Sunday, December 31, 2006
THE "YOUNG" BABES
Zillah May Young, Rob's mother, died yesterday morning. She had a heart attack on the 27th. Rob flew to New Brunswick on the 29th. Rob's phone call that morning woke me, stunned me. Why is it when we know that we will die, that our parents will most likely go first, why is it still such a shock? Rob tells me that it is harder than he ever imagined.
When he called, he said that he and his sister, Kathy, were taking down the Christmas tree in her condo: they couldn't stand its festiveness and so I took down our tree (after my friends, Penelope and Roy left for the Yukon. Thank heavens they were here to talk to after Rob called.)
I spent the day in a daze, wandering, doing odd jobs... and thinking of Zillah or Mother, as I have always called her. Rob has always said that she is a farm girl. Or did he say, country girl? She didn't leave New Brunswick until 1970 when she attended our wedding in Toronto. And yet for all her country ways, she was one of the most open-minded, liberal women I have ever met.
When Rob called to tell her that we were living together - remember this was the sixties - she said that she was happy he wasn't alone. I was afraid to tell my parents. When she found a bag of green weed in his drawer, she asked if she could try some. She'd always wondered about it.
When I first met her - Rob and I flew "home" for a holiday - she was working in a restaurant. She never put on airs, never apologized for who she was or what she did. Her home wasn't fancy but it was always neat and clean. I never saw her angry, never heard her raise her voice. She listened. She made fancy pies and Rob's favourite Maritime dish - salt cod in cream sauce over mashed potatoes - when we visited her. And when she came our way, she'd bring sealed packages of salt cod and fiddleheads.
Later, when we had children, she came for the birth of our last two to help me. (My mother came too and they timed their visits so I always had a mother to help for at least several weeks.) She was a quiet, unobtrusive guest. I never told her what to do. She took it upon herself to look after the older child/children, do the laundry, clean - all the little things that add up to a lot when one arrives home from the hospital with a new baby.
She was never a rich woman, far from it, and, as Rob told me this morning, she didn't really care about material possessions but she was always generous with us and our children. For years, she knit us socks for Christmas. How we loved them, always asked for more.
She was such a good woman I can't believe that I will never see her again, hear her voice on the phone.
This summer she flew to Vancouver for my niece, Sarah's wedding. She stayed in our house and I am thankful for this time. Again, she was an easy house guest. When I was consumed with the wedding cake, she helped herself to food, wandered and read. She'd willingly go with me when I went out for supplies. Sometimes, she would stop, ask me to wait while she caught her breath. It scared me a little. When she arrived, she looked so frail. Her skin was ashen. She had aged so much since I'd seen her last. But she was quick on the uptake, made jokes, laughed. Her mind was all there. One of my last memories of her is my nephew Thomas asking her to dance and she did. She did beautifully.
I feel sad that I won't be at her memorial service. And I could/would go but for Rob and he says he's fine as he has his sister there. Together they have made the funeral arrangements and are sorting through mother's stuff. When he is in her place, he says he forgets, thinks she will walk through the door.
All yesterday, I had the feeling that I wasn't quite present. I searched through our photo albums for images of her. She is most often holding a child.
She was active to the end, loved walking and bowling. She accepted everything, everyone - all of us who joined her family with all our weird quirks and inconsistencies. I never heard her bad-mouth anyone. Or complain. She more than anyone I know, seemed content with her lot. I hope this is so, must of been, she looked it.
When I think of her, I think "good woman, good example, one I wouldn't mind being more like."
When Gill was born, we thought of calling her Zillah. Mother insisted we not. Although soft-spoken, she had definite points of view.
How do I conclude? How does one conclude a life? It isn't possible. She is in her children, in my children.
You know how when someone dies, no one wants to say anything bad about the deceased? With Zillah, there is not even a glimpse of a negative thought. Do I have any regrets about my relationship with her? Only that I didn't tell her how much I admire her. But I can imagine that this would have been too difficult for her: she would have laughed and shrugged me off.
Farewell Mother. You are loved more than you will ever know.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Rob, Brendan, Gill, and I drove down to Seattle yesterday. Gill and Bren are in the Ace Hotel - young and modern. Rob and I are in the Warwick - an older boutique hotel - that I booked through Hotwire. Except for meeting for dinner last night at Lola, we have all gone our separate ways. Soon I will sign out of the hotel and wander down to Pioneer Square to explore "Eliot Bay Books" - one of my favourite book stores.
And today is my big sister's birthday:
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Christmas Eve was lovely - a good meal with Rob, Brendan, and Gill and then a walk by the water to view the decorated trees. Christmas Day was lovely too - a few special gifts and then a traditional feast with my sister Bev and her family. It could only have been better if Michael and Mackenzie had been with us.
Today, within the hour, the four of us are off to Seattle.
And it's my Mother's Birthday:
Sunday, December 24, 2006
IS SO HANDSOME
(I'm the little one, in the insert, on the left. I've been told that I look like my father. My mother says that we alike:
we don't have a peaceful bone in our bodies. )
Saturday, December 23, 2006
I have an unusual family. One sister's birthday is the 23rd of December. My father's is the 24th. My mother's is the 26th. And my older sister's is the 27th. Instead of gifts, I'm emailing each a birthday poster.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
People say oh it's good to be sick. It slows you down. Allows you to smell the flowers. But when I feel like hell, I mope. I hate being incapacitated. I can't even read a good book and so sit for hours in front of the television watching stupid mindless crap and feel my life slipping away.
I have been away from home so long and though a sickie, it feels good to be back, good to have Gill here, and felt good to have Brendan over the other night. We are missing Michael and Mackenzie. We're planning a simple feast for Christmas eve , a traditional turkey dinner for Christmas day. (My family love food.) We will give a few gifts but won't go overboard. I like this though worry a little that those I love will be disappointed. I need a little inspiration. It's so hard to find THINGS that express love, that bring delight, let alone fill a need. Is it even possible? I have always thought that it's not really the gift that counts but the thought that goes into the gift. At times this is true (i.e. the slide show for Rob's birthday) and at other times, it is the gift, the thing itself, that gives pleasure.
I wrote a story about gift-giving, as a university assignment, that Western Living nearly bought but didn't... I just found it in my filing cabinet. It's not great but not bad and is giving me ideas. (I'll type it out later into this blog spot.)
Saturday, December 16, 2006
I'm so happy to be back except I'm sick. A cold and hacking cough I caught in France kept fading during my travels but never quite left me. After flying from Montreal, it is back with a vengence so I went to a medical clinic and am now on some serious antibiotic that has me weak - no energy - with an upset stomach. I often feel chilled to the bone and am taking hot baths in epsom salts. Sunday night I take my last pill. Hopefully then I can get on with my life and prepare for Christmas.
And Gill arrived home last night from Toronto. And my friend, Helen just dropped in for a visit. So good to sit around the table and talk but I WANT MY OLD ENERGY BACK. Soon, I hope
Monday, December 11, 2006
Where am I? What am I doing as I wander from place to place? This trip has been an adventure. I have spent much time with family and friends observing, listening to them, in their homes while their everyday lives goes on - except for me. I now feel the need to be quietly at home digesting it all.
Christmas is coming and except for putting together a basket for Michael and Mackenzie, I have done little and feel no compulsion to run to stores and buy things just to have some thing to give. I would like to throw gift-giving out the window though I love giving gifts when I see something that would suit someone I love.
The last week was spent at political functions - quite unlike my usual choice of activity. My sister is a regional counsellor for the district of Peel, town of Brampton, and has just won a local election with a 87% majority. She loves community service and is good at it. Unlike me, she is a real people-person. loves to stand up in public and speak. She works hard and has helped to change the rapidly growing face of Peel, advocating for beautification (flower beds and treed avenues), youth centres, safety and neighbourhood-watch programs. Her baby, at the moment, is the resurrection of a cancer support house, a branch of Well Spring, that she hopes to see built in the coming year. Already a developer has given her a piece of land. A contractor has offered to build for nothing. A lawyer, accountant, oncologist have donated their services. She is astonished and thrilled by the generosity of others. She tells me that of all the things that she has accomplished in this life, this is most dear to her.
And I think she knows but can't quite grasp how much good she is responsible for.
And I suppose that this is the way it is for many people. "It's a wonderful life" though as I move from household to household, I see more struggle, tears of frustration and sorrow, than fun and laughter. C'est la vie.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
As most of you know, I write a blog for women
recovering from child birth for B5 Media called
To celebrate the first year of blogging and Christmas,
I am buying my readers a Christmas present. I would
really appreciate it if you would help choose the gift
by reading a few posts. The description of how the
system works is here:
A Christmas Gift
All the best,
If you have a few moments, please follow Kate's instructions: the more people who visit her website, the more she will be able to give to World Vision.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
I last wrote about Friday.
Saturday, I spent the morning with Gill, the afternoon with Gill and her roommate - running an errand - and we ended up hungry, on the Danforth, Greek town. The first restaurant we saw, we entered, and were greeted by a kindly older man who told us "Pan" is owned by his daughter and son-in-law. "She's here in the evening and is more fun than me." He ran and brought back a picture of his daughter. Throughout our lunch, he dropped by to chat and I was reminded of the friendliness of Greeks during Rob's birthday expedition. I told George (we are now using first names) that I have just returned from his homeland and he wants to hear more - where I visited, what I did... and at the end of the meal his son-in-law arrived. When I told him that his father-in-law is wonderful. He smiled and said, "You should meet his daughter." We finished our meals, ordered coffee,and the old man brought us a square of cake and three forks. Although the food and service were excellent, it was the man's attitude, his smile, his obvious pleasure that made the experience so pleasurable for us.
The next evening, Gill and I had a similar experience. After she finished work, we drove to the Italian area for dinner. It was snowing lightly. The stores and restaurants along College were decorated extravagantly with lights and glittering ornaments. We walked along the street arm in arm and found an upscale restaurant, done in taupes and beiges with long modern bar and elevated eating area. Gill ordered eggplant parmesan. I had a seafood linguine. The service and food were excellent. When the young woman waiting on us asked if we would like dessert, Gill said that she would love to try the creme brulee but was too full. Minutes later, the waitress returned and said the chef would like us to enjoy a brulee on the house. We accepted thinking we could manage a bite or two. We ate the whole thing.
I am sure that it is Gill's presence that turns heads, brings us gifts. Every time I see her walking toward me, beautifully groomed and dressed - no matter how casually -she always looks fancy - perhaps it's the scarf around her long neck - I think "Paris": my favourite city has changed her, left its mark. She is so much taller, thinner, more confidant than I was at her age, and I wish that I'd had her presence, her worldliness. And though I worry about her restlessness, sleeplessness, I do not worry that she won't find her passion.
She is extraordinary young woman: she likes to spend time with her mother. We can talk for hours. When we are sitting, she curls into me. When we are walking, she links arms with me. She is such a gift.
For the past few days, believe it or not, I've been spending much time at political functions, at my sister's request. She wants, at least, one sister to know her life.
More to come
Monday, December 04, 2006
On Friday night, I met a friend - a dream woman - in a small Middle Eastern restaurant for a meal of tiny appetizers - eggplant, lamb and veal on skewers, mushrooms, peppers, yam fries, and red wine. All was shared - food and the highlights of our comings and goings since we last met in Vancouver in June and before that in France. She has a soft voice so I have to lean forward to catch her comments and questions - sometimes hard questions. Her directness forces me to think before I speak and be as open as she is. She also reminded me of where I was not so many months ago. And I realize too , with my answers, that something has shifted inside me. I love when this happens. I thought not so long ago that I had to take some action, make some changes or I would die (not literally) but I was frozen and couldn't decide what to do and so did nothing. I lambasted myself for being so indecisive, and then, because of this conversation, I see that certain issues have resolved themselves without any effort on my part. (Patience has never been my forte.)
We leave the restaurant and she asks if I would like some fun? Her daughter is playing at a lounge downtown - a benefit for the 6 Nations blockade at Caledonia. I agree. She drives down to Church Street and parks (near Ryerson - such a part of my distant past) and we walk: I am freezing. The weather is crazy. One moment it's hot and I shed the fake fur jacket my mother bought me and wear a light denim coat. This evening I am in denim. I slip my arm through hers and snuggle in, asking if she minds. She doesn't. She is so lovely and warm. At one point in the evening, she reminded me that she wanted me to help her choose a new wardrobe. She wants the outside to reflect the inside. This pleases me - not only her confidance in me but because, she is tall, elegant, beautiful and it would be so much fun to do. (Since this evening, I have been thinking about colours and textures, styles that would suit her. I have some ideas.)
We reach the lounge, small, packed. We stand until a space clears and then sit. The concert is already underway. A young man in overalls and a conductor's cap is playing a guitar and singing heady lyrics about love and loss while, behind him, a film of images and words - made by him - is projected. He reminds me of a young Bob Dylan with his sexy words, blunt comments while the next performer - or his lyrics - reminds me of Leonard Cohen though he is has a better voice and is an amazing guitarist. And the way he sways and moves around the stage - oh la la. I am reminded of my college days when I would, night after night, go to small coffee houses and bars and fall in love with musicians. Once, my friend Penelope and I fell in love with the same musician/man - Ron Nigrini. We attended every performance we could - probably as many as could afford. (Amazing. I just goggled him and he is still performing.)
At last, my friend's daughter, Lila Rose, is introduced. I have never met her. She is a beauty (not surprising). Her fair hair is in dreadlocks, tied back, unruly, springing out here and there like a crown or halo. Her arms are tattooed, and though I'm not keen on tattoos, hers are subtle - an upper arm bracelet of roses (I think) and something I cannot remember on the inside of her wrist. She wears a sleeveless silk short dress over jeans. She is enchanting. Her first song is performed without music though her voice is music, her words poetry. (She writes her own lyrics - and her first song/poem is a protest that fits well with the benefit's protest.) She performs two more songs and the evening is over. I loved every moment of it.
My friend dropped me off at Gill's who was waiting up, so worried about me that she threw her arms around me.
more to come
Sunday, December 03, 2006
I wander a lot. Internet is a problem though I found the past three days, at my parents' home, that Port Hope library has free wireless and what's even better is my emails leave this computer. I don't understand technology well enough to understand why, at Gill's, the wireless cannot send my emails but is able to receive them.
Yesterday, I found a real-time plane tracking site and followed Rob from Toulouse to London to Vancouver. I always feel better knowing that the plane that carries someone I love has landed safely at its destination. And so Rob is home. And I continue to wander.
I left Port Hope at 7:30 this morning and drove to Toronto - back roads as I am too fearful of the super highways here (some have twelve lanes) - and, after three hours in the car, through fog and rain, am now back at Gill's. I agree with Kate: "I would just like it stated that I do not like driving, I hate cars and I resent the forces in my life that demand both." Here my family are spread out hours from each other.
For some extraordinary reason, I am blessed. I find it difficult to write about people or events that touch me, make my chest expand, fill my heart...
As much as I love simple clean sentences, without flourishes and without unpronounceable words, I fear sounding like a simpleton. And always always when I feel afraid of exposing myself, I think of Helen Luke and her essay on humility that says something to the effect that instead of becoming defensive when someone calls us/me a fool, an asshole (though she would never have used such a word), a simpleton, the thing to do is to admit to the allegation. But how the old ego struggles to lord and master it over all and not admit flaws or weaknesses.
You have no idea how many times, I've written this damn blog and thought myself pathetic.
And then something happens - as it did the other day - and I realize how blessed I am. A woman who I've met only once in France came to Port Hope and took me out to lunch. She is a whirlwind, a dervish dancer, a body of energy - enthusiastic, excited, exclamatory - and like Christmas, she lights up the space she's in, the people who are in that space. For example, we went into the drug store downtown that was decorated with feather wreathes, feather trees (rather fetishy and unexpected for this conservative town) and bright balls of coloured Italian glass in many sizes hanging from the ceiling. All was so festive and this woman squealed with delight. Heads turned. Two young women, who had been replacing stock, looking bored, ran over to help us. My friend's energy changed that sedate place.
She is a woman of extravagant gesture and I love her for it. And as Colette said somewhere, it's so easy to love someone who loves you. She told me that she loves me, that my blog gives her permission to be, even motivates her to do. If such a "marvellous" person as me who does what I do and still descends into hell and self-doubt, keeps moving, she can. Oh such generous words and I beam like a child who has been praised for some small task.
Though I think her praise over-the-top still it gives me courage.
TO BE CONTINUED
Sunday, November 26, 2006
It is a glorious day in Port Hope. The sun is shining and I'm sitting outside a cafe drinking dark coffee and eating a muffin. Life has a surreal quality these days. On Wednesday, I picked up Gill at school and we drove the back roads - some real country farmland - to my parents who had cooked a turkey in our honour (mostly Gill's as they know she loves turkey)and some Irish bread for the morning. They have been so kind, so accommodating. But before settling in that first night, we drove to Cobourg to see if Michael and Mackenzie were home. I have been so worried about him. No word for ages but M & M are there and well, and seem content. (Kenzie has chopped all her beautiful curly hair off - or a lot of it - and looks like a cherub with dark curls sitting close to her face.) We are introduced to their baby, Ichabod, a lively kitten, who jumps around and performs gymnastics.
Gill can only stay one night and so the next day, my mum and I drive to Oshawa and send her back to Toronto by train. I feel spoiled. I have my own elegant bedroom with adjoining bathroom. My father serves me wine at dinner and after, we retire to his office for brandy. This morning, I joined him in the hot tub - his ritual. He says it keeps his old bones oiled. It's good to see him so relaxed. My mother once said that I am just like my father: Not a peaceful bone in my body. Gill says she too has inherited this trait.
It has been maybe thirty years since I have come "home"(though this was never my home as my parents bought the house after I married.) Yes, I have visited but it has always seemed like I'm just passing through, not really settling down and enjoying their company, seeing them as individuals (not my parents.) I'm not sure but maybe before,visiting them seemed more of a duty than a pleasure. I don't feel that way now. Perhaps it is because I am older and see that time is passing quickly and I won't always have them around - a scary thought. I said to my mum that I want to give them some of my precious time. But that sounds rather arrogant in some way - though is it? I think that anyone who wants to spend time with me is giving me a gift of his or her time. It must work both ways.
And too, I am still in angst about my future. What am I to do with myself. What life shall I create? What excites me? How can I be productive? What can I do that will make me feel good about myself? I need to do something and hopefully something that will give me some financial freedom, or help me feel that I am contributing to the family coffers. Oh I get so mixed up here. I realize that nothing is going to happen unless I put some effort in but I'm still hazy about where to put my energy. I keep reminding myself that I have given myself to the end of the year to wander, to dream.
Saturday afternoon,I drove out to Cobourg and spent the afternoon with M & M. We bought sandwiches and went down to the lake and had a picnic. Later we visited the town's art gallery and thrift shops where I bought half a dozen books (still searching for ideas. I bought "Ulysses" for a quarter. For some reason I have been thinking about this book, wanting to reread it though I think that I never made it all the way through.)
At dusk, I left my parents and returned to Brampton to my sister's as she needs her car. I spent last night by myself - good for soul - as I have had little solitary time since I arrived. And I need this time. Otherwise I get scattered and restless and frustrated and don't know who I am.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
I'm in Toronto with my baby. (Yes, Ayah, the crazy one, is still crazy.) It's not easy leaving one's love standing naked at a hotel room door in Toulouse at five in the morning and flying to gay Paree, with just enough time to buy several bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau, and then flying again for a tedious eight hours to Toronto. It's the Toronto part that feels strangest as usually I'd be flying home to my little house in the garden. (Though given that Vancouver has had torrential downpours that has dirtied the water, I'm happy to be here.)
I am living in my daughter's apartment with her two roommates. Mon dieu, they are all so beautiful, so industrious - all are either working on an essay or two, or running to their parttime job. And I, in the midst of this industry, have been researching a paper on normative relativism for Gill - just to feel like one of them.
Today, I shall go downtown with Gill and when she goes class, I shall explore this city that I left so long ago. (Still don't know when I'm flying home.)
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
My friends Susan and David are in the hospital together. Both are recovering well from their operations though they have good days and not-so-good days. On Thursday, both will go into the Rebab wing and are told that they can share a room. Oh la la, the French are so accommodating when it comes to love.
At first, when Susan told me that they were having their operations a day apart, I thought it a dumb idea. How will they look after each other when they return home?
But look at them - they look like they belong together. And when either gets bored or needs to talk, Susan goes down to David's room or David goes up to Susan's room...
Tomorrow evening, I leave Montmiral for I don't know how long. "Parting is such sweet sorrow..." I leave Rob here and my friends... though I join Gillian and Michael, my mother and father, sisters and brother, in Toronto.
"Fare thee well... "
(I have no idea what's up with me today. I keep remembering poems: "Oh ye dead poets who are living still... ")
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Oh dear, I have less than a week left in the south of France where the sun has been shining magnificently and somehow there is never enough time to answer my correspondance and write this damn journal and, as I was looking over the rolling hills from the attic this morning, the sky streaked with red, I shook a finger at myself and said write, write something, anything, so your friends know that you're alive and then I thought that this journal is like a parent and I am the adult child and all that is required of me is to note that I am still breathing. (One of my children hasn't called for weeks and my imagination was going crazy, dreaming up all kinds of horrible scenarios until my parents called and said that they had heard from him. Big sigh of relief.)
Another big sigh of relief came after I spoke to my friend Susan yesterday. She went into the hospital Tuesday to have a cyst removed and David, her love, went into the same hospital the next day, one floor down, to have a hip replaced. When I called Susan last night, she was laughing, said David was "high": "They don't allow you to experience pain anymore." And so these dear dear friends are alive though drugged and my wish, naturally, is that the worst is over and that they will recuperate well and I, selfish creature that I am, will be able to enjoy their company for many years to come.
I have been reading Hollis' book about creating a life and he notes that our lives are fiction. We write the story. He quotes Thoreau: "... if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unimagined in common hours."
So I have been imaging the life I want to lead...
Yesterday, I crashed badly. But have recovered. I saw, felt, knew, that I had to take time out, be alone, sort myself out and so I did. Rob left me in Gaillac after market and I sat in the beautiful big park, read, walked, wrote in my journal. Another sigh of relief. Rob and I have been having an extraordinary time together - the best, in my opinion, we've had for years - and he has verbalized my thoughts about togetherness and solitary time... we both need a lot of both. We are in harmony.
Today is Rememberance Day and after I go to hospital for my first post- op, visit with Susan and David, I will return for the town's festivities and later today, go to Penn with friends for dinner and music and dancing.
Friday, November 03, 2006
I have been writing and rewriting and editing almost non-stop, since I returned from Greece, trying to expand my travel piece to meet the word count of CBC's annual contest and email it before the deadline. At 2 a.m. on the 31st, 30 words short, I admitted defeat.
Bleary-eyed and depressed that I wasn't able to work faster, I had been working on a section about Dublin, searching the internet for inspiration, when I came across quotes by Beckett and Joyce that made me feel better about my failure to deliver:
"Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better." (Samuel Beckett)
"A [wo]man's errors are the portals of discovery." (James Joyce)
"For Love of Literature and Travel" is coming together nicely but I need more time to fine tune it. I also need an editor. The next day, November 1st, I went to see Susan, who is taking a break in Bruniqel - another medieval village, around twenty minutes away from Montmiral - before her operation on Tuesday. For the past dozen or so years, we have been reading each other's work and both (thank goodness) find the other's input helpful. After lunch, she agreed to listen to my story. I read. She interjected when she felt something didn't work and offered good suggestions.
Although, at this point, I realized that the deadline included this day, I knew that there was no way that I - turtoise that I am - could make the necessary changes and finish the piece before midnight (even given that France is six hours ahead of Toronto.)
Nonetheless, in a masochistic kind of way, I see that I have enjoyed the past few days and will finish the piece after a few days rest.
I also felt infinitely better about my slowpoke ways the evening of the 1st when Rob and I went for dinner at another writer's home where I met yet another writer, Homan Potterton, who published an autobiography in 2004. I could have hugged him when he admitted that it took him eleven years to write the account of his first fourteen years and, all the while, his friends badgered him, not believing that he would ever finish it. (I have only begun "Rathcormick: A Childhood Recalled" but I like his style and will review the book when I am finished.) I liked him even more when he said, something to the effect, that who in their right mind would want to writer: it is so exposing.
After this evening at Lyn's, where she served up such a wondrous feast that included a soup with a magic potion, a lamb stew subtly spiced with a sweet chutney aside, baked apples (a la Ruth) and a rich chocolate torte from a fine Patisserie in Gaillac (yes, two desserts); along with the agreeable company, I felt full and content, happy even.
(Please excuse the repetition of photographs in my last entry. Blogger was being temperamental.)
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.
Oh I am so content to be back in the attic of our village house, overlooking the rising hills of the French countryside after two and a half weeks of traveling through Greece.
I am overwhelmed by the Greek culture and people - so much diversity in the land of the gods, as we moved from the urban Athens with the ancient acropolis above the city to the green and, for us, often rainy windy island of Skopelos where Rob's birthday celebration took place, to the southern island of Crete where we wandered the ancient port of Hania and drove along the west coast to a resort near Kissamoo, and finally back to Athens where we met up with Helen and Angela and their cousin Margaret for dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant.
Rob admitted feeling out of place in the company of four women though, in my eyes, he looked quite comfortable during the evening. I must remember that appearances can be deceptive. One can never know what another - even a close other - is feeling or thinking. My first thought was that he would have enjoyed being the sole male but after his admission, I thought what if the shoe was on the other foot, what if it were me dining with four men? I imagine that I would feel similar to Rob.
Earlier in the day, I shopped with Angela and Helen. These two are so much fun and know the city so well that I followed their lead in and out of small shops and one grandiose department store until I felt I would drop though we did stop for lunch at a Taverna where my two Greek friends ordered a simple but delicious meal of appetizers (in Greek) and later, they did take me to their favourite boutique where, with their prompting, I bought myself a pair of turquoise, hand-crafted earrings. (Helen and Angela have a penchant for the beautiful and unusual in jewelery and scarves. I feel like such a plain dresser beside them.)
The next morning, our last full day in Athens, Rob and I went to the Archeological museum. I felt as if I were back at university in an art history class, learning about the origins of western art and civilization. Wandering through the rooms, beginning with many statues of larger-than-life young men, Kouri (most with their penises missing), to the free-standing statues of the gods in motion, to the reliefs on sarophagi, to the... to the... my head was swimming though it was one of the finest musuems that I have ever visited. The passage from room to room, the chronological order of the exhibits, the introductions as one enters each room (in Greek and English) were easily assimilated and gave one (me) an idea of just how smart and artistic these old Greeks were/are. The world as we know it began here... I feel so small and ignorant about all this stuff but I left wanting to know more.
Rob and I parted and I wandered through the old market streets to meet up with Helen and Angela who were as sick of stores as me so we went to the Benaki musuem, ate well in the elegant dining hall, and then wandered through rooms filled with mannequins dressed in authentic Greek costumes (or what were once the everyday clothing) from all the islands. Again the diversity was extraordinary and it was so much richer visiting with my women friends as Angela would shout with glee when she saw outfits from her paternal grandmother's island, Nexos and then another from both their maternal side, and Helen had the same response when she saw a similar dress from Skopelos that she wore to her wedding, making all so much more personal. At the end I bought of portfolio of costumes - fine enough to be framed - to adorn some walls in our French house.
In the evening, Rob and I went to a small Taverna at the foot of the acropolis and the next day, spent most of it on the tedious and tiring trip back to Toulouse.
Today I return to my writing... it's too difficult for me while traveling though I think about it all the time. Sometimes I write stories inside my head, without a pen, and I am more than pleased with the results; but when I pick up pen and try to replicate these or something, anything, I most often become frustrated... they don't flow... I hate what appears... but I can't seem to stop myself... I must stop here. I don't want to bore you once again with my writing angst.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
I knew nothing or little about this island before this visit. Rob chose it because it's the furthest isle south in hopes of finding sun. What can I say? On first glance, I was enchanted to discover that the island is unique, especially the architecture because of 400 years of Venetian rule (around 1200 to 1600), then Turkish, and finally a short (around) fifteen years of self-rule until this small island joined Greece in the early twentieth century. (And, of course, there's the early BC civilizations but we've seen few of the artifacts... )
One would think Crete would be wonderfully exotic, spicey even, with the mix of cultures but I find it too touristy, even during this off-season. Summer must be hell. Rob and I spent three days in the ancient port of Hania and yesterday, rented a car and drove west along the coast. At times, I was terrified: the roads were narrow and high (without safety rails on the sides of cliffs)but most of the time, the scenery was breathtaking (and the sun was shining lighting the many silvery olive trees. At several points, billy goat gruffs lazed on the side of roads and boringly looked at us through the windshield.
We were rising higher and higher into the hills until, unexpectedly turning round a bend, we looked downwards to see water, almost turquoise in colour, lapping up onto a long sandy beach with rows of chaise lounges and umbrellas. We drove into the rsort area, found a hotel complex that is sparkling white and clean with dining area and swimming pool and much cheaper than city accommodation and so booked ourselves in. Breakfast is served at 9 but when I said "oh dear" to the owner, he said he could offer me coffee at 7:30 (and he did - in a silver flask with warm milk. This was pure luxury, sitting early morning, reading, writing, all by myself. We have decided to stay our last night on Crete here.)
Late afternoon, Rob and I walked along the beach, sandals in hand (the first time I've had sandals on this trip) and watched the sun set - just like a commercial. It was undeniably glorious but where are we, I ask Rob. We could be in any resort area in the world. Much of Greece, Crete rather, reminds me of Mexico though it is more modern, more touristy, less picturesque (oh I think I want the Crete of yesteryear - how selfish of me - do not think that I don't feel priviledged to be here.)
Yesterday, sitting out on the balcony of our room, I felt warmed and content - and so lucky to be able to travel the way I do. But I want to think about this traveling business more and try to streamline it, especially the hard part where one is in transition, on the way, hasn't quite arrived at one's destination.
Still, I think travel, all of it, is good for anyone, being somewhere where one doesn't know the rules, can't read the signs, feels the same panic a child does when he or she is lost. I often have to try to communicate my needs while at the same time fight my desire to scream and run back home where all is comfortable.
Greece has been especially frustrating for travel - time consuming and expensive - but there have been moments that make all the trouble worthwhile. I know too that as time goes by more moments will stand out and I will forget the tedious all together...
We leave for Athens tomorrow evening and the sun today is the best yet so I must leave... more soon.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Twenty Years Ago Today
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.
Happy Birthday, dear Gill
I love you - you twenty year old.
Hope you didn't mind the early morning wake-up call and that your day has been special... more than special as you leave your teens behind... I hope it has been fucking fantastic.
We are now on Skiathos - a neighbouring island to Skopelos but larger with an airport. Tomorrow we fly to Crete. (Life has been crazy wonderful but with little time to alight and write. Soon. Now that our partying is ending. And yours is beginning. )
As I promised, we will toast you this evening, sweet baby girl.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
I will be short as I'm sitting in a small internet cafe on the island of Skopelos. All is well though it was quite an adventure getting here but will elaborate later.
Helen and her cousin Angela are here, so is Thomas (Helen's ex who is so damn sweet we're hoping that they'll have a fling) and Susan and David who seem madly in love - this is where they met.
We're having a party Greek-style. Helen says I have to relax and go with the flow. The party will start around two in the afternoon and go on forever. Everyone will dress up and eat and drink and toast Rob and so on and so on. Everything goes... I've created a slideshow of Rob's life that we will flash on the white wall of the house that stands on a cliff and looks for miles over water and white-washed houses and oh it is so gorgeous and I think, hope that Rob will see what a wonderful life he has lived so far. I have to admit that putting it together has made me fall in love with him all over again.
Athens was amazing and I will comment further on all when I can but I find it difficult to concentrate in public places. If I don't answer emails right away, forgive me. There are no wireless cafes... and I will respond as soon as I'm back in France. We don't know where we're going for the rest of our stay: it's a mystery.
And for all of you who tried to come and celebrate but couldn't for numerous reasons, thank you with all my heart. (Rob says we should have chosen Las Vegas - much easier to get to.) (But it so glorious here and I have been laughing since I arrived but that's another story that I'll tell later.)
Saturday, October 07, 2006
For the first time since arriving the second time this summer, I sit at Les Arcades sipping a morning cafe creme. I have been reading, writing, talking to Rob who arrived late Monday. He is still having difficulty with jet-lag and, most likely, work-lag. Though, at times, his work seems more hellish than hollywood glamour, especially the last film, there are benefits. He can now take three months off and write and read and do what he pleases, including escaping to the small island of Skopelos to celebrate his sixtieth birthday.
We drove Susan and David to the airport on Thursday. They will have explored Athens and probably be wandering Evia at this moment and will meet up with us most likely on the ferry to Glossa to be met by Helen and Angela, her cousin from Montreal. I had so hoped a number of friends and family could join us for the celebration but unfortunately timing is bad for most. So though the number will most likely be small, I still hope it will be a joyous rite of passage for Rob. I have a trick or two up my sleeve to help make this happen.
What else can I say? For the last few days the weather has been glorious - sun shining on the red stones of buildings, making me happy to be here, content with my lot. Yesterday, Rob and I went down to the small store at the foot of the village and bought a new wood stove that will be installed during our absence. The owner, Medina, has promised that it will deliver seven times the heat of an electric heater - plenty warm enough to heat one floor of the house and perhaps even two. Thank goodness. We nearly froze last winter though Rob and I agree that this is really not a place to live year round. Without a shining sun, the villagers close their shutters and all appears grey and lifeless for the winter months.
I am reading my second novel about the region (or close enough) and the Cathar religion. This one is interesting in that the main character is a historian who has written a book about famous or rather, infamous, females (i.e. Marie Antoinette, Mary Magdalen, Salome) whose actions have been misinterpreted by recorders of history - most often by men who have their own agenda, sometimes sinister, and sometimes anti-women. I feel a little stupid, perhaps naive would be a better word, especially since I write, and know that events are often rearranged and exaggerated for the sake of a story, thinking that historical texts are always accurate and written with integrity...
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
(Oops, it's a little difficult to read my birthday message so I'll repeat in larger type.)
Happy Birthday to an extraordinary woman,
writer, listener, teacher, singer, dancer
who is always intelligent, loving, generous, sometimes a mite bossy; who can cook up a storm, eat chocolate like it's no one's business; who appears, at different times, as gypsy, angel of mercy, goddess, cowgirl; who has held me while I cry my eyes out and joined me on tabletops. Though her repetoire of faces may shock some, none would deny her beauty and wisdom. I can't help but be extravagant with this friend as she has been such a positive force in my life. I am more than grateful. I am so glad that she was born. Happy, happy birthday, dear Marlene. May this year be everything you want it to be. Love Yvonne
Monday, October 02, 2006
I will quote a section from my journal as I can't seem to gather my thoughts. I'm going to lunch with three good women in a couple of hours and later this evening driving to the airport to pick up Rob. He's somewhere in the sky at this moment - probably over the Atlantic. He told me yesterday that he plans to write up a storm here and I'm hoping some of his concentration will rub off on me.
A strange sleeping night. I had Rachel and Alice, mother and daughter, for dinner last night. After, we sat easily talking about, amongst other subjects, the queen. (Oops, Gill - I served roast chicken, cooked with garlic and herbs on top; and surrounded the bird with onions, whole gloves of garlic, potatoes and carrots - and basted often with wine.) They left just before midnight and I crawled into bed, ignoring the dishes, only to find myself wide awake at 3 a.m. I tried to get back to sleep but my head keep conjuring up images of an old stone wall that instead of rising to some great height, like some walls in this village, went downwards. I started descending though more like a feather than a solid being, but as I went deeper and deeper always facing the wall, I became frightened - though I could see the ground, I never reached it. I was awake enough to make the decision to stop and rise into the sky but when there, I felt my position more precarious than I had felt below.
I had been reading Cixous earlier, before my guests arrived, and had written down several questions to play when time was freer - pertaining to the worst and best in me - and wondered if this had something to do with my imagination working overtime.
Time is moving so quickly. Earlier this week, I welcomed two couples into our home for several days. Although they did interrupt my writing schedule, I didn't mind. I am too much of a recluse when alone and these friends were so considerate in the house and so enthusiastic about the village and Cordes and Albi, that it was a pleasure to show them round, and talk and laugh and live outside my head.
It was especially good to have time with Nita because, though we live less than 15 minutes apart in WV, we never seem to be able to find time to get together. I don't understand this. Nita is an angel. She is one of three women I've known in my life who own a special softness, a kindness that exceeds kind, and who appear, to me, to bear no malice toward any other person in the universe. Furthermore, all three have an almost child-like innocence and delight in all - even the most mundane everyday occurence or object. I asked one's husband once how could his wife be so good and he responded that nothing bad had ever happened to her. She had never been given cause to doubt anything or anybody. Wow.
More observations later - I must check Rob's progress and dress for lunch.
Monday, September 25, 2006
I moved in first gear for several days, after my "cleanse." Food had little appeal. Neither did leaving the house so I lay around and did little. Yesterday, I felt almost normal. I drove to St. Antonine de Noble Val with Bedding and her house guest. I was surprised to find that Sunday market was as crowded as in summer though it was a summer-like day - the sun was shining and I was too warm in my long-sleeved cotton pullover. We separated at market and so I wandered alone picking up several varietes of olives, a half dozen white nectarines, perfect petite zucchini and red peppers, lettuce, and several bunches of purple grapes. We met for lunch and then drove back to Montmiral by Penn and Bruniquel - other hilltop fortress towns, through a landscape of varigated greens on rolling hills. Once again, I sighed and thought about how much I love this place.
I threw together a lentil stew for dinner as Susan and David were joining me. Today, I am cleaning and preparing two bedrooms - the two bedrooms - for two couples from Vancouver who will stay for several days. I shall move into the attic and brave the bats. A week today, Rob arrives.
I have been thinking about me and the voice inside my head that is eternally dissatisfied with me. I know this to be a cruel voice that expects me to be something beyond human. I wonder if I will ever make peace with it. Time is running out.
A couple of days ago, a friend who Rob and I recently had dinner with in Vancouver had a stroke. It scared me so. (He's fine at the moment. Sensation is moving back into his left side.) And I thought to myself that I, we, are now reaching a certain age when we will lose friends or perhaps even the other.
A wiser voice says - oh, I know it is common - do what you want to do now. Don't knock yourself about. Enjoy.
The phone is ringing. It's Susan who is trying to find some good reads for me. "Do you like Henry James? I have a book that describes his agony...." We finish the conversation and I put down the phone. The sun is shining on the small cafe table in the attic. I look out the window over the slopping speckled roof tiles to the fields beyond. Nothing urgent has to be done. I close my eyes and listen to my breathing.
The thing about writing these blogs is that I expose myself and ever since I was a little girl, I have been guarding myself - though I imagine some don't think so - but I hated English as a subject, especially when asked to write about my life. I didn't want anyone to know too much about me. I am still finding it an effort though I know I have come a long way since I decided to try and write for a public.
And these are my small thoughts on this amazingly beautiful day.
Friday, September 22, 2006
I washed my face and stumbled back to bed. I awoke twice more during the night and the same thing happened - only less violently. Even water wasn't allowed to stay put. I slept till two the next afternoon and had just enough energy to put some clothes on and walk carefully down to the store at the foot of the town to buy bread sticks, chicken noodle soup, and coca cola - the only three things that I know are good for a rebellious stomach.
After eating, I slept till eleven the next day, or today rather - a miracle as six hours is usually my max. I feel a little light headed and look a little rough but my stomach is calm so soon I will shower and drive into town for groceries.
The highlight of this low time is that I began reading "Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing" by Helene Cixous. She uses language in such a unique way that I found myself whispering yes, yes, yes and immediately want to attack my manuscript and let my pen fly without letting that damn censor cut me down, make me doubt my lust, my love of words...
Monday, September 18, 2006
on highways, cities streets, and country roads, in cars and trucks and subway trains.
I was going to copy out a play by play of my going-ons from my journal but I think it would bore you and I'm still digesting those moments with family that call forth so many emotions and memories. (I will do this in France. By tomorrow evening, I will be tucked into my bed in our ancient village. Hopefully there I will dream and remember my dreams... )
At the moment, I am overwhelmed by my family - they have been so fantastic to me that I want to hug them again and write all sorts of mushy things about each and every one of them and sing their praises to the heavens - but again it would bore you so I won't. I have seen my mother and father, my middle son and his love (and met her father), my sister Gael, her husband, and daughters - who win the gold medal for their generosity, my Alice-in-Wonderland daughter and her room-mates, my older sister, Stephanie and her husband , my brother and his daughter (who drove over 1 1/2 hours each way to my parents to surprise me) and my preacher uncle, Jim.
So many personalities, so many conversations... is it any wonder that I'm overwhelmed... on the first dreary rainy day since I arrived?
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.
So why did I post this picture? I don't know. Nice arms. Big hands. Charming smile. Looks like the man has depth...
I should be showering and finishing packing and I will have to soon force myself to complete these last few chores before leaving on a jet plane. I have been so busy that I haven't even written in my journal. I finish one task and another one calls. And so the last week has disappeared with an outing here and there to visit dear friends.
This week Toronto. Next France. I'll try to write more soon.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Saturday, September 02, 2006
But I have a friend who stopped blogging for a month. Every day I would check if she had published a new post but no, no, no all month long. Until yesterday. And I sigh with relief. I like reading my friends. I feel a part of their life even when I am too far or too busy to get together.
I think of police interrogations on tv shows where a cop asks a suspect "what were you doing on the night of August 28th, 2006" and the suspect immediately replys "that was the night that I went to The King's Head with my pal Joey. We drank a couple of beer and then I went home and watched the Twilight Zone.
I have to look at a calendar - preferably one where I have noted my appointments - and so I check the past week.
On Sunday, Rob and I took Gill and our eldest son out to a restaurant to celebrate his birthday. On Monday, Rob left, with a large suitcase, to shoot a week in mission and Gill and I went shopping at London Drugs. Tuesday night - Gill's last night in Vancouver - she invited a bunch of friends over and we ate salad and pizza. It blew me away to see her friends who I have known since grade school, standing around, wine glasses in hands, chatting like adults. Oops, they are adults.
Wednesday morning, I drove my fair daughter to the airport and off she flew to Toronto to begin her second year of university. It wasn't so difficult seeing her off as I will join in her Toronto in less than two weeks. In the evening, I went to dinner at a petite French restaurant with my friend Helen and then on to Bard on the Beach to see Troilus and Cressida, a little known play about men and war. The director chose to set the play in the deep south during the civil war and I for one, disliked this. I know it worked on the movie Romeo and Juliet but I found the cast of many characters - some actors playing more than one role - speaking old English, with southern accents, confusing. And the womens' roles- not minor characters usually (for example, Helen of Troy and Cassandra) - made minor. If I were Shakespeare, I would have given the women more lines, more influence over the men but, as I write this, I see that I am unrealistic. Even with the war raging at the moment, women have next to no influence or say.
Thursday and Friday are a blur. Friday, I didn't dress till five when I had to run out and get groceries. For two days, I organized paper - changed most of our monthly bills, on the internet, to paperless accounts so we will receive notice anywhere in the world. I also made appointments for the car to be overhauled, for the carpets to be cleaned, for Rob for a chiropractic session and held several meeting for potential work... and cleaned the house and did mountains of laundry. I know myself well and, if I don't do all this now, it will not be complete before I leave for Toronto on the 12th.
Oops, I also began sending out invitations for Rob's 60th birthday in October in Greece. And still, I have much to do.
This recounting of my week, to my mind, is drab. Didn't you have an interesting thought, I ask myself. A few. When all seemed too much, when I was filled with angst, when I wanted to lambast myself for not revelling in my extraordinary life, I thought of Joanna Field, how in A Life of One's Own, she explores happiness and speaks of - I cannot remember her terms - of something like wide and narrow vision - how to zero in on what is in front of oneself - how to focus on it so nothing else exists. For me, when I am on top of things, this works. Narrow your focus, I tell myself. Narrow it, so those nagging voices in your head, have no room. Nothing is important except the task, the sight, the person, in front of you. Listen hard...
I have also been thinking about change, just how difficult it is to change, to alter one's way of doing things. And yet it is possible, I know, because I have changed over the years. Sometimes it happened slowly - through thinking, thinking, thinking - until one day I woke, and saw that something had shifted without me realizing the process. I was where I wanted to be.
And sometimes change happened with an epiphany, that felt like a flash of light entering my body. (The image I see here, is a painting of the Virgin being impregnated by the Holy Spirit.) Oh, such a wondrous liberating experience. I want more epiphanies. I would like to break old habits and feel strong and free. I want to put into effect what I intellectually think is necessary for my well-being but can't cope with emotionally. I am speaking about trusting myself and doing what I feel is good for me, no matter that no one else understands. I want to feel tough enough not to mind negative feedback. And yet I am still too fearful. Be patient, I tell myself...
And so my week has passed...
Friday, August 25, 2006
A CHILD WAS BORN
Twenty eight years ago, I became a mother. I would not have said that I was mother material. I did not idealize babies. I never went soft and mushy around infants. I hadn't dreamed of holding a child of my own - a concrete expression of my love for another. Being the second child of six, I knew babies were time-consuming and demanding.
And yet, when we decided to have a child, when that child materialized, I found myself loving him beyond reason. Rob too loved being a parent. We used to say that if we were suddenly millionaires, we would have a dozen.
And yet, our first son was not easy. Every morning when I fed him, I learned to hold him at the side of the bed so he could projectile vomit across the room. He never slept when I needed him to sleep. I would often lie beside his crib and try to lull him away with soft words. Often, we both ended up in tears of frustration. When he started to crawl, he went backwards. One day, he just stood up and walked. This has always been his way. It's as if he does all his learning inside his head and when he's perfected whatever, he gives it outward expression.
And yet, he was the most accident prone of all our children. He became so used to the Emergency room that, on the way, while I cried, he would ask if he could have cake from the vending machine.
When he started school, one teacher telephoned me and demanded an interview. She didn't know what to do with my child. He never competed with others. Indeed, he never tried to better his best. At the end of the year, she said that he would be an independent happy adult.
Throughout his school years, he did what he wanted irrespective of what was demanded of him. If he liked a teacher, he worked. If he didn't, he skipped class. (Interesting that his opinion of teachers was often mine.)
He loved theatre classes. One day he returned from school, threw his fist in the air, after telling me that he had won an acting award, and yelled "I'm great." I stood in awe of him - not because he had won an award but because he could feel so good about himself and express it.
Today he is twenty eight. It is difficult to write about him because he is a very private individual. He never chit chats. He has grown tall - much taller than we expected a child of ours could grow. He is thin - too thin, I sometimes think. He is neat, precise, in dress and manner. Sometimes we have long sensitive creative conversations. At other times, I feel a wall and don't know what to say to him. He appears less concerned about the good opinion of others than anyone I know though as I write this, I think he may have a match in his father.
I can't believe I once dressed him in a sailor suit. It must be because Rob once wore one.
And so I sit on the day of his birth, thinking about this son, how he has changed, how he has challenged and changed me. I love him and wish him happiness.
Monday, August 21, 2006
This is the cake that has been my passion for the last week. I gave it my best, and though not perfect and not quite what was requested, I am not displeased with the result. Many praised it before and after it was served. Thank the heavens.
My niece's wedding on Saturday was one of the most exotic I have ever attended as she chose a man whose family is East Indian and so the festivities had a colourful Eastern twist. Unfortunately I missed the groom's party on Friday night - as that is the only time, a la Martha Stewart, that a cake can be decorated for maximum freshness - when all the Westerners wore exotic Indian dress and the women danced with candles on their heads, and anyone who desired could have hands and arms painted with Mendhi patterns, and special rites of passage were performed.
The wedding took place in the Roundhouse in Yaletown. The room was decorated with orchids and candles, and larger-than-life, black and white photographs of the bride and groom, Sarah and Rene. Guests, as they entered, were serenaded with sitar and tabla music and then the ceremony - without reference to religion - took place. I listened to the words carefully, as I am prone to do, and I was impressed with their lovingness and sincerity.
My niece, looked like a Jane Austen heroine in a light taupe, strapless gown, with breasts pushed high - sexy and chaste at the same time - with pearls dropping out of her dark hair at the back. She cried and laughed throughout her vows, holding tight to Rene's hands who was handsome too in his dark suit though his white shoes and pink stripped socks added a roguish edge.
I was surprised that my niece, a modern woman with a career, chose to take her love's name though she told me that she will be addressed as Ms not Mrs.
The evening was a seamless blending of cultures with music and food to satisfy both tastes. At one point, one dark-skinned woman in an extraordnary silk pleated costume performed two dances and a little later, a troop of men with colourful headdresses and costumes danced with what looked like wooden daggers.
And then everyone danced - women with women, men with men, women in saris, women in western fancy, and men, for the most part, in suits and ties, some with creative touches - and so we spun and swayed and clapped to the music - both Indian and Western - until midnight. The wine and laughter flowed while little girls in fancy party dresses ran and played amid the dancers. Afterwards, we old folk took taxis home and the younger crowd went with Sarah and Rene to their hotel for drinks in the bar.
It has been a crazy week as Gill and I did not have time to catch our breath from travel before being thrown into a whirlwind of celebrations, but I did have moments to become reacquainted with my mother-in-law who was an easy guest and didn't seem to mind my absorption with cake; and my niece from California, a dark haired beauty, also a writer, a journalist student like Gill, a vegetarian (who fell off the wagon and ate chicken at the wedding feast), who is full of spirit and life. She noted that it is strange to be thrown into a crowd and find many who share the same features, both physical and mental.
And so my niece Sarah is married. There were three other weddings around the Roundhouse Saturday. And I wonder how their marriages will differ from those of my generation. Or if they will differ...
And now, I must tend to practical matters as I will return to France sometime in September, via Toronto to see Gill settled, and then on to Greece for Rob's sixtieth birthday. I love travel and adventure but still, I would like my world to slow down a little so I can gather my thoughts and dreams.
Friday, August 18, 2006
I'm not sure what I did my first few days. Gill and I went shopping for food, I know, as the cupboard was bare.
On Sunday, Rob and I went shopping again as we were having a Young family feast that evening (though Gill and Karyna did the food preparation and presentation.) While Rob went to the airport to pick up his mother, sister and her love, I straightened, laid the table, and cleaned upstairs. (Thank heavens for Mackenzie who had the main floor spotless or I would not have been able to do it.)
I was shocked when I saw Mother Young. It's been nine years since she was last here and the jump from 77 to 86 is considerable, more so, as she battled with cancer last year - or was it the year before? She has shrunk in size but when I talk to her, she is the same. I have always admired her. She has never, or so it appears to me, been caught up in appearances. When Rob and I started living together - around 37 years ago - Rob called her. She was happy that he wasn't alone. I didn't dare tell my parents: I pretended to be living with his sister.
So the Youngs gathered at our home. Sarah, the bride-to-be, not blushing but beautiful and her fiance Rene, also beautiful, and her youngest brother. Her eldest arrvied just before midnight with his daughter. Our house was full.
On Monday, Gill, Mother, Kathy, Richard and I met Sarah, Rene, his mother and sister in India town for lunch and costume shopping for the Garden Party Friday evening.
On Monday evening, I drove Michael and Mackenzie to the airport. Mackenzie's father is very ill and she is sick at heart. She adores him so and is willing to confront her fear of flying to be at his side. And Michael, my middle child, who has a tender heart, is going to support them both.
Michael tells me that he will not be missed, in all the flurry, but I beg to differ. He and Mackenzie are missed already by more than me.
On Tuesday, Gill and I shopped for wedding cake items and then attended a shower for the bride in the evening.
Since then, I have been consumed with wedding cake planning and preparation. I want to produce the most beautiful wedding cake ever. (It appears that I like to add pressure to myself, even here.) This afternoon and evening, I will be decorating and pray that no mishaps will happen, that it will come together perfectly, beautifully.
I think that making such a cake is like writing a fine story. First one produces the outline, the base, then edits, cuts each layer so each tier is balanced, and then polishes so all is perfect in form and matter for public consumption.
After the wedding Saturday afternoon and evening, I will return to my prose.
Wish me luck.
Friday, August 11, 2006
Yesterday morning we arrived by taxi at Heathrow, Terminal 4, with no knowledge that the airport was under terrorist alert.
Hundreds of people with carts of luggage were lined up outside the building, blocking the entrance. A young American woman, who had been at the airport since seven, filled us in: A terrorist plot - on the scale of 9/11 - had been uncovered the night before. Eighteen arrests had been made so far. All domestic and European flights were cancelled. Many to the US had been put on hold. No one was allowed hand baggage.
I panicked about my laptop. Would it survive the voyage in my suitcase? I had also splurged on an especially fine bottle of Armagnac in France (that was thank goodness in a heavy cardboard box.) Would it survive or explode and possibly wreck my laptop? I carefully planted both in my case, cushioned by clothing, and prayed, wondering if I was a fool not to have disposed of the alcohol. (They both made it.)
When our flight number was called, we were allowed into the terminal, given a small plastic bag for our wallets, passports, and tickets. Gill was not even allowed her lip gloss. We lined up for our boarding passes, watched our valuables being thrown on a conveyor belt and then went through security where everyone - including a woman in a wheelchair - had their body patted down.
Gill and I walked around the Duty Free area stunned with no appetite for food - though we had intended to eat before our flight - nor any for the hundreds of gift items permissable on the plane (no fluids or creams were allowed.)
Though I was relieved that our destination was not the US, I felt an ounce of fear that Canada might be considered too close a neighbour and also be a target.
Everyone was subdued. There was no noisy conversation, laughter or bickering. No one appeared angry - though all had lost the priviledge of safe keeping delicate items. Even the overhead monitors that were not updated to show late departure, received little more than a comment or two. I have never seen such a large group of people so patient.
I stood for a while looking out the large window, watching the planes line up, speed down the runway, and take off into the air, half expecting an explosion.
Finally two and a half hours late, our plane took off. I breathed a little easier when it levelled and the seat belt sign went out. I held Gill's hand through two patches of turbulence. A nervous flyer at the best of the times, I wondered if this flight would be the killer.
I cannot describe my relief when the plane touched down in Vancouver.
So we are home, blissfully home for a little while.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Yesterday was a whirlwind. Early morning, Gill and I went to Starbucks for coffee and internet, and then on to a fitness club (our hotel has priviledges) for a swim and steam bath, and then (puff puff)on to hairdressers' for an English cut (hate mine), and finally into Camden market passage for an Indian vegetarian lunch. We hardly had time to catch our breath before we were underground, catching tube to Leicester Square for half price tickets to Dancing on the Street and then on to do battle with the crowds on Oxford Street, while eying what's new and great for fall - oops forgot I am not in the fashion industry anymore.
For the first time, I find myself liking London. Usually I sigh and say it's just too crowded, too busy, too fast, too dangerous but this time, I am enthralled. Could be because so much revolves around theatre, art, books, and cafes.
Dancing in the Street gave us a taste of the Motown era and its stars - Diana Ross, Little Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, to name a few. Gill, who should be too young, knew practically every song (is she her father's daughter?)and, at one point, both of us were dancing in front of our seats (along with half the audience.)The lead - oops can't remember his name - had a great voice and his ad libbing helped hold the musical together (no story line - only a string of songs.) At the end, he ask all, if they enjoyed the performance, to tell 750 friends to buy tickets because "I don't want to go back to the States until that man is out of the White House." He received a standing ovation.
Afterwards, though I could hardly keep my eyes open, Gill dragged me to a China town for a quick bite and then down into the underground and back to the hotel where I collapsed...
And so we begin our last full day...
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Gill and I are homeward bound. We are now in London at our swanky hotel - in fact, we are at Starbucks down the road from our hotel, as internet there is too expensive.
We arrived yesterday afternoon. Early evening, we went to Leicester Square to check out what's happening at the theatres - lots. We are still debating what to do this evening. And after, we wandered down Charington Cross road, in and out of book stores. (I only bought two), ate at a little Italian restaurant, and then wandered some more - through Chinatown, up to Picadilly Circus. Oh the bright lights and the people. London, appears to me, to be the most crowded city in all the world.
Gill just left to return to our hotel. Today, we hit the Tate Modern and Camden Street market.
Anyway, we are safe and looking forward to home.
Love to all
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Later in the evening, I introduced Mary Oliver to our guests. No one except Gill and I had heard of her.
The evening was more than enjoyable yet when I woke this morning, I was gripped by fear and despair. I see it as self-sabotage. I look in the mirror and don't like what I see.
Speaking of mirrors, I have had several illuminations over the past few days. I am going to quote from my journal.
If I believe that I am doing the best I can and that every other person is doing her or his best, then I will be happier. I will be more accepting of self and others.
I recall one man who had a happy marriage. When asked his secret, he replied that every morning he looked in the mirror and said to his image "you are no great thing." In this way, he kept his humility and silently, or not, was grateful to his wife for spending time with him.
In "Enchanted April", one woman who was disenchanted with her husband one day realized that she was "stingy" with her love and so put all effort into being generous. Her marriage became a marvellous thing.
I pause here. Within my marriage, I have often felt a failure. I thought I lacked the key to his heart. If only I could find the right words or gestures, he would open himself to me, be able to express his love. I wanted to ignite him. I see now that there are no magic words or gestures: I am not a magician. He is who he is. I cannot change him. He does the best he can.
This is difficult for a woman who believes in pushing herself to express all in words, who indeed loves words, who knows their power.
Many many years ago, I met a man who shared my passion for words. After several meetings, he sent me a letter describing our conversations. What astonished me was how well he listened and observed. He quoted me, described my facial expressions and body language. And then he said that he had not asked me to make love because it would have been "too conventional", a married woman "profiting" from the absence of her husband. I laughed out loud at the word "profiting" but admit that I was pleased: I had never thought of myself as desirable.
I pause here again. How could I not have know? I am a married woman with children. The only reason that I can come up with is that I am no good at subtleties. I need words to know what another is thinking. I hate guessing games. Oh yes, I can project my own thoughts but they are too often wrong and I am seldom generous with myself. Silence frightens me. I have a vivid imagination and within it, I project my own feelings of despair.
At the end of his letter, this fellow lover of words, said that if his words didn't offend me, I was to write him about my past, my dreams, and fantasies. I sent him a thank you note and thus began around two years of correspondance that can only be described, in Henry Miller's words, as "a literary fuck feast."
I cannot even begin to describe the pain and pleasure the letters caused... and the relationship ended badly but never, ever, neither then or now, did I, do I regret the experience.
Two days ago, in the village, after so many years, I saw the man and his wife sitting on the steps of a friend's house, smoking. My heart started pounding. I swallowed my fear and approached them. They smiled at me. I smiled and kissed them on each cheek. Within minutes, I was calm. We sat and talked, catching up on each others' lives. At some point in the conversation, I thanked him for his writing and presence in my life. "You woke me up." He seemed surprised though I really do not know how he felt. We left it at that.
Strange is it not, how a stranger can move us, cause turbulent emotion, force us to assess everything that we have ever believed about ourselves? His letters caused me to expose a person that I didn't know existed inside of me. I liked that person.
Several years after the "affair" ended, I read Rosemary Sullivan's book on obsessive affairs of the heart. She explained, if I remember correctly, that such relationships are important. They provide a mirror to both parties - a mirror in which both are magnified to twice their original stature. For a woman especially, this is a gift as she most often thinks of her self - her looks, her talents - as lesser rather than greater than they actually are. And though it is necessary for the mirror to crash, for the individuals to come back to earth, it is always with a more realistic picture of their capabilities.
And so it was good to sit and talk to this couple, to see the attraction, to not feel the old tugs at the heart, to say thank you and bring all to a kinder conclusion.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
I was sitting there scribbling in my journal when I looked up and spied a middle-aged man peeking through the curtains of his hotel room window. He must have seen that there were people all about and, nonetheless, opened his curtains wide and stepped out on the narrow balcony in only skimpy white underbriefs.
Scandalous. Has he no shame? And I look down at my notebook and ask myself the same question.
Is it inappropriate for him to stand on the balcony with practically nothing on - a hairy, smallish man, proud in his skin like a modern day Napoleon? Is it inappropriate for me to tell my crude thoughts? What do I mean by "crude"? Raw, undeveloped, unrefined.
"Leave it to others. You are not good enough," that damned defeatist voice in my head sings loud and clear.
Why am I not good enough? "Because you are the daughter of a daughter whose parents were dairy farmers - though admittedly they were not poor, were honourable, even kind, generous folk - but, don't you remember, you checked the records, before your grandmother, her mothers were illiterate, signed their marriage certificates with an "x" - and you with only an undergraduate degree - no great thing in this day and age - think that you have an original thought in your head?Don't make me laugh."
And so it goes... how many damn times I have said these things? (Please stop reading if you are as tired of me as I am.) I know I defeat myself. I have no excuses now. No job to consume my energy. No overwhelming responsibility. I am free to do as I please and so I will push myself... or attempt to be honest through my writing. Originality be damned.
At the moment, I have two channels of thought cursing through my brain. One is inspired by Virginia Woolf's "Room of One's Own", and the other is inspired by the arrival of my daughter.
Is it all right, I ask myself, to be so dependent on the written ideas of others? Why not? Everyone starts somewhere and why not with the familiar? There is nothing wrong with placing oneself on solid ground before taking a flying leap.
I think of my/our daughter who is a flying leap from her father and me. She is such an amalgamation of the two of us. I stand in awe of her (as I do of all our children.) And yes, I must admit that I am envious that she is nineteen years old and has done so much in her short life. But I see also that it is us, her parents who have encouraged her and helped her in practical ways to live her dreams, gain her experience. She said that, after living with a family where the parents work too much and have little time for their children, that she values hers more.
I see also that I can learn from her. It is high time that I stop defeating myself and move ahead with what I want to do or I will die full of regrets... "there comes times - perhaps this is one of them - when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die..."
Gill and I have only a week to enjoy the south of France together. We have so much we want to do. Yesterday, we went for a women writers' lunch in the next village with Clare and Susan. The food wasn't bad - some courses even good - but the company of these women was superb. No small talk. Lots of laughter, hearty conversation. Today we go to a dinner party. Tomorrow Gill will make a feast. Saturday we will go to the festival at Vaour. All this activity steals my breath. We both want to relax, enjoy, contemplate... and yet, I feel tired, can't sleep at night - last night a bat flying round my room kept me awake till after three.
It seems we are on a merry-go-round and though all is such child's play, light and whimsical, still we are a little dizzy with all the activity.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
I have prepared the house and placed yellow roses - thanks to Clare - in the dining area and her bedroom. I have bought a bottle of vodka, lots of apples and bananas and yoghurt. And though I have loved my time alone, I am content that she will share the house with me. I imagine we will meet up at the strangest hours - both of us horrible sleepers - and will talk and talk and talk...
A week Monday, we leave for London. I was despairing at the cost of a hotel as even the tacky ones were around 70 pounds (150 CAD) a night but then I tried Hotwire, an American company though I wasn't sure that they had rooms in London. They do. Hotwire has the best hotel deals. You have to reserve and pay, knowing only the price and area and assigned number of stars, before you know the hotel name. With trepidation, I did this and found for 79 USD a night, Gill and I will be staying at the Hilton in the Financial District (very central). We are both excited. We would like to see a couple of plays - one at the Globe if possible - and do a little sight-seeing and shopping - and then fly home and fall into the opening ceremonies for Sarah, my niece's wedding on the 19th.
Life is good. I am so fortunate.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
It is so sultry hot in the south of France. Reminds me of the first year of the writing workshop when some women tied wet scarves around their necks to keep cool. We all wore fewer and fewer clothes and then dispensed with undergarments all together. With each passing day, the writing grew steamier. I remember one plum sitting like a buddah naked in the attic; and the restless sleepless nights, so draining that even the nicest of us cursed to the heavens.
This month, July, is similar - someone said, though I don't quite believe her, that one day the thermostat burst at 50. Each day sweat pours down me and it is difficult to find the energy to do anything. I find myself more frustrated than lonely - although there have been moments of extreme loneliness - one night I was in tears. But, for the most part, I am content albeit restless. What I am trying to do is observe myself without passing judgment, and see when I am most content, happy even.
My journal is full of random notes. I have had four books going at one time, each lying in various corners of the house that I go to at various times of the day. In the morning I am always up in the attic - the only time that it is cool enough. I love it here. The view is so gorgeous and whether it is time or place, my writing flows. In the afternoon, I am down in the writing room or rather, salon, as it's the only place cool enough to think, read, write notes. I am usually content at these times.
On Sunday night, I went down the hill, out of the village, with David to learn how to water his garden. (He and Susan have left for a few days.) I felt as if I had stepped back in time. David showed me how to throw the bucket down the well and then pull it up, hand over hand, by way of a rope and a single pulley. The water is then poured into a jug and, in turn, poured onto rows of squash, zucchini, carrots, beetroots, tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs. I am such a supermarket baby that I squealed when I saw a carrot pushing its way from the ground.
Last night, Clare and I returned and while she watered, I pulled up bucket after bucket of water. It took around an hour of steady work. We both agreed that though it was fun, we would hate to be obliged to go every evening: market vegetables are so fresh and inexpensive here that we hardly see the point in trudging down the hill to do a hour's labour and then trudge back up while the sun bakes us. Tomorrow, she - a true friend - has offered to return with me. We are going to go early morning in hopes that it will be cooler.
After our garden adventure, I was invited to Clare and Basil's for dinner. I think Basil thinks I don't buy groceries, don't eat much at home which isn't really true though I seldom eat a sit-down three course meal. Perhaps it is that I have such a hearty appetite when I'm there. Clare had prepared crudites - assorted cold vegetables - earlier and Basil waited for our return to fry the duck. I supplied a local red wine and it was an easy, perfect meal at the end of a day that was still hot, even with the door and windows open. We sat and talked for another hour or so and I only left as I saw that it was eleven and I wanted to catch Gill before she went to sleep. (This is her last full day of work.)
It was fascinating seeing Basil and Clare relate to each other. In fact, I have been observing many couples here, complementing and colliding, in order to figure out why some marriages appear harmonious and others miserable. (Rob noted once or twice that I have unrealistic expectations for a marriage though I have yet to be convinced.)
I love it when a man or woman is playful or tender with his or her mate. It distresses me when one dictates or lectures the other, as if he or she were a child. It's not that I expect all to be lovey-dovey all the time but I would believe in the institution more if I heard more couples uttering as many kind words as words of condescention to their love.
One report (I can't remember where I read it) insists that married men are the happiest people in the world, single women next, followed by single men, and married women alas are the least happy.
I have read Leonard's "On the Way to the Wedding" twice and am still thinking about it. She speaks not only of one's marriage to another but of one's relationship to one's creativity.
I am catching a glimpse of when I flow without fear of reprisal, in pleasure, happiness even; and where I struggle, what frustrates me, stops me cold; and my contribution to either state. Leonard insists its an ongoing battle.
No great conclusions about anything. But my daughter arrives Sunday and I am content.