Monday, 29 December 2014

Someone has my number

I follow Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches on Facebook with a horrified fascination.  

She gets a little too close for comfort on a regular basis.

This also gives you a clue to why I have little in the way of a post today.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Mickle melody

I have memories of both this carol and of the King's Singers, but not together.  I've seen a number of concerts with the King's Singers, not in their most recent incarnation, and certainly not singing this.

The song is one I've also not heard in a long time, and mainly remember: There was mickle melody at that Childe's birth/ Although they were in Heaven's bliss, they maden mickle mirth. I sang it long ago with a small choir, a different setting than this, and certainly not as beautifully.  When I hear it, I see the dark streets of Toronto at Christmastime.

Merry Fourth Day of Christmas.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Not for the faint of heart

My husband has a German last name, inherited from his very English father, an Anglican archdeacon. His grandfather had a German forename as well, hastily anglicized during his service in the Royal Naval Reserve during the First World War, although he could speak German, having been tutored by his Berlin-born paternal aunt.

When I submitted my husband's DNA for testing about two years ago,  I felt sure that we might find out more through the Y-chromosome testing.  However, not a single instance of his surname showed up on the matches.  What was clear, though, was something we've long suspected: 14% of his genetic make-up comes out as Jewish - Ashkenazi, to be precise, with possible national connections to Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania.  Also, despite the relatively small percentage of his total DNA, the vast majority of his matches at the Family Tree DNA website, both for Y-chromosome and autosomal,  appear to be American Jews.

With no surname match, things went a little dead in the water - until about a month ago, when his surname turned up in the family tree of a recent autosomal match with connections to Berlin and Poznan. The latter city is currently in Poland, but has links to Germany.  I wrote a quick email to the American who had submitted his DNA.  He told us that he had a cousin living a few miles away in his home state of California who shared the Resident Fan Boy's surname and that this cousin would be taking the Y-DNA test soon.

So we wait.  If this cousin shows up in the Resident Fan Boy's Y-DNA matches, we will have a better idea of where his paternal line goes.  If not, it's back to the drawing board, though I'm anticipating an autosomal match at least.

There is a painful side effect and it's one I've long been expecting.  In the family tree of the man with the autosomal match are, as I've said, several members bearing my husband's surname. They are in the line of this man's paternal grandmother.  With a sinking heart, I noticed there are families whose death dates are all in the early 1940s.  When I clicked on the profiles, I saw the words: "Auschwitz" and "Theresianstadt".

Yes, I knew this would happen eventually, but all the intellectual preparation in the world doesn't lessen the blow of seeing the names of people with the same last name as my husband and children, knowing how they died, and knowing that, somehow, they are ours.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Christmas March

Normally, when I head out for an afternoon walk on Christmas Day, I enjoy the peace of the seemingly deserted neighbourhood, an oasis of winter quiet in the centre of the pleasant, but slightly excessive sensory overload at home.
However, this year, Christmas Day seemed to have slid into March. Rain throughout Christmas Eve had been blasted out by a nighttime gale. The Resident Fan Boy said it sounded like the house was coming down. After an evening of frantic gift-wrapping, I had slept through it.

The afternoon brought strange yellowy sunshine and brownish-grey clouds rolling on gusts of damp wind. It resembled late winter/early spring in Hades - never my favourite time of year.
I tried to take comfort and joy from the Christmas lights clinging to stripped branches.
I thought a stroll by the Rideau River might do the trick, but I quickly realized that wet melting pewter-coloured ice with muddy puddles and my street shoes would be a perilous combination, and the Accent Snob and I turned around and made our way back through the bleak streets.
On the last side street before home, I saw bright globes in the gutter glaciers.
They had been whipped from this tree. (You can see the uppermost ornament being blown outward.) I rescued the baubles from the street and placed them in a porch corner, before continuing on to prepare Christmas dinner, feeling rather depressed and disappointed.

Oddly enough, when I headed out this afternoon on Boxing Day, taking the same route, the air felt gentler, the light softer. I exchanged pleasantries with my fellow dog-walkers (pretty well the only people abroad), and, booted this time, made my way along the riverbank where ducks hopped up onto the parts of the water that were still frozen over. I felt a whole lot better, and so lucky that there are twelve days of Christmas.

So many opportunities to get it right.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Another Whovian Christmas

Our neighbour spotted our Tardis lights
and popped this into our mailbox!


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Heavenly peace

Against all the odds, the tree is fully decorated, wrapped presents under its branches, and the Christmas cards are sent, although not likely to reach their destinations until the beginning of next week, I should think.

I'm not sure exactly why I failed to send cards and wrap the presents earlier; perhaps every now and then, I need to know where the bottom is.  The price of my procrastination has been the loss of some of the peace of Christmas Eve, which is so rare, so sweet, and so fleeting, that I think I will used the memory of this year to ensure I'm a little more ready next year.  I hope so, anyway.

Television programmes this evening are already tainted with early ads for Boxing Day Sales.  I find myself retreating to YouTube, of all places, for the type of programming that seems to have vanished from Canadian television.

We used to be able to see "Carols from Kings" here, on Christmas Eve.  I see someone has been religiously posting it (pun intended) since 2008, and this year's edition was uploaded just a few hours ago.  These carols vary a bit from year to year, but always seem to end with "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", and begin with that most English of sounds, the lone boy soprano, about to process with the rest of the choir as the pale late afternoon sunlight glows through the stained glass of King's College Chapel. 

I stumbled across this video channel this evening because I was searching for a 1980's video of Sting's version of "Gabriel's Message".

I rather love the shots of the plump children's feet stamping in the blanket of feathery fake snow, while Sting playfully grabs at their passing hands.

Oh, good night.  Time to surrender the brief peace as our corner of the world drifts into Christmas.  I hope wherever you are, you are warm and content.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

"Nobody cares"

I'm a little grumpy from writing inadequate messages in Christmas cards all day, cards that will arrive at their destinations by Epiphany, if I'm lucky.

Anyway, this video is probably viral, but I don't care.  I don't watch Downton Abbey; I gave up after the second season, and this very clever and funny spoof explains why.  Pay attention at 2:32, when Hugh Bonneville and series writer Julian Fellowes have an exchange.

Eighteen cards to go.  Then I can think about wrapping presents….

Monday, 22 December 2014

Not feeling too good myself

I was in a coffee shop downtown, having mailed my Christmas parcels and working on addressing envelopes, when the Resident Fan Boy texted me that Joe Cocker had died.

What a year for losses!  But then, it's not going to get any better, is it?

This guy didn't just sing songs; he transformed them.  Here's my favourite of his interpretations, a rendition of an old Traffic ditty.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

In the warm darkness of the solstice

As I've mentioned in this blog before, we have an annual tradition of attending the Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert. Some of the concerts stay with me for days, even weeks afterward; others are pleasant, but forgettable.  This year's show will probably be one I won't remember, except that I suspect that this was our tenth concert.

About ten years ago, the Resident Fan Boy and I decided to splurge on Vinyl Cafe tickets and wound up in the last row of the upper balcony where we heard the story "Christmas at the Turlingtons" for the very first time.  If it was 2004, that would be about right, because Stuart McLean published the story in a compilation the following year.  I remember rocking with laughter in the warm dark balcony.  After that, I don't think we missed a year.  Ottawa is usually one of the final stops for the tour before the musicians and crew return to their homes in Toronto, so there's an atmosphere of "almost ready for Christmas" about the whole thing.

Stuart told an abbreviated version of the story this afternoon; he often picks an old classic as a warm-up before introducing the new stories.  One of the new ones was funny, and other was longer and very sentimental.  McLean is leaning more and more towards sentimental tales, it seems.  He's getting older and they seem to be crowd-pleasers.  I nodded off.  I'm getting older too.

Here's a sampling of the original version of "Christmas at the Turlingtons".  Whoever posted it has it in three parts and you can find them all at YouTube.

However (and I've said this before too), my very favourite Vinyl Cafe Christmas story is not the classic "Dave Cooks the Turkey".  It's a fine story, but it's not my favourite.  This one is, and if you can spare 23 minutes, I don't think you'll be sorry.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Focused and critical

Some years ago, I took a course on documentary film.  I have never forgotten it.  It was taught by a National Film Board of Canada film-maker, and among the many things he pointed out to us was the fact that a documentary film can never ever be totally objective, no matter what you've read about cinéma vérité.  We are looking through the film-maker's eyes; s/he has chosen what to shoot and where to zoom or pan out.  We saw many classics, among them Titicut Follies by Frederick Wiseman, about the Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts.  I chiefly remember a chilling scene where a prisoner declared insane by the state articulately argues that he is sane, and how the staff, after his departure from the meeting, explain among themselves how everything he has said proves his mental illness.

Today, I remembered that National Gallery, Wiseman's latest film, was showing at the Bytowne Cinema.  There was a huge line-up to see it, but I managed to secure a seat on the far aisle.  The movie begins with galleries filling with art-lovers and their faces which all have similar expressions:  the head pulled back, the eyes focused and critical.  The faces are all male, for some reason.  When the voices begin, they are female - the voices of the docents, addressing crowds of patrons, or lectures for art teachers,  or workshops for blind and nearly blind art-lovers who are feeling specially upraised outlines of paintings while they listen.

Three pieces that figure heavily in my own life are featured, albeit briefly: "Doge Leonardo Loredan" by Bellini; "The Fighting Temeraire" by Turner (both favourites of my mother's), and the Burlington House cartoon which I encountered on my first trip to London. I had never heard of it before and loved it so much that I would hurry back into the National Gallery at every opportunity to drink it in, even if there were only fifteen minutes available.  I got posters and postcards of it, of course, but it didn't match the magic of being able to gaze on the original.

The film takes us into boardrooms where the accents are (mostly) Oxbridge, females address males whose arms are crossed.  We return to more docents where the accents are more varied: Scottish, Australian, and (mostly) Estuary.  The faces of the gallery staff are all white, while the gallery visitors are every colour, and, in the case of school groups, possibly there under duress.  All manner of people bundle up against the weather (I think this was mostly filmed around Christmas of 2012) and wait overnight to secure tickets to a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit. Greenpeace guerrillas post a protest banner across the facade as passersby gape and the police wait to move in.  Paintings being cleaned and restored, and scholars argue for and against such restorations. We see a television arts series being filmed, and press conferences, and opening galas attended by very wealthy people.  We see a life class featuring models with, miracle of miracles, unwaxed pubic hair.  We see piano recitals, ballet, and a poetry reading by Jo Shapcott.
This isn't footage from the documentary, but a film by the National Gallery done about the same time.  Jo Shapcott says roughly the same things in Wiseman's documentary, but ruins it a little by explaining that Callisto was experiencing rape a second time when exposed by Diana, because she had experienced "rape of a sort" by Jupiter.  I have double-checked the versions of the myth.  I think it's pretty safe to say that she was raped by Jupiter, period.

By the third hour, I was fighting to keep myself awake -- not because it was boring, but because the movie is probably about 45 minutes too long.  But I was happy I stayed to the end which features faces from many of the paintings that have been featured.  They stare at us, the eyes focussed and critical.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Homing in on Christmas

Well, the day didn't begin well.  I won't go into the details, but elder daughter and I still weren't speaking when we arrived at younger daughter's school for the annual holiday concert.  We sat in awkward formations and made awkward conversations with the other families - I can never remember who is whom.  Then we trooped downstairs and sat in the old uncomfortable chairs and younger daughter began the concert with a song I didn't really recognize, a bluesy number with vocal embellishments.  She clutched a picture that she had worked on carefully the night before, singing to it with a strong and full voice.

Afterwards, I asked her about the song.  It's "Please Come Home for Christmas", by Charles Brown, yeah, " she said.  "I heard it in Home Alone."  We checked the newspaper and noted that Home Alone was on this evening.  (It's on most evenings, these days.)

We watched it, and I remembered what a silly movie it is, but younger daughter loved it.  And elder daughter and I were on speaking terms again.  The Resident Fan Boy and I located plum pudding and mandarin oranges, both of which have been difficult to find in Hades this year, so the day ended well.  We might make it to Christmas after all.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The cure as well as the cause

A year ago, I wrote a post about seeing what is left of the Vince Guaraldi Trio, that is, spending a rather magical afternoon listening to the Jerry Granelli Trio.

This morning, cornered by all the things I'm failing to accomplish before Christmas, I surfed on the computer (a major factor in said failure) and stumbled across this amazing video which, I think, has only just been recorded when Jerry Granelli (drums), Chris Gestrin (piano) and Simon Fisk (bass) were in Halifax while touring Canada.  (They were recently back in Ottawa, but I missed them.)

It's not quite as magical as hearing them live, but this allows you a better look than we got of them, being way back in the auditorium:  Gestrin's gentle smile, Fisk's plucking and bowing, and all of the different sounds that Granelli gets out of his drums.  There's also the treat of the improvisation in the centre of the piece.

Christmas will come whether I'm ready or not, and, heaven willing, there will still be lovely things like this to enjoy.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The problem with mondegreens

…is that the misheard song is usually way more interesting than the original lyric.

Take this perfectly pleasant Emm Gryner song which I first heard a couple of years ago.  I heard it as "Boy lives in a kitchen" which is a promising kick-off for a story, isn't it?  I learned almost immediately that the song is actually "Boy with an Affliction", which is still fine, but not, I feel, nearly so intriguing.

Here's the song anyway:

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

On this strange and mournful day

I had been imagining what this morning was going to be like.  That was my first mistake.

Elder daughter returned from Victoria this morning after four stressful months of disappointing job-hunting.  I rose, and checked bus schedules, envisioning a reunion at the airport amongst all the other people happily clasping their relatives to their respective bosoms in pre-holiday rejoicing.

The Resident Fan Boy had a meeting, so I had to wait for younger daughter's lift to arrive before launching myself toward the bus stop.  I caught the bus by the skin of my teeth and congratulating myself, checked my phone, only to discover that elder daughter was already at the airport, having arrived just after eight.  The Resident Fan Boy had informed me she would be landing at about 9 am. I hadn't even made the connection to the Transitway yet.  While my over-tired daughter wept and over-reacted to my texts, thinking I was blaming her for this predicament, we forced a quick decision before I had to make the transfer.  She took a cab home, while I cooled my heels for twenty minutes at Hurdman Station for the returning bus.

I banished rueful thoughts from my head, blasting myself with favourite tunes through my earbuds.  Later, when elder daughter was welcomed and tucked up in her bed, I sat at the computer and dazedly scanned the headlines:  the aftermath of the hostage-taking in Sydney, Australia; a man who had systematically murdered his wife, her sister and her family, her mother, and grandmother and was still on the loose; the grieving parents outside a school in Peshawar, Pakistan where over 130 of their children had been slaughtered.

I thought about my lost scenario of joyful reunion, and about how my daughter had arrived safely, even evading the forecast freezing rain.

 I headed off in the afternoon to fetch younger daughter from her school far across the city.  We are joined by a raucous gang of Muslim students on the return journey every afternoon.  They're just as obnoxious as non-Muslim teenagers talking loudly in an enclosed space -- except they don't swear.  I remembered how they vanished from the bus for the days following the shootings in Ottawa last October; it took a few days for their high spirits to return.  Were they targets of anti-Muslim slurs, I wondered.  Had their parents kept them home? I thought of the #iwillridewithyou campaign in Australia after this café shooting, and of an upsetting article at the BBC website about the backlash against the campaign.

I took younger daughter to her favourite Second Cup and thought some more.  I considered the fact that I had two daughters returning safely home today, and that so many parents and other loved ones will not have that privilege ever again, because those they loved went to school, or stopped in for a coffee.

Then I remembered I was sitting in a coffee shop, and took younger daughter home to see her sister.

Monday, 15 December 2014

That will bring us back to Ut

I've said many, many times before (at least twice in this blog) that I am mystified by why "My Favourite Things", a song from a musical set mostly in the summer and which also involves Nazis, should now show up regularly at Christmastime, seemingly based solely on two phrases about "brown paper packages" and "snowflakes that play on my nose and eyelashes".

So I won't go into that again.

However, I have stumbled across this delightful video about how "Do Re Mi" became "Do Re Mi" and not "Ut Re Mi", courtesy of Tom Allen and the folks at CBC Radio Two.  It was clearly shot in the summer in Toronto, but of course was released in November, in plenty of time for Christmas.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

It's tomorrow in Australia

I was getting ready to write this evening's post when I stumbled across the news of what's happening in Sydney, Australia.  I felt a little sick hearing about the lockdowns and reports of a usually busy part of the city being deserted, all of which had reminders of October 22 in Ottawa.

The stakes are higher this time; something like twenty to forty people being held hostage in a café about 1½ kilometres south of the Sydney Opera House.  I must go to bed now, I hope there isn't bad news when I wake up -- at least no worse than usual.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Through a glass (with liquorice)

We've had an autumn chockfull of theatre this year - mainly because most of the plays we wanted to see this season at the National Arts Centre and the Great Canadian Theatre Company were on between October and December.

Winter starts next week (all evidence to the contrary - as usual, we've had an early start in Hades) and will be full of concerts, thank heavens, but we're finishing our own theatre season with NAC English Theatre production of Alice Through the Looking Glass which has been imported from the Stratford (as in Ontario) Festival, and performed by this year's repertory players of the National Arts Centre English Theatre.  We had already seen some of these delightful actors in an October production of The Importance of Being Earnest (and there were a few returns from last year's company).

I had an inkling we were in for an intriguing afternoon when the Resident Fan Boy explained to younger daughter that the backwards writing on the curtain was on a backdrop showing a hazy reflection of the NAC Theatre.  This made me look, and I noticed that the real table with chess pieces and the real armchair positioned at the edge of the stage were also reflected - in paint, on the drop curtain - like in an uneven mirror, a trompe-lœl.

Now, such attention to detail doesn't guarantee a good show. Consider the lacklustre live television version of Peter Pan which aired on NBC last week -- beautiful design, odd choices in casting and direction.  However, as this show began, I was immediately beguiled by the looking glass in the drawing room, before realizing that the props held up to it were not reflections. I didn't catch on to this until Alice climbed up on to the mantelpiece and another Alice climbed up in perfect replication.

In fact, it was a stage full of Alices who didn't hold hold still long enough to be counted until the second act.  There were at least thirteen "anti-Alices" who had brown wigs and blue frocks with white prints to create a photo-negative image of Alice - no matter their build, complexion or sex.  Whenever a cast member wasn't being a character in Through the Looking Glass, she or he became a looking-glass Alice masquerading as a soldier cleaning up after the extremely messy demise of Humpty Dumpty, or a shelf in the sheep's shop.  (Look, if you don't know the story you'll have to read the book or go see the play -- if you can get tickets.)

I was particularly charmed by being periodically showered by bubbles, streamers, and jelly beans (some of them were liquorice!), and by the poignant and strange song from the White Knight played by long-legged Alex McCooeye who resembled every cartoon of Don Quixote you've ever seen.
After the actors had taken their bow - backs to the audience, of course - the show seemed to follow me out into the lobby where the world briefly appeared strange and lovely, as if seen through rippled glass.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Not crying out my eyes this morning

Today was the last Friday I'll have to myself before Christmas.  Friday is usually the day younger daughter gets a lift both to and from school, so this morning, while she was having breakfast, I played the CBC Radio Two Morning Show while making my to-do list, and this song came on.  It was one of those "This is a great song; who is it?" moments.

Turns out it's Hawksley Workman, who was one of the musical guests at the Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert three years ago. The song itself is more than a decade old, but I often don't notice songs for years. It's a good song for being stuck in traffic -- thank goodness I wasn't.

The brake lights
Are really quite lovely
Thousands of souls
All stopping together
On the highway tonight
There's no reason to cry out your eyes
On the highway tonight
There's no reason to cry out your eyes
The city
Starts fading behind us
Thousands of souls all wishing
Things were better
Is waiting to happen
For people like us
Not sure where they're going
On the highway tonight
There's no reason to cry out your eyes
On the highway tonight
There's no reason to cry out your eyes
Watching the fading
Watch everything go by.
(everything go by, everything go by, everything go by...)
On the highway tonight
There's no reason to cry out your eyes
Is waiting to happen
But we have our eyes
Set dead on the ocean
On the highway tonight
There's no reason to cry out your eyes

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Music soothing a not-so-savage beast

I'm not the resident Katy Perry fan - that would be younger daughter - but I love this CBC video with cellist Kevin Fox and one of the world's best-behaved tigers.

I seem to be posting a lot of looping videos, I guess I've always loved rounds and this is the most recent technical version of a round.

Watching this video on full screen is well worth it, by the way.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A steller star

Our Advent calendars are getting to the part where Mary and Joseph are on their way to Bethlehem, so it's time to share this delightful video by New Zealand kids sent to me by a New Zealand cousin -- who got it from her Canadian cousin!  I'm very charmed by the exuberant young Joseph and the stellar performance of the star….

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Lights shining in the uncomprehending dark

The Resident Fan Boy likes to hang the outdoor lights on St Nicholas Day.  Younger daughter came down the stairs for dinner, and gasped when she caught a glimpse of the bright colours shining against the December darkness, pressing her body against the front door as she stood on tip-toe to get a good look.

I too have come to appreciate this moment, the brightness in contrast to the uncomprehending dark.  Five years ago, I wrote about what December 6th has come to mean for Canadians, and this year is the twenty-fifth anniversary made all the more piercing by the recent revelations about a certain CBC host which has started up a very intense and often very unpleasant debate about why women don't report violence.  All that, of course, had followed closely on the heels on what happened here in Ottawa on October 22nd.

I was working at the home computer at 10 am on a rather beautiful autumn morning, when the leaves were past their peak, but there were still plenty of colours under a slight cloud cover with the sun shining through.

This being a modern tragedy, in a city where the vast majority of homes had computers when we arrived fourteen years ago, the first inkling I had that the day was not ordinary came through "breaking news" on the CBC web site and posts from Facebook.  Word came, not long after 10 am,  that one of the honorary guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the National War Memorial had been shot.

I did what I usually do when a something momentous happens; I switched to the Twitter feed and checked the various new agencies.  These told me that the gunman had proceeded to the Parliament Buildings which are just around the corner.  I texted the Resident Fan Boy, whose office faces Major Hill Park with a view of the Parliament Buildings across the Rideau Canal. He had not heard anything, but soon received a worried phone call from elder daughter in Victoria who had woken up to the news.  I turned on the CBC news and listened from my computer while updating friends and relatives in British Columbia and in Britain.

The Resident Fan Boy was moved to the other side of the building with his co-workers as his building went into lockdown while the rumours flew.  There were reports of another shooter, that snipers had been stationed atop the National Gallery, that gunshots had been heard at the Chateau Laurier and the Rideau Centre.  I just wanted my husband and younger daughter home.
The star marks the location of the RFB's office building.

And they did come home -- eventually. The buses had been detoured away from the lockdown zone and were crawling in endless bumper to bumper convoys along the Transitway.

Thankfully, we were able to arrange a lift home for younger daughter via the Queensway, which bypasses the city altogether. The Resident Fan Boy remained locked down in his building on the edge of danger zone until late afternoon. As it slowly became evident that there was only one gunman and that he had been killed in the corridor leading to the Parliamentary Library that morning, the RFB signed a release form and came home at much the same time he would have on an ordinary day.

But it hadn't been an ordinary day. It turned into an extraordinary week filled with small sharp shocks: my terror at seeing police cars parked in front of my house the next morning (a cyclist had been knocked down -- he was okay); the sight of police tape ringing the war memorial and no traffic anywhere near it -- the buses continued to be detoured for one more day; the great front gates locked in front of Parliament with security guards and police posted at every entrance; the military and police escorting the body of the murdered young soldier back across the lower edge of the province of Ontario to his home in Guelph.

I took the Accent Snob for a walk by the Rideau River on the still beautiful but endless day after the safe return of my husband. I felt shaken and worn out. The neighbourhood looked the same but a bit more subdued than usual for the hour before supper.

I looked out over the river and saw the traffic on the bridge was still sluggish, a domino effect from all those closed off streets downtown.
I walked along, thinking about the woman who helped us adopt the Accent Snob exactly three years ago this evening. She was on her way to the Main Post Office that morning in October, which is a couple of minutes' walk from the War Memorial. She achieved her fifteen minutes of fame for being among a small knot of people working frantically to save the young soldier's life. Her picture appeared in papers and news sites nation-wide, and she was interviewed on the radio and television. She was hailed as a saint on social media by at least a couple of my Facebook pals and thousands of others who also don't know her, because she was quoted as telling the dying man that he was loved. The Resident Fan Boy, who knows her very well, says this wasn't the remarkable thing. The remarkable thing was that she heard the shots, knew exactly what they were (being ex-military), and her immediate instinct was to run back to the War Memorial when everyone else was setting personal bests for running in the opposite direction.

It's been six weeks and emotions are finally dying down a bit. This evening, I rode home and leaned forward eagerly to drink in the thousands of Christmas lights stretching from Confederation Park and Major Hill Park to Wellington Street, to the Rideau Centre, to Slater Street.  Right across, in fact, from the former lockdown zone.

Boy, are we ready for Christmas this year. Especially the light.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Water like a stone

And the wheel of the year turns again. Two weeks ago, I was walking the Accent Snob on a late November mid-morning, snatched time between buses to and from younger daughter's school in Bells Corner. Both the Ottawa River and the Rideau River (pictured above) were whirling with mists, the silver water looking smooth and thick, like pudding on the boil. I wandered eastward and thought sadly of a friend who had just emailed me that her marriage had ended, and wondered how I'd reply.
Barely a fortnight later, the edges of the Rideau River really were thickening. As I gazed out toward the middle of the Rideau River where the water was dark and still liquid, I glimpsed odd objects dotted along the part where the ice had advanced. Nervously, I continued on for a better look, thinking how they looked about duck-sized and fearing they might be actual trapped birds.
Nope. Someone had evidently been testing the ice with rocks, not someone so foolhardy as to venture out, I hoped. (Although, these days, with global-warming, the ice simply doesn't get as thick as it used to, as people with skidoos and trucks keep discovering every year.)

The sun slipped away, and so did I, before my blood froze as well.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Some Trekkies have way too much time on their hands

This showed up on my Facebook Feed today.  It's over a year old, but heck, I've never seen it before, it's clever, and I'll spare you my rant about what is and what isn't a Christmas song.  Besides, I don't think Patrick Stewart or his cohorts actually mention the word "snow".

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Covers and context

I'm not a frenetic Bruce Springsteen fanatic -- I own exactly two of his albums: Born to Run and Magic,  which almost bookend his long career.  I enjoy his music.

Last night, PBS screened a tribute concert to the Boss.  It was a fundraiser as well as a testimonial, so the audience was clearly rather wealthy, in a not quite comfortable contrast with the lyrical content of the songs which are almost always about the struggling, the dispossessed and the marginalized.  Still, someone has to come with money…

Since I don't follow Springsteen's career that closely, it was an interesting survey of his work with reinterpretations by skillful musicians.  I particularly liked Emmy-Lou Harris' version of "My Hometown", and Elton John's surprisingly powerful rendition of "Philadelphia".

However, there were two moments that stopped me in my tracks and they both featured songs with which I was not familiar.

The first features Mavis Staples, so I knew it was going to be good.  I gather this song became a bit of an anthem after the events of 9/11.

Springsteen wrote "American Skin (41 shots)" partly in response to the shooting of a immigrant named Amadou Diallo in 1999, and has been criticized, threatened, and even boycotted by police officers for performing it. Jackson Brown's performance of this song took place a year before the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri.  It was stunning hearing this last night in the wake of the outcry following the acquittals in Ferguson and New York, but then it's a stunning interpretation without the context.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Under a custard sky (write of passage number thirty-four)

If we don't make it out of the house by 7:30, we won't get the #5 Mackenzie King Bridge. We don't, so we must resign ourselves to the #5 Billings Bridge.

The back of the articulated bus is crammed with middle school students. I assume they're middle school students -- I know the classes at Lisgar Collegiate, where elder daughter went to high school, won't begin for more than an hour after the bus passes the building on Elgin Street.  Also, every second word of every shouted sentence, is f***, a sure sign of what passes for middle school conversation.

The Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter take a side seat near the back door, leaving me to stand and gaze meaningfully at a barely adolescent boy sitting with his back to the window, knees drawn up, feet and packsack on the empty space next to him.  He can only ignore me for so long, so I sit down with the same enthusiasm he displays as he clears a space.

Now I must cast around for a way to survive this first twenty minutes of six hours I'll spend in transit today.  Younger daughter's lift to school has been suspended as her schoolmate spends two weeks in South Africa. It will take an hour and a half to escort her to Bells Corners, the same back, and another round trip in the afternoon to retrieve her.

As the profanities fly, I look past my unwilling seat mate to the sky outside which, this morning, is the colour of custard.  As the bus rolls through Sandy Hill and turns at Strathcona Park, the sun fights its way free of the horizon and collides with a cigar-shaped cloud, spilling gold on either side.

The young boy is now occupied in yelling playfully at an older girl and boy sitting in front.  Their responses are perfunctory, so he kneels on the seat and presses energetically on the backs of their necks.

I manage to avoid his rocking elbows and catch the eye of a bearded fella who is standing near my husband and daughter on the lower level.  I cast my eyes heavenward and I see a smile flicker across his face.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Taurus Moon on Mauve

Not quite a full moon
Clings to a lavender sky
Outside the kitchen

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Because in opera we like things big

Crud, it's late. I like this Sesame Street lullaby from my own children's childhoods.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Doily double

Sometimes, when it's really cold and the snow hasn't come yet, the streets look grey and white with strain.  I hadn't noticed this particular effect before -- the web of cracks spreading out from a man-hole cover like a doily dropped in the middle of the suffering road.
I stopped and fumbled my mittens off my hands to take the picture. It was -16 Celsius with a -24 windchill, chilly enough to give me that toothpick sensation in my nostrils, but not nearly as bitter as Ottawa can get.
If I'm not careful, my hands will look something like this road by February, and chunks of skin will peel away.

You think I'm exaggerating, don't you?

Monday, 1 December 2014

Beechwood Gothic

So, late this morning, I was returning home from the drug store, rushing for the crosswalk signal which changed before I could reach it.  Stranded on the curb, there was no escape from the incessant drilling above my head, and it occurred to me that there were workmen on a scaffold removing the upper part of the brick wall that has stood forlornly for three and a half years following the six-alarm fire that took out our local hardware store, half a dozen other businesses and several apartments. Clearly, we're in for another three years of booms, thumps, and blocked sidewalks as yet another cluster of so-called luxury condos take shape in the glacial tradition of Ottawa construction.  The promotions are aimed, predictably, at youngish couples with no kids who will presumably be delighted to pay optimum prices for the location - and spend precious little time in their tiny, expensive abodes. There's a set of townhouses, which also took three years to build, on our street.  When we see the residents at all, they seem to be on their way elsewhere, usually clutching rolled-up yoga mats.

There's an edging below the brick and above the doorways of the abandoned shops.  It's very long and wraps around the corner, because the whole thing used to be the entrance to a bank which was still in operation when we moved to the city fourteen years ago.  In these days of online transactions and ATMs, banks are disappearing right and left, so this one did too, leaving these strange Gothic figures aimlessly waiting in line, including a mum in a tunic with her two baby monks.

It's a longish light, so I fumbled with my phone to capture the stretch of edging farthest away from the workmen, who seemed to be knocking out the bricks individually - for safety reasons, I guess, or dare I hope this stark queue of banking customers will be preserved to wait endlessly for something else?   None of them resemble in the slightest the people whom the condo developers want to attract.