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What’s Age Got to Do with It?

By the time you reach 70, you probably are aware of your various predilections. For example in California I do yoga and Pilates. My dear neighbour goes to a gym where she does a half hour of elliptical training. Which made my hips even more uneven and messes with my back. She also does a half hour of rowing. This seems to make sense to me and I imagine her in a jaunty striped sailor suit on the little rivers all over Holland where she is from. Another friend likes the jump, twist, moves of NIA where the exercisers dance away to the selection of tunes chosen by the instructor, most recently Hamilton. And often too, I observe at the community centre the hardcore circuit masters as they become part steely machine, their arms attached to pulleys , their feet pumping madly. I think of myself as the little girl in Grade 3 walking the sidewalk curbs, attempting to precariously balance like a circus performer but inevitably tripping and arriving home to my mother with knees gashed and bleeding for my efforts.

In my classes, we attempt, at least I do, to manage tree poses , standing on one leg, toes tucked into knees to form a triangle in yoga; or in Pilates, posed to keep one extended leg in opposition to one arm while precariously mounted on a box on a reformer. We’re advised in yoga to keep the four points or the tripod of the foot in contact with the floor but it’s not easy although many I can attest do perform these feats neatly and smoothly, their limbs not trembling like my jellylike parts to locate where the right and left will coalesce in peace. Makes me think of the Ralph Waldo Emerson line from eons ago of finding the middle path. But I was always more an excess person .

At a certain age after years of experimenting, we come to a point that we believe what works or is good for us. I try not to scoff at the young salespeople in Sephora who preaches the products that will make me wrinklefree in just two days. Others seriously maintain that a full month or longer is necessary to see results. There’s no use imploring them that is not the case, or wearing vitamin C in the sun will attract age spots. Usually it’s the smell, texture, familiarity of a product that keeps me coming back, or the illusion that I will return to a thirtysomething appearance. Silly me. So I’ve found ’tis better to listen to a diatribe( based on their studies???), than to vent my own experience. At worst they proselytize, at best they nod, no doubt thinking, “ whatever you say, old lady. “ So it is with how you like to present yourself to the world. In spite of its quirkiness, one fellow I knew only wore bow ties, even sending to Italy for the choosiest of silk fabrics. Did he imagine himself at a dinner party dining with royalty or the ironic clown commentator ?

And yet in my head I don’t feel like an old lady, even if I joke about my age as if it means something. In deed today I will try a “Silver Pilates for 50 Plus”, hoping it will work with my regime at home, constructed for me and my parts that have been worn away through years of living, in my particular group of misaligned body quadrants. Later I will survey the faces and bodies in this particular group, measuring myself against their agility, sags and smiles, eventually relaxing into a fabric where I, like they are the strands that curl and stretch to our instructor’s commands. But honestly 50?Does anyone today believe that 55 marks one as a senior, ready to laze on a couch and drift into the sunset?


For my birthday celebration party,I spied a white cotton lace dress by Chloe at Holts. Showing a picture of it to daughter number two, she queried why I would want something that looked like paper doilies? But worse yet loomed my mother’s voice in my head as I imagined her responding to the frills at the sides,” Pat, act your age”: a comment thrown at me once before when I had chosen a white lacy thing and yes, with modified batwing frills. As if lace and frills belonged only to the young! And yet too I am scrupulous of clothes that will hug the tummy indicating that time has softened its folds and bulges, or patterns so bright that they seem more appropriate to the schoolyard than a romantic dining spot.

In my mother’s mind, there was a certain age requirement for presently oneself to the outside world in good taste: when one should emerge from their boudoir appropriately, elegantly, nixing the extravagances of clothing the body, no doubt using Queen Elizabeth’s knee length sensible skirts as a guide. No point in pretending the tummy wasn’t as flat as it once was or the carriage as upright. I’d heard stories from her of the appearance of Easter bonnets in the Beaches in Toronto and when white gloves might appear- and disappear. I like to recall the Grace and Frankie episodes where the stunning Grace, Jane Fonda refuses to allow her young lover see her in bed before she primps. And I now know why Blanche only received her gentleman caller at night when the light was kinder to the landscape of her face.

So each time I tried on that birthday dress, I queried the salesperson to be honest, demanding an objective opinion, “Was it too young for me?” The answers were consistent: it’s fashion, not age, I was told. And in the end when the price was sufficiently reduced and I banished my mother’s voice, I bought it, no longer hearing her wise words in my head regarding the foolishlessness of my choice. And truthfully, I enjoyed wearing it, even forgetting the dress, and focusing on the surge of joy at my dinner party.

We arrive at a certain point and we are our own art product: of ourselves in terms of how we have crafted or recreated ourselves, bow ties, ruffles aside. Back in university psychology, the debate between heredity and environment had the newbies arrogantly aligning with environment as if every choice and context could inspire a new you, not dependent on granny’s genes. The bud only needed good food fresh water, vitamins and sunlight to not just bloom but shine. Only through the realization of all the self help books, the wisest of gurus, and the attempts to realign your body parts in the most positive of climes , but ignoring your own children’s similarities to their relatives, did we finally acknowledge that heredity undermines and holds one fast in its grip, as one is part of a clan, holding sorry secrets or wonderful surprises in the body. With resignation but acceptance, we comprehend that middle ground that marries the interplay of context, and understand that luck too can turn the sourest situation of family genetics sweet. I had to laugh at my sister who recently told me that those DNA tests advertised on television are able to reveal from which Biblical matriarch you are descended. Perhaps that is why some of us continue to enjoy watering camels. I responded with, quite incredulous, “Don’t you believe in evolution?” “ Of course, “she a student of science, responded.

Just yesterday, I read of a movie , Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool , in which an aging Annette Bening assumes the role of an aging actress who wants to play Juliet -to the smirks of the producer which might consider her for Juliet’s mature( read OLD) nurse. In our heads, we are still Juliets, and maybe we should be, dismissing the mirror for the voice of the soul.


Telling a Story of Illusions

We had nothing planned for Saturday night but glimpsed an ad in The Globe, that there was seating availability for Streetcar Named Desire at the Four Seasons Opera Hall. We had missed ballet with our trips to San Diego, and I was hopeful we might procure tickets. Interrupting his Pilates session, Howard managed to get us two Rush tickets for the evening.

Of course we are familiar with Tennessee Williams, but as we tried to untangle the stories of Streetcar and Glass Menagerie , we realized that they shared quite a few elements: the family plantation in ruins, two sisters, illusions of a past life, promiscuity, a failure to adapt, and the presence of memory. We were fortunate that Sonia Rodriguez and Guillaume Cote were dancing Blanche and Stanley. So different to a classical ballet with pas de deux and reverie( French for jumps!!!), this production was story- based and moved along by the graceful interactions of the entire ballet corps. I felt I had entered a painting created in the first act in pastels, organza skirts ruffling, shuttered doors opening and closing against the softly draped arcades of the disintegrating family home, Belle Reve. Themes of wedding, homosexual attraction and self- doubt emerged from the tableau. Through it all, Blanche fluttered and preened , the centre of the tale in John Neumeier’s 1983 adaptation.Still black lace ghosts grounded the background, deathly personifications, and psychological overhangs of the doomed South.

In the next act, a stark contrast as we watch the French Quarter in New Orleans come to life in the 50’s, postWWIi: a Stuart Davis painting as the figures snapped their fingers, jerked up their shoulders, their movements angular but in tune with a life juxtaposed to the graceful decaying south, the music by Scnittje Symphony I, loaded and overlaid with contrasts.. Here Stanley Kowalski, Brando’s nemesis, is the rough, sexual, chest pounding guy, powerful and ignorant, a true stereotype, unable to tolerate Blanche’s posing and her deceptions, in particular her affectations, even covering a raw light bulb with a paper fixture to soften the harshness of the light she cannot tolerate.Their confrontations, of the faded ruined past and the stark too bright present is on the inevitable collision course as Blanche attempts to reconcile both in a relationship with Stanley’s friend Mitch.

 Asserting his American male dominance, Stanley must crush and painfully destroy Blanche, raping her. This segment in the ballet is incredibly conceived, Stanley’s red pyjamas, his muscular legs intertwined, straight as arrows, overpowering the fluttery birdlike legs of the aging debutant. His legs are the scissors, severing all ties with the past. For several moments we are unable to breath as Stanley inflicts his punishment on Blanche, for her attempt to drag Mitch from his world into hers. Beyond revenge, it is Stanley’s delight, his raisin d’être to punch, destroy and erase beauty: the machine age personified. His brash flashy green silk jacket, the fighter’s trophy that easily taunts and tramples the flowered bedsheets and fluttery robes with which Blanche had attempted to soften Her version of life,. Her loss of everything she has clung to( home, youth, notions of tradition) is torn away mercilessly, his prowess dominating is brutally danced out, trounced in terror and physicality that brings ballet into another realm – so much more than overloaded cream puffs that one drama head at Westview Centennial used to describe ballet..

Although the main characters have their moments, Streetcar Named Desire is truly an ensemble piece as the smaller roles, even the sailors on beds taunting names, the asylum keepers, the organza- draped bridesmaids and jazz dancers in their sequins contribute immeasurably to create the story of loss. There is so much to look at. The seduction dance between Blanche’s first husband and lover , dressed in black and white suits, as they attempt to come to terms with their feelings is standout, the inevitable outcome of Blanche’s illusory attraction foreshadowed by his reticence, teasing and magnetic desire to overcome societal inhibitions. Without a word spoken( ok, a few call out slanders) and even with no music in segments of the Prokofiev score in Act 0ne, we enter the world of the Deep South and we know it through dance.

Similarly although we do not hear the cacophonous blaring horns of New York, the squarish moves, the tumult of crowds, demonstrations and the fight ring pushes the 50’s into our laps.

The overall vision is imaginative, honest to its times and artfully depicted. We mourn the loss of Beau Reve along with Blanche’s illusions but know that a new era, one perhaps in league with the roughness of a Trump, is not far away

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