Monday, April 30, 2012
Isabelle, from Montpellier: i'll check your blog for word of your mom this week. bon courage!
And Pam, one of my most faithful blog followers though we've never met, wrote from rural Quebec: I wanted to send along my thoughts to you, and to say I will thinking of your Mum on tuesday, and I wish her all the best. She is surrounded by all the best of care, and you and Mike especially. You may not be in Paris anymore, but we grow where we are planted, and everything is working out as it should. I look forward to your posts to tell us of her recovery. Thinking of you today, your fan and blog family member, Pam.
So, in this strange new world of ours, with our busy, crowded lives and jazzy technology, people are more connected than ever in the most fundamental and important way.
Another blessing: spring. I've managed to follow dreadful weather for months now - it was freezing cold, grey and wet in England and France while it was a startling 25 degrees here, and then, the minute I came back, winter also returned. But though it's still chilly, the sun is out, and the trees are that sweet, transcendent spring shade of green; tulips, forsythia, magnolia, redbud, lilac, pansies, cherry blossom - scent and colour everywhere. My own garden, bursting into life. Usually, when I return to Canada from Europe, it hurts for a bit that there is so old and beautiful, and here is so ugly and new. But not this year. Because my mother is alive, and it is spring.
Tomorrow she is having a procedure called a TAVI, which is non-invasive valve surgery specifically for the elderly; they operate through a catheter inserted in a vein in her groin, how's that for miraculous? Her aortic valve was damaged by rheumatoid arthritis in childhood, and she's had open-heart surgery twice to replace the valve; we are all great admirers of pigs, because it is a pig's aortic valve that has kept her alive all these years. But now the valve is badly damaged and restricted, so Dr. Labinaz, the TAVI surgeon who's been given five stars out of five in patient reports, will repair it. After a week or so in recovery, she will be moved to the Geriatric Assessment Unit, which sounds like paradise - teams of caregivers to help her regain strength and to figure out what's next. Blessings blessings blessings.
And the last, for today - routine. Three hours of gardening with friend and gardening guru Scott on Saturday morning, and then to Ingrid, my hairdresser whom I've known for so long, she's like family; on Sunday to the Y, where friends said, "Welcome back! How was your trip?" and I managed to gasp my way around the gym with the others. On Sunday afternoon, house-cleaning while listening to CBC, Eleanor Wachtel and then Cross Country Checkup, which was about eldercare, though I missed a lot as it was sunny and I had to go outside and get the decrepit wicker garden furniture from the shed. Today, the pleasure of same old, same old: yoga at the Y, taking my daughter for a pedicure, going to the library, getting newspaper delivery back, buying groceries at No Frills.
And getting ready for my first class of the spring term, tomorrow afternoon, which I'll teach while thinking about my mother's beautiful beating heart.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Saturday, April 28, 2012
But this morning, friend Scott is coming over to help me bring the garden to life, and later today, I'm getting this shapeless fuzzy bush of hair cut. Normalcy returns. Tomorrow I may even make it to the Y, and that would really be a joyful hello. Maybe even my favourite second-hand store, Doubletake. Last night, I made it to neighbour Monique's Friday night Francophone soiree, though I was too dazed to last for long. They were arguing about quota systems in the professions and the point of universities - what are they for? - when I left.
Just happened on a few Paris blogs - there are a lot - including one with the happy title "Lostincheeseland.com" which I wish I'd thought of myself. She quotes the Irish food writer Trish Deseine, who has lived in Paris for 25 years, in an interview:
Nice to know that pleasure is still there, waiting, when the time is right, for my return. And yours.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Well - today, the nurse washed her hair, the physio had her walking metres around the floor, and when I asked her the question, after a talk, we both saw - she will go through this and we'll hope for the best. She wants to meet her great-grandchild. What a meeting that will be.
The team at the Ottawa Heart Institute is phenomenal, all of them angels and heroes. Dr. Duschene with his marvellous sense of humour and warm dumpling face; today's nurse, Kathy, cheerful but not annoyingly so, just sensible, brisk, loving. All of them - I marvel, how can they keep it up? But they do. It makes me wince to see my mother treated like a small child, to hear them praising her for standing up, getting to the bathroom, making sense. But - compared to a few days ago, and to last week apparently, the way she is now is a miracle.
So - as my dear Wayson says - Onward.
I'm in the Ottawa airport, and they've just called my flight. This zombie is on her way home.
But what kind of life? It's sure, though I hate even to write it down, that she will not be able to live in this lovely bright 3 bedroom apartment ever again. We will find her a good place with nursing care - we'd already looked at several, because we knew a time of need would come - and there she will be safe. She won't have to fear falling in the night and lying on the ground for half an hour with the walker lying on top of her. But she will have a tiny impersonal space and a million daily invasions. Her old life is over, and she is furious and terrified. I would be too. It's very hard to see; to watch my independent mother tremble because she's too afraid to stand up.
She can hardly move because she has no muscles. Except that very large brain, which yesterday was banging through a crossword puzzle and word jumble, as she used to every day at home. Sharp as can be, until she faded and fell asleep.
And here am I, jet-lagged and awake at 5.30 a.m. in her apartment, surrounded by the life she can't have any more, wondering how to help. Her operation is scheduled for May 1, which is the day my teaching term starts in Toronto, and in the meantime, Anna awaits her baby in the next weeks. Talk about torn.
The joy of being a writer, though - as I sort and tidy, I come across stacks of letters and cards, so many of them that I've written and mailed through the years. We have not lived in the same town since I was 20, but I've kept her company through the mail, not to mention the endless phone calls. Seeing her now makes me ache with grief and compassion. But I do not feel guilty about my mother. And that is a very great gift.
And yes, there is undoubtedly fear, at the back of the reptilian brain, about what my own end will be like.
Sorry, my dear readers. As I said the other day, we are not in Paris any more.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
And what I say, every time I enter, is, "Thank you, Tommy Douglas." The place is far from fancy, the food is pretty dreadful, but she is surrounded with loving care, devoted experts making sure she gets better. Which, I'm happy to say, she is slowly doing.
She had a fall at 3 a.m., pressed the buzzer on the emergency wristband she always wears, and the super opened her door for the ambulance guys who took her to Emerg. Nothing was broken, but she disintegrated, to the point where she could not walk and could barely eat and couldn't remember anything. She went into paranoid ramblings and made no sense; my brother thought she was on her way out.
Today, we managed THREE times to get her out of bed and walking - well, tottering - down the hall, clutching her walker with a small white nurse on one side and on the other, a man called Janvier, because he was born in January in Burundi. Janvier is built, as my mother says delicately, "like a brick shithouse." He is the gentlest imaginable caregiver. I think of Wayson's book "Not Yet," about his near death experiences, and how he describes hospital workers as angels. Janvier, with his eight foot wide shoulders and his infinite patience, is an angel.
But yes, Toto - we are not in Paris any more.
I didn't have a chance to tell you about my last night there - old friends Michele and Daniel came to the flat for l'aperitif and then set out to find a restaurant Daniel had liked when he was a student in the quartier, about 45 years before. And sure enough, not only was it there, nearby, but it was a place I had passed several times and vowed to visit. There I was in a beautiful French restaurant with two French friends and one of my oldest Canadian friends who is now French herself. Periodically I made a mistake in my French and they all laughed - nicely - so I was always aware that these people were really French and I was not. But that night, I felt pretty damn close.
Two nights later, my beloved neighbours Jean-Marc and Richard fed me while catching me up on Canadian political gossip and the doings of the royals. And today, I had lunch with my brother and his 4-year old son Jake, talking about the Hulk and how he got his superpowers. "He used to be human," said Jake, "and then he got really strong." Jake's mother is Quebecoise; he speaks French to his mother, English to his father and goes to school in French. Unlike most of us, he will be effortlessly bi-cultural.
I am grateful beyond words that Mum is recovering; that I am able to sit with her. Today, before going to the hospital, I was clearing junk in the flat and found a box of letters - first, my father's to her and hers to "Kap," as she calls him, an American soldier in Paris. The one I read was written in 1945, right after the war. "I've just seen a banana for the first time in 4 years," she writes from London. Then a giant pile of letters from her lover, 11 years later. And another pile - my letters to her and Dad. There are scores, a very large stack, because I was a fervent letter writer. My whole adult life, in a plastic bag.
My mother, the hoarder.
Thank you, Tommy Douglas.
P.S. For those of you unfortunate enough not to be Canadian, Tommy Douglas was the Socialist preacher and politician who, against vicious opposition from the medical profession and conservatives, pushed through Canada's free health care system. Which is why my mother will be spending a month in hospital and receiving a life-saving operation, at a cost - to her - of nearly nothing. So my thanks not only to Tommy, without whose persistence and determination our socialized medicine would never have happened, but also to the taxpayers of Canada.
Monday, April 23, 2012
Went home to deal with: bills, income tax, a leaky roof, the furnace, laundry, a new tenant, cleaning the suite, upcoming courses, many calls, and getting a plane ticket for first thing tomorrow and a rental car in Ottawa.
And, now, unbelievably, I have to pack again.
But I did have my rue Mouffetard croissant for breakfast this morning, with friend Patsy's blackberry jam made from Gabriola Island berries. A classic meeting of two great cultures.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Lynn and I went this morning to the Pinacoteque, to see an exhibit we'd luckily procured tickets for months ago - Modigliani and Soutine, the collection of Jonas Netter, a reclusive art collector who kept various Montparnasse artists alive with his purchases and support. A beautiful collection - not that many of the famous names, but many artists I'd never heard of and should have. And then Madame and I went to visit the permanent collection of the museum, where for a surreal 15 minutes, we were the only people in a room full of masterpieces - Botticelli, Frans Hals, Picasso, Corot, Max Ernst, African sculpture, Tintoretto - all mixed in, very interesting, some extraordinary stuff.
And then back on the #21 bus, home to eat a large lunch - trying to finish some of the quantities of food in the fridge - and talk and talk and read emails and talk. Now friends are coming for a last night supper. And more talk. I will miss this stunning city fiercely. I will be glad to be home, where I'm needed. Whenever you are somewhere, she said, revealing the depth of her wisdom, you are not somewhere else. How I would like one of me to be over there, taking care of my mother, and another here, looking at Botticelli.
Just rushed to the bakery, to get croissants for my kids. Okay, and one for me, for breakfast Monday at home. A last taste of butter and pastry, before Canada resumes its hold.
Friday, April 20, 2012
The pix below: a still life in Paris flat with croissant, maps and ranunculus; weird things at the fishmongers in the market; a Paris sky, blue for once; and the flowers named above that I have come to adore. You know, if you click on the pix, they get bigger.
People have written me the kindest notes today. What a blessing. I thank you all.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
It says on-line that the Air Canada office at CDG opens at 7.30 a.m. but when you call at 7.30, it says they open at 9. Now you know. I am calling to see if I can change my ticket home, from next Wednesday to sooner. Mum is still in hospital, and my poor brother is dealing with a lot. And my daughter just wrote - her midwife says the baby is starting to descend. The drama of all this is overwhelming.
Last night, dinner with new French friends. People say the French are stand-offish, but it ain't so - Annie and I met at a bus stop in 2009, both waiting for the bus when someone came along to say that the midwives of France were marching nearby, and all transit had been stopped. I must have looked dismayed, because Annie asked where I'd been going and offered to steer me there, since it was close to her stop. We ended up walking for a long time, deep in conversation with lots in common, and when we got to her place, she invited me up to meet her husband. And so we became friends, and I visit them each time I'm in Paris. She is working with Jean-Paul Sartre's daughter on re-editing his work for new editions - she gave me the latest - and he is an Italian film studies professor, with a large family in Rome. Their sons are in film and theatre. But besides art and politics, we spent a lot of time talking about the needs of aging parents and grandchildren.
I went to a market Thursday morning, relished looking at every delicious thing, came home empty-handed. Though I have fallen deeply in love again - this time with a flower, the ranunculus, a spring flower with layer on layer of petals so fine, they're nearly translucent. There was a bit of welcome sun yesterday, in between rainstorms, but today, again, cold and grey. Friend Lynn is coming to stay with me. But our time together will be shorter than we'd thought.
Later. Flying home Sunday morning; made the arrangements with a nice Air Canada employee who told me it was nearly 4 a.m. her time, in New Brunswick. It was good to talk to a kind Canadian voice.
I need to see my mama.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
The exhibition I didn't go to at Pompidou, because of the line-up. Soon.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Monday, April 16, 2012
Sunday, April 15, 2012
The line-up for bread Sunday morning at the best
In northern Paris, where many East Indian and African immigrants live, kids ignore the backdrop and play soccer in the street.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Friday, April 13, 2012
Walking along the river, under bridges, getting closer and closer to Our Lady in all her splendour - people live in these marvellous barges, with dining tables on deck, and nearer, there are barge restaurants where you can sit in her shadow and admire her while you eat. How beautiful she is, Notre Dame. A wonder.
I tried a new writing course, and I am sure it was well-organized for what it was, but your instruction was in another league entirely. You are so well-informed, confident, passionate, wise, clever, and mature in how you present yourself and in what you draw from your students. Your comments on our work are masterful and spot on. You treat us as mature adults and writers from the get-go and you focus on the writing. You get us down to it, and you work us, giving us lots of opportunity to read and learn from critique, allowing us no apologies or excuses.So, because of you, I have to withdraw from this course (which shall remain nameless). It does not compare on any level, except that the instructor was well-prepared and seemed knowledgeable, and I am sure, quite competent.Competent doesn't cut it for me any more.So thanks a lot!! Harrumph!!
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Jonathan Harris had a vision for a new kind of social media — a place where life lessons and story telling could be shared.
So the San Francisco-based artist developed Cowbird — a website which can be described as part Oprah, part Wikipedia where people can share their stories online.
“We’re trying to create a repository for the world’s wisdom, knowledge and experience,” said Harris . It’s a “library for human experiences” where people can write about anything that moves them.
The format is simple. What’s required is a photo and text. There is also room for audio, but that’s optional.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Monday, April 9, 2012
At the Covent Garden market, this