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Archive for the month “May, 2018”

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.

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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.

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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