Wednesday, June 30, 2010

about privacy and the new kind of grandmother

I've just come back from my regular Wednesday runfit class at the Y, or, as it's better known, Carole's class. Carole is a remarkable woman who travels all over the world to run marathons. Today there was a lanky girl in the class who's never been there before; Carole asked her to lead one of the runs, which is an unusual honour for a stranger.

After class, Carole introduced us. "This is my granddaughter," she said, "the youngest of the three." Yes, the remarkably fit Carol, in her early sixties, is a grandmother. I thought of my grandmothers - Nettie in New York, who wore shapeless dresses and big black shoes and whose favourite sport was kvetching, and Marion in London in her sensible blouses and skirts and brooches, and laughed. It was unthinkable that those grandmothers would walk fast, let alone run. One of the good ways in which the world has changed.

And back to the weekend, which showed us another good thing: everything taking place on television or on cellphone videos. The events on late Sunday afternoon unfolding on CP24, a channel I usually only watch to see the weather, were amazing - in real time, we watched as the police boxed in that group, let people out only to be arrested, moved them from shelter into the middle of the street to be drenched in the downpour. We heard from some guy called Sammy, who was caught in the middle and sending regular phone reports to the station. And we heard instantly when the ordeal ended; Sammy went directly from his place of detainment to the station, where we got to see him at last, wrapped in a towel and talking to the camera about what it was like. He was so level-headed and reliable throughout, they should offer him a job.

The politicians may have granted the police too much power, but these days, because there is no privacy any more, we are all aware of exactly what that means. Sometimes that lack of privacy feels intrusive and annoying. But on the weekend, it was a godsend for democracy.

What do the rest of us think?

What I'm wondering, on this very fine if chilly morning, is what the rest of the country has made of all the G20 protest hooha. Because in this fairly liberal bubble of downtown Toronto, it's easy to forget the voters of Truro, Riviere du Loup, Moose Jaw, Cowichan Bay, and especially anywhere in Alberta. I wonder if they agree with many of the citizens of this great city, that it was strange how freely and for how long the hoodlums were allowed to roam and destroy; how conveniently the police cars appeared, ready to burn. All of them, ready for their close-ups.

I would think that those far-flung citizens do not.

My concern is that they saw the cars burning, that shot of the masked guy trying to smash a window which played over and over and over, and were glad that our Prime Minister spent more than a billion dollars protecting us from such people.

They don't know what really happened in Toronto, that our city was turned into an armed camp, that thousands lost their livelihoods for days or weeks - including my own son, whose restaurant on the island was closed down since no one could get there - because of Harper's decision to hold the event in the heart of the city, instead of somewhere which could have been protected more easily. They don't know about the hundreds illegally, unfairly detained, including the bystanders boxed in in the pouring rain on Sunday, for hours, without water, information or release.

They just see the photo ops of Harper smiling with Obama - do you detect, incidentally, the slightest true warmth emanating from our P.M., despite the smile he has finally learned to slide across his face? Not one iota, because the eyes still give him away - and not what it cost this city and its people.

And for what? So that Harper could push his conservative financial agenda on world leaders, including, unbelievably, Obama. Who, of course, is perfectly free to agree to something and then forget all about it. So what, what, what was the point?

I'm playing a game these days and I urge you to do so also: let's spend the billion some other way! Wheeeee! Yesterday, I waited 15 minutes for the Carlton streetcar at rush hour, had to shove my way on, it was so crowded, hot, antiquated. Hmmm - a billion would have done a lot for transit. Or how about for our hospitals and health care, or day care, or the arts, or to help people laid off by "austerity" measures aimed at the poor? Imagine, even - dare I? - a billion for schools. I think if I could spend the billion, it would be for our children's schools - the arts, sports, books, gym equipment and pools, teaching assistants.

What would you spend your billion on?


Okay, enough. I keep saying that, but it's not going away. Not for those of us who live here.


I am reading a book called "Insectopedia" by Hugh Raffles, in an attempt to rid myself of a lifelong curse: a phobia of insects. I'm way better than I used to be in childhood - don't scream out loud any more, usually, unless it's a big insect. I speak nicely to the small spiders that live in my house; I admire webs. But big ones ... terror. I dislike that about myself, that the phobia affects travel decisions, and want to get rid of it.

This book is "a stunningly original exploration of the ties that bind us to the beautiful, ancient, astoundingly accomplished, largely unknown, and unfathomably different species with whom we share the world." I hope by the end to be able to look at bugs and see their extraordinary uniqueness, not to recoil in fear.

An early chapter is about Cornelia, a woman who goes to sites exposed to nuclear waste, like Chernobyl, to collect and paint the malformed insects she finds there. She keeps a journal of her encounters with insects, people, places. "The books are beautiful objects, and the journal is relaxed and personal, full of anecdotes, reflections and asides," writes Raffles. "She recalls how in Moscow, Idaho, two teenage girls in town for a football game entered her room, examined her microscope and collecting equipment, one of them asking if she were a witch, taking her hands, and sensing an intense vibration, a vibration that Cornelia sensed also.

Cornelia wrote: "The girl asked me what she had to do to become a person like me. I told her that she has to always listen to her heart and never worship a human being. If she wanted to find solace, she had to turn to an animal or a tree for help."

Those of you who follow this blog know that for solace, I cannot turn to the crabby cat with whom I live, who'd rather slash and hiss than provide comfort. I am always calmed by the animals at Riverdale Farm, the goats and sheep, pigs and horses. But in my garden, in my neighbourhood and my city, are many old trees. Still feeling the aftermath of the weekend's assault, today I'm going to go out and hug a few.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

calming down

Toronto has a hangover, and so do I. The city's is physical and emotional, mine just the latter. Strange to go about business as usual, passing stores and restaurants with boarded up windows. To read about Harper gloating. I could scream but won't. The garden continues to glow.

Apparently I was on the CBC this morning. I'd forgotten that I'd called the Vox Box of Metro Morning yesterday, about the police chief saying the black bloc were - such an interesting word - "co-mingled" with the peaceful crowd and thus impossible for the police to pick out. During the march and during the violence, they could not have been more visible, I burbled into the phone, my heart hammering. Friend Nancy White emailed this morning that she'd heard it. I'm amazed that it was in any way coherent.

That's enough activism for this week.

Today, a milestone: I spoke to a very nice civil servant, downloaded some forms, have to get a few bits of paper together, and soon will have applied to receive my pension. My old age pension. I, so incredibly lithe and youthful with lustrous brown hair, will be a pensioner! I'm not waiting till I'm 65; I need it now. If all is well, I'll start to receive a monthly cheque the month after my 60th birthday. How amazing that the government will reward me for staying alive. It'll be under $200 a month, but that's enough to make a difference. Thank you, tax payers of Canada, for providing more than $1 billion for Stephen's summit and an allowance for us oldsters.

To celebrate, I walked across the Don Valley to Loblaw's and bought $250 worth of groceries. Usually I buy from the No Frills nearby, but occasionally I need things they don't have there, some of that fancy stuff - I bought nine large bars of dark chocolate, for example. Two bags of reasonable free trade coffee. The vital stuff, in bulk. Took a cab home, and Mr. Choy came for lunch. It was so sublime on the deck, neither of us could move for a bit. Colour, breeze, scent. Life.

We're all coming back to life, after that nightmare. Now we just have to pay the bills.

A society that presumes a norm of violence and celebrates aggression, whether in the subway, on the football field, or in the conduct of its business, cannot help making celebrities of the people who would destroy it. -Lewis H. Lapham, editor and writer (1935- )

Monday, June 28, 2010

summit aftermath

Everyone was talking about the events of the weekend in Toronto today. I heard them on the streetcar, at the Y, on the streets, and was astounded that most people seem to think what I do: that the police allowed the violence on Saturday, to justify the billion dollars spent on security. In Doubletake, my second-hand store, Rusty who works there said, "They're saying that the cops left those cars on purpose so they'd be set on fire and make the protesters look bad." Now, if Rusty knows that, the sentiments must be pretty widespread.

The "New York Times" had an article Sunday about how horrified Canadians are about the security cost, which is vastly higher than any other summit. And there's a great picture of the peaceful march, the only one I've seen, with nary a word about the vile black bloc.

I'm in a bit of a stupor after all this, my activist weekend. I'm proud of the "Star" letter and so is my mother. But life goes on. Another U of T class finished this afternoon, and I was overjoyed when one class member, a professor, told me it was "transformative." She took the class just to learn how to teach writing, she said, thinking she had no stories to tell. It didn't take long before she was telling powerful and beautiful stories that moved us all.

Another nice tale - well, if I can't share these with you, with whom can I share them, except my mother? The woman who organized my speaking visit to Philadelphia told me as we chatted that she had always wanted to paint, but that need had got lost somewhere. I urged her to go home and get out her paints. "Don't waste time. Do what you love."

She wrote today to tell me she'd gone on vacation just after; while she was packing, she said, she went to an old cupboard, and there were her painting supplies, waiting. She took them with her and did some sketches and a canvas or two. "I'm rusty," she said, "but what's important is, I did it." Yes! Fist in air. Peaceful fist in air. Sometimes, I've found, people don't mind a little push, a giving of permission to become who they are.

The weather has been extreme this last while, as if sensing the turmoil below. Today was very hot and muggy, then a brief hailstorm, then mild with a breeze. I went for an evening walk in the neighbourhood, to visit my dead friends in the Necropolis, a beautiful, peaceful place to stroll. But suddenly, the light, the smell, the swish of the trees was so lovely, I wanted to be in my own garden. As I left, I felt a twist in my heart. One day, I'm going to have to say good-bye to this glorious, troubled world.

There will, I hope, be many perfect summer evenings ahead on this earth. It hurt that a time will come when I won't be there to enjoy them.

The black bloc are NOT protesters

REPEAT: THE BLACK BLOC ARE NOT PROTESTERS. I'm listening to the CBC and they keep saying it, over and over. They are hoodlums and thugs. As Miller said, they are criminals.

Okay. Moving right along to more important things. The mangoes this month are beyond heaven; I just picked 20 fat raspberries and 12 cherry tomatoes from my garden and watched a butterfly sipping rainwater from the clematis. The riches of planet earth; beautiful living things.

That the real protesters are trying to protect.

Help - I can't stop!!!

letter to the Editor of the "Star"

Here's the letter published this morning in the "Star." I'd heard that we were 10,000 strong. Some have since estimated up to 30,000, though I've also read 4,000. So let's stay in the middle. The "Star" edited and printed it with a grammatical error which is not mine. Phooey!

To the Editor:

An estimated ten thousand idealistic people marched peacefully in Toronto on Saturday, yet the media showed barely a picture of those from Greenpeace, Amnesty, unions, church groups, all kinds of worthy causes. Only endless shots of something much more exciting, a small group of lawless hooligans.

Everyone knew the people in black were there specifically to fight. Why, knowing they would certainly erupt, were none of the hundreds of police assigned to the event posted to keep an eye specifically on them? Why were none of those hundreds of police anywhere near Yonge Street when the window smashing started? Why were police cars abandoned, empty of gas, in the middle of downtown city streets, ready to be set so picturesquely aflame?

Is it possible that the violence, the stream of pictures of vandals in black smashing windows and igniting cars, is the answer to Mr. Harper’s prayers? If nothing had happened, our country’s citizens might have remained appalled at the profligate billion dollars and more on security. Whereas now, because this well-known and highly visible anarchist band somehow managed to roam freely until much damage was done, we all realize just how lucky we were that all that money was spent.


Monday, getting our city back

Spent an hour on the phone waiting for Roger's Cable this morning, then spent 15 minutes running up and down between the modem and the router, unplugging this and that ... but here I am. Too much excitement for one morning - my letter is in the "Star" this morning, and I've just called the CBC Vox Box. This is much more citizen involvement than I'm used to, especially before 8 a.m.!

Chief Blair was just on the CBC, saying about the vandalism on Saturday that the police had an impossible job because there were "several hundred" violent protesters "co-mingled" with the others. Without question, the police had a difficult job. But what he said is not true, at least about the anarchists during the march. On the march were maybe eighty people in two big bands, absolutely visible, marching together, dressed entirely in black with bandanas or balaclavas covering their faces - openly Black Bloc thugs, hardly "co-mingled" - they could not have been easier to see. They so frightened me, it was so clear what was going to happen, that I left the march.

Yet they were free to wreak havoc and destroy the city and create horrifying photo ops for almost two hours.

Later, after the damage had been done, they did strip off their black clothing and mix with the crowds. Which led to what happened on Sunday - an innocent if midguided protest provoking indiscriminate arrests and detaining, on the impression the Black Bloc were there hiding among the others. The wrong bunch arrested at completely the wrong time.

On Saturday, either the police deliberately let the chaos run rampant to justify the bloated security expense, which is my theory because I am paranoid and see Stephen Harper lurking behind every tree - or else they are incompetent. I know nothing about policing, but I can tell you that, knowing that violent hoodlums were there specifically to make trouble, I would have had scores of undercover cops dressed as Raging Grannies and in headbands holding Greenpeace flyers, marching as close as possible to the gang in black. And the instant they started to run toward Yonge Street, the undercovers should have been on their tails. Instead, the police were nowhere to be seen.

The whole event should never have happened in the heart of a giant city, in any case. It was Harper's decision to use the Convention Centre instead of a more isolated and easy to contain site.

Not to mention whether the G20 is valid at all.

And please, I wish the media would stop calling the Black Bloc - no, the black bloc, I will not distinguish them with capitals - "protesters." They are wretched violent people who want to smash and destroy without reason. They have nothing to do with the thousands of others who care deeply about the planet. The CBC keeps talking about the police sealing off hundreds of "protesters" yesterday. Anyone watching Channel 24 last night knows that the crowd held for nearly 5 hours was mostly bystanders and passers-by.

My son was stopped twice on his way home yesterday and searched by police, because he's young, he's very tall, he has tattoos and a backpack. Good thing he also has a sense of humour and is completely apolitical. One of the cops said to him, "You're a brave guy." "Why?" said Sam. "Because," replied the cop, "you have FAGS tattooed on your foot." Sam laughed. "It says JABS," he said. "Those are the initials of my best friends. We've been friends since high school." And the cops laughed too. They let him go.

One of the good things about all this was the immediacy - the cell phone videos and calls from the centre of it all. There are no secrets any more.

I must stop. The sun is hesitantly coming out and we're going to get our city back. It was a terrible weekend.

Sunday night in the downpour

8.30 p.m. Sunday night. It’s a cataclysm – the heavens have just opened, there’s a massive downpour of frightening proportions, apparently the power has gone out in parts of the city, and my internet is down. I’m writing this in the hopes of uploading it later.

And meanwhile, on TV, I’m watching ordinary people being arrested and handcuffed by hundreds of riot police in the rain. The police have boxed people in, including people who were walking home and got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the reporter has said, no one was warned. There were protesters there, peaceful ones, as has been said often, when suddenly hundreds of police arrived and war was declared. They’ve arrested several media people, including those with full G20 accreditation hanging around their necks

This is not a surprise to me, though, because of the event I attended on Friday night. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now told the same story about American police, at one point during the Republican convention, arresting her and taking her away in handcuffs, despite HER obvious media accreditation. Intimidation, pure and simple. The reporters on-camera feel that even the police are not sure what’s going on. Who is in charge? People who are stuck there, hemmed in on all sides, need water, a bathroom, just to get home. But the police will not let them move.

First thing this morning, I wrote a letter to the Editor to the Star, about yesterday. I sent it to a few friends to get feedback, and then sent it in. I feel viscerally connected to what is happening to and in this city. But this event now is beyond stupid and horrendous – so absurd, nothing violent was happening, and the police arresting indiscriminately and more pouring in. It looks like a totalitarian state. Hundreds of police, herding a motley group of passers-by. Is this a show of temper because they made fools of themselves yesterday?

Wait. Life goes on. My garden writing workshop took place today – smaller than usual because people didn’t want to brave the chaos – but marvellous nonetheless. We spent the day writing, delving into memory and telling stories. W*yson came for lunch, warming us with gifts and his wisdom about writing, telling the truth and publishing. Good to remember there is life beyond the chaos.

Posted Monday morning.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

reporting from the riot zone

It's 4.40 p.m. and I'm home with both the radio and TV news going - more wet dreams, anchormen and women jabbering excitedly because SOMETHING IS HAPPENING. Fifteen minutes ago, I was on my bike heading toward College on Yonge - could see a huge crowd and many police ahead. "I would turn around," said a young woman. "They're rioting on Yonge Street, they've been breaking windows. Soon there'll be tear gas."
"Okay, I'll go home," I said. "Thanks."

I went to the march at 1 p.m. despite the rain - left home late, so had to get a cab. Isn't there a song about taking a cab to the demonstration? I found thousands of people standing in the rain, with a jubilant ...

"... tear gas being used at College and University!" the TV is saying.

... with a jubilant feeling in the air, many raincoats and plastic coats and umbrellas in the pouring rain, drums, singing, every single kind of cause - Free Tibet, animal rights, women's rights, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, legalize marijuana, unions, Greenpeace, Amnesty, everything. General good humour; all manner of good people. Many, many photographers.

But also a tribe entirely in black, faces covered with scarves or balaclavas, ready for trouble. They call themselves the Black Bloc - anarchists. I could feel trouble in the air and didn't march long. The tension made me heartsick. There was an almost sexual energy to it, the excitement of potential danger. A kid stood in front of the police line and made faces at them; next to me, another kid screamed, "Police state! Police state!"
"This is what they want," I said to him. "If there's violence, their billion dollars is justified. Let's keep it peaceful." He looked pityingly at the old bag and continued to shout.

But it's true. I wouldn't be surprised if many of those "kids" in black were provocateurs, there specifically to start trouble. I know that sounds paranoid, but the powers that be have to justify that nauseating expense. They'd look beyond ridiculous if nothing happened. Boys with toys. Police with their billion dollars of security stuff, their tear gas, their gas masks; and young men and women armed with their fearlessness, their grievances and their fury.

I waited for the streetcar home, to find out that all transit south of Bloor had been shut down. Got another cab home, and then took my bike to the Y for my regular yoga class. But somehow, I could not lie peacefully doing yoga; left early and headed down Yonge, where the young woman warned me to turn around. Apparently, the crowd started to march up Yonge Street; there were no police around, for some bizarre reason since everywhere else there were hundreds of them, and a few kids started to smash windows indiscriminately, obvious targets Starbucks and American Apparel but also small independent stores. Angry kids, goaded = chaos.

I think of my visit to Prague earlier this year. After the Russians invaded, a young man set himself on fire to protest. There's a statue to him in Wenceslas Square. Here, I wonder how many of the Black Bloc have an actual political concern, or whether they are just bored, angry, looking for thrills. In other times, they'd have been sent to war. Most generations except ours has sent its young men to war - the Crusades, the Civil War, the World Wars, the Vietnam War. Now they just massacre using on-line games. But here, what excitement - an event they can pretend is the real thing.

Now they're saying on TV that there are looters.

Who won the World Cup game between the U.S. and Ghana? Let's get back to real life here!

And now they're saying that "tear gas was NOT deployed." How disappointed they sound.

My favourite sign from the march was from Greenpeace: "There is no Planet B."

Oh - and in the excitement, I forgot - I was almost hit by a car on my way home from all this. I was cycling east on Gerrard when a cab did a u-turn - impatient and fast, perhaps frustrated by all the traffic problems - and nearly ran smack into me. He was only inches away. I screamed a swearword and stopped, in shock. An East-Indian woman on the sidewalk asked if I was all right. The driver stopped; when I cycled up to his window, he apologized to me. I pointed out that he was driving a Wheel-trans cab! Trying to create new customers, perhaps.

Our mayor David Miller has just said on TV that a small group came to Toronto deliberately to disrupt a peaceful demonstration. "They're not protesters, they're criminals," he said. And I'm sorry to agree.

A few hours later. My son called. He was downtown, wandering around looking at the damage - a few smashed windows, burning cop cars. He says it was clear the cop cars were deliberately abandoned and empty of gas - decoys. He was standing in the wrong place and was shoved out of the way by a shouting policeman with a shield, and then, he says, "They charged. Suddenly, no idea why, the police were running at us. So I ran the other way."
"Go HOME, you idiot!" I said with my usual sweet affection. "You happen to be extremely visible at six foot eight. They see you and charge."
"I am at home," he said, both of us safely watching the downtown of our city erupt on television.

1 p.m., Queen's Park - let's march

Here's what the British newspaper "the Independent" has to say about the summit:

You have to feel sorry for the poor Canadians. With a right-wing government hell-bent on massive public expenditure cuts, they have to fund not just one grand international summit with the G20 this weekend, but two, with the G8 summit on Friday ... And for what? So that Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, can play host to world leaders and preen himself on his and his country's continued importance.

Well put, sir.

It's 8.15 a.m., and the helicopter just started its rounds above. It's a cool, grey day with rain forecast. No matter; there's a march at 1 p.m. today, and I'll be there. And then I'm going to mail my membership cheque to the Council of Canadians.

Almost all the speakers last night mentioned their children and grandchildren - what will be left for them? Maude Barlow told us that 80% of the world's fisheries have been depleted, horrifying statistics about the destruction of forests, the melting of glaciers, the grotesque disproportion between the world's richest and poorest, never more extreme than now. "The world's three richest men," she said, "own more than the world's 40 poorest countries." The poorest own 1% of the world's resources, and that number is going down. The level of unemployment worldwide is astronomical, and that number is going up.

And beside me sat my daughter, 29, who will inherit this world. How can she avoid feeling depressed, hearing that litany of disasters? Anna loves life, loves children, drinking and parties, eating and friendship. She says she wakes up every day glad to be going to a job she loves, caring for children. What better way is there to live than that? How did she get to be so smart?

I wrote here about my grand love for my garden. I just walked out under an umbrella to pick and eat today's crop of raspberries (five!) and to breathe in the pleasure and peace that comes from green and growing things. But today, I also love Maude Barlow and Naomi Klein and the others from last night and around the world, the people of conscience and action who spend their lives fighting to make the world our children will inherit a better one. Thank you. Thank you. Bless you.

P.S. Just logged on to see what today's "NYTimes" has to say about the summit. Not a single mention could I find. For us, a billion dollars spent and more. For them, not even worth a mention.

Friday, June 25, 2010

the Council of Canadians hooray

This evening my daughter and I went to "Shout Out for Global Justice," organized by the Council of Canadians at Massey Hall. A series of speakers gave their own particular angle on what's happening in the world right now - all of it depressing, horrible, and yet - extremely hopeful and marvellous because there we all were, in a jam-packed Massey Hall, clapping and listening and learning and being inspired.

A fiery Native Canadian spoke about aboriginal rights, followed by Dr. Vandana Shiva from India, who spoke about environmental justice and the agribusiness war on grassroots agriculture, and who was so wise and warm, I wanted her to adopt me. Amy Goodman, the executive producer of "Democracy Now!", an American TV program I've never heard of, spoke about the dangers of "the criminalization of dissent" and corporate control of the global media.

John Hilary, the Executive Director of the War on Want, was direct about what exactly is going on when these G20 guys meet - they're gathering to administer "a macho game of cuts" to social programs, to see which one can engineer the biggest assault on the welfare state and the poor. Hilary introduced the first villain of the evening - Canada's Paul Martin, the first to institute huge cuts to welfare and the public service as a way of balancing the budget, instead of raising taxes. Hilary, who's British, pointed out that this destructive and unjust model is now being used around the world, including, right now with the latest budget, in Britain.

Pablo Solon of Bolivia told us how his people fought to regain control of their water and then their natural resources, by, he said, "nationalizing our government." A few years ago, Bolivia hosted an international conference to ratify the "rights of mother earth" - 35,000 people attended. I read at least one if not two daily newspapers, and I heard nothing about it. Which was the point made earlier about media by Amy Goodman. I did not know that access to clean water is not considered a basic human right, and that when there was a proposal to make it so put forward at the U.N., Canada voted against it.

Many shouts of "Shame!" from the audience, throughout the evening.

The biggest stars of the night were two spectacular women, Naomi Klein and Maude Barlow. When I grow up, I want to be them. It is unfair that someone as brilliantly incisive as Klein should also be beautiful, but there you go. She told us what the G20 really is - a boy's club, an insider club for global elites, founded by our own villain, Paul Martin, and the evening's other villain, the American Lawrence Summers; the two of them scribbled a few countries on the back on an envelope, leading to our billion dollar expenditure today. The G20, she said, is designed to sideline and eviscerate the U.N. Why? Because at the U.N., the rich nations are sometimes outvoted by the poor. So they formed their own club in 1999, "to serve the interests of their class, the elite." She is an electrifying speaker.

And Maude Barlow, with her list of the ills of the world, brought tears to my eyes. She spoke of how she loves her country, but that now, Canada is "a human-rights-denying eco-outlaw" that should be denied its place at the Security Council. She quoted the President of Norway, who said that the G20 "is the biggest step backwards in global cooperation since the Second World War." We stood to cheer as the evening wound down. And then Naomi Klein invited us to march with her to the tent city that has just been set up in Allen Gardens, in solidarity with Canada's poor.

So thousands of people spilled out of Massey Hall and began to march through the streets of night-time Toronto, with the usual chants like "The people, united, will never be defeated," which always bothers me because it doesn't rhyme. Our city, our streets! they shouted over and over. Our city, our streets! Suddenly, there they were, our boys in blue, scores of cops in their jaunty shorts on snazzy bikes, with their riot gear and handcuffs dangling from their belts, riding ahead to block off roads, to steer the huge noisy crowd. At one point, I got quite scared. Someone must have been grabbed by a cop, because the march stopped and a crowd gathered, shouting, Let him go! Let him go! It was getting ugly. But the tension dissippated, I don't know how, and the march went on. I was walking on the edge, near the phalanx of cops; I felt pretty shaky, and it looked like some of the cops were pretty shaky too, to tell you the truth.

The march was perfectly peaceful until the police arrived. Seeing them all there, the overkill of their numbers and weapons, even I felt a surge of fury, let alone the angry kids around me, with bandanas ready to pull over their faces.

I marched with the crowd to Allen Gardens, where the hundreds gathered around a straggly bunch of tents set up by anti-poverty activists and their homeless clients. And then I left. What is happening now, I don't know, though there is ceaseless helicopter activity now at midnight, fwapping round and round in the sky above. What is that but intimidation? What can a helicopter do to a group of marchers on the streets?


reporting on the madness

Forgive my language, but this city is a paranoid control freak's wet dream right now. Harper must be ecstatic. Helicopters whap ceaselessly overhead, and the downtown streets are full of cavalcades of cops and private security guys, carrying not only guns but riot control gear and helmets. This morning, I went for a bike ride down to the security fence, to find the inner core of the city is a desert built of fear. Chain link fences set in concrete cordon off many of the streets around the conference centre where the leaders will meet, and at each check point, there are dozens of cops standing around, drinking coffee. In fact, I think that Tim Horton's is the sponsor of this summit, since its profits must have gone through the roof, as well as the hotels in the vicinity, crammed with out of town police.

The "Star" has an article today about the costs, pointing out that the summit in Pittsburg in 2009 used 4000 security personnel, and ours is using 19,000, nearly five times the number. Why use one cop when five will do? Lunacy. Criminal lunacy.

I'm going to hop on my bike again right now - there's a gathering at Allen Gardens, I think. Your junior reporter will go and check on the scene. Over and out, for now.

An hour later ... well, if you want a definition of the words "motley crew," go to Allen Gardens right now - every kind of protesting person is there, including someone from PETA in a seal suit, the Raging Grannies in their flowery clothes and hats covered with buttons, singing protest songs, Native groups, community groups, unions, anti-poverty activists, anti-racism activists, anti-sexism activists, anti-Harper activists (One sign: "Harper is a neo Nazi"), some kind of band with tubas, and four hundred million policemen on bicycles ringing the park, and others inside, not to mention how many there must be in plainsclothes. And the helicopters. I feel safe, knowing that I'm being protected from the Raging Grannies. Many thanks, Security people.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wayson's lecture on "Ideas"

Wayson delivered a lecture at UBC a few months ago, for which he received two standing ovations ("They put electric charges on the seats," he said, "so they had to stand up.") The talk was taped for the CBC-Radio program Ideas and will be aired this coming Monday at 9.05 p.m. Don't miss it. But if you do, it will be posted on the CBC website as a podcast the following Monday.

Monday, June 28
Novelist and short story writer Wayson Choyexplores his personal view that many of us – whether recent arrivals or long-established citizens – suffer fears that may damage Canada’s quest to become a multicultural nation. Growing up between values and cultures, he has been an “in-between citizen” all his life. In the 2010 UBC-Laurier Institution Multiculturalism Lecture, he proposes some challenging remedies that have both lightened and enlightened his life.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

G20 paranoia

It feels apocalyptic in Toronto right now. There was a minor earthquake this afternoon - the ornaments on my piano jiggled - and many apparently were terrified because they thought it was a terrorist bomb. With the G8 and G20 coming in a few days, the level of official paranoia in this town is absolutely beyond belief. Surely the other summits haven't been this over the top. More than one BILLION dollars spent on this event, mostly on security - it makes me sick.

Downtown is a war zone, like a bad movie that we can't leave. We are flooded with thousands of police and private security forces from all over the country. There are giant security fences everywhere - and anyone who takes a picture of one is detained and forced to wipe the shot from the camera. Mailboxes and street sculpture have been removed. It's now against the law, for the next few days, to fly a kite. The streets are barricaded. My son couldn't get on the ferry to his restaurant workplace on the island, because he didn't have two pieces of I.D. with him. A man carrying a bag of fertilizer was detained, because it could be used to make a bomb. My handyman was in his workshop the other day with the door open, sanding a chair, when three burly policemen entered, bulging with firearms, demanding to know what he was doing. I mean, we're entering farce/George Orwell territory here.

I know, you've heard my anti-Harper tirades before, but this feels like his exquisite blend of paranoia and melodrama. The enemy is lurking everywhere! Let's seem REALLY important with our billion dollars of security! It's heartbreaking, this in a city where the streetcars are filthy and falling apart, and where on my way to Ryerson this evening, I passed four completely crazy, vulnerable people wandering the streets. And above, police helicopters, looking for people carrying fertilizer.

The World Cup is also happening, so every other car has a flag fluttering from its window, and this afternoon there was an earthquake, and tonight, not just a thunderstorm but a hurricane was predicted. Well, here we are, 10.15 p.m., and so far, it's not even raining.

To think, this place used to be known, both affectionately and mockingly, as Toronto the Good. That seems like a lifetime ago.

There's a list of upcoming G20 protest events in the "Star." I just may join them. It seems a shame to waste a billion dollars worth of security.

on into summer and two requests

This morning at about 3 a.m., there was so much scuffling and squealing from beneath my bedroom window that I shined my flashlight down onto the deck. There, in a row on the bench, were four baby raccoons blinking up at me from behind their bandito masks. I almost thought, aww how cute, until I remembered how much havoc and noise they and their parents create around here and hissed at them to chase them off. So Canadian - hissing and shooing and waving around a flashlight beam in the middle of the night, to chase the wild animals away.

Before that, last evening, I was at Ellen Roseman's Ryerson workshop called Financial Basics. What she does is so important - teaching how to manage money, get good deals, not be cheated. I'd thought that the free workshop was aimed at students, but most of the audience were new Canadians and adults, there to learn how to survive and thrive in their new country. None better to teach that than Ellen, who is upbeat and open, welcoming comments and suggestions from the audience. She welcomes input and complaints to her website too, will often take on issues and try to resolve them. She is a one-woman financial advice resource centre.

I took notes, resolved to check my accounts and speak to my bank manager on a more regular basis, but left when she started to get into the details of saving and investing. Unfortunately, even on the cusp of sixty, I don't make enough to save and certainly not to invest. But what I do have will now be managed more wisely.

Ellen is giving the same free workshop again on October 20. The Chang School at Ryerson has all the information. Highly recommended - a bargain.

I am madly, passionately in love these days - with my garden. I walk up and down, pulling weeds and crooning to the plants and flowers. Yesterday I was putting out the garbage when a couple from the neighbourhood walked by, and I invited them in to see the garden. My next-door neighbour Robert passed by too with his boyfriend, so the four of them came in for a dusk tour. Then Robert invited us all in next door to see his elegant home. Half an hour later, after much mutual admiration, I was back putting the garbage out.

REQUESTS of my faithful readers: My dear friends the Blin family are coming to visit from France at the end of July, and now have decided that they'd like to go camping or somewhere north to have a rustic Canadian experience. I'm trying to rent a cabin or cottage or even find a good campsite for the first week of August, the more rustic and Canadian, the better. If you know of anywhere that might be available, please let me know. A moose or two would be a nice touch. Raccoons they'll see here, in downtown Toronto.

And also, if you know anyone moving to Toronto or needing a new place to live - please keep in mind that there are two spaces to rent here in September or even by mid-August, a basement apartment and an attic room. As Ellen will attest, it is a good thing to rent space in your home. It helps the bottom line.

I thank you.
with love

Sunday, June 20, 2010

la reponse


It just came to me, from the murky mists.

Now I may be able to sleep tonight.


I called my mother in Ottawa, who looked in her book "Lois Hole's Perennial Favourites," and then I realized that she had given me that very book so we BOTH looked in it, only unbelievably, neither of us could find big puffy white blooms. Then she called her friend Bob who does a lot of gardening only he was out, and I called my friend Scott who does a lot of gardening only he was out, so we both left messages.

So the last resort - I've taken a picture and sent it to her, and to you. What are those @#$#@%% things?

What are those big white things anyway??

I've had a writer's weekend. Except for a few brief encounters - getting my bangs trimmed nearby, chatting with neighbours, yesterday's yoga class - I've talked to no one for two days. Well, that's not true. I've been working on the book about writing, which is chatty and direct, so I've been talking to readers all weekend. Perhaps one day they'll want to read the book and find out what I've been saying.

I've also talked a lot to the garden. The red roses at the back have black spot and are suffering. I made a big fuss about them. The gardenia W*yson bought me is finicky and needs a lot of cheery conversation. The clematis, which has been feeble every year, this year is lush and beautifully purple, so it gets a LOT of praise, in case it decides to change its mind and droop again.

I'm sitting on the deck right now at 6.45 p.m., taking a break to drink a glass of wine, smell the scented air, look at the fresh burst of tiger lilies, the fat white heads of the ... of the ... I know the name but of course, being 59 with a head stuffed with names, it has vanished. It happens all the time now - something I have known for years, gone, to surface at 3 a.m. Drives me crazy! I am staring now at the masses of big puffy white blooms - you know the name, don't you? Send me some telepathy, or I'll go nuts.

A moving moment this morning - on my Sunday morning tiny jogette through the neighbourhood, I went to the Necropolis, the Cabbagetown cemetery, one of my favourite places. It's full of hundred-year old tombstones engraved with marvellous names - Elwood, Gertrude, Frank, Minnie. What happened to those names? As I walked around, I heard laughter, and there on the path was a young mother, sitting on the ground, with her little one in a stroller. They were playing together, laughing in a patch of sunlight, surrounded by gravestones. Such a sight and sound of life, in a quiet place honouring something else.

Begonia. Lobelia. I think it starts with c. No, maybe an h. I'm going to call my mother; she'll know.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Heaven in Cabbagetown

My little paradise - bits of the garden, the deck, and the patio at the end of the back 40. (My property is nearly 200 feet long. Told you - it's my own personal park.)

more about this writing workshop, and the next

About the writing workshop next Sunday, June 27:

Because of G20 traffic, the workshop will be a bit shorter; the start time has changed. We will begin at 11.30 and finish with a celebratory glass of wine, as usual, at 5. It will cost $100.

THE NEXT WORKSHOP WILL BE SUNDAY, AUGUST 22. This time, from 10 till 5 in the garden, writing, sharing, dining, learning and celebrating - our creativity, our stories, life.

blowing own horn yet again

I received some very nice emails this week, with compliments from two of my current U of T students whose classes end next week. It's probably a sign of profound insecurity, the need to repeat nice things said to one. I prefer to think of it as a marketing tool.

I wanted to say, in case it isn’t obvious - I think it is - how much I’ve enjoyed the class. I’ve loved it. You have just the right touch when it comes to criticism. Firm and clear, but not rigid – you change your mind if there’s a reason to. I feel entirely comfortable reading, I don’t feel diminished by the critique. I keep thinking ‘ok, this week i’ve nailed it’ and then laugh at myself when it turns out I haven’t... actually... quite... nailed it after all. I think you put a lot of thought into your students and are a devoted teacher. And it helps get me through the work day to think there is life beyond the office.

And ...

Your classes give me such joy and happy anticipation. I feel so "alive" when I'm writing. Your classes inspire me Beth!

And this from a student who read the small book I'm finishing, detailing Wayson's lessons about writing and mine too:

Beth, the book is absolutely fabulous. You have simplified the complex without making it simplistic (the hallmark of talented teaching!) and have provided such a user-friendly, accessible guide to writing. It is wonderful to have a resource to keep and go back to, other than my chicken scratch notes from class.

You should absolutely, positively make this a mandatory purchase for every single one of your students - they will all benefit from having it and $20 is certainly not prohibitive. You can leverage your captive market! I will certainly be first in line to buy it at the bookstore. Thank you so much for sending it along - I have been having some serious writer's block and it was already helpful to refer to your book.

Okay, all that is nice to read, now on into the reality of this beautiful day.

P.S. And as for marketing ... the writing book is available on-line for $20, the garden writing class June 27 still has room, and I'm planning another for August.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

close encounters

There must have been something friendly in my face today; I kept making surprising new friends. First, I went to see John, a friend from the Y who now does my taxes, and what a kind and sensible man he is. I gave him a lecture about how he's working too hard and letting his fitness slide and he promised to come back to the Y, and he gave me a lecture about delving into my RRSP's and having to pay unnecessary taxes, and I promised I would never do that again. With all of that promising done, I went out and immediately spent my small tax rebate at the kitchen store across the street, loading myself down with things I need: a chopping board, a timer, a drain plug, a wok and, most excitingly, a space age salad spinner. I sure know how to enjoy tax time.

Hauling my bags of loot, I went to the Eglinton subway, where a woman standing nearby said, "Don't I know you? Your face is familiar." I have that kind of face; people often say that to me. But then she said, "Are you in the theatre?" We began to talk - she's a designer from Victoria, and of course, we have many friends in common. We jabbered non-stop until separating at College, where she was going west, this woman I'd only met fifteen minutes before, and I east. But we will meet again, no doubt about it.

I was standing on College waiting for the streetcar, watching a pale, grubby young girl lying on the sidewalk near the curb, smoking the stub of a cigarette and poking haplessly at the suitcase on wheels she had with her. The man next to me, who was Native Canadian, turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, "Breaks your heart, doesn't it?" We talked about homeless kids, and he went up to her and said, "What are you doing, darling?"

She was trying to get her case open, she said, to get out her begging cup, but it was stuck. He tried to help and so did I, but yes, it was stuck. "I'm pregnant," she said, dragging on her cigarette with her filthy hands, and I noticed her little belly, "all my I.D. was stolen a few days ago and they won't let you into the shelters with no I.D." We both suggested places she should go. "You have to have I.D. to get in," she said. "It costs $35 for new I.D."

As my streetcar came, I gave her $20 and then, my heavy bags flapping, I ran back to give her another $20 - $40, half of what I'd spent on kitchenware. She walked off, dragging her small broken suitcase behind her. I don't think the money will go on drugs, but if not on new I.D., I hope on a hot meal. She was 19, from Niagara Falls, her parents had thrown her out when she told them she was pregnant. It's true what my new friend said - it does break your heart. I kept thinking of how little it takes to begin a downward spiral. Thinking of that baby, and my own blessed daughter, so very not homeless.


My daughter, in fact, is living every girl's dream right now - she has all five members of her favourite rock band living with her. She knows the band the Stanfields from her years at university in Nova Scotia - the lead singer is the brother of a St. FX friend - and so whenever they come to Toronto, they all stay with Anna. That's five large hairy men in a small apartment. She says they're the best house-guests ever, and the drummer makes a great strawberry shortcake.

On Tuesday night they were playing at the Horseshoe Tavern, so I went to join her there and to hear them for the first time - even though they weren't on till 10.30, well toward bedtime for me. The Horseshoe is a reassuring place - I've been going there since 1969, maybe, and it's exactly the same charming beer-soaked dive now as it was then.

The band was fantastic but deafening. I'd resolved not to embarrass Anna but could not help chewing up bits of Kleenex to stick in my ears, in the absence of actual earplugs. Only then could I enjoy the music, tight pounding rock with a Celtic undertone, which I could actually hear.

Tomorrow, fresh excitement - I'll chop veggies on my new chopping board, cook them in my new wok, spin those lettuce leaves way to hell and gone. Hope my young friend has new I.D. and has got her suitcase open and her begging cup out.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ellen Roseman's "Financial Basics"

My good friend Ellen Roseman, who writes a finance column for the "Star" and several other papers, just let me know that she is giving a workshop on Financial Basics at Ryerson next Tuesday, June 22. It's FREE. 5.30 - 9.30 p.m., in the comfortable Bronfman Room at the Chang Centre on Victoria Street.

This is a great deal, if you're a financial illiterate, as am I. Ellen is fun, lively and extremely knowledgeable. Perhaps by the end of her talk, I will actually understand something about how money works. If not, she says there are great free booklets that come with it, so I can go away and study. You'd think that by this stage of my life I'd understand something about finance, but no. Well, nothing in my life so far - certainly not my jobs - has given me much connection with money. So I've remained in blissful ignorance. But after next Tuesday - watch out, world!

Monday, June 14, 2010

the art thing

This afternoon, I rode my bike through Queen's Park, where workmen were putting up some funny inflatable mushroom-like structures. I stopped to ask a security guard what was going on. "It's for the Luminato art festival," he said. "It's an art thing." And we both turned to look at the forest of huge brightly-coloured plastic mushrooms. Okay, I'll take your word for it, I thought. An art thing.

Queen's Park was the site of another kind of art thing on the weekend - despite the grey skies and drizzle which turned into a downpour, crowds gathered to hear the music brought to us by Luminato. My friend Annie and I went in the late afternoon on Saturday to hear an Algerian musician, Rachid Taha, who was hilarious and wonderful - a tiny man in a natty hat, smoking a cigarette, twirling his mike through the air and swivelling his hips, he and his band driving out an infectious Arabic/African beat.

Later we came back to hear Bela Fleck, a man who can do anything with his banjo except make a grilled cheese sandwich, and you know, he can probably do that too. It was advertised that he'd be with some African musicians, and I imagined being blasted by the sound of Bela Fleck and his band the Flecktones, and African musicians too. I will travel far to hear African music, which is like the "Red Shoes" for me - I start to dance and cannot stop.

But Bela's Flecktones were not there, it was just him. He did three banjo solos which were complex and technically stunning - one based on African rhythms and another J. S. Bach - but solo banjo pieces were not, perhaps, the kind of rocking and grooving a large crowd standing outside at 10.30 p.m. smoking spicy stuff wanted to hear. The Africans were lively and rhythmic, and Bela came back to play with them, but it didn't quite work. His music seemed so cerebral and tight compared to theirs.

Great music, free, outside in the green, muggy air. Nothing to complain about, just my critical spirit that wanted to say, loosen up, Bela. Have some fun.

Earlier that day I'd gone to another student book launch - Bette, who took my Ryerson class in 2003, has self-published an account of her life including her fascinating relationship with a man sentenced to many years in prison. The launch was held at Friend's House, the Quaker centre in the Annex. Bette gave her granddaughter a special copy. "I wrote it for you," she said. Laurel, who was in the same class, was there; Bette introduced her and spoke of her just-published book, and I told everyone about her recent prestigious award. Another student from that class, Joan, was also there; it turned out she had been one of Bette's chief sounding boards throughout the writing of the book, had inspired Bette and kept her going. It's a great thrill when relationships continue so strongly after class.

Sunday night, neighbours came for dinner - Larry and Destiny, who lost their wife and mother Carolyn so suddenly and cruelly a few weeks ago, and Jean-Marc and Richard who live across the street from them. Larry is well into his 70's and Destiny is 12, and they are managing. She's capable and sweet and so is he. Larry worked at the CBC for many years, knows radio people all over the world and had much to say about the current policies at our beloved and vital CBC, as did the rest of us. Suffice to say - much has changed, and none of us agrees much with the changes.

We did agree, though, with the cheese. My local deli, Epicure, stocks Cendrillon, a Quebec cheese which somewhere was voted, believe it or not, the best cheese in the world. Well, I don't know about that, but it's pretty damn good. And then we watched the Tony awards. Loosen up, Catherine Zeta-Jones, I wanted to say, as she worked so very hard through "Send in the clowns." Have some fun!

As I write to you now, my head is swimming with fatigue though it's not even 10.30 p.m. Getting older. I've noticed that though I don't think I've gained any weight, the waistbands of skirts and pants are tighter - my waist has thickened. How does that happen? The spreading middle of more-than-middle age.

But, middle or old, this girl has a Paul McCartney ticket. They added another concert today, so I booked fast. I will probably never do this again - and who knows when Paul will do this again? So he and I have one last rendezvous just after my birthday in August. I will be 60. Will he still need me, will he still feed me? I think you know the answer.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Garden workshop June 27

The garden workshop is on, and there is still lots of room left. Please tell your friends, if know someone who wants to write, someone who would benefit from a day in the most beautiful garden on earth, if I say so myself, doing something interesting and creative. Plus lunch.

Or consider it yourself. All welcome. Please let me know.

Just got an email from one of my Ryerson students, who wrote, "It is wonderful to be able to share everyone's writing, and you have fostered a very warm, accepting and fun learning environment."

Here's a picture of warm, accepting, fun Hilda Homemaker in her garden. (For my home class on Thursday, I dressed as Donna Reid with a martini glass. Too bad you can't see the pearls.)

my bit of heaven

8.15 p.m. and I'm aching from head to foot - not from the 'flu but the garden. My gardening friend Scott arrived at 9 and left at 2, the two of us working almost non-stop for 5 hours, pruning, bagging, weeding, planting. We bought 10 bags of fertilizer and Scott dumped it on every bed, and I followed with the hose. I can hardly move right now, but the garden is spectacular, better than it has ever been. And after Scott left, I got out my twinkly Xmas lights and rigged them up on the deck. Magic. The gardenias, the roses, the new nicotiana, the basil and lavender and jasmine and mint- it smells so good, as I sit here at dusk, that I am drunk on scent. (Well, and also a nice dry French rosé.)

Besides Scott, I have another new helper - John, the husband of a friend from the Y, arrived in my life 2 days ago as the answer to my prayers. John is calm, quiet and competent; he does everything, plumbing, construction, hauling stuff to the dump ... We spent the morning together, including an exciting trip to Home Depot, and after he left, I had to call my mother to tell her the good news - "I've got a new handyman!" She was as thrilled as I. Only another solo woman can understand what it means to have a nice, calm man who lives nearby, who is reasonably priced and who fixes everything. Welcome, John.

After today's efforts, it was so beautiful here, I wanted to share it with a loved one so I called, of course, Mr. Ch*y. He came over with the program from convocation at Sir Wilfred Laurier University, where he received an honourary doctorate. So he is now Dr. Ch*y, thank you very much. He was asked to give a very brief speech, and he told the crowd three things he needed to learn before he turned fifty.

1. Failure is the best teacher. It never lies.
2. At the bad times, don't forget that this too shall pass. Imagine what's coming next.
3. At the good times, look behind you - because something new is on the way.

We dined on the deck, deafened by sparrowsong and flooded with flowersmell. And soon we are off to see "The Secret in their Eyes," which won the Oscar last year for Best Foreign Film and which is highly recommended. Even though my limbs don't want to move after their 5 hour marathon, this they can do.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Boston joy for Laurel

More wonderful news: Laurel Croza's book has won Best Children's Picture Book, one of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for Excellence in Children's Literature in 2010. This, after rave reviews in Canadian newspapers and in the New York Times! Sometimes there is justice. The book deserves this recognition, but still, Laurel, who expected nothing beyond the pleasure of actually being published, is reeling.

Here's what the award said:
And in I Know Here, Canadian author Laurel Croza and illustrator Matt James sensitively explore and gloriously picture the feelings of a little girl contemplating her family’s move in the early 1960s from the wilds of northern Saskatchewan to the big city of Toronto.

Macca returns

Such a beautiful mild early evening, birds at the feeder, roses beaming by the fence, spirea pale pink, begonia hot pink, the purple clematis finally deciding to unfurl, and the stunning magnolia bush W*yson brought me flooding the air with scent. It's quiet, the sun still bright but a hint of coolness in the air - supper made for me yesterday by my son heating in the microwave, a glass of red, a great class at U of T this afternoon - does it get better than this?

Only one thing would have made today better - a sugardaddy or mama with an American Express card. My friend Paul McCartney is playing in Toronto on August 8th, just after my birthday, and today at 10 a.m., tickets went on sale only for those with American Express cards. I can't even imagine what they cost.

I did make two attempts to join the lucky few - I called a friend of my ex-husband's who is connected to the ticket business, but he did not respond. I wrote to a friend of a friend who's a McCartney fan, only to find out that she lives in a world far more intense and complex than mine. She is a SERIOUS fan; beside her, I am the rankest of amateurs. She travels around the world to McCartney concerts in the company of an international group of friends who do the same thing - very soon she is off to Glasgow and to Wales. She pays extra, many hundreds of dollars extra on top of the ticket price, to be there for the man's sound check. She has connected with him and his band in many ways; she says that he has looked at her during sound checks. I know how exciting that is, because I know he looked at me during a concert in Paris in June 1965, when I stood in my best dress in the 8th row centre waving his picture.

But I just cannot devote that much time and money. He means a lot because he was the great love of my early adolescence, he sang the most beautiful songs, because in his late sixties he goes on making fine music and touring, because I know the words to almost everything he sings, except for the songs from the mid-Seventies to the mid-Eighties, which I missed completely.

But I did go to his free concert in Quebec and can live without another concert. I'd rather spend the money trying, once again, to take my kids to Europe. Or going there myself.

Or maybe not. My daughter spoke about the 3 of us going, right after my 60th birthday - my son, her, me, all of us up and dancing to the one of the greatest pop musician of our time. What an experience that would be.

Maybe I should get an Amex card for the next time. Wait for me, Paul. Wait for me!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Write in the Garden June 27, deadline June 13

Friends, I am posting this notice again ... registration has been slow. Is it because it's the G20 weekend? I don't think that will affect Cabbagetown.

Please let me know asap if you are interested.The deadline for registration is Sunday June 13.

Many thanks,



A one-day writing workshop to give you inspiration, structure and support, whether you have lots of writing experience or none.

Spend a day learning to trust your voice and your stories. Rediscover your creative self. Connect with other writers. Write in the garden and enjoy positive listening and feedback, bushy perennials, and lunch.

Laughter, camaraderie and insight guaranteed.

Who: The workshop is run by Beth Kaplan, who has taught personal narrative writing at Ryerson for 16 years and at U of T for 4."Beth is a wonderful teacher. I was encouraged and motivated and learned so much. I am totally inspired to write."Amy Block, after her day at Write in the Garden

Where: Beth's secret garden in Cabbagetown, in the heart of downtown Toronto. If there's rain, inside the house.

When: Sunday June 27, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: $125, including snacks and lunch.

Schedule (more or less): 9.30-10 a.m.: greetings, coffee and muffins; 10-12.15: two short, fun exercises, where you will write on the spot and then gather to read, though only if you want to. Reading is always voluntary. 12.15-1.30: lunch. 1.30-3.30: more writing. 3.30-4: a welcome glass of wine (or cup of tea.)4-5: final writing, wrap-up.

Registration is limited to 15. A $25 deposit is required to hold a place.

For more information, please check Beth's website at, under Coaching.

To register:

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Obama and Paul and the winding road home

Just took my little carry-on suitcase downstairs and put it away. That's it for travelling, for now.

No, the plan is no more travelling, for now. Who knows what's in store?

Philadelphia was fantastic, one of my favourite book events so far. The talk was well attended and received. My host, Rakhmiel Pelz, who fell and did something drastic to his elbow just before my arrival and was not expected to appear, showed up with his arm in a serious sling and spoke passionately about the importance of the Yiddish theatre in its time and place, how sad that history is being lost - and how glad he was that my book was preserving a piece of it. In my correspondence with him, Rakhmiel's energy and forthrightness led me to believe he was a very young man. And he is, at least in spirit.

And Kathleen Carll, his assistant who put together the whole schmear, is one of those people you dream of landing in your life, or at least I do - phenomenally organized, quietly in the background getting everything done. The day was seamless. After my talk and a question period, there was a book signing, and I'm happy to say that the bookstore sold all ten "Jewish Shakespeare"'s they'd brought. I chatted with the buyers, who, as always, wanted to tell me their connection to the story. And then Kathleen led me to the Drexel University Faculty Club for lunch. Drexel, by the way, is a university of some 25,000 students in the heart of the city. Who knew?

A group of Drexel academics had been invited to meet me at lunch, which was interesting. I confess that besides eating a great deal of the hot self-service meal (Free! Eat lots!!) I made a tuna sandwich from the salad bar to take with me to the airport for supper. (Free! Eat more!! Always think ahead!!!) And then my friend Jess appeared. Jess was a former young writing student who left Toronto to study sculpture in Philadelphia; now 31, she's teaching at the school from which she graduated, with two shows of her work - she does huge pieces I call "trumpets to God" - coming up in New York. We walked in the 95 degree heat and got caught up, and then I returned to the university for a talk to a student writing class.

Then to the airport, a long wait in the wine bar (you can test three different wines for $11 and eat a secret tuna sandwich for nothing) for a delayed flight, home very late. My companion on the plane had flown from Vancouver to see the hockey game the night before. "I've been a Flyers fan since I was nine," he said. "I grew up in Calgary and Vancouver. I was not very popular in school." Seeing a game in Philadelphia had been a lifelong dream for him; I'm glad they won that night. How very Canadian it is to be defined by the hockey team you support - as in England by your soccer team, in the U.S. by baseball.

I guess you can also be defined by the fact that you support no team at all.

In my handbag, on the way home, a precious "USA Today" article about Paul McCartney winning the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, at an event at the White House. A gorgeous pic of TWO OF MY FAVOURITE MEN IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, Obama and my Paul, be still my beating heart. "After the last eight years," McCartney said at the end, "it's great to have a president who knows what a library is." Yes! That's my boy.

"Even though you have difficult issues (facing you)," he told Obama, "there are billions of us rooting for you." Thank you for saying that, Paul. The President must wonder, sometimes, now that he is being blamed for not being emotional enough about the oil spill, if he has any supporters left at all.

It's harder than ever to read the newspapers, heartbreaking pictures of sea birds covered with oil, teeth-grinding articles in the Canadian papers about Stephen Harper meeting with Cameron in England, and being far more coldly right-wing than the European conservatives. My letter to the Editor was published last week, in much edited version, in the "Star," by the way. I was responding to an editorial asking the Liberals and the NDP to form a coalition, as in England, as the only way to defeat the Tories, and wrote in to beg Layton and Ignatief "to put personal and party ego aside" for the sake of the country.

Some chance. There's an article in yesterday's "Globe" urging the Liberal party to stick to its principles and not to sully itself with those socialists. This is, after all, the party that twice rejected Bob Rae, a brilliant seasoned politician with a left-wing past, the last time in favour of a cerebral man with great cheekbones, no warmth, prestigiously royal Russian blood and not one iota of real political experience, who'd been out of the country for decades. Which principles exactly are we talking about?

Calm down. No point in getting riled. It's just the future of the entire country at stake, that's all.

At home the next day, I faced an overwhelming list of things to do and tackled the most important - food. My friend Lynn and I met at Fiesta Farms, a wonderful store, for a giant grocery shop after which she drove me home. I bought sublime Ontario strawberries and asparagus, all the heavy things hard for me to carry on my bike or back, and cruelty-free meat which is three times as expensive as regular meat. Perhaps I'll have to become a vegetarian after all.

Then spent hours raking, watering and staking up the roses which have exploded in the garden, what joy. Went to the library because another book I'd ordered had come in: "Granta's Book of the Family," an anthology of the magazine's writings, both fiction and non. The very first story, Linda Grant writing about her mother, is so good it made me want to sit and finish the whole thing. Not to mention the 2 other library books I have out, plus "Wolf Hall," and, now, the growing stack of "New Yorkers." Not to mention doing all the other things I have to do, a zillion chores for work and life, not to mention actually WRITING.

Speaking of which ...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


The plane to Philadelphia this morning was full of happy Flyers fans in team jerseys, on their way to the Stanley Cup game tonight. One guy, I overheard, had paid thousands of dollars for the flights and tickets to two games. We walked out of the airport into a wall of hot air - it was over 90 degrees here today. Hard to believe there's a Stanley Cup playoff going on in sweltering heat.

My hosts at Drexel University, where I'm giving a talk tomorrow, are putting me up in a very nice hotel room with king size bed, huge TV, Wifi and - best of all - windows that open. Because when I walked in, the air conditioning was set at 65 degrees, and the room was freezing. Why do Americans insist on frigid Arctic air? I re-set the thermostat to 78 degrees, and now, at nearly 9 p.m., I've got the window open. It's not cool, but it's real air.

I set off right away to find the Barnes Foundation, the famous art collection somewhere in the suburbs. Kathleen, the very organized woman at Drexel, had sent me directions for the train, so though the concierge downstairs recommended a cab, no, your trusty adventurer had to find the train station, take the train, and then walk for 20 minutes in the boiling sun through an extremely wealthy neighbourhood, littered with mansions and acres of grass and trees, taking several wrong turns before finally arriving, very hot and crabby, at the Barnes. No one told me it's completely hidden - no signs, no indicators, just tucked away on a side street. You have to have booked in advance and your name must be on their list or they won't even let you in the gate. It's like trying to enter a secret club. But then, they have reason to be cautious - apparently the art inside is worth 25 billion dollars. That's 25 billion dollars.

There's a controversy here - Albert Barnes, who got very rich inventing a drug with the inauspicious name Argyrol and amassed this incredible collection, specified in his will that it was not to be moved - he set the place up as a teaching museum, arranged paintings in groups, and wanted it left that way. The trustees not long ago had to petition the court for permission to move the collection to a more accessible place. There has been a long battle and much bitterness, with the Friends of the Barnes fighting the move. But I have to tell you, after my train ride and long hike, during which of course I got lost several times, I am in favour of the move. The current hideyhole is okay for people with cars. Not so good for us plebs.

And also - when I finally got in I enquired about a café, having decided to have lunch there - but no, there's nothing that vulgar. Luckily I had a chocolate bar and some nuts in my purse to keep me going. But for a bit there, tired, hungry and hot, I hated the place.

Then I started to look at the art. It's phenomenal. The collection includes 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses, work by Van Gogh, Picasso, Modigliani, El Greco and many, many more, stunning African art, medieval paintings, sculpture, metalwork, and a collection of old wooden travelling chests from the 1700's, hand carved and painted with the names of the travellers printed or carved on the front. So many stunning things - my favourite was a simple pewter rooster made in 14th century France. I loved a Matisse still life, a Van Gogh still life, the one little Klee up high on one wall.

What I did not love are all the Renoirs, 181 works by Barnes's favourite painter. I just don't get Renoir - there's no question of his dedication and skill but all those apple cheeks, fleshy blondes and winsome children, all that rose and gold - his work is like Hallmark cards painted by a genius. Sorry, Pierre-Auguste.

Enraptured with the art but hungry, I got a cab back to the hotel and went immediately in search of dinner. I'd noticed a nice street nearby, so wandered there and found the White Dog Café, which to my great delight was having Happy Hour - half-price local draft. So instead of my usual glass or two of red, I sat outside at a table in the shade and drank two artisanal Pennsylvanian beers with my superb dinner. The menu assured me that all the meat on the menu was from animals raised humanely, so I allowed myself to eat pork - grilled pork tenderloin and a sweet potato puree. If anyone had been nearby, I might not have scraped my plate so assiduously. But luckily, there was no one to see.

On the way back, went into the Institute for Contemporary Art to see an exhibit of the art of Maira Kalman, a highly eccentric artist who has just illustrated Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style." She verges on the goofy sometimes, quirky to the point of self-indulgence, yet funny, warm, original. The exhibit also had old suitcases, buckets, odd collections. She's fun. I do not think Albert Barnes would have been collecting her, though, were he still in the biz. Also popped into a nearby store called American Outfitters - I think, or American something - a clothing store with not one single thing that could be worn by a female over 16 years old or over Size 2 except a crocheted hat, which I tried on and did not buy. And almost bought the book "Things White People Love," because I loved everything on the list.

I just tried to find the hockey game on TV, not that I care, but it's not on. Happened to flip by Fox News and lingered just a moment, long enough to hear a relentless bit of Obama bashing, before moving on speedily. How nauseating that right wing invective just plays in a continuous loop, one show after another, a giant vat of poison on Channel 28, or wherever it was.

Time to prepare my talk for tomorrow. With a warm breeze on my face and a very full belly.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hello, Brucie

Message from Bruce today - "I hope all is well. You haven't blogged since Thursday!"

That, Bruce, is because I left early Friday for Ottawa, where I remained in the bosom of my family until late Sunday night, then plunged into a busy Monday and Tuesday, today. And tomorrow morning, I leave early for Philadelphia. Ah, the life of the jet-setting writer and sandwich woman. That is, sandwiched between my children and my mother, though all are grown and capable. Plus the Monday students and the Tuesday students. And the garden, the house and the crabby cat, with whom you are now well acquainted.

So - family. Ah, family. Sigh, family. What to say, except - could it get more intense? No. A day alone with Mum, doing chores and errands, gossiping and chatting, then the next morning Anna arrived, so there we were, 3 generations, one 29, one 59, one 86. There was cooking, there was shopping and chatter and lunch, there was merriment. And then Auntie Do, 90, came over to join us. It's always fun gathering around the television in the evening, choosing something agreeable to the whole gang, because Mum lasts exactly 7 1.2 seconds before falling asleep; doughty Do lasts at least half an hour, I last a long time because I'm simultaneously reading something, and Anna is texting and Facebooking and all the rest.

We visited my brother and his family in Old Chelsea on Sunday, dying to see Jake, who's nearly 3. What joy to have a little guy in the family. Jake entertained us all; his mother is Quebecoise and he is fluently bilingual at 3, doesn't even know there's a difference in the languages he's speaking. A true Canuck. His cousin Anna tried to get him to say, "Go Leafs go!" He looked at her sceptically for a moment and then shouted, with fist in the air, "Go Habs go!" His father, lifelong Habs fan, exploded with pride.

I flew off Sunday night, leaving Anna for one more day with Grandma, came home to teach Monday and get ready to go away again. A treat for me - Monsieur Choy is back from his writing month in Stratford and came over to visit. How I have missed him. Not that we'll be playing much - he's immersed in his new novel. But still, nearby for a hug and a phone call.

Today, much hither and yon - came back after my U of T class to find my son, who's moving to a new place today, here with a friend and a truck, taking the pile of stuff stored in the basement, stopping for a beer and a burger and then on his way. While he was here, Mary-Fay my tenant, who's also moving today, came in, and the two gave each other a huge hug. "My family!" she exclaimed, and it's true, she feels more like blood than someone who has simply been paying rent here for a few months. I feel very lucky to have a new best friend who happens to be 23. Finally she left too, and tonight, my basement tenant also departs. Luckily my friend Charles is still on the top floor or the house would feel dreadfully empty. Youth is moving on, and middle age is staying put. Except for tomorrow.

So, Brucie, it's not very exciting, but ... Philadelphia here I come.