Sunday, July 29, 2007


I wish I were a poet. Marianne Moore's poem "Silence" says so beautifully, without apology, what I would like to say to my visitors: She quotes her father - “'Superior people never make long visits,/ have to be shown Longfellow’s grave/ or the glass flowers at Harvard..../ they sometimes enjoy solitude...'/ Nor was he insincere in saying, 'Make my house your inn.'
Inns are not residences."

My second set of visitors departed yesterday. As soon as they left, I washed their sheets and towels and spent the rest of the day writing. Oh glorious solitude. I truly like showing family and friends my town. I enjoy their exclamations of awe and appreciation as if I were personally responsible for creating this heaven. But I am not good at having company for long stretches.

On Friday, the last evening of their stay, the woman of the couple asked me to invite a few friends over to celebrate her partner's birthday, which I did and enjoyed immensely especially since she and he did most of the cooking. (For Gill, I shall tell that we had roast turkey with peppercorn sauce, potatoes roasted with olive oil and herbes de Provence, green beans, tomato salad with fresh basil, mozzarella, cucumber and avocado, and a fresh fruit flan from a Gaillac bakery.)

Still I sighed with relief when they left as I was anxious to get back to my writing. I was feeling good about my progress when the telephone rang. It was my guests asking if they could return for one night a week from now. Not knowing how to say no - though I groaned inside my head - I said yes but the more I think about it, the more unhappy I become. This is the only alone stretch of time I have to write and I need this time to please myself and not worry about being interrupted. A smart friend suggested that I book them into a hotel for the night and this I'm going to try to do although August is a busy time and I may not be able to. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Having said all this, I know that each visitor is unique and also the number of visitors I've had makes for my warm or lukewarm reception. When Rob's sister came - my first visitor of the season - I was pleased. She said that she never stays anywhere - even with her children - more than three nights. When she left with her partner, I felt the time was too short.

My second set of visitors arrived a day later. And they were kind and helpful but I did not know them well before the visit and so it took more energy to entertain them. I wished Rob were here as he knows the man better than I do. I found myself lacking in graciousness.

My sister tells me that it's in our genes - if we think unkindly about someone, we blame ourselves. We are the ones lacking in generosity. It's never another person demanding too much from us.

Enough. No, one last word. With every guest, I learn how to be a guest. This is good.

And now I shall close myself away for as long as I can and write my heart out. I am determined to make some more headway with my novel.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Seeking Sleep in the South of France

Denis at St Antonin Noble Val

Lovers with Spice

Sunday July 22, 2007: Sitting outside the Toulouse-Lautrec Musee while Kathy (Rob's sister) and Richard check out the short guy's art. I am yawning, not out of boredom but because I have not slept through a night since I came to France over a week ago. And last night, Susan and David came for dinner and I served two chickens, potatoes, garlic buds, green beans, salad with endive, a selection of French pastries, and cheeses accompanied by a bottle of Brut bubbly and red wine from Chateau Mayragues that we had visited earlier that day. Oh la la.

And still I did not sleep the night away.

Since my arrival I have bought a 1996 Renault Clio diesel with low mileage so I am now free to buzz around. I have also shown the mason, electrician, and builder around the house and wait anxiously impatiently for a quote on the work Rob and I want done to this house. Will we be able to add a few extras or will we have to subtract some of our ideas? I should know this week.

Kathy and Richard arrived Friday in Toulouse after a few days in London and a few more in Paris where Richard was attending a conference so they are happy to relax, do their laundry, and see a few sights but not rush insanely. Kath and I have caught up on our children and our lives and I have learned about Richard's family. He's an interesting and interested person - asks many questions about the region - most of which I can't answer and though I have had pangs of feeling like an ignorant fool, I have been able to sweep them aside. (I have spent most of my life feeling deficient and I'm tired of it. I am who I am though admittedly I have to remind myself of this at times like this.)

This morning we went to St Antonin market - the best in the area - with its spice and olive, fruit and vegetable, sausage and cheese, wine and handicraft stalls. In summer it is especially voluptuous and reminds me of past writing workshops when Marlene and I, often Gill, sometimes Ursula and Shirley have gone and gathered simple but beautiful fare for our opening feast. Hopefully next year we will resume this tradition.

I am so lucky to be here, I know, I know but if I could just sleep a long stretch - I don't care if it's day or night - I would be able to think more clearly and get to my writing work.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Week of Many Happenings

The past week - what with celebrations and travel - has been so busy that I've barely had time to think, let alone digest the many happenings. After my sweet Gill arrived at the airport, we returned home to my brother, niece, and Rob. At the same time, another sister arrived and several cousins from Connecticut who stayed at other sisters' houses. On Saturday, a number of them left for Whistler and Gill and I were able to have a day to ourselves. It felt good walking down the street arm in arm with my baby. We pampered ourselves with manicures and pedicures, stopped for a lunch of salads (I always eat healthy with Gill), and walked some more. We talked. We shopped a little and kept on talking, catching up on how we feel about our lives. I love the ease and openness of our relationship. I love how my daughter loves me.

The next evening, when all had returned from Whistler, we went to my niece's - the eldest grandchild of my parents, the daughter of my older sister - for a barbecue. It turned out to be an emotional evening, a sort of "Home for the Holidays", where I found myself thrown back into my nuclear family's dynamics where voices were raised and tears flowed. And it was my brother who saved the evening. He is a quiet man who feels comfortable putting his arms around his sisters and mother and telling us that he loves us.

I have not been around him for any length of time for years - I am nine years older than him - and I was glad he stayed at our house. He is a gentle man, thoughtful, easy-going, and listens to his daughter who, for most of her years, has been raised by only a father.

I always find myself lost in large groups of people, even family. There are just too many people to talk to, too much stimulation, and I retain little. It's like going to the Louvre and looking at art. By the end of several hours, I might remember one painting or statue but, come to think of it, it doesn't really matter: I am happy to be overwhelmed. The evening of my parents' 60th wedding anniversary celebration felt something like this. There were around forty guests at Anatoli Souvlaki, a Greek restaurant that turned Irish for an evening with the help of the Celtic trio, Ballyhooley - who were quite wonderful, playing nine different instruments: my mother hummed and sang along to many of their numbers.

As I was the chief organizer, at my father's request, I had to stay on my toes - arrive early and help arrange the tables, welcome the band, cue them when to play and when to take a break, make sure everyone knew where to get a drink, where to sit, exchange words with the head waiter about when to serve the food, the champagne, and cake, collect money from my siblings, and pay for the music and food at the end of the evening. Rob thankfully set up the projector and screen and played the slide show I had put together of my parents' 60 years together, featuring as many of the guests as possible. I was definitely overwhelmed and relaxed only for short periods of time during the evening.

My mother and father appeared to enjoy themselves. (I hope they did.) They arrived after most of the guests, looking like royalty as they were escorted into the room on the arm of the head waiter and hostess. Everyone cheered. And the conversation and drinks flowed. And the food came. And the music played on.

And then the entertainment began. My baby sister (with the help of another sister) had cleverly written a rap song incorporating many of my parents sayings when we were children - like "just wait till your father comes home" and "if you mum me one more time" - and so the six of us got on stage, caps on backwards or sideways, and happily made fools of ourselves.

The siblings entertain

My Mum, Dad, Gael then made speeches and since all three are or were involved in politics, they are easy on a stage with a microphone and spoke well and were applauded but... I don't really know how to explain this. The evening somehow became public as if for a general audience which seemed strange to my ears as all present were family... and even I, who hate to stand in front of a crowd of people and speak and yet did to present my mother and father with my labour of love of the last month - a bound book that included photographs and stories of my parents' marriage - forgot that I was speaking to my beloved nieces and nephews and children and friends and felt awkward. Perhaps this is just me?

Yvonne's gift

The evening went so quickly. What do I remember of it now? Dancing with my father who looked very dapper - like a rich tycoon. Looking at my mother and thinking how beautiful she was in a shimmering top that we chose together. Talking to my eldest son. Missing my younger one. Watching my daughter, happy, arm around her "lova". The music of Ireland. The chatter of voices. My two little nieces observing the family from the stairs.

Two nieces

The next day, I prepared for France. The next I flew to Toronto. The next a full day of travel to my small village. So here I am, sleeping strange hours but feeling content, enjoying the solitude.

Friday, July 06, 2007


Friday, July 6, 2007

Today my daughter arrives. I haven't seen her since Christmas and how I have missed her. My world seems quieter without her - not that she is noisy but we would often meet at four, five, six in the morning - both insomniacs - and say a few words as the coffee brewed or the kettle boiled. I miss her dragging me to the grocery store that I hate and she loves and watching her fill a cart with fresh fruit and vegetables - always the right amount, nothing goes in the garbage - and such stuff as couscous and tofu that I haven't a clue how to prepare. (On the odd occasion, when I have tons of time, I do enjoy preparing a feast but not often. I say it is because I had to feed children for over twenty years and now it's my time to be served but I'm not even sure this is it. My mother and father just left for my sister's house and over the past week, I've watched my mother lingering over cook books. She'd call me over from time to time and say "doesn't this look delicious?" and I'd say yah or doesn't excite me. And she'd shake her head. She oftens wonders aloud where I came from. "You're different from your sisters.")

She adores her granddaughter who is more like her than her daughter. Why am I thinking of food? Perhaps because I just read Gill's latest blog: Confessions of a Young Woman. I love how she describes family meals. I've forgotten the time when I insisted that dinners had to be an occasion, how I'd light dozens of candles, and Rob would play music.

I love my quiet house now without children. I sometimes forget that I am a mother. I go about my business - usually out in my little house, writing or whatever, and am rarely called from the big house. Hours drift by and I can follow thoughts to conclusion. But there are moments every week when I miss my kids. I am happy that they are creating their own lives but I love it when they call me just to talk or make the time to grab a cup of coffee with me.

Food also reminds me of Marlene who came to dinner last night and brought most of it with her - curried lentals, potato salad with olive oil and feta, stir-fried vegetables - and muffins for breakfast the next morning. She's amazing in the kitchen. (She cooks in quantity so she won't have to cook every day.) But then she's amazing at everything she does. I remember when I first met her in a classroom a UBC. I walked into the room and there is this author of a book I had just finished and loved, sitting quietly, hands together on the table, with the loveliest of smiles - might sound corny - but I knew immediately she was someone special. And then, quite unlike myself - I am usually too shy and intimidated to speak in a university classroom, I began to talk fast, told her how I loved her book, how I was overwhelmed by the women (I think most are women) she had quoted - even Marion Milner who I arrogantly thought I was the only one who had read her in North America. And her smile widened.

I was simply trying to find my way back to writing, had started one autobiography class and dropped it, and thought this one - on journal writing - would be light and easy. I didn't know that it would change my life, that somehow this author and teacher and the women she attracted to her class (Vaughan, Wenda, and Shirley - my plums - to name a few) would touch me so deeply. (Shit, I don't know how to describe the immensity of what happened to me and what evolved from that first exposure to Marlene... how I kept taking her classes though I was often terrified of the secrets I would spew out and how her quiet acceptance and those of many others over a long period of time gave me courage to be truer to myself in my writing and in my relationships with others.)

It still surprises me how I start writing about one thing - food, here - and end up somewhere totally different.


I wrote the above at a leisurely pace then drove to the airport and picked up my brother and his daughter who I adore, brought them back to my house, and then headed to the airport again for Gill.

I find it difficult describing love because I don't want to sink into sentimental cliches - and love... it's impossible. I went to the airport, stood watching the people come through the door from the restricted area - looking for a tall blond beauty. Gill always stands out - appears one of a kind - and there she is. I want to observe her before she sees me. Is it just because I'm her mother that I find her so stunning? I think not. People keep telling me how beautiful she is. And I am in awe looking at her and then she sees me and comes running, throws her arms around me, hugs me tight, kisses me, keeps kissing me - even on the mouth that always surprises me - and I know she's my girl/woman.

We get her bag and drive home, calling bad drivers names or simply "stupid, stupid, stupid" as we always do when we're together.

(Gotta run to the hairdressers with Gill - hopefully will have time to add a few more lines later but it's a pretty busy household at the moment.)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Parental Control

I've spent the last week with my parents though my mother took off to Seattle with my sister for three days and though she's 78, walks with a cane, seems quite frail at times, she's a dirvish in a shopping or outlet mall. My mother loves clothes so much, she remembers every event by what she wore. She can truly shop till she drops - can outdo any of her daughters. My sister said that after a 7 hour marathon, Mum looked great: the exercise is good for her. Her doctor should prescribe shopping for health reasons.

My Dad and I are both restless spirits which makes it more difficult for me to get on with my writing and art projects, as I know he wants adventure so every day this past week, I've left time to take him somewhere. He is touching my heart. Several times a day he wraps his arms around me and tells me that he loves me. I don't remember him doing this when I was a child but I do remember the times he would recite little poems to his children at bedtime. Whatever my mother and father did or did not do, they created a family where love abounds. If one of us is in trouble, all the others are there for him or her.

Case-in-point: my sister who was locked out of her house. The drama continues. The man called her, said they must meet, and then played "I'm still in love with you." Why can't I help gagging? She agrees to meet him. He arrives with roses. He wants her signature. He doesn't get it. In my opinion, he is a manipulator. Reminds me of Pam Houston's "Cowboys are my Weakness." Houston was at some speaking engagement and asked the audience if they had any questions. A feminist rose and ask why Houston always puts strong women with weak men and then has the women make fools of themselves. Do you know any strong women in the real world who would behave in such a way, the questioner asked. Houston said the question did not deserve an answer.

Speaking of strong women, I met Marlene at Granville Island yesterday morning. She is back from Zurich. She, like all my best friends - and there is only a handful - does not indulge in small talk. She is blunt and honest. And oh so loving. What is it about best friends that creates such trust? Saint Teresa comes to mind, who with her circle of close friends used an expression "Disillusion me with truth." They trusted each other so much that if one unwittingly did something that the others knew that she herself would hate, they told her so she could catch herself. Marlene and I spoke of writing workshops in France and writing and chocolate and wine and all kinds of stuff that touches our hearts.

Kate, another of my best friends, left a joyful message on my answering machine. She has just won second prize in the Hertfordshire Writing Contest. Bravo, Kate. This young woman works hard at her writing and is becoming more and more successful. Nice to know that the deserving wins from time to time.

And today my man comes home from Toronto. I think he's written off Toronto as a possible retirement place - better to keep our money and drop into this city from time to time. I dream of a nomadic lifestyle in which we can roam to unusual places and then return to France where my heart is most content.