Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Not some message in the dark

 Younger daughter's voice teacher in Ottawa (who is a Facebook pal now) posted this today.  I've been drawn to a song by Dawes before, but this song seems to be about despair and redemption at the same time.  I guess that's why it's called "A Little Bit of Everything".

With his back against the San Francisco traffic,
On the bridge's side that faces towards the jail,
Setting out to join a demographic,
He hoists his first leg up over the rail.

A phone call's made; police cars show up quickly.
The sergeant slams his passenger door.
He says, "Hey son, why don't you talk through this with me?
Just tell me what you're doing it for."

"Oh, it's a little bit of everything:
It's the mountains, it's the fog;
It's the news at six o'clock;
It's the death of my first dog.

"It's the angels up above me;
It's the song that they don't sing;
It's a little bit of everything."

There's an older man who stands in a buffet line,
He is smiling, and he's holding out his plate,
And the further he looks back into his timeline,
That hard road always led him to today.

Making up for when his bright future had left him,
Making up for the fact his only son is gone,
And letting everything out once, his server asks him:
"Have you figured out yet, what it is you want?"

"I want a little bit of everything:
The biscuits and the beans,
Whatever helps me to forget about
The things that brought me to my knees.

"So pile on those mashed potatoes,
And an extra chicken wing.
I'm having a little bit of everything."

Somewhere a pretty girl is writing invitations
To a wedding she has scheduled for the fall.
Her man says, "Baby, can I make an observation?
You don't seem to be having any fun at all."

She said, "You just worry about your groomsmen and your shirt-size,
And rest assured that this is making me feel good.
I think that love is so much easier than you realize
If you can give yourself to someone, then you should.

"'Cause it's a little bit of everything:
The way you joke, the way you ache;
It is getting up before you,
So I could watch you as you wake.

"So on that day in late September,
It's not some stupid little ring;
I'm getting a little bit of everything."

Oh, it's a little bit of everything:
It's the matador and the bull;
It's the suggested daily dosage;
It's the red moon when it's full.

All these psychics and these doctors,
They're all right and they're all wrong.
It's like trying to make out every word
When they should simply hum along.

It's not some message written in the dark,
Or some truth that no one's seen.
It's a little bit of everything. 

- Taylor Goldsmith 

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

A wind in the door

I was sitting in St Matthias Church, which is compact and rather lovely, waiting with younger daughter for a production of Jesus Christ Superstar to begin. This was an interpretation by "Company P", who, I gather, are affiliated with the Canadian College of Performing Arts on Elgin Street, just a few doors up from one of our frequent house-sits. The school has been around for twenty years, and they have a "Company C", consisting of Third Year students who put on productions. "Company P" is probably an alumni group?

The actors strolled up and down the aisle and on the periphery of the sanctuary, dressed in garb that was supposed to suggest Jazz Age, while music was tapped in - numbers by Louis Armstrong, "I Wanna Be Loved by You" performed by Helen Kane, and, rather more incongruously, numbers from South Pacific, which, as younger daughter pointed out, is not the right era.  There was no programme to explain the concept being aimed for; the names of the performers were looped on a slide presentation, made to look rather like the credits for a silent movie.

I gazed out the stained glass windows, as the afternoon sun shone in. One window reminded me of Proginoskes, the "singular cherubim" who figures in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door, the sequel to A Wrinkle in Time.  I thought about how those books are about different kinds of time, of being outside of time.

This didn't help much.  The performers congregated at the front of the church, swigging from bottles and pulling biblical robes over their suits and drop-waisted dresses, as the music changed to the unmistakable electronic twangs of the overture.  It is a rock opera, after all.

The score was sung to a pre-recorded cyber-orchestra, with the exception of Mary Magdalene's "I Don't Know How to Love Him", accompanied on piano - very well - by the performer playing Jesus.

The singing and the acting were, on the whole, very good - especially Gabriel MacDonald as Jesus, who had great depth, range and projection.

Judas was played by a young woman called Sadie Fox, who sang and acted well, but ended up shouting quite a bit.  (I was also keeping in mind that this was the first of two performances for the day.)

Other featured singers and chorus, very good.  (Dancing, not.)

Younger daughter was nonplussed by the roles of Judas, Simon Zelotes, and Pilate being performed by women.  She's quite literal that way.  I explained that in community and school productions, male roles are often taken by women, reminding her of a production of Hamlet we saw at Camosun College a few years back, which featured a Lady Hamlet.
"But did you enjoy this?"
"Yes.  It was different."

That's my girl.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Magic mushroom

In Victoria, weather forecasts are a wee bit less useful than in Hades, due to what I call "mushroom-cap clouds".

Not mushroom clouds. Now, that would be a real problem.

Yesterday, for example, I had walked into Cook Street Village to retrieve a parcel from the Post Office on a fresh and sunny morning. Having done so, I was standing on the sidewalk, juggling my parcel and bag, when I realized my phone was ringing. (One of my great Christmas blessings is a new FitBit which, because it's linked to my phone, vibrates when calls and texts come in. This is a great boon, because my winter coat is an effective phone muffler.)

Elder daughter was calling from Hades, having been blindsided by a work-related lapse in diplomacy on the part of her boss. I put my burdens on a bus stop bench, and when I realized she needed a lengthier vent, started trudging toward the coffee shop, only half-aware of how dark the skies had suddenly become.

It was one of those mushroom-cap clouds: broad, vaguely circular, brownish-grey. The rain drove me quickly into the patio of the Moka House - where a tall, elderly gentlemen, in his cohorts' uniform of leather jacket and jeans, dropped the door in my face.

With a bit of further juggling, I managed to re-open the door, held it open so two further men of a similar vintage could exit, then watched as oblivious elderly gentleman (perhaps "gentleman" is a misnomer) took one of the two remaining tables. I grabbed the other one, and sat to hear elder daughter out, discussing strategems and chatting about the impossibly girly baby shower she was to attend that afternoon.

Feelings soothed, I got my coffee and set out my work. Two tables away, two fellows sat down, got out their guitars and started playing. It was rather like a conversation between their instruments while the rest of us listened in. They leaned toward each other intently, improvising. I thought of Stéphane Grapelli, then stopped myself. No, he played violin.

Got out my phone, that amazing pocket-computer, and found Django Reinhardt.

Eventually, the staff got the hint and turned off the piped-in rock music. Outside, the sun shone once again on the shiny street.

A tall bassist arrived, unwrapping his instrument, which matched him in height, but it was time for me to go. I stopped by their table, and told them how much I enjoyed their music. One of the guitarists, his face suddenly youthful when not concentrating, grinned up at me: "Right on!"

I don't think I've heard "Right on!" in some time. Ah, Victoria....

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Fences and neighbours

Growing up in Victoria, I'd had opportunities to live in many neighbourhoods:  the Gorge, View Royal, Esquimalt, and Fairfield.  House-sitting during my Hades exile introduced me to more:  Oak Bay, Gonzales, Camosun, Gordon Head, Saanichton, Royal Oak, Hillside, and Sidney (which isn't Victoria, but is where Victoria International Airport is).

When we took our apartment, we assumed we would be in the downtown neighbourhood of Harris Green, but we're actually in Fernwood, a 12-minute walk from the Belfry Theatre, which, up until now, has been really my only reason to visit Fernwood - aside from Summer Band in the long-ago past.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in February, I decide to seize the opportunity to explore my new neighbourhood, which is one of the older neighbourhoods in Victoria.  A few decades ago, it was rather a hippy-dippy place; now it seems to be a popular neighbourhood for committed lesbian couples.

It retains its quirky feel - as I looped my way around the ancient houses, the high school, and the tiny cluster of shops and watering holes, I looked over a fence and found this odd mini-theme park of rusting armour and frogs.

Odd in any neighbourhood but Fernwood.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

The first rose of winter

A few days into the new year, I came across a planter on Fort Street.  It had flowers in it.  Real flowers.  I touched them in disbelief, even though I grew up here.

It's my first winter in Victoria after seventeen years, and though, intellectually, my mind knows that flowers can grow outside in Victoria, evidently, my heart and soul, shriveled by Ottawa Februaries, had forgotten.

A few weeks into the new year, I made my way up Fort Street and spotted a tiny pink rose, no more than two inches by two inches (and possibly less), burgeoning bravely amid the rose hips.

Roses?  Rose hips??? I thought to myself, turning the corner to find my street exploding with robins.

Friday, 23 February 2018

No scents

About this time last year, I was collapsing back into bed on a daily basis.  I had what I presume to be a variation on the flu that was going around.  (I hasten to add, I'd had my shot.)  I heard a lot about this virus (or whatever it was) that winter and into the spring, as it hit friends and acquaintances.  A strangely debilitating bug, that didn't seem as bad as it was, presenting a new symptom each day.  Every time I swore I was getting better, I was felled by a sore throat, then, the next day, a racking cough, followed by congestion,  then shakes...

For nearly two weeks, I didn't have the energy for much more than television - a depressing prospect in the daytime.  I was never more grateful for the Turner Classic Movie channel, and their annual "31 Days of Oscar". Last winter, they picked films with wins and nominations in rather esoteric categories, such as Best Song or Best Makeup, so I saw a raft of films I wouldn't ordinarily have seen.

When my strength finally returned, I had a lot of catching up to do.  As a result, it wasn't until last April until I noticed that my sense of smell had vanished.

Generally, the loss of a sense is unmistakable.  You notice instantly if you lose your sight or hearing.  Loss of touch is something else missed the moment it happens.  Losing the sense of taste will register pretty damn quick.  But the sense of smell?  That can drift away unheeded.

My first clear memory of the realization occurred on elder daughter's birthday.  She adores scented candles and gleefully brought them to me to sniff.  I don't recall being surprised when I couldn't smell them, so I must have been faintly aware of the absence of scents.  I had continued to be somewhat congested since my illness.

Then May came, and I couldn't smell the lilac.

Smell is connected with taste, and I began to realize that I wasn't always aware of spices the way I had been, but on the whole, I could taste, and still can.

I'm wondering now if my brain is filling in the gaps, the way you can "hear" a familiar song that's far away, or covered by other noise.

As the year has progressed,  I've come to a fuller and sadder comprehension.  I can't smell the sea - once a recurring joy of returning to Victoria, and now poignantly ironic now I've returned for good.

All roses are fragrance-free.  At Christmas, the lingering odors of tourtière, mandarin oranges, and evergreens do not linger for me. The aroma of toast, baking bread and cookies -- gone.  The Resident Fan Boy has given up the ritual of bringing me the bag of freshly ground coffee when it's first opened; there's no longer any point.  I can't smell the rain on the streets - I only know that the outside air is odorless, while indoor air smells vaguely metallic.

When I use a powerful cleanser, or bleach, I feel only a strange tightening in my nostrils.  I worry a little about not smelling smoke, and find myself paying extra attention to personal and domestic cleanliness, because visual clues are all I have now.

Mostly though, I feel a resigned sense of no scents.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Quite early one morning

From our apartment, we can see the middle school which our daughters would have attended had we stayed in Victoria, rather then heading to Hades.

It's been upgraded in the intervening years and is now a rather handsome off-white building with Mondrian-like squares amid stencils of trees and sea landscapes.

I've learned to close the door of the en suite bathroom before using it.  All manner of people bring all sorts of dogs to the schoolyard outside of hours - something unheard of in Rockcliffe Park, where dogs were banned from school property.

At recess, the yard fills with kids ranging in ages eleven to fourteen.  Small knots of them make their way to the fence where the grass slopes down rather suddenly to two or three ancient trees.  This puts them out of sight of the school, but I'm not sure it occurs to them that they're in full view: of the quiet street, where people park their cars to walk to the shops on the busier thoroughfares, and me, sitting on the bed, while I put on my make-up.

This morning, I open the curtains to see the distant figures loping up to the school entrance, some clutching instrument cases, all wearing packsacks and clad in variations of jeans.

The young couple are obscured from their classmates and teachers by the slope of the grounds and by the tall tree by the chainlink fence, but I can see them clearly.  I doubt they'd care.  She's blond and bespectacled; he's her height, dark-haired in baggy jacket and light trousers.

How old are they?  Certainly no older than fourteen, possibly as young as twelve. Feeling self-conscious, I step away from the window, but they're oblivious to everything but each other.

I sit down on the other side of the bed, back to the window, to put on my shoes, wondering if they'll have any memory of this morning years from now: the chill of February, the half-light, the swish of the morning buses and cars.  The smell and taste of each other.

Shoes on, I stand, turn, and they've vanished; I can't even see anyone crossing the long field back to the school, where final stragglers are melting into the doors, some running, some plodding.  It's past 8:30.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Or maybe you didn't

There was such a wind this morning that I saw a tall narrow shrub, more than ten feet high, that is planted by our second floor balcony, bend like a bullrush.  It's a sunny morning, and if I had left the building with decent gloves and had less to carry, I'd head down to Dallas Road to watch the waves crash.
Instead I'm sitting at a table at Moka House, trying to identify a song with the Shazam app.  It's not picking up, possibly due to lively café conversation, so I try a corner with not so many people around, holding my phone up to the speaker.

After two tries, I get a result.  A guy with a toque looks up from his magazine and grins.
"It's Weezer," he says.

He's right.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

A poor roll model

Demeter is taking advantage of the fact she now has family in town. Well, that was the idea, so I agree to accompany her shopping. She thinks of this as a happy thing.

I'll let her think that.

I've never cared for shopping, accompanied or unaccompanied, so the day before the expedition, I do a dry run - a wet run, really, as it's pouring. I do a circuit of likely items and stores.

On the appointed day, I lead Demeter through, pointing out likely items. This works well.

I reach to stop the elevator at the Bay Centre as a woman with a stroller approaches, because that's what I liked to have done for me in my stroller days. It turns out she's going down, so she elects to wait.

"I never hold the elevator," Demeter explains. "You never know which direction they want."

"Yes," I say. "But I think, in the long run, it's better to acknowledge a person's presence. She knows that we knew she was there. That can change a whole day."

We're nearly done, but Demeter decides to make a three-block detour to buy green tea for elder daughter. Three blocks is quite a consideration at the tail-end of an ambitious shopping day - especially if you're at the tail-end of your eighties. I see Demeter tiring out, and suggest a restaurant, reaching out to prevent her from entering a crosswalk at which the signal is ticking down; she'll never make it across with her walker/rollator.

She decides to trundle past the bus stop instead. I move to the inner sidewalk to avoid a tangle of strollers, walkers, and wheelchairs by the shelter.

Demeter presses on past a blond woman standing in front of a pole. The woman looks after her furiously and exclaims, "Seriously!"

I'm bewildered, but join Demeter at the cross signal.  While we're waiting, the lady approaches us from behind and scolds:  "A simple 'excuse me' would suffice!"  As I gaze at her blankly, she declares, "She ran right over my foot!"  I think I might have felt tempted to apologize if it weren't for the self-righteous glare and the schoolmarmish tone. 

Even then, it's not my place to excuse my mother, who hasn't really heard her, anyway. As we cross, I relay what was said.

"I didn't run over her," Demeter says flatly.  "I feel lines on the pavement; I would have noticed her foot had I run over it."

I feel discombobulated and distressed, even as we settle into lunch.  I'm also a bit wary, because the woman looked familiar -- but then, everyone in Victoria does.

I wonder if what really pissed her off was not being acknowledged.

Monday, 19 February 2018

The belt of the hunter

Sometimes, I find myself making my way home on the black streets, with Orion glowing on the eastern horizon.

Being newly back from Ottawa, and in Victoria for the winter for the first time in several years, I'm noticing how dark the streets are. Victorian streets often have a grassy verge, whereas Ottawans walk close to the edge. Getting splashed by passing cars is slightly less likely in Victoria, but there's also a greater distance from the street lights, which fail to brighten the sidewalk much. Also, I'm realizing how much light reflected off the snow in the winter nights of Hades. Pedestrian accidents are common in Victoria, where they try to cross the shadowy streets, shadows themselves.

I'm also startled by how deserted the Victorian sidewalks are, after darkness has fallen. My home street in Hades was not a particularly busy street, other than in the morning and after-school rushes, but I'd walk out at night, even in the bitter cold, and pass several other pedestrians on my journey. Our home street here is a major artery with plenty of cars, but few people out, even reasonably early in the evening.

I'd forgotten this, possibly because I was the mother of young children when I left Victoria, and so rarely abroad after dinner.

Walking home on a dark, dark sidewalk, I can see Orion very well, far better than I ever did in Ottawa. I blink back at him with a light I've attached to my zipper, like the cyclists and joggers around me, so the cars can see what they're hitting.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

When doves fly

Younger daughter held back, gazing raptly at the beautiful old-fashioned wooden cage containing twenty-one doves.

In the closing moments of the memorial service, after the eulogies, poems, and slideshow, the guests had stepped out into a beautiful and temperate afternoon, facing Georgia Strait.

The "dove-wrangler" told us the doves would return to their home in Qualicum Bay, and drew out two doves for the two young-adult children of the poetry man to hold. The doves looked like soft white feathery ships; held firmly in two hands, their heads poked up like periscopes and swiveled, blinking.

The lady invited the other hesitant guests to come forward, and she saw the longing in younger daughter's eyes. Unfortunately, the first bird pooped on younger daughter's hands, so the handler passed it on. The second dove struggled in younger daughter's uncertain grip, and broke free in a fluttering burst, wheeling away home.

The dove-handler calmly handed younger daughter a third dove and asked someone to cover its head to lull it. I step forward to do so, and those of us with the remaining twenty doves waited for the signal.

Later, young daughter gazed over the water.
"He was kind to me," she said.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The fellas at the next table

Two fellas at the next table are bullshitting about the Stones and the Beatles, the way they probably did forty or fifty years ago.  One guy's in cycling gear; the other is in a jean jacket and jeans - the Canadian tuxedo.  Short grey hair on both, well-groomed.

They don't really know that much about the Beatles.  They're saying Ringo was never that good a drummer, that old chestnut.

Oh yes.  I'm in Victoria.

I look out at a city I haven't seen outside of summer for seventeen years.  The Pacific moisture in air makes it feel colder than it is.  I thought I might not need my trusty Ottawa commuter coat, but I pull it around me -- and still feel the chill.

From the airplane, I saw mounds of white mist collecting in bays, caught between the Gulf Islands, spilling on to the land.  Like the foam in my cup.  (Clouds in my coffee?)

The aging adolescents across the way are now talking about their first cars. 

Some things don't change.

Friday, 16 February 2018

With the best will in the world

It is dreadful to have lived so close to someone for 36 years, and feel no deep affection or sense of loss.  - Eleanor Roosevelt, in a letter to friend Joseph Lash, after the death of her mother-in-law

I'd dreamt of the moment for years.  I imagined taking off my shoes before climbing into the cab, leaving them by the curb in front of the Hades house. Arriving at the airport, I would put on a new pair of shoes, purchased in Victoria, and stride through to check in - since the Ottawa Airport isn't actually in Ottawa.

Through the years, I envisioned this.

It didn't work out that way, of course.  We left our house four days before departing Ottawa.  The cab that took us to the airport drove up a deserted Elgin Street at four in the morning.

Besides, renouncing Hades doesn't involve a clean break.  Elder daughter remains at her job, and has set up an apartment with the Accent Snob not far from Elgin Street, not far from Cooper Street -- where we began our stay seventeen years ago, and ended it.  Elder daughter texted me, saying that she thinks the Accent Snob sensed when we left the city, shoulder-checking and "rooting his paws the whole walk home".  When he first moved to her apartment, he trotted alertly and easily through the downtown streets.

I did a last laundry load in the old house the day before our flight, and wandered through the empty rooms, remembering how I sat on the stairs of our last home in Victoria, weeping heartbrokenly by myself.

This time I felt no pull.

"But this is where your daughters grew up!  This is our childhood!" elder daughter said.  Yes, and seventeen Christmases, Hallowe'ens, Easters, eighteen Thanksgivings.  Birthday parties, homework projects.

I remember Eleanor Roosevelt, and her guilt over feeling no loss for her mother-in-law.  Or was it resignation?

Cities are like people.  Some you love in spite of yourself.  For some, with all the best will in the world, you have no deep affection. No sense of loss, when the time of parting comes.

I tried, Ottawa.  I really did.

On the day before the Hades house passed out of our possession, the Resident Fan Boy, in town for a conference, went with Elder Daughter to remove a few last items.  They wept.

I guess someone has to.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Giving credit where credit is due

Nine years ago, when I was doing my first NaBloPoMo, I made a baker's dozen list of the things I missed about Victoria.

Believe it or not, there will be things I miss about Hades.  They just won't tear my heart out by the roots when I think of them.  It turns out to be a baker's dozen as well, and were basically the things that kept me alive for seventeen years:

1. Autumn. Brief, temperate, multi-coloured.  Three weeks of beauty.  Victoria has about, I dunno, about forty-nine more weeks of beauty, but autumn is rather tri-coloured: yellow, brown, and orange. (Except in the Sunken Garden at Butchart's, but you need to time it right.)

2.  A Company of Fools.  We have Shakespeare in Victoria, and a lively arts scene, but nothing that combines classical and comical quite like the Fools.

3.  The Bytowne Cinema
We have the Vic and Cinecenta in Victoria - neither have the range of films that can be seen at the Bytowne.  Won't miss the audiences much....

4. Papier. I'll have the Papery in Victoria, to say nothing of several amazing bookstores that also carry stationery, but over the years, I established a connection with Papier.  They saw me through birthdays, parties, anniversaries, Christmas, other holidays.  One of my favourite memories was on a frigid -38 morning in January, when I had Planet Coffee practically to myself, and hurried through the Byward Market alleys to get a birthday card for my mother.  Greg, one of the co-owners, looked up as I marched in, and exclaimed: "God bless you!!!
Papier, 18 Clarence Street, Ottawa

5.  The National Gallery of Canada. Sure, there are galleries in Victoria; the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is nothing to sneeze at, but Gustave Doré? Vincent Van Gogh? Alex Janvier? Alex Colville? The National Gallery has the scale to host huge and comprehensive collections, as well as more esoteric and intimate shows. Sigh...

6.  My Friend With Whom I Go For Coffee.  Sad to say, the one close friend I made and kept over seventeen years in Hades.  I have a number of close friends in Victoria.  Odd to have a social life again.

7.  BIFHSGO. Trying to pluck up the courage to attend the local genealogical society here.  So far, not seeing many topics that match my objectives.

8. Cardinals and blue jays.  When I heard the pip-pip-pip in Hades, I'd scan the area for the flash of crimson that is the male cardinal, skimming through the air.  In Victoria, pip-pip-pip means hummingbirds.  In Hades, when I heard what sounded like a seagull, I'd look for the brilliant blue flash of a jay.  In Victoria, it'll actually be a seagull....

9. Second Cup (kinda).  Planet Coffee (definitely).  Each Second Cup, unlike Starbucks, has its own distinct personality, for better or worse. The Second Cup on Metcalfe, with its patient and welcoming staff,  became a comforting haven for younger daughter.  There is only one Planet Coffee.

10.  Red Door Provisions marmalades.  Well, they never make my favourite, Pink Lady, any more. This isn't sour grapes.  It's sour grapefruit.

11.  National Theatre at the Cineplex, and other live-streamed theatre events.  Oh, you can see them in Victoria, but not everything, and not as often.  It could be worse. I could be in the Maritimes, where they're not shown at all.

12.  Bus stop notifications.  Seven years of having bus stops displayed, along with the time, have spoiled me rotten.  BC Transit has introduced an audio system with a computerized voice - which sounds like a little like a fella with a Chinese accent - not impossible to understand, but not easy either.  I'll also miss the texts with predicted bus arrivals -- OC Transpo had GPS, BC Transit does not, so all you get is the scheduled bus arrival - not where the bus actually is.  I hear this might change next year.

13.  My own washer and dryer.  Now, granted, this is nothing to do with Hades.  This is to do with living in an apartment again after more than two decades, as does not being able to have a pet nor a live Christmas tree, nor to fit more than two pie plates in the oven.  This can change.  (It had better...)

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Einstein out of reach

Early on Valentine's Day, the café is crammed, but I get a seat by the window anyway.

The couple at the neighbouring table is debating whether the cranes they see a block or so away are dismantling or putting something together.

I've started breakfast when I sense someone coming up on my left side. He's a dead ringer for Albert Einstein, peering in at my porridge over my shoulder as he shambles up the sidewalk, an inch or so away from me, separated only by a pane of glass. He's not even that disconcerted when I wave at him cheerily, but wanders on.

I see a young woman at the next table start as he veers in to view her breakfast.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The long and winding road not taken

I seemed to spend rather a lot of my last three months in Ottawa gazing down from the top of a double-decker on the long stretch of Bank Street heading south: passing the middle school where elder daughter was shunned for several painful, bewildering months. As a result, I refused to send younger daughter there. I usually averted my eyes.

Beyond is the Land of Might Have Been, which is generally Bank Street below the Queensway. One of the houses we were looking at in the early spring of 2000 was a townhouse not far from where the Lansdowne Complex of rather sterile stores and restaurants has grown and mutated beside the stadium in the intervening years.

Imagine how that would have been.

Our girls would have been Glebe girls attending Mutchmor Public and Glebe Colligiate. Our daily lives would have been shaped by the sluggish bus trips up the clogged artery of Bank Street. We would have crossed the bridge over the Rideau to go to the library, which leads to another Might Have Been in Ottawa South.

We looked at a house here too, but a decade ago, we were also looking at an independent school in the neighbourhood. Younger daughter eventually chose a school in far-flung Nepean, and, sitting high above Bank Street in the bus, I thought wistfully of coffee shops where I could have comfortably waited, along bus routes that would have taken us home without a transfer, along a road not taken.

The road I was taking was often out to the South Keys Cineplex to see a series of four marvelous lectures entitled Deconstructing the Beatles, covering the albums Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper, and the White Album.

In a time of upheaval, it was some comfort to have a Beatlefest. It engendered a sensation of a cycle being completed.

Or maybe a continual spiral.

Our last concert at Chamberfest, for example, was the same as my first Chamberfest concert: "Sergeant Pepper Reimagined", which we first saw in November 2013 with the Time Out Orchestra (whose director arranged the music). Four years ago, the singers were a kind of Canadian super-group: Steven Page (formerly of the Barenaked Ladies), John Mann (Spirit of the West), Andy Maize (Skydiggers), and Craig Northey (The Odds), who has grown considerably more silver since then.

John Mann is descending into early Altzheimer's, so Wesley Stace, who sometimes performs under the name "John Wesley Harding", was taking over for him, complete with a pink suit and dry British humour. When elder daughter first told me about the approaching concert, she was taken aback at how excited I was. "Hitler's Tears" is a longtime favourite of mine.

The audience was markedly different from the one in 2013, when it had been an eclectic group, ranging from young kids to those in their seventies. This final evening of Chamberfest, the audience was largely composed of over-50s, mostly subscribers and season ticket holders.

In fact I was amused to look on as a longtime subscriber, seated directly ahead of me, started scanning her programme, puzzled by the reprise of "Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band" (We're sorry, but it's time to go.). Clearly, she was wondering why the concert was apparently ending so soon, evidently not aware that the epic "A Day in the Life" was to follow, along with several encores, which included "Oh, Darling" (from the White Album - during which Steven Page turned aside his microphone to demonstrate how he could fill Dominion Chalmers United Church with sheer vocal power), "Here Comes the Sun"(from Abbey Road), "Penny Lane", and of course, "All You Need is Love",the song that was recorded directly after Sgt. Pepper.

Glancing over my shoulder, I saw elder daughter - so relieved that Chamberfest was winding down - standing at the back of the balcony with her co-workers, soulfully waving their lit phones in time to the music.

Oh. And I got the Deconstructing the Beatles series for Christmas. It may not be all I need, but I'll get by.

Monday, 12 February 2018


You may want to click on this one to enlarge it.

So I'm running back and forth, collecting laundry for the laundry-room, because I live in an apartment, and that's what I do now. I look out the window, and wonder why the lights are suddenly blazing at the school across the way.

It occurs to me that they're not blazing from the inside. The bright golden light of a winter sunset after a cloudless day is reflecting back from the windows.

This is totally unconnected, but I'm feeling a wee bit ill. Time for bed.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Browing out

Some people have canaries in the mine-shaft; we have younger daughter's eyebrows.

The Accent Snob went to live with elder daughter. He is too elderly and too anxious to make the trip to Victoria, and besides, our apartment won't take pets.

The morning after his departure, half of younger daughter's eyebrows disappeared. We take to a brow bar regularly, precisely so she won't have to worry about tweezing. However, sometimes when she worries, she tweezes. After the last incident, I hid the tweezers. So this time, she plucked them out by hand.

And, of course, she had her farewell solo recital the next day, and her cosmetics and jewellery had been stored against our impending move, so I found myself racing through Rideau Centre to find eye shadow, mascara, cheap trinkets, and an eyebrow pencil. Spent the evening printing up internet articles about over-plucked eyebrows. I left them on her bed - because telling her would only embarrass and enrage her. I'm her mother and any suggestion is "treating her like a little kid".

The next morning, when the Resident Fan Boy took her to church prior to her concert, he noticed more of her eyebrows were missing.

I packed food for the after-recital reception (including a pumpkin pie younger daughter had baked by herself!), and improvised a small eyebrow-repair kit.

When I got there, I just had time to notice that her brows had been filled in - Groucho Marx style. It didn't look too bad --- from a distance.

Then I sat in the front pew in dread. I'd sent out a handful of emails, and an announcement had been made at church. Fifteen minutes before the start, four little old ladies had scatter themselves throughout the nave. I handed out programmes and smiled warmly - I hope. I texted elder daughter that I hoped for at least ten people, outside of immediate family and her accompanist, might show up.

My heart was sinking.

Then, people started to arrive: about ten members of the church choir, who have watched her grow up; two of her fellow voice students; the eccentric lady who greets us in the church neighbourhood; younger daughter's math and science teacher from her high school; our next-door neighbour; the church organist who set younger daughter on this path by arranging for her to sing at services.

About twenty people in all.

Younger daughter, in her element, did long introductions to each of her five songs, but not too long -- and she was funny!

And she sang. I'm her mother, but she really sang well: Ave Maria (the Schubert one she loves from Fantasia; "Memory" from Cats (her personal choice), "Se tu m'ami".

Her singing teacher particularly wanted her to sing "Nothing" from A Chorus Line, because she blew the audience away with it last year, and she also sang her other entry to last year's Musical Theatre Kiwanis competition:
I have videos of her performance, but, of course can't share them here.

At the end, there was a standing ovation. I wish I'd remembered to bring a bouquet, but perhaps the reaction was enough.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Never the twain shall meet

I was terrified to go in for my appointment -- and not just because of the thunderstorms noisily rolling through the neighbourhood.

The only appointment I'd been able to secure was at 7:45 pm. Ignored at the door of the Apple Store, as younger people skipped past me and collared the "Geniuses" in their blue polo shirts, I remembered that my appointment was actually for the "Genius Bar", so I headed for the back of the store, and scanning the long table, tried to catch someone's eye.

The person who finally noticed me was named Mark - a nice change from the Jasons and Joshuas with whom I'd been dealing all week as our house was being dismantled in search of asbestos. Oh, please don't ask...

I informed Mark that the battery in my five-year-old laptop had died, and, being in the middle of a move, it wasn't a propitious time to replace it.

"What about an iPod?" he asked, brandishing his own.
"But I watch movies on my laptop."
"Oh. What do you use?"
I could see him politely stifling his bewilderment as I extracted a small square out of my computer bag.
"I don't stream; I watch DVDs - yes, I'm a dinosaur," I told him.

He set to punching keys and exclaiming at some of the weird stuff it apparently was doing, while my heart sank. As he poked and prodded, he asked me where we were going. I told him Victoria, and he mentioned he'd been west. The last time an Ontarian boy told me this, he said he'd been to Winnipeg, so I decided to pursue another topic.

"Yes, it will be different, because there's no Apple Store in Victoria."
He pulled out his trusty iPad to prove me wrong.
"See? Union Square."
"Union Square? That must be new," I said uneasily. "Do you have it on a map?"
He squinted at his screen, and shrugged. "Uh, that's Vancouver. I guess you're right."
"I am, sometimes."

He mentioned he'd never been to BC (I could have guessed that), and that all his German relatives think that British Columbia is Canada: "Ach! Lake Louise!"

I paused diplomatically before answering.

"Well....Lake Louise is actually in Alberta, but I know what you mean. My British relatives can't get their minds around the fact that it takes three or four days to go to the West Coast by train."

Using something called SMC - he showed me an article on his iPad which presupposes knowledge I do not have - he magically resusitated my battery, and didn't charge me.

Making my way home under clearing night skies, I decided that he'd definitely made up for not being a geography genius.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Bowing out

It was a first and final sort of evening.

I hadn't seen the National Arts Centre since before the completion of the extensive renovations in honour of the Canadian sesquicentennial, so I was eager to see it, especially after months of hiking around the outside of the building, entering the back down a temporary wooden staircase, and making our way back through the corridors and stairs - to say nothing of long trudges to the sole ladies' washroom on the main floor to join line-ups comprised of three different audiences from the Studio, the Theatre, and Southam Hall during intermission.

Well, they were trying to improve on a Brutalist building from the mid-1960s, so the new and improved NAC looks like a 1960's airport lounge. Even the washrooms - very efficient, although a challenge to find the towel dispensers - are like airport washrooms, long double rows.

We were determined to see this concert, because it was Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, followed by Appalachian Spring, and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony: in short, a dream concert, and likely my final NAC show.

We were in the second row of the amphitheatre, due to not renewing our subscriptions, after years of being in the orchestra section near the front. The biggest difference was being able to see beyond the first row of the actual orchestra.

As the Fanfare started up with the crashing drums and cymbals knocking us back in our seats, I noticed, with a thrill of joy, how many women were in the orchestra. Out of three trumpets, two were women; three out of four French horns were female musicians. I remembered a girl in my junior high band playing baritone horn, and getting featured in a local paper because this was so unusual.

The percussionists were all male, of course; that never seems to change. I saw the man in charge of the gong backing into it to mute it, before reaching behind to strike it again.

Then, Appalachian Spring, with the single mellow clarinet. So beautiful.
I focused my binoculars on individual musicians and, toward the end, found the face of a lovely young woman listening, her cheek against the frets of her viola.

It took me a moment or so to realize who she was.

At the interval, I checked my programme. It was the Russian Prodigy, on an internship to the NACO. She must be beginning her Third Year of her degree.

This left me struggling with ungracious feelings throughout Beethoven's paean to the human spirit.

Oh gawd. Do mothers ever forget or forgive those who have been less than kind to their offspring?

I forced myself back to the music.

The second movement of the Ninth has always reminded me of a bustling Victoria (as in 19th century, not the city) household in the morning, with a bossy paterfamilias. Actively avoiding looking at the RP, I trained my binoculars on the kettle drummer, who is required to provide odd accents and rumbling. I could see his lips move as he counted and counted, poised to spring.

During the third movement - which, ever since I was a little girl, I've envisioned as a forest stream in the moonlight - I watched the grimly grey chorus waiting in stillness on their risers and the woodwind section, willing myself not to look below where the Russian Prodigy plucked and bowed, front and centre. As my imprisonment in Hades glided to an end, the past seventeen years kept cycling back to haunt me.
During the final movement, the chorus blossomed from shadowy sullenness into individuals, coming alive behind the youthful, smiling, and flashily-dressed soloists. I noticed two women in tuxedos amongst the tenors, saw passion and concentration.

When the bows came, the audience whooped extra loud for the chorus. I don't think it was just because of numerous friends and family attending.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Java jive

At younger daughter's favourite Second Cup on Metcalfe Street, she retrieves her bright wallet out of the precious purse given to her by her godmother years ago - she won't part with it - and goes up to the counter to order for herself, checking carefully to see that I don't follow, but summoning me to check to see if she has the right amount.

After a diplomatic pause to allow her to pick up her order, I approach our favourite barista, and tell her we won't be back.

When I go to pay, she refuses my money.

"I admire you so much," she breathes.

Thank goodness she'll never know the truth.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Lucky one

Perhaps one of the best Christmas gifts I got this Christmas was an accidental one. Elder daughter introduced me to an app called "Shazam". No doubt you've heard of it -- I certainly hadn't. It's the thing that has been missing all my life. When a song is playing in a coffee shop and I want to know what it is, I just bring up "Shazam" on my phone, and have it "listen". Then, eight times out of ten - it's not perfect - it will not only tell me the song, but it will identify the artist, even if it's a cover version.

No more planting myself as close to the speakers as possible, making notes of what lyrics I can decipher, then waiting until I can get somewhere where I can Google them.

So far there is one song I've "Shazam"ed twice, mainly because I don't watch those "find the next pop star" sort of television competitions. This one is by a fellow named Logan Staats. He's from Brantford, Ontario (the Six Nations, actually), and he was on something on CTV called the Launch. This song keeps coming up on CBC Radio, and makes me say "Who on earth is that?" Now I have an app for that.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Romancing the stones

A number of overlapping viewings meant that younger daughter and I had to be out of the house for two hours at midday -- which beats the not unusual three-hour or five-hour banishments, which include the Accent Snob, who, for obvious reasons, can't be left in the house while critical strangers tramp through it.

My neighbour had told me that, despite my impressions to the contrary, you can take dogs to Beechwood Cemetery, so off we went on a glorious early autumn day. The colours were late, after a rainy (indeed,floody) spring and summer and unseasonably hot September.

We entered the cemetery by Poets' Hill, and I noticed how many of the formerly blank book-shaped markers that curve rather preciously at the crest, now have names and dates on them. As we moved into the older part of the grounds, younger daughter began reading the stones, one by one, so I held back the Accent Snob to allow her to approach.

A lady who had been sitting in her car asked us if we had family in this stretch of hill. Her husband was buried here a year and a half ago, and she remembered he regretted not having a grave for his father, so he could visit. She decided to make sure he had a marker for her to visit. She lived far away on the edge of Greater Ottawa, and didn't get in often to tend to his flowers.

I told her about Archibald Lampman's sonnet and about Tommy Douglas' gazebo at the western end of the cemetery, looking toward Parliament Hill. She had heard of neither the sonnet nor the gazebo.

We slowly made our way back. I began to fear that younger daughter would feel compelled to read all of the thousands of monuments. I stood by with the anxious Accent Snob, and thought of my Friend With Whom I Had Coffee, whose mother had died that morning. And I thought of visiting graves. The Resident Fan Boy's parents have graves we can visit; my grandmother doesn't, and I doubt Demeter will.

This doesn't trouble me. There are many places that remind me of my mother and grandmother. None of them are in Hades.

Monday, 5 February 2018

The damn fool who shot him

If you like Hamilton and Doctor Who, you'll like this. If you don't - or you've had it up to here with Hamilton parodies - you won't. Either way, it's bedtime.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Box step at dawn

When I think of the final months of 2017, I will think of this song, and being pulled by the skipping baritone saxophones into a strange little dance amongst cardboard boxes on the carpet, as the light brightened beyond the curtains. As usual, I like the song rather better than the video, which looks rather like a car commercial.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Footnote (write of passage number forty-seven)

The first thing I see is what I take to be a hand.  It's stretching out of the stroller parked in the bay a few seats ahead of me, the digits are curling to grip the rim.

That's when I realize that what I'm looking at is the foot of a really young baby with really, really prehensile toes.  What I mistook for a chubby wrist is, in fact, a chubby ankle.  The foot kicks back into the air to join another foot, and tiny hands grasp pearly pink toes.

The mum, propped against a window, leans over to coo.  She is snazzily dressed for a new mother - a little black dress cinched in impossibly tight with a wide leather belt, as if to say:  "See?  I'm just as slender as I was!"

She rings the bell in deepest darkest New Edinburgh, near the expensive houses that look out over the Rideau River.  She pushes the stroller toward the front door, but is instructed by the driver to back out, for safety's sake.

She apologizes profusely and turns, heading up the aisle past my seat.

I gently say to her, "He meant 'back out', not 'back door', while the driver is calling back much the same thing.

"Oh, I'm sorry, sorry...." she gasps, flustered.  The stroller is huge, and she knocks a sippie cup loose against the railing, grimacing in embarrassment.

I'm startled to see another pair of baby legs, as she retreats in confusion -- these are much longer and larger -- the stroller is two-tiered.

My goodness, I think.  Irish twins?  No wonder she can't think straight.

And maybe she's really, really hungry.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Rideau redux

I found the Resident Fan Boy, stressed, suffering from a cold, distracted, wandering around downstairs, muttering about calling the Accent Snob's vet - our dog was facing a battery of tests following a weight loss that had strangers commenting on him in the streets.

It soon became clear that I'd be walking the Accent Snob alone.

"Aren't you glad I'm up?" I asked the RFB grimly.

Setting out into the predawn, I decided I would be heading east enough times that day, with several viewings scheduled necessitating all residents be out of the house, include the canine one.  I bent my steps west under a moon in its final quarter.

The summer and its heat had lingered on, but suddenly, it was autumn.  The colours had waited until late into the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend to show themselves.

I walked through the maze of New Edinburgh streets in the half-light.  The sun had yet to clear the horizon.

I passed houses with lights partially on - usually in the back where the kitchens are.  No one else on the streets, save another dog-walker, whose terriers snarled and lunged at the sight of the Accent Snob across the street.  The woman hurried them into her driveway.

My fingers began to sting at the tips -- another sure sign of an Ottawan October.  Our gloves were all in storage awaiting the move west.

I pressed on toward the mist-shrouded Rideau River.  Now I was being passed by joggers, cyclists, and more dog-walkers. A woman with two black greyhounds greeted me:  "It's nice to see you again."  I suspect she recognized the Accent Snob, not me.  We used to encounter her quite a bit on the Putman stretch of the walk, which I was skipping that morning.

I crossed a deserted Crichton Street, seeing, all of a sudden, a convoy of vehicles bearing down on me from the Vanier Parkway traffic light.

The morning sunlight was touching the tops of the taller houses, but not the sidewalk.  At 7:30, the sunrise for my latitude and longitude was fifteen minutes ago: cars backing out of driveways, and figures with carrier bags emerging from houses.

I disappeared into mine.  I did not walk along the Rideau again.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Keeps me up at night

It's been one of those days. (Plleeease don't let it be one of those months...)

Time to jump into the refuge of music. When I think of the latter part of 2017, a couple of songs will probably bring it back quite clearly.

Here's one of them, by Fionn, who are twin sisters from White Rock, BC. They are, of course, very pretty, so the dilemma they describe is not quite what I experienced as a young, certainly-not-conventionally-attractive woman, but I can empathize all the same. Most women, if not all, have experienced fellas who can't quite grasp the concept that females are living, thinking, feeling beings.

Not that being one tonight is a particular comfort.