Thursday, 1 September 2016

A sense of direction

I don't recall hearing the sound of cicadas until September 1st, 2000, my first full day in Hades. I thought the piercing, intensifying buzz came from the wires. I've mentioned before that the electrical shrill of the cicada is my least favourite noise in the world. The hotter it gets, the louder they get.

Sometimes, when I go out for my evening walk with the Accent Snob, I try to pretend I'm wandering through the streets of Victoria.  I do this by mentally changing my orientation.

This may not make a lot of sense, but I'll try, because I can't believe I'm the only person that experiences the world this way.

See, when I was a little girl in Edmonton, I knew where east/west/north/south was, even on a cloudy day, or at night.  I had an internal compass.

I noticed, though, when we travelled to another neighbourhood, city, province, country, that my compass seemed to disappear, or at least swing around another way.  For example, when we moved to Victoria,  just before I turned nine, the sun appeared to rise in what I thought of as being north, and set in my perception of south.  For the most part, my internal compass remained in this new orientation through our moves within Greater Victoria , to View Royal, and to Esquimalt.  I came to think of this as "Esquimalt orientation", because when I was in downtown Victoria, or points east such as Oak Bay (with the exception of the area around the University of Victoria), the sun appeared to rise in the west and set in the east.

Does this make any sense?  Am I the only one this to whom this happens?

I've never found it distressing; it's just the way things were and are.  When we moved to Fairfield just after the birth of elder daughter, the sun slipped into "downtown orientation" and sank in the east.  I rather liked it that way.

Here in Hades, most of the city is in "downtown Victoria orientation" for me -- except for our street, most of Lindenlea and Rockcliffe Park, and all of Vanier, which all, for some reason are in "Esquimalt orientation".

The odd thing - if you haven't given me up as being crazy already - is when I take the Accent Snob to the park alongside the Rideau River.  As I step into Ivy Crescent, the world slides back into "Edmonton mode",  the sun setting into my childhood perception of west.  It's almost a nostalgic experience.

When I'm feeling sad or homesick or both, I try to force my orientation back into "downtown Victoria" mode which results in the illusion of transforming New Edinburgh into an imaginary neighbourhood somewhere to the south of my last Victorian home.  It takes quite a bit of mental effort to hold it there -- especially since the surrounding redbrick buildings and Dutch-oven houses  are nothing like the 1970s condominiums and gingerbread-y older houses of Fairfield.

When I'm surrounded by the multi-coloured autumn leaves that are unmistakably eastern Ontario, it will be even harder and impossible during the six-month Hadean winter.  The brief two-week spring, which is the only time Ottawa is anything like Victoria, is the easiest time.

Still, it's a way of looking at the neighbourhood with different eyes and I play the game for as long as I can.  It's harder the closer I get to our house.  The deafening chorus of crickets and cicadas eventually undoes me, and I'm standing alone, except for the dog, in Hades.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Brow beaten

The Resident Fan Boy warned me about a week before I returned home that younger daughter had tweezed her eyebrows.  We've been taking her to a brow bar regularly for the past two or three years, but she told him she saw one stray hair and then she had to even the brows out...

The RFB sent me a snap and although she looked very different, it wasn't a disaster.  When I arrived home in the late afternoon after about twelve hours since waking, younger daughter was the only person home, as the RFB and elder daughter were still at work. I didn't mention her eyebrows, but reminded her that we were taking a favourite cousin out to dinner, and that she might enjoy dressing up and putting on some make-up.

The cousin arrived, younger daughter descended in a dress for the occasion -- and with next-to-no eyebrows.  The rest of us exchanged startled looks and pointedly said nothing.

When she was away from the table, elder daughter asked what I was going to do.

"Keep quiet and try to start a conversation through texting," I sighed.  I was massively jet-lagged and my speech was slurring a little.

The next morning, I printed up an article about eyebrows, looked up some tutorials on YouTube and texted younger daughter, upstairs in her bedroom, sending her one of the links:
How do you feel about your eyebrows?

I still feel beautiful!  Simple steps from "beauty -" (the link I'd sent) would help to give advice on how to regrow my eyebrows!  As a matter of fact, they really are embarrassingly over plucked!  

This happens to everybody when they first start plucking! It happened to me and it happened to your sister!

And I thought of elder daughter's pencil-thin brows the summer after some jerk in Grade Seven accused her of being a lesbian.  I thought of Jean Harlow.

The next time younger daughter was out of her room, I snuck in, left the article I'd printed up, and removed her tweezers for hiding.

She hasn't mentioned missing them, and slowly and fuzzily, her eyebrows are coming back.  She draws a dark thin line through them each morning.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Distracted dog-sitting

There's a bench by the Rideau River, surrounded by boulders where the dogs dance by and sign their names. Over the river's edge, there are more boulders leading down to the river, a favourite spot for canine swimming. It's not strictly legal, but no one enforces the rules.

So I am not surprised to see a white terrier wading in the greeny-brown water. He or she clambers up the rocks, makes an arc around the Accent Snob (who has never shown the inclination to swim), and trots quickly, but with no sense of urgency, along the dirt-and-gravel path that follows the river west.

This is a surprise, because, aside from a woman seated on the bench and gazing into her phone, there is no one else nearby. Puzzled, I peer both east and west. In both distant directions, there are people strolling on the pathway, already accompanied by dogs.

I watch the damp white terrier grow smaller and eventually vanish around a bend.  Perhaps he's catching up with his people, I reason to myself.

The Accent Snob continues his meandering sniff under bushes, shrubs, and stones.  I've stopped yet again to watch and wait for him when the woman on the bench finally tucks her phone away, rises, and leisurely makes her way to the ledge.  Her body language changes from languid to startled as she looks around her in all directions.  Cripes, I think, it was hers.

"Are you looking for a dog?" I call.  "He trotted down the path that way."

She's saying something, but I'm about twenty yards away and can't make it out, so I have to haul on the Accent Snob's lead to get closer.

"Was it a white dog?"

I swallow an unhelpful comment, and merely affirm.  She takes off away from me, dangling a sky-blue leash.

How many unaccompanied dogs does she think come bounding through this park? For his sake, I hope she found him.

Monday, 29 August 2016

What is essential

Whenever I think of Gene Wilder, I see him sitting in a wheat field, pretending to be a fox.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Close calls and the Clash

People have asked me about my summer holiday. I don't think of steeple chases as being holidays. This year's Victoria visit ended in the same tempo as the previous five weeks, that is, manufactured calm stretched over panic.

Having packed on the afternoon of the day before my departure, I noticed an email alert from Air Canada, warning of severe thunderstorms forecast for Toronto and Hades -- my exact route home.  Sitting in Demeter's dining room, I was hit by an avalanche of flashbacks from August 2003.

That was the year the Resident Fan Boy returned to Hades before us, because we'd begun the trip visiting the RFB's cousins in Alberta.  So, on that fateful August morning,  I arrived at Victoria International airport, marshalling eleven-year-old elder daughter and seven-year-old younger daughter, and thinking for three.  The check-in agent offered to switch our tickets from a route through Toronto to a transfer at Vancouver to a direct flight to Ottawa, which would land us in Hades a full hour earlier.  I considered my Virgo husband, all set to meet us at the airport, and refused.

After the long flight to Toronto, I comforted myself and younger daughter with the prospect of seeing the RFB in an hour or so.  Our flight to Hades was scheduled to leave at 4:10 pm, and we boarded at 3:50 pm, so we didn't see the lights go out.

The first indication that we had a problem was when the pilot told us we were unable to disconnect from the boarding tunnel.  The next was when the flight attendants started handing out ice cream bars.  A lady with a cell phone across the aisle informed us that it was the whole American north-east, plus Ontario.  After over an hour, we were told to get out, reclaim our luggage, and re-book.  We descended the escalator into hell.  (My grandmother always said that hell would be like an airport.)

Crowds of flustered people pressed up against dimly-lit luggage carousels.  Backed-up toilets (electronic flushers).  Rows of locked luggage trolleys (electronic release mechanisms).  Piles of pet-carriers containing yelping and dehydrated animals.  Huge line-ups to pay phones, because in 2003, not that many people had cell phones.

I didn't know where to go first.  Where would I take the girls for the night?  How could I explain this to younger daughter, who was begging to be taken "home to Ottawa, to see Daddy"?

It became increasingly clear that our luggage was not going to appear, especially when the generator for the carousel broke down after a couple of hours.  A young man showed me how to use my credit card in the pay phone, and a lady, noticing younger daughter's distress, let me in the line ahead of her.  I called the RFB, but he was waiting for us at the airport in Ottawa, and our answering machine, being electric, didn't work.

Fortunately, I had my address book with me and desperately put a call through to friends in Etobicoke.  Unfortunately, their elder daughter was home.  A nice girl, but not that swift on the uptake:
"Oh hi!  We're having a black-out!"
"Yes, I know.  We're at the airport..."
"Yeah?  Where ya going?"
My heart sank.
"Nowhere.  The planes are grounded."
"Man!  I hadn't thought of that!"
I'll bet, I thought, glancing at the long line-up behind me.  I could hear her father asking who it was.  He was there in twenty minutes, even with no working traffic lights, by which time an announcement informed us that ticketed luggage would be forwarded to the appropriate airport.  This left us in the clothes in which we were standing, but with the books, tapes and toys in our carry-on luggage.  In those days before liquid restrictions, I also had cosmetics and saline solution for my contact lenses.

Younger daughter was beside herself. She clutched my hand from the rear seat of the van, nearly twisting my arm out of its socket.  However, as we entered the dimly-lit hall of our friends' condo building, she turned and asked:  "Are we into Toronto?"  (We had stayed here for a visit during March Break the year before.)  One bowl of melted strawberry short-cake ice cream, and she was much better!

Later, as my exhausted daughters slept, I opened the blinds, got back into bed, and gazed out at a pitch-black city, listening to CBC radio on the headphones of my Walkman, trying not to fret about how I would get the girls home.  The voices on the radio were describing how clear the stars were, but all I could see were clouds of mosquitoes just beyond the screens.

The next morning, I tried to reach the bus depot, and the phone was answered by an agent in Alberta. I tried to reach my travel agent and Air Canada -- nothing but voice mail and busy signals.  I finally phoned Via Rail, let it ring more than two minutes, then got through to book train tickets.  I learned the Resident Fan Boy had managed to book plane tickets.  I thought of the hell we'd left the night before - nothing in the news reports indicated that anything had changed - and decided to chance the train.

Our hosts, who had given up their bed to us, tried to convince us to stay, but I had the overwhelming feeling that I had to get younger daughter home somehow.  They relented and packed an enormous care package of cookies, fruit, peanut butter sandwiches, several cartons of apple juice, and bottles of water.  I wondered how on earth I'd manage to cart this along with our carry-on luggage.

At 11 am, Union Station in downtown Toronto was steamy and crowded.  The line-up at our gate turned out to be for the 9:30 am train.  They told me to expect the 12:35 train at 1:45.  Then 2 pm.  Then 2:30.  Elder daughter had assumed the task of checking the notice board, walking the length of the station and reporting back.

I rationed out food to the girls with each delay, buying myself time and giving silent and fervent thanks for the heavy bag of goodies as it became lighter and lighter. I used my new credit card skill to phone the RFB every couple of hours, as my hopes dwindled.  With each passing hour, I wondered desperately if I should find a bus to the airport.  Which would get us home quicker?  Staying here as the trains were steadily delayed, or setting up camp at the airport where, the radio told me, the computers had completely broken down?

"I have a Clash song playing in my head," I told a fellow mum, who was attempting to shepherd half a dozen teenagers back to Windsor. She grinned broadly and began to growl:  "Da-duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-duh DA!  Should I stay or should I go?"
"If I go, it could be trouble!"  I sang back.
"If I stay, it could be double!" We were both dancing now.  I think we embarrassed the teenagers.

At 3:30, they told us our train was cancelled, and that we would be hooked up with the next train to Ottawa. That's the closest I came to breaking down completely.

At 5 pm, I stumbled up the steps to the train platform and a guard said that this coach was for First Class. Maybe it was the sight of two bedraggled little girls that convinced him to allow us into the railcar -- air-conditioned, comfortable and spacious with, glory be, a food cart with reasonably fresh food.

The train took two hours to reach the Toronto city limits, ordinarily a twenty-minute trip, but rail switches had to be done by hand. Out the window, we saw Lake Ontario and lush fields with butterflies and dragonflies having no trouble keeping pace with the train.

During the seven-hour train ride (usually four hours), we did puzzles, listened to story tapes and the CBC, read books, ate, drank, and chatted with our neighbouring passengers, all from Toronto: an elderly lady determined to attend a wedding, and a mum and her two daughters who had decided to sweat the wait for a family visit to Carp -- I thought they were all very nice, but nuts, but didn't say so, of course!

Younger daughter dozed off, there was a blood-red moon on the horizon, and we stopped off-line to let a luxury American passenger train pass. We could see the fancy lamps in the sleeper cars.

The Resident Fan Boy was waiting for us at the station when we arrived after midnight, some forty hours after getting up to go to the Victoria airport. People jumped the tracks to head for the parking lot; the VIA employees wisely decided to overlook this. Younger daughter wrapped herself firmly around her dad, and we returned by taxi to our stuffy house. The power was back, but air-conditioning was forbidden.  The following day, Resident Fan Boy found our suitcases amongst the hundreds at the airport, because I'd tied gaily-coloured ribbons to the handles.  No one asked him for ID.

All this flashed through my skull in August 2016, prodding me to re-book my flight -- to a 6 am departure the next morning.  I said my goodbyes to Demeter before going to bed, rose at 2:45 am to finish last-minute packing and call a cab at 3:30 am to ensure arrival at Victoria airport at 4:30 am.  My cabbie grew up in Belleville, one of the towns we passed through on that slow train ride thirteen years ago.  He loves Victoria, has no desire to return to Ontario.

Sadly, neither did I.

Pat Bay Highway was like a country road at that hour and I arrived early.  The plane had been described as going to Ottawa, but had a stop in Toronto, descending through thunderheads.  I had to leave the plane, wait in the lobby and then queue with my ID and boarding pass to get back on.

The threatened thunderstorms never materialized.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Those days are over

I am working on a longer post -- which will probably be less interesting than this cover of one of my least favourite Police songs. (Oh, don't get cross; it's a fine song, but I don't happen to care for it.) I think what really makes this version work is the fabulous back-up:

Friday, 26 August 2016

A last hip shot

Sorry, running out of time today, but I can't resist this last call-out for the Tragically Hip from Mclean's Magazine, who had videographers on the west coast of Canada (Vancouver Commodore Ballroom - long a favourite venue for Canadian bands), on the east coast of Canada (the Grand Parade by Halifax Harbour -- the Hip's final tour didn't go any farther east than Ottawa),  in the Prairies (if Calgary can be considered near the prairies, it's practically in the foothills of the Rockies), in a Toronto venue long associated with the Hip, in a small town that shares its name with a classic Hip song, and in the town square of the Hip's hometown of Kingston, because everyone couldn't fit into the arena where the concert was held.

The crowd is predominantly white, and in the 30-50 age range, but those are Hip fans for ya.  It's still pretty darn touching. (And is that Neko Case smiling and weeping in the Commodore Ballroom?)

Thursday, 25 August 2016

This is only a test

So at the tail-end of my Double Leo Sister's surprise visit with her family, I was sitting in a Greek restaurant, feeling fortunate to have survived the three days with no emotional explosions. (Oh, there were explosions, but none directed at me, so I was all right, Jack.)

The painting below caught my eye, and I stared at it for a few minutes in disbelief, before asking the Jolly Not-So-Green Giant Brother-in-law if I were seeing what I thought I was seeing.

I want you to look at the painting before scrolling down. What do you see? Go on, I'll wait:


My brother-in-law told me it was a blue door and two shuttered windows on a house of sand-coloured brick set into a courtyard.

I saw three dangling Tardises -- or what ever the plural of TARDIS is.

I sent the photo to the Resident Fan Boy in Hades. You can probably guess what he saw.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Classes of classical

Elder daughter has now been working for a small but major arts group in Hades for the past five months, and has survived her first music festival with them. Part of her job is keeping the social media posts for the organization fresh and interesting. Heck, I'm hooked! This appeared on Twitter and Facebook today.

I particularly enjoy the stand-off between Beethoven and Mozart over who represents "classical" (we were taught in Music Appreciation that Beethoven straddles Classical and Romantic) -- and I love the bit where John Cage's silence is blotted out by Claude Debussy.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Mixed media

The neigbourhood surrounding our not-quite-fallen-through house-sit is full of surprises. Our house-sitting hosts have downsized from a large hilltop home near a golf-course to what looks like, at first glance, a carport. It isn't; it's a perfectly charming three-bedroom bungalow with plenty of space, the sort of house that would suit us perfectly. However, I do think it used to be the garage for the enormous house next door; there are steps cut into the volcanic rock leading up to the mansion -- although now the steps go nowhere.

A walk down the street takes me past typical suburban constructions, then all of a sudden, I find myself just outside a metal fence festooned with "PRIVATE" and other equally welcoming signs. Several motorcycles line the curb at this point.

I blink and I'm by the meticulously kept gardens of modest duplexes which feature ancient lawn ornaments. I'll bet these people love living cheek-by-jowl with Hell's Angels types.

I turn the corner and descend a steep hill without sidewalks, taking me past the local park with an ancient and doomed willow. Dead ahead are the bouquets of artificial flowers marking the spot where a musician died trying to cross Hillside Road a few days before my arrival in Victoria this year.

The neighbourhood is so tangled and labyrinthine that it's possible to approach the house-sit by no less than five different routes. At night, I choose the best-lit one, scuttling past the condo where a friend lived briefly a decade or so ago, and peeking in the window of an old rangy house where students are partying -- sedately.

But one August afternoon, I'm coming from the mall, meandering up the hill through a cluster of smaller houses. No one is about, except for the occasional car. I'm listening to the padding of my footsteps when I hear ominous snuffling grunts that appear to be overtaking me quickly from behind. I barely have the time to register a brief, resigned thought of Oh gawd, no, when there's a puff of dust directly ahead of me and a large dog hurls itself at the chain-link fence, followed immediately by a slightly smaller dog in full snarl.

Dazed, I swallow my heart, and despite the protective barrier separating me from those two powerful sets of jaws, cross to the other side of the street and hurry on.

But not too quickly. I don't want to seem any more like prey than I obviously am.