Thursday, July 27, 2017

New York New York

At one point, I said to myself, Never again! I found London crowded, but New York defies belief; not only are certain parts nearly impassable, but it's sticky hot, the traffic is overwhelming, the garbage is monstrous, and everyone is very, very noisy.

But then I had dinner in a gorgeous room with my family and saw a brilliant play and zipped home on the subway and remembered why I love this city of my birth. So - confused as usual.

First, the landing at Newark Airport was much worse than it has ever been; their hideous president and his policies have made the immigration people even more suspicious and surly. The lineup was endless, and in the line I was in, the guy just decided to shut up shop and go for a coffee or something. Eventually he returned and when he got to me, he glared at my Canadian passport. "It says here you were born in the States. Have you renounced your citizenship?"

I wanted to say, No but I'd love to, but I just said No. So he sent me to the special room for suspicious people, because as a dual citizen, I am supposed to enter the country as an American. My American passport has expired, I told them, and I always travel as a Canadian, the country in which I've lived since I was 3 months old. They were very nice about it, no problem. In all my years of travel here, that has never happened before. Welcome to Trumpland.

I made it to my cousin's, dumped my bag and set off to take care of business - TKTS in Times Square to see if I could get a ticket to the show I wanted to see - success, a half price orchestra seat for "A Doll's House, Part 2." I then slogged through a million Times Square tourists ogling the novelties on display there, including naked women with painted bodies, to the Music Box Theatre to pick up the tickets for "Dear Evan Hansen" tomorrow night, and as I entered the lobby, a woman shrieked, "That was Warren Beatty!" He and Annette Benning had just seen the matinee. "He looks terrific!" she said, and the woman with her said, "He looks old."
"Well of course he looks old, he is old, but he looks good for his age," she said. I missed him.
And then I went to the Belasco Theatre where Michael Moore is starting previews on Friday night for his show attacking Trump, and got a ticket for Saturday. A tiny island of sanity in the surreal circus that is this country right now. There was a small demonstration in Times Square against Trump's transgender ban. "Trans rights are human rights," they chanted, holding signs that said "Resist." I joined them briefly, but with all the myriad things going wrong here right now, this is just one more.

I sat in the oasis of Bryant Park behind the library, watching the parade of humanity carrying disposable cups and yelling into cellphones, a fascinating diversity of humankind. Then went to meet Ted, my second cousin or first cousin once-removed, I forget which, at his club, the Century Club at 43rd and 5th, a gorgeous old building, incredibly quiet, cool, and calm with high-ceilinged rooms full of books. A wonderful place for people to sit and read or have drinks and dinner, as we did. Cousin Lori came in from Connecticut, where she lives part-time, posting daily pictures on FB of her early morning runs, kayaking, her enormous garden. But she also still has an apartment in Manhattan, so she goes back and forth. Her grandmother Belle was the sister of my grandfather Mike and Ted's father Leo, 3 of the 7 Kaplan siblings. Family. I don't have much, so these people are precious. And then Henry, Ted's spouse, arrived, a dear dear man. He lives at their country house in Northport, Ted lives at his apartment at 77th and 3rd during the week, working at the family law firm Kaplan and Fox, and then on Thursday night goes to Northport for the weekend, where they have a beautiful house by the water and entertain lavishly.

So the Manhattan apartment is empty all weekend. Unless an indigent relative has arrived to occupy it. Hence - moi.

Ted and Henry went to see Bette Midler in "Hello, Dolly!", Lori went to get her train back to Connecticut, and I went to "A Doll's House, Part 2," which is a stunning play, set 15 years after Ibsen's original "Doll's House," dense with ideas about marriage, love, commitment, freedom, women's rights ... The tug between Nora's need for autonomy and her daughter's need for a mother - very moving, made me think about my own divorce. The best kind of theatre, I am sure this play will live long around the world. And then home on the new 2nd Avenue subway, a blessing, right from the insanity of Times Square to 72nd and 2nd.

On the way in from Newark, we passed the Dakota. I miss John Lennon. I miss my grandparents Nettie and Mike, Uncle Edgar, my New Yorker father, Bill and Chet, Leo and Hazel, Vera and Ben. NYC is full of ghosts. But at least Ted, Henry and Lori are here, and today, lunch with my father's cousin Lola, who's 94 and lives near here, and her daughter Patti, who also is coming in from Connecticut.

The air is foul. At one point, I wrote in my notebook, I wouldn't condemn my worst enemy to live here. But today, I'll see more relatives, go to a museum, see another brilliant work tonight. The city is a marvel, and I will stop whining.
 Home just before I left, a last view of tranquillity
The trans protest in Times Square
The graceful plane trees of Bryant Park, an oasis
 The iconic spire of the Chrysler Building
The noble lions of the New York Public Library
The gracious reading room of the Century Club
Sign in a side room.

And now, out into the madness.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Write in the Garden, summer 2017

It seems they liked it, they really liked it. The day dawned drizzly, everything was wet as usual during this exceptionally wet summer, hard to imagine spending the day in the garden. But we sat first on the deck, sheltered, and then it cleared up and there they were, in the garden, nine writers writing. The sound of minds at work, churning, pens scratching - magical.
It's a lot of work, advertising the event, cleaning the house, getting the garden and garden furniture welcoming and ready, cooking, serving, and clearing away a big lunch, planning the writing prompts, guiding them all through the day. I am spent by the end, and yet exhilarated, because it IS magical, listening to stories that have flowed out just a few minutes before, beautiful work, honest, funny, moving. One said, at the beginning, that she liked the writer inside herself, she just didn't know how to find her. At the end, she said, "She came out to play." One wrote, "Thank you so much for giving me a privileged glimpse into your lives, your stories, into your happiness and pain. I came away a better person for having met you, heard you, spoken with you. Beth, I'm so grateful I was able to participate in this wonderful excursion of the mind in your magical garden which brought us all 'home.'"

Another, "It felt marvellous to use my writing brain again by composing under a time line, and sharing with others on the spot. Felt like a workout! What an interesting, diverse group of women you assembled."

And another, "I am so inspired and feel like I can now write about anything. I will never forget this very special day we shared. Beth, you rock! We all do!"

And a fourth, "When summer winds down, I am sure this day will count among those rare single perfect days. Thank  you Beth. Thank you writers. Magic like that? I’m hoping my lucky streak continues into tomorrow."

So glad it worked. So glad it's over. Now what I'd really like to do is nothing. Instead - New York.

P.S. Happy discovery #629: it's easy to kill slugs in dishes of beer. I finally got around to trying it, as the slimy creatures were munching through the basil. Now I go to the veg garden every morning to count the dead slugs, who died happily slurping Molson's Canadian.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

the big city

Yesterday's plan: a sleepover with Eli; Ben was going somewhere for a sleepover too, so this would be a much-needed night off for Anna. I slogged across town - this city is impassable, especially on a boiling day, with construction and street repair everywhere, and furious drivers. I made it to Eli's day camp to bring him back here but found him in tears - earache. Change of plans - he, his brother and mother are flying on Sunday to Boston, to spend ten days in Rhode Island with Edgar and Tracey, and for Eli to go to day camp for a week with his aunt, Greta Lee, who's three years older. So a cure was urgently needed.

Eli and I went directly to St. Joseph Hospital's "Just for kids" clinic. What a marvel ten minutes from Anna's place - a bright space, the examining tables hippos and other friendly animals, a great staff. Anna joined us as soon as she could, to cuddle her miserable son, who was diagnosed with an ear infection - aka swimmer's ear. He wouldn't take the Advil to take away the pain; that was a 20 minute, very loud struggle. He is as stubborn as his mother was; payback, for sure. I told him when his uncle Sam was a kid and refused to take important medicine, his dad and I sat on him and forced it down his throat. But Eli's mother is more patient than I was. He finally took the Advil, and by the time we got home was bouncing off the walls, demonstrating how he'd learned to somersault and do jumping jacks. He showed me his painting of our planet on a round paper plate. "There's Canada," he pointed out, "and there's Ottawa and there's Rhode Island." The boundaries of his world this month.

So, no sleepover for me, no day off for Mama.

Just as well, as I'm getting ready for my big workshop tomorrow - ten writers for the day in my humble garden, part of which looked, ten minutes ago under a rainy sky, like this:

I love how the rudbeckia unfurl, like tight fingers loosening their grip.

Last night, awake at 4 a.m., I marvelled that I could not hear a single thing - not a distant car or siren, a voice, a dog, nothing. Even this morning, as I sit under the pergola, protected from the drizzle, there's not much - someone is roofing, a dog is barking, the rain is pattering. I just picked two cucumbers and a boatload of cherry tomatoes from the garden. City living at its best.

Speaking of which ...
Woo hoo!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

NO WHINING

Two things I'm going to print and hang on my wall. First, from an article in the Star:

The Pope has posted a red-and-white sign in Italian on the door of his frugal suite in a Vatican residence. Adorned with the international symbol for ‘no’, a backslash in a circle, it was given to him by an Italian psychologist and self-help guru. This is what it says, in translation:

NO WHINING.

Violators are subject to a syndrome of always feeling like a victim and the consequent reduction of your sense of humour and capacity to solve problems.

The penalty is doubled if the violation takes place in the presence of children.

To get the best out of yourself, concentrate on your potential and not on your limitations.

Stop complaining and take steps to improve your life.

What a fine man. Yes, I should take it to heart, me going on and on about a COLD. Get a life, woman. 

The other is a saying the courageous writer Rachel Carson adopted from Thoreau's "Walden" after finding out she had breast cancer, to spur on her writing of "Silent Spring."

If thou art a writer, write as if the time were short, for it is indeed short at the longest.

Now you know what will be inspiring me next week. At least, until I fly off to New York on Wednesday.

FYI, I am taking a break from the memoir. That doesn't mean I'm not writing as if the time were short, I am - I'm writing the NEXT memoir. This does make sense, believe it or not; I'm stuck, unsure how to proceed, so I need to keep going on something that will help break the logjam, until I can see clearly. That's the plan. I ran it by the very wise Rosemary Shipton, editor extraordinaire, and she agreed it was a good idea. I know. Time is short at the longest.

Just watched the next in a great BBC doc series, "Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds" - it's online, if you want to catch it yourself - in which the young host, Dr. James Fox, takes us to 3 great cities in 3 great years: last week, 1908, the Vienna of Klimpt and Freud, among many others. Today, Paris in 1928 - surrealism, Mondrian, Hemingway, Le Corbusier, Cole Porter, jazz, Shakespeare and Company bookstore, and so much more.

Next week, New York in 1951 - Brando, the Beats, Jackson Pollock. And I was there, almost - we left New York in November 1950. Yes, I was a newborn, unable to fully appreciate Brando, Pollock, and the Beats, but I was there. And next week - I'll be there again.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

thank God for Jane Jacobs and David Sedaris

Still sick. I spoke to my doctor, who's sympathetic but can offer no explanation or cure. And in fact, though I had a dreadful night of coughing, I am getting better. It's ridiculous to have a bad cold in July, but there it is. My doctor did say the frequency of illness might have something to do with consorting with pre-schoolers. IT'S ALL THEIR FAULT, those adorable boys. So I might as well resign myself to years of coming down with something.

A long conference call - a Skype call with five participants, a first for me - a few days ago; I'm on the conference committee for the next Creative Non-fiction Conference to take place for the first time in beautiful downtown Toronto next May. We had to negotiate time and place and other issues, including sensitive ones about programming and activities to recommend to our attendees. I wonder if I'm becoming a crabby right-wing old woman, or if I'm just sensible. One member suggested organizing a tour for our members to an out-of-town indigenous museum which has preserved a residential school, to show people what this horrendous experience was like. "Save the Evidence," is the museum's campaign. I had to speak as someone who will not watch a movie about the Holocaust or go to a Holocaust museum: I know it happened and it was unimaginably horrific. It was also decades ago and I do not wish to relive it. What good comes of immersing yourself in human vileness? Increased sensitivity and empathy, I suppose is the goal. I feel sensitive and empathetic enough without travelling for a day to witness the monstrous cruelty inflicted years ago on indigenous children. I just can't imagine offering this to our members as opposed to the cultural treasures of this fabulous city. But perhaps I am in the minority.

The issue of bending-over-backwards political correctness and the politics of grievance are rampant. I remember when June Callwood, that magnificent woman responsible for so much good in the world, was fired from a charitable organization SHE FOUNDED and was co-running and fundraising for because she spoke impatiently to a woman of colour and was accused of being racist. No one, not one of her colleagues, came to her defence. So these issues require very careful handling. Like June, in the interests of getting things done, I have a tendency to be impatient. A mistake for a white middle-class middle-aged cisgender woman of privilege. Guilty as charged.

Okay, that's my rant for today.

Saw a documentary on another magnificent woman - "Citizen Jane," about Jane Jacob's campaigns to save cities from Robert Moses and his ilk, who smashed through communities to build expressways and tore down poor enclaves to build soulless high-rise jungles, actions which were imitated all over America and in Toronto - just down the street, as a matter of fact, is the former high-rise jungle of Regents Park. The doc shows the disastrous result of these decisions made by bureaucrats theorizing in offices, whereas Jane was on the ground, in the streets, watching and listening to human beings as they walked and sat, shopped and played. How proud I am that she moved to Toronto and stayed here for the rest of her life. Brava.

Last night when I couldn't sleep, I stayed up till 1.30 reading David Sedaris's diaries. It's still an odd book, skipping through little snippets of his life, but it gets stronger and funnier after he and Hugh go to France. He writes about his French class, Today I turned in a paper about social customs. In it I wrote that on the eve of an American man's wedding, it is customary for his parents to cut off two of his fingers and bury them near the parking lot. The groom has eight hours in which to find them, and if he does, it means the marriage will last.

I'd tried to buy some bandaids at a pharmacy last year, but my French was so bad I couldn't even describe them. In the end I drew a picture and the woman looked at it, responding with what I guessed was "This is a drugstore. We have no surfboards here."

Today the teacher called me a sadist. I tried to say that was like the pot calling the kettle black but came out with something closer to "That is like a pan saying to a dark pan, 'You are a pan.'

A year ago I would have begged Hugh to accompany me to the hardware store, but now I go on my own. Yesterday I said to the clerk, in French, "Hello. Sometimes my clothes are wrinkled. I bought a machine anti-wrinkle, and now I search a table. Have you such a table?"
The fellow said, "An ironing board?"
"Exactly!"

Thank you, David, I needed that. We all need that. B.C. is burning, Trump and his family, incomprehensibly, are still there, select Conservatives have been churning up rightwing American airwaves protesting Omar Khadr's settlement, it's 30 degrees but feels like 38. I'm in here, eyes damp, laughing.

Wayson, who is healthy if getting frail at 78, came over for lunch today and at one point said, "I'm going to die soon. And I'm fine with that."
"Not if I have anything to do with it, you're not," was my reply.

Monday, July 17, 2017

explanation

I had a sharp note decrying my use of the mammogram image in the most recent post. I guess this person thought showing the image was the height of self-absorption, which it surely is - as is the blog itself. What I was hoping to show, however, is how easy it is to panic - to share with you, the readers, the sight of the round black mark I was convinced was something bad, which turned out, according to my doctor, to be nothing dangerous, at least not yet. I was left deeply relieved. An experience perhaps you all can relate to.

This blog is an attempt to transcribe anecdotes, thoughts, reviews, ideas, and a travelogue, from my fuddled brain out into the world. I do not have a huge following as some do for their musings, but a few hundred do follow me, and I'm grateful to them. For five decades, I kept a diary, page after page for myself alone, and now you are there. Thank you for coming along, and if sometimes you think I share too much, you have only to click me away.

And since I'm here, I'd like to say that "Grantchester" last night was one of the best hours of TV I've ever seen. Yes, it's a high-class soap opera, but it's also delving deeply into the meaning of faith, the good of religion versus its petty, narrow, destructive side, love versus lust, and other important issues. And all of this with the usual glorious cast, sets, writing, and direction, plus the sublime James Norton, who was more beautiful last night than ever. Spectacular. You know where I'll be next Sunday at nine.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ben is two

It's been days since I blogged. Days vanish, I don't know where. This week, though, I was felled - yet again - by a cold. How is this possible? Pneumonia in January, a kind of flu in Vancouver in April, and now just a running-nose-sore-throat cold. I consulted Dr. Google: "Why am I susceptible to colds?" There were many suggestions to avoid getting sick, but most of them I could dismiss - get sleep, eat well, exercise, God knows I'm pretty good at those; though sleep is not my forte, I at least lie tranquilly in bed and make lists. My new resolution is to wash my hands endlessly and to try not to touch my face and see if that helps. Enough is enough.

Last week was also mammogram time - they gave me an ultrasound too, and when the technician left the room, I photographed the screen - surely, that's something there, a round black mark they've surrounded with blue dots, terrifying.
However - it's nothing, apparently. I don't even need to go back in six months, as I did last year. Merci mille fois, to the gods.

When I checked in to the breast imaging clinic at Women's College, I noticed this sign. You can receive translation into 20 languages, including Armenian and Hmong. Pretty impressive.
Last Ryerson class Wednesday night - a wonderful bunch, including one woman with some of the most powerful and tragic stories I've ever heard - and I've heard a lot of stories - and a man who tried to convert me to his love of "Star Trek." I watched the episode he recommended on Netflix and did enjoy it, yes, but a Trekkie I will not become. Thanks to another fine class. Love to you all.

This morning, I watched the last ten minutes of Wimbledon, the spectacular Roger Federer, once more, crowned king, the first man to win eight times, and he's an old man in tennis. My mother in heaven is ecstatic - she adored Fed, as she called him. Do has been glued to her TV screen for weeks, can now breathe again. Imagine, 35, nearly 36, is old. He's a Leo, I feel obligated to point out. One of mine.

And then today - well, tomorrow actually but the party was today - a Cancer baby turned two. Anna decided to hold this party at the park down by the lake, even though thunderstorms were predicted. And despite a few sprinkles and glowering clouds, no storm came and the party was, as always, a hit, crowded with cousins and friends, though none of Ben's own just yet. Two large pizza boxes arrived, delivered right to the park. Here is Ben gazing in wonder at his cake with his cousin Liam; out of view are many other small people lined up for their piece.
 Big brother Eli with his best friend Pema from school
Uncle Sam, who is not a Trekkie either, with his very small nephew.

I am reading "Theft by Finding," David Sedaris's diaries, and I must say it's a strange and sometimes infuriating read. He explains nothing and expresses almost no emotion. His mother dies and he expends as much emotional energy and lines of prose on that event as he does on seeing strange people in the street. Suddenly he has a boyfriend, they're moving in together, they're in France, he has a hit play, he has a book out, no context, no titles, no explanation - it drives me crazy. But he is wonderful at noticing and commenting on human absurdity and at transcribing dialogue, a true skill I'd like to cultivate - remembering how people actually speak. "That's what I was tolt," one person says to him, and I can see the guy through that perfect word. And it's good to remember that for years, the renowned David Sedaris cleaned houses for a living. Lots of material in that.

Randy Bachman was on his second radio program devoted to boogie music and what fun that was. And now, in half an hour, "Grantchester." How will Sidney resolve being a minister with the consummation of his love for a woman to whom he is not married? Will Geordie give up his girlfriend or his family? Delicious. This woman will lie on the sofa under a comforter and relish every minute. A whole hour when I don't have to think about the destruction and dismemberment of the planet.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Pam McConnell RIP

I was very sorry to hear about Councillor Pam McConnell's death at the age of 71. Pam was elected to Toronto city council in 1994 and represented this ward from 2000 until her death - so she was my representative at city hall for decades, and how glad I was of that. She was indefatigable in support of social justice, equality, education, the arts - everything good. She told me once how Regents Park came to have its state-of-the-art swimming pool - she made a concession to Donald Trump that his Toronto Trump tower could have two extra stories - if he agreed to pay for the swimming pool. Pam may be the only person on earth to have elicited something good from Trump. And if anyone could do that, she could. And then there was the time our insane bully of a mayor, Rob Ford, shoved past and pushed her over - the one and only time Pam was a pushover.

Thank you,  Councillor McConnell, for your years of service to Toronto and to Cabbagetown specifically. We owe you a great deal. I can't imagine this city without you.

We are having an odd, heavy, wet summer, wonderful for the garden - my raspberries and tomatoes are happy - but not so great for farmers, I gather. Very few of those muggy Toronto days so far, which is wonderful. Tonight is my last Ryerson class, and then, except for my garden workshop next weekend, I'm done teaching till September. I love my day job, but it's good to get a break, for sure.

Finished a terrific book yesterday: The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson, an extraordinary hybrid, part philosophical treatise, part intimate, very personal memoir that delves into the mind of a brilliant, extremely well-educated, interestingly kinky person. Nelson has a fascinating life, married to an artist who is, as she says, "neither male nor female," once called Becky, now Harry, bearded and with surgically removed breasts. They have a child, Iggy, whose birth she describes in powerful detail, along with the death of Harry's mother. Bits of the book, her deep dives into philosophy, were hard to wade through; I don't often read work that dense. But what's amazing is her combination of philosophical critiques and enquiries with the intensely personal story of her love life and her embracing of coupledom and motherhood - a riveting section on biology and hormones, when she is pregnant, and Harry is taking testosterone, both of their bodies transforming daily. Engaging and beautifully written.

Thanks to my blog friend Theresa Kishkan, who urged me to stick with the book when, at the beginning of my reading, I was about to give up. Well worth the effort.

And now from the sublime to the more sublime: Sunday night's Grantchester - OMG! Sydney finally breaks, grabs his adored Amanda and wow - SPOILER ALERT - they do it on the stairs. Uncomfortable but passionate. It's too bad the actress who plays Amanda just isn't at James Norton's level, either physically or emotionally; I don't understand why this incredibly handsome, sensitive man adores this remote woman so. When, if he but knew it, he could have ME. James, James, just get in touch.

And then I watched a fab documentary on James Brown. I don't watch much TV, but when I do, it's love.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

the merry-go-round

We survived. The trip to Ottawa was important and it was difficult and we survived. I had the job of organizing everything and driving people hither and yon and somehow finding the right places for a frail 97-year old and two unbelievably energetic young boys. And Anna had the job of keeping them fed and amused under very difficult circumstances at my brother's house in the Gatineau, which it turned out was not set up for children at all, including no beds and no food. And she couldn't even take them outside into his big yard as the mosquitoes were deadly.

Yesterday, she was stuck out there going crazy and I had a tranquil day with my aunt, getting groceries, making dinner, lots of chat about my mother, her younger sister, whom she first met at minutes old and was with all through the last years until Mum died 89 years later. Today, we had brunch with Do and then had hours before our flight back. Where to go so the boys could burn off steam but that would also be all right for Do? The perfect place - the Carlingwood Mall. Oh how I love that place, a humble strip mall where you can park near the door and walk out of sun and rain. We spent an hour running through the halls after the boys while Do sat on a comfortable sofa chatting with me or Anna. And we even found a way to buy Anna some time to buy new shoes - keeping the boys busy on a merry-go-round. Hooray for the Carlingwood Mall. 

There was also a problem with the rental car, which someone pulling carelessly out of a driveway scraped and dented, the first time that has ever happened to me. I've never had to deal with insurance, am not looking forward to it. 

So, all in all - it is wonderful to see my beloved aunt, it is exhausting to travel with small boys, like being in a hurricane, and family is ... difficult, very very difficult. Thank God, because it gives us lots to write about.

On the plane back, a small girl was walking down the aisle with her dad. "Excuse me, but are you Iris?" I asked her and she nodded. Iris is my fellow blogger Kerry Clare's daughter; I know her from pictures on the blog, as Kerry knows my grandchildren the same way. Great to see Kerry, a woman who loves and honours books, and her family. BLOGGERS FOREVER.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Ottawa

The first adventure of summer 2017 - a trip to Ottawa with Anna and her sons, to visit 97-year old Auntie Do, who still lives alone, and my brother Mike and his son Jake. We flew, as this is the last time Ben flies for free - he's 2 in a few weeks. It's a marvel to arrive in Ottawa less than an hour after departure, instead of a 4 or 5 hour slog on the highway or on the train.

The day was hot and gorgeous; thunderstorms predicted for Friday so we made the best of it, a picnic in Britannia Park to let the boys blow off steam, a visit with Do to show off Eli's artwork from school, then out to Chelsea in the Gatineau where my brother lives. We went to the Gatineau Yacht Club, a wonderful place in the woods where people keep, not yachts, but small sailboats; Mike has one, largely for sitting and drinking beer in, I gather. A swim in the cold Gatineau River refreshed us all, though Ben was less than thrilled. Eli followed 10-year old Jake around, and Ben did his best to throw everything overboard. We got a bit sunburned. Then back to Mike's for our usual dinner there - hot and cold smoked salmon, since that's his business.

I drove back to Britannia at night, to the airbnb I rent near Do's. The usual way was closed for the Ottawa Blues Fest - the music was LOUD, young crowds pouring in, not like staid Ottawa at all.
Ben on the plane - banana bread from Mr. Porter.
Eli shows his artwork to Auntie Do. A serious discussion ensues, despite the 92-year age gap between them.
Ye olde swimming ole in the Gatineau - Jake about to jump off that rock. O Canada.

Today, thunder predicted. Anna is in the Gatineau hoping the rain holds off, and I'm on my way to spend the day with Do. Hoping, as always, for her genes.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

picnic

Summer summer summer - just had a lunch of my homegrown lettuce, tomatoes, and basil, with goat cheese, walnuts, and avocado. Now I need some cows and goats for cheese and chickens for eggs... NOT. The roses are almost done, sadly, but there are buds on everything else. Garden joy.

Had a list of things to do this weekend - films, documentaries, the Videocabaret plays at Soulpepper - and didn't do any of them. Yesterday, I rode my bike to Ashbridge's Bay - on bike trails all the way there - for a picnic with my dear friend Annie. She brought chilled white wine and trout sandwiches, I brought my cherry tomatoes and dessert, and we sat on isolated rocks by the lake, eating and getting caught up. She is the director of the local Jesuit Forum which works nationally and internationally on social justice issues; their goal is to save the world, and if Annie has anything to do with it, they will. She told me about her friend and colleague, Father Bill Ryan, a brilliant Jesuit priest who is in his mid-nineties and very ill in hospital - he has requested an iPad so he can return emails. Bill was in a seminar recently, discussing God with a fervent young Catholic, who said he found God in the liturgy of the church. And Bill said, "I find God ... in trees."

My kind of religion.

The picnic was glorious. We rode our bikes around this lovely lakeview park with its many god-filled trees, and then I rode on trails all the way back.

Spent the evening reading a wonderful book, at least for Beatle geeks like me: Dreaming the Beatles: the love story of one band and the whole world, by Rob Sheffield. Now this guy has LISTENED incredibly closely to their music, along with every other band's, and writes beautifully, with humour and warmth, about why the Beatles are by far the best and will last forever. Music to my ears, literally as well as figuratively, as I Googled various songs I hardly knew to listen more closely. He singles out Ringo's drumming on "In my life," the finger snaps at the end of "Here, there and everywhere" - geeky stuff like that. Heaven.

So- it's hot. Hard to believe I have two more weeks of teaching - it feels like holiday time already. And then - what holidays mean to the freelancer - time to really get down to work.
PS
Just got this darling note from Bell - whose services were disconnected from here months ago. I didn't know Ma Bell loved me quite so much.

Hello Dear,

This is a reminder that your bill due date has passed and we have not
yet received a payment from you. 
Amount due:          $ 17.53

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Naomi Klein forever

It's on my list to buy Naomi Klein's new book "No is not enough." What a brilliant woman, I cannot get enough of her. It's always been my sense that our western societies started hurtling in the wrong direction in the 80's, with the far right policies of Reagan, Thatcher, Milton Friedman, and the Chicago economists, telling us the giant lies that taxes are evil and wealth would trickle down - blatant untruths which many in the U.S. still believe. Here's the best summary I've heard of where we are in the world right now, in an interview with a British journalist:
CL: Naomi, you speak of a “crisis of imagination” especially in our political culture. Cut through it if you can.
NK: Right. So this past 40 years, since what we call the neoliberal project began—which accelerated so much under Reagan in this country and Thatcher in the UK—was a set of policies: privatization, deregulation, low taxes paid for with cuts to social services. As more and more people were excluded from participating in this economy, there was an explosion of mass incarceration, of criminalization. This is the neoliberal project, but the flipside of it was always to say that there is no alternative to this project, as Margaret Thatcher famously argued. Sure, you know, these policies may hurt in the short term, or in the medium term, or now in the long term, but the alternative to them is apocalypse.
And so a huge part of that neoliberal project that we have been living for 40 years, those of us who have been alive that long, has been about constraining the imagination and creating all of these borders around what people will even put on the political table for fear of being condemned as communists or socialists or whatever the smear of the day is.
And that is what’s falling away, and you see that so clearly in this millennial generation that has been powering the insurgent campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. They know they were lied to because they remember the 2008 financial crisis, when trillions of dollars were marshalled to bail out the banks, so they know that it is possible to intervene in the market. They’ve now seen Donald Trump talking about renegotiating trade deals that we had all been told could never be changed once they’ve been signed. This is a malleable moment for better and for worse, right? Progressive ideas are surging in popularity as the Trump administration savages people’s health care policies. You know, the state of California, stepping up in the California Senate, just got one step closer to introducing single-payer healthcare in the state of California, a massive economy.
So, Trump is creating a situation because he is himself a system failure, and people are seeing this. They’re seeing not just the election of Donald Trump but that the market cheered on his election, that the media cheered as he launched missiles on Syria over chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago.
People are seeing this as a need to get at the underlying causes, and we’re seeing this in the boldness of the progressive agenda, the willingness to go deep. But at the same time we have to be cognizant of the fact that these are not the only ideas that are gaining popularity. White supremacy, misogyny—these are surging to the surface. They are playing out on people’s bodies and people’s lives in blood and violence. So, it’s really a race against time because that vacuum left by the neoliberal project collapsing—and it has been in a state of collapse since 2008—is allowing other ideas to bubble up to the surface, and some of them are very, very dangerous indeed. 

Toronto glows

The rain stopped, and the evening was glorious. Jean-Marc and I rode our bikes to Nathan Phillips Square, which was packed, with 3 stages set up for music, and where there is now a row of the flags of indigenous nations. JM showed me those proudly, because Richard now works at City Hall and this was one of his initiatives. Richard was not with us last night because he was on CTV, chatting with Lloyd Robertson about Prince Charles's visit. Oh the famous people of Sackville Street.

The crowd was as diverse as it is possible to be - every colour of skin, from the darkest to the palest, many inter-racial couples, many cappuccino-coloured children. A family I watched - the father in long white tunic, the mother in white niqab, her eyes barely showing, their daughter a vivacious young woman in a bright red dress with bright red lipstick. Each new generation moving right along.

And - the work went well yesterday, really well. Also moving right along. Thank you, Canada.

PS. Jean-Marc and Richard have discovered a place on Parliament St. called Tasso, that on the weekend sells incredible croissants and pastries - only in the early morning, until they sell out. My dear neighbours arrived with a basket of flaky deliciousness and the New York Times, and we sat on my deck amidst the flowers, the 3 of us with Carol, my friend and tenant, eating and talking. For hours. With the greenery, the tranquillity, the lavender, and the rich buttery pastries, we could have been in Provence, but we were in the heart of downtown Toronto.

Thank you, Canada.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Happy Canada 150

I am wearing my red moose t-shirt and my sparkly maple leaf pin; both radio and TV are tuned to CBC's coverage of the day. Auntie Do is sequestered in front of her television in Ottawa. Anna, Thomas, and the boys are visiting a  friend's trailer in the country, a place with no toilet, no running water or electricity - doesn't get more Canadian than that. I think Sam is playing baseball with friends and then going to work, ditto.
I just set off on my bike to check out Nathan Phillips Square and other festive places, but the sky is dark, rain is imminent, and I turned back like the coward I am. Rain has forced the cancellation of the popular air show on Parliament Hill. But Prince Charles and Camilla, who are in attendance, did not get wet.

Today the whole country feels like family, a big warm family. Even the First Nations surely admit that things are getting better; money is being given for much-needed improvements, at last, and the Prime Minister and his wife went inside the protest teepee on Parliament Hill yesterday and stayed, talking to the indigenous protestors, for 40 minutes.

I have lived in this country since October 1950, when I was 2 months old; I remained a landed immigrant with an American passport for decades, finally taking the oath of citizenship in my early forties. A proud day. I remember July 1 1967; I was 16, and we were on our way from our home in Ottawa to Expo 67 in Montreal. Perhaps I will live to see July 2067. I will be 116 years old.

But let's assume not.

I read in the paper this morning about the arrival of health care in Saskatchewan, on July 1 1962 - how all the doctors went out on strike in protest, and many citizens joined them, fearful of what the new system would mean. But eventually the fuss died down, and before long, all the other provinces had health care too. Watching what's going on in that benighted country to the south, I am even more grateful than usual for the enlightenment we take for granted. Our respect for government, for gun control, for the public school system, for inner cities - all things many of our southern neighbours despise.

I love my country. Happy 150, Canada. We stand on guard for thee.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Georgia O'Keeffe

How glad and proud I am to be Canadian, as we get ready to celebrate our 150th birthday. I am profoundly grateful that my father was hounded out of his birthplace, the U.S., by the McCarthy witch hunts of the 50's. After getting his Ph.D. in molecular biology in 1950, Dad was too leftwing to get a job in the States and instead took his first position at Dalhousie in Halifax, never to go back. Though there was much he missed about the US, he was always deeply loyal to Canada; as one of the leaders of the Canadian protests against the Vietnam War in the 60's, he was aware of how much more vicious and violent the fight would have been had he still been living there, especially with my brother coming up to draft age. Even as the recipients of some anti-semitism, we were overjoyed to live in this relatively peaceful land. Yes, flawed, no one is claiming otherwise. I understand that indigenous people have truly legitimate reasons to protest our celebrations. But celebrate I will.

Today's celebration: the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition at the AGO. What a magnificent woman she was, how very brave and far ahead of her time. She decided she wanted to be an artist at the age of 10 - in 1897! And she proceeded to define her own style with remarkable courage and speed, and then to find the perfect partner in life and art, the photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz, more than 20 years her senior. Her face over seven decades, in his photographs and those of others, is like a hawk's, independent, fierce, almost pitiless.
What's startling about the exhibit is finding out that she objected to the sexual interpretation of her paintings - canvas after canvas looking like vulvas, cervixes, labia, phallic pistils emerging from the soft folds of flowers - even her hills look like thighs. And yet she objected. She was painting flowers, she said, huge flowers so that we would learn to look, really look, at flowers and nature.
And when I just went out into my garden, I tried to do just that.


I know, these shots are not O'Keefian, they should be vast close ups of individual flowers. I just want to celebrate, too, the panorama of roses and clematis and astilbe.

I wrote down a quote that was on the wall: Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. (Easy for you to say, Georgia, I thought, so successful early in your career...) Making your unknown known is the important thing - and keeping the unknown always beyond you. 

How beautiful. Making your unknown known ... I also bought a fridge magnet that's on my fridge now. It says, "TO CREATE ONE'S WORLD TAKES COURAGE."

Speaking of which - last night was the last home class until September, a group like family, reading one gorgeous piece of writing after another. At the end, as I usually do on the last class, I read to them, this time the new beginning of the memoir. Full of trepidation and fear - does it work? Will they like it? They did. I know, they're prejudiced and kind. But at least I know it's good enough to keep going. Keep going, Beth, because to create one's world takes courage, and making your unknown known is the important thing.

Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

Thanks, Georgia O'Keeffe.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Write in the Garden - three spots left

WRITE IN THE GARDEN:
A one-day writing adventure.
Inspiration, structure and support for those with lots of writing experience and for those with none.

Spend a summer day learning to trust your voice and tell your stories. Listen to your creative self. Gain confidence and perspective from friendly contact with other writers. Write in the garden and enjoy positive feedback, bushy perennials, and lunch.
Who: Writer and teacher Beth Kaplan has taught writing at Ryerson for 23 years and at U of T for 10.
When: Sunday July 23, 10.00 a.m. to 5 p.m
Where: Beth’s secret garden in Cabbagetown.
Laughter, camaraderie and insight guaranteed.
For more information - bethkaplan.ca/coaching
To register – beth@bethkaplan.ca
Cost: $150, including food for thought and actual food (and wine). Register early; registration is limited.

“Glorious stories, a beautiful setting, great food, a garden to die for.” - Kelsey Mason
Just what I needed to get started writing again!”  - Pat Broms

“Beth has a special gift for creating a safe learning environment, with a well of positive things to say without passing judgment. It was a joy to be there with her and the others. Her garden is magical, and she created a magical day for me.” - Ann C.