Thursday, 31 January 2013

The pendulum is the pits

When January began, we were still in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas.  The snow people made by neighbourhood children grew under layers of new snow.  I can't ever remember snowmen lasting beyond a day or two.  These lasted for weeks.  However, the pitiless pendulum of the new year has been swinging back and forth between piles of white, and pewter freezing rain.

Last week, I carefully picked my way around the slick streaks and solid slippery puddles along Iris Crescent and saw that the cheerful and slightly askance couple who seemed to be cautiously watching to see what the Accent Snob would do last month had been reduced to emaciated pillars this month.

The pendulum swung again, and a truck-cum-snow-plough was trapped on Bertrand Street one Saturday evening.  Someone had drawn a triumphant smile in the blade-devouring drift.

This week, we've had hip-high hills of white washed away (nearly) by rain which was dried (nearly) by howling winds this morning before the temperatures dropped, freezing treacherous smears across the sidewalks.  And we've still got February to come.  March and April usually aren't that much better here in Hades.
This is my tenth NaBloPoMo.  I began with February 2009, followed by September that same year. In 2010,  I did March, August, and November. I blogged for the whole months of April and October in 2011, and my NaBloPo-months for 2012 were May and July.  For almost each month in which I've participated, I've gone through my diaries to see what patterns emerged over my years of journalling.  Looking over past Januarys was rather depressing.  It's such a damn dark month, mostly in various hues of grey.  I seem to have had rather more friends die in January than other times of the year, but I don't feel like checking, thank-you very much.  I suppose January has usually been a time for facing reality for me.  Too bad the light is so poor.

 I plan to NaBloPoMo in June.  I'll still be blogging in the meantime, but not nearly as regularly. I'm tired, and there are things that need doing before I come out swinging again.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Psychopaths I have known

Last autumn, I came across this article in the Globe and Mail which includes an interview with author Kevin Dutton and an overview of his book The Wisdom of Psychopaths. I felt a dropping in my stomach as I read it, because at the end of the article were two lists: one denoting leadership traits, the other the corresponding psychopathic traits. The first list came fairly close to describing my father. The second list pretty much nailed him. I sat in a mild state of shock for a few minutes, then logged into my local library's web site and put a hold on the book.

Dr Kevin Dutton begins The Wisdom of Psychopaths with tales of his own father and his father's audacity. Neither Dutton's dad nor mine was a serial killer (so far as I know). This is the point. We use the term "psychopath" as a synonym for "serial killer". This isn't so, and Dutton is by no means the first person to make this point. Most of us probably personally know people living with autism, Parkinson's Disease or schizophrenia. (I certainly do.) Why wouldn't we also know functional psychopaths?

Dutton describes how the very qualities that help politicians, surgeons, military intelligence operatives, CEOs and sales people rise in their professions and succeed in what they need to do are similar to traits shared by some of the most dangerous people in our society. He calls these "The Seven Deadly Wins": ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness (as in living in the here and now), and action ("Psychopaths," Dutton declares, "never procrastinate.").

As I read, I thought of the possible psychopaths I'd encountered in my own life: a boy at school who could turn friendliness on and off like a tap, a teaching partner whose relationships with the students we shared made me uneasy, at least two of the Resident Fan Boy's bosses, and yes, my own charming, reckless, and heartless father.

I admit, though, I'm nothing but an armchair psychologist and this book, written in a glib, popular-science style, is nothing more than food for thought. An interesting read, but not something on which to base your life philosophy. Unless, like a psychopath, you have little in the way of a conscience.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Through a bus, darkly (Write of passage number twenty-eight)

This is a January story, but not of this January. One of the reasons I do NaBloPoMo is to force myself to do posts I always meant to do. Last January, from what I can dimly and reluctantly recall, was a blur of grey slush and pewter-coloured ice. It was a late Wednesday afternoon, and a cold downpour had not quite succeeded in washing the snow from the streets. On Elgin, a water pipe had burst. I took younger daughter to a coffee shop we had loved when we first came to Hades, where the staff was now sullen and unwelcoming. (It has since closed down.)

After dropping her off at her voice lesson, I transferred outside the Rideau Centre with a queue of fellow passengers who barely restrained themselves from shoving each other on to a crowded bus. It was my custom to sit further back, but this evening all seats in the back were already occupied and I reluctantly took one of the "courtesy seats" which face the sideways seats at the front.

I had to step around a young mother in a hijab who, after trying to peer through the mud-caked windows into the gathering darkness, suddenly realized she had to get her stroller off the bus, which meant pushing through crowds of damp and crabby people still trying to board. I caught the eye of a woman sitting across the aisle, smiled and said: "I don't think she knew where she was." The woman seemed to think I was making a criticism, and earnestly explained that it wasn't the mother's fault. Before I could reply that this was what I meant, we were blocked by a wall of standing passengers.

An older lady sitting cater-corner to me in the sideways seat took this as a cue to chat with me. Now, I had caught something from younger daughter just at that Christmas. It was four weeks later and whatever it was had worked its way from my head into my chest, then up into my sinuses and into my ears so that now I was rather hard of hearing. (It would not clear up until mid-February.) I was too cold, wet, and tired to explain this to the lady, and wished I had donned my ear-buds. I smiled and nodded, not being able to make out what she was saying. It didn't take me long to realize that this tactic had been a big mistake. She kept chatting in a low, companionable tone until we turned off Dalhousie on to Murray Street. It was at this point that a formidable lady in an African headdress planted herself between us, and in deep mellifluous tones started to tell us off.

This meant five minutes of my looking in bewilderment between the two women, wondering what on earth I'd missed. Chatty lady chuckled disbelievingly at formidable lady, who then turned to me and seemed to ask what I had to say. I could only manage: "I'm afraid I can't hear you."
"Well, isn't that good for you?" she said, before sailing to the back of the bus, which was now largely empty, flinging back: "I am not your cleaning lady...."

I wondered briefly if we were enacting a scene from the film The Help which was big at that time and which, of course, I hadn't seen. Chatty lady gave me a "Can you believe that?" sort of look, along with a comment that I still couldn't hear, and I staggered off the bus, resolving never to pretend I can hear when I can't and to always try to sit near the back of the bus.

I realize at some point I'll be really old (and undoubtedly deaf as a post) and will have no choice but to sit at the front, but I'll cross that bus when I come to it.

Monday, 28 January 2013


When I was writing up my review of Laurent Binet's novel/blog/series-of-unfortunate-events HHhH last night, I planned to mention my previous encounters with Reinhard Heydrich. Not personal encounters, thank goodness; Heydrich died in 1942 and was perhaps one of the most terrifying and deadly members of the Nazi administration -- which is saying something. However, I'm doing NaBloPoMo this month and I submitted my post within minutes of midnight as it was.

Binet mentions the television film Conspiracy in his book, which is indeed a memorable movie about the Wannsee Conference with a cast featuring such remarkable actors such as Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci, David Threlfall, Colin Firth, plus about a dozen other actors who are familiar, not because they are famous, but because they are hardworking British (mostly) character actors.

Here is a taste of Branagh's and Tucci's interpretation of how Heydrich and Eichmann ran the meeting:

However, as chilling as Conspiracy is, the production team couldn't resist adding dramatic tension by making Threlfall's character and Firth's character more sympathetic, "good Nazis" (with some scruples, however faint) to contrast with the "more evil Nazis" (no scruples whatsoever). It's a disturbing aspect of an already disturbing reenactment.

Besides, I couldn't help comparing it with The Wannsee Conference (Die Wannseekonferenz)(1984). I stumbled upon this late one night on a PBS channel some years ago. At the time, I was bewildered, having never heard of the Wannsee Conference. I saw men, in various Nazi uniforms, chatting genially, sipping drinks, then sitting through what appeared to be a typical business meeting complete with maps and graphs. It makes the agenda all the more horrifying. No added drama is needed:

Heydrich, the "Butcher of Prague", is portrayed here by Dietrich Mattausch a busy and distinguished German actor who was born, ironically enough, in Sudetenland, now part of the Czech Republic.

A couple of years ago, I read an online review of this film by someone who had attended several business meetings in Germany. He said they were much like this one. Presumably without the swastikas and the outline for the murder of millions.

Maybe I've had enough of this kind of thing for a while. I've been having nightmares. On the other hand, just wait until you hear what else I've been reading this month...

Sunday, 27 January 2013

HHhH (The brain of Himmler is Heydrich)

This may be a first. I'm not a consumer of the latest books. I'm a slow reader and a picky reader and most things I read have been published for at least two or three years, usually longer.

I first heard about HHhH about six weeks ago at Scott Pack's blog Me and My Big Mouth. He'd listed it as Number Two of his top books of 2012. It looked interesting, so I put a hold on it at the library, and it came up surprisingly quickly. I had just begun reading it when I spotted it at The Bluestalking Reader blog, this time because HHhH has made the shortlist for the National Book Critics Circle Awards 2012.

So some pathetic excitement in my life: I've actually read something that's up for an award. The irony, of course, is that HHhH was published in French in 2009; it's the translation that is copyright 2012. I wonder how much of the award is for the author, and how much for the translator (a man from Nottingham named Sam Taylor who has written three novels of his own)?

This book is about Reinhard Heydrich,
head of the SS, a chief creator of the "Final Solution", and terror of Prague, where he was eventually assassinated in 1942. I first heard of him when I was in elementary school, reading a simplified Scholastic version of William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which included a brief and rather sanitized description of what the Nazis did to the village of Lidice, Czechoslovakia in reprisal after Heydrich's death. To put it simply, they killed everybody except a handful of kids who could pass for Aryans. They even shot the dogs before razing the place.

This story is also about Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík, the Czech and the Slovak assigned to kill Heydrich. Apart from what Heydrich represented and the horrors he unleashed, according to Laurent Binet, the Czech government-in-exile needed a powerful act of resistance so that London would remember to revoke the Munich Agreement after the war.

To interweave the stories of the marksmen and their target, Binet writes -- not a novel exactly, but a series of impressions about writing a novel about Heydrich and Kubis and Gabčík. In 257 sort of blog posts, Binet veers from Heydrich's childhood and rise to power, to the choice of Gabčík and Kubiš for the suicide mission, from Babi Yar to a brutal and possibly mythical football match between Nazis and Ukranians, from whether Heydrich's Mercedes was black or dark green to which of the Czech families who aided Kubiš and Gabčík (the vast majority of whom were shot or gassed) will be sacrificed from the narrative for brevity's sake.

Does it work? Well, yes. It's a bit distracting at times, especially when Binet hauls us back into the present to stew over details, but the final third of the book as we hurtle toward the assassination and its horrific aftermath is engrossing -- and frankly getting jerked into the present from time to time is a relief.

Will it win the award? Heck, I don't know; I never read the latest books, so I have no idea what the competition is like. This book is worth reading though, whether it wins the award or not.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

If you go down to the woods today

We like to support local theatre when we can. This was a musical at the Gladstone Theatre, featuring Zac Counsil, whom we had seen in a clever three-person adaptation of Macbeth last year, and the amazing Kris Joseph, who was one of the very best actors in Ottawa before he moved west to Edmonton. I knew next to nothing about this play -- it's a cult musical from the 1990s -- but we were warned: "Stage fog; prop guns; intercourse bears". Intercourse bears?

Well, the first half was quite entertaining. Even before the lights went down, the fog machine spewed interesting white billows across the black stage. Like real clouds, they floated into interesting shapes; one looked for all the world like the jaws of a smoky crocodile reaching out to snap the audience. When the show began, the acting was fine, and the singing strong. Kris Joseph, as expected, took over every scene he was in as the troubled doctor who saves the Bat Boy because he hopes this will save his marriage. (Things get nasty when it doesn't.) I was rather disappointed by the lack-lustre response of the audience; the cast was working so hard.

It all fell apart a bit after intermission. A young boy across the aisle who appeared to be about four, seemed to lose interest during the first musical number and started snapping pictures with his iPhone (or whatever it was -- he had been playing games on it during the intermission when the Resident Fan Boy heard him tell the couple behind him that his mum was in the cast). He snapped away steadily for about ten minutes until the man behind him firmly grasped his shoulders.

They lost me for good when the cute furry animals start copulating while singing about inter-species harmony. I saw the bears but didn't see them having intercourse. I was too busy trying not to watch a tiny bunny do unspeakable things to Grover the Monster. It's supposed to be funny and satirical; I thought it was gratuitous and over-the-top. This play is being marketed as "heart-warming".

After the big denouement, which involved a women being sexually assaulted by bats and a bit of inadvertent incest, I turned to the Resident Fan Boy and joked weakly: "My review for this would be: 'If you liked Avenue Q, you'll probably like this."

Back home, on Skype, we tried to explain to elder daughter in Halifax about the puppets having sex. Younger daughter gasped from the dinner table: "The puppets were having sex????"

Somehow, I don't think she's picking up much from the life discussions at her school.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Someone is WRONG on the internet

One of my distant cousins (well, she's something like my second cousin once removed which, in family research terms, is practically immediate family) just sent me an email apologizing for a flippant comment she had made about two babies in our mutual branch of the family tree who died "of teething". She said her comment was insensitive. Now, seeing as these babies died well over a hundred years ago, I thought they were well beyond hurt feelings, and told her as much, adding that steering around the sensitivities of the living is far more perilous, speaking from sad experience.

I must admit though, if I were as scrupulous as my cousin, I'd probably have smoother sailing online.

I've always thought of myself as a tactful person, but then everyone thinks s/he is a good driver, or has a sense of humour, so I may be deluding myself. Especially considering I don't drive. I can also think of way too many occasions where I either put my foot in my mouth or was simply misunderstood. Online, the opportunities for inadvertently pushing someone else's buttons seem to quadruple, no matter how meticulous the proofreading. Sometimes, all the emoticons in the world cannot save you. (Granted, there's compelling evidence that I shouldn't be allowed anywhere near emoticons.)

The area of family research is particularly sensitive, because, not only are you dealing with dead family members, but you are addressing people who feel deeply proprietary about said family members. I include myself in this feeling, you understand. It has gotten me into trouble more than once.

I have a public tree at Now right there, we have a controversy, because there are family researchers who will tell you that it is foolhardy to have a public tree. I can see what they mean. Over the ten or so years I've been researching my family online, I've seen more and more people simply copy down the information off others' trees, without a word to the original researchers. I blame ads such as this one from We'll do the searching for you.
You don't have to know what you're looking for...

Right. It turns out there are a lot of people out there who not only don't know what they're looking for, they don't know how to look for it. They seem to have no concept of research protocols, such as looking for evidence in more than one place, or noting where they got their information. With little idea of geography or history, they make assumptions and their family trees are full of other people's relatives, not their own. For some reason, the ads don't mention this.

There's no doubt that my public tree has resulted in stunning finds and wonderful connections. I'm loath to give it up. It's a bit too late anyway as scores of people have made off with my research and what's worse, my family photographs. Ancestry, of course, encourages you to add family photos, with a gentle warning not to post pictures of living people. Quite right, too. What they don't tell you is that other "researchers" will copy your photos to their trees. I wouldn't mind so much if these people were actually related to me, but I've checked, (it's not hard) and nine times out of ten, they've made a fatal error in their direct line. For example, there was the case of a woman in Ontario who had been painstakingly copying down everything in my tree. I'd make entries, within a day the data appeared on her account. (Ancestry notifies you when records you've saved are saved to another tree.)

I checked and quickly saw that she was claiming one of my great-great-great-aunts as her great-great-grandmother, despite the fact that her g-g-grandmother was born forty miles from the birthplace of my g-g-g-aunt, in a different year, and they had married different people.

As a matter of fact, I'd been in touch with her before on another issue, asking why she had my great-great-great-grandmother married to both my great-great-great-grandfather and his brother, having children well after her death. Pleasantly -- and predictably, she said she'd got it from another tree. I was reluctant to contact her again; besides, I have this rule for myself that I don't intervene with someone's research unless it involves one of my people in my direct line. (Otherwise, I'd be intervening all the time; the problem is that prevalent.) I watched for weeks as she added people, photos, and records from my tree to hers. The final straw came when she posted my late father's address from the nineties, a condo where his widow still resides. This was around Christmas Day and I made myself wait three days before sending a carefully-worded email a) pointing out that my father was entirely unrelated to her; b) laying out the evidence for my great-great-great-aunt not being the same person as her g-g-grandmother; and c) adding, a little unfairly, that my stepmother had had an unwelcome contact since her address had appeared in this woman's tree. (This was true, but I doubt the interloper had got the information from Ancestry.) I got a very apologetic message with the promise to dismantle that part of her tree. It's still up there, but my late father's address is gone.

So that worked out quite well. Within a few weeks, trouble came from another quarter. A lady in Australia was posting photos of some of my ancestors. That's not awful in itself, what usually happens is that a note will automatically appear on that person's tree stating who the original submitter was, along with any information about the photo that the original submitter included. This woman had copied the pictures to her computer, re-labelled them and posted them again, without the accompanying information. I knew this because, as these people are my ancestors, "her" pictures turned up in my list of possible leads. (These weren't pictures of her ancestors, by the way. My great-great-grandparents are her husband's distant cousins, not even in his direct line.)

I didn't wait three days before contacting her. I should have.

I was pretty damn mad and even through I tried to establish a tone of polite bewilderment, I probably came across as angry. (Gee, d'you think, Persephone?) I said that copying photos and re-submitting them as her own defeated the spirit of family research and that this was one of the reasons I no longer share my photos on Ancestry. At first glance, her response seemed quite charming. She explained that due to broadband limitations, she preferred to transfer photos to her own computer, that she derived great pleasure from sharing selectively photos that "gave faces to" relatives, and that she was sorry I would no longer be sharing photos because my tree was "wonderful". She rather spoiled the treacly stuff by apologising "if" I were offended. (Using the conditional tends to negate an apology; it suggests that somehow you aren't, or shouldn't be, upset.) She also put "copying photos and re-submitting them as mine" all in capitals, effectively shouting at me.

I replied that asking permission before posting other people's photos is not required, but that it is courteous, and she could consider at least giving credit to the relative who had carefully restored and digitalized the photographs. I also couldn't resist adding that the idea of her "selectively sharing" photos with strangers didn't give me much comfort.

You can probably guess what happened.

The return message was very short. She was deleting my photos, she said. Consider myself blocked, she said. Oh thank goodness, I thought. I was just on the verge of blocking you.

Sigh. What have I learned from this? Probably nothing I didn't really know already.

First off, and probably most important: I succumbed to the siren call of correcting someone who is wrong on the internet. This has been stated in beautiful simplicity by this xkcd web comic classic, entitled "Duty Calls" by Randall Munroe:

If someone has made an error in fact, judgment, taste, etc., and I'm falling over myself to set them straight within the next few minutes, I should stop myself. In this case, I should have waited three days for before posting each response.

I still believe she was wrong. Not in a legal way, of course, once I'd posted those photos, they belonged to the world, and I won't be posting ancestral photos on Ancestry again. In terms of research, courtesy, and the plain old Golden Rule, she was mistaken. However, I didn't fare so well in the Golden Rule department myself. I was too angry. Simple as that.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

When love-sick teens get hold of French pop songs

Have a listen to this 1966 recording by Sylvie Vartan (who, amongst other things, was married to the "French Elvis Presley" Johnny Halliday for fifteen years) of a song called "Quand un amour renaît"
Non, rien n'est jamais fini
Par tout ce qui nous unit

Quand un amour renaît
Il faut lui laisser
Une chance encore
Pour nos erreurs du passé
Il faudra nous aimer
Encore plus fort

Car il y a entre nous
Plus que l'amour
Je crois que nous serions fous
Et je suis pour

Quand un amour renaît
Il faut lui laisser
Une chance encore
Pour nos erreurs du passé
Il faudra nous aimer
Encore plus fort

Quand un amour renaît
Il faut lui laisser
Une chance encore
Il faut tirer un trait
Et ne pas trop chercher
Qui a eu tort

Et tous ceux qui sont partis
Sans un pardon
Sachant que rien n'est fini

Sound familiar? Not fabulous lyrics, but those in the English version (based on this original French song) are probably quite a bit worse:

And when I see the sign that points one way
The lot we used to pass by every day

Just walk away, Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You're not to blame

From deep inside the tears that I'm forced to cry
From deep inside the pain that I chose to hide

Just walk away, Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
Now, as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes
For me, it cries

Your name and mine inside a heart upon a wall
Still finds a way to haunt me though they're so small

Sounds like something on the creative writing page of the school yearbook, doesn't it? That's because the English lyrics were written by a love-sick sixteen-year-old.
I got the story from a feature on CBC Radio Two's late afternoon show Drive called "Rear View Mirror". You can read it here, and see some other songs inspired by this one that you may not have expected.

Oh, and I quite love the song. I liked the lyrics better when I was a love-sick adolescent, though.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Another one bites the snow-drift

Today is quite possibly the coldest day of the year in Hades. This morning Environment Canada informed us that it was -28 Celsius with a -40 wind chill. That was when younger daughter headed off to school. She had a lift, thank heaven.

This was also the day that the developer who wants to build a three-unit condo next door decided to demolish the house that has stood on the corner for I-don't-know how many years -- probably about 80 or 90, as that's how old our semi-detached is. They put up the signs and fences first thing and ripped out the shrubbery and trees before using the earth-mover to scrape about four feet of snow off the roof. We live in the far side of the semi-detached, so I only knew the big-time demolition had begun by the muffled booms and crunches. The other clue was when a man who lives in an apartment block across the street brought out his well-bundled preschooler of indeterminate sex to sit on the stoop and watch. It was warmer then, about -25 and a wind chill of -37. Hey, Ottawa kids are tough.

By the time I took the Accent Snob out for his midday yank around the block -- he hates the cold and men with trucks and implements of destruction even more so -- the house next door was about a third gone. It looked like it had been gobbled by Hansel and Gretel, provided of course they had scary appetites and a taste for nails and drywall.

When I returned home from escorting younger daughter from her school to her music lesson, only a pile of rubble remained. All I remembered of the people that lived there were their pleasant smiles when passing me on the sidewalk, and the sound of piano music on warmer afternoons. Warmer than this one, for sure -- I had an ice cream headache with no ice cream.

Construction in Hades, as far as we've been able to figure, lasts about two years. This should be fun.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Where is on down the line, how far away?

In the evening, it's -20 degrees Celsius with a wind chill of -32. Columns of steam are rising from the grates in the gutters, and by the time I reach the library, one kilometre from my house, my thumbs are getting numb in my mittens. I make my way carefully back down the hill, stopping by the Village Green Park to see the moon cupping away from Jupiter. (The proper conjunction was last night, but it was overcast then.) Then I hurry home, try to avoid the ice patches under the film of snow. I still feel my foot glide forward from time to time, but keep my balance.

This is the song playing on my iPod, a collaboration between The Roches (sisters Maggie, Terre, and Suzzy - very American spellings, right?) and guitarist Robert Fripp who produced the record.

It's a song which makes daughters laugh, and mothers smile sadly.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Another argument for locking up your daughters

I stumbled upon a collection of videos this weekend. (Yes, as usual, I was looking for something else.) This is from a group of suspiciously good-looking young musicians who call themselves Collective Cadenza (or maybe it's collectivecadenza -- at any rate, they're cdza for short). Some of the videos are more successful than others, but I was drawn to this one about the "history of wooing women". Apparently, things took an ugly turn sometime in the early nineties.

There's some judicious bleeping here, but I wouldn't play this within the hearing of those with more delicate sensibilities such as say, young children, your grandmother, your boss, etc:

Oh well, I guess one can argue that at least today's young women should have no doubts about where they stand (and why they shouldn't turn their backs for a second), but all the same, it's a tad depressing, isn't it?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Real cool

It was beginning to seem like a dangerous way to skip the first Hockey Night in Canada in many months. The Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I penguin-walked and skidded down the icy sidewalks between walls of snow. Fifteen centimetres of snow in one morning had given away to rain by evening, freezing into silver chutes. However, we had purchased rush tickets earlier in the day for a screening of West Side Story, with the instrumental soundtrack provided live by the National Arts Centre Orchestra and for the sake of younger daughter, who adores this musical, we were going - come Hades or high water (or frozen sidewalk).

Our rush seats, a wonderful bargain courtesy of younger daughter's student status, were in the mezzanine this time, almost dead centre. We had a beautiful view of most of the NACO, although the horn section was obscured by the movie screen because of our height above the stage. The conductor, who normally opens with a humourous banter, took the stage, bowed and immediately sat in front of what appeared to be a screen the size of a large laptop. We've been to Pops concerts where the musicians played live soundtracks before -- an evening of selections from films based on Rogers and Hammerstein musicals and a showing of Bugs Bunny cartoons years ago. I'd never seen how the conductor synchronized the live musicians with the soundtrack either of those times and now rather wished I'd brought my binoculars.

As the MGM lion roared and the three eerie whistles signalled the beginning of the film, I was astonished to feel my chest constrict with excitement. I mean, I've seen this movie dozens, if not scores of times. However, I don't think I've ever seen it on a big screen in a packed auditorium -- and Southam Hall in the NAC complex is a large venue. Three large green vertical columns moved from left to right across the monitor in front of the conductor who raised his baton and brought the musicians in.

The images and music were almost as familiar as the back of my hand, but I found myself concentrating in a way I'd never done before, marvelling at the beauty of the dancing, even in the fight scenes, noticing tiny things for the first time: how Riff controls his gang with a wordless jerk of the head; the playground where Tony begins singing "Maria" is the place where he will die at the end; the foreshadowing hint of "There's a Place For Us" at the end of the rapturous lovers' duet "Tonight".

Something else I'd never noted properly - the fabulous dancing of the Jets' girlfriends, both at the fateful gymnasium dance where Tony and Maria first meet and later in the edge-of-hysteria dance number "Cool" where the remaining Jets try to come to grips with the deaths of the rival gang-leaders Riff and Bernardo.
Watch those girls dance! They're doing most of the same moves the male dancers are, and they're doing it in skirts and heels. ('Twas ever thus.) Most of the dancers you see here were in the original Broadway production, although not necessarily in the same roles. The blonde girl is Carole Andreas, the original "Velma" on Broadway and also the wife (now ex) of Robert Morse who created the role a J. Pierpont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying.

More than fifty years later, some of the lingo is dated, but the dancing isn't. I was a bit taken aback when at intermission, an acquaintance of the RFB told me that she wasn't prepared for how skinny the dancers were. She meant she didn't think they looked substantial enough to be in a street gang, perhaps being more used to the six-packed footballish image of the present-day tough guy. We had just watched this men scramble over fences, hurdle horizontal bars, dance with girl on one shoulder. I told this woman that I wouldn't want to pick a fight with a Shark or a Jet: "They could dance circles around me."

For a great deal of the film, I simply forgot to watch the musicians as they played along, which is probably a testament to how good they were. The NACO, after all, is a world-class orchestra. I watched as younger daughter sat forward in her seat for the entire three hours, rapt. The Resident Fan Boy and I felt the same. It was almost like seeing the film for the first time.

One more thing: I never felt this way for one second during my first and only viewing of Les Miserables. West Side Story has heart-break and passion, but it's also got dancing and humour, all conveyed through the varied (let's emphasize this - varied), intricate music of Leonard Bernstein, the clever lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, and the fluid choreography of Jerome Robbins, to say nothing of the performances by the cast.

West Side Story dances circles around Les Miz. Simple as that. It was worth the skid.

Saturday, 19 January 2013


It's been snowing again -- 15 centimetres covering the filthy grey ice that has dominated the streets for the past week or so. This afternoon I looked out of the window as the dark began to draw in and saw a fellow leaping like a gazelle through the snowdrifts clad in his Ottawa Senators jersey.

Oh, that's right, I thought glumly. It's back.

After a stand-off of several months, hockey is back on the TV. As I walked the Accent Snob in the early evening, I could see the glow of television screens from apartments, houses and condos up and down our block. (We must be the only house in Hades without a wide-screen.) It was a line of beacons, welcoming back the violence-prone and ridiculously over-paid men on skates. Even more appalling then the idea of hockey-players going on strike is the fact that they've done this before, and no doubt will do it again, as this skit spoofing the Canadian Heritage Moment television spots attests:

It must be concussion, right?

Friday, 18 January 2013

In the company of cheerleaders (a tale of two novels, although one really isn't a novel)

One of my Facebook pals is a school librarian, so her postings are pithier than some I could mention, that is, she doesn't share glorified chain letters, urban legends masquerading as real events, nor quotes attributed to the wrong people. A couple of months ago, she posted a link to a Publishers' Weekly item entitled "The Top 10 Essays Since 1950".

I had a look and the one that really got under my skin was by Jo Ann Beard, a description of a day no one should have involving a dying pet, a dead relationship, and an incident that resulted in the deaths of half a dozen of her co-workers. It originally appeared in The New Yorker in 1996 and it's called "The Fourth State of Matter". I really recommend that you follow the link and read it; it's clear, engrossing, heart-breaking.

I recognized a voice I wanted to hear again, so I immediately checked the catalogue of my local public library and put a hold on In Zanesville, a novel Beard published in 2011, about that terrifying time when a girl feels her way over the chasm between childhood and adolescence.

There are three Zanesvilles in the United States; this one appears to be a tiny community south of Springfield, Illinois. (The towns of Heyworth and Waynesville are mentioned.) The time covers the months between the summer of 1972 and the following winter. ("Ooh Child" is called an "old" song and "Ben" [released the summer of 1972] is quoted.) Our heroine, whose name may be "Jan", is definitely not "Joan", and is in all likelihood Jo Ann, is fourteen, gifted, and a late-bloomer. In 1972's small-town America, this means she is still a little girl emotionally when the book opens. We follow her through a series of seemingly unimportant adolescent incidents which are, of course, life-changing to her, and by the end, we are hearing the thoughts and ideas of a teenager.

This is not a Young Adult novel. This is closer to being a memoir from someone who remembers exactly what it was like to be no longer pre-adolescent, but only barely -- and to have no idea what to do about it. Beard writes skillfully and truthfully. It may be lacking in sex and violence, but it is, nevertheless, a book for grown-ups.

The audio-book is inventively read by Jo Anna Perrin.

One of the turning points for the narrator of In Zanesville is her unexpected inclusion in a slumber party for cheerleaders. It just so happened that before I got out this audio-book, I was listening to the audio-book version of Girls in White Dresses
I felt compelled to get this book out because Marie Phillips has been rhapsodizing about it for months. Marie is a gifted writer herself, the author of Gods Behaving Badly (now a forthcoming film) and co-author of the BBC radio comedy Warhorses of Letters and the spoof Fifty Shelves of Grey, so when she recommends something, I pay attention. I don't always agree. Marie may be a fellow Taurus, but she isn't the boss of me.

Girls in White Dresses
by Jennifer Close claims to be a novel, but it's really a series of short stories, all concerning a clique of girls from Philadelphia who get jobs (mostly) in New York. They may not be cheerleaders exactly, but they seem to share a similar sort of mentality, being privileged, well-educated, pretty girls who get jobs in areas like publishing, and when they don't, sourly contemplate how these are "not the kind of people (they are) supposed to be around". The men they date are two-dimensional and described in terms of their physical attractiveness or lack thereof (making this rather like a lot of novels by male authors, I suppose). One of the least pleasant chapters concerns a member of their set who will only go out with ugly men. Another woman wails when she is set up with an overweight date: "What about me says, Set me up with an obese person?"

Two or three of the short stories have genuine humour and show our protagonists in a more sympathetic light. One, entitled "Showers", is a neat illustration of the giddy excess and embarrassing silliness of pre-wedding rituals. Another, "Button", follows a young woman's underground power struggle with her mother-in-law. Close does best when she writes about the girls as children, or when they interact with children. This is when they come across as real human beings, perhaps because these women are nowhere near growing up. By the end of the book, there is no sense that they have developed any further than the people they were at the beginning.

Oh, I might be missing the point. Perhaps I'm failing to notice devilishly clever social satire, but the fact is, none of these women are appealing, hold my interest, nor resemble anyone I would care to meet in real life, while the heroine of In Zanesville is all three.

I think Jennifer Close is a very young writer with room to improve, while Jo Ann Beard is an accomplished writer whose further works I will seek out.

(Sorry, Marie.)

For your amusement, I leave you with two musical moments featured in In Zanesville: the - uh - remarkable Seventies soul stylings of The Five Stairsteps

...and Michael Jackson at fourteen years of age, when his face was unmarred and he was still "one fifth of the Jackson Five" That's Charlton Heston before he became the face for the NRA and yes, Michael is singing a song about a man-eating rat. Gosh, the Seventies were twisted...

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Another brother from another planet (Write of passage number twenty-seven)

I often heard him vocalizing when younger daughter and I alighted from the Transitway buses to hurry up the block to waylay our bus home. He's very tall, very broad, and somewhere quite far out on the autism spectrum. He lives in Lower Town and we've often seen him on the bus with his dad over the years. Lately he had been on his own, and had created a ritual which would play out while we waited for the transfer. He would approach the line of commuters at the bus stop and, vocalizing in an insistent tone, indicate that he wanted to fist bump.

Most people turned away, but being the mother of a special needs kid, I hated to do so. The problem is, once I had fist-bumped him, he wanted me to scrub his hands with my knuckles which he demonstrated, again with some insistence. Since younger daughter had "deep pressure hunger" issues when she was smaller, I felt honour-bound to comply, but I must admit I felt embarrassed and wondered inwardly whether I should be encouraging this. Harmless enough, but what would happen if he approached a hostile person with no inhibitions?

A later refinement in the strange ceremony was a box of antibacterial hand-wipes which he wanted me to rub on the back of his hands. I was mystified. Extricating myself with some difficulty, I searched in vain for a garbage can in which to deposit the wipe, not caring to stick it in my bag when my rapidly approaching bus arrived. In desperation, I ducked into a Starbucks for the few seconds it took to throw the wipe into the bin by the door. It was a few seconds too many for younger daughter, who is at a different end of the autism spectrum and perfectly capable of telling me how upset she was: "Mom!! What are you doing!!!" She stomped to her seat as heads turned.

I haven't seen him for a few weeks. Part of me is relieved; the other part is worried.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Hades freezes over -- and over

Oh January. You're so new, yet get old so quickly.

We're up to our armpits in younger daughter's summatives. (For non-Ontarians, they're the projects due at the end of each semester in high school, in January and June.) The hot-water heater is not working and it turns out be the breakers, so after a visit from the hot-water-tank guys this afternoon, we're due to have the electrician in tomorrow morning. We've had a bit of freezing rain, followed by unseasonably warm days which have melted the piles and piles of snow from before and after Christmas so that rivulets stream across the driveways and sidewalks which freeze over night, while the dog poop that so many people have failed to pick up is being inexorably revealed.

No end in sight until April at the earliest and not even then.

Dammit. Here's some pictures I took before it got ugly. I'm going to bed.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A brother from another planet

The Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I are making our way down from the Mackenzie King Bridge, cutting through Confederation Park on our way to Elgin Street one Saturday morning. As we approach the fountain (which, apropos of nothing, used to be in Trafalgar Square and is said to be haunted), I see a fellow with a shopping cart bellowing at passersby. The path is going to take us right by him and I brace myself.

Instead, he calls after younger daughter: "Those are nice stockings!" (Younger daughter has an impressive collections of tights with every manner of design; today, she's sporting pink and blue butterflies on her legs.) She turns automatically and says, "Thank-you," before hurrying on.

I'm just coming abreast of him as he raises his mittened hands and addresses the sky: "Someone in this city has manners! It's a miracle!" The Resident Fan Boy and I grin at him and pass from the park unbellowed-at.

Monday, 14 January 2013

All in good time

It's been a busy day and not a bad one, but I just really want to go to bed. Here's some Can/Con for you. (Canadian content) I'm not fanatical about Ron Sexsmith, but I do like some of his songs. I heard this in a coffee shop last summer, but it's a pretty appropriate song for January. The video is clever, but a bit distracting. You could close your eyes. I plan to.
It all seems so obvious now
When I look back over my life
There were times that I really felt down
To think it passed me by

But in these hours of serious doubt
Through the cold black lonely night
Something told me, “It’ll work out”
Something deep inside
Was comforting me

All in good time
All in good time
It said, "All in good time,
The bad time will be gone."

“Hold your horses,” a willow tree cried
While the sun called to me, “Where’s the fire?”
“Run your course, my feverish child,”
Came a voice from even higher
Inspiring me

All in good time
All in good time
It said, "All in good time,
The bad time will be gone."

We rise and fall
We try and fail
And people may judge us
But angels, they know us, darling
All in good time.

It all seems so obvious now
When I look back over my life
There’s a need for sorrow and doubt
For darkness and for light
It’s how it must be

All in good time
All in good time
It said, "All in good time
The bad time will be gone."

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Going to great lengths

I was on my way from a BIFHSGO meeting (that's my family history society, for those who don't know I'm a family history nut) which had gone overtime, to drop off a DVD at the library, then high-tail it around the corner to the Empire 7 to meet the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter at Lincoln.

This is the first family rendezvous we've done with a cell phone. As I hurried along, I already knew that the RFB would be getting the popcorn because he had texted me before leaving the house. However, the RFB is flatly refusing to get a mobile device, so when I didn't show up at the appointed time, he panicked, found a pay phone between the coming attractions, and left a message along the lines of if-you-don't-answer-your-cell-phone-what's-the-point. I hadn't answered because by the time I realized the thing was vibrating in my parka pocket, his call had gone to voice mail, and I hadn't figured out how to retrieve my voice mail. (I have now.)

So I arrived five minutes into the film and, having no night vision to speak of, had to stand at the back of the cinema until the RFB came to help me feel my way to my seat, to the dismay of the lady on the aisle.

Anyway, Lincoln:
I've only seen two of the Academy Award nominated films. Les Miserables was two and a half hours I'll never get back and of course, as I'm typing this, has just won the Golden Globe. (Fine performances, lovingly filmed, but gosh darn it, it's a musical based on variations of the same song.)

Lincoln is also epic and about half an hour too long, but it's gripping, even though we know how it panned out. Everything appears to have been filmed through a blue filter, taking us back to a cold, bleak, nearly colourless Washington DC of January 1865. Top-notch performances from many of the finest character actors in the States, including a rather wonderful turn by James Spader as one of a trio of lobbyists selling off appointments to reluctant Democrats in order to secure their vote for the Thirteenth Amendment. About four speaking roles for women, even in this large cast, but it was, after all, a man's world -- and a white man at that.

I've read complaints about the film not including the assassination, although it does show Lincoln's death a few hours later. Frankly, I thought the film should have ended at the point when the President sets off down the halls of the White House, on his way to Ford's Theater. It was a beautifully shot and poignant moment; everything beyond was superfluous.

A good film, all the same. Of the other nominations, I only really want to see Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour. That should be enough to choose something to champion come awards night. (If Les Miz wins, I'll throw snack food, I swear!)

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Memories of Mackers

When I was seventeen, my Grade Twelve literature class had a field trip to go see Roman Polanski's infamous version of Macbeth which was playing at a local cinema as part of a Shakespeare-on-film festival with matinees for school groups.

When Polanski made this flick, it was only a year or so after his wife had been butchered, among others, by Charles Manson's disciples in Los Angeles. On top of this, Polanski added in images born of his boyhood memories of the Nazi persecution of Jews, including his own family, in Poland. This version of Macbeth omitted no opportunity for horror: the Thane of Cawdor was executed before our eyes, King Duncan's murder was shown in every gory detail, as was the rape and murder of MacDuff's household. Early on in the film, Macbeth and Duncan were having a little chat, while in the valley behind them, struggling men were being dragged to a huge gallows and strung up.

I spent most of the movie with my fingers in my ears and my head between my knees (I could do that when I was seventeen), but I could still hear the gasps and groans of my classmates. Plus sickening crunches.

The corker was when I emerged shaking into the lobby where a knot of girls from my school were in deep conference, punctuated by "EEEEEW"s. When I got close enough to hear the discussion, my life changed. They were disgusted by the fact that the witches were naked. It was then I knew that something was fundamentally wrong with society. More than two hours of rape, decapitation, skewering, and they were upset by nude old women. I wish I could say that attitudes have changed in the intervening years.

Anyway, last week, I finally received my library hold on Patrick Stewart's recent portrayal of Macbeth. It was on PBS a couple of years ago, but I only managed to catch bits of it, enough to know that I'd like to see the whole thing. Unlike Polanski, Rupert Goold (who directed this for the Chichester Festival Theatre and eventually brought the production to Broadway before it was adapted and filmed for television) elects to suggest rather than show -- which can amplify the terror. The one aspect that is rather more graphic than Polanski's version is in the interpretation of the witches who here are the Weird Nursing Sisters.

A YouTube contributor going by the handle tizerandchips has thoughtfully put together a comparison of our first glimpse of the witches from Polanski's version, Goold's version, and in the middle, from Australian Geoffrey Wright, three diabolical Melbourne schoolgirls.
Wow. After all that, we need to counteract the evil charms, don't we? Rather than sending you outside to turn around three times and spit, I offer my best-beloved scene from the third season of Black Adder where the Eighteenth Century incarnation of Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) explains the "Scottish Play" superstition to Baldrick (Tony Robinson) and then puts two supercilious actors (Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Connor) through the wringer. Hugh Laurie is the baffled Prince George.

And as a final antidote, counter-curse, or what you will, this delightful ditty by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, the same team who brought us the hilarious and heart-breaking musical "The Drowsy Chaperone". This was the opening theme for the second season of "Slings and Arrows" - one of my favourite TV series ever, and is sung here by the late great Graham Harley:
Call me superstitious or cowardly or weak
But I'll never play a character
Whose name one dare not speak

I'll play Hamlet
In doublet and hose
Or either of the Dromeos
But sorry, I won't play Mackers

I'll play Richard the Third
With a hump and a wig
Or Henry the Eighth
That selfish pig
But sorry, I don't do Mackers

Every soul who plays this role
Risks injury or death
I'd rather sweep the bloody stage
Then ever do

So give me King Lear, Cleopatra,
Romeo, Juliet, Doesn’t mat-ra
I’ll play them all for free
But I’d be crackers
To take on Mackers
Y'see I’m skittish about the Scottish Tragedy

Friday, 11 January 2013

Ironic, doncha think? (Write of passage number twenty-six)

Not all of my "writes of passage" take place on buses. This one doesn't:

One evening, I go down to the corner to buy hot chocolate mix from our local coffee shop. It's quite quiet, and since I'm the only person in line, I decide on the spur of the moment to also pick up some hot beverages for the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter. I put my order in and go down to the end of the corner to wait for my drinks to be ready.

Wouldn't you know it, three people pick this moment to come in for coffee and there are only two baristas on duty. The girl is hastening to complete my order and find a tray so I can carry it home, while the boy fetches things. The first two following me seem pretty relaxed, but as I get ready to cart my drinks away, the third man is starting to fidget.

"I've been in coffee shops all over the city and it has never taken this long," he tells the barista at the expresso machine testily. He has stepped up close enough that I can spot the OC Transpo logo on his pullover.

"I've been waiting ten minutes; this is unacceptable."

I debate inwardly whether to point out that a) he hasn't been waiting anywhere near ten minutes and b) this is damned funny coming from an Ottawa bus driver, but I decide this won't help the barista and, being a non-driver, my chances of encountering this oblivious grouch on the transit system are excellent.

I depart into the night, balancing lattes and smothering a grin.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Seriously, I'm not really researching *that*, new or otherwise

Sometimes I wonder how much trouble I would be in if the police confiscated my computer and built a case against me based on my search terms. I rather like the indie band The New Pornographers, for example. So when I wanted to find some of their CDs at the library, I had to put "new pornographers" in the search field which made me a tad uneasy. If I look up their videos on YouTube or check out their web site, well, a music fan reasonably familiar with the Canadian music scene would know I'm not making a nefarious search, but suppose I had to explain this to someone in authority?

For those of you not so reasonably familiar, The New Pornographers (cringe) are sort of an indie supergroup, comprised of about seven core members who were known for their previous work before collaborating. Known by cognoscenti, that is -- the only person I recognised in the the line-up was Neko Case and she's an American, albeit based in Vancouver. The group came to my attention via a catchy tune with obscure lyrics entitled "Sing Me Spanish Techno" which I've mentioned in a previous post. The song was from their 2005 album Twin Cinema, but I heard it much later because I'm not up-to-date by any stretch of the imagination. I decided to get any available NP CDs out of the library after hearing this song from their 2010 album Together:The library had three CDs which I downloaded on to my iPod and so I've spent the past few months being ambushed on my song shuffle.
Here are a couple of my emerging favourites:

And this one, which I really like, but I prefer the pictures in my head to the video, clever as it is:
And finally, because I can't resist, this rather marvellous cover of a Fleetwood Mac song of which I'd never heard:
That's it; I'm off to bed now.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Can you guess why Bono said no?

Last summer, I posted a very funny video called "Haters" by
Isabel Fay, but it wasn't until months later that I had a look at some of her other films, mostly while I was avoiding things I ought to have been doing. (I do that a lot.) I'd like to show you two gems.

The first is the story about how Isabel and her director Lee York entered a film into the LA Comedy Shorts Festival, then remembered they didn't have clearance to use the soundtrack, a choral version of U2's "With or Without You". After trying and failing to get permission, they came up with a very clever way to show their film without getting hauled into court:

Now, at the close of this video, Isabel tells us that they still couldn't actually show their film because U2 was still refusing to give them clearance. Evidently, they eventually got permission; the original award-winning short is now up at Isabel's channel at YouTube.

When I watched it, I thought I could guess why Bono initially said "no". Why don't you watch it and do some guessing yourself?

I enjoyed this immensely, by the way, yet, unlike several YouTube commenters, I felt some sympathy for U2 as well, although I admit I have never heard their reasons.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Dance me to the end of life

At the risk of sounding morbid, I must confess that one of my daily cyber-stops (along with news sites, family history blogs, Facebook, and my habitual stalking of David Tennant) is the obituary page at the Victoria Times-Colonist. Why? Victoria is a relatively small town and I lived there a long time. It shields me with fore-knowledge, so that during my annual retreat to visit Demeter, I won't blunder into a friend's grief in my ignorance, and might, in fact, get an appropriate note into the mail.

It's not scintillating reading; obituaries are not a hot-bed of original thought nor good writing. They're mini-biographies written by grieving people, so we usually hear that the deceased "fought a courageous battle" with whatever disease carried them off, that they lived with "the love of his/her life", or adored their children. Often they were a friend to everyone. Well, it isn't the time to argue, is it?

Today, though, I was brought up short by an obituary. The first thing that caught me was the picture, a tiny black-and-white snap of a lady dancing on one foot, waving an open umbrella. (Not the photo below, obviously.) You can't really make out her features. She could be middle-aged, or a little older. However, the picture radiates joy and celebration. So does the text which begins with little in the way of punctuation: "Thank you Thank you Thank you . . . .", then launches into a litany of gratitude for her family, for being born when she was, for things like stars and trees, friends and music, for her caregivers who "were born kind".
As exits go, this one was classy. She was no one I knew, but frankly, I'm a bit sorry she wasn't.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Bloody 'ell

As you may have noticed, I'm participating in my tenth NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). So, it's 11:48 and I'm on my way to bed, and it suddenly occurred to me: Ooops! So here's a nice picture to look at. It's our neighbour's side of the porch. I think she took the ornaments down this evening. Both our trees are lying on the lawn like corpses waiting to be taken to the plague pit. I'll write something substantial tomorrow, I promise.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Take heaven

Some years ago when the girls were very small, I stumbled upon a Christmas book by Tasha Tudor entitled Take Joy. I remember very little about the book except the quote from which the title came, the words attributed to one Giovanni Giocondi, a Franciscan friar. He was a scholar, an archeologist and an architect and lived in Italy during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, so a Renaissance man in all respects.

At Christmas 1513, he is supposed to have written a letter of encouragement to the Contessina Allagia deli Aldobrandeschi, and while there is no proof that he was the actual author, the sentiments work for me, especially now that the Christmas tree is stripped to the lights only and will be going out on to our lawn tomorrow evening to await pick-up:

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 this present instant.
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 so may it be for all of us. The challenge of Christmas is bringing a bit of it into the rest of the year. I usually fail, but each year, I hope that I can. Let's see what happens.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Twelfth Night and what I will

Less than half an hour of Christmas left. I can really smell the balsam which is either because the tree is dying or because my Christmas cold has worn off.

We've just got back from the annual Twelfth Night celebration with A Company of Fools, one of the few compensations for dwelling in Hades. It was long, but we won two door prizes. Scott Florence, the Fools' director made cracks about killing Christmas which younger daughter failed to find funny, Christmas being her favourite time of year, but she found most other things funny including the company's annual mangling of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. They find a different way to warp it each year and this time they did a read-through with weird hats and asides.

As I watched, I recalled I'd forgotten and foregone one of my Christmas gifts: a DVD of Des McAnuff's charming production of Twelfth Night from the Stratford (Ontario) Shakespeare Festival's 2011 season. I won't be able to see it this Twelfth Night, but I'll use it to ease into Epiphany.
I also picked up my library hold of Patrick Stewart as Macbeth. Talk about killing Christmas....

Friday, 4 January 2013

As long as there is egg nog in the fridge (Merry Eleventh Day of Christmas)

As I let the dog out for a relief wade through the foot or so of snow in our front yard, I notice that the strings of white lights in the window of the middle apartment across the street have vanished. Although many pretty lights continue to glow throughout our neighbourhood, I have already passed the corpses of more than one abandoned Christmas tree in my travels through the maze of side streets.

It's only the eleventh day of Christmas, but I accompanied elder daughter to catch her plane to Halifax. The Resident Fan Boy has been dissolving into tears all day, bless 'im, so I'd gone in his stead. After she was swallowed up by airport security, I stood for a few wistful minutes gazing over the railing into the arrivals lounge where I waited for her to appear less than three weeks ago. The trees and elf figures were still there, waiting to welcome back students returning to Hades for their studies. The bus was crammed with them and their suitcases, and there was nothing to be seen through the mud-encrusted windows, so I sighed and opened a newspaper.

Back home, we opened the penultimate Christmas gift and took one step further to letting the season go.

But not yet. There's still egg nog in the fridge.

Here's Walk Off The Earth's take on "Jingle Bell Rock", a song which, if you think about it, has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas and could actually be sung at any point in the winter. (If WOTE look familiar to you, they're famous for the five-people-on-one-guitar rendition of "Somebody That I Used to Know". They're Canadian, too...)

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Hold the phone (Merry Tenth Day of Christmas)

For more than a decade now, the Resident Fan Boy and I have resisted getting a cell phone. The RFB was actually offered a Blackberry for work, but refused. He doesn't like the idea of work following him home. For myself, I don't like what cell phones seem to do to people, encasing them in invisible bubbles which reduce all fellow travelers to scenery at best, and obstacles at worst.

Alas, I am now going to be one of those people. We've just been running into more and more situations where it would have been a whole lot easier if at least one of us had a cell phone. I nervously accompanied elder daughter to a purveyor of such devices and watched in some amusement as the young man serving us consulted with her on what the expiry date on my credit card was. I did point out that I actually know when my card expires and could tell him that myself, but the irony seemed lost on them. I've spent the past week getting a start on making every texting and phoning mistake in the book. A book would be helpful; instead I've downloaded a 100+-page user's manual. One of these days, I'll summon up the courage to read it. And actually make some phone calls. Elder daughter asked me today if I've figured out how to hang up yet. (No, I haven't.)

Oh, and I've been taking pictures. Not quite as nice as I can take with my Nikon, but not bad. The above was taken this afternoon at the Mayfair Theatre in the Glebe which has been showing films since 1932. It's now a cult/art-house film venue and has been lovingly restored, complete with a piano down front and faux-loges (which may not have been faux at some point). It also features a rather large concession stand which had a nice pall of smoke today and a burnt after-taste to the popcorn. Rather pleasant, really. We munched contently while watching vintage Loony Tunes. I imagined the people who watched the original brand-new cartoons in that very theatre in the late forties and early fifties of the last century, while I picked out a text message to my mother in this century. But not during the show, of course. I haven't become one of those people.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

O Holy Bike (Merry Ninth Day of Christmas)

Having a dog means venturing out in all weathers at all times of the day, and it was our first Christmas with the Accent Snob when I stumbled upon the Christmas-Cycle. It's still there this year and I rather love it, even though it reminds me a little bit of a Ghost Bicycle. This seems a deal cheerier though, and it wouldn't surprise me if it predates the ghost bike idea. With the discovery last fall that I can actually take pictures while juggling a leash, gloves, a flashlight and a bag of dog poop, I offer this existing-light interpretation.

Oh, and the name of the street where the Christmas-Cycle is gradually disappearing under layers of snow? Noel. Isn't that perfect?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Begin as you intend to continue (Merry Eighth Day of Chrismas)

I'm not a fan of new year's resolutions, believing them to be doomed from the start. Besides, I know I'm not alone in feeling that the new year really begins in September.

All the same, I rose from my bed this morning feeling hopeful. I tackled the bathroom with "I Can See Clearly Now" playing in my head: "I can see all obstacles in my way . . .it's gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day...."

After breakfast, I filled in the new calendars and delivered one to younger daughter, who had already laid the old calendar to one side.

"There we are," I burbled. "A brand-scary-new year!"
"I don't see anything to be scared about," younger daughter stated in a matter-of-fact tone, carefully positioning the calendar on its picture hook and gazing at the coloured items I'd filled in.
"You're a braver woman than I," I told her. "I always find new things a bit scary."

A few minutes later, elder daughter appeared by my side downstairs.
"Follow," she said in a lowered voice, nodding toward the kitchen.

"Just after you left, I heard her say, 'Actually, I do see something to be scared of.' Then she said, 'In fact, I'm going to be miserable.' Then she said, 'For the rest of my life.'"

I looked out at the thick cream-cheese edges of snow on the branches of the neighbours' tree.
"You know, if I could wave a magic wand..." I catch elder daughter's eye. "All mothers do. Thanks for letting me know."

Well, I thought, gazing at the computer screen without seeing it a few minutes later. It's not like I don't know this. It's why I fill out the calendar. So she can see and brace herself.

We're going to a movie this afternoon with plenty of popcorn. This evening we will open our Eighth Day of Christmas present, from the pile kindly sent by out-of-town friends and relations which we save to stretch Christmas over its proper twelve days. We will squeeze what joy and enjoyment we can out of this day and for the next 364 days. Even school days. Especially school days. But I'm going to need help.

Today, I'm appealing to Jimmy Cliff.