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Big things, little men( and women)

Yesterday I asked my grandson what his homework was and he replied, “ democracy.”

With everything going on in the world, I wondered if civics class is part of the grade 5 curriculum or was his teacher following the papers, and like the rest of us, jaw dropped at the bullies in the world who use the word democracy but truly mean their own brand of personal democracy.

With Premier Ford overturning Justice Balobaba’s ruling that attempted to stop the reduction of 47 municipalities to 25, people like angry children screamed,” You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. It’s not fair.” And so our Premier asserted, “Oh yes I can”, and he did, ignoring and trampling on our legal system by calling out the “ not withstanding clause “ from our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Much like the Republicans in the States who give lip service to their president, our government demonstrates no backbone, knowing that unless they support the direction of their leader, they will suffer personal loss of their positions. In deed, some pundits say Ford’s decision to decrease 47 to 25 is a move based on petty grievances and previous lack of support at council.How incredibly disillusioning: that rather than stand up and assert what is right, greedy souls pander to their party leader: for personal gain . A panoply of articles from Marcus Gee and Martin Regg Cohn to private citizens on editorial pages in our national papers and even The New York Times are discussing our constitutional crisis. Writes Stephen Marche in nytimes.com,

And from Italy to the Philippines to Canada, this cannibalizing populism is swallowing traditional Conservatism whole. Mr. Ford snuck through to the leadership on a voting system that ranked ballots. He won neither the popular vote nor the greatest number of constituencies. But the Progressive Conservative machine is behind him already. It operates on inherited loyalties, antipathy against scandal-plagued opponents, time-for-a-change sentiments and basic self-interest.

Others rightfully are attacking Caroline Mulroney, Ford’s attorney general, for her gutless consent, even her father acknowledging the travesty of Ford’s actions that undermines our Charter. Can anyone who believes in rights and freedoms, the breadth and wisdom of our Charter, honestly believe that a premier’s petulant wishes should commandeer the Illustrious notions that underpin a free democracy. Instrumental in the development of the Charter’s “ not withstanding clause”, former Prime Minister of all of Canada Jean Chrétien, Premier Roy Romano’s, 12 th Premier of Saskatchewan and jurist Roy McMurtry declared that Ford is violating the spirit of our Charter in using the clause because its intent resides in exceptional situations, “ only as a last resort and careful consideration.” These contributors assert, “ We condemn his( Ford’s) actions and call on those in his cabinet and caucus to stand up to him.” Sadly, they will not. I think of Mickey Mouse swatting flies with a hammer. And I think how history will judge these spineless ones, their silence, their tacit approval of wrong, for self- serving benefits.

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Ford says he embodies democracy in spite of an election ballot of only 58% of the population. And some suggest, the people in the burbs who elected him really don’t care about these big issues , happy that big daddy is loud, boisterous and returns us to the era of Father Knows Best. But in these worst of times, especially as we shriek at Trump’s behaviour in overriding justice to our south, we should be holding our democracy closer, ensuring our little men don’t personally rewrite through their own perspective what pertains to our overarching, hard won freedoms. After Ford’s decision to override Balobaba’s ruling, people symbolized their opposition; papers reported “protests rock house” detailing a 70 year old woman, daughter of holocaust survivors, taken away in handcuffs. Bill Davis, former 18 th Premier of Ontario , a key architect of the 1982 repatriation of the Constitution was infuriated, adding his name to the mounting list of people opposed to Ford’s manoeuvres to get his own way. Amnesty International and hundreds of other Ontarians were/ are enraged. Yet the Colossus strides, upturning buildings, destroying order, simply because he can.

Canadians who pride themselves on being more civil, perhaps more intelligent and thoughtful than those in the States are in the same boat with having elected a leader with no scruples, values or awareness of the true meaning of democracy. Where money and business stand in for culture, caring and cooperation, these men did not hide their hearts’ desire of smashing all that they cannot understand or value. The lack of empathy, compassion and awareness of diversity in society does not mean anything to their personal drive for success, and rename their boastful slogans “ democracy.” How do you explain this to a fifth grader? In deed, why would you?

In trying to approach the notion to my grandson, I enumerated the multiple levels of society, federal, provincial, local, explaining each had a person who responds to the voices of the peoples they represent. I gave examples, contrasting “ our democracy” with autocracies, oligarchies and monarchies. My husband said it best and most simply, that the word comes from the Greek that means “ people”.

I thought of the Shakespearian line from Measure for Measure,

…So you must be the first that gives this sentence…. O! it is excellent To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous/ To use it like a giant.

And too, the music and lyrics of Hamilton pounding in my head: the story of man with such strong values and belief in government that he supported Thomas Jefferson against Aaron Burr because Hamilton demurred,” The former had principles; the latter none.”Hamilton in his Federalist Papers, Hamilton’s deep reflection, Hamilton’s belief in government, Hamilton a giant, Ford a fly.

To the innocents of our days, with their first study of democracy, I refuse to profer examples of our present day abrogation of what small men do in the political arena, rather returning to Hamilton, Kennedy, RBG, Hannah Arendt whose stood for more than just themselves. Marche from The New York Times,

Conservatism is no longer a political ideology in the recognized sense, but a repository of loathing and despair. It’s where people thrust their hatred of modernity — of globalism and multiculturalism and technocratic expertise, but also of the democracy that fostered those systems in the first place. By giving high office to buffoons, by choosing thugs as their representatives and by revelling in nastiness for its own sake, the Conservative brand now is principally a marker of contempt for political order itself.

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The Sex Ed Debate

Ontario’s Education Minister, Lisa Thompson, now presently unavailable, announced that the province will revert to a previous version of its sex education curriculum when students return to school in the fall. The older curriculum will remain in effect until the government completes parental consultations for feedback. The decision follows promises made by Premier Doug Ford during his leadership campaign earlier this year.However, consultation for the one under discussion resulted from in progress discussions that lasted years, and included 4,000 parents( one from each elementary school in Ontario), 2400 educators , 700 students from grades7-12, and170 key organizations , according to Nancy Veals in today’s letters in the Toronto Star. Having written teacher guidelines myself, I decided to look at the Health and Physical Education Guideline, revised for the Ontario Curriculum, grades 1-8. Thoughtful, constructive information , attention to context, the multi- faceted development of students are all addressed in the document.

I came to understand this methodology when I worked as a Program Officer at OCT, developing both the standards and numerous Additional Qualifications courses for Ontario high school teachers. The process is very serious, the researcher combing through multiple documents – from requested to unsolicited briefs and papers, interviewing and holding interactive consulting sessions, actively listening to concerns, then working through oral and written reports and transcripts, comparing and contrasting with similar curricula, consulting more , reviewing more with colleagues, testing and requesting, omitting and adding information in order to attempt to get it right and reflect the needs and aspirations of our communities. The result is somewhat formulaic but not one taken in haste, nor without deep thoughtful considerations, sensitivity and allowance for teacher pedagogy and implementation that meets the needs of students.

With the arrival of Doug Ford’s government, his promise to do away with the sex ed has been fulfilled. And every newspaper reflects the weighing in of diverse view points. Even an article by professor Debora Soh from York university stressed the role parents play in communicating trends, values, issues of a sexual nature. On July 17 she wrote in The Globe,”..science-based sex education has been shown to be effective, leading young people to delay becoming sexually active and increasing the likelihood that they will engage in safer sex practices when they do.”

To the queries, lacuna, confusion regarding the scrum, I suggest they all cast their minds back to their own foggy years of pre adolescence and those wonderful teenage years: when teenagers either ignore, distrust or adamantly do the exact opposite of what their parents wish them to. And if we are really honest here, how many parents or guardians are even having “ the talk”, but when they do, projecting their own righteous values on their kids. “ We take the approach that the best teachers are the parents, not the special interest group,” remarked Ford.

Parents are busier. Or so they think, and so self consumed with matters of importance these days barely even joining their offspring for a meal, or rarely sitting quietly without a tablet at a meal in a restaurant, so where and when does the Premier imagine these conversations will actually take place?

These important interchanges regarding sexting, abuse, sexuality are exactly necessary when you want an educated and sensitive adult to diffuse the embarrassment, shame and diversities of becoming, particularly if the parent finds the topics awkward to approach.That is not to remove the onus on parents to have these discussions, but the reality is that they may not be occurring or maybe even happening too late. To say parents are always the best teachers is disingenuous, for parents most often communicate bias. “ Soh underlines, ‘It brings us to the question of who gets to dictate how a child is raised – should it be the responsibility of the parent or the state? Sexual education cannot be blindly outsourced to the education system. As uncomfortable as it may be, parents must be savvy about the issues their kids are contending with in 2018’.”

I absolutely concur, and admit that I decided to stay home in my children’s early years because I did not want a nanny or “ other” to ground them in values that might be inconsistent with my own. I wanted those kidlets shaped by my ideas, ideals and rules. But that is not to say I did not anticipate that eventually they would become aware of multiple perspectives, learn to weigh, judge and think for themselves too, becoming their own personal critics, arbiters, holding viewpoints arrived at after consideration.But yes, I hoped and strove to underpin this with universal standards of care, responsibility, commitment, cooperation, kindness, compassion and caring. But even by kindergarten and the early years, kids have imbibed with their mother’s milk the lay of their parents, the accepted behaviour, the boundaries set or to be breached in their homes, on the street or at the playground of the daycare.

And yet to the issue of bias, a friend retold the situation wherein a kindergarten teacher, her colleague and a student teacher were in involved in an instructional session regarding the presentation of the curriculum guideline material. Following a frank and helpful session, the student teacher firmly stated, “ That’s not what I was taught in co-op”, her instruction all ready immovable and set, her mind unwilling to be open. So it rests with teachers, to be willing to listen and find the appropriate ways to sensitively instruct their students, as in remembering Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences: that we all learn differently and concrete, theoretical, visual, oral and aesthetic understanding, particularly of personal lessons such as sexuality must be taught in a manner that makes sense to the student and the context. Sex Ed is a huge topic as it now extends way beyond sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and developing bodies. In all situations, knowledge, reflection and wise instruction are the tools that have to be given to prepare our children for our brave, new world.

Even back almost 60 years I can remember being sent to the drugstore to buy a box of Kotex for my mother and innocently querying to the pharmacist, “Whatever that is?”I also recall a booklet handed out by Disney entitled “Personally Yours” with diagrams of our inner organs, certainly a mystery to my grade 3 or 4 self. We were certainly privy to tales of bad girls, not “going all the way,” and fear of pregnancy back then- days before the pill. To locate a paperback edition of Peyton Place or glimpse a copy of Playboy incited shivers of excitement. Sex Ed from that era of official documents was likely a paragraph, a few lines, and of course, did not even envision a world of cyberbullying, sexting, suicide, pedophilia, consent, and more, but today the rise of social media requires savvy regarding the plethora of issues that are at the toddlers’ fingertips who nonchalantly encounter tablets along with their plush toys: all ready fodder as customers, at the disposal of sellers, mindbenders and manipulators.

At the AGO, my 6 year old grandson on entering the washroom, noted a transgender sign. Without judgment or reaction, he merely observed it.I could see the symbol had been normalized, no big deal, to him. Whether his parents had presented the topic or school instruction had prompted his knowledge, it was obviously not an issue, only noted, and I marvelled and was assured by his reaction, hoping most kindergarteners were like him.

Yet in discussion with a friend this week, several thoughts shared by her friends who teach primary became clear. The elementary school teachers had been teaching values , actually the standards of care, which must always be present in whatever transpires in and out of the schoolyard, for example, during recess: that no one touches your body unless they request permission first- as in respect , responsibility. An essential baseline upon which to move outwards towards more prickly concerns.

On Friday, again I read, that new teachers are not being prepared for these topics- because the curriculum is in limbo. The Star writes,” Typically, when there is a new curriculum, there are some new resources…for school boards to support our teachers…the curriculum we were using in 2014 was the 1998 curriculum…[ which] wasn’t changed until 2015”.

Not controversial to my mind, I read the 2015 Sex Ed booklet which states, according to grade,

Grade 3: Identify the characteristics of healthy relationships, including those with friends, siblings and parents. Describe how visible differences, such as skin colour, and invisible differences, including gender identity and sexual orientation, make each person unique. Identify ways of showing respect for differences in others….

Grade 4: Describe the physical changes that occur at puberty, as well as the emotional and social impacts. Demonstrate an understanding of personal hygienic practices associated with the onset of puberty. Identify risks associated with communications technology and describe how to use them safely. Describe various types of bullying and abuse and identify appropriate ways of responding.

Do we roar against the learning of fractions or writing a coherent paragraph? By allowing our children access to public schools, we deign that we give over to the community appropriate access to the development of what it means to be a healthy, contributing member of society, and we do give away some control.

Yet there is always room for parent dissent and I certainly recall Gloria’s parents in Grade 13 arguing against Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage and so she was given another book for study, and another student’s sensitivity to animals that permitted her to forgo the watching of Out of Africa ( although at present I do not recall the harming of any animals in that film). The point is that making soup for thousands cannot meet the appetites of all, and we make provisions for those who wish to omit the peppery parts. Yet to toss it out would be a waste because the cooks have laboured hard and long to achieve the best results possible, knowing that not every single person will herald its new arrival on the menu.

My concerns leap towards a Trump world wherein women’s rights, access to abortion, new social realities and even the “ fake press” are objects for derisive scorn. We prepare for the onslaught against our selves and our babes through education, through expanding our knowledge, only returning to the past to examine and understand the mistakes of the past history, not ready to repeat them, refusing to glean information and improvement from them.

I believe this is called wisdom in learning.

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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.

Words and such

Never really a history buff, I have nonetheless been surprised and fascinated by The films Dunkirk and The Darkest Hour. In Dunkirk, the filmmaker makes the overall specific by all of the protagonists appearing so similar, one might mistake one for the other, features and speeches almost interchangeable. Rather than distancing the viewer, the opposite is true and so one’s interest, compassion, involvement occurs. I don’t think I’ve ever viewed this phenomenon so expertly executed so that the hero is the collective not the individual with battles, successes, triumphs and defeats rendered universal.Truly it is beautifully accomplished.

In The Darkest Hour, the audience glimpses the bumbling, unsympathetic and bawling Churchill, the filmmaker portraying Winston’s spirit and mind set as unrealistic and refusing to grasp the fatality of Hitler’s onslaught on Britain, on the screen. And like Dunkirk where the an overall combat of the historical event is out for our scrutiny, here it is Winston’s elegant words- caught in the taping typewriter by Miss Layton, his secretary . As he fashions alliteration, hyperbole and metaphor, the prime minister digs deep and knits together phrase and sentence that cause parliament to rise and cheer. That such a toadish carbuncle of a man is the author of such joyous, indefatigable paragraphs underlines his prowess, not just to spout but to cogitate, form and craft masterpieces.Politician Hugh Dalton, offered this particular line, repeated in the film, “if this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.” How wonderfully tactile, elegant, inspiring but concrete, evoking a Shakespearean appeal to fight on till the end! Churchill, in his memoir, claims this was followed by a standing ovation. Apparently not, according to the critics. As in Dunkirk, there is an underpinning, a gritty humanity displayed, honouring the ordinary common person’s willingness to stand up for values that are worth dying for.Ironically, with changing times, one cannot help but wonder if today’s young, those not enlisted in military activities, feel likewise. In a post post- modern era, although certain strong sweeps of right and wrong( good and bad) may be apparent, dying on the battlefield for just causes may not be one of them. I’m not sure if the fervent reaction to sacrifice is still maintained, should the government attempt conscription. Well, maybe in the Middle East…

And although the scene in which Winston descends to the underground and listens to the subway riders who vow never to give in and fight on against Hitler cannot be validated, documentation reveals that Churchill did in fact, disappear for periods of time. In The Darkest Hour, the citizens of London are particularized, holding babies, given names, made individuals; and so , apparently, support the prime minister’s resolve not to cave to “ peace talks”with Mussolini. That Britain survived is somewhat a miracle as Belgium,Denmark and Holland had fallen and France was on the verge and the channel only a few miles across to theNazi’s victory.

But throughout the film, slow moving panning of the UK’s people’s, walking, headed toward their daily obligations, under umbrellas, clothes in monotones, observed by Winston from his car’s window, creates almost a painting like panoply of people, going about their daily work amidst the terror of war, solid, moving forward, individuals yet presented as groups distinguishable yet unidentifiable.

In substantiating the mounting evidence of war in Europe that should have resulted in defeat for England, but thankfully did not, I read too in Hamilton by Ron Chernow of America’s battle against the mother country and that also somehow in spite of the overwhelming number of Britain’s troops in Philadelphia, Washington, etc on both land and sea, the fledgling colonies survived.

Alexander Hamilton also was a master polemicist with a “slashing style” who turned out wonderfully astute and well phrased letters, dictums, tomes on battle and political manoeuvres.As an adolescent,Hamilton’s take on Alexander Pope’s poetry and his later responses to war skirmishes evolved into wonderful oratories that eventually drew George Washington to hire him as aide de camp. An autodidact ,Hamilton was pronounced illegitimate, and forbidden Anglican schooling in Nevis because his parents had not been married. Self- taught and receptive to studying the lessons of the Greeks and Romans, especially in regard to warfare, and mentored by other intelligent men, he eventually attended Kings College( now Columbia) although unlikely he graduated because of his military involvement after Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Party cemented the surge towards revolution.

Hamilton, age 19, anonymously published his first political essay in 1774 in defense of the Boston Tea Party, giving a speech that turned him into a hero of the cause.In 1775, his anonymous essay “The Farmer Refuted” described how the colonists could win. Hamilton, bright, out spoken and apparently self- confident to speak out, drew attention to himself as a military leader, both in deed and word, often barely escaping the cannonball in the field.

Still, it was his command of language, his mesmerizing, and what we might consider today, his overblown and flowery words that drew attention. Interestingly, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s focus transforms the words, the language of the story from then into the hip hop beat of today, bringing the story of the unique individual forward into contemporary time.

When everything crumbles and passes away, words remain, the best caught and written down, or repeated in oral storytelling passed from generation. The most beautifully constructed monuments or feats disappear. I think of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias ,

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

The Pyramids succumb, the bridges rust, railways are covered in grass ,” but words spoken remain… not as mere relics, but with all their pristine vital force”, noted Churchill himself on15 May 1938, in News of the World.

Interestingly that at present, debating circles continue, students still required to present and craft speeches, the focus on the power of language to provoke, incite, soothe and instruct. I was fascinated yesterday as a friend a semi retired professor from UCSD described his essay exam question to be hand written! In three hours: to my mind worthy of a thesis. His topic examined contrasting imperatives from the great Greek philosophers and the Bible. In the same way, Hamilton, in his attitudes towards heroic battles during the American Revolution, reached back to the wisdom of the Greeks, appropriating their strategies in 1776.

Contemplating survival then, and even now , I wished my own education had examined some of those old prophets still applicable today. As once admonished, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it- with all the battles, shortcomings and consequences. I am not suggesting being foolishly stuck in the past to doggedly repeat it, but the long view of consideration: juxtaposing and making workable the past in contemporary times, reviewing, discussing, dialoguing to note where the historical might be applicable. Without the past, the contextual background, we continue to spin in circles, unable to step outsides of ourselves and reflect beyond our own noses. Horrorfully,Trump does not, would not, cannot, is incapable of stepping back, surveying past battles with a wise eye. Terribly with the peril of China, Russia, North Korea, in tender precarious tipping positions, we are all held captive, holding our breath: the Churchills and Hamiltons, names to be ignored in these times of blunder, arrogance and ignorance.

The State of the Union and other stories

Years ago Jerry Lewis used to host the Muscular Dystrophy Telethonon labour day weekend. Stars, celebrities ,sports people, big contributors would make their pleas to the audience, and we would be tied to our screens for hours on end. For some reason that weekend was almost always a rainy one so there was little to do but watch.

My father was taciturn and not given to outbursts , his strong opinions easily read in his handsome face. Yet inevitably ,he reacted to the telethon almost spitting out his contempt, for he despised the segments, the heart wrenching vignettes of children twisted and wasted by the disease. Not particularly sensitive, yet he was infuriated by the use of children to tug at viewers’ heart strings. He felt it was cheap and ignoble to use the frailty of others to raise money- no matter the cause; the end, in this case, not ever justifying the means. And sadly after so many years, still no cure.

I recalled my father’s revulsion at the exploitation of children watching The State of the Union last night as the stories of unfortunates, from welders to policemen to the parents of servicemen were commandeered for Trump’s political edification of self. Now more than ever is the age of individuals and their narratives, a way to open out the inner workings of persons who are different or special. People/ viewers/ readers are more tuned into first person revelations, considering experience almost as valuable as fact for research or decision- making: at least there is an acceptance, particularly in journals that these accounts can provide validity and credibility.

And truthfully The State of the Union, made for a good “ show” , a way to connect with the hearts and minds of an audience, for this person called president. Mindful of my father’s reaction and my own sensibilities to difficult passages in a life, I felt it embarrassing and demeaning to watch someone paraded out for reasons that did not know involve the person themselves. During this scripted for television affront, a small baby, the child of a drug addict presumably, conveniently named “Hope” was abruptly woken from her sleep, her cover pulled down to expose her as artifact, to thunderous clapping. She screamed, rudely brought out from the security of her mother’s chest ( who did look uncomfortable) used for unsanctimonious purposes: votes, popularity, the edification of the demigod.

In Hebrew school or history classes where the horrors of the past were included in the curriculum, we could turn our eyes away from the human skeletons, the naked starving children running from the hideous intrusion of napalm, the huddled, the dead laid out prone and butchered in fields and in the streets, the starved, the slaughtered…; however, we were being educated into the evils of the world, that never again would or should we have to confront the terrors and stupidity of the past, the wars; and the photos were burned into our consciousness. These to which I refer were photos and movies, and often ,too, in forums survivors of holocaust and genocide, although objectified in the former, did speak for themselves in the later, the stories from their own lips, relating the atrocities of their own lives. They sat with their audiences or if they stood before them, they, the subject or focus of their own stories, not a sideshow for the gratification of another- but last night, the false self congratulatory moves of a person who cares more for gilt than race, colour, infirmity or need, yet attempting to pose as empathetic, a caring human,( in between clapping for himself), using the pain of others for himself.

Of course, these “ special guests” last night were not forced to appear, to stand, to wave, to have their stories shared. Note, however: they did not tell the tales in their own way, in their own time, they allowed Trump’s speechwriters to frame their pain, their endurance, their American triumphs for his purposes. Most held back tears as they waved or involuntarily, a tear escaping from a tightly clenched smile. And perhaps most ironically with my mind returning to the scenes of the devastated in WWII, was it to watch the young North Korean man, his eyes overflowing, brandish his wooden crutches. And I pondered that these crutches are like a red flag, a provocation to another crazy dictator, igniting another reason to let flourish nuclear genocide on the world, causing the death, destruction, the need for more crutches for more amputees among fields of the tortured and dead. Such a circus, such a ridiculous game, such a cruel terrible provocation by a stupid stupid man- who will be locked safe in his golden cage as the bombs fall and destroy, lauding the need for smaller weapons of destruction. A utopian dream, he falsely dismisses.

Not surprising that most events today are showcases, the CNNs of catastrophe of the week- from the Las Vegas shooting to Hurricane Harvey: opportunities for hyperbole and the manipulation of human tragedy for money and political obfuscation. The human stories are in deed human, but just as Facebook makes every personal detail public so too the boundaries are crossed, putting out there to the millions who gawk and could care less the private stories of people who have suffered. Unlike Metoo, where the voices of all sing together, in protest to end human tragedies, what we witnessed last night, was used to fan the flames of an egomaniac who cannot be trusted to keep the world safe. These narratives were mere chess positions appropriated for the biggest and most terrible show on earth.

I believe in stories. I believe in people telling their own truths. I believe in the multiplicity and authenticity of voices that can rock the world, not their usage for a showmanship’s ulterior motives: one of destruction that although inspiring the façade of hope, momentarily and superficially, is beneath the surface, a tottering rotten platform for manipulation.

Another Golden Globe Rant and Ramble

These are such confusing times.Our grandchildren growing up must feel themselves on trembling ground. I cannot get the image out of my head of my own grandson going to bed the night of the U.S. presidential election, excited at the prospect of the first woman president only to awaken to his dismayed father who had to break the news: that the abusive host of the tv show, The Apprentice, the loudmouth insensitive lout, the one his brother cutely dubbed Donald Trunk had won. Incredulous, C.J. wondered why.

Similarly persons one has learned to trust, those granted authority and power are now brought to their knees for their abuse of power and people. Not just trusted doctors or CEOs, but the gods of movies who have inspired and defined what is altruistic, good and human on screen have been revealed as willing to subvert and ignore the values they have espoused in the best of drama and media. That talk of the casting couch was not a hidden secret or that factory foremen took advantage of their immigrant workers was just accepted and acknowledged as part of the work world: people seemed to know, but perhaps believed it a small part of the dirty gossip that was perpetuated to entice an audience in show biz , but even should it be likely true in other industries and institutions, it was the price of a job, the ticket to success or security. We always knew of bosses who took advantage, who spoke down and worse from their own tenuously elevated vantage points, but most of us workaday mortals in our ordinary places, even should we criticize, felt embarrassed to speak out, challenge and confront, except to one another, shaking our heads in mortification and helplessness. And do not forget, those scorned who were sufficiently brave to speak out, the Hester Prynnes ridiculed, ostracized, branded liars or paid off.

Yet truly there has always been right and wrong behaviours. We tell our children, don’t hit, don’t hurt, don’t bully, care and support your sister, your brother. Only when miscreants are called out into the public domaine, do they protest, grabbing at some excuse or absurd rationalization to excuse odious actions. As long as they could maintain their behaviour unaccosted, they persisted, even bragging at the outrages committed. And some even as lately as Jian Ghomeshi or Albert Schultz protest at the unfairness, at being misinterpreted or misunderstood, that their partners were willing, complicit, actively participating in the deeds.

But lately there has been a barrage of perpetrators whose accusers have bravely come forward. And been heard! And even taken seriously. Yet, in many’s disbelief, the head of state, Trump, has been shown with his own words to describe his own unconscionable immoral behaviour. Strange incomprehensible times for those growing up seeking role models, and learning what is acceptable or appropriate in society when such activities go unpunished.

Discussing the Metoo campaign, Howard and I wondered why now, how had the tipping point occurred so that women were no longer silenced, willing to grin and bear it. In deed at a New Year’s Eve party here in San Diego, one older man queried without any sympathy or empathy, why did they( those women) wait so long , some seventeen years to come forward; other men in the group shaking their bald heads in agreement. Brie Simpson, editor of The Jewish Journal dismissed those weak unfeeling comments in her December editorial. In fact, she wrote, every woman she knows has had a confrontation . I absolutely agree. If you were a woman, you were free game, a moving target under someone’s telescope, especially if you were cute, sexy, smiling, attractive or not, naïve…

We talked more about women in positions of power willing to speak out now, exposing more regular everyday relationships in which they were unwilling to accept disparagement or worse –and in spite of Margaret Wente’s column in which she differentiated diverse treatments by salacious men, as if a wink, a squeeze, a grope, a pinch, a hug, a kiss, could be tallied more or less against forceable sex, ignoring any unwanted touch is an invasion.

We considered our present day society where a person might be willing to walk away from a job, go hungry and just hang out, rather than tie themselves to indignities. In the old world, you worked, you worked hard, no matter what. You had responsibilities that had to be seen to, children to feed and because you believed yourself lesser than the boss, you just took it.Often you were an immigrant person, relieved to have escaped the perils of your country; congruently, if you were a woman, you had been schooled on being subservient, knowing your place, being sweetly accommodating accepting the crumbs off a man’s plate, not causing a scene. Today there is pushback, equality between men and women, races, genders, etc. so people reflect,” I have choices”( even if you do not). There is a feeling that you deserve more.As truthfully, we all are due respect. And no one should be put in that position, between a rock and a hard place in order to survive any relationship, in or out of the work place. As well, the understanding that the personal, the “I” is as worthy a voice as the omniscient “one, “or the impersonal “they.”And stories do possess truth, often conveying more than objective facts, speaking to a truer reality, one lived by an individual whose voice quakes, cries, shouts, and wants to impart authenticity.

As always I return to the postmodern death of the paternal , the concept of nation, the rise of the individual, the interest in self versus the group and/ or the country. I do not say the post modern is a bad thing, and in deed instead of blindly following, questioning the rule or reign of dictatorships and monarchies it is a very good thing to think independently. But here is the rub: we talk of co- operation, but how often are our colleagues too busy to help us out. We talk of multiple intelligences, but give standardized tests or underfund programs or access for the disabled.We do put ourselves first, thinking we are special. So the women’s night at the Golden Globes was a spectacular moment for women to stand together.

And as always, it is not an either- or split, us or them. The solution is a balance of consideration of personal needs along side the needs of our community, for we do not live in this world by ourselves. Metoo. What we propose for our family, should be the same values we espouse for our neighbours. Far from joining arms and swaying to Kumbaya, I am suggesting that tired old Golden Rule of do unto others ,choosing respect and responsibility over pride, money and the sweet surge of power should not guide our behaviour, and should have been the mantras of the men, men who definitely knew better, but wanted to take advantage of vulnerable, tentative situations, in order to satisfy a base need or desire. But as in all things, what is clearest and simplest morphs into something twisted and complicated as we listen to the cries of the accused, refusing to accept the indictments of those they have victimized.

The Golden Globes was, I hope , a line in the sand, Howard noting how radiant the women were, shining in their stunning black dresses, a true feeling of solidarity in speeches and close clasping, with even women leaders of agriculture and unions accompanying the stars. And Oprah was the star, incredibly beautiful in presence and her speech washing away all others, including Elizabeth Moss’s reading Margaret Atwood’s words by Offred, no longer willing to be in the margins of pages. Oprah was a show stopper, the focused moment befitting her work, her image, her story, her journey.

However, Oprah, readying a campaign for the presidency and all ready supported by her fellow Americans is an entertainer- unlike but as unqualified as the man in power now. Unlike Ronald Reagan, also a media personality, she has not been a governor, and her work – in Africa, with the poor, in many causes does not sanction her as a viable candidate. Does anyone recall her call out to the base instincts of “ a car for you..” or providing Jenny Mc Carthy a platform for her incredibly unscientific views on medical issues I too was awed by Oprah, her brilliant delivery and presence , but The Rock also is contemplating being on the ticket. Neither, of course ,has cut their teeth in political circles. And I say this with respect that glittering Oprah in her grass roots ways has improved the lives of thousands, but I want someone who has been educated and knows the halls of power intimately. But I am a Canadian, with our own showy prime minister, dawdling over our physical assisted dying law, doing photo ops with the rich and newly released from captivity, so although in comparison Trudeau appears to shine, he, unlike his father, has not moved the country forward .

As Gary Mason in the The Globe wrote in The Globe, along with a string of others, Where does governmental experience, actual participation in the realm, the know how of politics occur? Why do we go to college if not to prepare for our future professionals.Where is the role of experience, preparation, research, investigation , etc.? And yet in this confusing world of fake news, such a man as unqualified was elected – no question, Oprah might have been a wiser choice. In this new world, should we not at least, some of us laud the age old values: attempting to build a renewed world that melds some from column A , some from Column B. Where is the wisdom that comes from living, honouring and acknowledging the mistakes of the past: to avoid redoing them in the future?

And we cannot forget or dismiss those like Governor Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania who has stood with women to vote against ridiculous repressive abortion laws, or Governor Jerry Brown of California who openly decries the building the Mexican wall and environmental destruction and Elizabeth Warren…There are , I have to believe good people who have dedicated their lives to working in politics, fighting the good fight, upholding the values I want my grandchildren to emulate.

It is perplexing even for oldsters such as myself, but what of future generations of children, what will they say of these times? Stranger and stranger “, quipped Alice.

Summer Roundup

As a child, I believed summer stretched forever, an unending beach that unwound along the endless shore. And even though I now spend part of my year in San Diego, summer here at home always beckons with the feel of promise, a break from routine. 

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 But this summer has been unusual and has vanished in a flash, but as I reflect on it, I have to admit there have been some really wonderful moments. In spite of Howard’s fall, our travels in overcast rainy Europe were fun, particularly wandering through Copenhagen’s Fredericksberg park and watching the baby elephants nuzzle their moms; and as tourists feeling welcome in that city as we sought out differing varieties of cinnamon buns at local cafes. But even as a girl traveller I was drawn to Copenhagen time again, maybe the magic of the Tivoli drawing me in.

And recently, our time in Berlin was something very special too, the echoes of the clang of the war incongruous with the present day ascendancy of an incredible aesthetic, particularly in its magnificent eclectic buildings. There is a buzz here, particularly the art scene, exemplified in the outdoor East Gallery marking where one section of The Wall demarcated the city. Even hobbling and waiting in line, Howard responded to the Pergamon, museum of antiquities, remarking with awe at the turquoise tiles of the Gates of Ishtar with its dragons, serpents and strange creatures assembled piece by piece in the museum by wise architects -way before IKEA numbered their pieces, and the Marketplace at Miletus from 2 AD reconstructed by the Germans after an earthquake in the 1900’s.

We wandered and read and tried to imagine Berlin divided into quadrants. We walked and walked, each morning there at a tiny bakery where the fraus upbraided Howard. Their kuchen fresh from the oven, fragrant with heat and spice, a perfect way to begin the day after our nights spent at the fabulous boutique Hotel Am Steinplatz , an art nouveau designed hotel where Brigitte Bardot and Nabokov slept- but not together.

Berlin hustles and throbs, the people aloof and mainly unhelpful. Yet a supper at Nobelhart and Schmutzig, greeted at the locked door by a man with a messy man bun askew at the top of his head was memorable for its rose blush on venison, tiny new potatoes dusted with lavender and fennel ice cream. Along the long bar, we were seated beside a hotelier from Hawaii whose lover lived in Norway. The restaurant reminded us of Allo, Canada’s number one restaurant, but focused on locally grown ingredients allowed to shine in themselves, not entwined with myriad others- quite spectacular, except perhaps for the frozen, grated pinecones! They described their cooking art a “performance” and their chefs “actors,”and it was true that we were served with great confidence as our offerings were meticulously described.

Berlin overwhelms as you never can see it all, museums, intriguing spaces, that contrast of old and new that is difficult to assess and evaluate. As a Jew, I wish for an enduring rebuke to the past, but as a human touched by the evolving growth of an incomparable city, I applaud the beauty of advancement, that beat of art and architecture that pervades this perplexing city.

And in the raggedly beautiful Dubrovnik overrun by cruise ships, reminded me of Italy’s Cinqueterre with orange tiled roofs amid overgrown shrubbery. It too was an amazement, the quiet of tainted Lokrum where one cannot stay at night or die!, so the legend warns, reached by the gently rocking ferry. And later home watching Games of Thrones and recognizing the throne from which the wicked Geoffrey and manipulative Cerses committed their disastrous crimes, and the comment by a salesperson in the old city on the origin of the tee- shirts: “They’re crap”, he gleefully offered,”but the tourists love’em”. Huge smile.

And in spite of the torn thigh muscle for Howard , a milestone birthday where the stunning grandchildren all in sparkling white, assembled to pull off a surprise that even the all knowing Howard had not uncovered. An evening in the Cave Springs Winery, really a soirée of a tiny familial group prancing and dancing to the guitars of father, son and teacher as they strung and sang. Children well behaved, twirling, whirling and delightful to be caught by the artful photographer in a night not to be forgotten. Perfected scenes frozen forever we will want to return to and wonder at : four month old Georgia’s twinkling smile ; the mischievous antics of the boys; Aaron’s wild fling of a dance in a secluded corner; Carter’s impeccable rendition of Hallejuah on the recorder; or Remy finally breaking into smile at the black eyed susan; an overtired Rhett by the end of the evening, running around the table, signalling it was time for festivities to end . And Howard, who in spite of insisting on no celebration, had celebrated, the rock star of his own event. And me, quietly appreciating the ephemeral bliss of family when every carefully planned element falls into place, even the weather gods calling off the storms in the nick of time. Just wondrous.

There were quieter times too as we went to Stratford to catch a play.

We are aware but unaware of time, only marvelling in the photos of how we have changed: stomachs less taut, wrinkles more, faces softened by the years. One protagonist in Wagamese’s Ragged Company book reflects on how we cannot stop time, but how it is in us, as we change, but hold our memories of what has passed in ourselves and in photos as well. There is no evidence of time, no tangible proof. We cannot grab a handful of it, or take a picture of it as it moves: slowly, when I was a schoolgirl contemplating my days away from school; quickly as an adult when years appear to disintegrate and I ponder what events occurred just three or five short years ago. Yet I know poets have lamented, contemplated and considered on the passage of time, the incongruities as they explored times past, present and future, attempting to capture all in thoughtful, meandering words , a response to the unending march that eventually consumes us all.

This summer, the terrorist attacks, the idiocy of a Trump response to Charlottesville and the threat of North Korea elicit my thoughts of years long gone, of how my mother hoped for a better world for her children and the future. But even today, the 21st century, we are insecure in a world threatened by bombs, antisemitism and discrimination. Yet my friend Anne rebuked by her brother for her narrow view of the world submits there is beauty and good in the world too and she chooses to focus on that rather than the wider circle of the awfulness we read of, and experience vicariously every day in the news media.

Perhaps that is why my small candles in the light wash over me today as I seek to share them in my blog.

Gratitude.

Displacement and City Issues

I’ve been home barely a week but fitting back seems more difficult this year. And although I am older, it has felt different. Which surprises me because the two past years have followed almost exactly the same patterns: from location to classes and exercise- with the exception of extending my friendship circles and adding a book group, this year has repeated the last two in San Diego. 

Coming home, I feel that my house space expand from one floor to three and I feel almost lost. Of course the weather and skies that fill me with gratitude and warmth in San Diego are grey, overcast and shivery here so instead of popping out on my morning walk, I now unlock my car door and re- establish the daily routines- of exercise and such . Today 10 cm of snow so sidewalks are slick, glazed with ice. Even the robins have found shelter today.

The cynicism and revulsion I experienced nightly as I watched Lester Holt and Scott Pelly discourse on Trump are personalized now . When I go to review scholarship applications at Artbarn and have to navigate behind barriers— barriers for Metrolinx that will be in place for four years – yes, at least four years-while the neighbourhood is destroyed, I am shocked by the chaos created by the goal to improve road and thoroughfare access. Several stores are all ready vacant as their businesses are ruined, and unavailable to customers. Where is the vibrant shopping community that featured Miele appliances and upbeat clothes and Chinese dining and colourful flowers?

Trying to gain entry to any store along Eglinton is a quest behind and through barriers as work slowly proceeds – progenitors of this action oblivious and uncaring that the incomes of the owners have been jeopardized or totally lost. Not to mention the stagnation of traffic. Where a month of inaction due to disruption would be a cause for outcry, four years is a death sentence. I wondering if our council people fought hard, but obviously they lost the battle.

I ponder the similar mess on St. Clair which at the end did NOT improve traffic flow. I wonder how those small shops endured, as many did. Is it any wonder that Gap can remain rooted while a mom and pop grocery cannot. Was there no other way to work with the neighbourhood or parcel out construction in the name of saving the neighbourhood activity? Like Trump on climate, the baby is throw out with the bath water. It is the 21 st Century with strategies that recall the Middle Ages.

I wonder if this construction and ruin is merely a Machiavellian ploy so that more condos can replace the shops that once drew people to this area. Eglinton and Avenue and Eglinton and Yonge with its schools and boutiques and streets upon which to walk are being eaten up by condos in the area , no single owner establishment able to pay rent-.Is this work intrusion into the area a lingering payback to the old old days when this borough was separate and garbage was collected at back doors? Is some bureaucrat , silent guffawing at dismantling this part of town? Or more likely, developers ,salivating, winking and planning for their takeover.

 And on my walks over the last few years whether south on Yonge or north on Avenue, I have observed the encroachment of those condos. I surmise that as businesses dwindle on Eglinton, they will be replaced by condos that like the construction blocking Artbarn, first disrupts , making access difficult or impossible and even dangerous , and results in the understandable necessity of the evacuation by the owners- relinquishing the space, parks, close subway access , community centre, the well located walk ways to the slobbering condo corporations.

Lying through their teeth that there will be more accessible and living space to replace single house lodging, the condos will offer at unbelievably inflated prices what my father used to call “ chicken coops”. And will only be available to those who can afford the exorbitant prices in what was once prime real estate- in part due to the great little shops. Just today I was told of the thinness of walls in new condos just north of St.Clair at Bathurst, but a wise first time owner, not wanting to share secrets with the condo next door, turned it over for a cool 300,000 over what she had paid. Who could blame her? So I imagine that our city planners and government deciders are destroying first, businesses, driving out and eliminating the diversity of the area-, levelling the ground for those damn condos whose construction merits will vary greatly.. It infuriates and raises my blood pressure.

So much makes me angry.I notice in the butcher shop near Artbarn, the rearrangement of cabinets, wisely away from the door that opens onto construction, and instead of the feel good welcome, I intuit something else here and I wonder if shoppers have in deed begun to go elsewhere. I had intended to head towards the vegetable store on the other side of Avenue Road, even my aunt deceased almost twenty years used to purchase her greens here, but I am unsure if there is a path that is not blocked by machines and construction workers. All is turmoil as I ironically note that in the middle of the street a worker’s car is parked ( where shoppers, should any persist, of course would be towed) and there under the loom of giant machines even for home owners two blocks away experience the shaking of the once stable bedrock of homes.

True California is LALA Land and I am a visitor there but also a part time resident, also annoyed by the noise and disruption of new screens outside my door. But there I can wander out- into the sunny shade, ramble a bit and see the reason and the order for the intrusion. Here I cannot.

Spring must be on its way here as I watch a plump robin on my fence. But sadly too I note the two toned squirrels digging for the bulbs planted in the burnished fall in my garden, digging deeply, as the ground is now partially cleared of snow. Will the raccoons lumber by too soon, nocturnal animals so out of sync, that they do not differentiate between day and night. Suddenly Hunger Games flashes into my head, the mottled fur of the squirrel recalling the outrageous costumes of inhabitants against the rubble and hunger of the destroyed cities. Doesn’t it begin by dismantling roadways?

It takes a while to re-orient oneself back home without being able to plug back into professional work. Gradually we reinvent ourselves, loosening the rituals of the day to renew our interests that once organized our lives.. This is the good and bad of retirement, but as in few matters, we are never fully in control of our lives, conforming to the predilections, spaces and times of others. And so I gradually re- engage myself, accommodating my days to my activities.

I write to express my pleasure and displeasure at myself in my world. But this morning, it is the grey skies and my disrupted neighbourhood that prompts my litany of complaints. How sad the world has become.

Truth or Consequences 

There is no ultimate truth. 
Maybe facts, thoughts, observations, feelings, conjecture, research, beliefs and wishes. Even  what has been scientifically proven is sometimes revised,  as we learn more, dig deeper, examine situations from multiple perspectives and consider the origins or the genesis of  ” the truth”.  The shifting ground upon we stand is never completely stable; however, the sense of a truth can be upheld , and with examination by specialists who have studied and contemplated  previous iterations, pondered recent revelations, and set themselves upon a scholarly path, we can accept, for example, that germs cause disease; that ice bergs melting is indicative of weather disruption, that children respond better to kindness than violence, that guns kill. There can be a consensus backed up by experimentation. But age and experience also teach lessons: many to ensure that we look with fresh eyes;  others, as Atticus explained to Gem, that until you walk in someone else’s shoes, you will not know their pain. Understanding our world is in deed a process, and as Mr. Crack, a former art colleague piped, ” You catch more flies with honey,  than vinegar”, remembering not to throw out the baby with the bath water, so we sort through and consciously consider what science and experience is teaching us, separating the wheat from the chaff.
And this week I thought I’ld move away from writing about Trump, but really with Trump’s continual attacks on the Press, this time about the Press’s hiding terrorist attacks, so I cannot hold back. Even Scott Pelly in the nightly news referred to these statements in a rather jocular, incredulous, ironic , irreverent tone, barely keeping himself from rolling his eyes as if to say, “ Hey folks, just more of the same”..And by the way, please do not forget Kellyann’s noting the “ Bowling Green. Massacres”. D’ uh. And then too, Trump’s support of Putin by insulting American forces use the same techniques as the Russians ( well, maybe- ), and so are not lily white either. To my above paragraph, I shudder to acknowledge that words and reflection do not exist in the realm of this presidency by him, nor his minions. Does saying it make it so?

Worst of all for me, I hate how he addresses his audiences, recalling Father Knows Best, in his patronizing way, ” Don’t worry folks… I have the solution ,” blah, blah , blah, as if he, simple minded that he is, has the answers and can fix all of the problems in the world.
I have always lauded the importance of form and content coalescing as in say, the work of the Bauhaus, but when neither possesses substance, all falls down. But so unfortunately,the entire world is the captive audience upon which the careless tirades come to rest.

 Jewish people use the Yiddish word “ bubamisces” which means something like fairytales, some that veer pretty close to tall tales or lies, narratives or stories people make up to smooth and sooth:  like the tooth fairy to assuage the pain of a tooth that refuses to twist from a sore gum. Everyone knows they are stretching beyond the realm of truth, but with a wink, the bubamisces are accepted with a smile, all knowing it is an untruth. In this case, Trump believes in them, concocted in the moment to disprove any allegation or suggestion with which he disagrees.

One, of course ,cannot accept Trump’s untruths, his alternative facts such as climate change , voter registration, immigration as the cause and result of terrorism as truths or facts. That he consciously makes up these statements to counteract or reply to his critics is tantamount to the little boy with his hand in the cookie jar, swearing that he didn’t steal the cookies. I’m wondering if anyone still believes him, his supporters even championing his cabinet, one swamp resembling another, whether it is the good ole boys who ruined your life or the bankers on Wall Street. But I imagine they do still support him as he is showing himself as a man of action, carrying out his promises made during the election. And for those who would call for his impeachment, waiting in the wings is the more diplomatic, smoother but just as bad Mike Pence.

The upshot is that people listening to their president realize that words DO matter, that you cannot insult the” so- called lawyer” who stands in the way of the Immigration ban and not have people react. His little condescensions of “ sad” or” bad” at the end of his twitter posts, just embarrassing final strokes of a scattered mind without a filter. Not long ago, we understood that as we speak so we think and so changing our language from firemen to firefighters, airline hostesses to flight intendants to contain all genders does reroute our synapses onto a new path : that includes and speaks to a more open approach, being gender inclusive in a variety of professions. Trump’s broken down bits and shout outs are once again reminiscent of the adolescent who communicates with his buddies in the gym lockers at high school.

Like Alice , we are feeling that things are getting curiouser and curiouser. Yet Trump is actualizing the platform he ran on. That  there has been such an outcry against Betsy De Voss is gratifying but it was assured that Pence would break the vote for another incompetent billionaire into power. That so many are so upset as verified by the number of people calling, writing and calling their congress people demonstrates en mass, that education matters and someone who has never attended a public school ( and neither have her children) has no experience to make important decisions regarding the future of the nation.  Yet, what experience did Trump have, either, that put him in his role? If it worked for him, why not her? Even some of the Republicans cannot support these alarming trends .  

A few weeks ago, a participant on Meet the Press voiced the opinion that Trump has normalized racism, sexism, and all the “isms” we have countered in the last years. And to allow and accept these slurs to be part of daily life is unacceptable. I thought this so strongly during the debates when Trump’s comments on blood or Rosie O’ Donnell or his fellow debaters were so out of line. Every parent hearing their child make these comments would have immediately given him a time out, sent him to his room , or insist he apologize. But no moderator turned off his mike, and even those interrupting his barrage of offensive outpouring were talked over. To make it acceptable, to normalize his insults is to stand by and accept them. I recall back in Grade 13 when we studied Murder in the Cathedral, one of the predominant themes concerned those who did not speak, but bore witness, had to share the guilt of the crimes being committed.

Victory against his ban on immigration provided cheers and a reinforcement that no one branch of government can hold sway over the others. We can only hope that more restrictions put on his orders will demonstrate to this megalomaniac that he can be checked. Yet I am quite sure, other evil types in the White House will be searching the loopholes and detours around the unconscionable manoeuvres he believes he is so able to pull. A early cartoon by Dr.Seuss about the time of World War II attacked the careless abandon  of  children from other parts of the world ( how they were to survive ) ,a slogan printed on a tee shirt of a character, reading America First.
Who said, Love thy neighbour?

Again, I shudder to think that the values of care, cooperation, compassion are not being lauded, as Barrack and Michelle Obama did, in the 21st Century. That selfishness, self- interest, close- mindedness are the virtues being shouted from the roof tops. Although laughable that Trump and Kellyann had to defend poor little Ivanka’s brand, that they do not know and respect the office of president sufficiently to keep separate the private and professional sides of the Trump family, is mind- blowing.
Business above all as we take care of our own. We fiddle as Rome burns. We couldn’t care less!

I was about to write, Let’s hope next week’s blog will focus on something more uplifting than Trump’s idiotic pursuits, but with the court’s rulings, there are ripples of better thinking- and words that should underline meaning.

Fixated on Food

I know it’s that time of year and we are glad for some relief from everyday reality, trying to obliterate from our minds the news of Cannes and Berlin, the confusing horror of Aleppo and the election of Trump. So we all need some holiday spirit(s) to blur the grittiness and sorrows of these perplexing days. Although most people are looking forward to family gatherings, shiny decorations and window displays, it seems I’ve been deep into chocolate treats.  

Besides, Lindt chocolates have had an amazing sale, and I have overindulged in boxes and bears and balls. However I must admit that I had been scarfing up those delicious balls for sometime now. For my Toronto grandsons who like to be surprised with a tasty confection, I have explored chocolate dipped marshmallows, sprinkle- enhanced iced pretzels, macaroons the colour of candy floss, decorated cookies on sticks or even a reliable chocolate chip cookie or two, only rarely falling back on commercial offerings such as sun chips! in a pinch.

With the renovation of Pusateris nearby and being diverted to the Bayview Mall, I have been lured into Lindt’s chocolate dream factory .The purveyors of this delicious nibble are smart cookies. They ensnare you with one freebie, and once you sample, you are hooked , whether swallowing their freebie whole or savouring and sucking it slowly as the two parts divide into a tasteful duo in your appreciative mouth. The balls come in a variety of flavours from cacao to orange to strachetella, all with that same structure that like a truffle, encases that delightful secret: a centre core of smooth and rich delectable chocolate. One ball is rarely enough as the slow ooze, my preferred method, seduces you to maintain and prolong the delectable sensation that has your tastebuds begging for more.

Maybe it’s not such a great sale as the woman ahead of me spends $35 on those amazing balls in shiny wrappings. My bill this time is only $13.But like the siren call, these babies tantalize and hypnotize with their chant of chocolate so you might actually imagine yourself as a pasha on an island far, far away, fed off the exotic riches of the land and you are queen of all things good, deserving of the treats that have been so elegantly
crafted for your royal palate. But chocolate, good chocolate is so damn sinful. 

For many years I’ve been purchasing a chocolate Lindt Santa advent calendar for my grandkids. Hidden behind each day of the month of December, a variety of shapes and sizes will appear, from mini balls wrapped in glittering foil to minuscule scrumptious bears with red ribbons at the neck ( if you are lucky) to tiny perfect gold- wrapped chocolate bars. I rationalize that the calendar reinforces their math intelligence because the child must search for the right number before poking out his edible prize. To my grandson newly arrived from a Philadelphia, he proclaims, “ I like this game.’? The regulars insist on opening several , even beyond the inscribed date, ecstatic should they wind up with one of those tiny perfect bears, the little balls abandoned besides the rarer more detailed confection.

Although no longer children who openly drool, for some reason to binge during holidays , we have given ourselves permission to devour deserts, rewarding ourselves for surviving our workday endeavours. At my husband’s festive lunch party this past week, his assistant provided him with not  one but two homecooked apple pies, huge slices of apples in a nicely browned beige crust.He was so eager to taste his gift, he rushed home and immediately cut cleaved the pie in eights, scarfing up nearly a quarter of it. His weary work junior lamented that an hour of two of quiet would be her exquisite treat; my husband was pleased that he could offer her a spa certificate, not exactly eatable but truly delicious.

 In the final week before holidays, my mind has veered into baking my formidable chocolate chip cookies which I rationalize are healthy because they have oatmeal. However in these hectic days, I also find myself purchasing cupcakes at our favourite cupcake store Bakes and Goods. They use Belgium chocolate and also offer a proper, not overwhelming ratio of creamy buttery icing to lusciously light cake in numerous flavours such as cookies and cream or caramel drizzle or kiwi. Then there are the brownies from Pusateris that are really large and chewy and chocolately… But do not forget the superlative chocolate ring from Harbord bakery. And please,  I beg you not to be misled with the poppyseed that pretends to be chocolate but requires closer inspection or the time to discern the actual name of the item tenderly enclosed in clear plastic wrap. In deed, I think the chocolate ring serves as good breakfast eating because it doesn’t resemble a cake but has a sensible circle open in the middle. Wherein a health- minded soul could heap with berries, although strawberries with real whipped cream might be an enchanting way to commence the day. 
In deed, my breakfast on my birthday this week will be a platter full of dripping chocolate croissants from Douce France who actually import their dough from France and bake it here, recalling for our family a summer in Beaulieu sur Mer : where we trundled off to the local café to kickstart our vacation rambles in the south of France when our kids were little. Memories of Patachou now defunct, where my first grandson learned to love their impeccable chicken pot pie. My daughter correctly raves about Pain Perdu’s almond croissants too that mingle crunchy, sweet, flakey and soft. One whiff and we are back barefoot on the coastal beaches.True, all proper in this season of indulgence.

I remember my exquisite childhood birthday cakes, my mother used to bus down to St. Clair for at Patisserie Francaise years ago. For a special lunch, she would make party sandwiches on their pink and green bread, exciting the artist in me. Sadly, however, she insisted on using my birthday supper as an occasion to invite and cook for her relatives, some wrinkled and bespeckled ancient great aunts and uncles with weird sounding names like Meneel. I hated the intrusion of people I hardly knew who only arrived to devour my mother’s hard spent hours of cooking for them- or so it seemed to me. Worse yet, no one brought me a gift or even a bouquet of flowers for my mother. And when her gentle Auntie Bayla quietly asked for a second slice of my coveted treasure, I carved it so thinly that it would not stand upright and the airiness of the cake practically sent it heavenward without much volume to attach it to any party plate.I too shocked myself by the absurd spareness I had achieved

I think back to my bad eating habits, Hostess potato chips and a coke every day after school while I watched American Bandstand supine on the couch . My mother who was whisper thin encouraged us, my sister and me, and besides, the pharmacy next door to our store was a ready source of all things sweet and fattening. Every week in our home, there was a chocolate from Margo’s bakery, small size 90 cents, large $1.10. If not available, SaraLee stood in for a dinner closer for chocolate obsessed eaters.

But back to present day and my chocolate gene that has been satisfied way too often in the last few weeks as I have not ignored a nod, smirk or an invite from a shop or counter that displays and lures with the riches of the season. Macaroons, cupcakes, truffles, Buche Noel ( from Dufflet for my birthday) and now has expanded its variety from hazelnut and caramel to vanilla mousse. So delicious.I do not care a fig that it is a Christmas cake with all of its symbolism. But Dufflet as well must have realized the intrinsic worth of this piece because I’ve noticed miniature versions tempting shoppers before the grand date of the 25th. You can eat with your eyes, I’ve often , told my kids. But here, eyes and mouth grow large and gobble- slowly.

Sadly even as we indulge, the bad news will be there after the holidays and reverie has quietened down.We will have to contemplate not only extra pounds, clothes that do.not close around our midsections but an unstable world. At least the sweetness of moments of indulgence will endure and hold at bay unsavoury and unswallowable thoughts.

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