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Something about Mary

We kind of felt that my mother was not allowed friends. Certainly there was Mrs. Feld next door.should she visit for a cup of tea, my father barely acknowledged her existence, his dark brooding eyes flowing over her. And I too should I arrive home from school and find Mrs Feld there, was disappointed not to be able to command my mother’s full attention.When my mother had once been overwhelmed by her life and retreated for one solitary weekend at her parents, it was Mrs. Feld who resurrected our mother whose therapy consisted of cleaning, and if still down, she instructed my mother,” Clean everything again.”

Mary did not really come into the picture until my father passed away, Mary the neighbour across the road having observed my mother’s fidelity and never ending support of her husband. And so Mary thought, this woman could use some long suffering support too.My sister and I had our own lives so we didn’t pay much attention to hearing about the wondrous Mary except to suppress yawns-at the mention of Mary’s name -more than we would like, her compassion and kindness, according to mom, clearly canceling the small offerings we doled out. And should there be a small family celebration, my mother’s request that Mary be included on the guest list made us boil, but as ever dour and unsmiling, Mary would accept our invitations, only given to appease our mother.

Mother and Mary would make small trips together, Mary the driver, to Niagara on the Lake and longer flights to California where Toby, my mother’s sister lived and like two Thelmas and Louise I imagined the women kerchiefed heading down the A1Ahighway towards Lachlan, a lesser Las Vegas, Toby, a hot shot on the penny slots. I never enquired about hotel accommodations or dinners, but these trips must have been successful for they were repeated several times. And when my mother grew old, it was, in deed, Mary who would trek to her apartment midtown on the weekly Tuesday evening when the two, with Mary physically propping my mother, would be greeted at their local fish and chip place on Laird where apparently Mary was well known. All mushy peas aside, “ the girls” forfeited the fries for salad.And later on the phone, my mother would reiterate the wonders of Mary.

Even towards the last days of her life, my mother enjoyed Mary’s visits, she taking several buses from Finch and Yonge to ease my mother’s entrance to a world without her best friend. It had become a mantra,” if you only have one friend like Mary..”: which of course we mocked.

When my mother died, I felt I must maintain the friendship to assuage my mother’s ghost. Although I had never known the woman and wondered at my mother’s ravings about the laughter and good times shared, I’d never experienced the other side of Mary’s unsmiling serious face. But I felt in gratitude for all of what Mary had done, perhaps in place of what I might have, so I felt I should get to know Mary. In deed I often wondered at her choice of Mary’s Marilyn Monroe purse, slight hints that Mary a war bride and former figure skater might be more than the cool exterior I had observed.

And yes, I began to know a more complex person who had emigrated from the UK, a person who seemed to always to be at the centre of unusual events, a risk taker and quite lovely person.

Just last week there was the tale about the 5am arousal in North York in which the screams of a rooster on her front lawn drove her from her bed to explore the commotion. From Mary’s description this was no ordinary bird and I began to visualize a peacock of sorts, lush green feathers trailing behind its tiny dark feet, an immense ruff of royal red , a thickly textured body, a presence worthy of a king. Quiet Mary after calling the city , commandeered three construction workers nearby her house to give chase and eventually grab the bird. One of the pursuants in awe of the magnificent bird remarked that he recognized the rooster from his home in Turkey. A Turkey rooster?

Another long unravelling story dwelled on an illegal immigrant with wife and crying baby who had been hired by Mary to reinforce her basement. Obviously compassionate to the tales this man was spinning, she sweetened his salary, but the work began to slow down as he complained of other jobs, unkind bosses, requiring better tools. And so Mary “ helped him out”, drawn in by his woeful stories, cribless infant, hungry spouse, instability in his new country. But even Mary began to realize that Tom was not being truthful. First when she discovered the tools they had bought together had been returned for cash. And soon the $5.00 put through her mail slot from time to time also stopped appearing.

Our determined Mary was not deterred and set out to confront him face to face. She knew his mother in law had worked down the street apparently as a cleaning lady and Mary was intent on tracking him down. As she described it to me, although warned by a friendly officer not to go to his apartment, she went with a friend to an abandoned address , some place deep downtown, and persuaded a suspicious land lady to allow her into his place, where she sat and waited. My sense of the living spot was decrepit a dank hole between two leaning walls, no evidence, no surprise, of wife or child, a place like a garage, thickly encrusted in dirt and decay. The cleaning lady mother in law appeared and explained Tom did not live there anymore, and invited Mary to leave.

Upset on being duped, lied too, and still intent on being repaid, she continued her quest. Legally she was told even should he be found, which was unlikely, there had been no written contract, he likely had no money, a professional liar, and with no listed address, the case was fruitless. She had not been coerced, only a kind person taken advantage of by an unscrupulous workman.

Last I saw Mary, she did not mention Tom who had been her festering topic for months. Yet I thought of her as the avenging angel even putting herself in peril, Marilyn purse tightly tucked over her arm as she tracked him to his covert subterranean lodging.She had been kind, fair, drawn in ,moved by his stories. But the intrepid Mary had not been intimidated by police warnings, or even venturing into the lion’s den. Foolish as it might have been.

I guess our lunches revealed the Mary my mother knew: the witty, trusting, woman Mary who made my mother’s life so much better, a true friend I’ve grown to know and respect.

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Insides outsides

Sandra Martin in The Globe today( Saturday) writes about her turning 70 trip to the Galapagos and segues into boomer thoughts on aging.Perhaps because of two events in the last week, I too ( maybe too often lately) also ruminated on the disconnect between my insides and outsides.But yes, I too marvelled at the blue footed boobies, the ancient lumbering tortoises and the need to preserve the fantastically coloured crabs. Even if it meant not flushing toilet paper!

Martin writes,”Going to the Galapagos was a chance to meditate not on mortality, but longevity , since I’m not the only one getting older these days.” She continues to state that “[f]or the first time, there are more Canadians over 65 than under 14…Modern medicine maybe not have vanquished death, but it has certainly pushed it to the sidelines.” Yet always mindful of my mother’s attitudes towards doctors and hospitals, like COD liver oil, the remedies must be accomplished quickly, distastefully but nonetheless endured so I make my annual visit to my physician, my attempt to get in and out as quickly as possible, avoiding as many tests as possible. Unlike many who arrive with a lengthy list of aches and pains, I surmise that decrepitude is the price for living longer- and anyway should some bodily distraction resist self- healing, I’ll make a separate appointment for a more detailed examination of putting said part under a microscope.

The doctor enquires, “ How are the eyes?””Dry- I’m taking Drops”. “ How are the bowels?” “Better in California, but we’ve all ready discussed it .” “ When was your last period.?” I look quizzical, laughing, wondering .He embarrassed demures,” I have to ask.” “Too long ago to remember…how about 55?…”

My mind wanders to my mother with whom I wish I could now more fully empathize who would reiterate at 90 ,”It sure ain’t the golden age.” Not quite at that stage, I sometimes think there is a disconnect with my mind, my registering of sensation, thoughts in my interior, and the reflection in the mirror. As I say to my husband even when we’re in our finery, well, at least cleaned up for our Saturday night date ritual, “ Old is old”. Where the stomach although not sagging or huge, still protrudes. Where even the devices of glasses and hearing aids do not bring the world into precise focus or sound. Where feet occasionally trip or an afternoon nap is soooo sweet. The doctor enquirers,”How is your energy level?” Do I tell him I fancy a snooze around 3 or pause when climbing the three flights to my painting class? No. I respond, “ Not like Howard’s” who rises at 5 to exercise and then can count 20,000 steps more in a day, nonstop activity. So I think I am a bonus to this doctor at the beginning of his day, the picture of health that still bends and straightens, pretty much as I have for years. Besides, he has others- truly ill patients to follow. No doubt some younger, perkier, most likely still have monthly flow.

At my Pilates studio, there was a celebration of our instructor’s new venture as she rebranded. On a perfect afternoon in a truly lovely affair, her clients gathered to toast her. As I looked around, I noted most were of my vintage, well heeled, about my age, more or less. And my husband added upon observing the crowd,” all with straight, upright postures and good backs.” She has worked hard to support her clientele, her knowledge obvious upon viewing us as a cohesive group. And on the inside hidden from the well polished exteriors the fears and foibles of aging, of life, of avoidance or repair of age-related affirmities, of change. It at that moment, while imbibing and snacking , chatting and relaxing, the beautiful surface of healthy bodies has gathered to assert the possibilities of health, exercise, good aging.

For me, turning 70 was the line in the sand, viewing myself standing on the other side, “ the waiting room” as coined by my daughter-in-law’s grandparents. Although they joked about the approach of that new dimension of personal evolution, that twilight zone that awaits us all, reaching that age is sobering. And although those morbid thoughts are not my constant companion, they are inescapable upon gazing into the mirror or surveying the wonderful photos from the Pilates event. I used to joke with my students how amazing Georgia O’Keefe’s face was as each line, crevice and ditch represented signs and symbols that reflected the wisdom of events in a life, possibly well lived, or able to record the pain but also joys that accrue in every day encounters. Still as I scan the faces of Millennials or those younger such as the muscle bound fellow overlapping my seat at the Jays game Friday, the secret is : not one of us escapes and you too will get old and lose that robust beauty, that gleam of the solidity of step and body you are presently experiencing.It is the secret that even if we know, we tend to forget, erase, ignore as we leap two flights of steps or reach for the highest shelf with no clawing pain in our shoulders.

However, to combat the decline of the physical is the inner life, because the interior of a person, an oldster, a boomer is so rich: contemplating the joy of a grandson racing through the Bata Museum collecting clues; the appreciation of the table bouquet of fuchsia and orange blooms this week at the Law Society; cuddling against my husband’s warm body when I cannot sleep; watching birds wolf down the seeds at the feeder and a squirrel mount pole to get his fair share; the cool of the pool on these inexplicably humid days; the joys of sensation;the still( for how long?) deep discussions and thoughts on books like Waking Lion and the quick sarcastic interchanges by email with my irreverent friend in La Jolla whose sparkling wit makes me laugh, the satisfaction of painting that that has improved just a bit and serves as a retreat into mindfulness, and less occupation with jarring or sad thoughts. Being able to live, more or less, without pain with three herniated disks. These are my bowl full of gratitude while I persist, my accumulated wealth, the thoughts I collect and bank in my head.

I think my mother knew that one has little control in life, that it happens to you, that fate and luck play a role and one can only alter so much, try as we may, that we must work with what we have. So we strut and fret our hour on this stage, ranting silently at technology that changes our words, doing what we can to clear the chaos. And like my wise mother, an ordinary but extraordinary person building a house on sand to be swept away but hoping some fragment or particle , some idea will have taken root in her children: of her, of her ideals, her way of doing things, her desire for a better world lived out in an unassuming, virtuous thoughtful way, we push forward against the world, events these days so horrorful of immigrant children, trade sanctions, stupid people in power,

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known…

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades

For ever and forever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

And although I never figured that poetry gleaned and memorized in university would stay with me and persist so strongly in my head, it has -and expresses sentiments more succinctly, more sweetly (these lines pilfered from Tennyson in Ulysses),

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are…

Lip Service and Children

My father used to scold me,” Don’t be so sensitive Pat”. And so I was, and am, now accepting my emotional responses are who I am.

But this week has been a strange and terrible one, one that actually caused a change in policy decreed first ,but later denied by Trump. Well at least it was reversed. The one about tearing children from their parents, recalling images of the holocaust, the gas chambers… where the separation ended in tragedy and death.

Recently I read an article by motherless Rwandan refugee Clementine Wawariya and although now living in the States, she has a problem with the words we use such as genocide. She writes,” I hated the word immediately. I did not understand the point of it then. I resent and revile it now.. it is tidy and efficient. It holds no true emotion. It is impersonal when it needs to be intimate: cold and sterile when it needs to be gruesome. It’s hollow, disingenuous, the worst kind of lie.The word genocide cannot tell you, cannot make you feel, the way I felt in Rwanda. The way I felt in Burundi….it’s not like the holocaust…the killing fields in Cambodia…ethnic cleansing in Bosnia…There’s no catchall term…You cannot line up atrocities like a matching set. You cannot bear witness with a single word.”

One might say we should celebrate the power of the people to protest, who caused the President to reverse his ruling, but ironically, I suppose, the entire horror show makes me feel helpless.As all of those victims of holocaust, genocide and autocratic societies must have, the words cool containers for the lives destroyed . In wondering what these victims could do, they must have experienced that knowledge that they were helpless, their fates determined by others or one other, and they played no role in choosing their own fate, changing the outcome of heedless power.

The images of children, the detention centres, the callousness and ease with which the proclamation came down takes one ‘s breath away. It’s more useless talk about a kinder society and instead of living out those values, the words are given lip service. Just yesterday I was told a story of school bullying where in spite of parental attempts to diffuse the situation and even direct appeals to a principal and the perpetrators’ parents, the victim was continually shadowed with whispers of ‘ loser’ from October to June, until that school year ended. How did she manage?, I asked . The mother reliving that agony related, “ therapy.” In spite of a year of torture, the mother quietly asserted she did not think much of the school. And again I thought, everyone has made such a big deal about bullying and when the beast is identified, it is ignored, the jeers and guffaws, silent looks, threatening calls and vicious silent attacks that erode children’s confidence and never ever leave them.

I taught at Northern Secondary and one year we had a principal Jim MacCarron. He was a big guy, over 6 feet tall and almost that wide. It was the years of burgeoning gangs, and I was told as well, that at the south doors, if you wanted, you could get any drug you wanted, but no one stalked or bugged you. We had kids from all over at that school, close to the size of a small city- someone said 2100- maybe, some came to play football, the so- called gifted hung out there, learning disabled and hard of hearing adolescents, regular kids, all co- existing in a dilapidated school , truly much like a community of diversity. Anyway, big Jim got word of a race riot that was building on the grounds. He did not wait. He waded right into the thick of it, right dead between the thick bodies of gangs ready to fight, and guess what?It dispersed, the rats drew back, and the scene fraught for explosion disappeared. I’m not saying Big Jim was perfect, but on that day, he demonstrated to the school, he was a person who took action.

Today it feels like the talk is just talk and while it is great that issues are out in the open, it seems to be more of the same, little change and improvement. All that is booming is technology that has created its own set of problems .

And how scary is it that my four year old grandson must be instructed how to play dead should a gunman enter his classroom, so I worry there is more talk than role models who lead by example.

And the despicable Corey Lewandowski aid of repulsive Trump mocked a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who had been separated from her mother as she illegally crossed the southern border. He, in his stupidly and display of callousness, brazenly and embarrassingly cried out, “Wah- Wah.Wah.” What a world. You can put a child’s picture on a Gerber package, but obviously it holds no impact on adults with no values, morals or compassion. There are no words for that low level piece of trash, representative and extending the American government. Mrs. Trump’s Jacket from Zara said it all.

The values we once strove to uphold are mocked: honesty, compassion, goodness have been trampled upon and the leader of the free world deplores sharing, support, only intent on self- proclamation, self- serving politics. Who cares if human rights are ignored or dictators who have their own families murdered are lauded and exulted as being smart or good guys?. How is it possible that our own little Fords with scant knowledge and little apology for their ignorance have been elected here? Crass and repugnant. And even our own Justin Trudeau has promoted a pipe line that will destroy aboriginal lands, pollute the environment when two- faced he has pronounced he is for the reverse. Where have the people of honour gone?

Perhaps these are just some of the reasons I deplore politics. It’s so easy to say the right things, to stroke the consciences of the world, but double deal. And of course in Trump’s case, he just lies, not bothering to even give mouth service to what we had once been taught was for the good of others and the promotion of a just and humane society. The beast has been let out of the cage and the world has been darkened . Yeats wrote,

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Our good friends in La Jolla say they are embarrassed to be Americans with Trump at the helm. And yet people still support him, do his biddings. And the little weasel Jeff Sessions quotes from the Bible for rationale of separation of parents and children . With an arrogant smirk. And as in the crusades, the mindless find words to back up their idiotic stance, fundamentalists well versed in twisting whatever is available to toughen their stand, even though separation of state and religion is the rule. From homosexuality, abortion, child marriage, child abuse, slavery, terrorism, some advocate chants a verse , believing he has legitimized his horrendous argument. How hideous is all of this.

And yes, people are standing up. Even Stephen Colbert who nightly shines a light on the evils of Trump in the Whitehouse encouraged his viewers to call and protest the degradation of children to their representatives. And perhaps the photo ops of the distraught children helped so the policy was reversed. Well, at least that. And as brash as Robert De Niro twice affirmed at The Tonies, “F**k Trump.”

My mother used to lament that she hoped that she would leave the world in a better place for her children than she had found it. I too have that wish for my grandchildren, but I fear it will not be so.

Apologies to Paul Simon

Don’t know why the Pul Simon concert made me so teary-eyed and even two days later I was wallowing a bit in nostalgia.

We dashed from our 7:30 arrival from San Diego to the concert Tuesday night. For mom and pops days our son had bought us tickets for the show. In spite of trepidation of a late arrival, we missed only ½ of Paul Simon’s opening of America. The audience was all ready engaged, attentively listening, as we fumbled into the wrong seats, stirring the ire of those all ready comfortably reposed at the ACC

We had great seats. The crowd was large and because of the venue, ( although Massey hall would have been more intimate), we had a sense of the man, the singer- song writer, even his soft grin, but no real clear penetrating look into his eyes.

This music is not harsh, or requires boisterous playing. Rather thoughtful strumming, intelligent and quirky. It rocked me back, suggesting lullabies for the 70’s grownups as it does not jar, rather caresses. To refer to Simon’s tunes in this way is not disrespectful, rather the music of our life, the soulful notes that surprise when you least expect them, evoking a time of love, of friendship, of meaningful transitions. As my son, Jordan stated,”It’s about growing up” .

My first remembrance of Paul Simon is the coupling of the dark haired boy with the wildhaired Art Garfunkel in Carnal Knowledge, a breakthrough movie when I was a boomer , young and impressionable.Not sure as I write this: why the movie stopped time for me and focused me, maybe something about the carelessness of love; I cannot say for sure . Critics in 2004 had written,” Ah, the sweet smell of ’70s American cinema when anything was possible” and “[Carnal Knowledge], misunderstood by critics and viewers, Nichols’ satire of male chauvinism is by turns witty, provocative, funny, and depressing…” Roger Ebert weighed in, commenting,”…within that universe, men and woman fail to find sexual and personal happiness because they can’t break through their patterns of treating each other as objects.”

Garfunkel once said of Paul Simon,

“He was really a great joker… was kind of like Lenny Bruce – tearing hypocrisy off of the American cliché. And it brought out my funny side. I’m not bad myself, I have a good ear for the absurd. So we kept each other going. We became each others’ pals.”

And the music says all that, a bit absurd, but not bitingly so. Tales of incongruity, sudden flashes of insight and the repetitive refrains. We heard the songs in the 70’s as a witness to a developing America on relationships, setting out, observing the incongruities of love, friendship, politics, almost erasing the singers who quietly sat back, looked out over their country, contemplated and played with melodies and words.

With the writing of Bridge Over Troubled Waters, in 1969, a tv show “Songs of America” mixed live footage with political rallies and the American landscape, depicting Bridge as a response to the heavily politicized turmoil of the preceding decade. It was the time of Vietnam and Woodstock, MLK and RFK, Cesar Chavez and the Poor People’s March.These political images were controversial, especially coming from the gentle folksingers Simon & Garfunkel.The show was a commercial failure, beaten in the ratings by a Peggy Fleming ice-skating special. Yet instead of commentary for many of us, the songs sparked internal personal imagery associated with the significant moments of growing up.

Kept for the end of our June 12, 2018 concert, Kodachrome stimulated the excitement of a kid’s first camera, and how wondrous it was to be able to frame and shoot pictures, making the selection, feeling empowered, even in a small way . My own first camera was a little black box of a Brownie with a leather handle. After taking pictures, I took the film to the drugstore, waited a week or two for the processing and then in black and white, back then, I sorted through the pictures attached in a little blue book : my pictures, of friends arms looped around one another at funny angles, blurred images of my cousins, often causing me to wonder why I had selected those particular shots in the first place. But we, were crazy in delight to commandeer technology that put us in charge, even if the results were less than had been imagined.

The song says,

They give us those nice bright colors

They give us the greens of summers

Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day

I got a Nikon camera

I love to take a photograph

So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.

He repeats the last line, much as an annoying kid would, begging and badgering for a new roll of film, a classic moment as the mother doles out change from her worn wallet, thinking that somehow this is developing a talent, or getting the kid out of her hair.

And the kid, cherishing that camera, feeling pretty fierce, strides away with his new toy, a petulant adolescent thinking everything force-fed in school was a waste of time,

When I think back

On all the crap I learned in high school

It’s a wonder

I can think at all

And though my lack of education

Hasn’t hurt me none

I can read the writing on the wall

Then the antidote to homework, annoying sweaty hours staring at the blackboard, learning useless information about English kings and incomprehensible math equations and more useless school stuff is proclaimed in Simon’s Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard.Real life, the kid believes, happens by just hanging out at the park, usually after dinner, playing ball, being carefree at the mall or hanging with friends, or with bestie Julio in the schoolyard. Yup, it’s aimless, unprogrammed , open ended and freeing.

Still mothers, to be ignored, hang from windows, screaming , “ Do your homework. You’re going to land in jail”. But the kid just wants to hang out on cloudless nights on the basket ball court, or meet friends at the park.Simon chants,

Well I’m on my way

I don’t know where I’m going

I’m on my way

I’m taking my time

But I don’t know where

Goodbye to Rosie, the queen of Corona

Just hanging out.

Even the choruses, soothes, like humming, repetitive sounds melodically bangs around in your head; it’s a way to avoid teachers, moms and all else of that annoying stuff that gets in the way of just being. The flow of words is easy, good background to the kid’s thoughts and just kicking up some dirt.

From hanging with the friends, Simon moves into other relationships of first love or infatuation, all the messiness of adolescence that sweeps you off your feet.I remember the music of Scarborough Fair through a slow twirl of fuzziness as if unwinding a gauzy scarf or viewing sepia photographs of a beloved, yet there’s a formal English country mood, of formal politeness, established in the repetition and rhythm of “Parsley sage rosemary and thyme”, even a shyness of enquiringly whether your friend will be going where you are headed. Maybe you linger at the bus stop or bike by her house, hoping to catch a glance and run into her by accident. Scarborough Fair was not part of the song list that night, but the pervasive hope of expectant tentative young love was present in his oeuvre.

But then, from wishful dreaming, you grow up and get serious and you encounter that first( or second ) real love that turns into disaster. So you deal with the irony of lost love, ending those romances that somehow did not persevere from the initial heart- thrumping glance that infatuated, tickled your heart and made you experience something you had not ever known before. So 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover provides an exit strategy from that fall from innocence,

Get on track, Jack Just slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan

Don’t need to be coy, Roy, just listen to me

Hop on the bus, Gus, don’t need to discuss much

Just drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free.

In shaking off the ball and chain, there is freedom, joy even in the rhyme as Everyman Paul Simon plays with lyrics and demonstrates copious fun with words. Being cocky, self assured, you dump that person and stride off, cockily. It’s all part of growing up.

From impetuous first love to seductive affairs, Paul Simon explains in The Graduate , the very perplexing entanglement of an older lover in Here’s to You Mrs. Robinson, her allure as an older woman. We put precise pictures to words as we envisage a young and very awkward Dustin Hoffman and the black shocking stocking of Anne Bancroft’s seduction, but more so, the youthful Hoffman dashing across many miles , banging at church windows to his wedding, abandoning the mother for the daughter. Oh my! Shoop Premium writes, “Throughout the film, we are reminded of the mess the older generation has made of the world, from the artificiality of their vision—‘one word: plastics’-to the emptiness of their marriages. Mrs. Robinson epitomizes it all. Worn out and a drunk, possessing everything but feeling almost nothing,”her life riddled with secrets.

When the love interest is special and unique, as was Elaine in The Graduate, the beloved seems to sparkle as if s/he has twinkling diamonds on the soles of her feet, barely touching the ground.S/he is the next door neighbour, the tomboy, the one who hung with the guys. And all of a sudden and with a flash of a smile, the bounce of a ponytail, you were smitten, the caterpillar incredulously transformed into the butterfly as the object of your affections unexpected, an epiphany. Simon proclaims,

People say she’s crazy

She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes

Well that’s one way to lose these

Walking blues

Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

She was physically forgotten

Then she slipped into my pocket

With my car keys

She said you’ve taken me for granted

Because I please you

Wearing these diamonds

And we think of the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the charges of music appropriation. Yet the music reflects the moments of life, sudden bursts of insight and even now these lyrics trigger the music, never to be forgotten. And reflect on Picasso and how his use of African masks enlivened his work, too, making something new.

Oh, little darling of mine, I just can’t believe it’s so

Though it seems strange to say, I never been laid so low

Such a mysterious way and the course of a lifetime runs

Over and over again.

Boy in the Bubble moves beyond just personal perspective. Using the freeze frame of the camera, we move slowly even scene stopping to reflect and ponder meaning. One website chat presented numerous interpretations of the song, ranging from the literal in terms of a boy with an autoimmune disease unable to live in society to insights on South African society to bomb blasts in Nevada. Like a good piece of Abstract Expressionism art, the artist gives you the canvas and the viewer or listener creates their own interpretation,

These are the days of miracle and wonder

This is the long distance call

The way the camera follows us in slo-mo

The way we look to us all( boy in the bubble)

Then that societal critique and awareness, that frozen moment as Simon looks through his lens, empathizing with “the other” in Call Me Al.The words say it all,

A man walks down the street

It’s a street in a strange world

Maybe it’s the Third World

Maybe it’s his first time around

He doesn’t speak the language

He holds no currency

He is a foreign man

He is surrounded by the sound

The sound

Cattle in the marketplace

Juxtaposing sobering thoughts, the memories of Elvis, trekking to Graceland, the Elvis story- because growing up, the hip shake of the master was seen as provoking young people to sin, and his love story with the kohl-eyed Priscilla and her inflated beehive hairdo were in the news that made us gawk and gyrate with abandon. And of course from the newspaper enlarged photos, we knew he was a soldier too.

So too the lilting clear sounds and lyrics in Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War underscore the days, reminding us of all the forbidden fruits we have been told not to covet,

They dance by the light of the moon

To The Penguins

The Moonglows

The Orioles

and The Five Satins

The deep forbidden music

They’d been longing for

Homeward Bound returns us to the performer, Paul Simon, suitcase in hand, fresh from one night stands, he longs for home, a place of quiet and calm,

I wish I was,

Homeward bound,

Home where my thought’s escaping,

Home where my music’s playing,

Home where my love lies waiting

Silently for me.

That concept of where is home? and how to get there? has been threaded through books and songs forever. In Grade 13, I studied Robert Frost’s poem,The Death of the Hired Man, for our provincial exams,” Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”: likely the only line of poetry from Grade 13 that had made meaning for me and actually stuck. At the arrival towards our own home, I would always repeat this line until my children would murmur,” Yes mom, we know…home is the place…”

The final Sounds of Silence at the concert’s end was particularly brutal. Of course silence can connote alienation, distance, withdrawal or death and the ultimate conclusion of the journey .For Paul Simon at 76, his journey continues, providing the boomers with more than sounds of silence, echoing through the unforgettable songs bits and pieces of their growing up that resound with the happiness and awareness of lives well lived in periods of turmoil , confrontation, challenges but also excess, evolution and experience.

Guess I’m still Feelin Groovy😘

The Perfection of Pasadena

Last March in La Jolla, I met a woman from Edinburgh who raved about the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena.Always interested in exploring new venues, I pushed for more details. Years ago, we had risen at 4:30, boarded a van and in those wee hours had trundled to our seats for the New Years Day Rose Parade. When the crowd dispersed after the splendiferous floats, we looked for our pickup on the emptied streets, taking in storefronts, lanes, less than ordinary streets. But my new acquaintance’s expressions of awe about Pasadena had impressed and so I decided we should go.

From the renovated Roaring Twenties boutique hotel still in the state of renovation to a Thomas Keller inspired meal to the supreme museums , Norton Simon and Huntington, this was a dream visit to Pasadena that overturned our initial notions of a rather dreary city from many years ago.

Truthfully, driving from San Diego towards LA is a pain, and almost makes me regret the decision, thinking the speedy little train that runs along the idyllic coast would have improved my mood, but then navigating from train to hotel, to museums would have been a chore so we have no choice but to be stuck in traffic, moving very very slowly. Yet I had checked that Norton Simon only opened at noon so we had actually planned for a later start.

Because my background is art history, I often complain that people do not really look at the paintings, reading the descriptions at the side, and besides my training provides me a way to look at a work and explain it to my husband, pretty close to the audio narration. However, we decide to take advantage of the audio guide as a way to investigate the collection’s highlights. Although explanations appear to last roughly 3-5 minutes, I with a Masters in Art History and years of study , learn something new!about every piece before which I stood. Apparently the entire guide takes about 4 hours, we stayed for 21/2.

True to my subverting nature, I begin the tour at the end, rather than the beginning, my eye caught by 19th Century Masters, intrigued and pulled towards familiar works from textbooks. Bernard’s wooden cupboard decorated with Breton women, then abstract shapes in Vuillard’s little piece of women lead towards Van Gogh’s colourful renditions of trees, his mother, reminding me of his “ unique” colour systems, heavily impasto strokes and wild genius. Nearby are Gauguin’s painting of Tahitian locals in missionary garb, looking directly at us. Degas’ attempts to get right the legs of his dancers along with the his wax cast sculpture that have the power to freeze me on the spot, remembering the discussion of the adolescent girls as young prostitutes pushed by their poverty into the arms of patrons. I observe the tipped head of the pubescent dancer much like a young race horse contemplated for its fine lines.

A thundering Manet of a rag picker recalls for me the genius man who initiates modern art, he forgoing a realistic background, erasing its depth in a silvery backdrop, the words of his friend Baudelaire in his head, influences of Velasquez in his heart. Reading the brochure later, I’m saddened to see I’ve missed the Goyas and Ingres, those timeless prints and paintings forever etched in my head from university art study.

Because the guide is so good, we give ourselves over to it, proceeding slowly on the hard floors, sitting when we can. At the very end of the hall, past Giacometti’s stretched soul, colourful and monotone Picasso’s, an enormous Sam Francis beckons. Maybe it’s his use of globs of blue and blacks, open wide spaces that float across the canvas.They attract me beyond the light- filled precision of Northern Renaissance masters or the exuberant physicality of the High Renaissance, or even the clever transformations of Braque and Picasso that eventually lead me on to these abstractions by painters like Frankenthaler, Klein , Pollock and the more lyrical Francis. For me, it is the craft of application of paint that suggests the abstract artist’s knowing along side his realist comrades of the underpinnings of shape, form, colour, line, perspective but choosing to go directly to your soul and heart, eschewing the usual human or landscape representations that evoke your pity, joy, intelligence, the predecessors commandeering the old tricks of the trade: such as figure placement in triangles, the Golden Rectangle, meaningful eye glances, etc. With a focus on the media that artists use, the most brilliant artists go directly for your gut , your emotions, wringing from you angst or sublime happiness, a wicked dab of blue hitting a glob of red just in the right way so the white that conjoins them leaves you a space to catch your breath.

There are stupendous Rembrandts here at three points in his career. The guide again providing more for reflection too: that the portrait of the boy is unlikely his son Titus, ( wrong age ); that the canvas may have been cut. ; that the fuzzy thing on the boy’s shoulder could be an homage to Rembrandt’s recently departed monkey. The colour modelling and self- probing expression of the faces on his portraits as well demonstrate even to the ingenue how extraordinary a master Rembrandt was/ is.

There is so much here, but the guide, truly deepens the experience.The sculpture garden based on Monet’s at Giverny’s in France although not an exact replica does replicate the water lilies gently floating there. Glimpsing the oversized powerful Maillol sculptures of women makes you pause and gasp. And you have never truly looked at a Henry Moore until you realize how his shapes based on bones and natural forms , for example, are echoed in Nature until you observe them here. Set among lavender, hermercallis, germander, bay figs, silk floss trees, tulip tree and lemon- scented gum groves( to only name a few), the marriage of form and setting is unspeakably sublime. Especially when the sun touches both hard and soft surfaces, illuminating deeply while obscuring them. And have I almost forgotten Rodin’s Burghers of Calais at the entrance, their intensity framing your approach as they, heavily hewn from rock, intent on their path move away from the building.You in.

The Huntington is no less an excursion into the fantastic. At the Library Exhibition Hall, you are confronted with the Gutenberg Bible, a milestone in world history, the 15th Century oeuvre that initiated the spread of literacy. Nearby are Shakespeare’s plays, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and a note from Abraham Lincoln along with Susan B. Anthony’s legal defence for voting illegally. It is overwhelming and simultaneously humbling to stand before these benchmarks. I enquire if these are perhaps facsimiles , for years prior, having dragged my family to Chantilly to view Les Riches Heures de Duc du Berry , I was disturbed to learn the originals were kept under tight lock and key, away from the eyes of hungry tourists. But these at the Huntington are the real deal!

The American Gallery reminds me of the Isabella Stewart in Boston with the marriage of furniture and paintings. Here we find quilts, tables, spinning wheels and early portraits. Having just finished Cernow’s Hamilton, I am fascinated with three separate paintings of George Washington. Much as I would have expected, tall, unassuming, quietly intelligent and thoughtful. The Mary Cassatt as well displays a believable mother-child relationship , the push and pull evident in the faces of the pair.The European Gallery offers us free audio guides, but although descriptive, they are not as insightful as the ones at Norton Simon’s.

I too could pick out the contrasts of the famous Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence – although I did not know she died shortly after the painting of this portrait of tuberculosis. The Blue Boy is a stopping point, for he is beautiful, an icon, most recognizable as a symbol of childhood, well! a wealthy doted upon one, albeit the incredible brushwork on his gleaming outfit perfectly suggesting both rich fabric and artistic talent by Thomas Gainsborough, the favourite accomplished portraitist in the 18th Century. Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse is well explained by the guide as well , with a focus on the atypical colour choice of her brownish dress to highlight the whiteness of her skin and the Greek figures in the background, selected for their symbolism , erased, redrawn. Momentarily we stop at the 15 foot high stained glass designed by Edward Burne-Jones, not fully appreciative of William Morris and the Pre– Raphaelite resurrection here. With a collection of 400 paintings, 300 sculptures, 2500 objects of decorative art, 20,000 prints and drawings, this one single gallery housing European masters is a home for concentrated study, not a mere day ramble.

Before we head back to San Diego, we want to meander in the gardens. Wisely we have brought our readers so as to find a shady nook and rest among the beauty of this immense 207 acre estate.Although the Rose Garden wonderfully overwhelms in scent and fragrance, not to mention size, colour, variety and elegance of bloom, today we can only wander the perimeter as the pathways are blocked off. And although the Chinese Gardens are exactly and beautifully recalled as we remember them in Shanghai, it is the Japanese Gardens where we rest and read after pursuing the paths that treat us to small bridges overlooking iridescent fish and bonsai gardens. These 12 acres were renovated in 2011-12 with a new tea house by a Kyoto- based architect and craftsman. Situated on the slopes of a canyon, Japanese red pine, junipers, cycads, willows, wisteria and sweet olive trees bend and frame the restful scene. Fruit trees such as apricot, cherry and flowering camellias, azaleas, lilies, iris and lotus all coalesce in a storybook setting. Not surprisingly, we have been directed to this particular garden, time and again by previous besotted visitors.To augment the experience here, there is the historic five- roomed Japanese House that recreates the realm of an upperclass dwelling in the 19-20 th Century. Much of the structure crafted from Japanese woods that included persimmon, red pine and zelkova were also built in Japan and shipped to California in 1904. Complementing the construction are American- sourced woods.

There are subtropical, Australian, and desert gardens as well as a special botanical garden. But we must return to San Diego, our feet beginning to tire after more than five hours exploring gardens and galleries.

We planned to stop at Vaca in Costa Mesa adjacent to the Segerstrom auditorium. Their Paella Valenciana, a combination of chicken, scallops, chorizo, prawns, bomba rice, saffron aioli is exquisite and worth a visit. The previously night Bacchus Kitchen in Pasadena was likewise an anticipated fresh food delight, exactly as chef Thomas Keller might have expected in his pursuit of fresh ,local, simple foods where the delight resides in the produce itself. I order the crispy duck breast on chervil chive barley, orange- scented olives, sautéed green radishes, in rosemary oil. My husband chooses the New Zealand lamb that he proclaims is the best he has ever experienced, somehow not “ lamby.”. Handcut fries with homemade ketchup resemble no fry, even cooked in duck fat, that we have ever eaten, these so light, crispy and delicious. The absolute queen of fries, we agree.

And finally our boutique hotel Dusitd2 Hotel Constance, a renovated posh hotel from the roaring twenties its elegance renewed , its Art Nouveau spirals and curves charming: in ceiling decoration and hallways, bar banquettes and courtyard ( no wonder a movie company is pulling up as we depart for the Huntington). Refurbished with future plans for a gardentop swimming pool, self parking and a Cuban bakery to further enhance this luxurious stopover.

Fortunately the drive from Costa Mesa to San Diego is swift so we are back home at a reasonable hour, reflecting on the perfection of Pasadena.

Kusama and The Happening

A happening is a performance, event, or situation meant to be considered art, usually as performance art. The term was first used by Allan Kaprow during the 1950’s to describe a range of art-related event or multiple events.( Wikipedia)

Not having booked for the Kusama event in the city, I joined the long lines that snaked around the corner of the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) in Toronto. Finally on my third try, I managed a ticket: interested in discovering the hype that was drawing thousands in persisting for hours in a line for daily rush tickets. I had read about Kusama, most articles focusing on her pumpkins, depression and withdrawal from society. So originally I did not have a sense of what Kusama’s art was about.

Whether the not usual attendees, particularly young folk, were just interested in joining lines or actually had a sense of Kusama ‘s installations, I do not know but about 70% of my fellow participants looked to be between 20-40, young, hip, a number with baby strollers, intent on garnering same day entrance.

Kusama’s six rooms are a mix of Alice in Wonderland and the Happenings of the 60’s, where one, (at least a Baby Boomer!), almost expects Alan Ginsberg to be reciting poetry outside the doors or a sardonic sage Andy Warhol stuck in a clutter of bell- bottomed followers lolling outside the space that becomes your own for 20-30 seconds. For the set up of Kusama’s show, for this “ happening” , the viewer follows a path and patiently waits for their own personal entry into each of the six rooms.

Beginning with the weakest room, Kosama declares that she had used her fear of sex to create an environment of soft red and white stuffed phalluses. This room is entitled Phalli’s Room and it is like standing in a garden of drooping, sad little red and white cacti, rendered harmless by their cuddly shape and decorated dotted surfaces. Yawn. Interestingly, these misshapen penises lose their identification as sexual warriors ready to attack. In stead they might decorate a mirror in a teenager’s room or be thrown by toddlers at one another amidst their other stuffed toys. Kusama appears to have overcome her fear through subjugating and transforming the texture and shape of the phalluses, rendering them impotent. I recall the work of the Surrealists such as Magritte, de Chirico, Dali who also played this game, trivializing nightmares, fantasies and neuroses through shape, size and context in their art.

The next rooms combine light and mirrors to provide that sense of infinity with which Kosama is associated. In “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity” , her arrangements of refracted lights change from green to pink to red and you might just be caught in a kaleidoscope of fascinating glittering shapes. The end of eternity for me was fantastic, generating awe. As if on a ledge overlooking the scene ( my husband said one took on the persona of an alien from outer space), you are privy to all the fantastic shimmering lights of the world, dazzling, radiant, a subdued and changing colour spectrum . It reminded me of continual fireworks that rather than bursting above, continue to gleam from beneath your feet, engulfing and surrounding you as if you DO stand at the very edge of the world.

In stead of the lights I associate with the cast of a city emerging atop a river or lake generating an implosion or inner explosion , the scene feels calm, magical, wondrous and overpowering as Alice might have as she shape shifted. If this is the end of the world and eternity, it is a last mesmerizing grasp of beauty, somehow satisfying and ironically reassuring because of glittering golds and navy blues intermingled with the soft tingle of a radiant colour pallet, regally reminiscent of the Hiroshima Memorials to the victims of war. With dangling rectangular lights emerging from the backdrop of smaller illuminating gold and orange lights, momentarily the box within which you stand for your 20 seconds goes dark : no doubt to signal the absolute end, yet you’ve seen the demise of eternity in its magnificent glory of refracted light and steadfastly believe it will return- which it does. Or perhaps you are sated and ready to end your life with this final burst of beauty. So ironically again, you do not accept the darkness as the absolute end, only a pause in the beauty that has warmed and engulfed you.

In the following box ,” Love Forever,” you become a voyeur and through a window observe more of those fascinating lights now arranged in colourful hexagons, approximating the dizzying effect of love. From a darker beaming floor, a performer might commandeer your attention in Las Vegas to the streaming visual shower of neon sparkles on the ceiling as you can fix your gaze at your sweetheart through the two windows at either side of the box, peering as a voyeur might at your heart’s desire. In truth, it faithfully approximates that flash of magic one experiences when they catch sudden sight of their beloved. Hot pinks, lush reds , happy greens flood over the lights that continually change until all the colours converge and dazzle, creating both a confusion of depth, space and flatness, an illuminated walkway towards your beloved glimpsed and observable in the peeking windows. Being with my hubby of almost 45 years , this was my favourite. He is enclosed in the window for my eyes only, and I his in “Love Forever” in the midst of gorgeous lights that radiate into our own eternity.

Similarly,” The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” is as well a panorama of a non ending sea of lights, most concentrated at a horizontally plane, some greens and blue, a city scale at midnight when every street light, shop light, house light is turned on, dancing against the velvety black of a night sky, but many small bright iridescent accents also shout out too in a created sky. This recalled for me the Yad Vashem Children’s Garden in Israel of the rising and descending spiral of individual candles/ lights against the darkness, both a cry out to an enduring presence but terrible disappearance of tiny flickering souls.

You have followed Kosama’s little path into this incredible place of beauty where the opposition of loss and presence combine, signalling the yin and yang of life: forever and nowhere; destruction and beauty; light and absence. And with these juxtapositions, you enter your own interaction with the mysterious, incomprehensible ebb and flow of what it means to be human- and the loss of that.

To ensure no iPhone pictures, an attendant accompanies you into “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins”, the final box. And as the pink phalluses, this is a static composition full of interesting immobile shapes transforming a memory of homegrown gourds into a tactile form. So as we began our journey with soft art creations reminiscent of Claes Oldenberg and Jim Dine( think of the former’s huge hamburger) and her artist friends in the 60’s so we come full circle back from our lightfilled experiences.

We return to Alice’s world in a place of polka dotted stickers, chairs and tables covered with those dots applied by the participants. It is an exhibit of the visitors- making as are the best kind of artscapes wherein it is is personalized and made meaningful by the viewers’ own minds and bodies: the artist providing you the props, the means to internalize and come to grips with the elements proffered, participants organizing and making meaning through memory or suggestion -as most will by recalling an explosion of fireworks, a sudden burst or closing off of light.

The gallery has given you a set path through which you follow and enter into the rooms, but no one controls your response to what you see or feel. The arrangement of horizontals, mirrors, rectangles guides your reaction because we are programmed to think of clustered horizontal arrangements as sky or lake, the directionality of these surfaces imprinted by your own experiences of sky, land’s end, etc. or chaos wherein there is no pattern, organization or structure whatsoever . But Kusama’s intimations are merely beacons we need not accept in our personal realms, yet we do gravitate to the signposts in our experience as guiding our perceptions. That she approximates love as a kaleidoscope of colours to suggest emotions may be a common feature of love, that we cogitate that the end of eternity may be a cessation of all lights crashing from the ablaze of lights stimulates rational overlays from books, stories, our own acceptance of what we have experienced empirically. So she plays with our senses as notions of reality, subverting as she has done the phallic symbol from fear to friendly.

Although Kusama created many of these boxes in the 60’s, they are brilliantly refreshed, rendered new by the iPhone. Every person I noted entering was taking a selfie to extend and remember and record the experience, much as the infinite mirrors expanded the images bouncing from the originals. The viewer could now take the scene away, making it their own on their own mirror/ camera, they as the true subject of the exhibit, the happening, the light creations as backdrop to themselves.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times and obsession with selfies, that the younger audiences do not really come to see the art. Note how many of Van Gogh’s irises are mere decoration for a ridiculously grinning self portrait. These “new” happenings are self centred, the gaze turned inward, not out towards the works or even the world: light the most appropriate means to be used to satisfy this passion of the instantaneous, certainly a present day symbol. In the twist of this art as once a communal happening to a contemporary inner personal moment for self-aggrandizement, Kusama affords a dying yet endless vision, an evanescent one such as that caught momentarily on the iPad, that lasts a second, capturing the viewers’ fascination of themselves at a particular event, eyes turned towards superficial self, not a piercing glaze of insight.

At least Alice went down the hole in search of the white rabbit, meeting and confronting the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, but here the spectator is both Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumber, searching not for another, but their own elusive Cheshire Cat smile. Yet pursuing the white rabbit does suggest a chase of the impossible or a dream, the white rabbit so curious, so strange that Alice cannot help following. Yet too, our sense of this exhibition is a happening that exists on multiple levels, the physical and the spiritual, enduring and singular; Kosama achieves this brilliantly.

The wait in long lumbering lines well worth the journey, a mocking Timothy Leary winking behind a light in eternity.

The Royal Wedding and Us

Who could not be charmed by the celebration in Windsor this past weekend? Besides picture perfect weather, the couple’s eyes appeared to be overflowing with love. The cathedral almost bending beneath the cascading flowers, Meghan’s veil and train, truly the storybook romance provided an extended reverie of illusion for a world beset with war, ignorance, guns and horrors. We want if not to believe in the power of love as Meghan’s pastor sang out at least its transformative possibility.

No doubt the colonial kingdom of the queen in her trademark hat must have gasped- at least privately- that the colonialized were now part of their extended family, incorporated into the kingdom as the gospel singers rocked the hall and the pastor, Michael Curry, the Afroamerican leader of the Episcopalians Church verdantly stressed the power of love,( “There is power, power in love,” he sang out.) echoing Martin Luther King. Like Barack Obama, Meghan does not shy away from her mixed heritage, obviously secure in who she is. The quiet elegant presence of her mother at her side seemed to reinforce that strong sense of self. In deed, an article in the weekend Guardian focused on her mother’s presence as a rebuttal to all that had preceded former slaves.

But why do we stay glued to the screen, some even journeying far to observe the spectacle? Part has to do with seeing ourselves in the royals, especially the Canadian part . Similarly my mother would relate that my father’s mother used to comment,”Well, he’s Jewish, you know,” referring to Edward R. Murrow and other pleasing celebrities of the day, making a connection that identified said party as part of the extended family and therefore worthy of pride. And we too want that connection, that identification with those we admire, are proud of and desire to hold as our role models: such as Meghan’s involvement in causes that target poverty, women’s right to self determination. Our fascination with the toothless Mulroney twins carrying the bridal train, the couple’s first date in Toronto make us feel somehow we are part of their love story, claiming them as if we actually knew them ,that we possess a part of the journey, not to mention our formal relationship with the monarch, our? Queen.

As a commoner, a divorced one at that, Meghan becomes an icon of rags to riches, securing the top job of Duchess. But we do not forget she once lived and prospered in our city, connecting us to the story. And having taught her suitor English in his final year at high school on Suits, Patrick Adams at Northern Secondary School, I supposed I have a vague point of reference to the narrative too. Even in the stuffiness of the fascinators and extravagant headpieces in the cathedral, we were well aware of the ordinary people , some Canadians who slept outside with their garish shirts and ludicrous clothing garb, even camping four nights on the pavement in order to secure a viewing point when the Cinderella carriage passed.That is not to mention the dressed- to- the nines people at home who toddled off to The Royal York or Princess of Wales theatre to watch full screen the marriage and sip tea.

Reminiscent of Grace Kelly and Wallis Simpson, Meghan pierced the crust of this extraordinary family. And like those commoners before her, she has entered a strange sorority of manners. Yet, she appears to have been embraced, the 21 st Century more accepting of her status and heritage, and perhaps not ignoring but politely trodding her own pathways: as in walking part way down the aisle herself, introducing elements of her own heritage into the ceremony with the pastor and the gospel choir rocking the usual unflappable scene. That she is beautiful, down to earth, espousing good causes like her mother in law once did certainly helps. In deed one can imagine Diana, a twinkle in her eye, rejoicing at the marriage, warmly embracing her new daughter in law.

Meghan certainly has style. Although her dress was understated, rather safe, the 16 foot extreme veil with 53 embroidered flowers of the commonwealth( who knew Canada’s was the bunchberry?)provided the showpiece, her borrowed tiara from 1893 worn when Princess Mary married Prince George , exquisite to light up the elegant if overwhelming understated gown. And the arbours of peonies, roses, foxgloves were enchanting. Not to mention her bouquet of myrtle, forgetmeknots and freshly picked wild flowers by Prince Harry the day before at Kensington Palace.

In her dash to the after party, her Stella McCarthy halter gown felt more like the “ real” Meghan described in the papers, more a statement with flair, class, perfect to be zoomed away by her prince in the silver blue jaguar. That the former chaste outfit worked with the solemnity of the vows is understandable although some had wished that like her white Like coat by the Canadian designer, the dress of the day would have been designed by another Canadian, bringing us deeper into the drama.

And that the toothless twins’ mother had the choicest seat and her hubby the son of our former prime minister again gave us a mythical stake in the proceedings.Yet those boys did us proud that they held that magnificent veil well, high and wide.

But a wedding is a wedding and it brings out, after the lavish negotiations, overwhelming costs, nights of worry over the perfect cake, carrot or elderflower, and who will be axed from the list( Justin Trudeau!), the sweetness of a union between two lovestruck puppies whose eyes are focused deeply on the other, contemplating that Nirvana will continue. And as the New York pastor reminded us intoning, remember when you first fell in love and everything was turned to love. And the choir sang out,”Stand by me”.

And In the tradition of stories we desperately want to believe in fairytales.

Into the Kitchen

As a child, we lived behind our store, Tele Sound. There was a sunken living room and a small kitchen. My mother prepared our food there and we had a table and chairs where we ate our three meals at 9, noon and 6, together, rarely if ever deviating from that schedule. Because the stove door never properly closed, my mother’s attempts at cake baking were never fully realized. As well, as soon as she attempted a new food combination, a customer would enter the store, her work interrupted. Foods occurred with regularity on specific days such as liver, thin and hard as shoe leather on Mondays, hamburgers plain, or if my sister and I were lucky, transformed by Bravo Tomato Sauce into spaghetti on Tuesdays, heavenly roasted chicken surrounded by potatoes and carrots Friday, etc. Our kitchen and her preparation were plain and functional, informal. Today many kitchens are beautifully decorated and coordinated, some with stoves that appear to be able to heat the entire house( in colours previously never visited in a cooking space), marble, granite or Caesar stone for counters, islands on which food can be arranged and contemplated, stools at the edge for conversing, lolling.

Recently I realized that in spite of having a beautiful living room, when we have guests over,I draw them into the kitchen to chat over hors d’oeuvres, welcoming them into our kitchen where the heart of our home exists. Although there is no fireplace around which to warm ourselves, that idea of a primal spot still pervades. Our table like a fire pit is round and our leather nook surrounds it, enclosing our guests and ourselves in an unending circle. Perhaps this is a relic from my own childhood because in our first house before the store, we did in deed have a small nook.

Elsewhere in the house there is a formality of individual chairs, side tables not exactly aligned for placing drinks or nibbles and before dinner conversation. But later of course, the formal dining room is the spot where dinner will be served. Years back I would ready the eatables in the kitchen, but with age and greater ease, I invite people directly into the kitchen that is surrounded by large windows that open brightly onto the garden. It is here I am most relaxed, even adding last touches to the evening’s fare, deciding on an additional desert, fretting over a sauce that is not velvety or meringues that are too chewy.

When we were young and entertained a lot, I followed Julia Child’s cookbooks with most recipes requiring over three days to perfect, I always believing( still do) in developing from scratch entire symphonies of food. One particularly frantic day, having decided on a spanakopita dish, I rushed off to the butcher shop and purchased lamb ground to perfection on the spot. Here my memory fogs slightly as I cannot recall where the glass shards that had fallen into my preparation had come from! Had I precariously positioned wine goblets too close to my elbows, were they everyday glasses I had jostled in my hurry, but In my mind’s eye, I observe helpless – unable to freeze stop the action in slow motion -the breaking of glass into the mixture.

Of course I could not serve fragmented bits in my dinner. Kids thrown back into the car, more frantic and more upset still, I returned to the butchers to purchase more ground lamb. Realizing I had spent my last dime and did not have any more money to spend, I began to weep before the perplexed man behind the counter, explaining my plight through gaggled sobs in a store full of curious patrons. The kindly butcher provided me with the meat and I left in a haze of tears. Still in a flurry, I retraced all of my steps to formulate my dinner, exhausted by the travails, my own sloppiness and frustration.

And as always my mind darts to the Holocaust when even in the worst of times, women scrounged bits of paper onto which they secreted recipes of home to share with other inmates, endeavouring to resurrect the normalcy of their prior lives and invoke the family meals where all beloved members conversed, engaged, once sharing in quiet, calm food loving created by who those who cared deeply. These written fragments hidden in the recesses of clothes or corrupted corners stimulated memories of smells, tastes, environments, freedoms and the recalling of a life in which food, now savagely missing ,conveyed a world once cherished.

Conversely, some of my favourite reminiscences also revolve on backyard parties where food was the star, expertly designed cakes, carefully chosen and concocted recipes, flowing wine, to the backdrop of widely blooming flowers, always white, in the backyard, our kitchen extended beyond the limits of the walls and doors to enfold the yard, the grass, the guests, the out of doors.

But still it is the kitchen, the centre of the cooking activity that pinpoints where we come together, to talk and to be. In the den, we may sprawl, read, relax, even doze from time to time, but in the kitchen we sit , attuned to one another, upright, listening attentively , even pausing over mouthfuls to interact, respond, disagree , nod heads.Our children recall inviting their friends to dinner, our lively discussions on diverse topics, volleying back and forth, each participant at the meal, waiting for a hesitation or tiny gap into which to insert their opinions, voices rising, heads turning from speaker to speaker, lively, committed talk.

Here in this kitchen, too, are photographs of my parents with my children when they were young, and at the window ledge, other pictures of the grandkids, especially Thing One, Two and now Three, to bring them close , especially as they live far away. We, pretending, they are actually at the dinner table,chortling, turning to gaze out of doors, requiring a bib, a napkin,overturning glasses of chocolate milk, faces smeared with leftovers- like their cousins who come both Monday and Thursdays. Those stand-ins, sacred totems, those photographs presiding , watching, combining in the kitchen .

How to describe what happens in the kitchen. With a desk and a computer, the kitchen has become the brain of the house- and it is not surprising to find me here writing an article in the morning, or Howard working on his cases in the evening, or the grandkids involved in puzzles, constructing with Lego, attempting circuit manipulations, cutting, pasting… On our kitchen table, we work at things, building, relating with both our minds and bodies, forgetting we literally feed ourselves in the same spot, physically fortifying our intellects and souls.

From the enclosing windows I can watch the cardinals pose on the ledge or dig for food in the gutters. I can observe the robins preside over the thickening grass, I can catch sight of the ducks who fly into the pool at winter’s end and I can gauge the season’s change with the parade of flowers from tulips to clematis to lilies and dahlias, each signalling the end of spring, the beginning of summer or the cool dawn of autumn. I can make a mental note regarding the lilac tree that has twisted reaching for the sun in a shady backyard, the textures of green as they differentiate leaf from leaf, bush from bush, or ponder why some plants have not returned even though their identical twins have.

In deed the kitchen is the monarch, the governance of the house. Although showing some evidence of time and the yearly onslaught of ants now, it endures much as my granite island is symbolic of the rocks that are at the core of the earth: the kitchen, the hub of our home and my life.

Dinda Day

Dinda Day

I can’t remember the exact time or day although it was some time ago..

Before the momentous event of the first grandchild, I deliberated how I might be called. “Buby ” sounded as if I would shuckle along in black, unruly curly grey hairs springing from beneath my headscarf, feet deep in shin high rubber boots.” Nanny” on the other hand suggested a lithe upright blonde matriarch in a paisley print with slim wrists. I was leaning towards “Noddy” from a childhood book of fairies and hob goblins by Enid Blyton. Noddy is childlike, good and kind, and lives in Toyland, obviously a good starting place for building relationships with children. I was deep in doubt about how I might be called, but the first year of a child’s life is filled with dribbles, mewing, quizzical looks and unintelligible sounds so the decision of naming me was delayed as I continued to grapple with choices.

As C.J. the first , genius as all first borns are, began to murmur “Twinkle twinkle little star”, he muttered something and pointed towards me.It sounded like “Dinda”. Looking bewildered, I shouted,”Me?” He chortled, no doubt amazed that his confused stream of vowels and consonants had been so wrongly interpreted, but had otherwise evoked such a strong reaction from the now familiar face of the person whose big head was always pushed so close into his baby space, making ridiculous faces, kissing his little hands and smiling so widely that the bottom of the face almost detached from the wobbling chin. But he burbled it again with an insouciant giggle and so I was christened “Dinda”.

It did not escape me that the word sounded much like the French word for turkey” dinde”, but I cared little, recalling my California cousin referred to as “ poo- poo head” by his grandson, Oliver, who also twinkled uproariously, even throwing himself to the ground as his grandfather responded to the salutation. My mother looked askance, somehow feeling “ Dinda” was a bit insulting, a madeup word for a position so respected. She grumpily queried,” What is a Dinda?” , but grew to accept the nomenclature invented by the adorable CJ.

In the years that followed and with the arrival of CJ’s brother and cousins from outside of Canada, I became ” Dinda” to them as well, no one even suggesting there might be another word more readily acceptable for the role of grandmother.

What followed from Dinda was “ Dinda Days”, another term unexpectedly coined by the precocious CJ and his impish brother. These were special days allotted to me for time alone with each of them.

We had agreed Thursday was a good day for the first, and Monday for the second. Dinda Days possessed their own structure aside from pickups at first, Daycare and then, school. Awaiting my darlings in the car was especially a treat for which I planned, anticipating tired bodies from stimulating play. So, I decided they should be welcomed by delicious treats: maybe a chocolate dipped marshmallow with multicoloured sprinkles , a freshly baked Tim’s donut, a Lindt bunny wrapped in gold, a chocolate chunk cookie, an iced pretzel, certainly a bottle of water if the day was hot. I hoped they would associate the sweetness of the offering with the great joy I felt, the tingle up my spine when I caught sight of them on the playground, as I identified a particular hop, a multicolored cap, differentiating them from a tangle of other skipping, prancing, twirling children.

In spite of wanting to grab them, throw them into the air and leap to the skies in happiness upon seeing them , I nonchalantly waved, greeted the friendly daycare people and moved slowly as if I were not in a rush, secretly eying those beautiful boys. No slobbery embraces, just a cool polite hi, careful not to interrupt a game of chicken, a focused craft or conversation with a friend. I waited, watched, and with the gentlest of prodding, eventually reminded ,” it’s time to go”, my heart overflowing and engulfed with emotion. Sometimes I was introduced to a classmate or shown a magic trick or explained a scientific fact, peers shouting to my boys, “ Your Dinda is here”: no longer the created word for grandmother strange at all.

Our second ritual on Dinda Day was an “ interesting” thing , that awaited their arrival, on the kitchen table of our house. Truly a bit of a ruse, the interesting thing might be a book, a toy or craft we could do together, a means to interact, engage, talk, and dialogue. Perhaps most successful, because sometimes my choices missed the mark, was the Rainbow Loom. This particular compilation filled hours and extended over several years, time spent following patterned combinations that eventually yielded bracelets, fobs, miniature figures, guided by a motherly lady on the computer or described step by step in a special book. We would send by snail mail for multicoloured mini elastics, special tabs, ornaments and become members of the Rainbow Loom club as CJ worked from basic to high level combinations. Most required focused attention on a particular pattern with very fine motor exactitude, needing insanely minute manipulations by gingerly overlayering as many as four or five elastics one over other.

Occasionally after toiling for an hour of intense concentration and reaching the end of a complicated design, one of those fragile elastics would break, destroying the entire project. CJ rightly so, HOWLED. In attempt to deal with the disappointment, we wrote a letter to the manufacturer: who sent us more of those dratted little elastics. Once or twice he glared in disbelief that Dinda had initiated his involvement in an activity that had self- destructed .A week might pass before he would bravely begin again, another project chosen for his fingers and brains to explore. I worked nearby, preparing his usual dinner, encouraging him to try again. And anyway, the simple tomato pasta was nearly ready. He’d look up, smile sweetly, ready for a new challenge

At supper there were books to be shared, those amazing William Steig ones where miraculous events occur such as a the talking bone who saves Pearl the pig from becoming the fox’s dinner or Amelia Bedelia whose misunderstanding of language tickles even a a five year old or the dreamy Zoom who travels far and promises new and mysterious adventures. Food often forgotten for a fascinating story, they cuddled in close, a head relaxing into my soft side, their eyes almost closing, enmeshed in a wondrous narrative.

So passed the years , from Rainbow Loom to Secrets of the Great Magicians and on to Five Minute Riddles, the boys still eager at 4:30 or 5 to depart their hoola hoops or games of hide and seek. Me, still careful not to interfere with after school mad science or special coding classes.

I had begun to think of myself as a Dinda, not caring that an invented name had recast me as someone usually identified by the moniker of grandmother, Grammy, Baba, Safta…whatever. In the lexicon of life, we grow into words like an adolescent who begins to inhabit a changing body, exploring, refining and forming associations, discovering who we are and might be as experiences accrue. In The Velveteen Rabbit, the precious toy is loved, but eventually put aside, grown worn, but made real by the little boy who loved him.

So it was that this new word entering my family’s vocabulary was accepted, acknowledged and for me treasured. I had always known I was “ real”, but I also comprehended that even the concept of a Dinda would fade as the child matured and moved beyond the loving confines of my arms. Yet in my storybook of me, Dinda will also hold a special place: more than just a Mother’s or Grandmothers Day: Dinda Day when the boys and I were young.

Endurance

This week I was fortunate to be able to see two Hot Docs films- free in the afternoon for students and seniors. One was the Oslo Diaries by Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan that through the personal diaries of both Palestinian and Israeli participants we relive the possibility of moving towards a peace accord. Although both sides feel antagonism and distaste for the other, the two sides are able to sit down in secret and work through towards a plan that will eventually return Gaza and Jericho to the Palestinians :for assertion that Israel will be recognized as a Jewish state. In the midst of focused serious talks, one man relates his revulsion of being kissed on both cheeks Palestinian- style. On going talks engender relationships among the participants who begin to view each other as human and eventually friends as partners. ( perhaps it was all initiated by that kiss?😘) The process is long culminating in Bill Clinton bringing Rabin and Arafat together to sign the accord. Arafat is revealed as wily, careful, able to withstand his people’s abhorrence to the deal and therefore towards him as their leader.

Years back when visiting the old section of Jerusalem,I could actually feel the palpable hatred of each quadrant in the Old City and I despaired of any negotiation wherein the emotions were so very very strong that even an exuberant tourist could became strongly aware of the fierce antagonism that required no cordons to mark them off. Yitzchak Rabin as well as Shimon Peres at his side are reviled by their own countrymen as traitors and murderers with Netanyahu leading the insurrection and warmongering .In the end with the assassination of Rabin, the workings of the Oslo Treaty are never put in place: peace still- even now-a distant cry. Arafat tells us that the bullet was meant to kill the deal, not just Rabin. Yet the film also relates that the individuals from both sides of the negotiating team had grown close, losing their antipathy to one another, remaining in touch until their deaths. I would call this a kind of endurance, a quest for peace that overcame all reasons that might have kept the two factions apart.

In the second Hot Doc entitled This Mountain Life by Grant Baldwin, a daughter and her 60 year old mother, Tania and Martina Halik, decide they will travel through the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, commencing in Vancouver to Skagwag in Alaska on foot and ski. They know it will consume maybe 5- 6months of their lives. They dehydrate enough food that will be airdropped at various locations, but must travel with all else such as bedding, a small stove, etc. with them. It will be the coldest winter in years often dropping to -25 degrees. To ensure we realize how arduous this task is the film begins as a photographer on a day of fun with friends is suddenly caught beneath a small avalanche that buries him in more than four meters below the surface of the mountain.

With glimpses of artists who have chosen to use snow and wood as their media, living on and off the mountains, the filmmakers take us into mountain life, ensuring that we gape in awe at the dancing lights of the mythical aurora borealis, the majestic views that recall Lauren Harrison at his most mystical, mesmerizing glassy blue ice fields ,the slop and curve of the snow that catch the mom so off guard that she weeps, humbly celebrating,”This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. “

It is the mom who in her words also acknowledges that when you think you can’t go on, you can, underlining that we hold more endurance in ourselves than we believed possible. In spite of the protracted time together, we get small information about the two women, save Martina’s comment that her mother’s feet really stink! Yet we are told of this woman’s escaping Czechoslovakia under Russian control through snowy mountain paths, freezing streams eventually arriving in Switzerland and being given refugee status in Canada: the one and only pathetic detail of the mom placing her tuque over her pregnant stomach in an attempt to keep it warm in the formidable mountainous conditions.

I thought of course of this notion of endurance , attempting to measure myself and my family by the yardsticks offered in each film. I thought of my mother when my father’s diagnosis of polio required she meet and exceed her own fragile strength and the thought must have been daunting: to be in your early twenties with a young child( me), and an unknown future; no help or support offered by family and like a crazed Jean of Arc, facing your own demons and striking out on your own mountain path, your sword drawn to ward off the words, warnings and warfare to be encountered. And with your armour barely covering, you forge ahead unable to turn back. In Oslo Diaries, they reasserted they could not think of the terrible past in the Middle East, of bombings, fights, confrontation, murders, explosions, and blood. They had to dismiss a past of terror as they sought a means to forge forward for their children and the future.

In this Mountain Life, I suppose the participants wanted to prove they could overcome physical hurdles. For me this felt like madness, being controlled by the whim of temperamental Nature, impersonal. At least in combat among other humans who would make sport of our desires, the volley is personal. Like the frigid trees that eventually turn to green in the continuous turn of the seasons, the impartiality of the landscape adds to the stress or indifference towards these two women in the film as we wonder will they surmount or succumb on their momentous journey. I suppose some people insist on climbing every mountain and as I comprehend the need for some for personal best, this 6 month test against all odds . When I retold this quest to my Pilates instructor, she innocently queried, “But , where did they shower?”

That they survived may have been due to guardian angels who did in fact vouchsafe their journey. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing not to tempt fate, or push beyond reasonable limits. And I imagine a cynical joke by a swarthy comedian about there being enough “suris” or misery in the world without going without matzoh balls for more than a few weeks. And all jokes aside, the opening sequence in the mountains that dramatizes how the capricious nature of the terrain almost costs the photographer his life reveals, reinforces that this was no walk in the park – and had not his friends not been trained in avalanche recovery, his story would have ended tragically.

In the end, we all climb our own mountains- whether in the quiet of our homes or out in the frosty streams and majestic topography of Alaska.

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