Saturday, 22 August 2015

This painting is by my neighbour Caitlin.

I've been back in Hades for nearly 48 hours. I smile at people I pass on the street; they glance at me and focus on some point beyond my left shoulder. Down by the Rideau River, the din of the crickets and cicadas is deafening. The Resident Fan Boy let slip today, during a family chat in a restaurant, that one of his cousins has held a grudge against me for a year and a half, as a result of something I did in all innocence, and out of genuine affection for her late mother. My soul, recently opened by sea winds, mountain views and conversations with friends, is closing back in on itself like a blossom without sunlight.

This evening I wander home after taking the Accent Snob for a stroll. On a corner near our house is a string pulled across a front gate, with drawings attached with clothes pins, fluttering gently in the evening breeze.

25¢, reads the sheet in the centre.

A little girl the colour of summer is curating her collection, and I sorrowfully tell her that I don't have change.
"I'm supposed to give them away," she informs me gravely.
"Are you sure? The sign says '25¢'."
She assures me that I can choose a picture.
I ask her her name so I can write it on the back when I get home, and tell her my name and the name of my dog, aware that asking a child's name in these times borders on the creepy.

As I reach my front walk, a lady with a golden Lab cross asks me about the Accent Snob, and we exchange information on our dogs, but nothing about ourselves.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Butterscotch sunset

Restoring Demeter's wifi proved a simple matter - persuading her to phone the gentleman who installed it for her was rather less so. Our major concern was that younger daughter was using her phone to access the internet instead. I'm not looking forward to her next phone bill, but then I'm not looking forward to much, anyway.

On my final evening in the house-sit, the fog-horns beckoned, and I set off on my last walk around Ross Bay.
The setting sun shone quite brightly through the thin layer of mist which hung like a cheesecloth over the trees lining the cemetery. The sky was a light lemon yellow.
Bodies from the cemetery used to get washed out to sea quite regularly. The beach along Ross Bay has been artificially shored up with pebbles. There was a reasonably strong surf this evening, and I stood watching the waves build in sequences of three or four, retreating with a sucking hiss that sounded like hundreds of rattling marbles.

It's like labour pains, I thought.
By the time I turned east to return, the tips of my fingers felt like they do in a Hades October. There was a pall over Oak Bay - a rain cloud or smoke from distant forest fires? The mountains across Juan de Fuca Strait turned pale pink.

When I retrieved the laundry from the line, it was damper than when I had hung it up.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Wifi disaster

We've moved out of our house-sit, only to discover that Demeter's wifi is mysteriously unfunctional. Try explaining this to a teenager living on the autistic spectrum.  From a cafĂ© a few blocks away, I offer you an image from our final peaceful evening, about thirty-five hours ago.
That's not a bird, by the way. It's a kite-surfer. He's even nuttier than I'm rapidly becoming.

Sunday, 16 August 2015


I've taken advantage - although not nearly enough - of the locale of this house-sit to stroll down to the sea and through Ross Bay Cemetery.

Early in my stay, I discovered this charming memorial.

It's a husband and wife: his name is Anglo-Saxon and he was born in British Columbia; hers is Japanese. I love the multi-levels of the phrase "A Pacific Family". Born on different coasts of the same ocean. Peaceful and peace-loving.

Last evening, on one of my last strolls, I found the walks closed off, as the pathways are being upgraded this summer. That's how I came upon this tiny marker, separated from the other stones and memorials by a large expanse of summer-dried grass.
Clicking on the photo will enlarge it.

I guess I should rejoice that someone cared enough to mark his/her grave, but it's a lonely testimonial to life in Victoria for those who were different.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Room 63 on the 42nd floor

I stumbled across an obituary yesterday. I realize that the older I get, the more likely this is to happen. This one opened the floodgates of some rather unpleasant August memories from several years ago.

We had recently made a move from the Gorge area of Victoria to the municipality of View Royal. I remember being busy in the basement - I may have been hanging laundry - and listening to my father singing the same song over and over: My wife was two-timing, fickle as can be/ With a man named Smith, she was double-crossing me/ So one night, I followed them to even up the score to Room 63 on the 42nd floor . . .

This was during that agonizing summer of waiting for my father to leave. He clearly wished to convey to me that my mother was dating the man in the obituary.

I can only recall going on one outing with the man along with his large family, including one daughter my age. I didn't particularly like him; I found him supercilious and brusque. I have no idea whether my mother was actually involved with him; it seems an uncharacteristic thing for her to do while my father was still living with us (not to mention when she would have found the time), but if my father thought this man was the chief factor in the final deterioration of their marriage, he was overlooking his own drinking, the resulting accidents, and the mountain of debts - which he was soon to leave behind. To say nothing of his own numerous infidelities. My chief sense of the summer was my dawning realization, at age eleven, of how flawed and foolish grown-ups could be.

The obituary describes the man - whose name was not Smith - as a "pure light" and declares that "to know him was to love him, and that was his effect on everyone".

It was a long time ago. Maybe he changed.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Rest in post

Our stay in Victoria is hurtling to a close, even more so with the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter in residence. I'm relieved to have them with me, but miss slipping out to the ocean and the cemetery. You take what you want, and you pay for it.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Peachable Offence

Last Sunday, I made a peach pie.  I strolled into the backyard of our housesit and plucked about ten ripening peaches from the tree coiling up the side of the house.  I did notice that several of the peaches had been sampled by something.  Some were gouged, and in a few cases, bitten in half.  I thought an animal had climbed up into the branches for a nosh.  Demeter and other friends felt sure the culprits were birds.  Birds? I thought. Birds can bite a peach in half?

Two days later, I set out on a warm evening to hand-water the garden. I rounded the corner and halted, aghast. A large branch, laden with peaches, dangled almost to the ground. The leaves were limp. I reached up and the whole branch came away easily in my hands. I lifted and dragged it to the compost pile and quickly harvested all the ripe and partially ripe fruit.

I left the hard green peaches on the severed branch, figuring they were beyond help.

Returning to the scene of the disaster, I saw the break and noticed that one of the tethers supporting the tree and anchoring it to the wall had snapped.

Looking to my right, I saw an unmolested branch bearing rosy fruit hanging down.

My deduction? The branch at the far right can't support an large (ish) animal, while the doomed branch could. Until it couldn't. A squirrel? A racoon, perhaps? My bet is on the squirrel; I think racoons can pick and pluck.

Yesterday's photo shows what I did with the slightly more than a dozen not-quite-ripe peaches. It works! I was able to store half the peaches today, and the rest should be ready in a day or two.

As for the tree, I think it'll live -- the leaves are glossy and firm with about half a dozen delectable glowing globes out of reach.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A figure of peach

This is something I'm trying from a "lifehacker" website to overcome a fruit fatality. Details tomorrow.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Tempest fugit

When I was briefly footloose in late July, I snatched at opportunities to do things without negotiation or coercion. One of those things was taking in a play by the other summer Shakespearean company in Victoria, Shakespeare by the Sea, who have been competing in a friendly manner with the far better established Victoria Shakespeare Festival. SbtS has been at this for about three years, and so far I had failed to find the time to attend.

So I set off on a Sunday afternoon, after glimpsing heads in sun-hats and brilliant sunshine from the front window of the house-sit. By the time I reached the bus-stop, I knew there might be trouble. The sun had fled, and black clouds crowded the northern horizon behind Government House. The clouds were emitting loud rumbling noises.

Resolutely, I boarded the bus and disembarked near Dallas Road for a five-minute trot toward Ogden Point. I noticed uneasily that the Sooke Hills were vanishing. I smelt the rain before it began to spit around me. I hurried into the Breakwater Cafe for a comfort break before a long Shakespearean sit, and emerged into curtains of water -- more Ottawa-style precipation than Victoria. The Resident Fan Boy and I refer to such downpours as "shoe-fillers".

Cowering under my umbrella, I searched the surrounding area for a tent and saw several, including those being hastily packed up by merchants. I asked one or two for directions and was told: "Down there, if they've decided to go through with it."

They had, indeed. I joined The Tempest in full swing with the hapless passengers of a shipwreck looking suitably drenched, having to make their exits and entrances from outside the shelter. I use the word "shelter" advisedly. The audience was being steadily dripped on, and alarming balloons of water were appearing in the overhanging canvas. The cast were slipping improvised watery witticisms into the text and my neighbour kept draining her umbrella into my lap.

Reluctantly, I decided to depart at intermission, but you couldn't say that the production lacked atmosphere.

Monday, 10 August 2015

The house that might have been

Before the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter arrived from Hades, I took advantage of my unfettered state and walked around the neighbourhood of this current house-sit often. My eye was often caught by this house, largely due to its eye-catching colour and oddly leaning-in shape. Friend of the Right Hand tells me it was once red and white. It stands at the foot of what is now the Dallas Waterfront Trail, on the eastern end of Ross Bay.

I told Demeter about it, because I had been considering trying to paint it for the water-colour class we've been taking together this summer. She told me that in the days when she was a single mom of two slightly-used daughters, trying to break free of rental headaches, this was a house she had briefly considered buying. It was too expensive, even for those long-ago buyer's market days, and she felt that the oddity of the house and the vast fixing up it required would make it impossible to sell later. She bought a brand-new, tiny townhouse condo in Esquimalt instead.

I gaze at this quirky quasi-castle, a short stroll from the charming bungalow I'm house-sitting. It must be worth a fortune now. What would my life have been like if we'd moved into what was then an undoubtedly rickety and crafty curiosity? Demeter would never had had the money - nor, probably, the desire - to renovate it. But we would have lived by the sea, and I would have gone to sleep lulled - or terrified - by the crashing waves.

I will go down to look again. It's not often you see the parting of the ways so clearly.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

One for overnight - five for a week: the movie

Photo by Nathan Philps
I plop my pile of DVDs on the counter.
"One for overnight; five for a week."
"One for overnight; five for a week," the fellow behind the counter echoes, then we pause and look at each other.

"That sounds like a great movie title," I say with an air of faux dreaminess.
"I'll write the screenplay and give you the option," he offers.
"Great idea!"

He's gazing at my account. "I want to give her this one for free," he says to his coworker. Apparently, I'm within a few check-outs of a free rental, but not quite.

My mind drifts back twenty-three years to an evening shortly after we had taken up residence in our house on the edge of Fairfield. Elder daughter was five months old and I was drunk with exhilaration.
We live here. We actually live here.
I had strolled down to Pic-a-Flic to change the phone number on my account, explaining we had moved into a house a few blocks away. A mischievous grin spread across the face of the fellow who was behind the counter then.

"Party!" he stage-whispered. "Party at Persephone's!"

Back in the present, I collect the half-dozen DVDs, thinking ruefully of our eventual return to Hades, where the last two video-rental stores closed this past spring.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Dreaming past midsummer

Photo: David Bukach
I have been well "Shakespeared" this summer: two Tempests - one on a warm summer's evening in the park a short walk from our Hades home, and one during an actual tempest in a leaky tent at Ogden Point in Victoria; A Comedy of Errors as envisioned by A Company of Fools channeling Dr Seuss at Strathcona Park in Ottawa; Romeo and Juliet by the light of a not-quite-full moon amid the Garry oaks on the Lansdowne Campus of Camosun College in Victoria. I didn't make it to the Hamlet by "Victoria's Shakespeare by the Sea", so instead of six summer Shakespeare plays, I'm only seeing five.

Last night, the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I made our way to Camosun College to see A Midsummer's Night Dream, the other production of the Victoria Shakespeare Festival. It's our seventh summer seeing VSS's plays; they've been doing them for something like 25 years.

There was pre-play entertainment from singer Colleen Eccleston, whom I remember as a young and rather flaky folk-singer doing pre-shows for concerts. She's now rather older and still a bit flaky. She used to sing a rather ghastly ditty which began: "I apPRECiate the sensitive man…" The songs tonight were a mix of her own compositions and standards, not a sensitive guy among them, thank goodness.

The play began with eerie flutes and strumming guitars, and odd drum rhythms.  I recognized the musicians as actors who had speaking roles in the Romeo and Juliet the week before.  I also recognized the fairies, mostly female with at least one uninhibited male, clad in colourful skirts and body stockings with outlandish headdresses, trilling and whooping, as befitted unsettling Shakespearean sprites.  The body stockings were soon concealed under Athenian robes as we launched into the romantic conundrum that begins the play.  Theseus and Hippolyta did a quick change to appear in elaborate costumes as Oberon and Titania quarrelling over the young boy that Oberon wants as a servant.  Soon the "rude mechanicals" began their rehearsal and Bottom - played with perfect comic timing by Paul Henry Oppers - was a hilarious trial to beleaguered Peter Quince - played by Taylor Lewis.  Neither of these gentlemen had appeared in the Romeo and Juliet, and they added a welcome energy to the company. I had enjoyed R&J, mind you, but this play excelled in its ensemble work.  It's always been one of my favourites, anyway, and this turned out to be one of the best VSS productions I've seen

At intermission, I entertained myself by listening in to the debate in the row behind me.  A boy flatly informed his mother that "the part in the beginning never happened; it wasn't in the book."  The "book" to which he was referring ("with Shakepeare's words") had to be a stripped-down version of MND, focussing mainly on Bottom.  Being thirteen or so, this fellow had no patience with his mother when she assured him that this was the authentic play.

Once the lovers were sorted out, Titania and Oberon reconciled, and everyone who needed wedding married off, we were treated to the "rude mechanicals"' mangling of Pyramis and Thisbe.  Susie Mullen, who had been an admirable Nurse in R&J, made a lovely Wall.

The RFB, younger daughter and I made our way back to the house-sit through the dark, under a canopy of summer stars.

Photo: David Bukach

Friday, 7 August 2015

All on a golden afternoon

Younger daughter with her grandmother Demeter

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The unambiguousness of bus stops (write of passage number thirty-six)

When the bus jolts to a halt, the Resident Fan Boy can see what's happening better than I can because he's that much taller. The driver has stopped several yards past the bus stop. A young woman clambers aboard, cell phone glued to her ear, chatting away. The driver calls to her as she passes him, "I had no way of knowing you wanted the bus."

She doesn't turn or lower the phone. "Well, I was standing at a bus stop…"

She adds, to whomever is on the other end: "I was at the bus stop and he just went by." She gives at least two other accounts of this contravention during the two other phone conversations she has during her ride, her voice dripping with contempt.

I lean forward and mutter to the RFB, "He stopped for her; a driver wouldn't have stopped in Ottawa." People often rest at bus stops -- or stop to make phone calls. Generally, you make eye contact, step forward and signal when you want the bus to stop. Am I right?

Ms Bus-stops-mean-the-bus-stops hops down to the pavement and saunters on up the street, the phone still at her ear, her eyes unfocussed. About four other people get off at her stop. They all call "Thank-you!" to the driver, a Victorian custom, but it sounds a bit more pointed than usual.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Crashing the Splash

I had a bucket list for the fortnight of fleeting freedom before the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter joined me at this summer's house-sit. Not that I'm planning to kick the bucket anytime soon - but who is?

Among my goals was dropping by the Symphony Splash on the Inner Harbour. Although this has been an annual event since 1990, I've never been, although I used to stand on our front walk in our last house in Victoria, so I could hear some of the music. I'm not a fan of crowds, nor of competing for spots, nor of sitting for hours in a deck chair or on the ground.

This is why I wanted to drop by for the period just prior to the concert, just to get an idea of what I'd been missing. Also, a friend and her daughter were amongst the scores (perhaps hundreds) of volunteers managing the crowds and collecting the donations, so I set off in search of them, knowing well that I might not find them in the mob.

And you know, it was a pleasant stroll. Traffic is blocked from the surrounding street. Many people had camped out since the morning and early afternoon. (You're not allowed to set up your chairs a prime viewing spot before 8 am - a result of eager beavers pulling overnighters in the past.) However, many people were just turning up, which is fine if you don't actually need to see the orchestra. The last people in place were the kayakers who paddle up in the water in front of the floating stage - bladders can only hold out so long.

I saw interminable line-ups for the food kiosks, and the many picnic hampers of veteran Splashers. I made my way past the audience gathered on the grounds of the Empress Hotel, and around the larger crowd settling in on the lawn at the Legislature. I carefully descended on to the Causeway which leads to the Marina, paused to snap a photo, and was instructed by a security volunteer to step into the area marked out by tape. I assured him that I was only stopping for the photo, but he was adamant. I turned and beheld my chum and her daughter, made a donation, and recalled an evening more than fifteen years ago when they took elder daughter to the Symphony Splash. The two girls climbed a tree in front of the Empress to watch the Victoria Symphony play the opening music from Harry Potter. The tree was chopped down last year. New management at the Empress.

While I was walking in front of said hotel,I heard bagpipes and saw a kabuki cab occupied by someone all in white. At first, I thought it was a wedding crashing the splash, but the procession turned out to be the conductor of the Victoria Symphony, waving like the Queen, as the musicians, also in white, paraded behind. They were en route to the floating stage.

Me? I got a hot dog at a restaurant further up Government Street, and went home to watch PBS. I felt the guns for the 1812 Overture rock the house after sunset.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Left-handed angel

I found the angels at Ross Bay Cemetery spooky long before Doctor Who. A few afternoons ago, I set off in search of an angel I saw while house-sitting this home the last time, ten years ago.  I haven't found her, but I found this eerie angel.  I have only noticed at this moment that she is missing her right hand.

Monday, 3 August 2015

The envious moon

Photography is not allowed at most theatre venues - with good reason - so I have no shots of this year's Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival's production of Romeo and Juliet.  However, my friend pointed east to the almost-full moon briefly caught in the ancient Garry Oak, and since it was the intermission, I took the shot.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Reflections of a spiritual leech

I attended Quaker meetings for a couple of years during a turbulent time in my young adulthood.  I had three outside reasons for this:
1) My own church had just dumped its third minister, and I was a bit fed up with the power struggles.
2) The Resident Fan Boy had lost both his job and his mother.
3) I was teaching ESL and felt in need of an anchor of some sort.

I had inside reasons as well, the chief one being the nourishing and healing nature of the Friends Meeting for Worship.  Over the two or three years I attended, I did my best to conform with the rules of the Meeting: entering the hall quietly and promptly, taking a seat in the circles (I prefer the outer circle, of course, not being a Friend), and only speaking when I felt moved to speak.

The moment I wait for is the palpable one when the Silence takes over. At the appointed time, the quiet chat dies away and I feel the Silence, which drops gently over the group like a golden net.  This sounds alarming and oppressive, but it's the opposite.  When I first began, I did feel moved to speak on a number of occasions, but I grew to treasure the rare meeting that passed in absolute silence.

Why did I stop?  A number of factors:  An eccentric lady who, like me, wasn't a Quaker, but attended regularly, took a sudden dislike to me.  (To this day, I suspect she had me confused with someone else, and besides, she died some years ago.) I missed the music and interaction of the Unitarian Service.  (Unitarians occasionally have Quaker-style worship, but can't resist the urge to speak.)  I became a mother, and, being more familiar with Unitarian Religious Education, opted for that.  Besides, I wasn't a Quaker.  Becoming a Quaker is an enormous commitment.

But, oh, I missed the Meeting for Worship!  About five or six years ago, I took the meandering bus ride to the Meeting in Ottawa's Glebe Neighbourhood.  I was in a period of despair and alienation and needed a spiritual fix where I knew I would not be cornered or questioned.  I sat in a far corner, felt the familiar envelopment of the Silence, and wept silently throughout the hour, slipping out before the greeting.

This summer is the first that I've come to Victoria without younger daughter.  A crisis, which I may find the courage to describe some day, overtook us in June, but I had decided long before that we need to explore ways for her to experience the independence she craves.  She and the Resident Fan Boy will join me in a couple of days, and until then, for the first time in more than twenty years, I can decide how to spend my day. This Sunday I was free to make my way to the century-old Meeting House.

I half-expected to spend this meeting in tears as well, but although I felt fragile and withdrawn, the golden net descended, and I felt the peace rub against my cheekbones.  My hands seemed to become part of the surrounding air. I remembered the New Testament story of the woman with the "issue of blood" who was convinced if she could only touch the gown of Jesus, who was surrounded by a milling crowd of supplicants, she would be healed.

Is that what I am?  A spiritual leech without the commitment to Quakerism, but taking the healing anyway?  This morning, I didn't care.  I sat observing what has changed and what has remained the same.  The gathering is older, and no one began the meeting with a reading.  No children, but this is a summer meeting, so that is not so unusual.  The faces remained as kind and the clothing as simple as I remembered, although I recognized no one.  I held mental images of those I love and those who are a trial to me "in the Light", as the Friends put it, and asked for healing for myself, my daughters, and my ailing friends.  If the Friends felt the power draining from the circle, they gave no sign.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Get up stand up

I get my first true lungful of sea air streaming north on Cook Street as I trot south in the early morning sunshine, jet-lag having given me a jump-start on my first full day in Victoria.  After my ritual coffee at Moka House at my favourite table on the veranda, I give in to the siren smell of the ocean and make my way through South Fairfield.  Not my favourite part of Fairfield -- it's always a bit ghost-towny, as if nobody actually spends much time in their well-kept vintage houses -- but I spy neighbours perched on their respective porches, having a chat across the front of their semi-detached, and I feel compelled to wish every dog-walker and stroller a good morning, unless they beat me to it - this is Victoria, after all.

When elder daughter was a pre-toddler, I used to nip in for a newspaper at a downtown news-stand on the corner of Fort and Douglas Streets.  One day, I glanced down into the stroller and noticed my infant child had a bag of nuts clutched in each tiny fist.  I wheeled around and returned to confess that my daughter was a nascent shoplifter.

This morning, after a desperate search for an operational bank machine that dispenses more than sixty dollars, I dart into the same shop to purchase a newspaper in order to break a twenty so I can pay my art instructor that afternoon.  (I'm spending some of my brief and heady freedom on water-colour lessons, because --- when will the opportunity ever arise again?)

A Caribbean gentleman is regaling the the reserved Asian teenager at the till with an expressive tale, but I've entered too late to get the gist, although I am in time to hear the gentleman launch into the chorus of "Get Up Stand Up".

He turns to grin at me and apologizes, but I say, "Not at all! I always enjoy a bit of Bob Marley!"

He roars his approval.

"Smart gel!! I was teaching some respect to some people who were showing some attitude.  I made them listen!"
"That's not an easy thing to do," I observe.

He flashes a brilliant smile as he saunters out.
"You have yourself a great day, gel!!"

This never happens in Ottawa.