Tuesday, April 30, 2013

the joy of here

Dear friends, there is a price to pay for gallivanting. I have a terrible cold today and a list of things to do a mile long. On the other hand, there was a visit with Booboo. 
Be still, my beating heart. 

Nearly one year old and driving already.

P.S. AND - in the huge stack of mail, there was a small royalty cheque from my publisher, with the news that the hardcover of my book sold 7 copies last year, but the paperback sold 150. 150 copies is best-seller status in my world. I will take that $95.97 and go nuts!

AND: a great YouTube video.

springing home

I'm home - a day early. On the weekend, I realized that there was just too much to do and managed to change my ticket, not for the $365 originally quoted, but for the $75 change fee. There are a few worrying things going on here, and necessary chores; time to stop gadding about and get on with real life.

But that left me a whole weekend in Vancouver - rain predicted, but luckily there were many stretches without and even some sun. On Friday morning, Patsy and I reluctantly left Cabin #12, saying goodbye to the view, the hot tub and the chatty stellar jay that had kept us company. We collected driftwood and stones on magnificent Wickanninnish Beach, and then she drove us across the island to Nanaimo where I caught the float plane back to Vancouver. What a ride - soaring over the water with mountains on all sides - and in 20 minutes, back in the city.

I strolled that evening along the English Bay seawall as far as Second Beach; thousands out also on a mild Friday night, strolling or jogging by the water and sitting on the beach, the freighters on the horizon outlined against the setting sun. I came across a group of 3 musicians, a fiddler, guitar and mandolin player, singing the old folk song "A hundred miles." "Lord, I'm five hundred miles, from my home." I felt the words in my bones. As we gathered to listen, the sky was glowing gold over the water, the waves lapped at the shore - a moment of heaven in the heart of earth's most beautiful city.

Next morning, Chris and I took the tiny ferry in the rain to one of my favourite places, Granville Island, for lunch and a stroll about. Anxious to avoid my shopping tendencies, however, with so many great shops around, he steered me on to see "The Sapphires," a hilarious and moving Australian film about an aboriginal girl band in the Sixties. Adorable Irish actor Chris O'Dowd - our new heartthrob, Chris's and mine, and for once, I'm sure he's straight, so MINE.

That evening, old friends Margaret and Roy hosted a dinner again, this time with more friends from my time in the theatre here. And the following morning, Margie and I again went to Jane Ellison's fabulous movement/dance class at the Western Front. Sunday afternoon, with the sun actually out briefly, I met Angus at the VAG Café. Angus rented my attic room 10 years ago, as a young musician training to accompany opera singers; he's been working successfully ever since, has grown up and is engaged to be married. He and I had a Malaysian dinner on Davie Street with Chris, and I walked back to Bruce's cosy flat in the drizzle, to pack and prepare for my early departure the next morning.

Awoke to such a high wind, the waves were smashing over the seawall. Nothing if not dramatic, Vancouver. The flight, though we were crammed onto an airbus, was speedy and painless - I watched an entertaining documentary about elderly people playing in the world pingpong championships, the oldest 100 years old and still competing. Inspiring.

Oh, the pleasure, once more, of walking through my own front door. Tenant Carol had kept the place shining, a bunch of purple tulips on the kitchen counter, the crabby cat almost affectionate. I registered the newly-placed things around that were my mother's - a vase that was my grandmother's, Mum's throw tossed on a chair. Often on the trip I had the urge to call her. At the same time, it was a relief not to be worrying about her. In the darkness, I could see that the forsythia is blooming - and that my termite-prone deck had been ripped out, as promised, leaving a pile of rubble. So - back to work, planning classes, working on the house.

With so many fine memories, bird singing outside, spring in full flight.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Pacific Rim National Park

 Driftwood art
 We picked up so many stones, we had to leave some behind

 On the Schooner Cove trail - magnificent ancient cedars ...
 Big ones

 A tiny bit of Long Beach

 The trail back
 Supper at Cabin #12, with our salvaged bits of driftwood
 Wickaninnish Beach, another tiny bit of Long Beach
The surfers waiting for the waves, like sharks in the distance

More beautiful B.C.

A beach on Bowen - note: sunshine. 

Buying eggs on Bowen: Shari drives to a farm, leaves money and empty egg cartons in the little shed, and takes a full one from the fridge.
Vancouver Island's coastal mountains
 The booming metropolis of Tofino
The view at dusk from Crystal Cove's Cabin #12
 Chesterman Beach - mesmerizing patterns

The mountains emerge
 Patsy and I began collecting beautiful bits of driftwood - but this one was too big to take home.
Note: the beach getting crowded. At least two people visible.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Crystal Cove

I'm in a log cabin on the west coast of Vancouver Island, near Tofino, in front of a dwindling fire; I've just stepped out of the hot tub after a day of walking on the vast beaches of this island paradise. This is what I dreamed of at the start of this trip, and here it is. You know I'm a weeper, and today, I wept several times for gratitude and joy.

Bowen Island was wonderful - this unique community of islanders where Shari knows and is known by everyone, because she has been a fixture of the music community and a well-known singer and songwriter for decades. In her four story house overlooking the harbour and mountains, she has both an office and a studio, full of musical equipment and instruments, where she composes and records. She's now doing house concerts, which she loves, is leaving soon on a cross-country tour and I hope next year will do a concert chez moi. In the meantime, we talked and walked with her old dog Louie and ate vegetarian meals.

There was one heartbreak, when she took me on a walk on a glorious path along the shore, where all the land adjacent was being developed into 10-acre sea-view plots "for multi-millionaires from Hong Kong," she said. As we walked, we heard the noise of backhoes and builders, beginning their work along this once-pristine coast.

I sat my alarm for 5.55 a.m. the next morning - why? To go for a dawn walk in the woods? To sit writing my heart out in the sea air silence? No. Members of the website Paulmccartney.com, of whom I am one, can buy early tickets for his concerts, and when I found out he was doing a concert in Ottawa July 7, I knew I had to go. I can visit Auntie Do and Paul too. So I had to be ready to buy as soon as the box office opened at 9 a.m. Ontario time - 6 in B.C. And sure enough, at exactly 6, the site offered tickets. It took me about 20 minutes of clicking to buy a ticket for myself and 2 for my brother. And then, thrilled, to turn out the light and try to go back to sleep.

On Wednesday morning, Shari drove me to the ferry, where I walked on on Bowen Island and off at Horseshoe Bay and then got immediately on another ferry, this one heading to Nanaimo, where Patsy met me and we drove off, across the island, to the west coast. To finish my jaunt, I was longing for some ocean time, and invited Patsy to be my guest at a place she recommended, Crystal Cove Cottages. When we finally arrived, we opened the door to our ocean-front log cabin, #2 - heaven. But - right outside the door, on the beach, was a large group of teenagers, partying hearty - drinking, smoking, with loud music. And then from the cabin right next door came the even louder sounds of heavy metal music. I looked at Patsy in misery - would this ruin our longed-for time by the sea?

So I went to the office, and they offered us Cabin #12 for the same price as Cabin #2. It's on the edge of the property, fronts on a beautiful cove, is completely quiet - and, huge bonus, has a hot tub, for which you usually have to pay a large extra fee. So thanks to those vile teenagers, we got a free hot tub, a silent cabin, and our own crystal cove.

This part of the world is bliss. Utterly, unbelievably beautiful - the endless, empty beaches, the ancient rain forest trees and undergrowth, the First Nation villages Ucluelet and Tofino - oh, I have loved being here. Yesterday, after buying groceries in Tofino, we walked for ages on our own beach before cooking supper, drinking wine and floating in the hot tub. Today we walked first for two hours on Chesterman Beach, where I camped in the mid-seventies as a young hippy, with a couple of guys in a truck - who were they? I cannot remember. And then later, we walked all afternoon, down an incredible path through the forest, falling in love with huge ancient trees as we went, to Schooner Cove, part of Long Beach, which is even more vast and endless and beautiful. I'm sorry that beautiful and endless and vast are the only words that come. But then, I'm blissed out and ready to melt after the tub.

Best of all - for once, on this rainy coast in this rainy province, there has been no rain. The weather - after so much cold and wet on my trip - has been perfect. Shari said, after 2 days of sun on Bowen, "You're the luckiest person who's ever stayed here." And here on the Pacific Rim too - warm sun and a breeze, and a horizon of sand and ocean, air and trees - and in the distance, as always in this most stunning province, the implacable snow-capped mountains.

I wept for the beauty of the ocean and the beach, then of the trees, but at dinner, finally, at the beauty of my friend, who was wearing a cut velvet top of my mother's I'd sent her after Mum died. We cooked dinner, drank wine, sat in front of the fire and in the hot tub talking intensely, as we have been since we became roommates in the summer of 1970, in a house in another cove on another coast, outside of Halifax. What a great treasure is an old, old friend. In a hot tub. After a day of bliss.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Beautiful B.C.

Opening night: Mr. Tyrell on the right, with his Grade 5 teachers Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler ("the Breck girl"), who were so kind to him then and feature prominently in his show
 Just outside Bruce's front door - English Bay and cloud
From the Burrard Bridge, the West End, Bruce's apartment centre-right - and cloud
 On the ferry to Bowen Island
The view from Shari's front door

Sunday, April 21, 2013

useful creativity

This morning I was in a movement class where the teacher talked about useful versus useless creativity. Useless, she said, was re-creating a scenario that did not happen, or creating a possible future scenario that might never. Useful - making something interesting that wasn't there before.

And that is what my friend Chris Tyrell has done. He's a writer, arts administrator and storyteller whose core story is so interesting - of adoption, rejection, and finally finding his birth mother who helped him understand who he really is - that many of us had urged him to write it down. So he did, not as a memoir, but as a show, an autobiographical musical show that he produced as a fundraiser for the Performing Arts Lodge here, which houses artists who don't have much money in middle and old age.

That is, a 65-year old man who's HIV positive, who's had 2 heart attacks and has severe asthma and defines himself as shy and has never performed onstage, wrote the script and libretto for and produced and publicized a play starring himself and two singers, to tell the intimate story of his terrible childhood and the redemption that came later.

Lesson: just do it. His best friends Bruce and I are theatre professionals who have both been working on projects for years, have read many, many books on how to do it right. Chris didn't read a single book; he just did it. It was flawed. He had real trouble remembering his lines, he's not an actor, there were lumpy, awkward and slow bits. But it was extraordinary and moving, because he was telling us the truth, his story, a big story of growth, courage, genetics and heritage, and we heard it and got it, right in the gut.

I'd edited the script and knew the story backwards anyway, from my decades of friendship with this man. But it was thrilling to hear it all again opening night Thursday and at the closing this afternoon. He has always wanted to do this, and so he did.

This city is such an anomaly. The weather! So often glowering skies and rain. I curse the place as I splash through puddles trying to get somewhere - today, to the PAL theatre in a freezing downpour, wearing every layer I've brought and under Bruce's umbrella, telling myself I will NEVER COME BACK! And then suddenly the skies clear and it's the most beautiful place on earth. Right now, I'm in Bruce's chair looking out at English Bay under a blue sky, the mountains, the sailboats and tankers; below the trees are bursting into green, and best of all, the rhododendrons are exploding. Gorgeous. And then it will pour again and I will curse.

I've visited friend Tara who lives on the water, had coffee and drinks at the Art Gallery with Patsy and Cathy, had several meals with Chris, walked miles, explored Main Avenue, Commercial Drive and Gastown which is not the shoddy touristland it once was, and last night had a fireside evening and delicious dinner chez old friend Margaret and her husband Roy and spent the night there so I could go with Margaret this morning to a class at the Western Front with Jane Ellison, dancer and teacher. I've gone with Margaret before and am desperate to find something similar in Toronto. Jane leads her class through an intense 45 minutes of stretching and awakening to the body, then puts on 4 songs of fantastic music of all genres and everyone dances like crazy around the room, then there's a cool-down and stretch. She's wise and luminous and it's a great deal of fun.

Now I'm waiting for Chris to call when he gets back from the theatre where they're striking the set, and we'll have dinner and he'll begin to come down to earth. He is a man of superhuman energy, and so I'm sure will begin a new project, perhaps a new script, tomorrow. And tomorrow morning, I am getting the bus to Horseshoe Bay to get the ferry to Bowen Island, to stay for two days with an old friend, the singer Shari Ulrich. And then to Vancouver Island. All the while tucking thoughts and ideas into my back pocket.

Because I have learned my lesson: JUST @#$# DO IT.

PS. This visit is also a trip back in time for me. I walk to the PAL theatre along Cardero Street, and pass the apartment building where my ex and I, he 26 and I 29, moved in together in May 1980, the place to which we brought our baby girl back from the hospital in May 1981. I stand and look up at our third floor windows and wonder who that blissful young woman was - I hardly remember her.

At the theatre, I'm reconnecting with colleagues from my actress days in the Seventies. One of them said to me, today, "You look younger now than you did when you worked here 40 years ago." And though of course it's a lie, this grandmother with grey hair, I do feel younger. Because I've put all that useless creativity, to a great extent, away.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

City of Angelinos

 The best-dressed children in the world discover nature at the Santa Monica market
Ze beach - such tall, skinny trees, like the people
A typical freak at the Venice Beach Freak Show
 The view from Suzette and Pierre's balcony
 One tiny bit of the Walk of Fame
The tourist in front of the old street lamp installation in front of the LA Museum of Art
 Suzette inside, in front of Richard Serra ...
 ... and at Barney's, with a Christian Louboutin hiking shoe and/or icepick
Suzette, Dee, Larry and Pierre - in Dee and Larry's living-room, on the beach
A Bedouin couple walking in the windstorm


 Moi before my swim in the Barton Springs natural pool - endless
 Madame and the cute sommelier we picked up
 People sit on both sides of the bar and peddle around the city - I assume the person steering drinks a bit less
The 50's ambiance of Hut's, with its fab burgers and fries.

sun to rain

Yesterday at the Air Canada check-in counter at LAX, as I handed over my passport, the woman said, "Going to?"
"Toronto," I replied. After a few minutes, she said, "No. Vancouver."
Oh yes. Vancouver. Where - guess what - it is cold and rainy and very very grey. But stunningly beautiful.

My last day in L.A., Suzette drove up the Pacific Coast highway to Malibu. All the way, she told me stories of various movie star adventures on this highway or in the houses along the shore. We had lunch outside at a picnic table at Malibu Seafood, a dive that served the freshest swordfish I've ever tasted. And on the way back, she kindly offered to stop at my kind of store - T.J. Max, the American equivalent of discount-rich Winner's, where I finally found the cross-body leather bag I've been looking for in Toronto, Washington and Austin.

Later, we all decided to go for a walk along the beach to the Santa Monica pier, but the wind was so powerful, we could hardly move. We made it to the end of the pier, shrouded against wind and sand in scarves, like Bedouins, and on the way back, stopped at the luxurious Casa del Mar hotel for a drink in their elegant salon overlooking the water. There's nothing like a grand old hotel. Heaven.

That night, I took my hosts for a gourmet dinner at one of the hottest places in town, Gjelina's, where we had a series of little plates - an artichoke grilled with a divine sauce, a mushroom pizza drizzled with truffle oil, a pasta with raclette and leeks - be still my beating heart. And for dessert, something so creamy that I wanted to order a large jar and take it home with me. Did not. My pants are too right already, and I only brought two pairs.

That night, on their large-screen TV, we watched one episode of a marvellous British series called "Shakespeare Uncovered," in which British stars explore Shakespeare's plays. We watched the lovely Joely Richardson discuss "As you like it" - with clips of her ethereal mother Vanessa Redgrave as Rosalind, the role that made her a star - and "Twelfth Night." The best kind of TV. And then, an episode of "Girls" - I've wanted to see it because of all the buzz, and don't have HBO. Well - I can see why people are talking about its frank exploration of the lives of young adults. Won't become addicted, though, I found the heroine whiney and boring. But then, Suzette assured my judgmental self, I hadn't watched the characters develop.

The next day, of course, the sun was shining and the temperature expected to rise precipitously. Hated to leave that beautiful spot, its endless beach, the generous hospitality of my hosts. But ... time to fly. To Vancouver. Where the fierce stony presence of the mountains ringing the city brought tears to my eyes. Since my arrival yesterday afternoon, a weak sun has been trying to pierce the clouds, without success, and today, it's dark and rainy. But it's spring here in full force, everything blooming, cherry blossoms, magnolia, daffodils - the city could not be more beautiful, even in its shroud of grey. I'm staying in my dear friend Bruce's little apartment right on English Bay - he's in Florence, so though I will miss him, I'm thrilled to have my own pied a terre in the convenient West End. Had supper with my beloved Chris, who was remarkably calm heading for a preview of his autobiographical show - he calls it "memoir theatre" - that night.

And now I'm heading for breakfast with him. I lived in this city for 8 years. It's home, too.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Santa Monica

Fairyland. That's what L.A. is like to me - those legendary names, legendary images - but people actually live here, work here, like normal people. Almost. But not quite.

Before I go on about my little life, I have to mention the bombs that went off in Boston this afternoon. The country is mesmerized, wondering about the source of this new terror; TV news, radio programs and the on-line universe are going mad. Of course, every program has to focus on it, even with absolutely no new news - on and on about the extent and kind of injuries, who the perpetrator might be ... appalling. Maniacs, bloodthirsty horror everywhere.

Even out here in Lalaland, this new terror doesn't seem far away. And yet it is so very beautiful here, incredible lush vegetation - neon bougainvillea pouring down walls, and the most incredible trees of all kinds, ancient, gnarled, mysterious with white trunks, rows of sky-high skinny palms, monkey puzzles, gorgeous, my mouth open at the beauty of the greenery on the boulevards and in front of homes. I'm the guest of my dear friend Suzette, whom I've known since university in Ottawa, like Lynn. She's a screenwriter and a producer with her husband Pierre; they live here part-time, in an apartment that fronts on the beach at Santa Monica, the light and fresh air flooding through the windows. As Pierre says, even when we're hard at work here, we just look out the window at the beach, the mountains and ocean, the people playing tennis and jogging, and it feels like a vacation.

Yesterday, we went first to a local farmer's market, where I thought that every single person was a movie star - all slender, unlined, expensively dressed. I asked my friends if ugly or old people were simply asked to leave the premises. Later, Suzette and I walked for miles along the beach, to the Venice boardwalk which is a freak show, many crazy people and thousands of others there to watch them. And she drove me to see what I thought were the mansions of Santa Monica until we went to see the mansions of Brentwood nearby - massive, like a dream, mini-Versailles chateaux or Tudor manors or 50's ranch houses or Italian villas. With bougainvillea and incredible trees.

Today Suzette drove me around this crazy spread-out city, the famous names - Beverley Hills, Sunset Boulevard, Coldwater Canyon, Laurel Canyon way up in the hills - Joni lived here, no? - with a spectacular view of the valley, crazy houses perched on stilts. Mulholland Drive, Hollywood Boulevard with Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame with the stars in the sidewalk. We went to LACMA, the LA Museum of Art, a terrific museum, and from there to Suzette's favourite store, Barney's, to have lunch on the roof with a view of the Hollywood hills and its famous white sign, and to gaze at the extremely expensive wares on sale within. It was a wonderful tour.

This evening, a meeting with two more old friends. In 1972 in Toronto, Suzette helped me find a place to live - a room in a communal house with her friends Larry, Barry and Fred, and Larry's girlfriend Dee. Larry and Fred were American brothers, Larry a writer and actor and Fred a musician, Barry a Canadian working in an improv troupe with Larry. Living in the house was an unforgettable adventure which lasted maybe 7 months for me. Larry and Dee married and moved to L.A. where he ended up producing "Beverley Hills 90210" for a number of seasons. He bandied several well-known names about last night, talked of the wasted months he spent developing a TV project for Ringo Starr. Dee is very creative, the woman who got me into vintage clothes way back then; I still have a 40's dressing gown she gave me 40 years ago. They live in an ocean-front bungalow right on the beach in Venice, and after our visit, we all went out for a gourmet Mexican dinner - shrimp tacos, fried zucchini blossoms filled with cheese, grilled corn and the best guacamole and margaritas. I've not seen sweet Dee since 1973; she's now grey-haired with 2 adult sons and the same lively blue eyes. A great reunion.

(And incidentally, my friends are vegetarians; after a week in Austin eating more meat than I usually consume in months, I've had only fish since arriving here. As Suzette says, a cleanse.)

I could not live in a city which is so far flung that you have to drive everywhere for miles and hours, let alone where youth, beauty, money, sex and power are valued above all else. But it is so much more magical than I'd imagined, with its glorious trees and flowers and amazing old buildings - vintage Deco, 50's, old neon signs, well-preserved old cars; with the endless beach and sun, and the glamourous aura of those names, the famous faces.

My friends watching more news about the bombings. Back to earth.

still here

I'm in L.A., in Santa Monica, looking out at an endless beach with palm trees and surfers. Just like in the movies.  I am writing from my friend's computer but will try to keep up to date. Thrilling. The tour continues.


 The Enfield Drugstore and its famous burger

 The Wheeler Brothers CD launch at Waterloo

 Famous candy store on South Congress