Wednesday, February 21, 2018

the love of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

I don't watch the winter Olympics - or much of the summer ones either, for that matter. Not out of any ethical objection, it's great that there are magnificent young people out there making magnificent use of their bodies and their equipment, but I have other things to do. As opposed to my dear Aunt Do, who at nearly 98 spends much of her day watching young athletes exert themselves.

But this - I just watched Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's ice dancing gold medal performance online, and then a tribute to them through the years, to the music of my beloved Jim Cuddy, and - of course - wept. The lives of these two are unimaginable. They say they are "not a couple," and yet they must have spent countless hours together, since childhood, learning everything about each other's bodies and minds - more intimate, trusting, and connected than any married couple. Deeply moving. Ours.

Great artists make what they do look easy.

Especially joyful to watch as we in Canada stomp through February; everybody is sick or fighting a cold - as am I - and tired of ice and bleakness. But then, there's this:

Just heard a radio interview with an American who was on one of the planes that landed at Gander on 9/11 - his character appears in "Come from away," which has just opened here in Toronto and is still a smash hit in New York. He told the interviewer that he, a hapless American refugee, was so impressed with the people of Newfoundland, their incredible generosity and kindness, that when he got home, he changed his life, sold his business in Austin, Texas, and is now working full-time for the good of refugees everywhere.

As we read about the right-wing press doing their best to destroy the passionate, self-possessed, articulate, formidable student survivors of the latest U.S. massacre, and as another cold, dank February day winds down, it's good to be reminded of just how fabulous human beings can be.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mr. Smith goes to Washington

Rode my bike to the Y this morning for the first time in at least a month; it was cold but bearable. People are talking hopefully about spring. Fools! How long have you lived in Canada?!

Today, a lull, the Sunday of a long weekend; the city feels sleepy and tranquil. But the world feels dangerous and torn and full of frightening upheaval. Perhaps this latest horror in the U.S. will be the turning point, we think. How can the morally bankrupt Republicans ignore the desperate, heartfelt pleas of teenagers whose friends were gunned down in front of them? And yet they can and they will. How can Trump lie and lie and lie again and get away with it? How can some countries be sliding backward toward dictatorship? And yet he does, and they are.

And here, in my house, is mess. John is here cutting through the walls of a big storage closet on the second floor which will eventually be turned into my bathroom; somewhere in there are plumbing pipes from many years ago - it was a bathroom when we moved here in 1986 - and he needs to find them. So I had to clean out the space, which was jammed full - of clothing, files, books, papers, family DVD's, years of research, boxes of letters and souvenirs - in short, a nightmare, a huge job that needs to be done. The whole reno will be like that, forcing me to make decisions and get rid of stuff. It's not just that I have a tiny hoarding tendency and a second-hand store habit, but also that I keep papers and books as research for future articles, and I inherited a ton from my mother, a champion saver, and other relatives. It's all here, under this roof. By the end of the year, my space in this house will have shrunk by half, and so much of this massive amount of stuff needs to go.

On a more cheerful note, I used my travel points yesterday to book my yearly April travel. This year, no Paris with Lynn, sadly, and no Italy with Bruce, even more sadly. But happily, I am going once more to Vancouver and then on to Gabriola Island, where my dear Chris now has a log cabin with two spare bedrooms and three adorable animals. We will walk and talk and cook and watch DVD's and sit in his hot tub, and I will fill my city soul with ocean and Vitamin G (for green). If it works out, I could alternate my late winter getaway - one year to France, one year to Gabriola. That sounds like a heavenly combo to me.

Last night I watched "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" on TCM. I saw it many years ago but was thrilled to watch it again - Jimmy Stewart delightful as a naive but passionately honest politician nearly crushed by a corrupt party machine and big money - but truth and decency win and he is triumphant. Particularly relevant today, it should be obligatory viewing for every politician in the world. From Wikipedia:
When a ban on American films was imposed in German occupied France in 1942, some theaters chose to show Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as the last movie before the ban went into effect. One theater owner in Paris reportedly screened the film nonstop for 30 days after the ban was announced.

Now that's a powerful work of art! And then I watched a documentary on Billy Wilder, Austrian Jew, brilliant interpreter of America, simultaneously with a doc on female sexuality and desire. A fun Saturday night.

In the random pile of papers on my desk are transcriptions from my early diaries, this one from when I was sixteen, in Grade 13 in Ottawa.

Feb. 16, 1967
Michael said to me today, "I wonder why daddy doesn't like you, Beth."

One day I will be standing, in the late evening, waiting for a bus. It will be winter, snowing but not cold. There will be a wall behind me, on a level below my shoulders, with a layer of new snow on top. I will begin smoothing the snow off, pushing it away, brushing happily. Suddenly a boy will come up to me and say, "Please don't do that, you're making it ugly again," and I will look at him gravely and say, "It IS ugly. It's black and hard and lumpy. I'm only expressing its true self."

And then we will both know that it's a beautiful wall, for it stops people from falling into the canal, and because it can be leaned on or over, and huddled against, and simply because it's there, to have snow brushed from it. And then the boy and I will not ruin our moment of perfect comprehension and love, and we'll get on our separate busses and zoom off. 

Will we ever see each other again? Will I go on brushing, every winter, hoping he will reappear?

Devastating to read what my brother said; this was not a happy time in my life. No idea what all the rest means. That same year, I wrote an essay for Mr. Mann's English class that he returned with "A wordy concoction of pseudo-philosophy - C +" written on it; it stings still. But this is why I keep paper. What a privilege to have a view of my thoughts more than 50 years ago.

So True coming up: Sunday March 4

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February 18, 2018

Put it out there.

"When you are offered the chance to read your work to an audience, say 'yes.' Do it even if you feel anxious or would rather back out. Bring a friend along if you need moral support."

Angela Post writes young adult and children's books when not working as a psychologist. Her story Changing Connections made the longlist for the 2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Nothing more to be said. Just mourning. I heard the mother of a dead child on the radio and burst into tears. What insanity leads a country to allow the murder, the slaughter of its children, over and over again?

We are grieving with Parkland. But we are not powerless. Caring for our kids is our first job. And until we can honestly say that we're doing enough to keep them safe from harm, including long overdue, common-sense gun safety laws that most Americans want, then we have to change.


It was so mild today, my friend Ken asked, "Is winter over?" Ha! NOT. But still, today was like spring, only with lots of filthy melting snow. Loud noises in my house - icicles falling off the roof.

Again, besides the mildness, there were two great gifts today. My Thursday was laid out, and then this morning I received an email from Ken. "I know it's last minute - can you make 'Spettacolo' at 1.30?" No, I could not - I had a student coming at 1.30 to work on her So True piece and a piano lesson at 3. But Ken is one of my dearest friends who was recently ill for weeks; this was a movie I wanted very much to see and today its last showing, and the morning, though mild, was gloomy and dark, the sun came later. A perfect occasion to see a film set in a Tuscan village.

I changed both appointments and was on my way. And how glad I am. It's a gorgeous, moving documentary, as much a eulogy to a past now vanishing as to a creative way of life and to the power of theatre. Inspired by an extremely dramatic rescue of all its citizens from the Nazi's in 1944, the entire village becomes involved, every summer, in creating "autodramas" - plays about their daily lives, written by and starring themselves. Fifty years after its genesis, there's concern about whether this tradition can survive: the bank that funds them is closed down for corruption, and most of the participants are old; a third have already died. The village itself is being sold off, bit by bit, to rich out-of-town tourists who spend two weeks a year there. It's an old story of modernization, globalization, and loss, through the lens of their rehearsals for the annual production. The rhythms of the tiny town of Monticchielo with its 300 plus citizens who have known each other all their lives, the artistic struggles to put this production together, the seasons in Tuscany, one of the most beautiful places on earth - and all through, the cats who stroll through town and sit on stage to watch the procedures - glorious.

Before the show began, something amazing happened. As Ken and I took our seats, someone tapped me on the shoulder. "Ms. Kaplan," she said. "I'm a fan - I read your blog. In fact, I'm here today because you mentioned this film a few days ago, so I decided to take the afternoon off work to see it. You're the curator of my events."

I stood with my mouth open. I've never met this woman, who recognized me from the picture on the website - or perhaps from my new bag, pictured yesterday in the blog and on my shoulder today. She was so kind. "I love your blog, I love your books!" she said. Imagine me, levitating slightly and floating near the ceiling of the Bloor Cinema. Thank you, Linda! What a lift your words gave me. As I've written occasionally, I sometimes wonder why I keep this blog when it takes time, pays nothing, has few readers; my capitalist, business-minded friends think it makes no sense. But today, I was reminded that it makes perfect sense. Even if it matters to only a few people, including my new friend Linda, that's more than enough.

And so - onward.