Sunday, 13 December 2015

First world problems

I have discovered that, nine times out of ten, if I don't want to go out in the evening, I'll usually have a good time if I do.

This was certainly the case last night.  We'd been out Friday night and I longed to stay home and watch telly Saturday night.  First world problem, I know.

I dragged myself out to see Nathalie McMaster perform a Christmas concert with the National Arts Centre Orchestra.  I was so glad we went.

The NACO, for one thing, performed a number of lovely Christmas medleys and carol settings.  Among these was James M Stephenson's Holiday Fanfare Medley #1 which featured, wonder of wonders, a carol I've never heard before:  "Come, All Ye Shepherds" which originates from Czechoslovakia. 

They also played Appalachian Carol, arranged by Dan Goeller, which sounds for all the world like a mini-version of Copland's Appalachian Spring.  The following video features liturgical dancing - not my favourite thing, but it gets the women up to the front of the church to light two candles for the Second Sunday in Advent. 

To be clear, there was no liturgical dancing at our concert.  There was a lot of spectacular step-dancing and fiddling.

Nathalie McMaster is a world-class fiddler from Cape Breton who is raising six world-class fiddlers and step-dancers with her husband Donnell Leahy (another world-class fiddler) at Douru, Ontario, which is about a four-hour drive from Hades.  Two of her small daughters joined her on stage to perform - last spring we saw a gaggle of Leahy kids, cousins and what-have-you perform with the NACO, it's very much a family thing.

This video will give you an idea of what much of the evening was like.  Just imagine it cranked up a notch or three; our concert was McMaster's last performance before Christmas and she pulled out all the stops, all evening.  Tip:  things really kick off at about the five-minute mark.

We had been disappointed when Stuart Mclean cancelled his annual Vinyl Cafe Christmas concert to begin treatment for melanoma, another first world problem.  (The disappointment over the missed concert, not the melanoma.) Last night just might tide us over.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The perils of thinking aloud on social media

I'm not all that familiar with the work of Joyce Carol Oates. I read one of her YA books when elder daughter was moving from middle school to high school - I think she had ordered it through Scholastic Books when her homeroom teacher passed around the forms. The book was distressing but intentionally so; the plot involved date rape. It was well-written enough that I had another of Oates' books - aimed at an adult audience - on my to-read list, but I never got around to it.

A week or so ago, Oates came up on my radar again, in that strange domino effect that Twitter has. I follow Marie Phillips, a writer whose work I enjoy, and she re-Tweeted a rather scornful comment by a colleague to a tweet that Joyce Carol Oates had made about ISIS:

Puzzled, I went to Oates' Twitter page to have a look.  Here's what I found.  (The most recent tweets appear at the top of a feed, so these should be read in reverse order):

The tweet on its own was bewildering, but I thought, innocuous.  Read in the context of her three following tweets, it came across to me as an awkwardly phrased, but genuine inquiry.

However, by the time I'd noticed this, thousands of replies and references had been already been posted, all of them to the opening tweet, much as the comment by Marie Phillips' chum had been.  Here's one of the kinder responses.
Most were vitriolic and self-righteous.  More than one man - I came across no woman who did this - felt words did not suffice and posted horrific pictures of ISIS atrocities, presumably in the belief that Joyce Carol Oates had no idea what was going on in occupied territories.  It was "mansplaining" at its nastiest. I had some difficulty sleeping that night.

There were lots of sarcastic retorts, bursts of out-and-out invective, and many retweetings of something cutting the late Gore Vidal apparently said of Joyce Carol Oates years earlier.  Molly Ringwold was also retweeted when she quipped:  "Okay, who got Grandma stoned?"

There were a few who treated the tweet as the question that JCO must have intended.
Others made a stab at defending her:

But there were only a handful.  It was clear that the vast majority had read the first tweet only, and rushed to judgement.  I was saddened to see that Guy Gavriel Kay, an author whose work I've appreciated, had not bothered to read further.
The trouble with Twitter is that you can only "tweet" in bursts of 140 characters.  While it can be an interesting exercise in economical writing,  for the most part it degenerates into, at best, a contest for the funniest, pithiest jibe, or at worst,the shortest, most vicious jab.

It really isn't the best medium for thinking out loud, and this is where Joyce Carol Oates falls down.

Let's put her four tweets into a brief paragraph:
All we hear of ISIS is puritanical and punitive; is there nothing celebratory & joyous?  Or is query naive? Cultures seem to swing between extremes of Puritanism and permissiveness; rigid order & disorder; control & "freedom". What is clear is that human beings can't live for long -- do not care to reproduce -- without meaning in their lives. Tragic that "meaning" can be virtually anything -- someone will believe it & die for it.

It's still pretty damn clunky - gosh, she loves alliteration - but I think there would have been less kerfuffle if she had written the whole paragraph somewhere other than Twitter -- although, no doubt, plenty of people might still have been offended by the opening sentence.  Better still, she could have thought her thoughts through and simply tweeted the last sentence.

However, it wouldn't have got nearly the same amount of attention.

Was that the point?  She hasn't removed the tweets.  I would have were I in her place, but JCO evidently has thicker skin than I do.  She almost immediately plunged into a series of short diatribes about Woodrow Wilson, then went on to make observations about North Korea -- which pissed off a whole bunch of other people -- or perhaps the same bunch of people, all eager to demonstrate how naive/pointless/crazy/old/choose-your-own-derogatory-adjective they think Oates is.

For the record, I have a sort of answer to her question -- even though I think she answered it herself in the remaining three tweets.  Not long ago, I stumbled across a CBC item by Brent Bambury which addresses the subject of music and celebration in the ISIS.  Should you choose to follow this link, I think I should warn you that, while not as graphic as the photos some men in the Twitterverse posted to "educate" Joyce Carol Oates, I had the same sick feeling of horror by what was suggested.

I have no intention of tweeting the link to Joyce Carol Oates. The last time I checked, she was worlds away, thinking out loud about other controversial topics.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Wibbly-wobbly Pooh

The Resident Fan Boy and I were a bit leery about Winnie the Pooh: The Radio Show, but younger daughter said she wanted to go, so we purchased tickets for an evening show, reasoning that we were less likely to be overwhelmed by ankle-biters. However, the audience, which filled the Gladstone Theatre, ranged to pre-teens to the elderly.

The set looked cozy and Christmassy, all scarlet, beiges, browns and olive green. Three singers dressed as flappers sang jazzy songs in three-part harmony.

Then five actors assembled in front of microphones disguised as old-fashioned radio microphones, along with a sound effects man with a slight drinking problem and a box of sound effects for The Christmas Carol. He would have to make do with improvisations on a handy Christmas wreath.

The cast had just received the script for Winnie the Pooh, arrived by mail from the BBC. The parts were assigned, and one fellow wanted to be Tigger, but was informed that it was 1925, and Tigger doesn't appear until The House of Pooh Corner in 1928.

"But if it's 1925, how do we know all this?" asked the would-be Tigger.
The man voicing Winnie the Pooh shrugged: "Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff."

The Resident Fan Boy, who was wearing his new Doctor Who Christmas sweater, applauded.

And the evening proceeded, with sly references to Canada in 2015 from a sometimes anachronistic ninety years earlier. What was not quite so anachronistic was a mild example of 1920's anti-semitism. What was really anachronistic were the tunes from the Disney version of "Winnie the Pooh".

Younger daughter didn't care. She had jazz, she had a bit of Disney, and she had Christmas. And the Resident Fan Boy had a Doctor Who reference.

They must have seen us coming.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Foggy street and random thigh

A little over six years ago, I wrote a post about the "literal videos" of dascottjr who, in the intervening years, has been forced to retreat from YouTube to Funny or Die because his videos were continually being wiped at the request of copyright lawyers, who appear to have little sense of humour.

A "literal video", for the uninitiated, is a music video in which the original soundtrack has been replaced with a very similar soundtrack where the lyrics have been altered so that they simply describe what's going on in the video. The funniness varies wildly, even in the hands of someone as skilled as David A Scott Jr., but he's responsible for the classic literal version of Total Eclipse of the Heart.

I checked back at his page at Funny or Die earlier this week and found some gems. Here are two of them.

First up, "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson, which is so loved and ground-breaking that it can take a little ribbing - even if whoever wrote the subtitles doesn't know how to spell "unfazed". After all, MJ actively encouraged Weird Al Yankovic to spoof his videos more than once; I think he might have chuckled at this one.

Earlier this week, I was remembering a song from the time I brought my newborn younger daughter home from the hospital.

The following was one of the songs getting heavy rotation when I brought elder daughter home from hospital. It's also strong enough to survive some knocking.

The "sad man", by the way, is Bono's father who died nine years later. I like to think he would have found this funny, too.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

We'll try and we'll try and we'll try and we'll try again

Every now and then, a song comes on the radio, or in a movie soundtrack, or over the speakers in a coffee shop, and you say: "Wait! What is that? Who's this?"

It happened this morning while younger daughter was getting ready for school, and I leaned over to catch the information babbled by the announcer. Luckily, CBC Radio Two has a play-log online, and it was also mentioned in their Facebook feed.

This song is by Alana Yorke, who is from Halifax. As the day wore on, it turned out that it was just the song I needed to hear - provided I got the words right.

I've been watching.
I've been wondering.
We've been saving up.
We've been growing up.
And how many friends have we lost along the way?
They are still in this world with our faith in the same,
and we'll hold to our dreams we won't give them away.
We'll just try and we'll try and we'll try and we'll try again.
We'll just keep on singing la ha ha ha ha ah ah

Ask me.
I can tell you.
If I was stronger now,
I would need you now.
'Cause all that we want is to love along the way.
There are times in this life when we're willing to change.
If you don't ask you won't learn then it won't go away.
We'll just try and we'll try and we'll try again.
We'll just keep on singing.

I have learned some things:
Stay healthy.
Be with the ones you love.
Do the things you like.
If you ask me,
I can tell you.
Keep trying.
We will break through.
You know we will break through.
'Cause all that we want is to give our love away.
There are times in this life we are willing to change.
We will ask for the world.
We will ask for the world,
And we'll try and we'll try and we'll try and again,
we'll just keep on singing.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Smitten (write of passage number thirty-nine)

As the bus draws up at the stop, the baby in the stroller is peeling off her gloves with the finesse of Gypsy Rose Lee. Her mother scrambles to retrieve them from the dark sidewalk, so we board first.

Somebody folds up one of the side seats so the stroller can be parked off the aisle, and the young man who finds himself facing the baby greets her with a jazz-hand wave. She responds by slapping her hand to her mouth and blowing him a kiss. He jerks back as if the kiss has hit him square in the face.

This young lady, mitten-free, seems now determined to tackle her boots. Her mother distracts her by pointing out the strings of brilliant lights that outline the trees in Confederation Park as our bus prepares to make the turn towards Mackenzie King Bridge. This works well -- for two minutes, then the mum has her do "high fives". She tries to get the little girl to high-five the young man, but she gravely shakes her head each time.

She's perfectly content to throw mittened kisses when it's time to get off. The young man waves and throws one back. When the stroller has rolled away, he saunters off the bus.

Monday, 7 December 2015


I believe I'm on record as being squeamish.

This is why I can never quite figure out why I like Fargo, a movie that I've watched several times. I used to think it was mainly because of the performance of Frances McDormand, who is married to one of the Coen brothers who directed this film. However, the film also stars William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi and a host of wonderful character actors. The dialogue is quirky and clever; the characters are also quirky and often not so clever. And despite the body count, there is a great deal of humour, dark and otherwise.

Maybe that's why I watched the first television series of Fargo. Produced by the Coen brothers, it's a different story than the movie, but has similar characters: an innocent but skilled cop who is way smarter than she sounds, a sad sack loser who blunders into a life of crime and murder, a cold-blooded killer, a whole raft of people who, for the most part, don't deserve to die the way they do. Like the movie, the writing is superb, the camera work is spell-binding, and the acting is fabulous.

So when the Resident Fan Boy sat down with me as I was watching the penultimate episode of the second TV series, he was mystified.

"If I were watching something like this," he declared, "You'd be telling me this was soul-destroying."

I'm pretty mystified myself. It's very well done, though. As with the previous two incarnations of Fargo, it has many of the same elements, but is set in 1979 -- and gives Lifespring the respect it deserves.

Oh, and as far as I can tell, very little of the action in the three stories actually takes place in Fargo. They're set in Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota, where it's always mid-to-late winter.

Chilling, but oddly fresh.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Christmas lights

The Resident Fan Boy put up the Christmas lights today, as he usually does on St Nicholas Day. Elder daughter and younger daughter, who really need Christmas this year, are delighted. (Ooh. See what I did there?)

I am drained after three particularly trying days, so I'm offering this photograph which I took eight years ago. Now, I'm going to bed.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Cast your fate to the wind

So I was really looking forward to a concert of Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas music with the Jerry Granelli Trio. Younger daughter, the Resident Fan Boy and I saw them two years ago and were eager to go again. Well, the evening was certainly interesting. Suppose I contrast the good with the bad?

Good: The concert was held in the beautiful Dominion-Chalmers United Church. We've been to concerts there before.

Bad: Like much of Hades these days, there is construction and renovation going on, which meant the patrons of the sold-out concert were herded through one single entrance. This involve finding the correct door, joining a cue to have our tickets verified, then looped back for a hand-stamp before hurrying in to secure a seat. Festival seating, of course, the bane of jazz and baroque concerts in Hades.

Good: The Resident Fan Boy, being a Virgo, ensured that we arrived at 6:30, so we got quite nice seats on the side.

Bad: The Resident Fan Boy, being a Virgo, tends to think of "on time" as "late", and due to the single entrance, the concert began more than twenty minutes later than scheduled. So he grumbled and fussed within full hearing of younger daughter, who, along with living on the autistic spectrum, has recently acquired an anxiety disorder.

Good: This concert was organized by the Ottawa Jazz Festival, so the emphasis was on improvisation, and we heard three excellent musicians doing what they do best, rather than note-by-note replications of the music heard in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Bad: This concert was organized by the Ottawa Jazz Festival, so they sold raffle tickets. Do you know what raffle tickets mean? It means hanging around after the concert to find out if you've won. (We didn't buy any.)

Good: The Goulbourn Junior Jubilee Singers, comprised of about 15 to 20 kids ranging in ages eight to thirteen, sang charmingly and on key. When "Linus and Lucy" was playing, you could see the smaller ones dancing in the choir stall.

Bad: Because it's Charlie Brown and involves a children's choir, there were a lot of kids in the audience who were way too small for an evening show - even one starting at 7:20.

Good: I've taken to carrying my bird binoculars in my purse, so I could focus on the expressive face and clever drum-sticks of Jerry Granelli. He even used his hands bongo-style in a wild solo during Guaraldi's inversion of "Little Drummer Boy". I also enjoyed his interaction with bassist Simon Fisk.

Bad: We had a "big 'n' tall" man sitting in the pew in front of us, so I could only catch glimpses of pianist Chris Gestrin.

Good: I've been practising what I call "bastardized Pilates" or "BP" - a really easy DVD and I do the simplest adaptation of the exercises on our bed.

Bad: We were sitting in a pew for fifty minutes waiting for a 90-minute show to begin, so I got a case of "pew bottom". It was "BP" versus "PB". I was mildly crippled and stiff the next day, but it could have been so much worse.

Good: We'd been to a version of this at the Ottawa Little Theatre, so had heard the stories and comments.

Bad: We couldn't hear anything spoken at Dominion-Chalmers, possibly because we were off to the side. I don't recall having this problem with the other concerts we've attended there, so either the acoustics are better if you're front and centre or in the balcony, or the miking wasn't the best.

Good (Really, really, really Good): The encore was the number that got Vince Guaraldi the Charlie Brown gig in the first place: Cast Your Fate to the Wind.

Magical. If only the evening had ended there.

Afterwards, we leapt to our feet -- which really helped the "pew bottom".

Bad (Really, really, really Bad): With younger daughter living on the autistic spectrum with an anxiety disorder and premenstrual to boot, my main objective was now to get her out of the venue and home. However, our pew mates had purchased raffle tickets, and in the low light, were fumbling with their phones to read their numbers. We couldn't exit from the central aisle which was now packed with concert-leavers who shared our objective. When I asked the raffle ticket-holders if we could get by, they agreed politely enough, but expected us to squeeze by them, rather than stepping out briefly and they had left their belongings underfoot. I finally managed to extricate myself, feeling embarrassed and harassed, and hurried to the exit, a few feet away. When I reached the outside door, there was room to stop and put on my coat. That's when I noticed that the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter were nowhere to be seen.

I watched a seemingly endless line of people file by me, while I wondered what to do. Had they somehow got past me? Had the Resident Fan Boy, with his infamous sense of direction, made a wrong turn? Had they come out, then realized they had left younger daughter's packsack behind? I phoned the RFB, but he had turned his off. I phoned younger daughter, but hers was out of reach in her bag.

When they finally emerged, I learned that younger daughter had refused to leave the pew without donning her jacket, which is new and takes some effort to zip up. Then they mistakenly got stuck in the line-up for autographs.

I'm glad we went.

But I doubt we'll go again.

I've posted this before but I'm posting this again. It didn't sound like this last night. It didn't sound like this three years ago. Because it's jazz.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Take me away, boys

In May 1996, when I brought younger daughter home from the hospital, this video was getting heavy airplay. I liked the retro-style (i.e. late seventies/early eighties), and I liked Scott Weiland's snake hips. Today, I'm sorry to hear of Weiland's death at the age of 48.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Power failure

I took this picture exactly eight years ago, on the way back from dropping off younger daughter at her elementary school. Younger daughter is no longer in Grade Five (thank heaven, that was the cusp of another used year). There is no snow on the ground; I didn't even need gloves today. The utility boxes are long gone.

But I'm whacked and stressed out. God give you good night.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Sic transit gloria (write of passage number thirty-eight)

About four years ago, I wrote about a photograph I had snapped of my neighbourhood four years before that. I had thought it was a boring shot and had even attempted to delete it. Years later, I realized it was a record of how the block looked before a catastrophic fire.

So, if you look at the following video, which appeared on my Facebook wall a few months ago, you might not find it that scintillating, but it is an attempt, using Google Street view and 1950s photos, to recreate the streetcar line that used to run in a loop around our neighbourhood. It has interest for me, because it shows the main drag in New Edinburgh and a few snaps later, the corner nearest our house -- only fifty years before we moved there.

This past autumn was a lingering one, and for most of it, I was still making the three-hour round trip to Bells Corners. One of the consolations for this was the Transitway ride along the southern bank of the Ottawa River, and it occurred to me that this is an experience that has probably slipped away forever. Younger daughter is now making the trip home by herself, and, at any rate, is in her last year at her school. Most importantly, Ottawa has embarked on a city-wide conversion of the Transitway to light-rail, and one of the many changes will be a shifting of the western route away from the river.

One October weekday, just after the autumn colours had peaked, I decided to film the bus trip from LaBreton Flats to Lincoln Fields in small segments.

This is the departure from LeBreton Flats.

The land rises up before the bus pulls in to Bayview Station, which has no view of a bay, but the pathways lead down to the O Train that will take you south to Carlton University.

You can't see much for the next couple of stops as the bus hurtles through a man-made canyon - the light rail will probably run through here, but will turn away, I guess, before it reaches the breathtaking entrance of the Parkway with the first glimpse of the Ottawa River.

I will miss this.

And this.

Finally, the last glimpse of the river, deep blue this day with white caps from a strong wind, before the bus veers south to the station at Lincoln Fields.

This experience, ordinary and habitual yet changeable and beautiful, will not come again. Like most things in life, really.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Mackerel sky, never long wet and never long dry

When I headed out to the bus stop this morning, I was startled to see a mackerel sky. I haven't seen that many mackerel skies in Hades, and they've always been in the evening. I don't know if this had anything to do with the freezing rain that was forecast and arrived later in the day.

It's pretty, but worrisome. Freezing rain and little snow make for a miserable winter, and apparently we're heading for similar conditions that led to the Great Ice Storm of 1998. Oh please, no….

Monday, 30 November 2015

'Cause love's such an old-fashioned word

So, CBC Music posted a link on my Facebook wall from their "archives", because I've "liked" them. (Because I do.)

This is an a cappella group from Finland called Rajaton and while I listened to this simply magnificent version of "Under Pressure", I had to find out whose these people were, and when Googling, the National Arts Centre came up. That's when I decided to check our tickets for this season.

We get to see Rajaton performing a concert of songs by Queen in the new year!

Things are looking up.

And Christmas is definitely coming. Talk about "under pressure"...

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Mais nous, nous serons morts

A news item from the CBC described our new prime minister Justin Trudeau visiting the Bataclan concert hall where the most people died in the Paris attacks two weeks ago. The visit to the site had been organized by a Québec delegation, and a Franco-Ontarian singer named Véronic Dicaire (who is from Embrun, which is south-east of Ottawa) sang "Quand tous les hommes vivront d'amour".

I first heard the song when I was in a summer French Immersion course in Trois-Rivières. It was sung at several gatherings in a folksy style, but the original recording by its composer Raymond Levesque is in the jazzy and relaxed rhythm of the cafés of Paris, which belies its melancholic message: "When people live in love and peace, life will be beautiful, but you and I will be long gone, bud."

Raymond Levesque, who was born in Montréal, was living in Paris in the 1950s, and wrote this song in response to the war in Algeria in 1956. The lyrics are not totally pessimistic; they suggest that the world of peace and love must have its beginning in us, if only so those enjoying it might remember those who used to live in an atmosphere of hate and war.

Last week, when the official memorial service was held in Paris, another song I had not heard for a long time was featured, and it was also written by someone who lived in Paris, but was not a Frenchman: "Quand on n'a que l'amour" by the Belgian Jacques Brel. I am more familiar with the English version of the song which was featured in the stage musical and movie Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. (He isn't - he died in 1978.) This is from the 1975 film version starring Mort Shuman, Elly Stone and Joe Masiell. The English lyrics are by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman.

If we only have love, we can melt all the guns, and then give the new world to our daughters and sons.

Gotta hold on to the dream.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

An oldie but goodie that's short and sweet

I'm bushed and running out of time, so very quickly, here's what may have been the very first Doctor Who fanvid I ever encountered.

Doctor Who and Monty Python: the perfect combination. There are others, and if I'm short of time again - which is likely - I'll look them up and see if they're still out there.

Friday, 27 November 2015


There are two wonderful kinds of music experiences.

One is falling in love with an artist or a piece of music, the other is rediscovering a piece of music or artist through an extraordinary rendition.

In the summer of 2005, an international fundraising event called "Live 8" was televised, and among many, many performances, the one I remember is by two artists I've never been that enthusiastic about, and a song I've never particularly cared for.

Yes, I'm perfectly aware that Sarah McLachlan and Josh Groban are talented singers and I know that McLachlan's "Angel" is a song that means a great deal to a great many people, but it was this moment in Live 8 when I stopped what I was doing to listen and marvel. It didn't make me a fan of either nor of the song, but highly respectful of all three.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Somebody you knew only vaguely

John Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare (1781)
A year or so ago, I stumbled upon an article which is hysterical if you are at all familiar with the short stories of Alice Munro. If you're not, it will probably just mystify you. How to Tell if You Are in an Alice Munro Story is sort of a parlour game with a couple of dozen examples of a Munro-ish situations stated in one or more laconic sentences. If you decide to follow the link, the examples supplied by readers in the comment section are as funny as the article:

Somebody you knew only vaguely in your small town drowned.

You had a cousin and when you were younger she smoked a cigarette and left a lipstick stain on it. Sometimes, even now, you remember being in a car with her.

A man condescends to you. You say nothing. A woman says something that wouldn't be snide, if it were someone else saying it. You say nothing. You never speak again, but not because of them. You simply have nothing that needs to be said.

The fun here is in summarizing a typical "Munrovian" (?) short story plot. Alice Munro's prose isn't particularly laconic, but it is economic.

It had been a couple of years. I was pleased to see her.
Her smile didn't reach her eyes.
"Ah, Persephone," she purred, as if I weren't there.
"My little shadow."
Something sank and shrank within me. If I found anything else to say, I don't remember it.

I met Alice Munro. She was the lady who, for one glorious Sunday School term, taught us Creative Writing. One week, as a writing prompt, she brought a print of that disturbing painting of a troll perched on a sleeping lady's belly.

I didn't know she was a writer, nor that she was famous. I just looked forward to Sunday School in a way I never had before or since.

Later, of course, I read several of her short stories and her novel Lives of Girls and Women, which isn't so much a novel as a collection of short stories about one awkward young girl growing up in a small Ontario town. Munro was a master of describing and distilling the acute embarrassment of adolescence, just as she was later to put a merciless finger on the disappointments of middle life and old age.

I don't know how autobiographical her stories are. I suspect Lives of Girls and Women probably is. They don't reflect my experience of life exactly - thank goodness - but they are uncomfortably familiar and certain images and phrases stab at me.

The latest prickle-fest I've been reading is The Love of a Good Woman, a short story collection published in 1998.  It just showed up when I was spring-cleaning; I have no recollection of how it got into the house.  The titular story and one called "Save the Reaper" are both creepy and border on being horror stories or thrillers - we're left hanging.  The rest are pure Munro:  very Canadian and melancholic.  (Munro can be very funny; an early story, first published in 1961, called "A Ounce of Cure" is one of my favourites.)  They are set in places I have been and peopled with characters I haven't met, but recognize.  I reach the end of a story and am startled; each one reads like a novel.

I can't really say I like one over another; I rarely "like" a Munro tale, but they do resonate, rather painfully.  Like that long-ago memory of the girl who thought of me - if she thought of me at all - as her  shadow.  As it happens, she was one of Alice Munro's daughters.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The café of requirement

With younger daughter consistently coming home on her own for the past three weeks or so, I'm suddenly faced with the challenge of finding a new way to shape my day.  As time-consuming as the round-trip out to Bells Corners was, it got me out of the house.  So does walking the Accent Snob, but elder daughter needs to get out of the house too, so she's been seizing the midday stroll, leaving me the late afternoon one.

I've always found that getting a start on what writing I'm to do works better in a library or coffee shop.  The library is one kilometre up a hill and has rather irregular hours.  I can't always find a seat at our local Second Cup, the local Bridgehead is draughty and smells a little like a barn, and the SconeWitch has scones which are not a great idea for daily consumption -- not for me, anyway.

So this frosty morning, on a tip from the Resident Fan Boy, I strolled up Beechwood to try the Red Door.  It's been open about a year, but is easy to miss, you really have to be looking for it, like Hogwart's Room of Requirement. I managed to find it; it's a house with a large red door, oddly enough.

I walked in to find a rather small café with an unsurprisingly hipster vibe.  The coffee was very strong, the croissants flaky and I found a table at the back which was very comfortable for the most part, except when they took a series of deliveries through the back door.  An older couple with their granddaughter grimaced sympathetically as the cold air blasted past my table and helped me close the door until the young deliverymen tramped outside for the last time.

I wrote a bit, gazed out at the white-edge branches, and rather enjoyed the music they had piped in.  As I prepared to go I asked the girl if it was an album, but it was, of course, one of those computer mixes.  I said I'd particularly enjoyed a particular song and she obligingly punched a computer screen, wrote the artist and song title on a post-it note, and I happily headed home.

I gather they're very crowded at lunchtime with a daily soup and half a dozen variations on grilled cheese sandwiches, so early-ish in the morning would probably be best for me. I could do it on a rotation with the Second Cup, SconeWitch (a scone a week is unlikely to do much damage), and the barn.

This was the song.  Part of me probably recognized it, because I gather it's in the soundtrack of Shrek 2, another of younger daughter's favourites.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

There is freedom within

The Resident Fan Boy was betrayed by Environment Canada yet again.  He treats their web page like holy writ and is always in indignant disbelief when the actual weather differs from what was forecast.

This morning, we woke to the first blanket of white of the season - Environment Canada had promised scattered flurries - and we started the morning with a frantic scramble in the basement to locate one of younger daughter's boots.  It finally turned up under the canvas casing from elder daughter's old Girl Guide camp days.

For the first time, I bundled myself into my brand-new wine-coloured commuter coat, an early Christmas gift from Demeter.  I've been resisting its siren call for the past few weeks, but the time has come to admit that winter is at our doorstep, although the forecast is for warmer temperatures later this week.

As if we could trust the forecast.

This evening, shaking off the cold of the day, I sat by the cyber-hearth and found the following video, posted by one of my Facebook "likes".  It's Neil Finn, New Zealand-born and sometime member of the  Australian pop group Crowded House performing with the beautiful and spare back-up of a strings section on his "Solo with Strings" tour last summer.  This particular concert was in Auckland, New Zealand.

"Don't Dream It's Over" pulls me back to the summer of 1987 and my first teaching job.  When I hear it, I see the sun setting in mid-evening behind the trees and buildings at the University of Victoria.

Monday, 23 November 2015

To all the ships at sea

Finally, a version of "My Heart Will Go On" that I can stand!  This is, once again, from the wildly talented folks at Postmodern Jukebox - I've waxed lyrically about them before and subscribed to them on YouTube.  I'd just like to draw your attention to the work of the rather magnificent backup singers Brandon Rogers and Matt Bloyd before you take a listen -- and you simply must.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Just as long as I don't get two in a row

One of the tougher things about coming to Hades has been the more frequent occurrences of what I call "used years". I stole the idea from Charles Schultz, of course.

What's a used year? It's a year that diminishes you. You struggle through the quicksand of the approximate twelve months, only to discover that a better aspect of you has been scraped off: 2002 - 2005 - 2008...

I had used years in Victoria as well. The year my father left for the last time. My final year of high school - I barely got out alive. The year the Resident Fan Boy lost his job and his mother. Those years, however, had plenty of space between them. Since I came to Hades, it seems I've had a "used year" every two to three years, and frankly, the years in between haven't been something to write home about, which explains why my mother complains about not getting letters.

On the optimistic side (and by "optimistic", I mean "I haven't been killed, so I must be stronger --- right?"), I have coping mechanisms. You see a lot of them on this blog: art, music, drama, books. Anything beautiful. Exercise (believe it or not). Creative visualization. Family research. Getting out of the house. Accomplishing small goals. Reaching out to friends.

The last is difficult because my friends have their own problems, and I don't want to reach out and drag them under.

I don't want to drag you under, either. So I'll shut up.

That way, the water can't get in.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

A kind of December

Kate Hennig and Paul Rainville
Photo: Andrew Alexander
At the end of the first scene of The December Man, I thought to myself: Oh gawd. I read the review. I forgot that it's backwards. We had just seen a tableau of quiet despair, and lost all hope of anything getting better.

In the late 1970s, Harold Pinter wrote a very famous play called Betrayal, which follows the course of a doomed love affair, but in reverse chronology. The effect is devastating. With each scene, the narrative takes a step back in time and audience knows what's coming. As a result, the last scene, which begins with the seduction, lacks any thrill or eroticism because we've just witnessed the resulting heartbreak.

However, The December Man cranks up the agony several more notches, because it is about the aftermath of a mass murder.

Six years ago, I wrote a post about the École Polytechnique de Montréal massacre, a watershed moment in Canadian history when a man with a rifle entered an engineering class on an early December evening in 1989, told the men to leave and shot the nine remaining women, killing six of them. By the time he shot himself, he had murdered eight more women, and wounded ten women and four men. I was frantic because wounded people are never named in news reports and several of my male Québecois ESL summer students were studying at L'École Polytechnique in the winter. There were no emails, text, or web sites in 1989, so I had to fire off letters. It turned out all my former students were safe and none had been present at the shootings. It was clear though, that nothing would ever be the same, not for those who never dreamed of such a thing happening in Canada, not for the families of the slain women, not for the wounded students, nor for the men who were forced to leave the classroom, and heard the shots and screams.

The "December Man" is a fictional student named Jean, an only child who lives with his working class parents and is their pride, joy, and hope. He is one of the male engineering students in that classroom, and in inexorable reverse order, his breakdown, and those of his parents is played out. The story would have been difficult to watch from start to finish. From finish to start, it's almost unbearable.

Ottawa audiences, it seems, will give standing ovations for any competent performance. Maybe it's a desire to be fair, or to be liked, or to justify the money spent on the tickets. This time, the performances of the three actors (Kayvon Kelly as Jean; Kate Hennig and Paul Rainville as his parents) achieving a portrayal of decent people doing their best and falling short - and managing to do this in reverse order, no less - warranted everyone rising to their feet, applauding while struggling with a 26-year-old tragedy that many of us still remember, and the fresher impressions of recent horrors.

Friday, 20 November 2015


One thing I rather like about November is that with the foliage gone, you can see the rivers. (Sounds a bit like I'm clutching at straws, doesn't it?)

About this time, three years ago, I was taking the Accent Snob on what I call The Long Walk. We followed the streets that line the back of the grounds of Rideau Hall, the residence of the Canadian Governor General, following the wrought iron railings until the dog and I reached the Rockcliffe Parkway. From there, just a short walk away from 24 Sussex Drive, official residence of the Prime Minister, I looked out over the Ottawa River to the province of Québec.

This is what I saw one late Sunday afternoon in 2012:
You can click on this to enlarge it.

Writing blog-posts forces you to look things up. It took a bit of scrolling over a Google Map of the neighbourhood to figure out that I was looking at the Paroisse St-François-De-Sales, built in 1840, and standing on the bank of the Gatineau River, just before it meets the Ottawa River, which in turn flows in an easterly direction towards Montréal, where it merges with the St Lawrence.

That late afternoon in Ottawa, it was a nameless ethereal church glowing in the light of a dying afternoon, framed with the tattered remains of autumn.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

But get the ice, or else no dice

Yesterday, I asked younger daughter if she'd like to see a late matinée screening at the Bytowne Cinema of the 1953 movie version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Rather to my surprise, she readily agreed. It turns out that she loves "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend". I bet you do, too.
G'wan, watch it, you know you want to:

Younger daughter was thrilled when I pointed out a young George Chakiris amongst the dancing millionaires. She's a huge fan of West Side Story, in which Marni Nixon provided the singing for Natalie Wood's Maria. Marni Nixon also hits the high notes for Marilyn Monroe in this movie, and provides the operatic "No's" at the beginning of the song.

The 1953 film is based on the 1949 Broadway musical which was based on the 1925 book by Anita Loos which was created out of a series of stories that Anita Loos wrote for the magazine Harper's Bazaar, based on her observation of her friend HL Mencken's helplessness at the hands of a blond bombshell. The Broadway musical was set in the 1920s; the 1953 movie wasn't, and the plots of neither had much to do with the book nor each other.

The Broadway musical starred a young Carol Channing. I can't imagine anyone less like Carol Channing than Marilyn Munroe, but the show and movie also had little in common, and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" is closely associated with both Channing and Monroe. Here's Carol Channing singing it on a 1957 television show (I don't know which one):

It's really younger daughter who led me to the discovery that watching movies in a movie theatre is worthwhile, even when the movie is readily available on TV, DVD, or online. You won't be getting up to do things around the house, nor multitasking. Your concentration is on the movie; this is the first time I've actually watched GPB straight through. You hear the reaction of the audience around you. You can eat popcorn, and in the Bytowne, you're watching the film in the sort of movie theatre in which it would have been shown in 1953.

Mind you, the experience is digital and the mindset you bring into the theatre belongs to the twenty-first century.

What, for example, does a denizen of the twenty-first century make of the following number?

This is supposedly the American Olympic Team - would they really make their way to the 1952 Oslo games via Paris? Jane Russell's character is crest-fallen because the team has a strict curfew and is thus unavailable for amorous activities. Am I the only one who suspects the curfew is not the chief barrier for a woman making out with these fellas? Oh well, they may have thought otherwise in 1953; it was another time.

After the movie, the Resident Fan Boy and I discussed how sexual politics have changed (or not), and remembered Madonna's famous video for "Material Girl", which has a different message from the famous song and film that it references. Or does it?

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Odd exchanges at artistic events: part two

There was a magical period in my life before children when I had time and money. Rather more time than money, so for a couple of years, I subscribed to the Victoria Symphony at the cheapest rate possible. This had me very close to the stage, which I didn't mind, and surrounded by "comps" (complimentary tickets) which I mostly didn't mind.

"Comps" make an interesting segment of the audience because they are usually people who normally wouldn't come to a symphony performance. Once I found myself next to a lovely older couple who realized, in the midst of a performance of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, that they recognized many of the tunes.
So they sang along.
And were deeply indignant when I tried, gently and quietly, to restrain them.

One of my favourite "comps" was an elder Scottish lady who was delighted to be there. After the first piece of the afternoon, she remarked to me, "I don't remember Shumann ever sounding like that."
"That's because it was Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland," I explained.
She threw back her head and laughed.
"I wondered why they had the piano way at the back!"

The Schumann piano concerto she had come to hear followed in due course.

I retold this story to a couple of Victoria Symphony musicians at a house party some weeks later. Their jaws dropped.
"That's just the sort of thing we're afraid is happening out there," they sighed, shaking their heads.

Personally, I think they needed to lighten up.

My Scottish lady may have come for the Schumann, but I had been looking forward to Appalachian Spring which has been one of my favourites since discovering Aaron Copland in my early teens.

The Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen, based in Bruges, Belgium, is, from what I can see, similar in size to the Victoria Symphony. The part of Appalachian Spring that I love most begins at the 3:30 part, but the whole thing is gorgeous.

(The pianist is on the right edge, behind the harpist.)

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Odd exchanges at artistic events: part one

A few days ago, I mentioned in passing a small Chagall exhibit I recently visited at the National Gallery of Canada. It was a collection of Marc Chagall's (1887-1985) illustrations of the story of Daphnis and Chloe - two rather clueless youngsters who take a year to figure out the mechanics of sex. They spend rather a lot of that year naked, although they do wear clothes in the winter and at their wedding ceremony, thank goodness.

Both begin life being suckled by wild animals. The security guard leant towards me confidentially as I checked back on some notes posted at the entrance of the exhibit.

"Do you think that's possible?" She nodded towards the drawings. "Could a baby really be nursed by a sheep or goat?"

I thought for a second.

"Well, the animal would have to lie down, and the baby would need to have a strong suck…"

She nodded appreciatively.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Over the pop

I've never been much of a fan of epic movies. I find them a bit overblown, lacking in levity, and too damn long.

However, younger daughter loves movies and music, and especially movie-music, so we had tickets for a National Arts Centre Orchestra pop concert celebrating the theme music of about fifteen larger-than-life films. I'd seen about five of them, including Titanic, which isn't my favourite movie - there are too many moments when I want to hurl things at the screen - but which had wonderful art direction and, let's face it, a beautiful score by James Horner. This isn't quite what we heard. We didn't have a soprano soloist, got some other incidental music as well, and, alas, were subjected to a full-throated choral rendering of "My Heart Will Go On".

The rest of the concert was just as beautifully performed, but epic movie themes, much like the movies they accompany, are a much of a muchness. As the woman behind me in the line-up for the ladies' room put it at intermission, lots of ooohing and ahhhing from the choir.

The same couldn't be said of the concert's opening.

We have a subscription to Pops, again, due to younger daughter's love of jazz, pop, and movies, so we're familiar with the Pops Principal Conductor Jack Everly and knew something was different the moment he walked onstage. Usually spritely and jovial, he now said a few quiet words about Paris, then turned to the orchestra and combined choirs behind him.

"Here we go; I've been expecting this," said the Resident Fan Boy, quickly rising. I hurriedly joined him because if it's one thing I know, it's that you get to your feet if you can when a national anthem is playing. I don't have a video of the NACO playing the Marseillaise, nor of the Ottawa Choral Society and the Ottawa Festival chorus singing it, but it sounded pretty splendid. Almost epic.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Danced to distraction

Given the news lately, any distraction is welcome, and this is a dandy. About eight months ago, I was talking about interpretations and possible inspirations for Uptown Funk. Well, someone with some talent for editing, access to some of the best dance routines of the first half of the twentieth century, and a helluva lot of time has pulled together this very clever collage.

Oh. And if you'd like the movie titles and years, hit the "CC" button.

It certainly has cheered me up!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Fine-boned, spectral and skeletal

It's early morning -- for a Saturday, and I find myself being carried through the streets of Lowertown and Sandy Hill on a bus filled with mostly young women with loosely piled-up hair. Outside, it's a world of solitary young men, well, more like a few parallel solitary worlds, each containing a young man out on his own - walking his dog, sitting in shirt-sleeves on the floor of a rickety metal balcony (not even shivering at 0 degrees Celsius), striding along with a coffee, or with earbuds, or with coffee and earbuds.

The young women disembark en masse at the University of Ottawa, dispersing and disappearing along various pathways leading to academic buildings, probably libraries on this Saturday morning as the post-secondary community moves into term essay season.

I see Nordstrom's coming into view, remembering how it was Eaton's when I first arrived in this city, became a ghost-town version of Sears, and now has shed all pretensions of being Canadian. I have a wait between buses, and have had no breakfast, so I grab a coffee and pastry at the quasi-swish department store coffee shop - then make a mental resolution not to do that again. Something that expensive should be reasonably delicious.

Along the Québec bank of the Ottawa River, there are puddles of sunshine. The trees caught in the slanting light are glowing in silvery-white ghostliness, all vestiges of autumn colour vanished, leaving them spectral and skeletal, like fish-bones.

Friday, 13 November 2015

I've never been to Paris

The Resident Fan Boy, Demeter, and elder daughter have all visited Paris, all when they were young. Each set of memories will be radically different, belonging to different decades. The overwhelming sadness of what happened there this evening will be about the same. For myself, I think of all those frantic parents who must be having the worst night ever. This is the song I found drifting through my head as the news reports got steadily worse. There are dozens of versions on YouTube, but this one is simple enough.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

But we're all strange and maybe we don't want to change

In September, when we were easing younger daughter back into school (and there was nuthin' easy about it), there were a couple of mornings when her morning lift was not available and I'd find myself sitting on the #5 while she and the Resident Fan Boy sat behind, riding through the dawn sunshine to the Mackenzie King Bridge where we'd bid farewell to the RFB and clamber on the 97 to Bells Corners. When I think of this song, I think of the sun rising over Strathcona Park as the bus trundled along Laurier East.

As pretty as this video is, it's more a song to be listened to than watched, and even if you're listening hard, it's best not to puzzle over the lyrics much.

The band is the Strumbellas, who seem to have a sort of Lumineers thing going on. They're based in Toronto, but four of the six members come from Lindsay, in south-eastern Ontario, near Peterborough. A friend of mine used to say that Peterborough was full of alcoholics, but I think she was mad at her ex-husband.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Remembrance Day Retreat (write of passage number thirty-seven)

Remembrance Day fell on a Sunday in 2001.

It was getting toward noon, and the Resident Fan Boy and I stood at a bus stop downtown with our daughters, then aged nine and five.  An imposing lady addressed the girls in that school-teacherish fashion that some older people take with strangers' children.

"It's a beautiful day to be out,  isn't it?"

Elder daughter smiled shyly and nodded politely.  Younger daughter was cheerfully oblivious.

An extra note entered the woman's tone, slightly challenging, slightly accusatory, with an overlying aura of righteousness.

"Were you girls down at the ceremony honouring our soldiers?"

Elder daughter froze and hesitated, her eyes widening.  My cue to intervene and cut the sidewalk sermon short.

"We were in church," I said, with a pleasant smile while fixing the lady with an unmistakeable "Mum" look.  Trump card.

"Oh," she fluttered.  "Well, then, that's just as good..."

She didn't say another word as the bus arrived.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

You ain't no punk, you punk

Rant alert.  I'm here to talk trash.  Literally.

What is it about garbage that makes us treat our neighbours like rubbish?

We live just up the road from a coffee shop, which is usually a pleasant convenience, except every now and then, people strolling up Springfield Road on our neighbourhood's garbage and recycling pick-up day would toss their  half-full coffee cups into our empty garbage can after the trucks had been by.  It was neither fun nor particularly easy to retrieve soggy cardboard cups from the bottom of the receptacle and then rinse the coffee out.  After a couple of times,  I made sure to get our containers away from the sidewalk as soon as they were empty to foil coffee-tossers or dog-poop disposers.  (Actually, I'm flummoxed by the number of dog-owners who leave their used poop bags on the edge, and sometimes on, the sidewalk.  Why?  Why would they bother to bag it up then just leave it? Do they think someone else will pick it up?  I suppose so. No one's gonna pick it up, sunshine.)

This morning was another garbage and recycling pickup day, and while the Resident Fan Boy was taking the Accent Snob for his dawn relief walk, somebody slithered by with about three bags of trash, lifted and discarded the lid of our bin set by the sidewalk for the garbage truck, and stuffed the bags in, heedless of the overflow.  When the trucks had gone, about mid-morning, I found a small pile consisting of packaging, a very liquified banana peel and a flattened soup can with the paper label still on it.  Unsurprisingly, our donor doesn't bother to sort the compostables and recyclables.

This rather spoiled the mood of goodwill and tranquility I'd worked hard to establish after waking.

I guess the thinking (if any thinking were involved), goes something like this:  "It's a garbage can; so it's okay to put my trash in it 'cause then I'm not littering, see?"

They don't care, of course, that other people - like me, for example - have to pick up the disgusting slop-overs that didn't make it into the truck because their gift to us was in three (three!) flimsy and open bags.  Why?  Because I'm not a friend, family member or acquaintance of this dumper and therefore don't matter.

While the Resident Fan Boy and I were steaming, we recalled a morning a few years back when we left an ancient, defunct and very heavy TV set by the curb for pick-up.  It had disappeared by daybreak and then - get this - whoever had taken it discovered that there was a reason we were throwing it out and returned it to the curb in front of our house the next morning.  We were forced to lug the weighty bit of junk into the garage, wait for the next pickup in two weeks' time as it was winter, and set it out again, this time with a large sign reading "BROKEN - This television does NOT work".

Such crap is not limited to Hades. When we lived in Victoria, we had a picket fence around our tiny front lawn which evidently caused  passersby to mistake our yard for a wastebasket.

I've said something like this before: if we treat people we don't know as if they don't matter because we don't know them, then there is little hope for us.  The world is simply getting too small.

All of which means, I suppose, that I shouldn't fantasize about tossing these miscreants down the garbage shute like Veruca Salt, but heck, this was the one song I really liked from the 2005 version of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's very Beach-Boy-ish, as in Pet Sounds. It's also a firm favourite with younger daughter, who dressed up as Veruca Salt (pre-garbage-shute) a few Hallowe'ens back:

Or I can vent my rage like The Cramps.  I know I've posted this song before, but I can't resist.  Take it away, Lux Interior and Poison Ivy.
Just take it away.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Taken by surprise

New Forest
A few weeks ago, I nipped into the National Gallery to see a small Chagall exhibit. And it was okay.

However, because it was small (which, because it was in the National Gallery, meant it was pretty big), there was another exhibit slipped in beside it. It was the work of an English photographer of whom I'd never heard: one Frederick H. Evans (1853-1943).

I ended up enjoying this exhibit more than the Chagall one -- although the Chagall was perfectly fine. I guess it was the pleasant surprise.
Gloucester Cathedral: Alabaster Effigy
This was one of my favourites, probably taken in the last decade of the 19th century. I love the layers seen through the arches.

A Sea of Steps
This is one of his most famous photos, taken at Wells Cathedral in 1904.

Afterwards, I went to have a quiet lunch at Memories which used to be a rather funky restaurant on Clarence, but the ancient building it was in was declared dangerous, so it's now a rather posh place tucked in behind the corner of St Patrick and Sussex Drive. The food is still good, though, and they were playing a song by Sting that I'd completely forgotten about.

Last week, when younger daughter got lost and my mind was full of a tune by Paul Simon, I looked up the song on YouTube and up came this recent performance by Paul Simon and Sting which dovetails "Mother and Child Reunion" with "Love is the Seventh Wave".

And that too, was a pleasant surprise.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Phantom leaves

I took this picture on November 4th, 2012. It's the sidewalk behind Rideau Hall, along Lisgar Road, what was left after that autumn's leaves had been swept away.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

To sleep, perchance to dream

Horatio and Hamlet survey the Elsinore rubble.

We have discovered that there are more Cumberbitches in Ottawa than DT fan girls. Two years ago, we attended a "live-stream" cinema screening of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Richard II, starring David Tennant. It was well-attended but not sold out.

A couple of evenings ago, I decided to check out the ticket situation for an encore presentation of a not-quite-live-stream (not live in Canada, anyway) performance of the National Theatre's presentation of Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. (Just as an aside, Mr Cumberbatch has gone on record as saying he prefers to refer to his female fans as the "Cumbercollective".) When I logged on to the Cineplex website, there were exactly 27 tickets left for this afternoon's showing.

Keeping that in mind, the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter, and I turned up at the Silver City cinema nearly an hour early, and this was only partly due to the unreliability of weekend buses in Hades. About a dozen people had already staked out seats - Ottawans are very territorial about their vantage points - so we grabbed our favourites: last row, centre, and savoured the schadenfreude of watching later arrivals trying to find seats where they could a) sit with their friends; b) see the whole screen.

The production? A little too clever for its own good, and the tinkering with the order of the scenes and the rather heavy-handed use of stages-within-stages, slow motion, and rubble failed to tell me anything new.

Mind you, I'm hardly one to talk. The problem with a full cinema is that there are over 300 bodies warming the place nicely, and I kept dropping off, despite my best efforts. Also, there was only one intermission, which meant two-thirds of the play had elapsed before there was an opportunity to dash for the long queues to both washrooms. The length of the first "half" effectively finished younger daughter off, so she and the Resident Fan Boy made a break for it.

I stayed, and the cooler extra space next to me, in combination with the events hurtling to their violent conclusion on the screen, kept me awake and attentive during the final "half" (third). The cast was good, but the one stand-out for me was Karl Johnson, one of those madly busy British character actors, who played both the ghost and the gravedigger.

Mr Cumberbatch gave a flawless performance, but while I enjoy and admire his work, I'm not a Cumberbitch. I find it a struggle enough not to be any kind of bitch.

Clicking on the screen makes it way bigger.
The show had started at about 1pm, and when I emerged from the theatre, it was past 4:30. I rarely see spectacular sunsets in Ottawa, but we got one of a British Columbia calibre this evening.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Nose dive

Kingfisher 1983
When I first came to Hades almost exactly fifteen years ago, one of my first stops was the National Gallery of Canada. Back then, you could stroll through the permanent galleries for free; you only paid for special exhibitions. I had been familiar with the almost photographic and slightly unsettling pictures of Alex Colville - nude people standing around refrigerators at night drinking milk and the like.

My gallery technique is to hurry through a display, then return to the ones that call to me. I got a very strange call from Colville's Kingfisher. It's very tall and thin, and when you get close, there's a sinister gleam in the bird's eye.

Moon and Cow 1963
One of the things I do to take the sting out of having to leave Victoria to come back and live in Hades is saving treats for myself. This year, I resisted going to the Alex Colville retrospective until a couple of days before it closed. (Alex Colville died two years ago, preceded by a few months by his wife and muse Rhoda Wright.)

Seven Crows 1980
This meant I had younger daughter along with me. This is usually not a problem. The art gallery tires her quickly, but she says she enjoys it.

The problem this summer was that she had taken to walking around with her eyes closed, a development that started at school last spring and slopped over into our home life as the summer began. I wondered how on earth she would manage an art exhibit.

Dog, Boy and School Bus 1960
She managed it by setting herself up in a corner near this painting. I pointed it out to her, but she turned her head and told me to go away. I went to the other side of the room and examined the other paintings, watching her surreptitiously. She remained standing in the corner, and I mean facing the corner. I got her to move from room to room by telling her where I was going then moving ahead, praying she would follow.

Dog, Boy, and St John River 1958
When we were walking to the bus stop, I asked her which painting she liked the best, expecting it to be "Dog, Boy and School Bus".
"I liked 'Dog, Boy, and St John River'", she said. I had to look it up when we got home. Clearly, she had been paying attention.

She also liked the Alex Colville movie connections. Apparently the art direction of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom is based on Colville's work, and about four of his paintings are hanging in the background of scenes in The Shining.
"That's the movie where Jack Nicholson says 'Heeeere's Johnny!", younger daughter informed me.
"Have you seen that movie?" I've never had the nerve, myself, but they've shown films like Psycho at her school.
"No!" she scoffed. She's a great scoffer.
"It's a very famous movie, Mom!"

Horse and Church 1964
The paintings that stuck with me? Well, this one is haunting. Colville painted it after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A black horse bolting in blind panic from a windowless chapel. It feels a bit like my life lately.

Mr. Wood in April 1960
However, this one kept calling me back. It's a painting in springtime. The bleak early spring of eastern and central Canada. I like the truthfulness of it.

My kingfisher favourite was not a part of this retrospective.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Being neighbourly, Hades-style

The other-worldliness of Hades made itself known within weeks of our arrival fifteen years ago. For one thing, Pierre Elliot Trudeau died.  We found the intensity of the mourning in Ottawa was somewhat startling.  Don't get us wrong, we didn't rejoice; we felt the historical impact of the passing of arguably the last real Canadian statesman, but we were, after all, fresh from British Columbia where Mr. Trudeau had never been popular.  As a matter of fact, my Friend of the Right Hand got the news in Victoria when her husband stalked to the centre of the living room and intoned:  "The Dark Lord is dead."

Our moving day coincided with the day of P.E.T.'s funeral. While the Resident Fan Boy and Demeter supervised the movers at our new house in the Ottawa neighbourhood of New Edinburgh, I stayed behind in the hotel which had been our home for five weeks, cleaning up, tossing our transition clothes and supplies into suitcases, while watching and listening to the live television coverage, the highlight of which was the eulogy, given by the eldest Trudeau son whom most Canadians last remembered as being a young boy.

Elder daughter was, by that time, well established in her new school. Three grades ahead of her was Pierre Elliot Trudeau's ex-wife's daughter from her second marriage. (You can see Margaret Trudeau glowing proudly at her son at several points in the preceding video.) One grade ahead of elder daughter was Pierre Trudeau's daughter from his arcane relationship with Deborah Coyne. (You can see them both at the 5:51 mark in the video.)

I never ran into Margaret Trudeau, but I ran into Deborah Coyne a few weeks later at the local animal clinic. I was there with our cat; she was there with her dog. She introduced herself to me, and I made pleasant chit-chat while thinking, "I remember you from the funeral." Our paths crossed again when she brought her son to an appointment at the same office where younger daughter had speech therapy. We smiled, nodded, and left it at that.

Our neighbourhood is rife with prime-ministerial connections. I saw Jean Chretian with his wife Aline at the local coffee shop. No one approached them except the proprietor. Chretian was Prime Minister at the time of the Trudeau funeral - and can be seen with his wife at the ten-minute mark. Joe Clark, the subject of Justin Trudeau's story about the nice man with the little blond daughter (just before the eight-minute mark), once told younger daughter what a beautiful princess she was when she came trick-or-treating to his doorstep. And when younger daughter was at the local elementary, the children of Stephen Harper sandwiched her: one in the grade ahead; one in the grade behind. Burly men in dark suits with earpieces stood sentry in the hallways and at the entrance where we now had to be buzzed in. The prime minister's children would take their selected play dates and disappear into a fleet of black SUVs after school. Harper himself showed up at the occasional school concert, where I had to shush the RFB, who insisted on hissing him.

The oddest run-in occurred at the restaurant down our street which features the occasional "family dinner" - a fixed menu with platters of food from which you serve yourself, like at home. We're fans of these dinners and one evening, two years ago, we were ushered to our table and hesitated, as we recognized the young family already seated. It was Justin Trudeau with his pregnant wife and two ankle-biters. The RFB introduced himself, assured Justin that we understood they might want private family time, and we awkwardly but politely ignored them for the rest of the meal. It sort of sums up the concept of Ottawa neighbourliness. We acknowledge each other, then strive not to intrude.

Photo by Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail
Yesterday, elder daughter and I watched on television, while a few blocks away, they took charge of the country. Just another day in the neighbourhood.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

In recovery

Is this a honey locust tree?
I'm still reeling from yesterday, but younger daughter is unfazed.  She took the bus home from Bells Corners on her own, and texted to me cheerfully about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Elton John.  The day has been lovely and the autumn colours are lingering longer than usual.  I need another sleep.