Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Emotional tone

Jack's funeral is over, and the NDP, according to one of the papers, is already squabbling about the future. Let's pray that an iota of the past week's stunning idealism and brotherhood remains in us all.

A linguist called Pennebaker has just published a book about pronouns, and the New York Times mentioned a previous article of his, doing a linguistic analysis of Beatles' songs. As you can imagine, I am so there. Here are the terms he sets for analyzing the works of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Lennon-McCartney, in the early days when their writing was truly intertwined:

Words per song Emotional tone

Positive emotion Negative emotion Sexual words

Social/identity Social processes First person singular First person plural Cognitive processes Cognitive mechanisms Words �� 6 letters Articles

Making distinctionsb Time orientation

Past tense Present tense Future tense Immediacy

Oh those racy linguists, they sure know how to have a good time. I'll let you know what he discovers when (if) I manage to plow through. Or else you can read it for yourself:

At Carol's class today, we ran on the roof of the Y, in the wild grass garden they've planted there. Marvellous, thumping around to music on a soft grey day with a breeze, on the roof. My own garden is starting to look patchy and tired, and I'm picking new growth from the tomato plants, hoping just to harvest the ones growing now. It's ending, folks, this lovely summer. But we've got a lot of good eatin' to do yet. Yesterday, at the local farmer's market - two baskets of peaches for $10! "The last of the season," she said. I shall be immersed in peaches for days to come. Paradise.

Monday, August 29, 2011

one of the most important articles you will ever read

Back to Apocalyptic crisis budgeting

Apocalyptic crisis budgeting

August 12, 2011

Edmund Pries


Stephen Harper and Rob Ford are among many right-wing leaders who believe in crisis budgeting to cut down the size of government. (Aug. 3, 2011)


The headlines have been apocalyptic and relentless. Unless the U.S. cuts trillions in social spending, it will go bankrupt. Unless Canada cuts billions in federal spending, our economy will go bust. Unless Toronto cuts more than $700 million in program spending, the city will collapse. We live in an age of apocalyptic crisis budgeting. Unless the most drastic social spending cuts are implemented, the world as we know it will sink into the quicksand of debt, never to reappear again. How could this happen?

During the Reagan era, a friend and former colleague, a professor of American history, was invited to the deliberations of a Washington think-tank that provided policy direction for the Republican Party. As they discussed growing the debt and increasing the deficit, he was flabbergasted: “Are you not the party of balanced budgets and debt elimination?” The reply was unequivocal, “Our goal is to grow the deficit as much as possible in order to create political space to eliminate government-funded programming. Until then, we want high deficits while lobbying for a balanced budget — and promoting social program cuts as the only solution.”

To create this useful deficit, tax cuts to wealthy individuals and corporate sectors would be dramatically increased, especially to the banking, energy and military segments. In short, one would implement a transfer of the state’s revenue supply obligations from the wealthiest to the poor and middle classes in order to permit an even greater transfer of wealth from the middle classes to the rich thereafter.

The only trick was to convince the poor and middle classes to “buy in” via a mixture of patriotism and structural necessity so that they would vote in favour of cutting the very programs that benefitted them.

Canadians have had front row seats to observe this structural engineering over the past two decades. After years of sky-high deficits, Bill Clinton’s Democrats balanced the budget and produced a surplus. Then George W. Bush granted tax relief for the wealthiest and went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq to create the largest deficit in American history. As Bush exited from office and Obama entered, trillions of dollars were transferred by the government (funded mostly by middle-class Americans) to the banks. As a thank you, the banks foreclosed on the homes of more people than at any other time in history. The recent debt ceiling settlement follows the pattern as additional social spending cuts are implemented without cancelling Bush’s tax cuts to the very rich.

Like Clinton in the U.S., the federal Liberals left office with a budgetary surplus. The Conservatives created the largest deficit in Canadian history and, unbelievably, ran an election campaign on financial management savvy! Of course, they created the deficit in part by implementing tax cuts and engaging in discretionary spending designed to produce the deficit which, we are told, now needs to be eliminated by cutting programs.

The same approach has now come to Toronto and is being mimicked by Rob Ford. He, too, was left a surplus by his predecessor. Nevertheless, the agenda marches on. First, create the crisis by reducing the revenue base through tax cuts and then take the budget knife to Toronto’s city-wide programs. Instead of articulating a vision for building a great city, it is simply a slash and burn approach to a manufactured crisis.

Some have pretended that the budgetary crisis is real and not manufactured. Let us be clear: our relative wealth is greater than at any time in our history. Our collective ability to build a strong, caring and inclusive society in which everyone can participate has never been greater. This also holds true for the community of nations: we have the capacity to build a just global society.

Our preparedness to do so, however, seems utterly lacking, for an extreme individualism has taken over the mindset of many. We believe, falsely, that we are best served by hoarding as many resources as possible and letting others fend for themselves. The opposite is true. We are best served when we build a society together where all, including each reader of this article, can benefit through the building of community-wide programs.

In many 16th century European cities, each citizen was required to swear an annual citizenship oath to the city (or community) in which they resided. In it citizens affirmed, among other things, their commitment to “support the well-being of their neighbour” and “promote the common good.” Toronto’s early history as a community, like Canada’s as a country, speaks of similar goals and aspirations.

Have we really lost our sense of the common good? Or is each person now on his or her own? There is no apocalyptic budgetary crisis other than of our own making. The crisis is in our orientation.

Edmund Pries teaches in the department of global studies at Wilfrid Laurier University

Sunday, August 28, 2011

thinking of Olivia

In recovery mode, on this serene Sunday during which Hurricane Irene's bad weather decided, after a gloomy beginning, to pick up and go somewhere else ... We had sun this afternoon, and a sweet breeze. I confess that when I came home yesterday, after watching the celebration of Jack's life on King Street, then talking to my emotional mother and daughter, I sat down in a daze to drink a glass of wine or two, and then, perhaps, three. Or maybe even four. It was that kind of evening, thinking about the end of life, about legacy, children, the future of the country. About love, loneliness, courage, truth. All kinds of deep topics brought to the fore by the events of this week, honed to a rosy glow by red wine.

So a bit of a headache this morning, and a slow day pottering around, some work, some play. As often happens, I was accompanied throughout by the CBC - while I cooked large quantities of food, I listend to Nora Young's interesting program on technology, Spark, at 1, then a moving Tapestry program on - what else? - death, including a piece about No One Dies Alone, an agency that sends volunteers to the hospital rooms of patients without family or friends to accompany them on their last journey. More tears as I listened, and I thought that yesterday, I'd exhausted my supply.

And then Eleanor Wachtel, interviewing a Norwegian novelist. "Writing is not therapy," he said sternly, "writing is about opening wounds, not healing them," before telling us how much of his own life he has explored in his fiction, and how much that has helped him. "Go where the pain is," he said.

I checked my website statistics today and found an extraordinary thing - usually some 300 to 350 individuals a month visit my site, most returning 3 or 4 times over the span of four weeks. But this week, starting on Tuesday, double the usual numbers, about 60 people a day, have been visiting the site. And just yesterday, 200 people checked in. They must have Googled Lorraine Segato and found my blog post about her marriage to Ilana Landsberg-Lewis a few years ago. Looking at that rising cliff of readers, I felt like the owner of a small, dusty store selling an obscure product which suddenly was in great demand. Read all about it! she shouts.

Tomorrow, presumably, the numbers will drop to their usual level. My dear readers - a fine bunch who, for some reason, want to read way too many words about the life of a sentimental, often weepy writer living in downtown Toronto, who regularly goes to France and eats large quantities of cheese.

Today, I am thinking of Olivia. Until today, she has had so much work to do, organizing events in the public eye. That work is not done; I'm sure there are many who want to visit her, and Jack is to be cremated and scattered in 3 different places. She will do it all with efficiency and grace. But these two were incomparable soul mates, as Jack's daughter Sarah pointed out so well. What agony, to lose not only the man you love and live with and sleep with, but the man with whom you share almost every moment of your working life. The pain of that loss is unimaginable.

And yet, if anyone can move through and emerge the stronger, it's Olivia Chow.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

watching the funeral

Drained, my eyes puffy, drinking a cold glass of rosé in an attempt to recover. I cycled down to King Street this afternoon, to be with many thousands of others, standing in the street watching on giant monitors the celebration of Jack's life, which was being conducted just behind us in Roy Thomson Hall. So much orange! (FYI, I was wearing an orange summer dress that I bought at a street market in Provence.)

The whole thing was extraordinary - to see the political elite of Canada sitting in rows, hearing talk after talk about social justice, inclusion, equality, freedom, generosity. The Honourable John Baird (an oxymoron) had to listen, Rob Ford, Tony Clement, our fine Prime Minister. What must these right-wing men have thought? Is it possible, as I wrote before, that a sliver of Jack's spirit entered their consciousnesses? That politics will be different from now on in Canada, even temporarily?

There was so much that was moving and beautiful - the whole thing, in fact. The native prayer at the beginning; the vital Quebecois singer who, we gradually came to see, had only one hand and one leg; Stephen Page singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah;" the video about Jack's life that was like an ad for the NDP (woo hoo!); Rev. Brent Hawkes, telling us that Jack always asked him, first, "Brent, how's John?" - John is the Reverend's husband - and later, the Rev. asking the Prime Minister, "Mr. Harper - how's Laureen?"

Jack's children, so moving, natural and honest, speaking of, and to, their dad. Olivia's extraordinary dignity and beauty.

And mostly - Mr. Stephen Lewis, making the speech of a lifetime. I stood outside on King Street, trying to shield myself from the sun, tears running down my face - and best of all, surrounded by thousands who felt the same way. All of us, applauding, cheering, ringing bicycle bells, weeping. I'm so glad he mentioned the War Measures Act, which the NDP opposed to the hooting derision of the other parties; that more recently, Jack demanded negotiation with the Taliban, again derided by others, now considered one way to help end the war.

Lorraine Segato belted out her anthem "Rise Up"; what a star she is. Two people standing nearby asked me who she was. "Lorraine Segato sings with the band the Parachute Club," I told them. "She's married to Stephen Lewis's daughter." As I said after their wedding - how I love this country.

Afterward, all those orange t-shirts climbed onto bicycles and rode away, the streets for blocks around closed off by police and filled with people. This, for a socialist politician. How I love this country. As soon as I got home, the phone rang - my mother, also sodden. And then my daughter, who was working but managed to watch.

Now to see if any of it - all those admonitions to love one another - sticks.

P.S. And to cheer us all up - This Hour has 22 Minutes has compiled a selection of their funny times with Jack. A joy to watch.
Yesterday I lost a hero
Today I learned about
love, hope and optimism
Tomorrow I finish
what Jack started

Jack's coffin
being lifted out

The crowd of
thousands, many
in orange

Friday, August 26, 2011

tribute to a life well lived

At City Hall

Immensely moving - the whole
square is covered with chalk, and people on their hands and knees adding messages. The line to sign the book of condolences goes around the building.

The bottom shot is a shrine - people leaving candles, cards, notes, things that are orange ...

Truly, the nation has been powerfully affected by this death.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

wearing the orange

A confession: I'm a hypocrite.

This morning I decided that if possible on Saturday, rather than watching Jack's funeral on television, I'll go down to Roy Thomson Hall and stand outside with the, I'm sure, many hundreds of others, watching it on monitors. So I got out an orange t-shirt to wear, and then realized how hypocritical that is. In the eighties, I joined the NDP, but soon let my membership lapse. Unlike Jack, I gave up hope; the party was pathetically earnest and out of touch and would never, ever win real power. I felt like Bob Rae - better to go where the power is, try to effect change there - and became more interested in Canada's Natural Ruling Party, the Liberals, than those scrawny outsiders the NDP.

Ha! Talk about the joke being on us - the NDP now the official opposition, and the Liberals decimated, leaderless, wandering in the desert. O ye of little faith ... What a lesson in sticking to your principles and not giving up. Lesson learned. Thanks, Jack. I'll be there in my orange t-shirt, hypocrisy or no. For you, your courage, your optimistic vision.

It's too bad that Christie Blatchford felt the necessity to write such a nasty piece in the National Post about Jack, his family, party, legacy and letter to the nation. But we shouldn't be shocked or surprised - she's a right-wing columnist writing for the right-wing; it's her job to stir up controversy and sell papers, no matter how low a blow this requires. I feel sorry for her. Imagine looking at the moving spectacle of human grief and compassion, and seeing only the negative. What a dark, bitter tunnel that must be.

And now - life goes on. A violent storm last night, the heavens cracking open. I watched a documentary on TLC with incredible footage showing exactly how that one sperm gets to the egg - believe it or not - and on TVO, simultaneously, a documentary on mother animals and their babies. Weeping the while, of course, about these most common of miracles, birth and motherhood. In the middle of all this, my son made the mistake of phoning, and had to listen to me tell him what a miracle it is and how grateful I am that he's alive. Poor guy - he never knows what kind of over-emotional sturm und drang he'll encounter here.

Also Suzuki's documentary on raccoons, stating, basically, that they are going to take over and human beings are doomed. No surprise there.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

messages at City Hall

Friend Jason just sent these from his iPhone - the concrete ground and ramps at City Hall, covered with

How beautiful.

dreaming in Jacknicolour

And still, the papers are full of Mr. Layton. A beautiful obituary by Michael Valpy in the Globe yesterday; today in the Star, a front page picture of the messages of gratitude and grief that young people have scrawled in chalk all over the walls of City Hall. How fine a grass-roots tribute is that?

Picking up on Jack's mad optimism, here's what I hope: that young people with idealism and energy are inspired by the message he wrote directly to them and join the political process.

And that his message and example inspire every politician in the House of Commons to be better than they are. Stephen Harper is going to sit in Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday, listening to speaker after speaker tell of Jack's empathy and fight for social justice, the fact that he listened and heard and genuinely cared about people, that he refused to stoop to pettiness or attacks or negativity of any kind.

What is our Prime Minister, famed for his petty attacks and lack of genuineness, his cold-hearted policies, going to think? This man was a pinko idiot, he will think. Get me out of here.

But he'll have to note the huge impact the man has made, the outpouring of love and respect. Perhaps he'll realize he wants people to think well of him after he dies. Perhaps a tiny sliver of human kindness will enter his heart, like the fairy tale of the Ice Queen. And he'll rush back to Ottawa and draw up a bill putting billions into social housing, education, daycare, health care.

Dream on, says my cynical mind, which Jack would banish.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

And more ...

An article in the Star and another in the Globe write that there's no one on the left, now, to stop Stephen Harper and his callous agenda. Unbearable to think about, today.

Last night, on the TVO program, a reporter for the National Post said that the tragedy of Jack's death was that he was so optimistic and positive and still died far too young; this, he said, proves wrong our belief that being positive helps in the fight for health. I think he completely missed the point. Jack may have been unbelievably positive during his mortal combat, during all his combats, but the fact is, the man worked incredibly hard in a stressful job all his life. It's possible, cheerful or no, that Jack Layton worked himself to death for his country.

The aspect of the tragedy that affects me most is that this man struggled for decades to attain a position where his ideas could make a huge difference - and that finally, against all odds, he had reached that pinnacle. He was at the apex of his professional life, and surely his personal life too, with his extraordinary marriage and the birth of his granddaughter, when cancer struck again.

For a great man to die before his time is always cruel, but to watch one cut down just as he achieves the goals of his entire lifetime is devastating.

Not to mention the devastating fact that there's no one, now, to stop Stephen Harper's callous agenda.

4.30 p.m. It's one of the most stunning days of summer, sunny with a fall breath of coolness - perfect. I'm aware, all the time, that a heroic man is not here to witness it - a man born in July 1950, only a week and a few days ahead of me.

I'll just have to enjoy it twice as much, for us both.

more Jack

Patrick Corrigan's beautiful drawing in today's Star

Jack's extinguished candle, still in the window this morning

Monday, August 22, 2011

the candle in the window

It's almost midnight on this on-going day of mourning. I listened to the national news on CBC radio, then watched the CBC TV news, and now am watching Steve Paikin's show on TVO; they were all about Jack. What a difference this man made to our country, in every good way. What a legacy of decency and compassion he has left. I wonder if inferior politicians of a less generous and kind stripe are watching this outpouring and wondering what people will say of them after they're gone.

Someone started a Facebook page this afternoon suggesting that we light a candle in our front windows at 9 p.m. tonight in honour of Jack Layton. The one in my window is burning still.

Jack - and the Liberal Democrats

Monday, August 23, 8 a.m: last night I wore socks for the first time in many days, and this morning, I have on a light little jacket. There's a sharp tone in the air, a warning - it's coming, the end of summer. But it's a gorgeous day, and to celebrate, I'm going to go to the 9.30 a.m. yoga class at the Y, find my inner peace for today. On the calendar, I see the most heavenly spectacle for the week ahead: absolutely nothing. A student tonight, a friend on Tuesday, Carol's class on Wednesday - and otherwise, me at my desk or on the deck, drinking in the view.

12.30 p.m. Sad, sad, sad. As soon as I arrived at the Y, a woman changing near me asked if I had heard the news about Jack Layton. And soon, that's all everyone was talking about everywhere - I came home to a message from my daughter, an email full of grief from Chris in Vancouver.

Jack Layton was a phenomenal leader, born for politics in the best sense - an old-fashioned, decent, honest, incredibly hard-working, intelligent and compassionate man. I'm tempted to write, "We shall not look upon his like again," but I'm praying that's not true.

I was working once with Olivia Chow, his extraordinary wife, when we needed a bit of arcane information. "Call Jack," she said, so I did, and asked him - I think it was about carbon emissions. Without hesitation, he delivered a stream of facts, statistics and details, and then he went back to work and so did we.

Yesterday I went to the annual Liberal picnic in Cabbagetown, organized by Bob Rae and Glenn Murray for their constituents. I found Bob and said, "Here are two words for you - merger and taxes." The left has to merge, I said - the right has done it and looks invincible. The left is split three ways; our future is hopeless unless we find a way to merge. (See the fantastic article by Warren Kinsella about the last election in this month's Walrus - though an aide of Bob's warned me that he and Warren do not get along, so I didn't quote it.)
Bob said, "I agree with you - but we need to see how Jack's health holds up."

I wonder what he knew.

Then I said, "Taxes. We have to take that word back from the Republicans. One politician, just one, has to have the courage to stand up and say, 'Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.'" He agreed with that too.

Now would be the ideal time for the Liberals and the NDP to merge, as both need to find a new leader. Let them unite and find someone acceptable to both; let them move forward as the Liberal Democrats or the New Liberals. Surely that's the only way to take the country back from hideous Harper and his hideous minions. That way, something good would come from the tragedy of Jack's death.

I know, the chances are practically nil. But a girl can hope.

You are mourned and needed and missed, Jack Layton.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

There's one born every minute ...

Saw this on sale in the Distillery
District this morning - had to stop to
make sure I was seeing right. But I was - $65.00 for a pot with parsley, dill, mint, chives ... my my. Must be imported Italian spices grown from magic beans.

today's nature news

Rose of Sharon, rudbekia, impatiens, echinacea - a feast of colour

Mandevilla - a 60th birthday gift
from Chuck and Kelly,
finally ablaze

My handyman and friend John in his
beekeeping gear, getting ready to spray a wasps' nest outside my
bedroom window

A raccoon that would not take no
for an answer - I found him in the
kitchen, chased him out, but he kept pushing his way
through a hole in the screen.

For some reason, has deleted the last
raccoon picture and replaced
with an exclamation mark. It was cute.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

she's back

I have to tell you, this not-blogging thing is pretty nice; it's been years since I've simply bumbled along without feeling the need to call myself to account and report in to you every few days ... However, there have been complaints from the faithful. So here I am.

And here is a partial list of our activities during Penny's 18 day visit - a suggestion for those of you hankering to visit Toronto at some point: the Art Gallery of Ontario, the St. Lawrence Market, a day swimming and bike-riding on the Toronto Islands with lunch at the Rectory, a lengthy birthday party in a Cabbagetown garden, the Royal Ontario Museum and surrounds, a blockbuster movie, a play at the Royal Alex, a day at Niagara Falls with a ride on the Maid of the Mist and lunch in Niagara-on-the-Lake, two days in Stratford staying with friends and seeing a musical, a Shakespeare and a classic American drama and hearing an inspirational lecture, two days in Montreal having dinner with an old friend and lunch with another and much walking about, three days in Ottawa including a tour around town and a walk and lunch in the Gatineau Hills, and a stunning international exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada, a Porter flight back skimming along Lake Ontario, and a full day garden writing workshop.

Bored yet?

Not to mention the overwhelming pleasure of meeting your hostess's entire immediate family.

Montreal was vibrant and fascinating, made me want to go back soon - I rented a Bixi bike and rode all over Old Montreal and downtown, a great city for bikes with many designated bike lanes, safe and pleasant. We met old friend Louise and went, of course, to Schwartz's on the Main for a smoked-meat lunch - Penny said she had never eaten so much meat in a sandwich - and I went to see the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Musee des Beaux-Arts - quite spectacular. I'm not a fashion buff, but it's clear that his designs are not mere clothing but pieces of art.

And then Ottawa, much much family, avid talk among the English - my mother and aunt and friend Penny talking of biscuits and pudding over cups of tea. Much discussion of the riots in Britain now, and of past times. I wish I lived closer to my mother - it's hard to be so far. However, we do our best during my intense visits. We all loved the superb Caravaggio exhibit at the Nat Gall - not only his own stunning work but the canvases of those influenced by him, and the Simon Schama film at the end that dramatizes his short, savage, brilliant life.

Home Saturday evening to rush about getting ready for the garden workshop the following day - but friend Louise had come from Montreal to Toronto and was staying here, so with the three of us chopping and cooking and listening to rock and roll, the work vanished. The workshop went very well - eleven writers, a thunderstorm forecast but a no-show, the garden at its best at the height of summer - a most enjoyable day, I think for them as well as for me. One participant wrote, "Yesterday was refreshing and wonderful, and inspiring to meet so many terrific people. So much great writing and so many great stories - we are so varied and yet we weave common threads."

And another wrote - okay, she's my biggest fan and anyway, I paid her handsomely for this - "I believe that you are one of the nicest, most patient, compassionate, brilliantly talented, modest, and "evolved" human beings that I've ever known in my life."

Love it! If only! But thanks.

The next day, Penny flew back to the rainy isle; she's home in Sheffield, where she reports it's chilly, grey and damp and she likes it that way. We are back on either side of the ocean, with many memories. I am almost settled again; it took me two days just to get my email under control, the kitchen, the jumble of clothes in my bedroom ... and you, to get back to you. But I'm back. The good news about the mammogram lightened my heart. This nice, evolved human being returned her ridiculous impulse shoes, is renting an AutoShare car tomorrow to buy a load of groceries, and actually opened her memoir yesterday morning, to begin work.

On we go, into the best days of summer - peaches and sunshine, with just a hint of sharpness in the air to remind us of what's coming, just down the road.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

woo hoo!

I sat in the waiting room at Women's College Hospital, surrounded by 8 or 9 other women also wearing faded blue hospital gowns. Nothing to read in the tiny room, a tiny TV jabbering overhead, uncomfortable seats - is this the best they can do? However, I'm not complaining; a few minutes before, the technician had put my previous mammogram on her display machine, where I could clearly see a little dot. "I can see it," I said.
"It could be just normal density," she said. "But it's different from last time. That's why we'll do it again. This will go to the radiologist, who'll let me know whether you need an ultrasound as well."

She squashed me flat again, and I went back to the waiting women. "We sure know how to have a good time," I said aloud, and we all laughed. Finally, the technician reappeared.
"Elizabeth?" she said. I stood up. "You're free to go."
I had to breathe for a minute.
"That means it's fine?"
"That means it's fine."

It's a wonderful thing to find out, after two weeks of some concern, that you don't have breast cancer - at least, this year. I went straight to the Y for a long hot shower, and then to Winner's on the way home where I bought a pair of ridiculous shoes that I'll take back tomorrow. I sure know how to have a good time.

I'm home! Home, alone, healthy. The crabby cat sleeps beside me, the birds chirp in the ivy, the cicada rasps, the basil scents the air. All is well again.

There's lots to tell about the last few weeks, and I'll get to it. But right now, here is an all points bulletin: ALL IS WELL HERE. Happy, lucky, relieved.


And for further celebration, go the New York Times and read Warren Buffet's article from yesterday's paper, "Stop Coddling the Super Rich." Ground-breaking; revolutionary. Maybe it will help.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Beth's other business in Montreal

A sideline. Pays for the writing.

family and writers

The assembled multitudes.

Our nation's capital -
makes your heart swell, no? No?

Much beauty - Mum, flowers.

Four writers writing.

Three more writers in the garden.

images of Montreal

Vieux Montreal, very pretty and very old - by Canadian standards

Jean-Paul Gaultier's idea of a wedding dress

The extraordinary, a bit creepy
hologram models

Our home near Parc Lafontaine - we were
on the second floor, entered via one of Montreal's ubiquitous winding staircases

Our host Glenn and his deluxe swimming pool

Friday, August 12, 2011

making and renewing friends

Brain back, briefly, as the others watch the Roger's Cup, Serena Williams and Jokovic winning ... my aunt and mother lifelong tennis players and fans. I, less so. So here's a bit about the last few days.

Penny and I arrived at Toronto's Union Station on Monday morning - a long line waiting, and behind us, a man with a friendly face and an English accent. So I began chatting with him and his wife; when we boarded the train, we sat together, and by the time we arrived in Montreal five hours later, A. and C. were our best friends. We'd heard all about their three sons, especially the middle son who hasn't spoken to them for ten years and the successful youngest son who lives in Toronto; we'd discussed C.'s cold mother and alcoholic father, A.'s appalling parents with their multiple marriages - and they'd heard, of course, all about us. We discussed British politics and various bits of Canadiana, and at the end, before vanishing into Montreal, we exchanged email addresses. I do think this is a travel encounter that will endure. Fine people.

We stayed with Glen, a friend of my friend Louise, who has an apartment on the ground floor and a whole apartment above which he lets to visitors and gives to visiting friends including us - a spacious quiet place, with access to Glen's tiny swimming pool, perfect for a refreshing dunk on a stifling day. I remembered, as we walked around, how much I love Montreal, its unique neighbourhoods and casual, open vibe and street life, the streets crowded with balconies and winding exterior staircases that don't exist, I think, anywhere else in the world - a city where neighbourly relationships are built on balconies and staircases. As my friend Keith said, only one small problem - there's only good weather for 2 months of the year, and the rest of the time, you're slogging groceries up steep winding stairs coated by ice and snow.

Speaking of Keith - we went to his place for dinner. In 1970, when I was 19 and he was 25, I fell desperately in love with Keith at the Neptune Theatre, where I was working backstage and he was a director. We have not seen each other since that summer. And now, his voice and energy and passion are just the same, just as mesmerizing, only his body is not - he has been battered by a neurological condition the doctors have been unable to name and can hardly walk - and yet he is still a gourmet cook with a huge appetite for life, art, food, travel. His work - directing new opera - takes him all over the world; in the months upcoming, to an island off the coast of Newfoundland and to Wales and Sweden. I can't imagine how he travels, but he does. We sat in his beautiful garden - he also does the gardening - catching up, and then we helped him finish the cooking of a superb gourmet meal; he has arranged his kitchen so everything is within reach, even when he's sitting on his walker.

He's an extraordinary, rare man. I'm thrilled to find him again.

That's all for now - it's much later, tennis ended, and we all watched a 2-hour PBS special on Carol Burnett, very funny and moving, and now it's late and the brain has seized up again. A great way to end the day, with that rubber face.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

copping out

Really sorry. It's Thursday night so this is Ottawa, and I'm brain dead. Montreal was great. Ottawa is great. I think what I'm saying is that whether I want to or not, I have to take a little respite from blogging, because I'm just not capable.

Your faithful correspondent will soon return, with pictures and stories to delight. But not for a few days. Do not adjust your set. I hope you'll bear with me.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Stratford hooray

Sorry - I'm behind, and it's 10 p.m. on Sunday night, and we leave tomorrow early for Montreal. Madness - a bit too much going on for us both, but there you go, it's done, that's the way I planned it. We got back this afternoon from Stratford, barely time to do laundry and sit down for a bit and check the garden and write notes for my house-sitting son, and we're off again.

Stratford was wonderful - too much to talk about briefly, I'll recap later, but here's the overview: "Jesus Chris, Superstar" - fantastic, and after Penny gave me a long lecture about the genesis of Christianity, about which I know very little; "Grapes of Wrath" - moving, beautiful production, especially the performance of old friend Janet Wright, whom Lani and I visited after the show; Penny said it was the best show she'd ever seen; "Titus Andronicus" which my friend enjoyed and I abandoned at intermission, just was not up for such evil and gore; and a lecture by an extraordinary hero, Palestinian doctor and peace activist Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who preaches love and tolerance despite losing 3 daughters and a niece to Israeli tanks.

More anon, if possible, but not now. Much to think about.

Also, a luxe barbecue put on by our hosts Lani and Maurice, and a steak dinner out with them, and much merry talk and walking about near the Avon River, and buying of souvenirs by Penny and of dark chocolate by me. We had a great time, and now would like to sit still for a while and digest it all. Instead - off again.

Montreal Monday and Tuesday, and Ottawa - my family - Wednesday to Saturday evening, then back here and ... Sunday, a writing workshop for 12 people in the garden, with food. Wonderful. Can't wait.

The really good thing about all this is that I haven't a single minute to think about my next mammogram, which is the Tuesday after next. And then everything settles down. I hope.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

getting wet

Note to self: next time a guest comes from overseas, program some down time for the poor creature. Penny and I have been doing so much, we're a tiny bit tired - and the travelling begins tomorrow. Busy!

Yesterday, we saw a matinee of "Wishful Drinking," Carrie Fisher's one woman show. I was especially interested, as a memoirist, in how this famous woman turned her life into drama. She is powerful and funny, and somehow manages, with spilling too much, to convey the madness of her childhood with father Eddie Fisher and mother Debbie Reynolds, and her various marriages including 12 years with Paul Simon, her alcoholism and other addictions and then her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. "And then I was invited ...," she says, "to a mental hospital. How many of you have been invited to a mental hospital?" She makes the dark stories amusing and yet truthful. Not easy.

Afterwards, Penny went home and I went to meet Barbara, my editor, who had read a draft of the memoir. We met at the cafe at TIFF, which was surrounded by police tape because another glass balcony had fallen off the building, as has been happening regularly in Toronto - all the balconies registering their displeasure at our mayor, no doubt. Anyway, our meeting went well - she had words of praise and words of counsel. And that's all I'll say, for now - except that I have lots of work to do, when I can get to it, which I am raring to do.

Today, as you've seen in the pix, Louise and Corey took us to Niagara Falls. We left at 7.30 a.m., got there just as the Maid of the Mist was starting so had no line up, ate a lovely lunch at Niagara on the Lake, and got back by 2, avoiding rush hour both ways. Pretty damn smart.

I think I've written about Louise and Corey before, how I urged her to look for the son she had given up for adoption when she was 16, and she did, and when they finally met, they were like twins. They offered to take me for lunch as a thank you; take me and my friend to Niagara Falls instead, I asked, and so they did. And they are like twins - it's amazing. After 47 years apart, they have known each other for one month and already finish each others' sentences. She told me how much she adores him and he told me how proud he is of her, how glad she is exactly who she is. What a great story. They're both crazy, of course; that goes without saying. But marvellous.

W*yson came over with a friend for a visit, and then Annie came for dinner, another British friend to meet Penny and tell her how horrible Canadian winters are without the right boots and down coat. I've been rushing around getting the house ready for our departure, compiling piles of train tickets and theatre tickets. My son is coming to catsit and water the garden - we leave for Stratford tomorrow, see a matinee as soon as we arrive, and then on Saturday see a lecture and two more shows, dinner both nights with our hosts Lani and Maurice. Back Sunday afternoon, one evening to get ready and then we're off again, to Montreal and Ottawa. Penny cannot accuse me of under-programming her stay.

This is what summers are for!

the fabulous Falls

My friend Louise and her son Corey - a long story - drove Penny and me to Niagara Falls today. Ho hum. All that water.

Happy mother and son reunion, with Penny and more water.

Even more water.

The maid of the mist

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

aging gracefully

A dull, grey, drizzly Wednesday - a welcome relief for human beings and gardens. There are three new plants out there - a lush dark purple buddleia from Penny, a hot pepper plant and a spectacular hibiscus from my son, dessert-plate-sized crimson blooms shouting, Look at me!

Yesterday Penny spent the day at the Royal Ontario Museum. She was surprised at how expensive admission was - $24! I guess that's how they're paying for the sharp shards of architecture looming over Bloor Street. So she decided to get her money's worth and enjoyed her visit, especially the First Nations exhibits. Whereas I went to look at a rock pile with my handyman John. Since the city ripped up my front yard for the water pipes, we have to rebuild, so John and I were looking at stones to use as building material. We had to choose between lavender and dark grey - who knew there were lavender stones? But there are. We're still deciding.

Spent the rest of the day clearing up after the party and responding to all the emails. The flood that came in from Facebook was a marvel - but many others too, including Chris in Vancouver who with his designer skills fashioned a card, a very goofy shot of him holding a lot of balloons. And I spent a lot of time thinking about the day, how being surrounded by loved ones is the best feeling in the world. And seeing friends who don't know each other become friends, and my children in the midst, hosting and cooking, at ease, vital, beautiful. I know, I'm a tiny bit biased. But they are the most beautiful human creatures on the face of the earth.

In the evening, before Jon Stewart, Penny and I watched "Britain from the air," a fascinating show about the people who keep track of air, sea and land traffic, about how electricity, sewage, and transport run on the island. There was a hilarious segment about the surge in electricity use nation-wide after the end of "The East-Enders" TV show - as a million kettles are plugged in for a cup of tea. It's a daily crisis for the man who is in charge of the delivery of electricity. That's my mum. Nothing that can't be solved with a cup of tea.

And what good news, in the midst of the absurd, heartbreaking wrangling in the U.S., to see Gabrielle Giffords alive and well.

I have to say that 61 is fabulous so far.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

birthday sweets

One chocolate and one lemon - does it get better than this?

A best friend from childhood and a best friend from the last decade

Matt, one of my adopted sons, with Penny and a close blood relative

Another close blood relative with Kate and Kathleen

Some of the assembled multitudes, including the old bag herself

Monday, August 1, 2011

happy moi

7.30 a.m., August 1st, 2011. I am sitting on the deck, now 61. It's a holiday Monday, so quiet in downtown Toronto, it's almost like being in the country. Sparrows squawk, butterflies sail about, the raccoons, who dug holes in the grass overnight, are asleep, and I am drinking in this life, this Canadian life - garden, city, family, friends. Thanks to Facebook and the Internet, birthday greetings have arrived from Los Angeles, London, Provence, New Zealand, Belgium, and all over Canada. My children are coming to help cook, and some fifteen of the dearest people in the world will dine tonight on the pork now marinating in satay sauce (tons of peanut butter, mmm), on salmon and salads, and two Daniel et Daniel cakes waiting in the fridge.

In this family, we must mark every memorable event with large meals and many friends. Celebrate without food and wine and everyone we love? Impossible.

Penny and I watched a documentary on TV last night, about mothers coming to live with their adult daughters. It made clear that the complexities of this most fraught of relationships never abate, say I as a daughter to a mother and a mother to a daughter. Then we watched the new BBC series, "Zen" - fabulous escapism, Rufus Sewell as an Italian detective, the whole thing shot in the dusty gold light of Rome. And then I ploughed on in my current library book, "Let's take the long way home: a memoir of friendship," by Gail Caldwell, such a beautifully written, thoughtful, powerful book. It makes me want to rip up my memoir and start again.


It's the smell I can't get over as I sit here tapping on this lovely new machine in the silence - no, there's a cicada like a buzz saw - the smell, as I've rhapsodized before, of jasmine, lavender, mint, rosemary, basil. Oh, there's a fat raccoon meandering home - a late partier, strolling down my path and climbing straight up the ivy. Just he and I, the cicada and the sparrows and the smell of summer.

I wish a joyful August 1st 2011 to you all.