Saturday, July 30, 2016

Stratford hooray

Just back from a marvellous overnight visit to Stratford. My beloved friends Lani and Maurice are selling their Stratford house and moving 40 k. away to another small town. I've stayed many times with them, drinking beer and talking in their garden, seeing plays, and best of all, snuggling with Bourbon, the most beautiful dog in the world. No more - at least, in Stratford.

So I took the Festival bus - a fantastic addition to our lives, a luxury bus that costs $25 round trip direct from downtown Toronto to the Festival - for a last visit to Lani's. She had been given comps by her - our - friend Martha Henry to see her production of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" in the afternoon, and in the evening I went to the musical "A Chorus Line, " which I've seen twice already through the years but love so much. This morning, Lani and I went to the Stratford Farmer's Market, full of fresh deliciousness, and then I went to the matinee of "Rebellion," the first part of the "Breath of Kings" compilation from Shakespeare's Henry plays. At 5, the play ended, the bus was at the door, we sailed through the corn and soybean fields, and despite the chaos of Caribana downtown, I was home by 7.30. Amazing.

Stratford is a miracle - this plump little farming community with a world-class theatre. Here's the big Festival stage and the trumpeters that signal that the show is starting soon:

And today, when I walked out at the intermission from the Tom Patterson Theatre, this is what I saw just across the street:
The shows were terrific - talk about showing off the breadth of the place's talent, a three-act Greek tragedy by a modern American playwright, a big Broadway hoofer musical and a complicated blend of Shakespeare's history plays ending with a big sword fight. Flaws in all, not perfect - a theatre friend on the bus back complained about the Festival's thrust stage and the Patterson Theatre's stage in the round, which means the actors are constantly twirling about so all sides can see. But cavils aside, the place is something to be truly proud of. I stood by the river at intermission, listening to two American visitors try to figure out who Henry Bolingbroke's sons were.

Home, to find that my weekend newspapers had been stolen off my front porch. Ah well.

Before I left, I harvested a bit from the garden. My gift for Lani, who eats almost no vegetables - one of my garden's first cucumbers.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Obama = heartthrob city

Friend Margaret called from Vancouver with early birthday greetings - the big day is Monday, no no, please, absolutely no telegrams or gifts - well, if you insist, a nice bottle of rosé never goes amiss - and told me she is watching the Democratic convention because of reading my blog. One by one, I'll turn you all into television-watching political junkies! Hooray!

Speaking of which - last night at the Dem. convention, again, what a phenomenal line-up. I missed a few at the start, but was enthralled by Tim Kaine, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and then - introduced by a marvellous elderly woman who lost a son in Afghanistan and was inspired by Obama to move onward and upward with her life - the most beautiful man on the planet, POTUS. Kaine charming, Biden impassioned, Bloomberg hilariously dry - one of the best lines of the night, about Trump - "I'm a New Yorker and New Yorkers know a con when we see one!" Let's vote for someone sane and competent, he said, and immediately on the internet an image appeared of Hillary with SANE underneath. Imagine, being sane is now a key qualification for President of the United States. Sane and Kaine, that's the Dem's ticket.

Obama was simply superb - physically so beautiful, graceful, his face warm and alive as he pleaded the opposite of the Republican story, that America is a kind, generous, open place full of decent hard-working welcoming people. The truth I'm sure is somewhere between his rosy vision and the grotesque hell of job loss, poverty and paralyzing fear portrayed in Cleveland. But after 3 nights, I can assert that American oratory is in great shape and second to none.

Cousin Peter B. Kaplan, who's famous as a photographer of the Statue of Liberty, was paid for the use of one of his iconic images in a video about Hillary. In the end, though it's a stirring feminist film narrated by Meryl Streep, they didn't use it, but Peter sent it out to family so we could see the film and his Lady of Liberty (just before the 10 minute mark), and through the email link I found out that our mutual cousin Robert is actually there, at the convention in Philadelphia. So tonight, as Hillary speaks, I'll be scanning the crowd for Cousin Robert.
A heavenly day - hot but not overwhelmingly so, the garden fresh after a nighttime rain. And more than ever, I count my blessings. The other day I went to visit a dear friend, a vigorous writer and editor who was stricken a few years ago with ALS and is now in a power wheelchair, her mind as strong as ever, her body wasting away. There's news that the Ice Bucket Challenge has produced significant results for those with ALS. Quick, guys. There's no time to waste.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Democrats and show biz

A friend today quoted Margaret McMillan, the famed Canadian historian, as saying the world is in the same kind of upheaval now as it was in the years before the first world war. Now that's the kind of heartening observation that makes you glad to be alive. As in - let's enjoy today, because who knows about tomorrow? With a Trump-Putin alliance, anything is possible, and none of it will be good.

But on the other hand, we have the Dems, preaching love and kindness in Philadelphia, bless their little furry heads. Last night the Big Dog, ex-Pres. Bill, spoke with warmth and eloquence about his wife, though we all wondered if he'd make even a joking reference to his crimes and misdemeanours. He did not. The Dems are phenomenal at showbiz, it turns out - the event is stage-managed and orchestrated brilliantly, famous people coming and going, glorious speeches, stunning film clips, musicians - Alicia Keyes, fabulous if invisible beneath her tangled hair - the audience holding a constantly shifting barrage of signs. Well - artists are almost entirely Democrat and are on board. Apparently Hollywood's J. J. Abrams made one of the little films.

What does it all add up to? A good op-ed in the  Star today points out that though to Canadians it looks like meaningless, flashy hucksterism, what these huge conventions mean is engagement in the political process. All those faces we see on screen, weeping and shouting - those are people who care about their government and are involved. And that's a good thing. Maybe we need a bit more show biz here in Canada.

It's incredibly hot here - with humidity, 37 degrees. I spent the morning huddled in a library with baby Ben, taking care of him while his mother had a doctor's appointment. He tried to pull every book off the shelf and made too much noise for a library, but it was blessedly cool.  I think he is not going to be a sitting still and reading kind of guy. He likes to MOVE. Tonight, I'd like to go to a nice cool movie but I think I'm stuck, once again, with the Democrat show. Barack, give us some of that hopey changey stuff, please.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Michelle Obama for President

It was a scary start to the Dem convention last night, with disgruntled Sanders people shouting their anger and booing Hillary's name. I was distraught at the thought of the Democratic Party disintegrating before our eyes, blowing itself apart just when it's needed most.

And then Michelle Obama spoke. One of those thrilling moments when you watch history being made, right in front of you.

I never tweet. But I logged into Twitter as she spoke and wrote, "Michelle Obama for President!" Many were expressing the same sentiment. What a magnificent, wise, compassionate, brilliant woman. What a speech, that lifted the whole squabbling mess into the stratosphere.

Elizabeth Warren did a great job, as did others. And then Bernie Sanders spoke, and my admiration for him quadrupled. He has done the absolutely right thing in wholeheartedly endorsing the candidate who can and must beat Trump.

It's like two different planets - the small bit I saw of the Republican convention, the fearmongering, the darkness of their vision of America and the world, speaking about guns and banning abortions, the virulence of their hatred of Hillary and any kind of government. And then the Dems, speaking about social justice, education, health care, infrastructure, women's right to choose. Not sinking to their level, as Michelle said. Do these red/blue people even live in the same country?

And if I may be disgruntled myself, a word about the Greens, who wanted Sanders to head their party and are apparently courting his angry voters - who are these blind idiots who want to splinter the vote on the left? Remember Ralph Nader - we had the Iraq war thanks to his misguided and selfish ideals. And also, it does piss me off that the Americans go on and on about a woman being nominated, historic, groundbreaking, without a single reference to the many, MANY other countries where women are or have been heads of state. Unless it happens in Amurrica, it doesn't register.

Tonight, more of the same. I'll watch as much as I can stand. Still very hot out there; in here, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. And more loathsome lunatics killing the innocent - a priest, in a French church. Unbearable. It does feel as if some vile anarchic and violent force has been released in the world, unleashing Trump, Marine LePen, Isil, Brexit and more. Is the rough beast upon us, at last?

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Go Democrats.

A full day writing workshop in the garden Sunday - 9 writers, 4 from my classes, 5 complete strangers, gathering in the morning, writing through the day with prompts from me and a very big lunch midday. The day could not have been nicer - after two boiling muggy days, it was mild with some blessed cloud. At the end, we sat on the deck with a glass of wine, eating bread and cheese and talking about our writing, our lives, the day. They stayed an extra hour and by the end, felt like old friends.

And I fell over with fatigue. It's a wonderful event and very tiring. Onward.

I'm watching the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. Oh these Americans with their jazzy, absurd show biz. But the fate of the world depends on this one.
Chomsky: Today’s Republican Party is a Candidate for Most Dangerous Organization in Human History.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

the magnificent Ursula Franklin

It is with great sorrow that I heard about the death on Friday of Ursula Franklin, one of Canada's greatest citizens. Ursula, a scientist and Holocaust survivor, was a dear friend of my parents who were also both heavily involved in the peace movement. She was a brilliant woman of enormous warmth, humanity and humour. A school was founded in her name by the Ontario NDP government in the early 80's and my daughter attended from the first year. The principles were based on social justice - kids wearing uniforms and committed to volunteering. It didn't quite work out that way, but the ideals were wonderful.
Franklin was also active in the Voice of Women (VOW), now the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, one of Canada's leading social advocacy organizations. In 1968, she and VOW national president Muriel Duckworth presented a brief to a House of Commons committee asserting that Canada and the United States had entered into military trade agreements without adequate public debate. They argued that these commercial arrangements made it difficult for Canada to adopt independent foreign policy positions such as calling for an immediate U.S. military withdrawal from South Vietnam.[19]In 1969, Franklin and Duckworth called on a committee of the Canadian Senate to recommend that Canada discontinue its chemical and biological weapons research and spend money instead on environmental research and preventive medicine.[20] Franklin was also part of a 1969 VOW delegation that urged the federal government to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and establish a special agency to oversee Canadian disarmament.[21]
The passage above, from Wikipedia, mentions Muriel Duckworth, another of the extraordinary women this country has produced. I salute and honour these exemplary Canadians, and mourn their loss.
"Peace is not the absence of war—peace is the absence of fear."
– Ursula Franklin in The Ursula Franklin Reader.[40]

missing Macca, seeing Yo Yo's "Silk Road"

In all this merriment about celebrations, I need to signal a great loss and sadness: my beloved Macca did a concert in Hamilton, only 60 k. away from my home, on Thursday night, the night I was sitting in my garden surrounded by family and neighbours, drinking Prosecco. When the concert was announced, I had to do an assessment and decided not to go, though among Macca fans, who fly around the world to follow him, that is despicable laziness. A woman was interviewed in Hamilton who has seen him 90 times. Now that's a fan. Including the twice-in-one-day in Paris in June 1965, I have seen him only seven times. I should have been in Hamilton.

But I was in my garden drinking Prosecco. I love you deeply, Sir Paul, but, believe it or not, there are people and things I love even more.

Including documentaries and music, so today I had a special treat, two in one: "The Music of Strangers: Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble," a doc about the multi-cultural Silk Road band brought together by Ma. It's a stunning film - weep-worthy. Yes, the doc has flaws, it's scattered and flits about at great speed. But the core of the film, the power of music to transcend barriers of language and culture, is clear and glorious. We follow four brilliant musicians especially, a Spanish and a Chinese woman, a Syrian and an Iranian man - particularly these four, who have survived revolution and tragedy - and follow them into their homelands and their new lives in America. We explore Yo Yo's life as a child prodigy, his slow coming home to himself. The music is stunning, especially as we get to know the musicians. I could not recommend this film more highly. I wish I'd seen it before going to the Beach Jazz Festival yesterday; I would have paid more attention to who was playing and what they were saying with the music.

Very very hot, incredibly hot. But I'm almost ready. Tomorrow, ten women are coming to spend the whole day writing in my garden, having lunch and writing and writing. Someone in the film quotes T. S. Eliot about the fact that we are all on a journey, and if we're lucky, at the end of the journey we will come back to the place where we started and see it as if for the very first time. That's what we'll go for tomorrow.

A final word re the political horrors we've been watching south of the border:
"The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots." - H L Mencken

And at this stressful time in world affairs, with fascist politicians appearing all over the globe and the head of the Ku Klux Klan running for office, let's not even THINK about this:

Alcohol is a direct cause of seven ​​forms of cancer, finds study. PHOOEY!

music and roses

A few more from Thursday:
 Show offs.
 Before the party - we've never managed to sit a large group down in the garden before. Thanks to Jean-Marc and Richard's portable table, we did. And the rose of Sharon bloomed just in time.
Oh I slaved over these cakes! Or someone at Daniel and Daniel did. One was mango mousse and the other - be still my beating heart - dark chocolate and peanut butter. Despite what is happening in the world, life is good.

Yesterday, to the Beach for Anne-Marie and Jim's annual party - we have dinner in their Beach home and then out to Queen Street, just outside their front door, to enjoy the Jazz Festival. What a fabulous event - the street packed with people and musicians, bands of all kinds carefully spaced the length of the street so you can wander from one to the next, each playing a short set and then another starting up. We heard retro rock, hot jazz and big band music, blues, country rock, salsa, Jamaican steel band, a wonderful Australian two man band with an electric didgeridoo - everything. Well, not rap or whatever they're listening to now, didn't hear that, or maybe I just tuned it out, old fart that I am. There was tons of street food on sale, including fresh oysters. A riotous yet peaceful celebration of music many blocks long near the lake - I love Toronto!

Friday, July 22, 2016

garden party

Barely moving this morning, but happy. We celebrated neighbourhood in style. And then after everyone left, unfortunately my son turned on the television and there he was, the giant orange blowhole, Casino Mussolini, as Sam Bee calls him. But let's not think about that for now, please. There are leftovers to consider.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

gimme shelter

Last night I went comedian-skipping - from Samantha Bee to the Daily Show's Trevor Noah and then the best of all, Bill Maher. Comedians are having a grand time putting on special shows about the Republican Convention, though in truth, it's not funny at all, not at all. The level of hatred, the brazen stupidity on display - not not not funny. Bill had three great commentators including Michael Moore, as always speaking for the heartland, who said, "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Trump will win. He speaks their language." Another speaker commented that Trump has never read a book. Hello, said Moore, most of America has not read a book either. He's their guy.
But surely Americans do not want to elect an ignorant man who has not read a book to run their country.
Hello, said Moore - G. W. Bush, Nixon, Reagan?

Then one final speaker, Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for Trump's "Art of the Deal" who has decided to speak the truth about the man. He spent 18 months tailing Trump for the book and says he's the clinical definition of a sociopath who cares about nothing but himself. If he wins, says Schwartz, it's the end of civilization as we know it.

Hideous, horrifying, depressing. The state of America highlights two things in particular, I think - the abasement of the American education system and the incredibly destructive power of Fox News. The level of ignorance on display at the convention is beyond belief, and what these ignorant people are saying - Obama is a Muslim who wants to destroy America etc. - comes directly from their TV screen.

Okay, enough about that - I am making a big "This is a Trump-free zone" to put on my door. Tonight, around 16 neighbours, friends and family are coming for dinner, to help me and the kids celebrate 30 years in this house. It was three decades ago that my then-husband and I were taken by a colleague of his to see this Cabbagetown house, which had been on the market for months because no one wanted it. "It's too dark," I said, "too narrow, Cabbagetown is not a good place for kids."
"But it has lots of potential," said my husband, "and I think we can get it for exactly what we can afford." Which was $180,000, a fortune to us. And in one of the wisest decisions of my life, we went ahead. The house has been a disaster in many ways, especially in the early days - floods in the basement of both water and shit, leaking roofs and skylights, termites, break-ins, you name it, it's happened here. But this solid house, built in 1887, withstood the fire of 2005 and was rebuilt better than ever. And it's now a great source of joy, not just to me, but to my kids and grandchildren and all my friends and houseguests and tenants.

So - we are making salads and Sam will be barbecuing and we will toast with great love our home, which has sheltered us for 30 years. If Trump is elected, all my American family members can come and shelter here too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

benign is the right word

Okay, I do not live in a permanent state of rapture; sometimes the world gets me down. The Republican convention is getting me down. Just the thought of a man that vile being granted power and prestige is enough to make me vomit, let alone the whole Republican platform - a cavalcade of racist stupidity - and everyone there. Who are those people? I know, I asked that when Rob Ford was elected, and yet there he was, for years. Scared angry white people dreaming of a mythical past.

And then the murders continue, and what's happening in Turkey ...

But also, I am just back from the beautiful new Women's College Hospital, where my left breast came in for some serious consideration - two mammograms and then an ultrasound. The technician went to show the pictures to the radiologist, who then appeared herself to take a closer look. That was when I got a tiny bit scared. She explained that there's something, probably a benign cyst but they want to keep an eye on it, I'll be called back in six months.

So - no news is sort of good news, but I did leave feeling immensely vulnerable. So many little bits, inside and out, to go wrong. I remember my father, dying of cancer at 65, saying, "I don't regret anything, I've been blessed."

Me too.

Perhaps I should just not read the newspaper this week.

Time to water the garden.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

a little Captain Fantastic and a big one

This morning was as beautiful a morning as I have ever known - so tranquil, I could have been in some mountain glade, only I was in Cabbagetown, Toronto. The noise of the Indy cars did not reach this far this year - maybe the wind? And everyone is out of town, it seems, or catatonic, because there was just no noise. It was sublime.

Midday I rode across town on the new waterfront trail, 50 minutes door to door from my house in the east end to Anna's in the far west, and as I approached her place, the noise grew deafening. It was indeed the Indy, angry angry insects buzzing, and drawing closer, I was riding right beside it; I could see those cars whizzing by at hundreds of miles an hour. Terrifying and very, very loud - the sound of testosterone rampant.

But I had a first birthday party to get to. I went first to Scooter Girl on Roncesvales to pick up the balloons
and then kept an eye on the kids while Anna finished prep for the party. Because she's Anna, she also had two of Thomas's sisters' kids for the weekend, as if getting ready for a big party were not enough. But that's who she is and what she does. The place was all set, lots of water, a big plastic pool in the back with a slide that went into it, so the kids were already happy and wet when I arrived - and then the others came. Eventually, there were eleven children and lots of adults, and she fed them all.
 Jen gave Ben a Blue Jays shirt
 The assembled multitudes with cupcakes
The birthday boy, having a terrible time with his.

And then I rode back, past the incredible noise and speed that took my breath away, back to my quiet little spot in the woods, or so it seems.

Yesterday, I saw a movie that affected me deeply - "Captain Fantastic," Viggo Mortensen as an anarchist hippy father raising six kids in the isolated woods of northern California. After a family tragedy they are forced out into the world, where his brilliant feral anarchist children confront western society for the first time. It's a wonderful premise, too bad the writer didn't take it much further; he also directed the movie and obviously fell in love with his cast, it gets all dewy at the end. But still, it's an interesting film, much food for thought about how to raise children in this insane world. At one point on their road trip, they are forced to go to a fast food restaurant and the kids are thrilled - their first taste of hotdogs and hamburgers. But Viggo takes a look at the menu and says, "There's no food on this menu. Let's go," and drags them all out. The kids exclaim about how fat everyone is, and then one says, "But we must not make fun of people, ever."
"Except for Christians," says another, and they all nod. That made me laugh out loud. And then they celebrate Noam Chomsky Day and sing him a song.

Plus Viggo himself - worth a look, always.

Happy summer, my friends. It doesn't get better than this. And happy first birthday to beautiful Ben.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

mmmm praise, can't get enough

Happy to receive this note from an acquaintance: 

Hi Beth:

Just wanted to let you know that my daughter Elka brought your book All My Loving along on our trip to China - we are still in Shanghai. She thoroughly enjoyed it - and at her urging (and after listening to her laugh and ask me lots of questions) - I read it - in basically two days - and LOVED it. Enjoyed so many aspects of it - thanks!

Time magazine, Feb. 1, 1982

A cool, grey Saturday with nothing planned - heaven. After watching handsome Viggo Mortensen on Bill Maher's show last night, I may try to see his new movie Captain Fantastic. For those of you in Toronto, TVO is showing a beautiful, very moving documentary, Buck, about a man who has phenomenal empathy and skill with horses, which we find out comes as a result of his horrific childhood. 9 tonight, TVO. Highly recommended.

I was going through some old papers last night and found a Canadian Time magazine dated Feb. 1, 1982. As I flipped through, an article caught my eye: "Islamic Fervor," was the headline, "Fundamentalism on campus." It's about a new but growing trend to Islamic fundamentalism among Palestinian youth on the West Bank, who proclaim "Glory to the martyrs of the Palestinian revolution."

"The signs of fundamentalist renascence are widespread on campus. At Bir Zeit, where Muslims claim the support of well over a third of the students, Muslims tend to organize themselves tightly around such communal activities as studying the Koran, praying and fasting." They quote a Palestinian student: "Islam is the only solution to the problem of Palestine. The Koran predicted the creation of a Jewish state 1400 years ago and also its conquest by Muslims."

And it ends by saying that the Israelis "realize that a militant fundamentalism, implacably opposed to Israeli control, would make their long-term occupation of the area much more difficult. Says one Israeli official on the West Bank, 'If this develops, it will be hell.' "

No kidding. That article is on the same page as one about the murder of an American diplomat in Paris by an Arab assailant, possibly from the "Lebanese Army Revolutionary Faction."

Were we paying attention in 1982? Did anyone have any idea nearly 35 years ago that these nascent movements could escalate into the monstrosity of horror we face today? I think not.

And another monster that once unleashed was impossible to defeat: there's an article on what they call "The Great Tax Giveaway of 1981," when President Reagan slashed taxes, especially on high income earners, so forcefully that the country had "a gargantuan budget deficit looming." The tax cutting bill included "a near elimination of estate and gift taxes ... special write-offs for oil drillers, truckers and developers who rehabilitate old buildings... One depreciation rule on telecommunications equipment could be worth an estimated $14 billion to AT &T alone."

The last paragraph: "Rather than propose repeal of the tax breaks he unwisely agreed to last year, President Reagan seems sure to urge whittling the deficit by slashing away again at social spending ... Moral: tax breaks, once granted, are devilishly hard to snatch away."

No kidding. Here we have the beginning of the erosion, if not the outright destruction, of the great American (and British etc.) middle-class about which we are hearing so much today.

Fascinating reading, old magazines, not to mention the ads for the giant Chrysler LeBaron, Players Extra Light cigarettes (beautiful people in bathing suits holding surfboards), and  an ad for Wang computers: "Wang started a revolution by making computers adapt to people instead of the other way around. Wang computers are easy to learn and operate ... We brought the same simplicity to word processing. Wang is the leading marker of word processing systems in the world. We've also introduced Mailway electronic mail. And WangNet: the electronic connection network that links all kinds of office equipment together."

Whatever happened to Mailway and WangNet? I remember when I first heard about email in about 1988 (?), thinking, "Why would I need that when there's the telephone and letters?" It was years before I gave in. And now ... yesterday John was here working in the basement and accidentally disconnected my wifi, and I nearly went mad.

Hi, readers, I'm here, talking to you via WangNet. Or some version thereof.

Friday, July 15, 2016

grief and the garden

The only thing that makes sense this morning, as I read about more hideous, senseless carnage in the world - the good people of Nice gathering to watch fireworks, slaughtered - the only thing that heals is a walk in the garden. I just walked out into it as into a chapel, a sacred site, the green scented place on a sunny summer morning after a heavy rain.

There I see the wisdom of the world, of growing things, the force of life. The delicate yellow fingers of the rudbeckia about to unfurl, the phosphorescent scarlet of the geraniums, the tips of the green bougainvillea at last beginning to glow fuchsia, the green-black beetle nestled inside one rose - because yes, there's disease and death there too, of course, there are predators, but as part of life. Who are these madmen who only understand horror, terror, death? What kind of life do they lead with that much black hatred inside?

It won't be a tranquil weekend in the garden - it's the Indy here, race cars the west side of town sounding like angry flies through the day. But it's fun for some, so I don't mind. Not the same people, I think, as those who ride bicycles around town looking at art installations, but there is something for everyone in a sane city. And so far - I hardly dare say it - this city is sane.

Choose only one master -- Nature. 
Rembrandt, painter and etcher (15 Jul 1606-1669)

Thursday, July 14, 2016


It’s 9.30 p.m. and I am grateful to be home drinking wine as the rain pours down. I was at something called ArtSpin tonight, riding my bike along with hundreds of others to see art installations - it was a lot of fun except that there was a thunderstorm and we got completely drenched and the art wasn't so great. I left early to get home before dark, my friend Richard with whom I went is still with the group somewhere on the other side of town, and it’s pouring again, just teeming. Hundreds of cyclists looking at art in the pouring rain on the other side of town. Thank God I’m home drinking wine and talking to you.
 The lion bike
Before the ArtSpin ride began
En route - stopping traffic, much honking of horns by enraged drivers as hundreds of bikes took over the streets. Yeah! We stopped at CAMH, the centre for mental health, for a dance program, and went down two levels in the Honest Ed's parking garage for another event. But yes, in the pouring rain, not so much fun. 

It had the feeling of the Occupy groups - kind of anarchic and peaceful but still getting stuff done. But mostly anarchic. People over 60 were definitely a rare breed, but everyone was welcome; a guy was transported in a rickshaw so he could play his saxophone for us, there was lots of music, we stopped to see people dance and do other interesting things - I love Toronto! And am grateful to Richard, and Jean-Marc who's away today, for including me in some of the amazing things they do.

And here's a summer bouquet from the garden:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

whining about back pain

It's 32 degrees out there, feeling like 37 - tropical. I'm trying to keep the garden alive, but mostly huddled inside. To think, I almost didn't get A.C. when my house was renovated.

My dear friend Chris sent me a concerned note - why was I informing my blog readers about my return visit to the mammogram clinic, and not my children? Would they not be hurt to find out? Should I not seek support from my nearest and dearest?

And I replied, if there were ever anything serious going on with my health, my children would be the first to know. Until it's serious, I don't want to bother their busy lives. I prefer to bother yours.

I also mentioned to my friend Gretchen that I've been having constant lower back pain for quite a few weeks. "It's back cancer," I said to her, "to go with my breast cancer. And there's also mouth cancer, because I found out that if you drink very hot coffee, you're at risk, and I drink mine very hot." Or at least, I used to - not any more. Tepid coffee from now on.

Gretchen sent me a link to an article she found online, a woman writing that her severe back pain was healed by red wine. Now, that's medical advice I can live with. I just tried it, and two delicious glasses later, I can affirm that it works! The only problem is that I wake up in the morning with the pain. Should I start quaffing right away? That'll make for an interesting summer.

Yesterday, I spoke for an hour with my editor, Colin Thomas, in Vancouver. I have learned so much from him about what goes wrong in my work - the lack of narrative tension, always an issue; the inclusion of details that instruct or indicate but do not advance the narrative. He has divided the book into three acts, which makes a huge amount of sense, and come up with what he thinks the thing is about, which I could not. Extremely helpful. If you want a good editor, I can recommend 3 - Rosemary Shipton, Chris Cameron, and Colin Thomas - the best. My great luck to have worked at least once with all of them.

There's a huge amount of work ahead; today I spent (wasted) time setting up my office with fan and files. I also switched chairs so I can sit in one that's better for my back. And now I just have to @#$ sit there and figure it all out. That's the job.

One more complaint - I am a completely different shape now. I'm wearing a dress I bought at a market in Provence, a little orange slip of a thing that I used to wear outside the house. I wouldn't wear it anywhere public now if you paid me a great sum of money. I have not gained weight but I have lost my waistline - does that make sense? I wrote to my doctor - doesn't the fact that I'm the same weight but much fatter in the middle mean that I must have lost bone? And she replied comfortingly, perhaps you've just lost muscle.
The dress seven years ago, in Provence. It does not fit the same way now. But I notice that what's in my glass is the same. Must have had back pain then too.

Hooray! Getting old is going to be so much fun. At least I can take you along with me. Here we go.

PS More of life's pleasures. The Tuesday farmer's market at Riverdale Farm - the best sourdough bread, smoked salmon like sweet butter, light and dark carrots. And last night, I decided to spend time listening to my records, especially the classical ones inherited from Uncle Edgar, aficionado of the Baroque, a Bach man. The Bach double concerto for violin and oboe - sublime, especially the second movement. Such gifts. This isn't the best interpretation, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Never count your chickens, as they say. Don't speak too soon. Make no assumptions. Hubris.

I am feeling the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate zooming over my head. My doctor just called; Women's College Hospital told her there's an "asymmetry" in my left breast and I need to come back for an ultrasound.

This has happened once before, I hasten to add, and I'm still here, with my body so far intact. But it's scary nonetheless. I looked at the x-ray pictures and thought I saw nothing, but then I'm not a diagnostician. An asymmetry. Well, I've never been symmetrical. Symmetry is too bourgeois.

Last month, my friend Louise Edwards, in her late sixties, extremely healthy, a Y-going vegetarian yoga nut, was told she had a brain tumour and died three weeks later. So that finger is very much on my mind.

It's a good thing my kids don't read this blog. I'm telling you so I can avoid telling them; they have enough on their plates without worrying about Mama, particularly when there might be nothing to worry about. And in fact, I have now made a resolution for myself: no point worrying. Que sera sera. So I will put it from my head till next Tuesday, when I go back.

But in the meantime, I will relish even more the perfection of this July day, the flowers, the birds, the ... the two bright yellow Bell ladders in my backyard, as they inch toward burying the wires.

Monday, July 11, 2016

What three words dot com?

The first day of my summer holiday, and I spent the morning getting a mammogram. Yay, breasts squished between two plates! I caught a glimpse of the pictures, and it didn't look as if there's anything that shouldn't be there. Fingers crossed. I am high risk because my mother and her older sister Margaret had breast cancer - not her older sister Do, I hasten to add, who at 96 has had no health issues at all, no heart problems, no cancer or arthritis or mental issues, just difficult feet and the threat of macular degeneration, which has not hit her yet because she gets injections into her eyes.

I want Do's body and mind. She says it's because when she steams broccoli, she drinks the cooking water afterward. I want Do's body and mind but without drinking broccoli water, please. Thank you. And also, if possible, no injections into the eyes.

Somehow the rest of the day vanished in bits and pieces, and now it's rosé time, the best time of day. I'm working - figuring out what my terrific editor Colin Thomas has critiqued about the memoir and how to fix it. That will be my big project for the summer. That and staking my beans, which are flailing about all over the place.

A fun thing in Sunday's Star, though barely incomprehensible - a guy has developed an algorithm (what IS an algorithm?) that locates any address on earth with three words. If you go to and type in your address, you will find out your words. Mine, I kid you not, are blurts. impulses. defers. It's like a Rorschach test. In my classes, I always write Carol Shields' words on the board: BLURT BRAVELY.  I am impulsive and yet deferential - my algorithm is psychoanalytic! But when I typed in my childhood home in Halifax, it came up as cornfields.insulating.spurn. Nothing psychoanalytic there. Try it and see how close it comes to your core.

Wanted to tell you a bit - I promise, only a tiny bit - about my time with Eli. As we walked, he shouted gleefully, pointing to a car, "There's a reedub!" "A what?" I asked and followed his finger, pointing to a Volkswagen, a VW. A reedub, of course, and so it shall remain for the rest of my days. He came in while I was dressing, looked at my half-dressed body and asked, "What do people's gina's look like?" Hmmm. I decided not to take this one on and said, "You'll have to ask your mother." Coward!

When we were reading a book, I realized he didn't know the fairy tales, so we went to the library and the campaign has begun - he knows all the characters of the schlock TV show Paw Patrol and he will also know Cinderella, the Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks, Sleeping Beauty and all the rest. It's a language he should speak. Glamma is on the case.

It's 6 p.m. and 25 degrees, the birds are chirping and the ice cubes are tinkling. Over and out.

Cabbagetown apartment to rent Sept. 1

This is me in my landlady hat: My tenant downstairs is a young athlete who's confident she'll be playing overseas in the fall, so my basement suite will be looking for a new inhabitant come September. As you know, I live in a fantastic location close to TTC, Ryerson and U of T.

Please tell anyone coming to Toronto to study or work, or let me know if someone you know is interested, and I will send pictures and detailed information.

Many thanks!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

wild abandon

Good job, Milos - you played a great game. I gather.

A few things to share with you:

 Our Prime Minister at Toronto's Gay Pride. Be still my beating heart.

Wimbledon on right now, hope someone wins.

The most stunning Sunday morning here, the air drenched with jasmine, camellia and roses - but in the background, the TV is turned to an epic battle of grunting - Raonic versus Murray, the men's final at Wimbledon. My mother would be so torn; as a Brit she supported Murray, as a patriotic Canadian, she rooted for the young Canuck. I just called Auntie Do, who has been fixated all week, of course, and asked who she's for. "The Canadian," she said, which made me glad; she did leave England forever in 1952, after all. "But Murray is playing better," she said.

I don't care particularly but will check in once in a while.

Home. What bliss, what heaven is this city, so tiny and tidy after NYC, and yet huge, crowded with things to do and places to see. Just the right size for a city person, though growing too fast, the traffic insane. Though not, never, as insane as the streets of New York. I had a thrilling visit to that great city, and was, as always, beyond thrilled to come home.

A last few shots from my trip:
New York is tolerant - signs like this are everywhere.
Spelling perhaps not the strong point here.
There's poetry all over, in the busses and on walls. This famous poem was on the wall at Pen station.

The day after my return I had a sleepover with Eli, who was driving his mama crazy. City day camp starts next week, but in the meantime, she has a very stubborn, extremely energetic boy in a small apartment. He and I had a busy visit - did lots of watering here, went to the Farm, then on Saturday morning he washed the car and went for a drive and then played golf, as the men in his family are wont to do on the weekend. Genetics!

Then we went to see "Finding Dory," a charming film about a fish without a short term memory. Perhaps a bit too advanced for a four year old, but he didn't mind and I enjoyed it, plus the theatre was air-conditioned, and then we rode across town for a barbecue with the rest of the family.

I told Anna about an incident, forecasting the bullying her children are in for in the world - as we were coming home from the Farm we passed through a group of youngsters, around 5 years old. Eli was riding his little wooden strider bike, and one kid planted himself in front of Eli and sneered, "That's the ugliest bike I've ever seen. It doesn't even have pedals. It's even below training wheels!" We just stopped for a few seconds, taking this in, the out of the blue nastiness of a child to a stranger, and then we moved on. Eli didn't mention it, so neither did I, but in the night I fumed - that horrible conscience-less child is going to turn into a hedge fund manager!

Anna said, "Imagine what must be happening to him at home if that's how he responds." What a great big heart she has. She'll need it. There was an article by John Ibbitson in the Saturday Globe about the worsening state of the world, the resurgence of a bullying Russia and the emergence of a bullying China, facing a disintegrating U.S. and a weakened Europe. Very very depressing. Better go out and smell the jasmine.

Okay, I do have a preference. Go Milos!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

New York Day Five - Tuesday

Ted gets the New York Times delivered, so I got to read that fine paper as I ate breakfast. To the Café Noi for a final post and to a shop called Sable’s, which was mentioned in the NYT on the weekend and is around the corner from Ted’s – owned and run by Chinese people, it sells lox and sturgeon, traditionally the domain of the Jews. Bought some for Ted and Lola. Then packing and cleaning, making sure there is absolutely no trace of me anywhere. I hope to be able to come back.

Not even a ten minute walk up 3rd Avenue to Lola’s, to dump my stuff and off to meet Richard Curtis, who became my New York agent in 2006. He loved my Jewish Shakespeare book and tried very hard to sell it, but could not find a commercial press interested – the market, they said, was just too small. So he urged me to find a university press, which eventually I did. I’ve sent him word of how I’m doing, and this time decided to see him again and let him know about my new projects, particularly the next book, about my parents and my uncle Edgar and his arcane world of bridge. Richard thought, though it’s very hard to sell memoirs, he said, there are now so many, there might be interest in a book like that “if you can make it about the larger world.” I will do my best.

Met Lola and her daughter Patti, cab to MOMA. Patti has had an interesting career in fine art restoration, and Lola had worked all her life as an artist and jeweller, so it was interesting touring two exhibits with them, one on Degas’ prints and another, very different, on the modern Californian artist Bruce Connor. The Degas was exquisite – my, that man loved women and yet saw them clearly – I don’t ever think I’ve ever before seen a classic work of art depicting a woman peeing. And Bruce Connor had a very dark sense of humour; I laughed out loud several times.

We had coffee at MOMA, toured the shop and then headed to Grand Central for supper at the Oyster Bar, which worked for Patti as she was heading back to New Haven from there. A delicious meal in a venerable establishment, including fried oysters, plump and juicy. Much, much talk of family. 
Lola and I had a crazy cab ride home – heading off in the wrong direction, much fuming before we got turned around – and then even more talk here about family. She had had a very full day and was still full of energy. A life force. She gave me this quote from Einstein: “The strange thing about growing old is that the intimate identification with the here and now is slowly lost. One feels transposed into infinity, more or less alone.” She understands this better than I. 

We watched a DVD I’d sent her of my family’s early years, film taken by Pop, my grandfather, her mother Belle’s beloved older brother. It showed my dad as a boy sledding in Central Park, he and his little brother Edgar at a place by a lake and at boys’ camp – playing baseball, Edgar the shy intellectual strikes out and my aggressive dad hits a home run. Lola exclaimed, There’s Grandma! Yetta Kaplan, born near Minsk, the family matriarch, a difficult woman. Lola remembers her. Lola remembers when the Hindenburg went down. She is a human history book.
Lola and her sometime caregiver from Uganda, Jennifer
A picture I'd never seen before. The little boy, bottom centre, is my dad, with his father right behind him, somehow looking like everyone in the family. The smiling woman is Belle, Lola's mother, the other man is her husband Jerry, and the little girl on the end is Lola. Must be about 1924. 

We talked about the anti-Semitism her family, and she herself, had endured – her father Jerry Golinko had booked a hotel for a family holiday, but when the check-in guy saw him – “Golinko was not a Jewish name but Dad looked Jewish” – he was turned away: “No Jews are allowed here.”

Now I have to get dressed and go to Newark.

In Daily Shouts: "I hated New York, a city where the desperately overworked and the startlingly rich breathe in the smells of each other’s garbage frying on griddle-like summer sidewalks."

New York Day Four - Monday

Monday July 4. One of the most important national holidays here, but of course, almost no-one is on holiday in the city that never sleeps. This morning, off to the Met, there just as it opened at 10, in through the south entrance few know about that’s always empty. This is one of the best art museums in the world – I like it much better than the chaotic overpowering jumble of the Louvre, and it has a greater span than the National Gallery in London, since the Met incorporates the kind of antiquities kept in the British Museum. An amazing place.

I went to an exhibition a New York friend had recommended, showing the relationship between high fashion done by hand and done by machine, a celebration of extraordinary design and mostly Parisian craftsmanship – amazing stuff no-one will ever wear and beautiful, handcrafted things – sequins! feathers! - that wealthy women did.
A dress made of straws
Adding this to my fall wardrobe.

Up to the second floor, to the magic room with FIVE Vermeers, the most in one place anywhere, I think. Again, his serenity and empathy, his exquisite detail – I love to sit with those 350 year old women and enjoy their company.  Toured through the Italian renaissance, though I feel I’ve done those geniuses thoroughly with Bruce, as he toured me through the museums and churches of Italy.

A quick lunch, a peek at the Sphinx, at the medieval rooms, and out into the day. From the sublime to the … sale at Bloomingdale’s. I needed a pair of black pants that were neither jeans nor dressy and found exactly that half price, Gerard Darel, a quality French designer. Also tried on bathing suits – definitely not. The salespeople are so attentive and polite, everyone saying hello and smiling as if they mean it – extraordinary when one has spent any time shopping in France.

Subway home, stopping at the Housing Works Thrift Store across the street where I found a $10 t-shirt to wear with my new pants. Resting briefly back at Ted’s now, and then out again to meet Gail, my uncle’s dear friend, at the Guggenheim.

Another sublime day.

9 p.m. It’ll soon be July 4 fireworks time in NYC, and it’s pouring with rain. I’m sorry for all the families out there getting wet. But I am in here with my feet up, because they really really hurt.

Walking up Madison Ave. to the Guggenheim, I could not help but notice – no, really, I could not help it – the Mephisto shoe store, with a Sale sign, right there. I have been wearing a great pair of Mephisto sandals for years, and now they, like their owner, are worn out. There, on sale, a similar pair in my size. This is why one comes to New York.

Well, this, and the museums and the theatre and the amazing everything. Gail and I had coffee in the miraculous Guggenheim, talking about the man we both loved deeply, her friend and bridge mentor and my uncle. Gail, who’s married with four children and 10 grandchildren and runs a huge bridge business, moved in with Edgar to care for him in his last months, as he died of cancer in 1997. “He was like a god to me,” she said. We discussed the intense, to me incomprehensible world of bridge. Gail fell in love with the game in her late teens and has been immersed in it ever since, which is just what happened to my uncle.

We toured the museum, especially the permanent collection with its luminous Kandinskys,
walked up and down the winding path inside, and then I walked Gail along 5th Ave. for some blocks while we talked. She went home, and I walked in the park, where I saw a happy American family on a holiday outing – Mum and Dad so focussed on their phones they didn’t even notice me taking a picture, and two bored daughters with the controls of their sailboats on the pond.
On the way home, I heard a woman behind me admonish her two small children about being too patriotic; “Americans sometimes do bad things.” I turned around to smile at her and we ended up walking some blocks together, while she ranted. Seriously crazy, it turned out. Voting is just supporting the system, which is rigged and corrupt. We are just pawns. THEY want you to vote, and the choices are horrendous, she says. I saw a guy on Bill Maher’s TV show a few weeks ago saying the same thing, urging people “not to vote and support the system.” Jesus. She went on about the Peloponnesian War and the Athenians and how the Greeks invented history, and I thanked her and steered myself down another street. God help us if people who live on the Upper East Side of New York do not vote.

Home to put up my very sore feet, eat leftovers, finish the Pinot, pack. Tomorrow Cousin Ted reclaims his apartment and I’m moving my stuff to Lola’s for one night on her sofa, then lunch with my agent Richard Curtis, then MOMA with Lola and her daughter Patti, my cousin once removed, who knows a great deal about art. Maybe one more Broadway show tomorrow night. Wednesday – home. Full full full full.

9.30 Massive explosions despite the rain – the fireworks. Happy Fourth of July, crazy country. 9.45, still going strong, both rain and booming.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

New York Day Three - Sunday continued

Sunday July 3. Walked across the beautiful park, with its old trees, hills and winding paths, always a surprise around the corner – including a vista that looks like the middle of the country – 
to the west side. My whole New York life was lived on the west side until my uncle died and I had to move to the east. I still consider myself a west side person in NYC. In Toronto, I am a rabid eastsider.

There’s a farmer’s market now on Columbus, stretching for blocks, many artisanal delights. I went to the Green Flea market, held on Sunday mornings, to look for my friend Jay Kavi, an elderly man from India who had a jewellery booth stuffed with sparkly goodies. I bought many little things from Jay Kavi through the years. On my last visit, he wasn’t there, so I was concerned, and this time I found out that Jay died. New York shrinks for me, yearly, but I guess everywhere does. Cousin Lola told me she has no friends left. They’re all gone.

More memory lane – I walked to the Clifton House on W. 79th, where my grandparents lived till they moved to Sarasota in 1963. I told the doorman they used to live there, he asked their names and when I told him, he exclaimed, oh yes, I know that name, there’s still junk mail sometimes. I find that hard to believe more than 50 years after they moved away, but why not?

And then I walked up to W. 94th to look at #39, my uncle’s house, sold in 1998. He would hate it now, with cutesie decorations and a forest of little American flags all over the steps. 

But I’m sure it’s in better shape than it was when he lived there and the place was crumbling. He ran Bridge World magazine out of the third floor and didn’t care the paint was flaking from the walls. The wine and food, on the other hand, were treated with scrupulous care.

Back across town to eat the last of my fish from Eli’s with a bit more Pinot, then down the street to Lola. We got an Uber to the matinee, there almost an hour early, but that’s a good idea when you’re with a 94-year old. Lola is marvellously feisty, though sometimes it’s a bit embarrassing  – she comments loudly on everyone around her. “Look at him, so fat!” she exclaimed about a man sitting almost right in front of us. “The poor person who has to sit next to him!” “Shhh!” I said.

The Humans is a family drama, parents drive in to NYC from Scranton, Pennsylvania with his mother who has Alzheimer’s to have Thanksgiving dinner with their two daughters, one who has just moved in with her boyfriend on the Lower East Side and the other, a lesbian lawyer who has come in from Philadelphia. The dialogue is note-perfect, funny and very real; we see unfold over and over the tensions beneath every family, the way parents nag out of love, how disappointed they are in their kids’ choices despite that love, how predictable their comments are, the way kids roll their eyes about their parents yet need them deeply. It hit uncomfortably close to home; I resolved to try to stop sending messages about health to my offspring. There’s a haunting sense of menace; 9/11 lurks in the background, and the new apartment has unexplained noises and lights going off, as if poltergeists live there too. And again, a secret must be revealed. Terrific acting and direction. Not my favourite kind of theatre, realistic family drama, but terrific nonetheless.

Lola and I got the 8th Avenue bus uptown to get out of the Times Square area as quickly as possible; she knows all the bus routes so we headed for the crosstown bus at Lincoln Centre. I offered to take her for dinner, and as we approached the bus stop, there across the street was a Chinese restaurant called Shun Lee. It was one of my uncle’s favourite places; I ate there several times with him, the last time when he was suffering the effects of chemo and in rough shape. Lola and I had a delicious dinner there and toasted him. What a pleasure that was. She said, “He loved you very much, you know, your uncle.” And I, him.

Got Lola home. It was such a beautiful night that I went for a stroll around the streets – the sidewalk tables of the restaurants packed – and then went up to the roof garden here to watch the sunset. Sublime.