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Outside it storms; inside I'm in Saint-Malo. And Paris. And Essen. Lost in
All the Light We Cannot See
; chewing each sentence mindfully and swooning at the flavours. What masterful writing! Clear, straightforward prose woven with sublime poetry in short, vivid chapters that have brought whole families of characters into my home. Kind, brave, intelligent, thoughtful - cruel, conflicted and crazed. A poignant story, deeply researched, carefully constructed, lovingly and fearlessly told. Like D before me, I am glued to the chair, neck stiffening, bladder filling, unable to stop. Remembering the Dabs and how they survived...and didn't.
And just like that, I'm done. Over cheese and crackers, soup and salad, and a few bottles of wine, I hand off to the next generation. The binder full of colored pencil planting records, meticulously started every season and abandoned somewhere between June and July. The seed and start orders. The grant applications. The lists of volunteer drivers. The produce donation records. The expense records and volunteer hour sheets. The scruffy old Trader Joe's bag that has been filling up in my office for the last 10 years or so is now going to sit by someone else's desk. Grin.
It starts as always with one small task: clear space along the edge of the bed for new tulips. But like home repairs, pulling up one thing reveals another problem, and soon I'm on my knees with a mesh frame, sifting miniscule muscari bulbs out of the soil. Deep, focused digging also brings up those pretty blue but invasive lilies I never planted. Had to leave but am not nearly done. I've decided that everything but the roses and the peony will be moved, divided or dumped. It's like scraping off the paint and beginning again with a clean canvas.
I finish a NYT Magazine article about how the word diversity in America has gone from communicating something idealistic to something cynical and suspect, then turn on CBC TV to catch the highlights of Justin Trudeau and his new cabinet, sworn in today. There's a First Nations woman, two Sikhs and a man in a wheelchair among the 30 new ministers, half of whom are women. When asked why half his cabinet is women, Trudeau answers, "Because it's 2015." I also love how the new family moving into Sussex Drive looks like they could be my own children and grandchildren.
If the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again but expecting different results, then what does it mean when we continue to place our hopes and dreams and optimism in new politicians? Surely some disappointment is inevitable. No one can live up to our deep desire for an alternate route into the future. Let us be specific in our requests, give praise where praise is due and continue to criticize thoughtfully and constructively when necessary. Something tells me that this young man, this teacher, this father, this son, is more likely to listen.
I was raised by a romantic mother who started me early on a rich diet of princesses and fairy tales. My earliest memories include dramatic through-the-window rescues by handsome princes, all parts acted with elaborate emotion by 4-year-old me. Mom laughed and called me Sarah Heartburn. Decades later, when real romance and drama exploded my life, she told me about my namesake, my great-aunt Tante Yudit, who tragically loved a married man who died young, leaving her to mourn silently in her own miserable marriage. She was murdered by the Nazis early in the war.
damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn
damned if I do
damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn
damned if I don't
Was going for just 8 days, now it's 24. I thought I had the whole month of November to myself. I hear chuckling.
Missed the exact date but remembered the details: 30 years ago, last time the Royals won the Series, and the ambulance taking Auntie Alice to the hospital got caught in the street celebrations. She died two nights later, as we sat in the waiting room, watching Johnny Carson, never expecting her not to make it out of surgery. The years of care-taking - and bad eating - and smoking - had taken their toll. The man she had loved so devotedly didn't even realize she had gone, Alzheimer's eating his brain as he sat still and vacant in a hospice in Vermont.
Alone at last in this most European of Canadian apartments. The expensive antiques and leather furniture, the oriental rug in front of the kitchen sink, the ceramic mixing bowls and classic wooden cooking utensils in rustic containers, the Limoges in a display case topped by assorted cut-glass decanters containing various clear and honey-colored eaux de vie, the expensive, tasteful, original artwork, the fine white linens on the little iron bed I sleep in, piled with woolen blankets and a sweet checked coverlet. And the designer fragrance air freshener sticks in every room, masking the unmaskable scent of cigarettes.
Out of order in no particular order the order of business on order in order to keep order. Dark days of fear and loathing, fearing the unseen, the unknowable, the other, loathing the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Terror unleashed by terror, as intended, and yet...and yet... so much good amidst the horrible. So much pluck and courage and kindness and creativity and inyourface defiant healing love. A refusal to hate, even from those who have suffered most brutally and directly. Human behaviour spans a crazy gamut, bookended by the abject and the saintly, defying prediction or generalization.
Two short days with you and I can't even conjure the upheaval, disruption and mixed feelings I felt on departure. You had me before I arrived, but you draw me in with your funny, your serious, your curious, your intent, your stubborn, your singing, your knowing, your bossy, your endearing, your giggle and tumble, your watching, your learning. It's exhilarating and heartful to spend the hours in your company, letting you set the agenda and the pace. This book, this toy, walk with me, no this way, where's bunny, what's that, give me the phone. The phone. No the phone!
If I lived here, I would miss: the water, the mountain, the view from our dining room, the whole geography of this place, the village feel of Magnolia, the easy get-around, the four seasons, the P-Patch, our Becky dinners, our wine-and-food gatherings, 4th of July at Maggie and Bob's, Ray's, walking on the beach, hiking in Discovery, stairway walks, the Oregon coast, shopping at Trader Joe's, my doctor, Triune Pilates, Ross & Meta, Joan, Mary, Olympus Spa, libraries, American friendliness, The Stranger, Rudy's in Fremont, the coffee shops, the reading everywhere, ferry rides, the flora and fauna.
If I lived here, I would enjoy: easy access to cherished friends and family, regular visits with my granddaughter, favourite places in familiar neighbourhoods, walking, picnicking and cross-country skiing on the mountain, snow-covered landscapes after a storm, growing older with old friends, the Jean Talon market, huge bunches of dill for 99 cents each, the best baguettes, lunch at Sumac and dessert and coffee at Rustique, summers by Laurentian lakes, winters in Florida, proximity to Toronto, massages with Neen, conversations that are half French and half English, not worrying about earthquakes, medicare, Justin Trudeau, and the Canadian dollar.
From up here, the city looks flat and uninteresting, a grid of brown and grey not unlike an aerial view of our community garden in winter. Black-trunked trees wave bare crowns in the wind, tips bleached pale grey by the sun. Oxidized copper church roofs provide focal points, apartment towers poke up from the landscape, stolid and clunky, brick and concrete dotted with symmetrical, mirrored eyes. Fletcher's Field a small stamp of green off peeking through. Mont Saint-Hilaire a scenic backdrop to the southeast. But out the other window is a quilt worthy of the Group of Seven.
It would be so very easy to slip into this life again, although there is never any going back, and the me who lived here once is not the me who would return. The now me has a clearer sense of purpose and a painfully keen sense of time vanishing and better boundaries (I hope) and the broadened experience of having lived elsewhere, and done other things, far away in space and spirit. But that me is still daughter, mother and grandmother and longs for more than this walk-on part, however essential it may be to the unfolding action.
Slipping in is not the right term. I don't want to put on the old familiar clothes hanging in old familiar closet. The now me wants to wear the colourful (sometimes with a u, sometimes without) new clothes from the other place - the purple jacket and the turquoise scarf, the red boots and the rainbow purse, the green hat and the polka dot socks. I see even now how I stand out like a peacock against the endless hip and chic of black and black and black and maybe some beige. The occasional bright red scarf is visible for blocks.
Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Those learn from history are doomed to stand by helplessly, watching everyone else repeat it. A clever cartoon that captures how I feel. So I go back to the question of what can I do personally, and the answer returns as always, to seek truth and act kindly, to counter bigotry and ignorance with honest questions, to teach love and understanding through words and example. And in this particular case, maybe we should get a group of people together, pool our money, and sponsor a family of refugees.
Fully immersed in the fantasy experience of living here. Coffee in the morning with CBC radio, sun pouring in through the kitchen window. Later, a walk down Park, stopping at the liquor store then P.A., for sundry groceries. I look up from the broccoli to see Brigitte, her friend, and Mia in the stroller. And why not? Everyone in the hood shops here. We criss-cross through the store, say hi-and-bye, go our separate ways. Still later, I go for coffee (outside in November!) and run into Linda, falling into step with her as she runs errands.
The first definition of charm: the power or quality of giving delight or arousing admiration. Just 15 months old, with a vocabulary of maybe two dozen intelligible words, and she already understands completely how certain actions return specific responses. With visitors in the house, there is no way she will go gently to bed. But she knows that cranky will send her back to the crib. So she pulls out all the stops and performs every cute trick, facial expression and behaviour she has in her repertory. We sit helplessly, knowing we're being had, and enjoying every minute of it.
Telling the story for the zillionth time, knowing as I choose these words, this time, that at some point, I will have to move beyond the beginning. Also having an aha moment about details. When telling it out loud, I am guided by the level of interest I perceive in the listener: how long do I have before I lose it? Do they want all the minutia? Shall I monopolize our time this way? But writing it is so different. People are committing to a book and want to be drawn in, and that will never happen without the details.
Facebook is really not enough. My progressive friends and I share interesting articles, websites and opinions, post clever comments and sign petitions. But I have yet to encounter anyone whose ideas I really want to challenge. And that should be our primary job: to be out in the world, countering panic and bigotry with information and logic. Would it, could it work? Once in my life I did it. A grown man from a small town who really did think the Jews owned all the banks. We spent the evening talking and when we parted, he had changed his mind.
She learns that I have just been to Florida for the first time at age 63 (except for that once when I was 13). She is floored and incredulous. "Where did you go at Christmas, then?" she asks. "Nowhere," I answer. "Did you ski?" "Nope." Clearly, she has never come across anyone who did not/does not fly south during the holidays. My story baffles her as much as her insularity baffles me, although I would be willing to bet that I have given the differences between us a great deal more thought than she ever has or ever will.
I should be heading downstairs to bed, but the kitchen is cozy with the smell of muffins and the hum of dishwasher and I can still feel the warmth of your little hand in mine as you fell asleep right after handing me your empty bottle. Every square inch of you is precious to me, but even more so is how so much is packed into that little package of you. We know each other so well now, we have our shorthand and our in jokes. Hand signals, nose crinkles, a nod and a wink and la-la-la-la.
I think she has an ear! She lies in her crib and sings before falling asleep (just like her daddy did). She indicates Elmo not by his name but by "la la" - the notes of Elmo's song. We encourage her eclectic tastes: Skinnamarinkydinkydink, Alison Krauss, Andrea Bocelli singing Funiculi, Funicula, kid classics, Petula Clark... she says "Downtown" (sometimes) in the right place. She was glued to the opening scenes of Swan Lake. I will teach her songs and rounds in many languages, we'll play chopsticks and Heart and Soul, and we'll get all gussied up to go see The Nutcracker.
Living in their house, making his coffee on his Rancilio in his man cave, eating their food, drinking their booze, cooking in their kitchen, washing their dishes, watching their TVs, driving his car, serving dinner at their dining room table, doing laundry in their washer/dryer, exercising on their machines, hanging with their daughter, walking their dog. I've watched carefully over the years and know exactly how they do it, from the Windex to the alarm system. It looks like I'm slipping into their life, but it's just another system: the surface is all theirs, the substance is all mine.
The problem is disconnection: from those who are different, from the 99%, even from the weather. Every window blinded, shaded or curtained, shielding the inside from the outside. I could spend the whole day indoors and never really know what it's like outside, and sometimes I do, which is so unlike me. There is no walking out a door or looking out a window. You have to disarm an alarm, unlock locks, lift blinds, peer through sheers. It feels like Fort Knox, albeit with much nicer furniture. I spend hours in the amazing kitchen because cooking is always real.
Added a few new words to my vocabulary today: vasovagal syncope. Gimme two vasovagels on rye with mustard! And who knew syncope meant fainting? Comes from Ancient Greek words meaning together (syn-) and strike, or cut off (koptein). What it actually means is that your vagus nerve conspires with your cardiovascular system to cut off blood flow to the brain and you pass out. As my son did while eating breakfast in a restaurant today. I now know that he should have been prone, not sitting up. It took five and half hours in the ER to learn that. Phew!
Nothing like a captive audience when you have something important to say. Not that I instigated it, mind you. HE did! Entertain me, he said, so I started reading aloud, but he didn't like the book and chose instead to have the conversation we were supposed to have next Tuesday. After all the churning and rehearsing, it flowed out easily and for maybe the first time, I spoke my truth and told him how I felt without worrying about how he would receive it. Not a small thing for me and very liberating indeed. A big door has swung open.
I cooked, they came, we ate, drank and socialized, they left, Jill loaded the dishwasher, I scrubbed pots, and the Seahawks won! Four generations ate yummy pot roast with root veggies and rich mashed potatoes, gravy of course, a creamy horseradish sauce, and a gluten-free pear-apple-cranberry-cherry crumble with vanilla ice cream. The toddler played, participated and entertained, walking where she pleased, exploring fearlessly, conversing in her lovely lilting language with people, furniture and the dog. A short, sweet family Sunday that we would all happily do again. And we got Grandma here by Uber! So there.
I do love Quebec. For all its ridiculous language legislation and xenophobia, it has a very civilized approach to public drinking. We have no "beer gardens" or "beer tents" here. At festivals and street fairs, you just buy your beverage and walk around. And today in the market, I learned that if you stand at the fish store's oyster bar to sample your bivalves, you can't drink your BYOB wine. But if you carry those same oysters over to the middle of the market and sit at a table, it counts as a picnic, and you may uncork and enjoy.
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