Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Brow beaten

The Resident Fan Boy warned me about a week before I returned home that younger daughter had tweezed her eyebrows.  We've been taking her to a brow bar regularly for the past two or three years, but she told him she saw one stray hair and then she had to even the brows out...

The RFB sent me a snap and although she looked very different, it wasn't a disaster.  When I arrived home in the late afternoon after about twelve hours since waking, younger daughter was the only person home, as the RFB and elder daughter were still at work. I didn't mention her eyebrows, but reminded her that we were taking a favourite cousin out to dinner, and that she might enjoy dressing up and putting on some make-up.

The cousin arrived, younger daughter descended in a dress for the occasion -- and with next-to-no eyebrows.  The rest of us exchanged startled looks and pointedly said nothing.

When she was away from the table, elder daughter asked what I was going to do.

"Keep quiet and try to start a conversation through texting," I sighed.  I was massively jet-lagged and my speech was slurring a little.

The next morning, I printed up an article about eyebrows, looked up some tutorials on YouTube and texted younger daughter, upstairs in her bedroom, sending her one of the links:
How do you feel about your eyebrows?

I still feel beautiful!  Simple steps from "beauty -" (the link I'd sent) would help to give advice on how to regrow my eyebrows!  As a matter of fact, they really are embarrassingly over plucked!  

This happens to everybody when they first start plucking! It happened to me and it happened to your sister!

And I thought of elder daughter's pencil-thin brows the summer after some jerk in Grade Seven accused her of being a lesbian.  I thought of Jean Harlow.

The next time younger daughter was out of her room, I snuck in, left the article I'd printed up, and removed her tweezers for hiding.

She hasn't mentioned missing them, and slowly and fuzzily, her eyebrows are coming back.  She draws a dark thin line through them each morning.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Distracted dog-sitting

There's a bench by the Rideau River, surrounded by boulders where the dogs dance by and sign their names. Over the river's edge, there are more boulders leading down to the river, a favourite spot for canine swimming. It's not strictly legal, but no one enforces the rules.

So I am not surprised to see a white terrier wading in the greeny-brown water. He or she clambers up the rocks, makes an arc around the Accent Snob (who has never shown the inclination to swim), and trots quickly, but with no sense of urgency, along the dirt-and-gravel path that follows the river west.

This is a surprise, because, aside from a woman seated on the bench and gazing into her phone, there is no one else nearby. Puzzled, I peer both east and west. In both distant directions, there are people strolling on the pathway, already accompanied by dogs.

I watch the damp white terrier grow smaller and eventually vanish around a bend.  Perhaps he's catching up with his people, I reason to myself.

The Accent Snob continues his meandering sniff under bushes, shrubs, and stones.  I've stopped yet again to watch and wait for him when the woman on the bench finally tucks her phone away, rises, and leisurely makes her way to the ledge.  Her body language changes from languid to startled as she looks around her in all directions.  Cripes, I think, it was hers.

"Are you looking for a dog?" I call.  "He trotted down the path that way."

She's saying something, but I'm about twenty yards away and can't make it out, so I have to haul on the Accent Snob's lead to get closer.

"Was it a white dog?"

I swallow an unhelpful comment, and merely affirm.  She takes off away from me, dangling a sky-blue leash.

How many unaccompanied dogs does she think come bounding through this park? For his sake, I hope she found him.

Monday, 29 August 2016

What is essential

Whenever I think of Gene Wilder, I see him sitting in a wheat field, pretending to be a fox.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Close calls and the Clash

People have asked me about my summer holiday. I don't think of steeple chases as being holidays. This year's Victoria visit ended in the same tempo as the previous five weeks, that is, manufactured calm stretched over panic.

Having packed on the afternoon of the day before my departure, I noticed an email alert from Air Canada, warning of severe thunderstorms forecast for Toronto and Hades -- my exact route home.  Sitting in Demeter's dining room, I was hit by an avalanche of flashbacks from August 2003.

That was the year the Resident Fan Boy returned to Hades before us, because we'd begun the trip visiting the RFB's cousins in Alberta.  So, on that fateful August morning,  I arrived at Victoria International airport, marshalling eleven-year-old elder daughter and seven-year-old younger daughter, and thinking for three.  The check-in agent offered to switch our tickets from a route through Toronto to a transfer at Vancouver to a direct flight to Ottawa, which would land us in Hades a full hour earlier.  I considered my Virgo husband, all set to meet us at the airport, and refused.

After the long flight to Toronto, I comforted myself and younger daughter with the prospect of seeing the RFB in an hour or so.  Our flight to Hades was scheduled to leave at 4:10 pm, and we boarded at 3:50 pm, so we didn't see the lights go out.

The first indication that we had a problem was when the pilot told us we were unable to disconnect from the boarding tunnel.  The next was when the flight attendants started handing out ice cream bars.  A lady with a cell phone across the aisle informed us that it was the whole American north-east, plus Ontario.  After over an hour, we were told to get out, reclaim our luggage, and re-book.  We descended the escalator into hell.  (My grandmother always said that hell would be like an airport.)

Crowds of flustered people pressed up against dimly-lit luggage carousels.  Backed-up toilets (electronic flushers).  Rows of locked luggage trolleys (electronic release mechanisms).  Piles of pet-carriers containing yelping and dehydrated animals.  Huge line-ups to pay phones, because in 2003, not that many people had cell phones.

I didn't know where to go first.  Where would I take the girls for the night?  How could I explain this to younger daughter, who was begging to be taken "home to Ottawa, to see Daddy"?

It became increasingly clear that our luggage was not going to appear, especially when the generator for the carousel broke down after a couple of hours.  A young man showed me how to use my credit card in the pay phone, and a lady, noticing younger daughter's distress, let me in the line ahead of her.  I called the RFB, but he was waiting for us at the airport in Ottawa, and our answering machine, being electric, didn't work.

Fortunately, I had my address book with me and desperately put a call through to friends in Etobicoke.  Unfortunately, their elder daughter was home.  A nice girl, but not that swift on the uptake:
"Oh hi!  We're having a black-out!"
"Yes, I know.  We're at the airport..."
"Yeah?  Where ya going?"
My heart sank.
"Nowhere.  The planes are grounded."
"Man!  I hadn't thought of that!"
I'll bet, I thought, glancing at the long line-up behind me.  I could hear her father asking who it was.  He was there in twenty minutes, even with no working traffic lights, by which time an announcement informed us that ticketed luggage would be forwarded to the appropriate airport.  This left us in the clothes in which we were standing, but with the books, tapes and toys in our carry-on luggage.  In those days before liquid restrictions, I also had cosmetics and saline solution for my contact lenses.

Younger daughter was beside herself. She clutched my hand from the rear seat of the van, nearly twisting my arm out of its socket.  However, as we entered the dimly-lit hall of our friends' condo building, she turned and asked:  "Are we into Toronto?"  (We had stayed here for a visit during March Break the year before.)  One bowl of melted strawberry short-cake ice cream, and she was much better!

Later, as my exhausted daughters slept, I opened the blinds, got back into bed, and gazed out at a pitch-black city, listening to CBC radio on the headphones of my Walkman, trying not to fret about how I would get the girls home.  The voices on the radio were describing how clear the stars were, but all I could see were clouds of mosquitoes just beyond the screens.

The next morning, I tried to reach the bus depot, and the phone was answered by an agent in Alberta. I tried to reach my travel agent and Air Canada -- nothing but voice mail and busy signals.  I finally phoned Via Rail, let it ring more than two minutes, then got through to book train tickets.  I learned the Resident Fan Boy had managed to book plane tickets.  I thought of the hell we'd left the night before - nothing in the news reports indicated that anything had changed - and decided to chance the train.

Our hosts, who had given up their bed to us, tried to convince us to stay, but I had the overwhelming feeling that I had to get younger daughter home somehow.  They relented and packed an enormous care package of cookies, fruit, peanut butter sandwiches, several cartons of apple juice, and bottles of water.  I wondered how on earth I'd manage to cart this along with our carry-on luggage.

At 11 am, Union Station in downtown Toronto was steamy and crowded.  The line-up at our gate turned out to be for the 9:30 am train.  They told me to expect the 12:35 train at 1:45.  Then 2 pm.  Then 2:30.  Elder daughter had assumed the task of checking the notice board, walking the length of the station and reporting back.

I rationed out food to the girls with each delay, buying myself time and giving silent and fervent thanks for the heavy bag of goodies as it became lighter and lighter. I used my new credit card skill to phone the RFB every couple of hours, as my hopes dwindled.  With each passing hour, I wondered desperately if I should find a bus to the airport.  Which would get us home quicker?  Staying here as the trains were steadily delayed, or setting up camp at the airport where, the radio told me, the computers had completely broken down?

"I have a Clash song playing in my head," I told a fellow mum, who was attempting to shepherd half a dozen teenagers back to Windsor. She grinned broadly and began to growl:  "Da-duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-duh DA!  Should I stay or should I go?"
"If I go, it could be trouble!"  I sang back.
"If I stay, it could be double!" We were both dancing now.  I think we embarrassed the teenagers.

At 3:30, they told us our train was cancelled, and that we would be hooked up with the next train to Ottawa. That's the closest I came to breaking down completely.

At 5 pm, I stumbled up the steps to the train platform and a guard said that this coach was for First Class. Maybe it was the sight of two bedraggled little girls that convinced him to allow us into the railcar -- air-conditioned, comfortable and spacious with, glory be, a food cart with reasonably fresh food.

The train took two hours to reach the Toronto city limits, ordinarily a twenty-minute trip, but rail switches had to be done by hand. Out the window, we saw Lake Ontario and lush fields with butterflies and dragonflies having no trouble keeping pace with the train.

During the seven-hour train ride (usually four hours), we did puzzles, listened to story tapes and the CBC, read books, ate, drank, and chatted with our neighbouring passengers, all from Toronto: an elderly lady determined to attend a wedding, and a mum and her two daughters who had decided to sweat the wait for a family visit to Carp -- I thought they were all very nice, but nuts, but didn't say so, of course!

Younger daughter dozed off, there was a blood-red moon on the horizon, and we stopped off-line to let a luxury American passenger train pass. We could see the fancy lamps in the sleeper cars.

The Resident Fan Boy was waiting for us at the station when we arrived after midnight, some forty hours after getting up to go to the Victoria airport. People jumped the tracks to head for the parking lot; the VIA employees wisely decided to overlook this. Younger daughter wrapped herself firmly around her dad, and we returned by taxi to our stuffy house. The power was back, but air-conditioning was forbidden.  The following day, Resident Fan Boy found our suitcases amongst the hundreds at the airport, because I'd tied gaily-coloured ribbons to the handles.  No one asked him for ID.

All this flashed through my skull in August 2016, prodding me to re-book my flight -- to a 6 am departure the next morning.  I said my goodbyes to Demeter before going to bed, rose at 2:45 am to finish last-minute packing and call a cab at 3:30 am to ensure arrival at Victoria airport at 4:30 am.  My cabbie grew up in Belleville, one of the towns we passed through on that slow train ride thirteen years ago.  He loves Victoria, has no desire to return to Ontario.

Sadly, neither did I.

Pat Bay Highway was like a country road at that hour and I arrived early.  The plane had been described as going to Ottawa, but had a stop in Toronto, descending through thunderheads.  I had to leave the plane, wait in the lobby and then queue with my ID and boarding pass to get back on.

The threatened thunderstorms never materialized.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Those days are over

I am working on a longer post -- which will probably be less interesting than this cover of one of my least favourite Police songs. (Oh, don't get cross; it's a fine song, but I don't happen to care for it.) I think what really makes this version work is the fabulous back-up:

Friday, 26 August 2016

A last hip shot

Sorry, running out of time today, but I can't resist this last call-out for the Tragically Hip from Mclean's Magazine, who had videographers on the west coast of Canada (Vancouver Commodore Ballroom - long a favourite venue for Canadian bands), on the east coast of Canada (the Grand Parade by Halifax Harbour -- the Hip's final tour didn't go any farther east than Ottawa),  in the Prairies (if Calgary can be considered near the prairies, it's practically in the foothills of the Rockies), in a Toronto venue long associated with the Hip, in a small town that shares its name with a classic Hip song, and in the town square of the Hip's hometown of Kingston, because everyone couldn't fit into the arena where the concert was held.

The crowd is predominantly white, and in the 30-50 age range, but those are Hip fans for ya.  It's still pretty darn touching. (And is that Neko Case smiling and weeping in the Commodore Ballroom?)

Thursday, 25 August 2016

This is only a test

So at the tail-end of my Double Leo Sister's surprise visit with her family, I was sitting in a Greek restaurant, feeling fortunate to have survived the three days with no emotional explosions. (Oh, there were explosions, but none directed at me, so I was all right, Jack.)

The painting below caught my eye, and I stared at it for a few minutes in disbelief, before asking the Jolly Not-So-Green Giant Brother-in-law if I were seeing what I thought I was seeing.

I want you to look at the painting before scrolling down. What do you see? Go on, I'll wait:


My brother-in-law told me it was a blue door and two shuttered windows on a house of sand-coloured brick set into a courtyard.

I saw three dangling Tardises -- or what ever the plural of TARDIS is.

I sent the photo to the Resident Fan Boy in Hades. You can probably guess what he saw.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Classes of classical

Elder daughter has now been working for a small but major arts group in Hades for the past five months, and has survived her first music festival with them. Part of her job is keeping the social media posts for the organization fresh and interesting. Heck, I'm hooked! This appeared on Twitter and Facebook today.

I particularly enjoy the stand-off between Beethoven and Mozart over who represents "classical" (we were taught in Music Appreciation that Beethoven straddles Classical and Romantic) -- and I love the bit where John Cage's silence is blotted out by Claude Debussy.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Mixed media

The neigbourhood surrounding our not-quite-fallen-through house-sit is full of surprises. Our house-sitting hosts have downsized from a large hilltop home near a golf-course to what looks like, at first glance, a carport. It isn't; it's a perfectly charming three-bedroom bungalow with plenty of space, the sort of house that would suit us perfectly. However, I do think it used to be the garage for the enormous house next door; there are steps cut into the volcanic rock leading up to the mansion -- although now the steps go nowhere.

A walk down the street takes me past typical suburban constructions, then all of a sudden, I find myself just outside a metal fence festooned with "PRIVATE" and other equally welcoming signs. Several motorcycles line the curb at this point.

I blink and I'm by the meticulously kept gardens of modest duplexes which feature ancient lawn ornaments. I'll bet these people love living cheek-by-jowl with Hell's Angels types.

I turn the corner and descend a steep hill without sidewalks, taking me past the local park with an ancient and doomed willow. Dead ahead are the bouquets of artificial flowers marking the spot where a musician died trying to cross Hillside Road a few days before my arrival in Victoria this year.

The neighbourhood is so tangled and labyrinthine that it's possible to approach the house-sit by no less than five different routes. At night, I choose the best-lit one, scuttling past the condo where a friend lived briefly a decade or so ago, and peeking in the window of an old rangy house where students are partying -- sedately.

But one August afternoon, I'm coming from the mall, meandering up the hill through a cluster of smaller houses. No one is about, except for the occasional car. I'm listening to the padding of my footsteps when I hear ominous snuffling grunts that appear to be overtaking me quickly from behind. I barely have the time to register a brief, resigned thought of Oh gawd, no, when there's a puff of dust directly ahead of me and a large dog hurls itself at the chain-link fence, followed immediately by a slightly smaller dog in full snarl.

Dazed, I swallow my heart, and despite the protective barrier separating me from those two powerful sets of jaws, cross to the other side of the street and hurry on.

But not too quickly. I don't want to seem any more like prey than I obviously am.

Monday, 22 August 2016

"Have a nice life."

Some years ago, I ran into my ex-boyfriend.  We'd been having a friendly chat, so I was startled when, as he walked off, he said, "Have a nice life."  I realized I would never see him again.

On Saturday evening, I joined eleven million other Canadians - that's roughly a third of the country, folks - in watching a dying man's final concert. As massively morbid as that sounds, there were many moments of joy, of poignancy and even awkwardness.

 Of course, that was a Tragically Hip concert at the best of times.

This wasn't the best of times. Gordon Downie, the Hip's lead singer, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer not long ago. This follows hard on the heels of the farewell concert for John Mann, the lead singer of The Spirit of the West, who is heading down the long road of early onset Alzheimer's. The Hip are huge in Canada, so they too decided to embark on a 15-concert farewell tour, starting in Victoria on July 22nd, passing through Hades on August 18th, and finishing in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario on Saturday night.

Demand for tickets was so high that the CBC actually put aside three hours of prime Olympic Games broadcast time - on the last full day of competition, if you please - and broadcast the concert via television, radio and the Internet.

I'm not even a "Hip-head", but you can't live in Canada and be unaware of their music.  I first heard them through Much Music, of course, back in the late eighties when they played driving rock and mostly appealed to adolescent and post-adolescent boys.  As Downie himself commented between songs Saturday night, the "girls" finally started following the Hip in the mid-nineties and, indeed, the first Hip song I recall even liking was the wistful and regretful "Ahead by a Century".  This is also the one song the Resident Fan Boy recognizes -- and he thought it was by some English group because of the cricket reference.

With illusions of some day
Casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal
This is our life.

The Tragically Hip have been described, maybe several times too often, as the quintessential Canadian band, especially over the past few weeks as CBC Radio has been playing hours of Hip music and Hip-related interviews.  Rush fans might contest the "most Canadian band" thing, but frankly, the appeal of Rush has always eluded me.  Geddy Lee, Rush's lead singer, said on yet another CBC Hip-related interview that most people might argue that Bobcaygeon is the most Canadian song (it isn't - that's so Ontario), but he thought that "Fifty Mission Cap" was.  An odd choice, considering that Canadians never had a fifty mission cap, to the best of my knowledge.  When the song opened the concert, the RFB and I looked at each other in bemusement.  Like most of Gordon Downie's songs, the lyrics are a bit obscure and you have to look them up on some web site like A Museum After Dark to know what the hell he's going on about.

You won't be surprised to learn that I disagree with Geddy Lee.  I think the most Canadian song ever is indeed a Hip Song:
Like "Fifty Mission Cap", "Fireworks" also references hockey, in this case, the hockey moment that every Canadian above the age of thirty-five remembers - Paul Henderson's goal at the 1972 Summit Series. However, it also features a girl who doesn't "give a f*&% about hockey" (sister!), and mentions the dreaded Canadian Fitness Programme that made P.E. a hell on earth for kids attending school between 1970 and 1990.

So, I, the non-Hip-head, remained entranced in my chair throughout three sets and three encores, with the growing realization that these songs were being performed for the last time.

Among other things, Downie sang about a cholera epidemic, Hugh MacLennan, the mysterious disappearance of a member of the Group of Seven, the sinking of the Bismarck, and the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of David Milgaard.  He even cornered the Prime Minister of Canada about Attawapiskat and the continuing crisis with the First Nations.

Each song sounded like a finale, but I looked at the Resident Fan Boy and shook my head.  "He hasn't sung 'Locked in the Trunk of a Car' or 'Ahead by a Century' yet."

Finally, Rob Barker started an unfamiliar acoustic solo with a familiar rhythm that segued into the unmistakeable opening chords.

Here's how it sounded in Edmonton, about three weeks before that.

However, Kingston is the hometown of the Hip and with this song, as with all songs that last evening, the crowd sang along, and as the instruments took over, Downie had a last communion with the crowd, who eagerly and almost desperately reached out to him. The sound quality in the video below, taken near the stage in Kingston, is not as clear as the CBC broadcast, but this gives you some indication of the atmosphere, and why so many people across Canada were crying.

Not long before this, Gordon Downie told the audience to "have a nice life".

When a Canadian says that, you know it's goodbye for good.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Things you never see in Hades these days

I saw this on the way to my morning art class. I never see classic Volkswagens in Ottawa; the weather must have dissolved them into piles of brown rust.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Cafe society II

The micro-macro-economist-barista makes me what looks like a feather atop of my mocha latte.

He turns the cup and tells me, as I exclaim over the image: "Here's a trick. You can get a Dr Suess effect."

He dips the tip of his barista-coffee-stirring-tool (not a euphemism) into a dark edge near the rim and adds two eyes.

"There's a even a way to make this an elephant…"

But he squiggles chocolate syrup across it.
"Now I'm defacing it."
"But I know it's there," I say.
"It's the artistic ephemeral moment," he smiles.
I return his smile.
"Very Buddhist."

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Hello, I must be going

I hurried up Vancouver Street on one of my last evenings of this year's Victoria visit. It was an achingly beautiful August evening, full of golden light and memories.  I was, after all, passing through my old neighbourhood.  When I last lived in it, my children were tiny.

I was on my way to the Blue Bridge Theatre's production of Animal Crackers: a) because Blue Bridge does pretty damn good theatre - many of the actors have impressive CVs - and b) because I've adored the Marx Brothers since I was seventeen.  Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and (sometimes) Zeppo helped me survive high school.

During my final nightmarish spring of secondary education, I was staying in the dorms at the University of Victoria for a brief, province-wide drama workshop.

Our teacher had summoned us to a late-night reading of the riot act about drugs and alcohol at the conference.  (This was rich; said teacher was a notorious party animal.)  I had decided that, having partaken of neither, I was too damn tired to sit through a hypocritical harangue after a day of workshops and performances.  I was one of the few without a room-mate, so I was drifting off to the soundtrack of Duck Soup, when someone came hammering on my door.

It was Arty, a diminutive redhead in my sister's grade, whose voice had not yet changed.

"What is it?" I called out crossly.
"Mr Carr says you gotta come to the meeting."
"I've gone to bed, Arty.  I don't drink."

Pause.  The Marx Brothers were warbling "All God's Children Got Guns".

"Are you coming?"
"No, Arty."

Pause. Oh hidey-hidey-hidey-hidey-hidey-hidey-ho....

"Please?  He says you gotta...."
"F*#& off, Arty!"

People told me afterwards that Arty was seen forlornly drifting into the meeting, muttering:  ". . . and she told me to f*#& off. . . ."

(About ten years later, Arty was killed in a freak accident involving something like a wood chipper.  I used to know the details, but frankly, I've preferred not to think about it.  Poor Arty.)

I shook off the past and entered into the past offered by The Blue Bridge Theatre's production of Animal Crackers - a version of the 1920s where there was swing-dancing.  Odd.

As in common in these days of little funds for the arts, most of the actors doubled up on roles with the exception of those playing Groucho (RJ Peters) and Harpo (Britt Small).  Wes Borg, playing Chico, also appeared briefly as a bum.  Like Harpo, the ingenue male lead was played by a woman, presumably for her dancing skills.  But you know, it's not like anything in the Marx Brothers' universe made a helluva lotta sense to begin with.

The play featured the elements that Animal Crackers is known for:  "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" with "Hello, I Must Be Going"; the "strange interlude" sequence -- and several elements that aren't from Animal Crackers:  "Everybody Says I Love You", which featured in the Marx Brothers movie Horsefeathers and "Three Little Words", which didn't, but like the other ditties, was a Kalmer and Ruby composition.

During the first act, I was grateful to not be seated in the front row, as they became Groucho fodder.  However, I was seated alone in the second row (it was a preview night), and as the lights went down at the end of the intermission, and a romantic duet began, Groucho plopped into the seat next to me.
Oh gawd, I thought.
"He's not bad, is he?  Sounds just like Michael Bublé." (This was a running gag.)
I nodded agreeably and wished he would go away.

At this point, Chico came hawking popcorn down the aisle, and shot a bag at Groucho.  I noted that not a single kernel had spilt, and gingerly pulled one loose when Groucho obligingly held out the bag to me.  I ditched it after he loped back on to the stage.

The extravaganza ended with a dizzying pastiche of parodies from recent Broadway blockbusters -- after the first curtain call.  Groucho appeared at centre-stage and declared:  "One of the advantages of being dead for the last forty years is that I haven't had to see any of these!"

I wished, once again, that younger daughter could have seen this.  She would have loved the singing, the dancing, the costumes, and the physical humour.

I managed to catch the 10:30 Quadra and set off at a race-walk from Pandora.  This had been a golden fifteen-to-twenty-minute stroll at 6:30, but now Victoria had turned into a spooky ghost-town, no one on the streets but the homeless trying to sleep against shop-fronts, and an occasional dark figure that seemed to be trailing me by half a block.  I made it back through the shadows to Demeter's in ten minutes.

I am telling you, I must be going.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Life seen through a prism

Clicking on any of this photos will enlarge them.
Early on a Friday midsummer morning, I wandered out on the grounds of the First Unitarian Church of Victoria, waiting for Demeter to arrive.  I had arrived separately because I had just completed my last night in exile, in the spare room of this summer's failed house-sit.  Back at Demeter's condo, my Double Leo Sister and her family were packing up to depart, but Demeter and I had made plans long ago to attend the memorial service for a prominent church member who died in the aftermath of a stroke suffered while driving the Pat Bay Highway.

As I crossed the parking lot, I saw a sign marking a "memorial pathway".  There is a memorial garden, with a wall containing more familiar names each time I go to visit it, but I didn't remember this pathway.  The church moved to this location four years before I left Victoria, and in the intervening sixteen years, I've only caught brief summertime glimpses.  Demeter wouldn't be arriving for another fifteen minutes or so, so I climbed the steep dirt path between the ancient trees.

I spotted an Oregon Grape plant, which, despite its name, is native to this area.  Demeter planted it in our garden about twenty years ago.  The current owners uprooted it ages ago.

There wasn't much time to climb far, so I was soon in my seat, acting as interpreter to Demeter, scribbling notes in my small book when I knew she wasn't able to follow.  There is a sound system with a loop that usually works well, but this morning, we were listening to people who weren't experienced in public speaking, and grief-stricken to boot.

He wasn't a man I knew well, for all his deep involvement in church affairs. He was an avowed atheist - Unitarians range from reason-worshipping atheists, humanists, and agnostics, through ethereal and downright wacky Wiccan and Neo-Pagans, to the more traditional theists and Christians.  The last group were the dominant group in past centuries in the Unitarian Church, but are now very much in the minority, and of course, it was through Unitarian theism that I came to know his wife twenty years ago. 

I was deeply moved to see her singing passionately back to her church sextet, from her seat amongst her children and grandchildren.  

Did I feel I knew more about her dead husband after experiencing him through his family and friends?

Well, yes and no.

It occurred to me that a memorial service is rather like a prism.  People speak their memories, but the memories are refracted through personality, time, and perspective.  The image we get of the dead person may not match the image we had of him while alive.  It's not an inaccurate picture, really.  Rainbows aren't illusions; they're just light after it's been bent and sorted.

My hostess drove me back to her house to pick up my suitcase and take it back to Demeter's for my final week in Victoria.  On the way, we talked about the wide range of beliefs, and she declared that the only combination that she found "ridiculous" were Unitarian Christians.  "Well, the Unitarian Church started out as a Christian church..." I began.

I'm a Unitarian by birth, so I really should have known better, having grown up in a church dominated by very determined humanists and agnostics.  Besides, apart from being a Leo, my hostess is Dutch.

"No.  Christianity is belief in the Trinity. Unitarians are the opposite."
"No.  It's ridiculous.  We won't discuss it."

It's a panorama shot.  Try clicking on it!

Monday, 15 August 2016

The summer of the fire signs

I must have looked upset, because a guy wandered over from his gang of friends clustered around an illegal beach fire and offered me a joint.

It was sunset on an August evening fourteen years ago, and I was perched on the rocks below Dallas Road, weeping in the aftermath of what I came to call The Big Blowout, when my sister, the Double Leo, ripped into me over a chance remark about a slice of pizza in front of my bewildered and terrified daughters, then aged ten and six, and her three-year-old son.

It wasn't about the pizza, of course. I sat on my stony seat (literally - I hadn't accepted the kind offer of a toke), gazing out at the darkening Juan de Fuca Strait, with that ghastly feeling you have when you know the injury is serious, and you don't know how to staunch the bleeding.

I thought about the years of pussy-footing, of being cowed and intimidated, and I wearily decided that I couldn't sustain a lifetime of emotionally supporting my daughters (particularly one on the autism spectrum), my aging mother, and use up my precious empathy reserves on my high-maintenance sister.

This is by way of an explanation for the following tale of tizziness, because the scenario emerging this summer of 2016 was eerily and ominously similar to that of 2002: my sister and her family turning up unexpectedly and moving into the guest suite of my mother's condo for a few perilous days.  Back then, in the growing shadow of the Olympic Mountains, I came to the conclusion that my sister and I can't be under the same roof for more than twenty-four hours, not without a mis-step on the minefield that is my sister's psyche.

Perhaps it was fortuitous that fourteen years later I was impulsively treating myself to lunch at Il Terrazzo after beginning art lessons offered by a friend.  I ate a lovely risotto in the cool patio of my favourite restaurant in Victoria, then, lugging bags of art supplies, dropped by a stationer's to pick up birthday cards for the various fire signs in my life.  I was rather dreading a two-day visit to my mother by my sister and her family scheduled for the following week, inadvertently overlapping with my stay, and had quietly made arrangements with my art teacher friend to stay in her basement for two nights, for the reasons described above.  My friend had made it clear that she would need plenty of notice.

I came home in the mid-afternoon, worn out.  Demeter was out for most of the day for a special meeting of her book club, but her walker, which she uses for ferrying laundry downstairs, was planted in the hallway, laden with towels and sheets.  Had I not been so tired,  I might have wondered more about this, but I squeezed past, sank into a chair, and drifted in and out of a doze.

I was awake and finishing something on my laptop when Demeter returned and informed me that Double Leo Sister and her family were turning up that evening and staying for three days.  My niece had picked up some sort of bug which involved symptoms that didn't adapt well to a campsite.

I suggested my giving up the spare room, and when my mother vigorously refused, stifled my panic and offered to set up the guest suite, texting the Resident Fan Boy in Hades, who advised me to get out.  He remembers 2002 all too well.

I was scheduled to meet my friend the Choir Singer at a folk concert in Beacon Hill Park that evening.  Double-Leo Sister et famille hadn't shown up when Choir Singer picked me up and, seeing my agitation, took me for ice cream therapy before proceeding to the Cameron Band Shell.  While a Stevie-Nicks/Lindsay-Buckingham-type duo from Sooke sang standards, I retreated to the springy plantations near the public washrooms, and in desperation, called the hostess of our largely fallen-through house-sit, who had offered their guest-room at any time.

The offer was still good. Ironically, she's a Leo, too.

I returned to the bench, and vacillating between relief and trepidation, enjoyed the rest of the concert. Choir Singer friend drove me to the empty apartment.  Evidently the unexpected guests had arrived and gone out to dinner with Demeter.  My friend waited while I threw all my belongings into my suitcase and hastily scribbled a note:  I've done the math:  Four people in the guest suite - one bathroom; two people in the apartment - two bathrooms. . . .

Of course, Demeter walked in, just as I was wheeling my suitcase towards the door.  As expected, she looked disappointed and weary. Jolly-Not-Green-Giant-Brother-in-Law (another fire sign -- he's an Aries) soon followed, declaring that my evacuation was unnecessary, along with my niece (another fire sign) and nephew (an earth sign, like me, poor kid).  Double Leo Sister was downstairs in the guest suite, but we kept missing each other in the running between floors.  I pleaded that Choir Singer Friend was waiting to drive me, pointed out that I would be back in the daytime, and fled to the guest room of yet another Leo where I spent the next three nights, being very polite.

I also spent the next three days being very polite -- and making myself scarce whenever possible.

In short, I kept careful control of how much time I spent with anyone.  When you're surrounded by control freaks (and fire signs are, no matter how you feel about astrology), fences are the best defence.

Still waiting for this summer to ease up. What do you suppose my chances are?

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Reflections at a Quaker Meeting

As Meeting begins, I see a chair.

It's a very ordinary chair, metal-legged, plastic-cushioned, such as used to be in countless business meetings and university seminars.

And as the Silence descends, I find myself wanting to sketch it.

The morning light hits the metal legs, and the reflections in the ancient, dark polish of the meeting house floor seem to dip below the surface in long, silver cones.  I sit, wishing I had the courage to pull out my sketchbook and try to capture it, knowing it's beyond my skills.

I've been taking my third session of art lessons with a friend who has taught both of my daughters.  This is the first time she has offered drawing, so I spend her two-hour classes trying to draw what I see -- and falling short, of course.  I rather like my creations, but am aware that I'm not really hitting her objectives.  This doesn't particularly trouble me.  In drawing, as in painting, photography, and writing, you are forced to slow down and notice details, and that's the point, isn't it?

Rather like a Quaker Meeting for Worship.

I don't have the gumption to haul out my sketchbook, but I do quietly pull out my notebook and scribble:  "Who polishes the floor? -  Surely they do it with love."

When I look back to the chair, the reflections in the floor have vanished. The light has moved on.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Seeing double (write of passage number forty)

One of the advantages of having a house-sit off Hillside - no matter how briefly - is the pleasure of clambering up into a double-decker. (The double-deckers only serve the university routes and the communities lying beyond Saanich.)

I'm not the only one who is delighted.  A little girl emerging from toddlerhood is thrilled, not only by being up so high above the streets, but by seeing other double-deckers streaming in and out of downtown Victoria.

"A big bus!" she cries triumphantly.
"An' annunner big bus! An' annunner big bus...."

She spots about a dozen before I get off.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Can't stop the viral videos

I gather this is the song of the summer.  I wouldn't know; I don't listen to those kind of stations.  The first intimation I had was this viral video a couple of months ago: 
Not sure where that six-year-old got the hip action, but heck, it's rather adorable.  (Just wish my house looked that uncluttered.)

Next, it turned up on my Postmodern Jukebox feed:  
I feel that Aubrey Logan is channeling Channing here.  It's that wide-eyed and rather surprised Carol Channing stare that does it for me. Also, don't miss Melinda Sullivan risking life and limb (well, limb, anyway) to tap-dance on the narrow lunch counter at about the three-minute mark.

Finally, while I was hiding out from the humidex in Victoria, this video brought it right into my laptop: 
This was apparently inspired by the viral video of Officer Tracy Turpin dancing on duty on Elgin Street during the Canada Day long weekend, and was widely shared in the aftermath of shootings involving American police.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Quiet desperation

The day after we learned that younger daughter's school had winked out of existence, things got just a shade more surreal.

I was in a crosswalk, en route to meeting Demeter at the public library, when a series of frantic texts from the Resident Fan Boy started arriving.  I got to a safe place on the curb to decipher them:

Just got back from town.  Younger daughter has disappeared with the Accent Snob.  Didn't take her phone and left the door unlocked. Crap.

Panic at a three-thousand-mile distance is even more futile than hysteria at close quarters, so I aimed for a light and jocular tone:

Learning curve!  Do you want to look for her?  And take some poop bags?

Looks like I have no choice.  She often does this to let him out to pee.  Oh damn

Obviously that's what she intended this time.  So what happened?

She could be anywhere and now she'll come back to a locked door.  Oh God.

I decided a phone call was in order. The Resident Fan Boy, a Virgo who had just flown in from Victoria the night before (a twelve-hour journey due to glitches and delays), had decided that it was imperative that he get to a downtown bank to pay a bill.  He had informed younger daughter before going out.  He would have been gone about an hour.  When he returned, not only did he find both his daughter and his dog gone, he found her purse containing her house keys and phone, and also discovered the Accent Snob's harness hanging up, which meant that she had attached the lead to the collar. We do that only when letting him out for a quick spot of relief. The RFB was now pounding the pavement, but unsure of the direction to take.

Maintaining my outward calm, I reminded him that younger daughter is familiar with the house alarm, and advised him to return to the house and set it, if he couldn't lock the door.  I also told him to phone elder daughter, who had accompanied younger daughter on dog walks the previous summer and could advise him on possible routes.

Hanging up, I proceeded to the library for my rendezvous with Demeter, not daring to tell her what was going on three time zones away until I knew more.  When she set off in search of a book, I darted into the children's section, where I could watch for her return while phoning the RFB for an update.

"Nope, no sign of her."
"Could she have gone to the park?"
"For heaven's sake, she'd never go that far!"
"How long has she been gone?"
"I dunno!  Half an hour?  The thing is, she's obviously taken him out front for a pee ---- and something happened...."

Painful pause.  From my hiding place, I could see Demeter returning from the book check-out.

"I guess you'd better call 911, then.  Keep me posted."

I set off with my mother in search of a place to drink. Demeter was suddenly thirsty and undoubtedly puzzled and hurt by my short replies and lack of suggestions. I was imagining booking an early flight home, and fought to keep my mind free of other imaginings.

At a small cafe, I texted while Demeter picked up her lemonade. The Resident Fan Boy was describing younger daughter to the 911 operator, who was almost as relieved as the RFB when younger daughter walked with the Accent Snob.  

She had taken him to the park.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Closure without closure

July was one strange month.  Trump took the Republican party in a hail of warped reasonings.  ISIS types murdered a twelve-year-old boy and, of course, posted the video.  There were other horrors, but I won't catalogue them.  Surely you've been following the news.

After some glitches in the journey (younger daughter's horoscope predicted as much - no, really), the Resident Fan Boy left me at a last-minute house-sit, and, in the company of younger daughter, arrived back in Ottawa to discover that her school, the one she's been attending since 2009, has closed.  Younger daughter has completed her provincial requirements, but the plan was to send her part-time for work experience which had been deferred, due to last year's anxiety crisis.

This leaves us hanging.  We're not devastated, exactly. I've had some doubts as to what daughter was getting out of school recently, but this is a closure -- without closure. The road ahead has suddenly developed a fork.

I'm not in despair.  Despair is a luxury.  I'm more baffled with dull surprise.

Given what was going on in this brutal July, it would be churlish to feel sorry for ourselves.  We have resources, even if accessing them seems a bit daunting.  Younger daughter, battling anxiety, is sometimes belligerent, but never violent.  We will look for a way forward.

Odd.  When the RFB and I met with the teachers three months ago to plan younger daughter's coming year, I never dreamt I was seeing the school for the last time.

Seven years of younger daughter's life and . . . gone.

No goodbye.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Yet more first-world problems

From the beginning, I suspected that it was going to be a less-than-ideal and stressful summer.

I hate being right.

See, I had a four-week house-sit set up for my annual visit to Victoria, BC where I can visit Demeter daily, have plenty of elbow room, and pretend I don't live in Ottawa.

These are people for whom I've house-sat four previous times.  They have recently downsized and frankly, I was a little surprised to hear from them, as they have sworn that they have to give up their annual boat trip on the Salish Sea.  Still, I was thrilled when they suggested I house-sit, and booked my airline tickets so as to arrive early enough to get my key and marching orders, and to leave a few days after the house-sit ended, because Demeter prefers that I don't go rushing off.

One week before my departure, we had our weekly "Skype date" with Demeter, who said:  "I have bad news."

Turns out the wife of the couple had been sick for six weeks.  First I'd heard of this; first Demeter had heard of it as well -- she only picked up the news in passing at church. Apparently Ailing Wife had spent the time hoping she would improve; her doctor had no idea what the problem was, but it involved a host of unpleasant symptoms.  I'll spare you.

This put us in a bit of a bind.  I find more than a week under my mother's roof a bit suffocating (don't you ever tell her this), and to complicate things further, my cousin from California and her teenaged son were coming up for a rare-as-hen's-teeth four-day visit mid-month.  This would coincide with the Resident Fan Boy's and younger daughter's two-and-a-half weeks' stay in Victoria.  My mother has one spare room in her apartment and may sign up for the downstairs guest suite on a first-come-first-served basis, but it only provides sleeping accommodations for four people and that's only if they sleep two-a-bed.

Demeter hurried down to the guest suite and quickly signed in the required dates -- except someone had already signed up for one night.  We started discussing bed-and-breakfast (bloody expensive for more than a few nights), and a friend from church had offered us the use of her air mattress.  Ailing Wife was making noises about going away for short trips, and said their guest room was available to us at any time.  Trouble is, I hated the idea of getting under the feet of a sick Leo, especially in a downsized house.

There was nothing for it but to come out to Victoria and see what emerged.  I decided to be philosophical -- with fifteen summers of house-sits, it's a miracle that this hasn't happened more often. Besides, aside from the lack of elbow-room, the only real challenge would be five nights:  the already-booked night plus the four nights of the California cousins.

And things went well.  Ailing Wife tried a two-day boat trip, then a four-day boat trip, and found them invigorating, so they planned a five-day trip that covered the problematic nights.  We felt a bit transient, moving back and forth between Demeter's condo and the downsized house (which was charming, by the way), but we reminded ourselves that this was really a classic "first-world problem".

Speaking of first-world problems, the Californian cousins were a delight, in their dreamy, laid-back Golden-State fashion.  They drove Demeter only slightly batty by disappearing and giving no indication of when they'd be back, and puzzled us slightly by being worn out by walking, but insistent on their regimens of Tai Chi and swimming.  We took them on one of the Ghostly Walks, toured Butchart Gardens, finishing with a splendid tea, and wandered around the rocky rim of Beacon Hill Park.

The last activity took place on their final afternoon.  We returned after five pm, and discovered that somehow, they had failed to book the bus for their crossing to Vancouver -- from whence their cruise ship to Alaska was departing the very next day.  However, dreamy Californians seem to have rather more alert angels watching over them.  They managed to book a flight on one of the harbour-to-harbour water planes - I had researched those, in addition to the ferries -  and got charged only five dollars each for overweight baggage.

They even got a last-minute hotel room.

("I have bad news," said Demeter.)

It seems that Demeter, in the confusion of the all the comings and goings, had crossed out a week's worth of guest-suite reservations, but didn't discover this until an upstairs neighbour came to claim the guest-suite keys for the cousins' final night in Victoria -- fortunately there had been no one wanting the suite earlier in the week.

As the blessed cousins flew out - teenaged son thrilled by the experience of a float-plane trip; his mother less so - we set about the business of cleaning our house-sit, before scooting to an outdoor matinée performance of Twelfth Night.  We discovered on the way that we were short of money, so had to hike to a bank machine, then realized that younger daughter had left her bus pass behind.

Matinées for the Victoria Shakespeare Festival are a new idea and not particularly a good idea.  In the rush of the morning, both the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter had forgotten to apply sunscreen, and were decidedly sunburned, younger daughter for the very first time.  I was sunscreened, sun-hatted, long-sleeved, trousered -- rather heat-exhausted by the time we struggled back to the house-sit to call a taxi and transport our bags back to Demeter's condo, where she greeted us with:  "I have bad news."

The week she'd crossed off included our Saturday night as well, and the upstairs neighbour had claimed the guest suite for her own visitors, leaving the Resident Fan Boy and me with no bed for the night.

Demeter was close to tears as the RFB and I started searching for a hotel.

"How could I have been so stupid?" she repeated.  She'd phoned the friend with an air mattress, and left a message on her voice mail.

"She'll be away for the weekend," she said dispiritedly.

"Let's see if that's really the case,"  I suggested, in the brightest tone I could manage between heat exhaustion and the realization that the angels watching over our California cousins were evidently busy trailing them to Alaska.  All hotels booked solid.

At this point, the phone rang.  Air Mattress Friend was coming to our rescue.

We took her to dinner.

The air mattress was a thing of wonder, with an plug-in pump to inflate it.  It was hell to climb into and out of.

Yet another first-world problem.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Cafe society

The barista (baristo?  he's a fella) is blending the steamed milk into my morning mocha.  It's like a Japanese tea ceremony, only with coffee.

"Is it extra tough working after a Saturday night?"  I ask, breaking the holy silence, which is not at all silent with the hiss of the milk-steamer.

"Well, I'm not up to much interesting on a Saturday night, so not really."

It turns out he studying two courses in economics, one micro and one macro - the economics, not the courses.

"Yes!" he smiles.  "Really exciting stuff."

"I used to love summer courses,"  I tell him.  "The students were always that more motivated, so I learned more."

"Well, these are online."

Of course they are.  This is the twenty-first century.

We affably discuss the pluses and minuses of online study.  He's definitely in favour of it.  For one thing, he explains, you can read the lectures in a fraction of the time that it would take the professor to say them.

"How economic!"  I laugh, and I saunter out into the Sunday sunshine with my decorated mocha.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Ambushed by art

I only got to house-sit in Oak Bay for one week this year, but still, I don't know how I managed to miss these two, just outside of Ivy's Books on Oak Bay Avenue.  There's different temporary art in the municipality every summer, and if you're not alert -- and I guess I wasn't -- you'll miss it.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Book buddies

At Russell Books, I'm searching for a book that Demeter has long desired, the third part in an out-of-print trilogy about Elizabeth I.

A fellow is camped out by the British History shelf, so we have to pick our way around him -- good-naturedly, of course, as he is clearly a kindred spirit, just by being here.

"Such a wonderful shop," he glows up at me, as I step over him gingerly.

"Amazing!" I agree.  "What a selection, and the books are in great shape!"  (Russell's, if you haven't heard of it, claims to be the largest shop for rare, used, and out-of-print books in Canada, and the books are usually in pristine condition.  Elder daughter managed to acquire a large fraction of the works required for the Foundation Year Programme in her first year at the University of King's College in Halifax -- and that was one hell of a list.)

"I shouldn't be allowed in here with a credit card."

"There should be a buddy system for Russell's, like in AA."

This amuses him mightily.  "That's right! 'Just put your money in your pocket; I'll come get you...'"

He proudly tells us that the volume he's holding has more than twenty references to an ancestor of his, who had a position in the Elizabethan/Jacobean courts, and who miraculously survived, even after getting mixed up with Walter Raleigh.

A fellow family researcher, I think to myself as I head to the cashier to get help in my own quest.  I might have known.  Russell's must be crawling with them.

Demeter's book, as it turns out, is in the basement with the "vintage" books.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Kitty tonic

In a summer of house-sits gone patchy -- and sometimes just gone -- here's a feline oasis.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Oooh, let me have it

Oh, crud.  I believe I've finally found my tribe….

(In case you don't get the reference -- many don't --  this is the original "red dress" version.  I was more familiar with the "white dress" version.)

Wednesday, 3 August 2016


I'm sitting next to Demeter at the bus stop.  Rather to my despair, she's planning dinner, after a hearty lunch.

"And we can get…" She stops, bows her head in frustration.
"Can you describe it?"
"We used to call it meeli in Kenya."

My Swahili is limited.
"You hold it and you bite off bits of it…"
"I hate this!  I hate losing words!"

Later, I check Google Translate, which tells me that the Kiswahili word for corn is mahindi.  I check for different types of corn, different African languages dialects (there are at least five in Kenya), different spellings. Meeli doesn't come up.

Demeter is adamant.  She and her siblings called corn meeli.*

We get the corn, but it's too early and it's bitter.

(*Update:  Friend of the Right Hand tells me it's mealie, from the Afrikaans word mielie, so my mum and her family somehow got the word from South Africa, despite living in Kenya.)

Tuesday, 2 August 2016


It's no secret that I love Postmodern Jukebox.  Here's their amazing doo-wap version….
…. of a song that looked and sounded like the seventies - at least in my opinion - when it first came out in the nineties.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Iron lady

It seems that every time I come out to Victoria for my summer visit to Demeter, I am confronted by another ghost in the obituaries.

They called Margaret Thatcher "The Iron Lady".  They never met Mrs Dupree.

She was our iron-willed, iron-tongued, and iron-lunged PE teacher. She also taught Social Studies (now there's irony), but I escaped getting her for "Soash", instead spending my English classes trying not to listen to her bellowing at the Grade Eights next door.  The other teachers, no doubt inured by years of this, ignored the enraged yells emanating through the wall.

Having Mrs Dupree for PE was terrifying enough, especially as I possessed no abilities in sports apart from, to her utter mystification, endurance running.  I rode my bike to school and played clarinet, resulting in increased lung capacity, I guess.

When I was in Grade Nine, she came up with the idea of rotating volley-ball skill exams.  The "spiking" test took place on the gymnasium stage.  Cowed, and with little hope of passing, I blindly spiked the volleyball straight up -- and it descended with the entire metal-encased florescent ceiling lamp, missing Mrs Dupree and me by inches.

As the glass tubes shattered and scattered, the stage was plunged into semi-darkness.

That wasn't the scary part.

Frozen in horror, I gazed as Mrs Dupree shook like a volcano about to explode.  She finally let forth a howl of laughter.

"You should see your face!"  she roared.