Friday, June 30, 2006

Today I took my coffee out to the Esplanade as the sun was rising - a perfect red circle of light. Does this mean it will storm later? "Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky in morning, sailor's warning." But it is not the sky that is red and although early, I can already feel the warmth. I am happy that I am moving into our house today to begin a month of solitude. This is not to say that I was miserable at Susan and David's. Okay, I was but not because of them but because of my cold. I liked sleeping in the curtained alcove and waking to the sound of David's cello. It strikes me that I can learn something from him about discipline (already suggested to me by Vaughan.)

Last night I was invited to dinner at my/our house by Shannon and Jim. The place looked lovely, the table sat with placemats and cloth napkins, a basket of bread, a small dish of olives, a plate of cheeses. Jim had prepared eggplant parmesan and it was delicious. They enjoyed the house, they said. The shallow kitchen sink was not a bother but they agreed with Rob that a balcony overlooking the valley would have made their stay idyllic. When will this happen, I wonder. Lewis has already called Rob with plans that feature a deck and the living space will be arranged to emphasis the architecture and use wasted space... all his suggestions sounded wonderful when he walked me round the house but now, I fear the cost.

I settled into the house this afternoon, did laundry, went to LeClerc, picked up a new printer, thinking installation would be a snap. No such luck. I had to email Brendan and then talk to him through ichat. Two hours later, the printer works. Is nothing simple? I realized also in talking to him that this month will be the first expanse of time I've had alone since I had children. I am looking forward to it. I fear it. But I want, need, this time. The sweat is pouring off my brow. I am wondering if this summer will match the one we had three years during the first writing workshop.

That's it for now. I shall climb into clean sheets and read.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

I thank the heavens that I feel myself today. It's morning and I have just had my coffee sitting on a bench on the Esplanade. There is a slight breeze and though it promises to be another hot day, this morning is comfortable. I feel so lucky as I look over the rolling hills of the valley below, my head clear for the first time in three days.

I only slept three hours last night, tossing and turning, trying to sleep but not reaching it until after four a.m. (What could I expect after sleeping half of yesterday away.) Every half hour or so, I would turn on the light and read. I finished "The Blue Flower" by Penelope Fitzgerald, a tale of the life of the romantic poet Fritz von Hardenburg (later called Novalis) who fell in love with a twelve year old, Sophie von Kuhn, who he called his "heart's heart" his "true Philosophy." She was such a child, an innocent who laughed at the poet's fancy words but liked him well enough and agreed to marry him on her sixteenth birthday. (She died two days after her fifteenth.) There is another woman, a confidant of Fritz, closer in age, more his intellectual equal, who loves him too (or so Fitzgerald insinuates) but he only has eyes for Sophie. And then Fritz' brother, Erasmus, also falls in love with Sophie. Unfortunately Fitzgerald does not always supply dates but sometime after Sophie's death, Fritz becomes engaged to another and though, in a letter to Friedrich Schlegel, he writes that an interesting life awaits him, he adds "Still, I would rather be dead." Three years later he dies of tuberculosis.

After trying for sleep again, I picked up "The Secret Self 2: Short Stories by Women" - there is a bookshelf beside my bed with only good books, no trashy novels, so I am forced to read literature - and read two stories, one by Kate Chopin and another by Katherine Mansfield.

I am starting to panic that I will be awake all night so I again try for sleep without luck. I play on the internet. Finally I fall.

I appear to be living in a dream world but I like this world where anything is possible. (I must be feeling better.)

A few days ago, I finished "On the Way to the Wedding" and a passage, a quote by Rilke keeps returning to mind. (Kate says I quote too much but I love quotes, giving credit to others for my leaps in thought. Or it could be that it is my insecurity that pushes me to quote - shows you out there - that I am not a complete idiot. Whatever. Kate added that a blog is like a graduate course: everything is allowed. It's a great experiment.

Anyway, the quote by Rilke that won't leave me alone is this:

"We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can: everything unheard-of must be possible in it. That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter.... But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished the existence of the individual; the relation between one human being and another has also been cramped by it... only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively from his own existence."

I love this quote. I love the permission it gives me to dream my dreams and to discount nothing. At this time of my life, when I seek direction, I think this important. On Friday, I move back into my house (and as much as I love Susan and David and their bookshelves,) I am looking forward to a month of solitude to think my crazy thoughts and hopefully come up with some sort of plan, an outline even, of what I want to do with myself.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Oh dear, I am miserable. My eyes are sore, my nose is red and running, and my head feels as if it were in a vise. For the past two days, all I've done is sleep and take mega volumes of vitamin C and cold medicine. The first night of this damn cold, David made me a pitcher of hot toddies and I slept eight blissful hours. Tonight, even with the same remedy, I've only slept two and am wide wake.

Meanwhile I am capable of little. I've read a book of Chekhov short stories but I find them depressing. What I wouldn't give for a good cheap read and for this cold to be gone so I can enjoy my few days with Susan and David.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I left two of my favourite females in Germany.

Kate and Mary Christina

Susan and I arrived in Montmiral not last night but the night before. Yesterday was filled with the practical - grocery shopping and laundry and though I did write a blog, I was moving too slowly after so much driving to type and post it... so I will take you back to yesterday, Sunday.

I woke to the sounds of the Cello - David is practising his scales in the next room. I am content to lie and listen after days of travel. Susan and I had such a sweet trip... first, our time with Kate and her family. Though we had planned to rent rooms in some little inn, I am glad we ended up staying in Kate's apartment. It allowed us to catch more moments of conversation with Kate and more time to hold her precious Mary, talk to young Brian, and discuss soccer with John (can you believe it?)

The visit was too short but still it was good. I adore Kate. She is strong, forthright, intelligent; a thoughtful, loving friend and mother; a crusader of women's causes; an extraordinary writer. I see her - so much younger and taller than me (though I never feel these differences when by her side) - with her wild strawberry blond hair - as a woman warrior or perhaps even the goddess, Artemia. (Don't you love it, Kate? Yes, you are magnificent.)

Susan and I left mid-morning - onto the autoroute again (groan) and drove to the German border, stopping in the town of Breisach on the Rhine where we walked through the town, up a hill, to a Gothic church. A gold reliquary, under the main alter, caught my attention. It was beautiful but gave me the creeps. I wondered what part of what saint's body lay inside. Can you imagine cutting some loved one's body into pieces so many could share his or her remains?

We left, drove over the Rhine and into France - my geography improves with travel - and onto Colmar - a large city with many winding, one way streets, trying to find an Etap hotel, one of a chain that exists all over Europe, that Kate suggested. Every Etap hotel guarantees a simple, clean room at a more than reasonable rate. The one in Colmar cost us 39 euros. After showering, Susan and I walked to a small Alsacian restaurant where the food was adequate but would not have impressed my gourmet daughter (and did not impress my fussy friend.) Still we sat outside and felt perfectly content.

The next morning, we went to the Unterlinden Museum, formerly a Dominican convent, dating back to the thirteenth century. It was gorgeous. We went into the main entrance, paid a small fee, and then walked through to the inner courtyard - a square of grass, shrubs, and flowers, surrounded by a granite arcade - my dream house, I told Susan. But the best was yet to come - inside was Grunewald's famous Isenheim Altarpiece. It's strange studying art history from slides and then confronting the actual work. Sometimes I'm disappointed but not here. There is something about German art that is so blatant, harsh almost: the centre panel of this polyptych with Christ on the cross does not try for delicacy. Christ's wounds are ugly, gapping, bleeding; his crown of thorns, is sharp tipped, gouging his head; and his body, large - over twice the size of the other figures - is a deathly colour, almost green, with sores everywhere.

Oh there were so many great pieces, art and sculpture, both horrific and beautiful - one of Saint George slaying the dragon (at which Susan said, she can't help herself. She always feels sorry for the dragon) but after an hour or so, we hit the road again. Enough of large cities, autoroutes, I told Susan, so we drove through the Alsace on small country roads, rich in vineyards, famous for its Reisling until late afternoon, we stopped at a small auberge in an itsy-bitsy village. The inn had just changed hands the week before and the new owners, a young couple - the woman very pregnant - showed us our rooms that were simple French country - the same price a the Etap - and provided us with a dinner, made from products of the region, that even Gill would have approved of.

After sleep, a good breakfast of croissant, homemade preserves and cheese, fresh orange juice, ham, sausage, and coffee, we were in the car again, driving, driving, past Rodez, Carmaux, Cordes, and then blessedly home safe.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I feel such a sense of accomplishment, driving from Albi in the south of France to near Frankfurt in Germany, along the autoroutes where drivers often do 160 kph. I wonder if this would be any big deal for a guy. (I can imagine Rob saying better her than me driving - I am the worst passenger in the world.)

Germany is so different than France... but how to explain without generalizing... guess I'll generalize... The Germans appear hardier, squarer, taller than the French. And kinder, less formal, more straight-forward. Thez "schloss" their words - and this is not the right word to use, I know, but there is a s that rolls off their tongues that is beyond me. And although German is a sister language to English, I have trouble understanding the simplest words, except for "gud morgan" (wrong spelling) and danke that the whole world knows.

Susan is travelling with me and we thought we'd be over two days on the road but the autoroutes were so direct and fast, we made it in less than two days. I called Kate fearing that an early arrival would throw her off but she said no, come today - Kate always makes me feel welcome and loved - even with two babies - one three year old and a six month old - and a writing career.

Susan and I took the family out the first night for dinner at a German restaurant set in a garden and I drank beer with John and found that the Germans love potatoes as much as me. The second evening, Kate and Susan made a Bulgarian dish - Brian's favourite. During the day, we walked through the town, or rather the old part of the town with classic architecture - or what I, ignorant, think of as classic - wood posts exposed, surrounding squares of white plaster, windows with boxes of trailing roses. It is a lovely place. Another observation is that, on the streets, unlike France, many men go topless exposing their hard lean chests - or is it just the hot hot days, unusual I hear for this time of year. And many people, lean over to Mary Christina, Kate's baby, to win a smile. She is a beauty, a cherub, who is perfectly content to have Susan and I in her home - smiling and smiling, one of the happiest babies I've seen. Kate said that she doesn't understand the emphasis on nuclear families: hers is so much better behaved when they have guests.

On Monday evening, Kate and I drove with Brian and Mary to Frankfurt to try and catch some of the soccer fever that has caught this city. (When Germany won a game yesterday, the town of Langen, where Kate lives, was filled with the sound of honking horns. Cars, store windows, house windows, have small German flags waving in the slight breeze - man, is it hot. I am forever asking if it's me or the temperature. Both.

Anyway, we parked miles from the river, the centre of Frankfurt, and wound our way through the city streets to the river bank where soccer fever was evident in the many little ethnic food stands there - most with television screens so no one could miss a game. Unfortunately, we had waited until Brian finished kindergarden and the excitement was at a low, and he was tired and the baby too (oh I remember those days) so we climbed onto a river boat/restaurant and I had another beer (quite unlike me) and a famous german pretzel (more like a skinny bagel.) By the time six o'clock rolled round and the next game was to start, Mary was screeching and refused to be pushed so Kate and I took turns carrying her and Brian, exhausted, climbed into the stroller. We eventually took a taxi back to the car.

What else can I tell? I'm loving being with Kate and her babies and Susan. During the days, it's only females. In the early mornings, I've been taking off by myself for coffee and reading and writing... Oh dear, I haven't mentioned much of the guys -I suppose because they're gone all day. John to his work. Brian to school. When they arrive home, they're both tired. John is also a soccer fan so the television goes on and he watches whatever country is playing. Brian plays by himself or with his sister, though we caught a little time yesterday evening when we went toy shopping.

Today, Susan and I will go to Frankfurt to look at museums, Kate will work (how she does all is amazing) and tomorrow, Susan and I hit the road to find our way down to our village. We will go slow and easy this time.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I am at Susan and David's house, sleeping in an alcove in a room that looks out over the Esplanade, a room where I spent many happy hours at Susan's feet, talking about everything under the sun. I look out the window and there is a thick mist over the valley. Shannon and Jim, our guests/renters arrived yesterday afternoon. (I thought they were to arrive the 15th but Shannon tells me it was to be the sixteenth.) How strange to see Shannon on the streets of Castelnau in her LJ clothes. I knew her as a customer at the store first and then this wild affectionate woman began inviting me to her home for feasts that she and Jim often prepared together. (I took them to the large grocery store last night and Jim was in heaven - Shannon tells me that he loves food stores as much as she loves LJ.) She also has taken a few courses with Marlene so I find our interests in Body/Soul collide as well.

I cleaned our house till it shone. Before they arrived, I walked through each room thinking how beautiful all looked. I even waxed the dining room table. What is it about a clean sparkling house that makes me feel so good? Perhaps Basil was right when he said I missed my profession: I should have been a cleaner. Susan has noted to others that I'm very good at laundry... my mother and all my mothers before her would be proud. How I wish I could make my writing shine so well.

This morning, Susan and I leave for Germany. David will drop us off in Albi at the car rental place and then, my older friend and I will hit the road. All I have to do is drive. Susan will navigate. She has planned the schedule, the "interesting" places where we will stop for the night. I think she has me driving up to eight hours a day... so Kate, if you're reading this, Susan is not following MapQuest's route that you so kindly sent. Heaven knows when we'll arrive at your doorstep. I'll call you en route, and let you know where we are...

And for my family and friends who like to know what I'm up to, I'll blog again at Kate's - she made me last time so I imagine her, stick in hand whipping me into shape once again.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

So many years later...

Our Wedding Day
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.


Thirty-six years ago today, we married. I can't remember if Rob used the conventional four words - will you marry me - or not. I remember laughing and agreeing. I also remember the next four days walking around muttering under my breath - you fool you said you'd never marry what are you doing tell him before it's too late - but then it came to me like a flash, an epiphany (something that has seldom happened to me) that to marry this man was good, very good, and so we were married some months later in an Unitarian Church by a washing machine salesman (another story.)

Why was I so certain that he was the one? I knew I loved his arms, his lips, his voice but why tie the knot, commit till death do us part? I sometimes think that it would have been easier and better not to marry. Simone de Beauvoir says her life with Sartre was richer because she refused to have a conventional marriage - too easy to fall into conventional roles.

I don't like marriages or any relationship where two must do everything together, where one may want to do something, say travel, and the other doesn't, so the one doesn't live her or his dream. I especially hate marriages where the husband is lord and master and the wife is servant - no less, a slave.

There have been times - though very few - where Rob has played the male dominance part and sneered and derided me but he is not above apologizing and later, when calm, is open to discuss whatever.

I had this idea once that people come together out of lust yes but also to teach each other: I am interested in this, you are interested in that. We will broaden each other's world by coming together (no pun intended.) So I will go to a jazz concert and you will attend a ballet. You will talk about your passion and I will talk about mine. Maybe we will become passionate together or not and, if not, it is a pleasure to see the other totally absorbed. (I have stood in the doorway to the office and watched Rob with his headset leaning back in ecstasy listening to music... and I feel such a surge of love for him.)

Susan once said that one's mate/partner/love should be one's best friend in the sense that she or he encourages the other to live her or his dreams - no matter if it excludes the other.

I wonder sometimes, if some think, that leaving one's partner for an extended period of time is dangerous. He or she may find another. He or she may find that living solo is better for his or her work and creative endeavours. And there is always the fear that the other may have a serious accident and be lost forever. (Damn it is me who thinks these thoughts.) But these things could as easily happen at home. When I went to France the first time, when I went to Northern Ireland, everytime I leave, a voice in my head asks how I dare leave my man for so long... but it is my voice, not Rob's. And it has become easier. I know, at this time in my life, that I cannot live long stretches with anyone. I need time alone to explore my heart and soul so I can decide what I need to do next without worrying about the other.

In one of his books, James Hollis asks how we can expect to know another when we don't even know ourselves and yet it is only in relation to another that we catch a glimpse of self (though sometimes I don't like that self.) He advises us not to ask of another what we must do for ourselves - and I assume this means loving and respecting ourselves and tending to our own needs - difficult at the best of times.

As far as what we must do for the other - we must love that he or she is other, a mystery.

So to my mysterious other, though your silences sometimes frustrate me - that perhaps speak of my frustration and fear of being silenced - I still love your arms, your lips, your voice. As you can see in the pictures below, I loved your anniversary message so much that I copied you.
From Canada to France
From France to Canada

See what Rob started
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Picnic at Monestieres

I'm here in the south, listening to Joaquin Phoenix, all by my lonesome. The sun has been shining since I arrived and though I've been out a little - like the casual picnic at Monestieres above - and to market in Gaillac this morning with Bedding where I bought some fruit and vegies and calla lilies, I've hardly left the house. I've been reading a lot, thinking too, and though I have yet to decide what to do with the rest of my life, I am content. So far. I haven't spent this much time alone for ages and so I am playing house, cleaning here and there, dancing to my favourite songs... nothing profound to report.

This evening I've been invited to dinner at Susan's and David's where I've promised to dance an Irish jig when David plays the Irish Washerwoman on his cello. I said one glass of wine might jog my memory and help my performance.

Susan and David

David has loaned me a car, a very old car, though he warned me the clutch isn't up to much... so I doubt I'll be travelling far... even a little worried about taking it to Gaillac.

Not much inspired reporting here, fear I am still jet-lagged.

Am in the middle of a book on travel writing and my favourite line so far is: "A vivir que son dos dias" that the author translates to "Live it up: Life lasts just a couple of days." What if we lived always thinking this? I might try for a few days.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Gill and I together

she's here!
Originally uploaded by gill.

I love this young woman. (When I look at her, I see her father's lush lips.) I spent a few days in Paris with my daughter. What more could I ask for? My favourite girl/woman and my favourite city. She met me at the airport - bright smile, big hug - and helped me with my bags to the train, to my hotel. No mishaps. Sigh of relief. I left my belongings in the small, oh so French, parrot in the lobby, hotel and we caught the metro to Palais Toyko for dinner... amazing that I still had energy after my flights but by the end of our fish feast and a shared bottle of wine, I was too exhausted to explore the "flesh" exhibit and Gill led me back to the door of my inn.

Next day, we met and went to a street market. I'd forgotten how lush these markets are - stand after stand of exotic and domestic fruits and vegies (we bought white asparagus and artichokes), spices, cheeses, sea food... the only thing that made me avert my eyes was a lovely wicket basket filled with pigs' ears. We bought lunch and dinner, dropped for the latter in her fridge and strolled to a nearby park for lunch. I wanted to dance on the grass and yell out "Marlene, I'm in Paris."

Later that evening, we carried bags of food and wine on the metro to Ari's, a friend of Gill, where Gill prepared the meal for us and another young woman, Assia - a bubbly beauty who tells us she had bought her "dream dress" at a morning market. She pulls it out of its bag - a frothy, shiny, strapless, pink confection with bubble hem. She puts it on, twirls, and can't stop smiling. She tells us she is going to wear it everywhere. I imagine her wearing it to the most inappropriate places and smile too - oh how did I get so old... we sit in the garden/patio with rockery wall, rose bushes (two are in full bloom) and dine by candle light. Of course, the fish, the asparagus, mayonaise dip, artichokes are delicious as is the peach cobbler and ice-cream that Ari served.

The next day, Gill and I decided to hit the big department stores but oh so many people and so much stuff that we tired fast, found a bookstore, bought some light reading and headed to the Tuileries (I love the name - reminds me of tutus and ballet dancers) where we sat in a cafe in the park and read for a hour or so. (One of my favourite doings, especially as Gill sat across from me.) Later that evening, I went to Gill's apartment where she fed me again and we sat talking, talking... and then said goodnight, goodbye for a time. It could well be several months before we see each other again. How strange to be leaving for the south without her who has always been my travelling companion. I will miss her.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Au Revoir Vancouver


In just a few hours I'll be taking off into the sky en route for Paris and Gill. I've said my goodbyes to the women at LJ. (They treated me to a lovely wine infused meal the other night.) This morning Marlene treated me to petit dejeuner in a small French cafe. I hate goodbyes so don't dwell on them. The airport farewells are the hardest. Rob will have to bear my tears.

Still, I am happy to leave for my beloved daughter and Paris. In four days, I will head down south to our ancient house. I plan to read and think a lot, to drink lots of wine and eat lots of cheese and visit with friends. In several weeks, Susan and I will take a quick trip to Germany to see Kate and her guys and meet her new daughter.

Must finish my packing. Au revoir... wish me a safe journey.