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Archive for the month “March, 2016”

Happy Endings

This past Sunday, Julian Fellowes did not disappoint his viewers: Downton Abbey’s ending could not have been sweeter. The birth of Anna’s baby, the possibility of friendships and weddings particularly that of bad luck Edith, especially as amother of an out of wedlock child, to Bertie, one of the richest men in the country was in deed satisfying. Even Barrow the sinister and deceitful butler reborn – shown cuddling with Master George and little Sibyl- emphasized that happiness can triumph.

 And how we wish it could be so.

 Our hearts yearn for redemption and fairytale endings. Having been made privy to the desires, foibles, losses and confusions of the Abbey’s inhabitants, both up and down stairs, we wish them well: glad that Mary has finally found her love mate ; that Robert’s ulcer is on the mend; that Cora has found herself a new woman, yet supported by her husband; and Dickie’s anemia is not pernicious( could the Harley street doctors been wrong?)

 Amidst the disgraceful infighting in the Republican Party, the hateful slurs and the incompetence of a conservative thinking group that refuses to move forward on planned parenthood and religious values, we need a salve. The beauty of the lustrous flowers at Downton’s New Year’s wedding, the finely embroidered fabrics of the guests, the feeling of elation and good cheer extend beyond the television screen into our homes and fill them with promise that life can be as glorious as the surfaces that gleam out towards the viewer: constructed to envelop and overwhelm our senses.

 We observe that Daisy is finally moving forward and Lady Mary is revealing kindness not just sarcasm as she murmurs that after all she and Edith are sisters. Poignantly after Mary had acted spitefully prior to this denouement, Edith had also reflected that she had set her pain and anger aside because – long after their parents and friends are dead, they as siblings will share similar memories, that no one else will possess. Edith’s ability to grudgingly forgive, continue her professional pursuits as owner of her magazine and house her ward/ child – along with being totally honest with Bertie’s mother speak to her strength of character- and set her up for the rewards of love, marriage and happiness.

 Yet even earlier, the acceptance of now dead Sibyl’s husband Tom demonstrated how the family rebounds from tragedy as well as accepts that they must make space in their lives for change. I believe it was Cora, the American, who overcomes Robert’s reticience of the mixing of classes. Interestingly his own marriage ( for presumably wealth) has been with a Jewish woman. This intermarriage is repeated between Rose andAtticus, also from a wealthy Jewish family. They set out forAmerica to continue their life. And it is Rose, newly Americanized , who dispels Robert’s aversion to Cora’s new found independence.

 Downton while chronicling the times, the wars, the changes of wealth to middle class, the rise of the motor car amongst many other rises and downturns in society dramatized the variety of responses to those economic and sociological shifts.Dear Carson whose identity has been totally linked to Lord Grantham is sweetly taught by his Mrs. Hughes or Elsie, the sensible and kind overseer of the household. She represents the voice of reason who moves with and into the future, even teaching him the difficulty of preparing a meal can be exacting. Her gentle trick serves its purpose. She never minces words, but her skills in working with the Downton staff has garnered her respect and affection.

Ironically at the conclusion of the series, Carson is the only person who is shown to have to endure a negative future: with his palsy passed genetically down, he is removed from his position- perhaps willing to just instruct not just command as his life’s work has been re-ordered. We can only hope with the kindly Elsie at his side, she will suggest new ways to maintain his dignity and not go gentle into that good night, recalling for me Howard’s End, the film by Merchant Ivory: in which the wheels of progress must disrupt the rural life for its English inhabitants.

 One could not discuss Downton without mention of the ineluctable Violet, a role inhabited by Maggie Smith, the terse and extremely literate granny who works behind the scenes, pulling threads to surmount and overcome the family’s obstacles. (How Victor Newman might have benefitted from a lesson that actually improves the state of one’s family instead of destroying what he persists in proclaiming he loves!)  Her one liners are zingers that hit their targets, and better yet, end the prattle of debate. Wise, also remarkably coiffed and dressed, the dowager is an old lady to be emulated not scorned, ridiculed or ignored. Her granddaughters rely on her wisdom, sharing their secrets and accepting her remedies. Although her manipulation and attempts to maintain control of the village hospital do not turn out to be fortuitous, she goes off to Europe to sulk, but quickly returns when she is needed.

So Fellowes has intertwined the major themes of any good novel to create his intriguing work: resilient protagonists, class clashes, love trysts, betrayals within diverse populations set against the tumultuous rumbles and rifts of a changing world . In the final analyses, whether gowns are shorten or house staff downsize , it is the interactions, honesty of reflections, relationships and striving that underpin the stories- no matter the times.

 As we watch House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, we long for the soothing touches of fabulous clothes, the remnants of society’s fading decorum and structure,the feisty respected grandmother and leisurely strolls in the pastures or on cobblestoned pavements between longing sweethearts to sooth the harsh pitfalls and everyday traumas that arise. We applaud the family’s now bygone morality that endures to patch triumph in a shifting and shiftless world, and choose to forget that the do – gooders as in Show Me a Hero can wind up dead, their efforts perhaps forgotten.

As my friend Anne has often said, we need beauty in our lives. In that way, the bad, the ugliness of behaviour and intentions is balanced and we can comprehend the yin and yang of our world. But for the moment, Downton’s doors are shut and we are no longer privy to the respite where we have savoured on Sunday nights.

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Why California?


Kinfolk said “Jed move away from there”.

Said “California’s the place you outta be”.

So they loaded up the truck

And they moved to Beverly.

Hills that is, Swimming pools, movie stars.( Flatt& Scruggs, Metrolyrics)

So sang Jed Clampett and Elly May when I was a girl. Followed by Green Acres, these TV shows introduced new worlds to their viewers When I was 15, I boarded a train one night, changing at midnight in Chicago, and sat in the back row of a train headed for LA and my cousins who had recently moved from Toronto. Surprisingly I was befriended by boys with dangling ear locks and skullcaps who shared their meat sandwiches with me during that long ride.

Arriving dishevelled , I was greeted and hugged by my cousins who introduced me to the world of teenage freedom. I learned that parents existed in the background of adolescent activity, that kids ruled, especially at hunting grunions at night and at loud dances, that mountains were for purple sunrises, that something called Big Macs were the food of the gods if paired with chocolate shakes too thick to suck up in a straw, that motorbikes were the best method of transportation to the beach-and that Americans really believed that Canadians lived in igloos and drive dog sleds to school. Oh Well, that was 50 years ago.

So, it was no,wonder that when my mother left us an inheritance that I wanted to return west.

Even as an aged baby boomer, California still stirs my soul. Like the immigrants who came here in the 30s and 40s, believing that the sidewalks were paved with gold, I too am enveloped in this golden landscape. In spite of being informed that San Diego is fourth in the nation for plastic surgery , few of my cohorts here wear makeup or even dress up.

Sometimes in Toronto I find this annoying as when we venture to a more upscale restaurant or a play and the cool people are wearing torn designer jeans and je ne sais quoi shirts that might have been scavenged from a second hand shop in India.Besides which, owning a lovely frock or carrying an interesting bag provides delight to the owner, and feeling a little dressed up somehow smoothes the laugh wrinkles in one’s cheeks or directs focus away from a less than taut tummy. Yet, it is always the case that eyes that smile and nod, that acknowledge welcome can brighten up the dullest outfit so in the end, clothes do not make the person. Still the wise words of Dolly Parton sing in my head: even an old barn looks better with a coat of paint.

There is truly the lotus land vibe here of those who imagine that they will live on forever, extending their days. I hear of magic operations that will restore ruined and herniated disks and whippets that forestall the spread of disease and even drugs that ( although symptoms name include blindness, impotency, sudden death, permanent loss of sensation…) that will terminate cancers.

About twenty years ago and fresh from white water rafting on the Truckee River in Lake Tahoe, I found myself with terrible back pain. A friend knew someone who knew someone who had a friend whose issues had been resolved by a doctor in Santa Monica Beach. Unable to even perch comfortably and as luck would have it – invited to a cousin’s daughter’s wedding in LA, I sought out the much praised healer. The waiting room reeked of pot and the seats were overflowing with clients, many with little dogs, all looking relaxed and far from suffering. As we waited our turn, we observed the doctor float in and confide to a grinning patient, “ Yesterday I discovered the cure for prostate cancer. Would you like to try it?” The fellow, pupils large, nodded agreeably and clapped the good doctor on the shoulders, wildly grinning.

For me, he suggested we fly our own doctor down from Canada and he would teach his technique that included daily ultrasounds. He shared a phone number of a producer from SNL who had been successfully cured by his technique. Fortunately for me, I had begun Guy Voyer’s Eldoas that target every vertebra by creating tension between leg and arm positions and wrest tortured nerves from between punishing disks. Thus, stretching the spine. And I was beginning to experience some relief so I decided to forego the opportunity. 

But the feeling was similar: everything is possible in California, even cheating pain and death.  

We have been introduced men here in their 70s who bicycle cross country from the Atlantic to the Pacific and even falling from their vehicles and breaking ribs, resurrect themselves and continue on to successfully finish. No less than Olympians, I think of Pascal’s Les Pensees: of the importance of the journey as opposed to achieving the destination. 

Strangely, here few wear hats and I must look rather peculiar trying to keep the brilliant rays off my thin skin. Still eccentricity rules in la- la land and just last week while munching my harvest salad at Tender Greens, one very weird lady emerged from the crowd, swathed in scarves and carrying an umbrella to shield herself from the sun. Finding a cool spot, she arranged her bags and unwound some of her outer cocoon.. She appeared to be selecting with her fingers something from cardboard containers A and B. On closer scrutiny, I could discern her delicate manipulation of peanuts as if they were fragile treasured gems much like cultured pearls or tiny diamonds. So engulfed was she in her process, she had no awareness of my prying eyes.The young girls at the table in- between us cast one look and then returned to their self- absorbed chattering conversation, hands and eyes flying towards one another in animation. Although alone, I did not feel, but more part of the fabric of this patio of people, different but the same, sane, insane, quirky and unique. 

But this is California, where even the impossible is possible, and I am no longer the awkward adolescent, happy to be me at any age. 

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