. The most dire of her warnings did not come to pass, I do not do more than one or two a day, but there has been a side effect that makes me uneasy. Sudoku is just mindless enough to permit my own mind to wander while I fill in the squares, and my mind really shouldn't be going out unaccompanied. It strays into all sorts of nasty areas.

I blame this on my "inner bitch", and the unpleasant idea that my nice (ie, innocent, clueless, much happier) self is being drained away by the encroaching years, leaving a dried-up, toxic smear of witchiness with a 'b'.

Among my malevolent mullings of late have been a series of messages from a woman who first contacted me through Facebook last spring. It came in the form of "friend request" with a message saying she didn't know how to send messages through Facebook, but she named my late father, wondering if he was my father and was I his only child? If so, she said, she had information for me, and she gave me an email address. Her profile picture showed an attractive lady of indeterminate age on vacation somewhere tropical. I was puzzled that there was no way to send her a message back through Facebook, nor did she turn up in a Facebook search. I discussed this with the Resident Fan Boy. I didn't want to "friend" her because then she could see all the information on my profile, nor did I want to answer by email because that would give her my email address, and she really had told me nothing about herself.

I decided to create a "gmail" account for myself, and respond to her through that. I kept my message minimal. I told her only that I was the fourth of my father's five children. Yes, she said, giving his birthdate; she had information she didn't "think should be shared on email" and would I give her my phone number or phone her? That's when my inner alarm bells started going off. I could tell from the email address that she was in Canada, and by her phone prefix that she was in British Columbia. When I checked a reverse look-up, I found her house in the southern part of Nanaimo. (Coincidentally, she was about 5 km. from where we lived for three months before moving to Victoria when I was nine.)

Again, I checked with the Resident Fan Boy. He shook his head. "She sounds like a debt collector," he said, with his lawyer caution. (This is plausible, as my father ran up huge debts in Canada with his numerous failed businesses.) I also checked with my mother on Skype; she'd never heard of this woman, but wondered if it was someone who had known me at elementary school in Nanaimo. I pointed out I'd been there for less than three months at the tail-end of Grade Three, and besides, Dad hadn't been with with us in Nanaimo; that was after he ran away to Boston with his girlfriend.

I hemmed and hawed, suspicious that the little information she had seemed to come directly from my online family tree (which she never, at any point in our communication, mentioned). I'm the only descendant of my father on it; I had omitted any information on my siblings because this is basic family history etiquette; it's also illegal to publish people's names on the internet without their permission. I suspect that's why she thought I was an only child. I was also brought up to believe that if you contact a stranger by phone, letter, or other means, the impetus is on you to identify yourself. This woman had not revealed who she was, and I had to wonder why.

I finally decided not to respond, and to block her on Facebook. I left the gmail account to rot in cyberspace.

About a month age, I was checking Facebook one morning and noticed some numbers beside "messages" on my home page. When I clicked on them, there were messages that had been sent to me last spring. Normally, I'm notified by email when I get a message in the Facebook inbox, but after all, I had blocked her:
"I've thought and thought about this, the proper way to do it, or to do it at all..... do you have the right to know? do I have the right to tell you? I am (his) daughter too - on Father's Day it tugs at my heart...."

Oh, crud. Well, hardly a surprise, given my father's track record. I wasn't unsympathetic, but I found her Harlequin Romance prose a bit hard to take, and I still thought it would have been politer to say who she is (or who she thought she is) right up front, don't you? I tried being right up front myself:

I was not notified of the third message and only saw it today. I'm afraid I was so put off by the tone of your first messages, that I blocked you on Facebook after your cryptic contact last May. I checked around with other family members and the general consensus was that you might be a debt-collector. (Dad left a lot of debts behind when he left Canada.) May I ask if you have documentation that you are my half-sister?

Oh goodness no, not a debt collector, she replied airily. And yes, Dad's birth date matched with the information on her birth records. - Wait a minute, I thought. Since when does the father's birth date appear in the child's birth records?

She said she was adopted. Maybe that's when a father's birth dates appears, in adoption records? The only problem with that is that my father pretty consistently lied about his birth year until very late in life, the simple reason being his parents had been married only six months when he was born.

She was just a "regular gal", she said; didn't want to cause anyone any grief: "I apologize if the first messages sounded 'cryptic', it's hard to put down on FB or email whopping information like that, so I was trying to remain respectful."

- Respectful? I thought, incredulously. I was losing patience.

"The information is not as whopping as you might think," I retorted. "Dad was a busy boy. Eight years ago, I was in the position of explaining who I was to Dad's first family in England. They'd never heard of me; Dad had neglected to tell them he had a family in Canada. And guess what? I did not tell them I had information to share and could they get in touch with me? I did not write two more times without revealing the nature of my information. I said at the very beginning: 'This is who I am, and how I believe I'm related to you. I just want to wish you a Merry Christmas. If you don't wish further contact, I will understand.' They, of course, required proof of who I was . . . .Since you initiated this, the onus is on you to prove who you are. If you feel that is too personal, that is your privilege, and we can let this rest. I'm curious of course, but not that curious."

She replied that the way I'd handled the situation with my father's first family had been the right way for me, while the way she had handled the situation with me had been right for her, that she was only seeking information for her "little guy" who had a "profound syndrome" and that as "his mommy", she had had to seek what family information she could find. She told me to take care. I took this as "goodbye", and have not responded.

I sit with the Sudoku, and the sense of falseness and the feelings of being manipulated nag at me as I fill in the little squares. I'm not sure why I feel so irritated with this woman, but I have learned, time and again, that if I don't listen to those inner alarm bells, I will regret it. Something is telling me this woman is bad news.

Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast of BBC Four's Tracing Your Roots. It was full of half-sibling reunions. The resident genealogist recommended writing, rather than emailing or phoning suspected relatives, to send a picture, to furnish proof, and be prepared for rejection. When I screwed up the courage to contact my half-brother, and my first cousin, I sent a Christmas card with a family photo with my email and with the assurance that they did not need to respond. My Christmas card list has doubled. They have been open and generous, despite the genealogical bomb that I dropped on them nearly ten years ago.

I am not prepared to be as open with this woman claiming to be my half-sister. Something is telling me not to. Is it my inner bitch, or something deeper inside that knows more than I do?

Maybe I should switch to crossword puzzles.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Cantaloupe tonight; dad's gone afar...

The Resident Fan Boy is not resident tonight; he's off to a conference in Montreal until Friday, which means three lonely nights and four lonely days as a grass widow for me. Still, it could be worse, and it definitely was, a baker's dozen of years ago, when the RFB decided to take on a six-month secondment in Ottawa, leaving his wife and daughters (then 2 and 6) in Victoria.
Oh, he came home every three weeks, for three fun-filled jet-lagged days. This had started in September and by mid-October, younger daughter had started having night terrors. I tried to cope by transforming myself into some kind of highly organized and crafty earth-mother, trying out recipes for stews and tackling crafts to distract my daughters from their fatherless existence. For instance, one parenting magazine brightly suggested that cantaloupes would be a fun and exotic jack o' lantern variation.
Interesting, yes.
Flimsy, too.

These days, I pick the simplest food preparation I can without resorting to pre-packaged food, and keep projects to a minimum until the RFB comes home, in time for Hallowe'en, as it happens. We'll be carving pumpkins this weekend, but you're welcome to try cantaloupes, if you dare.

Monday, 24 October 2011

A cloudburst doesn't last all day (even in Ottawa)

I've mentioned in my blog before that I've been reading a couple of "A Poem a Day" anthologies. I've also mentioned that several times, the day's poem has an eerie significance to the week's events.

So yesterday, as you may recall (or not), I was remembering U2's song "Stuck in a Moment" which ends with: "It's just a moment/This too shall pass."

The poem for Saturday, when I was gearing up for yesterday's post and recovering from the trauma of the previous week's miscommunication crisis with younger daughter's school, was Timothy Leary's adaptation (from several English translations into "psychodelese") of this 2700-year-old poem by Taoist philosopher Lao-Tsu:

All things pass
A sunrise does not last all morning
All things pass
A cloudburst does not last all day
All things pass
Nor a sunset all night
All things pass
What always changes?

Earth . . . sky . . . thunder . . .
mountain . . . water . . .
wind . . . fire . . . lake . . .

These change
And if these do not last

Do man's visions last?
Do man's illusions?

Take things as they come

All things pass

And I recognised the words immediately, and thought of one of the most touching moments during the Concert for George, put together by the late George Harrison's son, wife and famous friends, when Paul McCartney sang "All Things Must Pass". What makes this just a tad more bitter-sweet is that the 1970 album "All Things Must Pass" contained a backlog of George Harrison compositions rejected for inclusion in Beatles albums. I wonder if this one was one of them.

Happy times pass away. Luckily, the same goes for sad times.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Stuck in a moment

I can remember exactly where I was on the morning of September 14th, 2001. Yes, I said the fourteenth of September, although I could tell you where I was and what I was doing on the morning of September 11th, 2001 -- if you really wanted me to.

Nevertheless on September 14th, I was walking doggedly up Sussex Drive to see an exhibition at the National Art Gallery while crowds of people surged in the other direction, past the American Embassy, then choked in flowers and notes. Across the street, the headless mannequins displaying Justina McCaffrey's wildly expensive designer wedding dresses (you can just see one in the extreme right edge of the photo) were draped in sheer lavender veils of mourning.

Three days after the incinerations in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania had felt more like three weeks and the orgy of grief was set to continue in "a show of support for our American friends and neighbours" on the lawn in front of the Parliament Buildings.

I'd had enough. Sitting in a pub having breakfast three days before, I had been horrified, sickened and terrified along with everybody else, but part of me was now deeply upset that this level of outrage and hysteria had never been demonstrated when word of atrocities in, say, Bosnia or Rwanda, had reached Canada. Granted, two dozen Canadians had died on 9/11, so it seemed, I suppose, a bit more personal. However, I couldn't help thinking that the reason everyone was so devastated by this was that the victims were mostly white and relatively wealthy, the very people supposed to be exempt from this kind of thing. Not long after the attacks, one of the victim's children gave a heartfelt plea to the Canadian press to consider the sufferings of her widowed mother.

In the financial losses resulting from her bereavement, she'd had to give up her summer house.

In the intervening years, 9/11 has become something like an annual festival, like Christmas or Halloween, complete with television specials, many of them repeats, year after year.

This year being the ten anniversary, I decided to keep away from the television, but one night, about to drift off asleep, I stumbled across a Frontline Documentary on PBS entitled Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero and, being too tired to change the channel, blearily began to watch it.

At first glance, it's like any other 9/11 special, the same shaky-camera shots, the same screams, the same re-tellings. However, the focus of this documentary is on the topic of how faith, or indeed, the lack of it, figured in the engineering of this horror, and what role faith, theist or atheist, plays in trying to make sense of the ensuing suffering and in the very nature of evil.

We start with friends and families of victims of the Twin Towers. We hear from Christians of various stripes, Jews, Muslims. This documentary was made about a year after the attacks. They are still clearly reeling from the shock and the statements of faith are simple:
"God didn't do this."
"God knows best."
A grieving Muslim father who lost his daughter and son-in-law, reports that his prayer at the time was that if they could not be saved, "Let them both go to Allah together."

Others are angrier. A writer (for Martha Stewart magazine, as it turns out) who lost her firefighter husband speaks of coming into a crisis while in vacation in Hawaii of all places, questioning why God would "turn this loving man into bones. . . . I just can't bring myself to speak to (God) anymore; I feel so abandoned."

A security guard who lost scores of friends says: "I'm losing respect for him (meaning God the Father - apparently Jesus is just alright with him). I look at God as a barbarian. That wasn't mercy."

Canadian Brian Clark who survived the Twin Towers and saved another man's life, resulting in a life-long close friendship says: "God intervened in our lives," but adds: "Others didn't have that experience -- I can't question it."

Here we're moving into the sticky area, aren't we? I can't fault these people for speaking honestly in their raw pain and grief, but there's that strange sense of entitlement. God should have spared them because... Why? Because they were good people? Good people are slaughtered every day.

The clergy begin to weigh in. An orthodox Rabbi declares: "If the Plan saved you, you better be ready to say how the Plan didn't save others. If you can, at least you're honest, but we don't worship the same God."

And the discussion continues: a rabbinical scholar, a atheist professor of Middle Eastern studies who says he was confirmed in his atheism by 9/11, a French photographer, a conservative Rabbi who sings the transcripts of phone messages left by the victims to their loved ones as prayers (it's odd, it's uncomfortable, but it's moving); novelist Ian McEwan, opera singer Renée Fleming, a professor of Islamic studies, a Catholic priest. The list goes on, a roster of articulate speakers struggling with the unspeakable.

Highlights for me:

1) A Holocaust survivor puts the whole subject of the existence of evil into perspective. As a child, she lost her entire family during the Nazi atrocities: "I've seen hangings, shootings... (wry, bitter smile) You want to hear more? ....Were they, too, created in the image of God?"

2)Margot Adler, an National Public Radio reporter who is also Unitarian, tells the story of Vladimir Putin being interviewed for NPR, and how Adler was struck by something Putin said that was not, as far as she knew, quoted anywhere. They were asking him about Reagan's remarks about the Evil Empire, and Putin sort of shrugged it off, saying it was an exaggeration. But then they asked him about George Bush's definition of Osama Bin Laden as evil personified: "Putin says, 'No. That is mild language.' And then he says: 'We are as dust to them.'"

Adler goes on to emphasize the impact that remark had on her, with evil, you "lose your sense that a human being is a human being" -- it's an estrangement, the jumpers are not just like you. Here's where I found myself nodding, but then, I'm a lifelong Unitarian-Universalist and that's what I was brought up to believe.

3) The disturbing story of a high-ranking Lutheran clergyman who participated in a service in Yankee Stadium shortly after the attacks, and was stunned to find fellow Lutheran clergyman calling for his resignation and defrocking because he, as a Christian minister, had stood on a podium and prayed with clergyman of other faiths.

The documentary ends on an odd postscript. Jarring, I suppose, because it's based on something that it is assumed everyone will have seen -- and I hadn't. It's various interviewees responding to a photograph of two Twin Towers jumpers, remarkable because they are plummeting to their deaths clasping hands. Ian McEwan is one of the few dissenting voices, saying he finds nothing in this but despair. I googled the photograph, but think it serves little purpose in reproducing it here. I'm not sure if it serves any purpose in providing this link to Brian Doyle's brief essay Leap, but you can go look if you like.

I do recommend Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero, which is archived and viewable on line.

In the weeks and months after September 11th, 2001, it felt sometimes as if the whole world had sunk into a blue funk. A song getting airplay was U2's "Stuck in a Moment" which, I think, was actually about the recent death of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, but, for me, captured the mood of that autumn and winter:

Bono, Edge, and Elvis Costello performed this recently on Costello's television show "Spectacle".

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Dealing with the dark and light on Elgin

I guess I'm not a resilient as I used to be. All week I've been struggling against what seems like a sort of emotional flu. It's only today that I've feel somewhere within striking distance of my normal energy level which, let's face it, never was that high.

Today was overcast, and the day turned out to be flashes of colour against the grey. We had business along Elgin Street which is my favourite downtown street in Hades. We stopped in at Leading Note because younger daughter will be tackling sight reading this year. (Gulp.) We had brunch at the Elgin Street Diner where I had a waffle totally obscured with brilliant slices of strawberry, kiwi, pineapple and banana. We stopped by Boushey's Fruit Market which always has a surprise. Today, the surprise was chocolate and raspberry liqueur spread. We didn't buy any, but it's nice to know it's there. Then we made our way down to the Byward Market, past Oktoberfesters in Bavarian type garb (does this give the Jewish community nasty flashbacks, I wonder?) and picked out a trio of pumpkins so bright, they might not even need candles come Hallowe'en night. Younger daughter carried hers home with great reverence and pride.

By late afternoon, my spirits were flagging. In the tradition of other NaBloPoMos in which I've taken part, I've been reading through past Octobers in my journals, which is a double-edged sword. Even as I encounter happy memories I'd long forgotten, I keep being haunted by the line in "Stockton Gala Days", one of the songs I'd saved to my iPod this past week:
"What I've learned to hide
What I've lost inside
You'd be surprised if shown
But you'll never, you'll never know..."

(Also, we learned today that younger daughter's voice teacher has bought a two bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom condo, not far from Elgin Street. The maintenance fees, just the maintenance fees, mind, are twice what the Resident Fan Boy and I paid as rent on a two bed/one-and-a-half bath condo when we were first married.)

One of our stops this morning on Elgin Street was at the National Arts Centre for rush seats to tonight's Pop Concert, shamelessly using younger daughter's student discount, so this evening we headed out under a sky which had cleared to reveal faint stars straining to twinkle over the street lamps and headlights. The rather drab Indian High Commission on the corner of our street was festooned with coloured lights; it must be Diwali this weekend.

The conductor led the NAC orchestra with large fluid movements and an earpiece; the orchestra had to keep up with the soundtracks of selections from seven films of Rogers and Hammerstein musicals. The orchestral bits had been deftly removed, so the these living musicians could play along. ("It's sort of karaoke in reverse," commented the Resident Fan Boy at intermission.) Occasionally, they got a little behind -- "There is Nothing Like a Dame" seemed a particular challenge. However, for the most part, they got to rather seamlessly accompany the likes of Shirley Jones, Joel McCrae, Mitzi Gaynor, Julie Andrews, Pat Boone, Bobby Darin... (Okay, the last two were a bit of shock; they were in the second film version of State Fair.) And in the dark, I could see younger daughter's face glowing with delight and pleasure.

I keep having to remind myself that you need the dark to understand what light is.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Lost for words is a web site with (at least) two nifty features for word-lovers. First, they have a "word of the day" which you can have emailed, and is light-years ahead of a similar service provided by Google. (Today's word from Google is "deadpan". I ask you...) Secondly, you can save words to your account. Currently, I have forty delightful and exotic (to me) words on my "favourites" list.

However, it's been a long time since I perused my collection, and I have an uneasy feeling that my subconscious is telling me something:

dil·a·to·ry [dil-uh-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee]
tending to delay or procrastinate; slow; tardy.
intended to cause delay, gain time, or defer decision: a dilatory strategy.

lucubrate (ˈluːkjʊˌbreɪt) —vb (intr)
to write or study, esp at night
[C17: from Latin lūcubrāre to work by lamplight]
'lucubrator —n

pro·lix  [proh-liks, proh-liks] adjective
extended to great, unnecessary, or tedious length; long and wordy.
(of a person) given to speaking or writing at great or tedious length.

cacoethes (ˌkækəʊˈiːθiːz) —n
an uncontrollable urge or desire, esp for something harmful; mania: a cacoethes for smoking
[C16: from Latin cacoēthes malignant disease, from Greek kakoēthēs of an evil disposition, from kakoscaco- + ēthos character]

am·bi·sin·is·ter [am-bi-sin-uh-ster] adjective
clumsy or unskillful with both hands.

mump·si·mus  [muhmp-suh-muhs]
noun, plural -mus·es for 2.
adherence to or persistence in an erroneous use of language, memorization, practice, belief, etc., out of habit or obstinacy (opposed to sumpsimus).
a person who persists in a mistaken expression or practice (opposed to sumpsimus).

Oh dear.

Not only that, while writing the past few posts, I have missed the opportunity of using such words as "chatoyant" and "caliginous".

All is not lost. With Hallowe'en coming up, I may be able to use "horripilate"....

Thursday, 20 October 2011

An awkward October memory

In all my years of living in Victoria, the thing I probably knew best was that I had to allow myself an hour to get anywhere. It's a good rule in Hades, too. In Victoria, it was because you had to travel as if you were running along the spokes of a wheel; you had to go downtown to make a transfer, then head out again to your destination. (In Hades, it's because you're battling with delays and what is essentially a tangle of milk routes.)

The Resident Fan Boy's mother died in the early years of our marriage. She was, uh, not exactly my greatest fan, but I understood the very basics of in-law etiquette as set out by Judith Martin, aka "Miss Manners": 1) feign affection; 2) show up for state occasions.

The interment of Late Mother-in-law's ashes certainly qualified as a state occasion, even though only six people were to be present: Resident Fan Boy, Bereaved Father-in-law, Far-flung Sister-in-law (the reason for the interment taking place a month after LMIL's funeral which FfSIL had been unable to attend), Rector of BFIL's current church, and Rector of BFIL's former church in whose churchyard the said ashes were being interred. And me, who was not particularly welcome, but definitely expected.

I had a teaching assignment at the university that morning and the brief ceremony was scheduled for one o'clock that afternoon. I knew I could be home well before noon, allowing myself to change into appropriately somber garb, setting off by public transit with more than an hour to spare.

Except the bus that took me down the spoke, so to speak, to downtown Victoria dropped me off just in time for me to see the bus I needed disappearing around the corner.

I didn't panic. The next bus, a variation on the bus I'd just missed, was due in half an hour. It would reach the churchyard by a slightly different route, from a slightly different direction. It would be cutting it a bit fine, but I should arrive with a minute or two to spare.

The bus in question, in accordance with the unwritten rule in bus-scheduling, was a few minutes late, just as the previous bus had been a few minutes early. I kept a calm but steady eye on my watch as we approached the street leading to the church. I had about ten minutes.

To my horror, the bus continued past my street, barreled to a timing point several blocks behind my destination and turned off its motor. In the two years since I'd last taken this particular bus, there had been a route alteration. I now had seven minutes and was considerably more than a five minute dash away, even if I hadn't been wearing black pumps.

The bus started up after the driver had had his coffee and to my despair, headed back the way it had come. This time, it made the expected turn, and standing by the exit, clinging to the rail, I gazed out over the approaching churchyard and could make out the small knot of mourners standing with heads bowed. For a few depressed seconds, I seriously considered staying on the bus, but got out and hobbled along the gravel path.

The Resident Fan Boy filled me in later. Both he and his father are notorious for showing up places early. The RFB had got it in his head that six people were attending, and in the emotion of holding the urn with his mother's ashes, did a quick mental head-count, got the number six, and when asked if he was ready, nodded. It was only at the end of committal that his father sighed heavily: "I guess she isn't coming, then?" Looking up wildly, the RFB realized that the sixth person was the assistant rector. Not me. His wife. The woman dashing up the path with a rather flushed face.

He believed my story, of course. I'm sure his father and sister didn't.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Music for self-respecting and wistful drag queens (but no spanish techno)

Last week's school crisis seems to have taken rather a lot out of me. I've been working on some better-thought-out ideas for posts (or maybe I'm deluding myself again; maybe they're really bad ideas...), but find myself lacking energy and courage. This morning, I decided to download some more music on to my iPod, using a wish list I keep for that purpose. I got myself about a dozen songs off iTunes, so I thought I'd share half a dozen with you. There's no unifying theme other than they each roughly represent a decade.

For the sixties, "Pata Pata" with the late great Miriam Makeba. My strongest memory of this song is of Folk Dancing Club in university. (Yes, I did. You can stop laughing now.) Several of the other girls already knew a set dance to this which involved swinging the knees and elbows out from their bodies. Maybe that was the original "Pata Pata". I wouldn't know.

For the seventies, another powerful lady, Mavis Staples with her dad Roebuck and sisters belting "Respect Yourself". This is a song that could be aimed at most arrogant young men, no matter what their colour:

Here's one of my favourites from the eighties. "If We Never Meet Again" has been covered by a number of singers, but here sung by the songwriter himself, Jules Shear with his group The Reckless Sleepers:

And this wistful number from the nineties, "Stockton Gala Days" sung by Natalie Merchant just before she parted company with 10,000 Maniacs:

The "aughts" are represented with this arresting video for "Sing Me Spanish Techno" by The New Pornographers, featuring well-known (in their field) drag queens Juanita More from San Francisco and Michael Venus from Vancouver. (Michael's the tall blond, if you hadn't figured that out already.)

Finally, "Weightless One" by Prince Edward Island group Two Hours' Traffic, a song that's been getting a bit of airplay this year, although the album it's from is two years old. The only video I can find of it is this rather shaky and talked-over club version.

That's it. I'm going to bed now...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The un-de-friended mother

Elder daughter unfriended me on Facebook when she was fifteen. No offense, she said defensively. She couldn't think of a single one of her friends who had parents as Facebook friends. Facebook was private, she said. Facebook is the polar opposite of private, I said. No dice. Her grandmother, her father and I were out.

Sometime last spring, her name quietly re-appeared on my Facebook list. Rather like a zoologist sighting a rare and shy species, I moved cautiously. I didn't put messages on her wall. I didn't even mention the re-friending. Hesitantly, I would occasionally ask about something I'd seen at her profile.

I soon stopped.

"Mu-u-u-um... Quit stalking me!"

Stalking? Looking at a Facebook profile is stalking? Oh, okay...

I continued to look, but silently. Until this fall when an uncharacteristic note appeared: "(Elder daughter) is attending: I'm getting dru-u-u-unk!"

It seems some friend of hers was celebrating the end of some sort of physical training in which she'd been engaged all summer with a party which wouldn't include "everyone at Dal", just some close friends of her and her flat-mates.

Right. So this was why she was listing it as a "Public Event". One of the said roomies piped up: "In case this isn't clear, it's at our place!" while helpfully supplying the address.

I thought about it all day before typing a comment below the lengthy description of this event: "My daughter's going to kill me for saying this, but if you don't want all of Dal to come, should you really be publishing your address on a public event?"

Elder daughter was in touch with me within half an hour, leaving a "MOTHER!" on my Facebook wall, followed by a winking and bobbing Skype icon. I removed my comment, even though someone had "liked" it. Elder daughter informed me that this was because I'd left the "l" out of "public". I was pretty sure I was going to be unfriended on the spot, but elder daughter fixed it. She informed all her friends that I was crazy.

I guess that's what you call "saving face".

Monday, 17 October 2011

What makes me tic

"Is there such a thing as late-onset Tourette's Syndrome?" I asked the Resident Fan Boy as we trudged along the street that leads to younger daughter's school, girding ourselves for a confrontation. In the tortuous week leading up to this morning's showdown, I've been beset with a host of unpleasant physical manifestations of my inner tension, including an unwelcome new one: a twitch at the lower corner of my right eye which wasn't quite a tic. Briefly, I toy with visions of myself sitting on buses beating out rhythms on my thighs, exploding in expletives.

But it turns out that curfew shall not ring tonight. We had a pleasant and productive encounter with the head teacher who, it turns out, has been rather distracted by a wedding this past weekend -- her own. Also, the teacher that has really been worrying us is not in until Wednesday. The Resident Fan Boy and I made our way to the bus taking us for a coffee break downtown before the RFB goes back to work, and I collapsed briefly on his shoulder.

This calls for music, don't you think?

First up: Bohemian Rhapsody on a ukulele.
No, really.
This is amazing:

Next up, something I have shamelessly stolen from the eclectic blog Eine Kleine Nichtmusik:

Perfect. If you hear some extra thumping, that will be me beating out a rhythm on the computer tower. I may even swear a little...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Melinoe on a half-shell

Oh, ouch. The tensions of the last week have found their way into my middle and lower back, into my jaw. Sometimes my hands shake. Tomorrow, we confront the teaching staff at younger daughter's school. We only plan to deliver the hereunto undeliverable homework, along with a reminder of our phone number and respective emails, but it may be an indication that things have already gone too far.

I comfort myself with music, with books, with movies, with memories. On one of our last nights in Victoria last August, my friend-of-the-right-hand offered to take us to Mount Tolmie to watch the sunset.

"Oh, could we go to a beach?" I asked. Six weeks had passed, and I had failed to stroll by the sea.

So she drove us down to Willows Beach. The sun had already slipped behind the park, and the mountains were mauve and misty. The water rippled in lines of silver and lilac. Younger daughter took off her shoes and waded into the gentle pearly ripples, while we filled our shoes with fine grey sand. A seal poked up her head, then slipped away unseen.

And I didn't have a camera with me. But I do have this picture of an abalone shell. That's something what it was like.

Saturday, 15 October 2011


In the midst of a miserable week full of crying jags, rage, injustice, and possibly even cruelty (I've been trying to pluck up the courage to blog about it, but who the hell would want to read it?), I have this small triumph.

Google Images has a new feature called "Search by Image" which allows you to drag-and-drop, or upload an image into the search field. Remember a little while back, I was ruminating on my eleven-year bedazzlement and befuddlement on the origins of this photo which I see every time we have lunch in the Elgin Street Diner? Well, I uploaded the image and the one, single match took me to a French site which informed me that the photographer was Sam Tata, born in China in 1911. From there, all I had to do was "google" Sam Tata and among the many hits was this link:
Coolie Woman, Monsoon, Bombay, India the National Gallery of Canada. It turns out that the gallery has an 1987 print of the 1948 photo, and that Sam Tata died a mere six years ago --- in Sooke, British Columbia. Sooke is 39 kilometres (24 miles) west of Victoria!

Tonight, when the troubles looming on Monday fly in my face like gnats, I'll conjure up this image and hold it against the dark...

Friday, 14 October 2011

Dressed in morning

Every October I feel the pull to go to graveyards and catch wishes.

It's not as ghoulish as it sounds.

I read in a children's book some years ago that if you catch a falling leaf before it hits the ground; you can make a wish on it.

Leaf-catching is a rather strange thing to be caught doing, particularly if one is a grown woman.

Not having a car, I can walk to Beechwood Cemetery in about twenty minutes. This year, I was determined to go early in the morning, as nearly all of my past expeditions have been in the afternoon or at sunset. I set out on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving Monday, taking advantage of the fact that younger daughter has had a lift to school these mornings.

Beechwood Cemetery was not altogether deserted, even before 9 am. The groundskeepers were roaring about in their lawn mowers, vans, and earth movers. An occasional coffee-clutcher made his or her way en route to school or work. Down near the chapel, people were parking their SUVs. A long-limbed lady in black picked her way through the markers.

However, most of the time, I was on my own, snapping pictures, trying to capture the barely-used morning light. Every now and then, I would glimpse a golden shower not far away and plant myself beneath it. You really have to spot a leaf while it's still very high in the air and swoop with it. That morning, I caught seven. That's a record for one autumn, let alone one morning! I made seven wishes, three of them for younger daughter. (Judging from the events of the past week, the wishes are either coming true in a way I don't yet understand, or were poorly phrased.)

As I made my way back, I saw a man engraving a headstone, apparently sand-blasting through a plastic stencil. Wearing a hood rather like an old-fashioned hairdryer completely over his head, he crouched like Gollum on the edge of Middle Earth, surrounded by tombstones in the shape of open books, all blank, all waiting for sad stories in the drifting cloud of mist and dust.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Variations on precarious

Ever had a song that has always meant one thing completely change its meaning in the course of events?

I've always enjoyed Blues Traveler's "Most Precarious", in spite of an unbelievably lame official video where a handsome young man pursues a dazzling young woman while the camera focuses on her exposed belly button.

However, I'd dropped Demeter off at the airport, and while there will be a certain relief in having our house back to our accustomed level of privacy, I was looking out the bus window, assailed by darker thoughts because when your mother reaches a certain age, you have to wonder which separation is the final one. (I hasten to add that Demeter is in excellent health.) To drive away my melancholy, I stuck in my ear-buds and hit "Song Shuffle" on my iPod. "Most Precarious" was among the songs cheering my soul. This lasted until I picked up younger daughter from her independent school (consisting of 25 students) and discovered that for the third time this week, her teachers have failed to look at her assignments and the notes I enclosed with them.

We're having a battle of wills with the two head teachers who, despite younger daughter's having been at the school for two years, are convinced that her inability to remember the different items required for each class (a big change from middle school to high school) is some sort of adolescent stone-walling and not a result of her memory deficits and autism. Apparently, they think refusing to help her retrieve what she needs from the cloakroom, including the homework assignments which have taken hours of family time, will teach her responsibility.

I came home unutterably depressed and close to tears. Younger daughter, of course, became convinced I was angry with her.

And all of a sudden, "Most Precarious" is not a song about taking a chance on romantic love; it's a song about struggling for a daughter's education.

Music & Lyrics: John Popper

Don't you give up don't allow disaster
Don't you give up don't you let her win
We're talking about a "forever after"
Don't you give up don't you dare give in
Don't you give up don't you dare give in

Doesn't it seem most precarious
Doesn't it seem such a chance to take?
Doesn't it seem most precarious
Why does it feel like a big mistake?

Please understand and hear what I'm saying
The time is now and you don't have long
She could be oceans away tomorrow
So soon your chance will have come and gone
So soon your chance will have come and gone

Doesn't it seem most precarious
Doesn't it seem such a chance to take?
Doesn't it seem most precarious
Why does it feel like a big mistake?

The tight-wire's strung and you're out in the middle
All eyes upon you no net below
Inches to go and you're almost home free
Feel the wires swaying to and fro
Feel the wires swaying to and fro

Doesn't it seem most precarious
Doesn't it seem such a chance to take?
Doesn't it seem most precarious
Why does it feel like it would be a damn shame?
Would be forever if it meant a day?
How stoically I exclaim
As she turns from me and walks away

The light in her eyes explanation escapes you
Longing to please and not feel alone
And she doesn't know it but really she loves you
Some day so soon you're gonna make it home
Some day so soon you're gonna make it home

Doesn't it seem most precarious
Doesn't it seem such a chance to take?
Doesn't it seem most precarious
Why does it feel like a big mistake?

We've left the school a stern voice message. Heaven help us...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

My day in haiku

Day dawns and pounces.
Daughter is misunderstood.
Compose note to teacher.

Shop with Demeter.
Mall coffee near shoe repair.
Special hell in Hades.

Carefully composed
Note to teacher with homework
Is returned unopened.

Late afternoon is
Grey and spent in crammed transit

More goddamned homework.
Guidance and suggestions still
Much like pulling teeth.

Was today that bad?
Okay, it had its moments.
Nice pasta for lunch...

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Leaving no quarter

In October, the wasps are dopey and cranky, and the spiders come in to get warm. When we lived in Victoria, the October visitor was usually a hobo spider. They're quite large and an unsettling and unwelcome sight crossing one's living room in the lamp light.

Although nineteen, elder daughter has somehow managed to never be in a house alone at night before (except for baby-sitting and that's not alone by definition). She spent her first year in university in residence, and when home, one of us is usually there. During a long distance chat, she breaks off in a panic: "Mu-u-um! There's a spider in the kitchen!"
"A spider?"
"It's HUGE! It's right by my foot!"
"Okay, grab a glass and put it over the spider, then you can slip a piece of paper underneath..."
"But it's HUGE, Mom! It's the size of a QUARTER."
"Now, calm down. It doesn't want to hurt you. Besides, remember the spiders in Victoria. They were much bigger..."
(They were, too, the accompanying photo notwithstanding.)
"Mu-u-u-u-um!!! I was eight; it wasn't my problem! And it's eleven o'clock at night and it's dark...."

I hand the phone to the Resident Fan Boy who talks her through the spider eviction.

This evening, as an enormous harvest moon fights its way free of the clouds on the eastern horizon, it occurs to me that she knows something important: when you're eight, it isn't your problem. When you're nineteen, it's becoming your problem although you may have parents to give you step-by-step instructions over the phone. Time enough to discover the depressing next stage. Yep, she's growing up, and I guess these will be cold nights for spiders.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Post prandial (see what I did there?)

Breakfast options this morning: warmed up garlic bread, cold chicken, left-over (made from scratch) pumpkin pie...

An appetite suppressant may be in order. This YouTube gem features Ellen Page who was born in Nova Scotia and nominated for an Oscar for her role in the quirky flick Juno. For the record, practically nothing in this video is true of Canadian Thanksgivings. Well, except maybe for the Canadian Club...

Sunday, 9 October 2011


Woke up in a sweat this morning, worrying about homework and schoolwork issues at younger daughter's school and remembering I need to cook today because we're having Thanksgiving dinner on the Sunday because elder daughter flies back to Halifax tomorrow, and Demeter is going to have all sorts of ways of trying to help....

So this video is a tad misleading, but it is also an aspect of the Canadian Thanksgiving experience:

Saturday, 8 October 2011

A First Nation Summer?

The first frost warning appeared on the Environment Canada web site this past week, and the temperatures have risen this weekend to a steamy (for October) 26 degrees Celsius. I guess this is, to use a politically-incorrect phrase, an Indian Summer.

Early this morning, I stood at the bus stop en route to this month's BIFHSGO meeting in a summer-weight cotton blouse, marveling at the warmth. A fellow in a reflective vest moved from public planter to public planter, methodically uprooting the scarlet hibiscus that have bloomed there all summer. He spent some time knocking the dirt off the roots into the large stone pot, then stuffed the bush into a large black garbage bag. I felt rather sad for the doomed plants, still glowing prettily from the dark plastic depths, so when I got home after the meeting, I showed Demeter a picture I'd taken last summer at the house-sit in Victoria, to make sure I had the correct name for the flower.

Yesterday, I heard from a cousin asking me about our family history. He seems to do this every year or so. Each time I hear from him, he has basically the same questions which I answer patiently each time. He always seems to ask in October. His dad's 77th birthday is next week and they haven't spoken in years; his younger son has never met his paternal grandfather. I send a link to my family history map of Wales and a copy of a 116-year time line I did for my mother, but he really wants to look at a family tree chart, to see the names and how they connect to him and his sons. That's what we try to do in family history, to find where we fit, where we belong, and to say to those shadowy figures in the past, "I know your name; you belong, too." I send my cousin a link to my online tree where he can gaze at charts to his heart's content.

I know your name; you are not forgotten.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Keeping track

When my father departed for Boston with another woman, my mother decided to scrub around her life, make a fresh start, and move to some place warmer. She splurged, booking two "roomettes" on the train from Edmonton, Alberta to Nanaimo, British Columbia. I was eight years old and charmed by the beds which slid out of the wall like drawers. To this day, I can't recall having a better night's sleep, rocked through the Rockies. I was woken only once, as the guard in Jasper paced the platform calling out to those who could hear him to change their watches back one hour. Early in the morning, I lay on my stomach in my drawer-bed head-to-head with my six-year-old sister, gasping as nearly bottomless canyons opened up beneath the train as it sped over trestles. By breakfast time, we watched the sunny Okanagan orchards flash by the dining car. As an introduction to a new life, it was pretty hard to beat.

Recapturing that perfect sleep was one of the goals on my mind when we decided to take Demeter and younger daughter to Halifax by train last year to see elder daughter at her university and spend the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend. Other considerations were Demeter's life long dream to travel completely across Canada by rail (this seemed a reasonable compromise), and the idea of traveling through the Maritimes in autumn.

We started the 26-hour journey with the dayliner jaunt from Ottawa to Montreal, moving in and out of the shadow of rainstorms and reaching Canada's second largest city with its mad inter-weaving of La Metro subway, VIA rail, Amtrak and commuter trains at La Gare Centrale, to say nothing of the shoppers. After nearly forgetting my suitcase on the platform (I was shepherding Demeter and younger daughter while the Resident Fan Boy charged ahead and disappeared down the train corridor), we glided slowly across the dark river surrounded by the blazing lights of the city, and made our way down the south bank of the St Lawrence before veering away south from the Seaway just past Rimouski and crossing into the province of New Brunswick at daybreak just at the innermost tip of Chaleur Bay. From there we headed steadily south, rumbling across the Miramichi River about mid-morning, entering northern Nova Scotia sometime after lunch then making a long circle around the south-west edge of Halifax, arriving in the late afternoon, steps away from the famous Pier 21 where so many new Canadians entered the country, including Demeter many years ago.

When we took Demeter to the Pier 21 Museum the next day, a brand-new Cuban-Canadian tour guide greeted her with an enormous "Welcome ba-a-a-a-ck!" and a gold alumna sticker for her coat. She remembered her fellow boat passengers, Germans en route to Wisconsin and Italians en route to Toronto, being put in holding cages, while she, a British subject, was waved through to the waiting train to Edmonton. (We also learned there had been a young man, a Haligonian, on the boat...)

And we visited with elder daughter at the University of King's College, ate two Thanksgiving dinners (one of them cooked by us in a student residence kitchen), saw the sights, including the ancient (by Canadian standards) Old Burying Ground in the centre of the city where they stopped burying people in 1844. And I wistfully watched elder daughter striding through the streets of a city that will be hers and never mine. And I watched Demeter wonder about the beautiful boy from Halifax and what might have been. And I was grateful to have seized the chance to come this way, even though the train bed, not a magic drawer, but a shallow fold-out shelf, was lumpy and jumpy and I never did much more than doze, or peer out into the darkness at ghostly white cottages, paddock fences, and flashing poles.

We flew back home. Train travel, alas, has long ceased to be the economical option.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Rideau River Rorschach

It's five minutes to midnight. I took this in October, but not this October. Gosh, I hope I haven't posted this already....

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

If I had a hammer (write of passage number twenty-two)

He has one of those tool boxes you see workmen with nowadays: it's white and blue plastic, about three feet long and a foot deep -- looks rather like those cases hospitals use for transporting organs, if organs were three feet long and a foot deep. He's placed the tool box across the aisle and is standing behind it grasping railings on either side. He's wearing a dark tee shirt that says something about carpentry across the back. I have a good view of it because I'm standing behind him and I need to get off the bus.

Crowded bus etiquette is tricky. You don't want to ask someone to let you pass if they're getting off too, so I tap him on one broad shoulder and ask: "Are you getting off?" Unfortunately, he seems to think I'm angling for a seat that has just become available ahead of him. By the time we've established I'm trying to get out, the bus has taken off again.

"No," I say in despair. It has been a long day with too many crowded buses. "That was my stop."

"Well, you should have got ready two stop sooner," he tells me.

This is too much. "I got up in plenty of time," I protest.

He snaps.


Now, in several years of taking transit, many of those weighed down with any number and types of bags and containers, I have never yet made someone miss their stop by blocking the aisle. It seems impolitic to say so, seeing as he's still yelling at me. By this time, I've to slip down to the exit, and while he continues to bellow, give him my best "Oh, are you going to go on like this?" look before turning to find younger daughter, who in the crush of getting on had found a seat further forward.

"I'm sorry about this, Mom," she says in a little voice.
"It's okay, sweetie," I tell her. "It's not your fault."

Angry Carpenter has sat down in the seat he thought I wanted, so has a good view of this tender little scene. He leans forward.

"Ma'am, I apologise for losing my temper."

Like his previous outburst, this is completely out-of-left-field, and scores of responses flash in my brain. However, it's an apology and how many of those do you get these days, even in Canada?

"You have yourself a good evening." I say, with all the sincerity I can muster. Then younger daughter and I get off.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

"Mind if I swoop?" "It's your place..."

Demeter flew in for a ten-day visit that encompasses Thanksgiving, so I'm cheating today. I hope I won't have to cheat for the whole ten days, but we'll see. This is my absolute favourite skit from The Kids in the Hall. I find both the characters here rather endearing, but especially the quintessential hockey fan played by Scott Thompson who, ironically, was the first openly gay actor I recall encountering on TV. Mark McKinney, the would-be gay vampire, is actually straight in real life and, I feel compelled to add, co-wrote and starred in one of my favourite television series of all time Slings and Arrows. Also, I grew up knowing guys just like Brad. His caped companion, not so much, but I led a sheltered life and didn't go to hockey games...

Monday, 3 October 2011


Okay. I've watched "The Wedding of River Song" twice. Trouble is, I need to watch Steven Moffat's episodes at least three times before I have the slightest idea what's going on. This episode was like the Silents, the creepy slimy things in business suits who hang from ceilings like bats and are instantly forgotten the minute you look away. Every time I try to recall what happened in the first fifteen minutes --- I can't. I just can't. There were pterodactyls, weren't there? And Winston Churchill as Caesar. Oh yeah, and a Noel Fielding look-a-like in a Star Wars bar.

My head hurts.

My understanding, from a very quick look around the Doctor Who sites I can stand, is that opinions are sharply divided on this one, between those that were dazzled and those who were bored (which is difficult to imagine) and have decided that Stephen Moffat has ruined Doctor Who.

Oh, here we go again. Even at his most preposterous, Russell T Davies didn't ruin Doctor Who. (I've gone on about this before; if you care, just type "Russell T Davies" in the search box, but only if you must...) Steven Moffat, another highly talented and brilliant television writer, won't ruin Doctor Who. Most of my favourite episodes have been penned by Steven Moffat. So why do I feel oddly deflated?

I like Matt Smith as the Doctor. I like Amy Pond. I'm very fond of Rory. And I love-love-love River Song. (I've gone on about that before too.)

Y'know, I think the problem is that I really don't care for this split season thing, with half-a-dozen episodes airing last spring and another bunch airing this late summer/early autumn. If we're going to go with this story-arc thing, best have all the episodes close together, so lame-brains like me can keep up. Also, frankly, two short seasons just make me feel twice as cheated when they end.

My contribution to the obsessive arguments now dominating the Who-niverse: It seems to me that the Silents have taken upon themselves the task once overseen by the Time Lords. The Resident Fan Boy thinks I'm on to something and that the Silents are the Time Lords. Discuss.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The ten suggestions

The door is always open, says the current billboard in front of the Resident Fan Boy's church. "Except when it isn't," says I, making my way across the crosswalk from where the bus has dropped us off. The Resident Fan Boy dissolves into manly giggles. The front door of the church is always locked except for Sunday morning services. "Sometimes," he intones, "you need to sneak around the side. There's a metaphor in there somewhere..."

We're here early because younger daughter has her final rehearsal before her solo in this suddenly chilly morning's "inter-generational" service. There will be bongos, bells, and inaudible Bible readings by coerced pre-adolescents. Younger daughter has been carefully preparing an ugly duckling of a little song entitled "Beautiful". I've been listening to her prepare over the past few weeks; it's devilishly difficult to sing, with an odd meandering melody. Then there's the lyrics:

Beautiful is a flow'r, the sea; and sometimes beauty is me
Beauty is summer, the grass or the snow; or even seeing animals, a fawn and the doe.
Beauty is the prairie, the forest, a bird; and sometimes beauty can be just a word.
Beauty can be a sunset that rises; Beauty can be many colours, shapes and sizes.

Wait a minute. A sunset that rises? Fortunately, the Resident Fan Boy explained to me that it was poem by a girl who died at age eleven. Oh. Okay. He also pointed out that only a child raised on the Canadian prairie could come up with "Beauty is summer, the grass or the snow...." Every Prairie kid knows that snow can show up anytime.

Younger daughter will not sing, as it happens, until an arts-based "reflection time", based on "God's Loving Ways" (the ten commandments, but that made God sound way too bossy). Each "Way" has been carefully rephrased: "Honour thy mother and father" has become "Pay attention to your parents and other adults who love you." Not quite the same thing, is it? Anyway, the congregation has fifteen minutes to cut out images from magazines and clue them to the appropriate commandment Loving Way. I decide this is an ideal moment to accompany younger daughter to the washroom and notice several other people have the same idea.

When we return, the Resident Fan Boy is gleefully snipping something out. He's discovered an ad for Genesis Compost which declares: "Your tomatoes will be the envy of your neighbours!" Oh, the irony. He's gluing it under Loving Way #3: "Be careful how you use my name, whether you are speaking in anger or joy." (Loving Way #10 is probably more appropriate but that's clear across the sanctuary.)

Younger daughter's task is to sing the congregation back into the prayers. And she does it.