Thursday, December 31, 2015

Being three

Just thinking of yesterday, when after all the chaos - getting late out of the airbnb house, saying goodbye to Do, my brother and sister in law, getting to the airport through the frozen streets and snowbanks, arguing with Eli who kept wanting to open his car window despite the freezing air, returning the rental car, trying to get the masses of stuff we had, including a baby in a carseat, to the check-in counter and then through security - all of our stuff carry-on, of course, just to make life more complicated - and then waiting for the flight which was delayed and then finally getting on board, Anna breastfeeding throughout and coping with her fierce, single-minded older son - finally we were seated on the small Porter plane and had crammed our stuff into the overhead bins and the rest beneath the seats and were trying to take a breath - and then the plane took off into the dark frozen Ottawa sky, and as we flew up, Eli said, in an imperious tone, "How do you open the window? I want to open the window."

"Spotlight" - must see

Is there anything better than your own bed? As I burrowed under the covers last night, I thought more than ever of immigrants and refugees, with hopes that everyone, one day, will have a safe, warm, comfortable bed.

I know, dream on. Well, it's New Year's Eve, a day made for dreaming, so I will, okay?

We made it home, the flight delayed not quite an hour by de-icing. But it's a hurricane, travelling with a baby and a very determined 3 year old and a lot of stuff - car seat, booster seat, bags of snacks and books and everything else - I'm amazed we made it in one piece, to tell you the truth. But with my extraordinary daughter in the lead, we did.

I have a week and a bit before work starts, both courses a go, time to sort myself out and do my own work before I start to focus on my students. I'm going to give myself the treat of seeing some of the movies I've been desperate to see, starting, today, with "Spotlight." I expected it to be a tired retread of stuff we already know - pedophile priests, what's new about that? My God, this is a superb film - I cannot recommend it more highly. We forget there was a time when we did not know about the rot at the core of the Catholic church, and we watch as these Boston Globe reporters - in 2001, so recently! - begin to put the pieces together, as they realize it's not one priest but several, and then not several, but a lot, and then the incredible scope of the story, that the highest levels of the church were involved in the cover-up.

I have to say that I cannot understand how anyone can remain a Catholic after seeing this film or acknowledging what it portrays. But then, as a former priest says in the film, the church is an institution for the centuries; a believer can focus on the future and try to forget the past. And there's a mighty fine Pope, mostly, in power now. But what the film shows of the damage caused by lack of accountability, the corruption of power and cronyism and an inflated sense of entitlement, is stomach-turning.

Just as a film, it's fantastic with 100% superb, no, perfect performances, including, I'm happy to say, Rachel McAdams and Len Cariou, two great Canadian actors. But every actor is first rate - nothing overstated, just honest film-making and performances, superb. Go see it. Go see it. Because what it told me, most of all, is that nothing is more powerful than the truth-telling of good journalism - and good writing.

Speaking of writing - I have failed in my resolve not to blog. Failed dismally. C'est la vie.

I've just had leftover Christmas dinner and a few glasses of wine. I may watch a movie on TV and I will certainly read; walking home from the cinema, I went into the great used bookstore BMV on Yonge St., could not resist buying a book about William Morris, one of my heroes. And then I will go to bed. A sane, quiet New Year's Eve.

I wish all of you a joyful new year, a wonderful 2016, healthy and productive with good friends, good food, a sense of accomplishment. Here's my new year's gift to you - Macca's isolated vocal track for O Darling - what heaven to hear that incredible, powerful voice.
Do yourself another favour, watch Aretha Franklin sing "You make me feel like a natural woman" at the Kennedy Centre honours recently. Shivers down the spine.

Thank you for music. Thank you for writing. Thank you for breath. Thank you for home.

Here's Britannia Park, a playground where Eli played in the summer, yesterday morning. O Canada.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. And I have miles to go before I sleep. And so do you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ottawa in the snow

Today Ottawa had a huge blizzard - something like 30 centimetres of snow fell, and the roads were sheet ice. My rental car got stuck in the driveway and I had to dig myself out, just to get the three blocks to Do's. I was chanting, "I HATE OTTAWA!" to myself. "Who lives in this hellhole?" I know, there are many people who love winter. I was just in shock after our incredibly mild December. 

Do didn't want to leave the building, understandably, so I managed to get to a grocery store for urgently needed supplies and later walked on the street through the blinding snow - it was almost fun, actually - to the local mall to buy Do a toaster and for me, the most urgently-needed supply - wine. When I drove home at around 8, the snowbanks were 10 feet high. 

But yesterday was wonderful. First we visited Auntie Do. 
Ninety-five meets five months.
 Then we drove to my brother Mike's home in Chelsea, Quebec, for a family celebration. Once there, Ben settled in to do some reading.
And some heavy drinking. As did the rest of us - the champagne was flowing.
 The kids - Mike's son Jake aged 8, Eli 3 1/2 and my sister-in-law Emilie's brother's children aged 5 and 3, had a cushion fight.
The boys playing computer games. They also played for hours in the snow (just enough snow, at that point.)
Emilie's lovely mother Lorraine with our oysters for the evening, from my brother's gourmet seafood emporium La Boucanerie de Chelsea. We also had fantastic cheese, calamari salad and smoked and baked salmon. And Ben devoured his first shrimp.
Jake was much admired as he banged out some tunes.
And Eli (wearing a t-shirt that used to be Jake's, celebrating my brother's favourite team) bashed the drums in the basement where Mike and his band play on the weekends. We had a fab family gathering, and when I went back to Ottawa that night, Anna and the kids stayed out there. Much more fun - toys! Snow! A fireplace and lots and lots of fish. Today they were supposed to come in to Ottawa but got snowed in and are staying put till tomorrow. It's clearing, the roads are plowed - this city knows how to deal with snow.

What turned out to be best of all was that my aunt and I had a quiet day to ourselves. She reminisced and discussed my parents; we made meals, and I showed her all the pictures from the past year on this computer. She told me again, for the eightieth time, about first meeting me, "a determined little thing of two or three," when we went to visit my mother's parents in London. It's such a privilege to be close to someone who has lived so long, seen so much, and has watched me grow up, and my children, and now my grandchildren. She's incredible, resents having to use a cane, is sharp and astute. I love her very much. Rock on, Auntie Do.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

moving right along

Okay, yes, here I am, and it seems that I am blogging - but only BRIEFLY, not just because I swore to take a break, but because I'm exhausted and still have lots to do. Why do people call this the holidays when they're the most exhausting days of the year? Wonderful but wearing, especially for the hostess.

Tomorrow Anna, Eli, Ben and I are off to Ottawa to visit Auntie Do, who will be 96 next year, still lives alone and drives and often wins at Scrabble. A blessing. And if we actually get there - freezing rain is predicted, travel advisory alert - we'll also see my brother and his family; he is the new owner of the salmon smokery and high end food emporium La Boucanerie de Chelsea, just down the road from his house on the Quebec side, so we are sure to eat some good smoked salmon. Do plays Scrabble on Sunday afternoons - I'd forgotten - and will have no time for us tomorrow. So we'll go to Chelsea and hope to catch a glimpse of her on Monday and Tuesday. We're home Wednesday evening, in time for New Year's Eve. Which, as usual, I will ignore.

Wayson came for leftover Xmas dinner, and while we chatted after eating, I took down the tree and put it outside for some Ukrainians to take away for their festivities in January. Hooray! And then I made a vast turkey soup. Will be distributing it far and wide as there isn't enough room for it in my freezer. If you want some, please get in touch.

Much love to you all, happy end of 2015, looking forward to a sparkling new year. 2015 was pretty damn great - a new grandson and Justin Trudeau.

Friday, December 25, 2015

done and done

 Last night's pageant- too bad you can't see that beautiful couple with their baby, not to mention the animals on all sides
Today's pageant - two tired celebrants
One not tired at all - about to begin - that's a sled behind him, so he's ready if there's ever snow again
 new slippers
 two hours later: general chaos, and one tall man reading his new book on the sofa amidst the mess. Then he went back to bed. Notice: grandsons in matching Xmas sleepers.
the aftermath
 After all that - the toy he played with most was a small shovel. This is the weather Xmas morning!
Best gift of all - starting today, Ben gets to take his boots and bar off nine hours a day. His feet are normal. Amazing - in only five months, they corrected one foot that was completely sideways, and he didn't even notice. Thank you, Sick Kids and everyone involved, including his conscientious mother.

And then a massive meal, massive, ridiculous, cooking all day, dishes up the wazoo, children keeping us busy, the house upside down, everyone exhausted - are we lucky, or what?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve in shorts

A moment of tranquillity before it all hits - Anna and family on their way over. It is a record-breaking warm Christmas Eve here - warmer than Mexico and, according to my friend Patsy, much warmer than B.C. We Torontoites are not complaining, we are revelling - I saw people out in shirtsleeves and shorts today - truly a day to remember.

When everything was done - at least, as far as I can do it today - I went for a walk to check out Riverdale Farm, our set for tonight's pageant.
The main stage for tonight
The Wise Man stage - they stand on the picnic table - and our fancy prop camel
One of my favourite places in all of Toronto

Then I went to the Necropolis, which is celebrating Xmas in its own quiet way. 
A Christmas wreath
This is the spot where I scattered the ashes of my parents on Christmas Day two years ago, in the deep snow. I went to visit them and say hello, to tell them how much I love them and how grateful I am for everything they gave me. How grateful I am to be alive on this magical day. 

Onward. Joy to the world. I wish you peace, friendship and good health, my friends.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Oh Canada!

Just got this shot from my dear neighbour Richard, who headed east this morning with Jean-Marc: this is the sign greeting new arrivals at the Fredericton airport. Proud to be Canadian. Almost too much to ask, to be Canadian and have warm weather in December too. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

hot for the holidays

Had to tell you - it's mind-bogglingly warm here. Just doing errands on my bike in a light jacket, no hat, no gloves. It's too bad global warming has its wonderful side, especially for Canadians.

Monday, December 21, 2015


But there will be an occasional photograph. That way it's not cold turkey. No writing, but pictures.

Best wishes to you all, on this gloomy pre-Solstice day, the darkest day of the year. May your day be lightened by love.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

vacation time

So here's a story about my recent trip to Hawaii: I was travelling with my friend Penny from England. I am profoundly grateful to her for including me in the incredible invitation she had to stay in a stunning timeshare on Kauai. But as we spent our week together in paradise, all was not totally paradisiacal. It turned out that we move at very different tempos: I am speedy, and Penny is not. I am brisk and efficient and churning like a steamship, and Penny is relaxed and taking her time and enjoying the ambience. And though we like each other a great deal, there was this tiny conflict of personality: slow versus fast. Efficient versus relaxed.

I am focussed on the destination: got to get there, wherever it is. I hate detours, I hate delays. When we discussed this, Penny pointed out that we were on vacation, could we not take it easy? The poor woman, I feel for her, dealing with a relentless machine powering ever forward. I realized how very much like my father I am in some ways, a New Yorker through and through. I have never known a New Yorker who dawdles.

Penny and I are still friends. But at the end of our trip together, she told me she was going to try to move a bit faster and be more organized, yes. But to me, she said she thought I should do more yoga and meditation. And you should take a break from your blog, she said.

And what I have to say to you, Penny, is this: You're right.

She's right. I make no apologies for being driven, focussed, uber-organized; it's how I get so much done. It's unthinkable to me to do one thing at a time; I finally decorated my Xmas tree last night because I was kind of watching John Lennon's 75th birthday party on TV at the same time. Spending 20 minutes just standing there putting on decorations, without doing anything else, was unimaginable. But there's a price to pay, and I think my impatience sometimes adversely affects my life. Sometimes, all that efficiency gets in the way of enjoyment, of ambling, exploring, just being wherever you are, whenever you are there. I think my work is affected too, by wanting to get to the finish line, the finished manuscript, instead of taking however much time is needed on the journey there.

I am trying. I am trying to slow down and breathe and take it easy, even if I don't quite know what that means.

So what I am going to do next is this one small thing: take a break from the blog. To sit and write about the world is a way of withdrawing from the world for a bit, and I'm going to try not doing that and see if I go mad. Is talking to you my sanity? Today I went to the Y just to sit in the sauna, and as I sat in the steam, I found myself putting together an elaborate blog post about the day. I am living my life while telling you, minute by minute, about that life, and though I love writing here, it takes a lot of time and psychic energy.

I know, I've said this before, but this time I am really going to do it. I am going to take a two week break from this blog. I'll be back Monday January 4 2016.

It's Christmas; you are all really busy, and so am I. After Xmas we're going to Ottawa for a few days. And then it's New Year's Eve. All the way through, I am going to be desperate to tell you about the goings on. But I won't. Not until January 4, when I'll have a lot to tell.

Because Penny is right. Sometimes a person needs to sit down and shut up and pull back.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a joyful and fulfilling 2016 to you. I will miss you very much. Talk to you soon.

PS Before I sign off: I just read an utterly terrifying op-ed piece in the NYT today, Roger Cohen comparing Trump to Hitler. Read the piece; he's right, the rise of a racist demagogue drumming up violent hysteria in an aggrieved nation.

Just to leave you with a warm bit of cheer on this December night. Oh well - at least we have each other.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

a Christmas essay

Eighteen years ago, I read this on the CBC. At least one of its predictions came true - next week, there will be two small heads gazing at the tree. 
Cheers to you all.

aired on CBC's Fresh Air, December 21, 1997

As this time of togetherness approaches, I think of one Christmas, a long time ago. At the age of twenty-four, I moved across the country to Vancouver where I knew no one, and so found myself alone, on Christmas morning, cat-sitting in someone's apartment. The little box my mother had sent sat under the rubber tree in the living room; opening it, slowly, was my festive activity for the day. Luckily, in the evening, I was invited out for Christmas dinner. Still, it was a long quiet December 25th.

In subsequent years, I had friends to help make an occasion of the day, and then, suddenly, I had a life's partner, someone to spend Christmas with forever and ever. And then, just as suddenly, we were expecting a baby. That year we joined my parents in Edmonton on Christmas Eve. With great ceremony, my father opened the bottle of 1959 Burgundy that he had stored in the cellar for just this occasion – to toast new life in the family.

The following Christmas, there was a busy seven-month-old in residence, and from then on, the holiday was buried under snowdrifts of paper, boxes and ribbons. When the next baby came, a few years later, our Toronto home became the centre of the family. My parents flew east for the celebrations. Auntie Do drove down from Ottawa with my brother and two dozen freshly baked mince pies. After his wife died, my bereaved uncle flew up from New York for his first visit ever, to be with us. The house was really full then – my husband and I, our children, my parents, all those other relatives – one year my in-laws too, from B.C. – and always, in memory of that lonely day in Vancouver, a few people who didn't have anywhere else to go. Homeless waifs, we called them - a fixture, a necessity at our festive table.

After the groaning excess of dinner, my mother would pound out carols on the piano; we'd stand around singing in the paper hats we'd pulled from Christmas crackers, the table behind us strewn with plates, bottles, tangerine skins and nutshells. As he sang, my father loved to offend with his own irreverent lyrics; "Deck your balls with cloves of garlic," was his favourite. Later, the children would settle down to read with him or do a puzzle with Grandma and Auntie Do. It was exhausting, and there was always a familiar family tension under the cheer. But this, I felt, was what Christmas was really meant to be.

The summer my first-born turned seven, my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  That year, we went to Edmonton for the holidays. Our plates at Christmas dinner were piled high, as usual. In front of him sat a small bowl of turkey broth, which he couldn't finish.

Next year was very hard. There was an unbearable silence at the centre of our gathering, though we were all aware of the irony of our grief – my father, an atheist and a Jew, had never really liked Christmas. At least, the religious, manger part; he loved feasting and giving gifts. The rest of us mourned and drank a good bottle of wine in his honour. After that my uncle, his brother, decided he didn't want to travel at such a difficult time of year.
"If I'm ever in Toronto, though," he deadpanned, "I'll be sure to look you up."

One bleak November not long after, my husband and I separated. Though we struggled, in the end successfully, to remain friends, each year there was a painful tussle over the children at Christmas – who would be where when, for what. My aunt announced she could no longer manage the journey to Toronto; she and her mince pies would stay at home. My brother bought his first house and decided to stay at home too. I was grateful to our homeless waifs for filling out the table.

Last year was a celebration of another sort: the guests included my ex-husband and his girlfriend. It was good to see him at the head of the table again, carving the turkey in his yellow paper hat. This year, though, he's overloaded with work and can't come. My mum has just bought a condo in Florida, so she'll be staying south. This year, on Christmas morning, it's just the kids and me.

They're teenagers now, leaving home before too long. I find myself wondering – will I end up once more alone, with a small present under a large plant? I don't think so. I think these children will keep coming back, if they can. They seem to feel that there's only one place to wait for the feast – at home, even if the dog and I are the only ones here.

One day, our ranks will swell once more. Perhaps I'll marry again, who knows? My kids will find partners. Maybe one day they'll make their own joyful announcements, and with great ceremony I'll open the bottle of 1982 Burgundy I have stored in the cellar, to toast new life in the family. On Christmas Day, the children of my children will settle down to read and do puzzles with their grandma. That'll be me.

And once again, there'll be a big turkey and the best tablecloth covered with debris and bottles and chaos and carols and paper hats. And always, homeless waifs on a solitary leg of their own journey, invited to join us at the ever-changing banquet table of life.

From the ebb and flow of my house, to the ebb and flow of yours – Merry Christmas. 

Friday, December 18, 2015


It's only been a few days since I returned from out west, but it feels like a year. Whoever that woman was swanning around Hawaii and splashing in turquoise water - can't be the same woman who has a list of her lists and sits in the kitchen much of the day consulting them. Getting away is essential, I realize, love my home as I do - because otherwise the ruts of routine I dig will get so deep, I might never get out.

On Wednesday my midday routine, as regular readers know, is attending my favourite class at the Y. But not this week; my daughter had an appointment she couldn't miss and asked me to take Eli to his last swim class at the West End Y and then to the local community centre drop in's Xmas party. I sat, the proud Glamma, watching him and his friend Pierce put their faces in the water and blow bubbles and kick and do all the other things the instructor asked them to do. He nearly passed his first level - Bobbers - and will soon move up to Floaters. Yes! Not bad for 3 1/2. High five.

The Parkdale Xmas party was quite something, every ethnicity and colour of parent and child - butter chicken with rice, then cookies, then running madly around the gym - at least, if you were under 4.
Then back home to read stories and admire baby Ben while he had a big lunch of sweet potato.
Putting on a jacket and a sparkly necklace and wiping the sweet potato off my pants, I headed out to my own Xmas party thrown by U of T. It's at Wychwood Barns which is a lovely venue, and it's always fun - great food and drink and company. When I walked in, a lovely young woman stopped me and said, "Are you Beth Kaplan? I follow your blog." It's odd to encounter a stranger who knows an extraordinary amount about my life. But that's what a blog is and does. Anyway, she was not only interesting, she was one of the teachers being awarded the Excellence in Teaching award this year. Brava, Julia.

I drank just a bit too much wine. As I tell my colleagues, U of T pays us less than Ryerson but has terrific parties, so you have to make up for the shortfall in food and drink. And I did my best.

Thursday, an Xmas party for my home students here, much cooking and cleaning. There were 14 of us sitting down to a fabulous potluck dinner - including a sweet potato casserole - and then reading stories. We started early because I had another invitation, so at 8, I left for an hour to go to the Xmas party right next door. So much merrymaking!

In fact, I am not feeling particularly merry, with the madness in the world, the images of refugees, the hateful Republican lunatics to the south ... someone commented on the Daily Show, which happily now I can watch again, that George W. Bush looks like a moderate paragon of tolerance and intelligence next to the current crop of nutbars. True. I watched "Bear Grylls" last night - a show about a British guy who takes famous people into the wilderness. His guest was Barack Obama, who may be flawed - drones! - but came across as a warm, genuine, thoughtful human being with a great sense of humour. And Canada has one of those too, a Prime Minister who wept when talking about how Canada has treated its First Nations people and who took 20 sick children from hospital to a special screening of Star Wars. Who is this amazing guy?

So there is hope, there is reason to look up. My son, along with 60 other bartenders, was also invited to a special screening of Star Wars with free Jameson whiskey, imagine what fun that will be. And the weather is pretty amazing too, very mild for December, though there was a flurry of Christmas-like snow tonight. But only a sprinkling, gone already. I have my tree - Eli was horrified when he heard I didn't have one and wanted me to buy one there and then - though it's not decorated yet. That's on the list.

Today a meeting at Riverdale Farm about the Babe pageant. Our request of the farm staff was to have at least one cow in the barn on the night. When we started the pageant, there were two Clydesdale horses, a donkey, and three cows plus the goats and sheep inside the barn - it was magical. But there's a new policy; the big animals stay outside all winter except for the coldest nights, so there are far fewer animals surrounding the tableau. Could they make an exception for this one night? Two staff,  he said, are required to move a large animal and we are short-staffed, so probably not. Oh well. We tried.

These are my concerns. Not food or shelter or safety, not disease or violence - just procuring a big warm smelly cast member for our pageant. We have a rehearsal Sunday afternoon. And after that, guess what? An Xmas party. Yay.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Anne Lamott in Toronto

I have read a huge number of books about creative writing; one of my all-time favourites remains "Bird by Bird," by Anne Lamott. She's blindingly honest, personable, funny - and a very good writer.

So I imagine she's a good speaker too, and I'm going to find out in May of next year when she comes to speak in Toronto, sponsored by the Henri Nouwen Society. Nouwen was a deeply spiritual man, a priest and a writer; Lamott will speak about her own faith, and, I hope, about her own creativity. I urge you, if you're in Toronto and interested in writing or in life, to get a ticket to this event.


Dear friends, I'm home and my to-do list is long. The sky is grey but it's mild out there in Toronto; there are birds, not noisy bright tropical ones but noisy brown sparrows and the occasional cardinal. There is green, not lush thick overwhelming green but green nonetheless - no snow, no frost even, just a sharp wind - not like December at all, really. Fine by me. The house is in great shape thanks to Carol; the Xmas cards have started to come in.

The trip home was seamless - a great flight to Vancouver, where I stayed in the luxury of the airport hotel since we landed at nearly midnight - oh, king-sized bed and huge bathtub, I could get used to you. Chris came in the morning with my big suitcase and we walked around the terminal, where a group of adorable local children were singing and playing - yes! - ukeleles, just like the children at the concert in Honolulu:
We walked on a trail by the airport and though the roar of jet engines is never far away, still, my friend admired nature as if we were deep in the woods:
The airport itself, though it doesn't have an open central courtyard full of plants and trees, does have tons of gorgeous First Nations art, very impressive:
A perfect flight home - an empty seat between me and a lovely young woman from Brazil; I watched Bridge of Spies which is a very good film - notable, again, for the powerfully understated performance of Mark Rylance, who gives nothing away, working beside the solid openness of Tom Hanks - I wonder how they enjoyed working together. And I read "Ru" by Madeleine Thien, bought in the Vancouver airport - a beautiful, haunting book about being a refugee, very timely.

We landed right on time at 9 and I was home by 10.15, overjoyed to stand in my own living room and sleep in my own bed. I miss the soft air and water and birds, I miss my friends Penny and Chris and Bruce, am glad to have had a visit, am glad to be here. And now - laundry, groceries, a Christmas tree.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

on the plane

O the miracle of modern technology - I am flying from Honolulu to Vancouver, and for a mere $6.50 I had a tiny bottle of red wine and for a mere $7.99 have unlimited internet and all is well with the world. I have a whole row to myself, my feet are up and through headphones I am listening to Jake Shimabukuro, my new hero, play Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. I second that. Hallelujah. (Jake just said, in the YouTube clip I watched, "I love being a ukelele player, because audiences around the world have such low expectations.")

This morning, Penny and I went to the Church of the Crossroads with Harriet. I found it moving, very warm - literally and figuratively, as everyone was very friendly but also, of course, the walls were open and tropical breezes stirred the air. Some of the kids there were barefoot, and one of the new members is now a woman but was not at one time, and glamorous she is too. The minister said to us all, "Your presence here means everything. We belong together. We matter to God so we matter to each other." What a profoundly comforting thought. Though I am not a believer, I was happy to be with this kind, open group of people, singing hymns and sharing thoughts. And then - lunch, a huge hot meal, completely unexpected and very good. I took a picture of Harriet and Penny beside the massive banyon tree in the courtyard.
They drove me to the airport, fond farewells to an old friend and a new friend, and into the maw of the people moving machine. But this airport is different - many walls, like in Harriet's church, are open to the air, and there's a gorgeous courtyard in the centre with birds and ducks swimming in the pond - in an airport!
That's the airport!

A few final notes on Hawaii, as I head back to Winterland: Last night at the concert, when the announcer, who spoke in Hawaiian, Japanese and English, said "Aloha," everyone in the audience shouted "Aloha!" back. It is a very valuable word. And people actually do wear Hawaiian shirts - the more bright flowers splashed across your body, be you male or female, the better.

Volleyball is big here - all sports are - but women's volleyball here is bigger than men's and the games are transmitted over both radio and TV. I know because Harriet is a big fan.

A mai tai is made of fresh pineapple and orange juice, orange curaƧao, Bacardi, orgeat and whaler's dark rum. And it is very good indeed.

Penny and I were introduced by Harriet at the service this morning, and later, among others who spoke of worries and blessings, I stood to speak. I said I was heading back to winter and that the beautiful islands of Hawaii, and the welcoming, generous people who live on them, would stay with me forever. And they will.

Proud to be Canadian

Proud of my prime minister! So quickly, the cold monsters of the past put to rest. Let's pray it lasts.

I'll pray for that this morning, too.


8.20 a.m., the sound of tropical birds, the feel of the hot sun outside. Beside me, my suitcase. Goin' home.

So much to report. Briefly: after the art gallery and Waikiki, Harriet, who is half Japanese and half Hawaiian, and her son Sean, who is half English, took us to a Japanese restaurant for dinner - an inauspicious place on the second floor of a little mall, packed to the brim with Japanese diners. A superb meal, especially because Sean knew what to order - including tuna broiled with a cheese sauce, which is 100% unJapanese but delicious, and tofu done the way it should be, creamy and full of flavour.

Yesterday morning, Penny and I set off at 7.45 a.m. for Pearl Harbour, as we'd heard it's a must see in Honolulu. As I've mentioned, the American military machine, particularly the navy, is a giant industry in this state. Someone told us the Pearl Harbour site is a theme park, and it turned out to be true - yes, respectfully honouring those who died, but both Penny and I were uncomfortable with its celebration of might, sacrifice and war, its cruise missiles on display for children to admire. We were ushered first into a movie theatre to watch a film about the day - Dec. 7 1941 - an even-handed telling, pointing out why Japan felt it had to take out the American fleet (all about protecting natural resources and business interests, of course, on both sides.) And then we got onto a boat which took us out to a memorial built on top of the S. S. Arizona, which was sunk that day and left where it was.
Not much to see - some rusted ruins and the names of those who died, and then we got on the boat back. There was much ordering around and many rules.

What was fascinating to me was the huge number of Japanese tourists visiting; one woman was taking selfies in front of everything, including the wreaths honouring the dead. Much time has passed, and a new generation, I guess, feels no connection. But P and I were glad to get out of there. Not a word, anywhere, about peace, about making sure this never happens again. Perhaps not a surprise as one of the sponsors of the film was Boeing.

Then my intrepid friend drove us, in Sean's old car and on the wrong side of the road for an English driver, across the island to a glorious beach, perhaps the best yet, at Kailua on the east coast.
Incredible, no? It was actually quite crowded, which the photo doesn't show... Unlike on Kauai, there were no rocks or coral in the water, which was warm. A dream beach. We floated and walked, finally dragging ourselves away to eat a sandwich from an old market nearby and drive back, through a blinding rainstorm, to the city. Harriet then drove us to her son Sean's girlfriend Yang's house in a gated community on top of a mountain, with an incredible view. There was a UFC party - I gather that's something about a fight club, there was a big fight yesterday, men attacking each other with fists and feet, and a group was gathered to watch. P and I mostly stood on the deck, looking at the view right over the city.
The TV room with distant view
The view
Sean and Yang, whose brother lives in Scarborough - so I will see them again, I'm sure.
Harriet drove us to see a last view, and I caught a last sunset from the car.
And then one of the greatest treats of all - a ukelele concert. Yes. When she suggested it in an email, I said a tentative yes, imagining the sweet plinkaplink we associate with the ukelele. But we went to a beautiful old movie theatre restored to a performance space, the Hawaii Theatre, to see a virtuoso - Jake Shimabukuro, of Japanese descent - brilliant. He made that tiny electrified instrument sound like a Spanish guitar, a sexy lead guitar in a rock band, a balalaika, a cello; he played a version of Freddy Mercury's Bohemian Rhapsody and a spectacular version of George Harrison's While my guitar gently weeps. Various others appeared, including a dancer, a pianist who accompanied him in a ukelele concerto, incredible, and best of all, an elementary school class playing Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer - 22 small children on ukelele, unforgettable. What an end to my stay here - starting the day at Pearl Harbour, and ending it watching a brilliant Japanese musician playing the local instrument of choice.

Now to finish packing - Harriet is coming at 10 to take P and me to church with her this morning. Her church means a great deal to her and it was clear she'd enjoy taking us with her, so off we'll go and then directly to the airport, landing in Vancouver late tonight, one night at the airport hotel, home tomorrow. Chris will come to the hotel tomorrow morning bringing my big suitcase and winter clothes - sigh. I will miss so much, but will also be very happy to be home.

At church, I'll send all my gratitude to heaven for sun, birds and ocean, for music and friendship, and most of all, today as a new climate change deal dawns, for a clean planet and for peace.

Friday, December 11, 2015

more from the Honolulu Art Gallery

A beautiful Buddha
A message from Rodin
From an exhibit on Japanese street fashion - fascinating. What a cross section - a great museum.

going ...

Penny sits on our lanai with her usual cup of tea and says goodbye to the Lawai Beach Resort in the rain

Honolulu - we meet our hostess Harriet's friend Kazue, who gives us beads made from nuts ...
and then Penny picks passion fruit for her in her garden. Harriet lets us off at the Honolulu Art Gallery and we are amazed - an incredible collection of western and eastern art. From the beach straight to great art. Dazzling.
Diego Rivera

 Matisse, my fave, and below, a portrait by my father's friend Alice Neel next to an anonymous 19th century portrait
amazing trees with roots that descend from on high
We got a bus to crowded expensive Waikiki Beach and paddled and strolled
 They're trying to keep out the riff raft
 Penny went on walking, and I did the classic thing - went to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel beach bar ...
 for a mai tai. Delicious. I'm not a cocktail person, but that could change.
 A gorgeous monkey pod tree in the front courtyard of the old pink hotel. In April I was on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, and today on Waikiki Beach, which has a similar feel - huge old hotels, beach, rich people - except that most of the people here today were Japanese. And also runners - the Honolulu Marathon is Sunday. I thought briefly that I might enter but decided to drink a mai tai instead.
Harriet with her cousin, who's wearing a shirt with a Hawaiian Christmas theme. She picked us up at the beach, dropped us at our room, and soon we're going out for a Japanese meal with her and her son. My treat. I am so grateful to Penny and her old friend Harriet for this incredible vacation.