Saturday, April 30, 2011

cancelling the Globe and Mail

I love much about the paper, and I did it regretfully - just called to cancel my subscription. But they have endorsed Stephen Harper as the best man to lead Canada for the next four years. So that's it between me and the Globe and Mail. Our affair is over.

Obviously they couldn't endorse the hopeless Ignatieff, and such a conservative paper couldn't support radical Jack. They could have maintained a dignified silence and urged people to follow their consciences and vote, or something like that. No, they actively endorsed the man by printing a list of the many fabulous things he has done for the country.

I will miss many columnists, including Jeffrey Simpson and my neighbour Tabatha Southey. I will not miss Margaret Wente. Thank heavens for the Star, a deeply Liberal newspaper which today issued a ringing endorsement of the NDP.

Sunny and warm this morning, and the trees in my yard are covered with buds. In the soft spring air, the fate of my country, still, hangs in the balance.

Friday, April 29, 2011

more wedding and election

Later... There aren't many occasions that are fun to share with both my mother in Ottawa and my daughter on the far side of town. Both got up early, Anna and her roommate Holly at 5 a.m., Mum at 5.45. Anna said, "This wedding was so special because we all watched Diana's funeral in the Abbey, we all know about his loss. So the world can celebrate his happiness. He came through. He's fine."

And my mother said, "The whole thing made me proud to be British." And it's true - what other country in the world could get away with such absurdly anachronistic and yet marvellous and stunningly choreographed pomp and spectacle? A golden carriage drawn by white horses? Uniforms loaded with gold braid? It's like something from a Peter Seller's movie, and yet, there were my two closest girlies, up at dawn and weeping.

I haven't heard a single negative word about it yet.

And more happiness: at the Y I ran into an acquaintance who I know voted for the very right wing Rob Ford in the mayoral election. So today, as a joke, I said, "I guess you're getting ready for vote for Jack Layton."
And he said, "I've already voted, and I did."
"Did what?" I gasped.
"I voted for Layton. He has credibility. I'm sick of dishonest politics. I wouldn't trust those other two guys as far as I could throw them."

He told me that Ford, too, meant what he said and was honest. I thought, how interesting - he's not listening so much to what they say, he just wants to know that they actually mean it. That must be a huge part of the NDP surge - because Jack IS straightforward, honest and believable.

The election ain't over, and the bad news may still hit. But as least it's a very interesting race.

And now back to squeals on the phone. "The dress was perfect!" "Isn't he handsome. And so happy!" "TWO kisses. They're so in love."

giving in to the wedding

Confession at 9.10 a.m.: tears rolling down the face. So much for not giving a damn about the royal wedding. I didn't get up early, just thought to turn on the TV after breakfast, at 8.15, on the off-chance there might be coverage - and found every single channel fixated. Watched them on the balcony and finally got to see a replay of the highlights on French CBC, in French! And then the other channels, going back to the arrivals, the walk down the aisle, the ceremony.

Love it. Just love it, I don't care how ridiculous, sentimental, maudlin. The dress is stunning, she's a lovely, unaffected woman with a beautiful smile, she's - this is very important - a brunette. Loved Harry's messy hair, one touch of normalcy. Hated those absurd hats. Loved her father's face as he walked her down the aisle. Loved how she waved at the crowds before entering the Abbey, how she said, "Oh my!" as she walked out on the balcony and saw the many thousands gathered to cheer her.

The New Yorker has an apt cover this week, the young couple in bed with the covers drawn up to their chins in terror, while around them the Queen, Prince Charles and the press gather to comment, point and stare. I don't envy them, trying to make a marriage under glaring lights. But I wish them well.

Loved the trees in Westminster Abbey. Wish his mother had been there to see it all.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

weddings and elections

I swear to God, is there something wrong with me? I find this wedding frenzy utterly incomprehensible. People are getting up in the middle of the night to watch it; the television is crawling with documentaries, docudramas, talking heads; the Star has about 18 journalists in London to cover it ... and all I can say is, who the hell cares? She seems like a very nice young woman and he's a nice young man who suffered a terrible tragedy in his life. I hope they're very happy. Now go away and leave me alone.

Especially with the horror looming - ol' ice eyes, doing his best to say nothing before election day, so the idiotic 35 or 40% who've decided to vote for him don't suddenly understand their mistake. How can people not be revolted by the scandals and lies? But they don't care or notice. I'm concerned that the trumpeting of the polls showing Jack Layton in the ascendant will mobilize reactionary forces like nothing else. Just what we need - a stirring of the hornet's nest of the right wing.

For those of you wanting to vote strategically, here's a fantastic tool, thanks to, a terrific activist organization to which I've just sent money. My riding is not in question - Bob Rae is a very good man. But my mother's riding in Ottawa is the seat of the vile John Baird, whom Mum is desperate to unseat. According to the Avaaz link below, where you can enter your postal code and receive an instant analysis of your riding's situation, she should vote for the Liberal candidate, who has the best chance of getting rid of her meat-faced bully of a representative. Give it a try yourself. VOTE STRATEGICALLY. Oh hell - just VOTE!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

click on these

Bruce just sent me the latest entry in his wonderful blog, which recounts his 3-month journey through Europe - and now he's up to our time together in Spain. In his posts, when he mentions a painting or a gallery, you can click on the link he provides.

In this latest post, Bruce wrote this about the Reine Sofia museum in Madrid:

"With the exception of Picasso's stunning Guernica, Beth hated the museum, finding it cold and sterile."

Do you wonder what link Bruce has provided for "cold and sterile"? Click and find out.

And here is a lovely little film about the power of words.




Life Stories at U of T, Tuesday May 3, 12.30 - 3 for 8 weeks


True to Life at Ryerson, Wednesday May 4, 6.30 - 9.15 for 9 weeks

Please check under Teaching on this website for more information and for testimonials from former students, and please let me know if you have any questions.

I can't wait to begin.

reading a ghost

I was just looking through my journals and found a blue notebook I started as a chronicle, not of my life but specifically of my writing. Here's a sample:

Oh, why can’t I say what I want to say well, for a change? Why am I so stilted, why can’t I write, why can’t I be like Anne? God, God. My eyes are puffy – I just saw the movie Anne Frank on T.V., just read some of her stories over – I can’t strip away from myself the phony and sensationalist from whatever is underneath, if there is anything. I am coated with layers and layers of complexes and phonyness – Anne was all real, real.

I’m looking through this book for anything real - no, NOT real, I don’t know what it means – I mean, something that MEANS something, that isn’t trite and stupid – not stupid – unnecessary. Nothing. I’m full of nothing-ness. I can do nothing and my brain is stunted.

God, I wish I could write.

That was written on Jan. 1, 1967. I was sixteen.

Here's another entry:


I’ve just looked through this book from the vantage point of a 19 year old professional actress in her co-op in Toronto – and yet it’s all still very real to me – even the cloying self-consciousness of some pages I can understand and remember, saying things I felt “teens” should say and feel. I’m not trying to excuse myself, I hope.

It’s a shame that this book is really only a chronicle of Beth Kaplan’s aging incoherencies, instead of the development of a creative mind, as I’d hoped.

Always full of raging self-confidence, that Beth. No wonder the work has poured from her pen.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Saturday morning, to the St. Lawrence Market with my friend Annie, the two buildings jam-packed with great food and people buying it. Maybe the cheese isn't quite as spectacular and the good bread's more expensive than in France, but otherwise our market, I'm happy to report, is just as rewarding as a French market.

I loaded up, because I'm cooking the marvellous Ottolenghi roasted vegetables in caper sauce for Easter dinner. But I am not cooking the dinner - my daughter is. This is a first, a landmark - on Monday, bearing my veggie dish, I am going across town to her place for dinner, rather than cooking the whole schmear here. How glad I am to pass the torch of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes over to the younger generation.

Saturday afternoon, back to yoga class at the Y, my first in 6 weeks and much needed. Invaluable, the opportunity to shut my mouth and stretch my spine.

And then - to the opera. Student and friend Peg sings with the opera chorus and passes on the staff special deals when she can, so for $22 each, my friend Monique and I had prime orchestra seats for the opening night of Rossini's Cenerentola. What a feast, trills rising and falling, huge blasts of gorgeous music. And who did I run into in the lobby but Eleanor Wachtel, whom I haven't seen since our meeting in Madrid. What globe-trotting culture vultures we are. How lucky.

Today's treat - when Nicola Cavendish tells you to go see a show, you go. Wayson and I went to Jake's Gift, a one-woman show written by and starring Julia Mackey. And what a tremendously talented young woman she is. If the show were running longer, I would INSIST that all of you in Toronto see it - it's stunning. Not ten minutes in, I had to clench my jaw to keep from sobbing. Julia did research in France and throughout Canada about the DDay landing on Juno Beach by Canadian forces during WW2. She tells the story of an elderly veteran who returns for the 60th anniversary of the landing, and meets a young French girl who values what he did for her country and for the world. Just writing about it makes me want to cry.

This is the best kind of theatre, work I love more than anything - the collecting, the valuing, the honouring of stories. Stunningly moving, beautifully written and performed, using nothing but a bench, a box, a table - and talent, heart, and skill.

All this bliss, not to mention that yesterday at about noon, spring sprang. Suddenly it was hot. Today was lovely if colder, but already in my yard, delicate leaves and shoots are up and out. And my 3-year old neighbour Juliette, all dressed up in her Easter best, gave me a chocolate egg from her pink basket.

Grateful and glad, just to be breathing on this old earth.

And, as much as possible, trying not to think about the possibly hideous outcome of this election.

Friday, April 22, 2011

a cold but good Friday

This is the worst spring I can remember. But then, I guess it's especially difficult to feel that sting of wind, to look at my shabby brown and grey backyard, and think of the garden in Giverny, and of Paris, the paulownia trees and wisteria in full massive bloom under the hot sun.

However. There seems to be not only the hope of warmth in the air, but also some stirrings of change in this wretched election. Imagine, the NDP possibly overtaking the Bloc in Quebec - is it possible? I am very glad Jack Layton is getting his due. He's an extraordinary man, devoted and very smart, who's been doing the thankless job of representing the left-wing conscience of this nation all his life; it's great that the nation has at last noticed.

In this riding, however, I will be voting for another extraordinarily fine man and politician, the estimable Bob Rae.

I'm seriously pissed off at the Greens. It's wrong at this crucial time to siphon votes from and further splinter the left. David Suzuki made an important comment in a recent interview - that the Greens have ghettoized the environment as an issue. It should be an important platform for all parties, he said, instead of the main arena for only one.

Work began again yesterday, that is, paid work, unlike my writing work which is like tossing words into the wind. We met at U of T to consider the "thesis" of a certificate student who did her final project with me as editor and advisor. This was a writer who had divided her stories into two categories - the easy tales about family that she wrote as non-fiction, and the hard ones about family secrets that she had fictionalized. Of course, her trusty editor advisor, always on the hunt for truth, made her combine the two and tell the full truth about her fascinating and difficult life. The jury at U of T concurred: very good work, riveting, beautifully written and with great potential. Onward!

W*yson just called - he's back in town too and we're going to meet. Love blooms in cold, grey spring.

Later: Another of the great joys of my life here: the hot tub at the Y. After an hour-long holiday class today - taught by wonderful Margot, whose 3-year old did pushups beside her, better than most of us - I sank into the hot tub in the Health Club, to be joined by my friend Gretchen and various other women. And there we floated, a circle of naked women immersed in very hot water, discussing travel and many other things. Bliss.

And now I'm off to next door, where my French neighbour Monique is hosting one of her regular Friday 'cinq à sept' talk-fests in French. There was sun this afternoon, and on my walk, I saw the citizens of Toronto, like mole people, slowly emerge; the schoolyard was full of children on bicycles, playing soccer and baseball, on the jungle jim - yes, Toronto, there will be spring. I'm glad I'll be here for every glorious moment.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

rhapsody in the key of home

At midday I went to Carol's class at the Y, and in the gym, I thought, now I'm truly home. This event, as you know, is the anchor of my week; how glad I am to hear her music, to follow her around and around like a duckling. My legs hurt now and I couldn't do many sit-ups - but it'll all come back.

Incidentally, I stood on the Y scales with trepidation, convinced, as always, that I'd gained weight in Europe, eating all that divine food, especially vast quantities of bread and cheese.

I'd gained not one pound. It's a miracle, every time. It's all the walking. It's the delicious, healthy food and the concentration. Let's face it - it's a miracle.

This afternoon, I wandered around the Liquor Control Board looking at wine, starting to get depressed, thinking of those 5 euro bottles when here, good wine seems to start at $12 and more. But then Bobby, my friend who works there and helps me find good deals, came up and volunteered a suggestion - a new Pays d'Oc merlot, under $10 for a litre, and on the label it says "Excellent rapport qualité-prix." Music to my ears. And he recommended a Chilean red - a Carmenere. Two good bottles, one a litre, for under $20. I bought an Ace Bakery baguette, crusty and delicious, certainly comparable to a French one, and on the way home on my bike, three people called out, "Hi Beth!"

The weather is still foul, but the heart is glad, glad, glad to be right here.

Jake's Gift at Factory Theatre - must see

Just got this note from old friend Nicola Cavendish and booked a ticket immediately. I suggest that if you're in Toronto, you do the same. Nicky knows her theatre.

A friend of mine who is a SUPERB young actress is doing a show at Factory

JAKES GIFTwhich she wrote directed and performs in as a one woman piece
stellar writing, lean and pointed
charming, moving, beautiful writing and exquisite performance by Julia
She has travelled all over Canada with it and into Britain and Europe now
don't miss it Beth
on only until Sat at Factory

not quite like last year

This is what I wrote last year on my return from Paris:

SUNDAY, MAY 2, 2010

I heart Toronto in springtime

Toronto is gorgeous, and that's not something I say very often. I've come back into the heart of another springtime, trees flowering pink, white, yellow, forsythia, lilac, the magnolia about to burst - gladness, the only word, the whole city radiates gladness. Luckily, yesterday was grey and overcast, and today too - first because my tired eyes would hurt in sunlight, and second, because if it had been sunny I might just have collapsed with the loveliness of it all.
Ah well. We'll get there. Even the weather gods disapprove of this election. And anyway, May 2 is nearly 2 weeks away, and a lot may have changed by then. But the blooming will be late this year, that's for sure.

Two more words about why I'm glad to be home: peanut butter. Mmmm. Five New Yorker magazines waiting. My big kitchen with its shining microwave - there's no microwave in the kitchen in Paris. Ah, there goes a huge raccoon, climbing the fence to get back into the ivy - it's 7 a.m., I guess the night's roaming is over. My delicious daughter came over yesterday to eat cheese from Paris and to tell me about the big treat she has bought herself for her upcoming 30th birthday - a shiny new barbeque. Her very own self-starting barbeque. What a girl.

Friend Chris has hit a wall. After 3 days of walking over 20 k. a day with 35 pounds on his back, he has blisters, bursitis in one foot, and his shoulders are killing him. He is finally, in his sixties with major health issues, having to admit that his body won't do what he wants. So he is adapting his fundraising journey - will take the train to various centres and do long day hikes around them, piling up kilometres but not carrying anything. Lissen, I said, you had this brave, crazy, marvellous idea, one of hundreds in your life - you inspired many people, you made a try. No one wants you to be in pain.

Speaking of pain, yesterday, I printed what I'd written in Paris in a font I don't use and took it to the library to read, in an attempt to get an objective view. Well ... actually, I'm pleased. Yes, you've heard this before, but this time, I know it's definitely on the right path. Much more to be done, but there's a good core there. I'm happy. And I can tell you that the Parliament Street Library is the best place in Toronto for a parade of eccentrics and crazy people you won't see anywhere else, including an old cross-dresser in a badly fitting wig and a long pink skirt and giant holy running shoes.

My Toronto.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

last pix

When I opened my hotel window on Sunday night, this is what I saw - la rue Port Royal clogged by a "manif" of rollerbladers, pursued by police. Never, ever dull, is Paris.

A last walk to the Jardin des Plantes, overloaded with poppies

Le Jardin de Kaplan, overloaded with not much of
anything, right now

So she's home. Big @#$# deal.

coffee before dawn

5.30 a.m. - I've been awake since 4. Chilly and black outside, light and warm inside. I'm drinking coffee from my favourite mug, the Star was waiting outside the front door, the crabby cat is curled up next to me, ignoring me but so lovely to look at. One of the reasons we go away is that these small, familiar moments mean so much when we get back.

I lay awake at 4 thinking about the film I saw on the plane, Mike Leigh's Another Year, and how I should not have dismissed it. Once again, as in his last film Happy-Go-Lucky, he is showing us that happiness is a choice. Some of his characters are so mired in misery, so sealed in - the unforgettable Imelda Staunton in a cameo at the start and the mesmerizing and exhausting Leslie Manville all the way through - that they cannot comprehend the extent of their own suffering or that there's a way out. Manville's character buys a car, and the tale of that car is like her own life - careless chaos and destruction. We live once, the director shows us. Choose your spouse wisely. Get fixed. Plant a garden. Do what you can to help.

The central couple are the world's good people, generous open souls who shelter their wounded friends and family. Ordinary decency, the film is about, and kindness.

It is hard to watch the broken, though. They do go on and on.

God, this coffee is good. The furnace chugs. It's my furnace. It's my responsibility - and my comfort. Home.

Monday, April 18, 2011

jiggety jig

Right now, I am eating a memory of France - squares of Lindt's crème brulée chocolate bar, not available in Canada - and looking out at my grey, still dormant garden. I've just had dinner - opened the freezer and found a tub marked "Jewish penicillin" that I'd made to give to a friend and just frozen instead. Had chicken soup and then bread and cheese and chocolate brought from France. I've got a foot in both worlds, but not for long.

Toronto was not in its most welcoming mood this afternoon. It started to snow as I rode in the from the airport. And as the cab drove along the Gardiner, I mourned, as I always do, the foul mess of Toronto's waterfront, completely blocked off by apartment buildings, a tribute to greed and incompetence. For a few minutes, I decided to turn around and go back. I'd just read in the Globe that the new right-wing television station opens today, ghastly news. My city has been taken over by a boor with no understanding of cities, my country is being devoured by a horrible prime minister and a horrible election.

And it snowed. Not a bud to be seen on the trees, not a flower anywhere. It was about 2 degrees. Not, as I said, welcoming.

But home. My house smelled wonderful - Sally, who's been staying here, baked cookies and left them for my return. The crabby cat looked mildly interested for a minute or two and then went back to sleep. There were no unpleasant surprises in the mail, the plants were thriving, and one, my African violet, was in full glorious bloom. The birds were squabbling at the bird-feeder. Home.

I called my children and my mother, unpacked, ate some cheese, and then rode my bike to the Y, where I had a long hot shower and scrubbed off the dust of the journey. Nearly froze on the way there and back. But cold weather is the price we pay to live in this country.

The journey from Paris was uneventful. I watched Mike Leigh's Another Year which I didn't particularly enjoy despite being a fan of Leigh's methods and of all the actors. Watched Toy Story 3 which was sheer pleasure. Read the Globe and got depressed, and spent the whole rest of the trip reading Just Kids by Patti Smith, a memoir of her youth and love affair with Robert Mapplethorpe. Her saga of New York from the 60's on made me feel like the most boring person alive. What a life.

Now - lists of things to do. Life resumes. The good news is - I get to relive spring all over again, because surely it's going to appear before long. Surely.

Paris is a million times more beautiful. France is better in lots of ways. But this is where I live, where my life is, my family is. I'm glad to be back in my own real world.

P.S. Just had a walk around the 'hood. This morning, I heard that most French of sounds - as I walked to the metro, a woman came out of a bakery in front of me, breaking the top from her baguette with a crunch of fresh crust. This evening, on my walk, I heard that most Canadian of sounds - a kid in a back alley with a net, a tennis ball and a hockey stick, smacking that ball into the net, over and over.

There are croci and bluebells in people's front yards and a thicket of daffodils at the farm. I saw a fat robin. There's hope.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Chris sets off

First stop, 9.30 a.m. - Notre Dame Cathedral. They were distributing "rameaux" - branches - to the faithful as part of early Easter service. Good luck for the year, they said. Mr. T. now has one tucked into his backpack.

Noon - we have walked south-west; time for lunch. He has a hamburger, I have couscous.

And now we part - I to get the metro back to Paris,
he to walk for two solid months to Montpellier. We find today's route - the Avenue de Paris - is right next to the restaurant. Another good omen. And off he goes.

As always - brave, crazy, inspiring, the best.

a dusk walk and morning views

The little restaurant where Bruce and I ate.

St. Etienne du Mont

A dusk streetscape

My house from the courtyard - the big window at the bottom is my living room window

the view looking up in the front courtyard
of this building - between all the other buildings - also known as Kaplan tries an art shot

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What's the spiky thing called again?

Sightseeing with my friend on a heavenly day - guess where?

It's a cliché, but it's pretty stunning nonetheless.

Le marché Wilson. We both bought berets. Bien sur.

The stunning paulownia trees, everywhere.

Saturday and we're off

9.30 a.m. Saturday morning, and Chris is on his way over to my place right now. We're going to wander all day and see what trouble we can get into. And then tomorrow, he starts his walk, right through the length of France, finishing, he hopes, in Montpellier, where he'll stay a bit with my other oldest, bestest friends Lynn and Denis. He hopes to chart this trip with his iPad, and has a carefully packed Mountain Equipment backpack and lots of other wonderful MEC stuff to help him on the way. He's doing this as a fundraiser. Other people just go to France. Chris decides to walk for two months and raise thousands of dollars. Nothing the simple way, our Chris.

Yesterday we met, talked, laughed, and had lunch. Chris had ripped his pants on the plane so we went to our favourite place, Monoprix, to buy him a new pair. Then he and Bruce went off to do tech things and get caught up; I dawdled a bit in the store, bought more paper, another pen ... Things you just can't get in Toronto, paper and pens.

And then back here to work for the rest of the day. Very boring, especially for one of my last days in Paris. Mais c'est comme ca.

He's here. I'm off.

P.S. A woman who read my post on my caffeine addiction asked me to post a link to her site - about avoiding caffeine! So here it is. Though why you'd want to avoid caffeine I cannot imagine.

buddies in good times

Mr. T. is here! Best friend since the Arts Club Theatre, Vancouver, 1975. I adore everything about him except the diet Coke.

The iPad lesson. Brucie is the tech genius but Chris isn't far behind. These guys and their gadgets ... men!

Lunch on the rue Mouffetard. We reminisced about the trip the 3 of us took to India and laughed a lot.

Friday, April 15, 2011

tree poem for Patsy

A clumsy translation of this poem on a nearby building, done with the help of Lynn in Montpellier. (Lynn teaches translation and says poetry is especially hard. As you will see.)

cast your eye on this great tree
and through it,
maybe it's enough.

Because even torn, soiled,
the tree of the streets,
it's all of nature,
all the sky,
the bird there rests,
the wind moves there, the sun
speaks there of the same hope despite

if you're lucky enough to have the tree
on your street,
your thoughts will be less arduous,
your eyes more free,
your hands more desirous
of less night.

Poem by Yves Bonnefoy, art by Pierre Alechinsky.
Paris, 5th arrondissement, at the angle of la rue Descartes.


It's 10 a.m., and Chris will arrive here from the airport within the hour. I've just done mes courses - my shopping, down to the rue Mouffetard, which was just waking up, to buy the first real French gariguette strawberries - tasting them, the first of today's orgasmic experiences, spring in my mouth - and from the bakery, croissants, pain au chocolat and a baguette, munched on the way home. I went via the tabac, where I bought the fresh new Elle that comes out on Friday.

As I walked, I compared the experience to being in New York. New York is a fabulous city, no question, but it's relentless. There's no let up of the energy, the solid barriers of building blocking out all sky, the furious pace of automobile and pedestrian. Here, rows of pretty six story buildings with their balconies admit lots of sky, and there's a more moderate pace even in the heart of the city. It's just more human here. Not as edgy, God no, not as on top of things, not as trendy, open, daring, surprising, challenging, fun, free.

But beautiful and human, with the best strawberries.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

our day with Claude Monet

I'll try to spare you too many rapturous cries of joy. But ... Bruth and I went to Giverny today, to see Claude Monet's famous garden and his water lilies. We were concerned that because it's only mid-April, perhaps there wouldn't be much happening in the garden at all.

Ohmigod. Oh. My. God. I just want to get home and plunge my hands into the soil. The loveliest garden I've ever seen. Brilliant M. Monet lived here for 43 years, until his death. He worked from home. He had a home office. I see him having breakfast in the vibrant yellow dining room and then telling Madame Monet he's going to work. And off he goes with his paints and canvas to the end of the garden, to stand by the pond and paint his water lilies and bridges, flowers and trees. And then home for lunch. He ate well, Claude, that's clear.

Stunning - colour, light, scent, patterns. All the fruit trees loaded down with blossoms. Since pansies are annuals, and there were about a million pansies throughout the garden, someone was very busy digging before the April 1 opening. Tulips, rhodos, azaleas, fantastic willows, Japanese maples and other trees, daffodils and jonquils and hyacinth, forgetmenots, lilies of the valley, everything that can possibly bloom in April was blooming at the top of its lungs. It was paradise.

There were a lot of other people, mind you. We met several batches of American ladies on the train there, who needed help with tickets and recommendations for restaurants in Paris - one bunch from the garden club of Long Beach, California and another from Boston. There were many Americans in the garden, it seems an American thing to do. But there were still corners where you could escape the crowds and just drink it all in. A perfect day, too - bright, warmish.

Oddly, this is the one place I've been on this trip where there were very few Japanese tourists. Not so odd, when you think about it, I guess - no one can teach the Japanese about gardens, not even Claude Monet. In fact, in parts, he was trying to create a Japanese garden himself.

I was profoundly moved, as ever, that human beings find it necessary to create beauty and then to share it; that we all want very much to be part of it. The marvel that this man created an extraordinary retreat, and now thousands, millions, get to appreciate it. There was a group of punk teens going around, a girl with leather clothes, orange hair and many piercings, and I wondered what Claude would think of this strange person in his garden. I think he would have been interested in her.

At one point as I walked by the little river at the bottom of the property, a French woman remarked on a water rat she had just seen. "They ate these when they were hungry during the war," she told her friend. "They'd make them into paté."

Finally we had to leave, to go to the village to see the Museum of Impressionism, which had an exhibit of Pierre Bonnard's work - Bonnard lived nearby and was a good friend of Monet's. Again, wonderful - bursts of colour, and a great love of domesticity. Some of his work has the flavour of Vermeer, Matisse - a celebration of the breakfast table, of women at work, the hearth. La couleur, c'est la raisonnement, he wrote. Colour is a way of thinking. There was a photo of him toward the end of his life in 1937, a meek scrawny little man with glasses, looking like an accountant - and nearby, vast canvases he was painting at the time, colour pouring from his soul.

We decided to walk back to the train station, four and a half miles, which was mostly along a very nice path through fields. "This is fucking bucolic!" cried Bruce, in what will become a classic description of nature, I'm sure. We walked to the town of Vernon - it was funny all day, dealing with Vernon, because Vernon, B.C. is where my ex-husband was born and bred, a lovely Okanagan town I know well. This was another Vernon, also very beautiful in a different way - rows of medieval houses, a huge cathedral, and the train back to Paris.

On the train, we met a man from Toronto who's an engineer working with a French company that makes vaccines. We whizzed through the pretty countryside talking about cholera, polio, maleria. I learned what stem cells are and why they're important. Hooray for vaccines.

Tomorrow, my best friend and Bruce's, Chris, arrives from Vancouver. The crazy man has decided to walk the length of France as a fundraiser for the Performing Arts Lodge of Vancouver; so far he has pledges of over $15,000. He is, incidentally, HIV positive with heart problems and bad feet. But also invincible. I had to go to FranPrix and buy a giant bottle of Diet Coke, which he drinks constantly. Hid it at the bottom of my shopping bag, though, below my milk and bottle of wine.

Only three more days.

PS Learned from the Boston ladies that the governor of Massachusetts, whom I so admired on Jon Stewart yesterday, is more sound than action, "quite disappointing," they said. Too bad. Chantal Hebert writes in today's Star that Harper is still on his way to a majority, unless his mask slips and he loses "the veneer of moderation he has so painstakingly applied."

I think I'll stay in France. Can't bear to watch. I'll go back to the garden and sit this one out.

Arriving at Giverny, the house and view from the bedroom

wandering, besotted

just like home

Giverny to beautiful downtown Vernon

Can't stop taking photos. There are more. This is only a few.

The last shot. Sigh.

Bruce and I walk to Vernon to catch
the train.
This is the local bus shelter.

Who knew that little Vernon
was so gorgeous?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Manet, Monet and the boys

The weather has taken a turn for the ... well, not the worse, since it's what it should be. A turn for the normal - actually cold in the mornings and evenings, and not that warm during the day. Which is wonderful. It means, first, that I can leave the windows closed and don't have to hear the drilling and the beep, both of which continue unabated. And, more importantly, that I can work without feeling that sunshine calling, like a siren.

I've done some good work here. I know, it makes no sense to come all the way to this delicious city in order to shut myself in a room. But actually, it does. I have not a single responsibility here beyond keeping myself alive, which is an extremely pleasant chore in France. So mornings and early afternoons spent at work are filled with pleasure, knowing that a glorious city, and lunch and dinner, await.

Speaking of a glorious dinner - here's Mr. Bruth and I at the flat before going out for our celebratory meal. I served him Beaumes de Venise, a lovely aperitif wine, and gave him a souvenir of our journey together. As we were leaving the apartment in Madrid, I took a small spoon from the pile of small spoons, to eat a yogurt on the train. Bruth was shocked at this flagrant act of larceny. Now he owns the spoon and will have to deal with the guilt.

And I am wearing a bright Goodwill jacket to hide the new bulges around my middle.

We went to the little place I'd seen on my walk, near the Pantheon - what a find. A very small, cosy, cluttered, warm room - 18 diners, max - with, wonderfully, the owner's dog very much a presence. An airedale-type hound, he spent the evening flopping in various corners, carrying cushions around in his mouth and, at one point, my napkin, which had fallen from my lap, and generally being adorable. Bruth did remark that in Canada, dogs are not permitted to wander around restaurants. Canada's loss, say I.

I thought we were being sophisticated in arriving at 8.15, but the room was nearly empty. Too bad, I thought, it's because it's a Tuesday. But an hour later, the room was full. I simply do not understand going out for dinner at 9 p.m., but that's the French way. (And the Spanish way is an hour or two later!)

I had the menu entrée plat - entrée and main dish - and Bruth had the menu plat dessert - main dish and dessert (which was called "suicide by chocolate," and which he had to share with me.) I did not take pictures of the food because the room was filled with actual French people - we were the only English speakers - and I didn't want to be embarrassingly gauche and in awe. But take it from me, the food was wonderful, the wine and ambience too, and best of all were the sole eccentric, friendly waiter and the dog.

This was our trip's big extravagance, a two course gourmet meal with free appetizers and a pichet of wine, which came to $48 each, including tip.

I love this country.

Today, the marché on the rue Monge, for supplies, and then work till mid-afternoon, when I went to the Musée d'Orsay. It's always a zoo, and now it's being renovated; I'd brought a book to read in the line-up to get in, which wasn't too bad, and then the next line-up for the Manet exhibit. Which was worth the wait.

I'll have to read more about him - it was very crowded and I'm sure I missed a lot - but the exhibit gave a real sense of the man, his work and life. There was a great portrait of him by Fantin-Latour, showing an intense, handsome young man with a thick blonde beard and hair. He loved women, painted them beautifully, took as a mistress his younger brother's piano teacher when he was only 18 ... and later had a child by her and much later married her but also possibly had a thing for the beautiful painter Berthe Morisot, whom he painted often and who then married his younger brother. Ah, a complex world.

Manet went to Madrid and was profoundly impressed by Velasquez, Goya and El Greco at the Prado - as were M. Bruth and I - and in Paris, hung around with his buddies Baudelaire, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro and Monet. His paintings were refused repeatedly at the famous art salon.

Despite his grand and influential canvases like Dejeuner sur l'herbe and Olympia, I loved best the tiny ones he did of flowers and fruit. One asparagus stalk, a few flowers in a vase, a mirabelle plum - quivering with life.

Then I did my best to see as much as possible in the time remaining, with recorded announcements in six languages urging us to vacate. The sublime Courbet, and here's Van Gogh, Bonnard, Seurat, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Monet, Derain and all the others. What a time that was in France.

As I stood in front of the unforgettably grim "Whistler's Mother," two French women behind me were in full discussion. "Tu es deja menopausée?" asked one. I didn't realize that "to menopause" was a verb.

Walked back through streets, streets, narrow winding windows beckoning with beautiful things great smells people having l'aperitif at countless little sidewalk cafés, sometimes this city is a cliché of itself and yet it's all true. So, to be part of the cliché myself, I stopped in Monoprix and bought myself some pretty underpants.

P.S. I gather that the leadership debates have changed nothing - no one made a big mistake, no one made a big breakthrough, on we go. I just watched yesterday's Jon Stewart show, featuring an interview with Massachusett Democratic governor Deval Patrick. The man is a marvel of honesty, good sense and humour. I'm not voting either Liberal or New Democrat; I'm moving to Massachusetts.


Near the Pantheon.

A beautiful poem about trees, on the side
of a building.

Our lady - Notre Dame - seen from
another angle, her left side. Not a bad
side, Madame.

And her behind.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Monday

Went out for a walk late afternoon yesterday, because it was, again, too beautiful to stay in. I read on a tourist website that the average temperatures in April in Paris are a high of 58 and a low of 41. On Sunday, it must have been at least 80 - 25 celsius. There's a heat wave in Spain right now - 33 Celsius.

Gosh, I wonder what's happening to the climate? How strange. Anyway, today, Monday, it's back to more seasonal temperatures, which is a relief. It's just odd to be sweltering in early April!

Speaking of global warming, I am following as much as I can bear of Canadian and American politics long distance - I watch Jon Stewart, read the Globe and the Star almost daily, and was reading the New York Times until I was cut off and asked to pay money. Imagine! Actual money! And I will probably do it, too. Anyway, the whole scene is appalling, makes me glad to be in this bubble of history, art and cheese. Thanks to Jon, I know that the disgusting Republicans in the U.S. were ready to shut down Congress over funding to Planned Parenthood; I know from an article in the "Guardian" about massive cuts to the arts in Britain, including writer's festivals and small presses and the "Artists in the Schools" program. Very depressing.

And in Canada, the only hope so far to avoid a Tory majority is Sheila Fraser's revelations about G20 sleaze, as if that's a surprise.

Okay, that's my dip into politics. Back to food, wine, and beauty. Quickly!

My walk on Sunday was just around the neighborhood. I'm in love with just about every old door I see, have to limit myself. I went back to my favourite church in Paris - well, okay, one of them - St. Etienne du Mont, close to here, next to the Pantheon. Racine and Blaise Pascal are both buried here, as is Ste. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. Construction began in 1492 and finished in 1626; it's a beautiful church with a complex facade and a soaring interior, and it's always nearly empty.

I also discovered what looks like a divine little bistro nearby, where perhaps Bruth and I will dine this week to celebrate our journey. It was so pretty, I wrote down the name and checked it on-line - rave reviews.

Wandered, took pictures, enjoyed everything, and then came home and took a photo of the fine window in this apartment, and my resting feet. I have a blister from so much walking. And yet, despite the exercise, my skirt is much tighter.

Today, Monday, I worked almost all day. There's a tiny little torture going on for moi here - noise. During the day, some sort of massive travaux are going on nearby - deafening drilling, pounding, crashing. When it stops, at lunchtime and after work, there's another little noise. Someone in this building has gone away, forgetting to turn off his or her alarm clock. The poor little thing has not stopped beeping every few seconds for 4 or 5 days. Beep beep beep, continuously. It's an admirably tough little machine - must be exhausted, but has not flagged. I have to sleep with earplugs. Beep beep beep. I'd like to throw it out the window. Beep beep beep. I'd like to throw its owner out the window.

Only joking. Ha!

On my brief sorties out today, I went to Marionnaud, the cosmetics store, to talk to the wise woman I met last week, asking her all sorts of questions - for example, about eyebrows. She peered at me and confirmed, yes, that my surcils were sauvage. Savage eyebrows! Not much to be done about that. She informed me that the skin renews itself every six days and I should be scrubbing those dead cells away. While there, I tested all kinds of perfumes, and she gave me enough free samples that I don't need to buy any. Not that I wear it, funnily enough, once I've left France. There's something about France that makes wearing perfume mandatory.

And I walked down the Boulevard St. Michel to Gibert, the famous old bookstore. I was looking for a specific book about the Sixties magazines I'd read during our year here, as research for my memoir. Various people in the store were not very helpful, and I was grumbling about the supercilious French, but then a woman in the right department found me the book - both a new copy and a used one. It was enormously heavy; impossible to bring it home. So I just stood there, reading and taking notes for twenty minutes, perfectly at ease because all around me were scores of people, also browsing and poking about. When I'd finished, I apologized to her - It's too heavy, Madame, I said, or else I would have bought it. She needed no explanation. Absolutely no problem, she said. I was happy to find it for you, and it was yours to read.

Tres tres civilisé, ce pays.

Home to eat more duck for dinner. I've never eaten so much duck in my life. It turned out that the packet of frozen duck I bought contained quite a lot, so I'm still ploughing through. I may be off duck for awhile after this. Not that that will be a problem back home. Not much duck being cooked up on a daily basis in old Cabbagetown.

Home! In a week! Duckless!

Beep beep beep.

Sunday's walk, and then the rest