Wednesday, 31 May 2017

That deadly piper

When I rose yesterday morning, there was a birthday reminder from one of my online calendars, and my heart lurched. It was the birthday of a recently deceased friend.

Two weeks ago, word came from a mutual friend that the poetry man had died two weeks before that. The length of time between his departure and its announcement in an email from the university department where he'd worked, the lack of an obituary, and the knowledge that the poetry man had battled depression for years all seem to indicate a suicide.

I felt punched, bruised, numbed. The only clues I had to my feelings on the matter were strange, intermittent leakages of tears as I fired off a brief and, I hope, compassionate email to his estranged wife, to let her know that I'd heard. She's someone I've known since adolescence, and it's entirely in her character to keep a discreet silence, shielding their vulnerable children.

Eventually, I moved to the bookshelves in the study, and pulled out a baggie of poems, sent to me, at my request, some time after we left for Ottawa, when I first learned that the poetry man wrote poems. I remember my relief when I first read them and realized that they were good.

The poetry man was a gracious fellow with a gentle, erudite Alabaman accent. Even before I knew he was a poet, I was always struck by his measured and lyrical way of speaking. He introduced me to the novels of William Faulkner, each one a challenge, each one not like any of the others.

While I may not have been quite as enthusiastic about Faulkner as he was, he and I did an appreciation for the Hooters. I sat up for a while, listening to a couple of my favourites, including this one, which turns out to be about suicide.

Surrender into the night,
Silently take my hand.
Nobody knows what's inside us,
Nobody understands.
They handed us down a dream,
To live in this lonely town.
But nobody hears the music,
Only the echo of a hollow sound.

Where do the children go,
Between the bright night and darkest day?
Where do the children go,
And who's that deadly piper who leads them away?

Together we make our way,
Passengers on a train.
Whisper a secret forever,
Promises in the rain. No, whoa...
We're leaving it all behind,
While castles are falling down.
We're going where no one can find us.
And if there's a heaven,
We'll find it somehow.


Sunday, 30 April 2017

Ideas are like stars

I've just had a significant birthday.  Or is it an insignificant one?  It leaves me with a zero at the end, anyway.

As an antidote, I pulled together songs that came out in a year that ended in "7".  For 1997, I chose "Ideas Are Like Stars" by Mary Chapin Carpenter, a song that, for me, doesn't belong so much to 1997, as it belongs to 2001, and my first winter in Hades.

I'd just acquired the CD A Place in the World, and younger daughter had just been "identified" as having Special Needs.  This song would come on, and I'd have to dive into the basement to smother my sobbing.

While searching for videos, I came across a new recording Mary Chapin Carpenter has made, with an orchestral score and choir.

Today Joseph is sitting alone, with occasional nods to the waitress
She tops off his cup while she's snapping her gum, making her rounds on the lunch shift
Counting out coins, he leaves them arranged, in neat lines and circles and arcs
She just stares at the tip that spells out her name and ideas are like stars

And yesterday pedaling down 4th Avenue, between the stalls and the bookshops
The sepia tones of a lost afternoon cradled a curio storefront
And inside the air was thick with the past, as the dust settled onto his heart
And here for a moment is every place in the world and ideas are like stars

They fall from the sky, they run round your head
They litter your sleep as they beckon
They'd teach you to fly without wires or thread
They promise if only you'd let them

For the language of longing never had words,
so how did you speak from your heart?
Yet here is a box that swears it has heard that ideas are like stars

Tonight Joseph stood out in the yard, as Debussy played from the kitchen
Celestial companions `til mornings first lark, shone overhead and he listened
And who was that shadow there by the gate, who was that there standing guard
It was only loneliness, and loneliness waits, and ideas are like stars
Ideas are like stars.

I've since learned that the Joseph in the song refers to American artist Joseph Cornell, and have found a video featuring the original 1996 recording, with images of Cornell's artwork.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Queues and pews

There's an Ottawa mentality about queuing and seating. Oh, I'm sure similar attitudes exist elsewhere, but here in Hades, it's just so damn noticeable.

Recently, the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter, and I went to the first screening of the day at the Bytowne Cinema. We, and some others, were standing around in a scattered sort of semi-circle, waiting for the box office to open in about five minutes. An older lady asked me, "Is this the line?"
"No," I replied.
"Well," she said. "Maybe it's time to start one." And she actually reached out to nudge me into place.

I looked around in disbelief. I could see the staff dismantling the locks and setting out the signs. There were no more than ten people standing outside. Ignoring her, I moved toward the opening door, following those who had arrived before us and who weren't in line either.

The Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter went in to get our preferred seats, the ones on the left side of the left aisle. We've discovered from years of attending films at the Bytowne that our view is unimpeded, few people sit there, and it unlikely anyone will clamber over you to sit by the wall. They saved me a seat directly in front, while I fetched the popcorn.

Unfortunately, they'd chosen seats two rows behind Line-up Lady. This would normally be no problem because of the way the seats are staggered, I'd have a clear view over her right shoulder. After a few minutes, the film not having started, she got up, paused meaningfully by my seat and informed me that she was moving because the smell of popcorn made her ill. I cheerfully made sympathetic noises, because I find, on the whole, refusing to take the bait from someone who's annoyed with you for the egregious sin of eating popcorn in a cinema - just for an example - is far more satisfying in the long run.

So, a few days later, we arrived in good time for a performance by the guitar virtuosi Assad Brothers at Dominion-Chalmers United Church. The Resident Fan Boy, a veteran of many years of Chamberfest seating wars, hurried to the balcony where our season tickets are, and sat to the far left of our pew. The tickets give you the section, pew number, but no seat assignment, simply ending with the word "Pew", so, if you're early enough, you can stake out the part of the pew closest to the central view of the stage. The view is perfectly reasonable from other parts of the pew, but, hey, there has to be some perk for showing up early.

I put my coat on my spot and dashed off to the washroom, because the line-up at Intermission is a nightmare, especially with a sold-out audience. When I returned, I found another older lady standing by my coat and looking pointedly at it. Under her watchful gaze, I carefully rolled up my coat, stowed it under the pew, and took my place next to my husband, feeling somehow that I had broken some secret rule. She remained standing, as a couple established themselves at the other end of the pew. Eventually, a gentleman greeted her and they sat down.

Meanwhile, in front of us, another mini-drama was unfolding. A lady was trying to explain to the couple in front of us that she had reserved seating on the prized left end of the pew, that is, dead-centre in the front row of the balcony.

She was holding up a fairly sizeable plastic laminated square, which read: "Reserved". Apparently, the female half of the couple had been sitting on it. I watched as the reservation lady calmly and patiently explained the situation, apparently to no avail. The other lady was making sweeping gestures towards other parts of the balcony. Eventually, one of the volunteers joined the conversation, and the couple made room. Elder daughter explained to me later that the reservation lady is a major patron of Chamberfest; in fact, it is safe to say the concert was taking place thanks to her support. She has to claim and explain her reservation every damn time.

The concert eventually started after a bus-load of Montreal music students rumbled into the upper balcony pews about fifteen minutes after the show was due to start. The brothers rippled and nodded. I've never heard nor sensed such an intent audience.

This was my favourite, particularly the "Musette Rondeau", which is about at the 3:50 mark in this video.

From our pew, their bent legs made them look a bit like Muppets.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

"Go home to your families!"

In mid-February, before I was felled by the flu and locked up inside for a week, I battled the mean streets of Hades -- well, mean sidewalks, actually. Oceans of colourless slush hemmed in by the berms which the city had failed to scrape away. Exhausted, damp, and chilled, I found myself on a twilight bus, checking my phone, like the other grey citizens of Ottawa. I saw bad news, and reacted in my early twenty-first century manner: I reposted it to Facebook, texted the Resident Fan Boy, and read the details at various news links on social media.

The lady next to me indicated that she'd like to get up.
"Oh, I'm getting out too," I assured her. "I'll just shut down my phone."
"I'm sorry, but I couldn't help noticing -- has Stuart McLean died?"

And we pulled our things together, sidling toward the exit, while talking of the Vinyl Café concerts we'd been to, and our favourite Dave and Morley stories. She said her parents would be especially upset; I told her the Resident Fan Boy had been a Stuart McLean fan since Morningside. She was probably a little too young to remember that far back.

I guess scenes like this were playing out across Canada on the evening of February 15th. By dinnertime, my expatriate friends were chiming in from the other sides of the globe.

I started listening to the tales about Dave and Morley when our daughters were tiny, and we couldn't get out much. The RFB and I attended our first Vinyl Café Christmas concert about twelve years ago. We spent that evening tucked up in the highest reaches of the upper balcony of the National Arts Centre, wrapped in the warm waves of laughter. After three or four years, we started taking our daughters along. Elder daughter love the stories; younger daughter loved the music. Since Ottawa was almost always the last stop of the tour, between 2003 and 2014, the Christmas show was our signal that the holiday was prepared for and truly beginning.

Stuart McLean was midway through the concert tour in 2015 when he learned he had melanoma. There was no Vinyl Café Christmas in Ottawa that year. In December 2016, the CBC stopped transmitting the Vinyl Café repeats. My heart sank a little then, but that mid-February phone flash still came as a shock. He was only 68. We had hoped for more Christmases, and more stories throughout the year.

One of the year-round features of the Vinyl Café programme on the radio was The Vinyl Café Story Exchange. The rules were simple. It had to be short, and it had to be true. Here's a story I'd always meant to share:

The week before the Christmas of 2005, the Resident Fan Boy and I attended the final Sunday matinée of the Vinyl Café season at the National Arts Centre. We were in Southam Hall, which is the largest of the four theatres that make up the complex. Before the Hall was renovated last summer, the rows in the orchestra section were lo-o-o-o-ong and curved, with no centre aisle. To add to the confusion, odd-numbered seats were all on the left, and even-numbers all on the right. The RFB and I attend several events at Southam Hall each year, so we took our seats by entering from the left aisle. Lots of people coming to the Vinyl Café, however, were from out-of-town, and/or rarely had a reason to come to the NAC.

Shortly before the show, a roly-poly lady entered our row from the left, and laboriously picked her way towards the centre, necessitating every one in her path to stand up and let her by.

A few seats beyond us, she stopped, quizzed a couple of people about their seats, and only then double-checked her ticket. It became clear from her body language that she was in the wrong row, marooned smack dab in the centre of the huge theatre.

By now, those of us who had risen to let her by were commenting on her predicament.

"Well," I remarked, "at least she's keeping going! Better than turning back and irritating the same people twice!"

"This is like a Bob and Morley story," declared the fellow sitting in front of us. He launched into an pitch-perfect Stuart McLean impression, complete with the trademark Stuart-stutter: "She was in the wrong row, so she-she-she just kept going! She-she didn't want to irritate the same people twice!"

We were all breaking up. The lady got to the very end of the row, way, way over on the right side of the concert hall, then had to circle back to the left side of the correct row, and get all those people to stand up to let her by.

The fellow in front kept up the monologue: "She-she-she finally made it to her seat. Ev-everybody applauded. She had no idea why!"

We all promptly broke into applause. The lady looked about her in bewilderment, as we dissolved into conspiratorial giggles.

That's what you could call a Canadian mean streak, I guess. It was about as mean as Stuart McLean ever got.

If you were there in person at a Vinyl Café Concert, Christmas or not, you got to hear the final line that never made it on the radio broadcast. The applause would just go on and on, until Stuart called out in mock-exasperation: "Go home to your families!"

That's just what I did, that frozen February evening.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Some years begin with a whimper

If "begin as you mean to continue" applies to years, I may be in trouble. I did try to begin 2017 with energy and motivation, but soon found myself wheezing, whimpering, and coughing in a corner of the living room, felled by the Resident Fan Boy's Christmas gift to me: a man-cold in all its phlegmy glory. He also gave me the DVD set of Wolf Hall, lest you think less of him.

As someone who hasn't really had a bad cold in over a year, I am out of practice with invalidism. I do wipe down surfaces with rubbing alcohol to excellent effect, but got trapped in our tiny front hall with four of the RFB's power sneezes, which, he insists, he is unable to contain.

Heaven help us if we're ever in hiding.

I'm deriving dubious comfort from this song from The Divine Comedy which was released in 1999, but, I believe, didn't chart in Britain until a decade later. It's about allergies, but I'm living with symptoms -- particularly those liquidy sneezes in the instrumental bridge.