Thursday, 22 February 2018

Quite early one morning

From our apartment, we can see the middle school which our daughters would have attended had we stayed in Victoria, rather then heading to Hades.

It's been upgraded in the intervening years and is now a rather handsome off-white building with Mondrian-like squares amid stencils of trees and sea landscapes.

I've learned to close the door of the en suite bathroom before using it.  All manner of people bring all sorts of dogs to the schoolyard outside of hours - something unheard of in Rockcliffe Park, where dogs were banned from school property.

At recess, the yard fills with kids ranging in ages eleven to fourteen.  Small knots of them make their way to the fence where the grass slopes down rather suddenly to two or three ancient trees.  This puts them out of sight of the school, but I'm not sure it occurs to them that they're in full view: of the quiet street, where people park their cars to walk to the shops on the busier thoroughfares, and me, sitting on the bed, while I put on my make-up.

This morning, I open the curtains to see the distant figures loping up to the school entrance, some clutching instrument cases, all wearing packsacks and clad in variations of jeans.

The young couple are obscured from their classmates and teachers by the slope of the grounds and by the tall tree by the chainlink fence, but I can see them clearly.  I doubt they'd care.  She's blond and bespectacled; he's her height, dark-haired in baggy jacket and light trousers.

How old are they?  Certainly no older than fourteen, possibly as young as twelve. Feeling self-conscious, I step away from the window, but they're oblivious to everything but each other.

I sit down on the other side of the bed, back to the window, to put on my shoes, wondering if they'll have any memory of this morning years from now: the chill of February, the half-light, the swish of the morning buses and cars.  The smell and taste of each other.

Shoes on, I stand, turn, and they've vanished; I can't even see anyone crossing the long field back to the school, where final stragglers are melting into the doors, some running, some plodding.  It's past 8:30.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Or maybe you didn't

There was such a wind this morning that I saw a tall narrow shrub, more than ten feet high, that is planted by our second floor balcony, bend like a bullrush.  It's a sunny morning, and if I had left the building with decent gloves and had less to carry, I'd head down to Dallas Road to watch the waves crash.
Instead I'm sitting at a table at Moka House, trying to identify a song with the Shazam app.  It's not picking up, possibly due to lively café conversation, so I try a corner with not so many people around, holding my phone up to the speaker.

After two tries, I get a result.  A guy with a toque looks up from his magazine and grins.
"It's Weezer," he says.

He's right.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

A poor roll model

Demeter is taking advantage of the fact she now has family in town. Well, that was the idea, so I agree to accompany her shopping. She thinks of this as a happy thing.

I'll let her think that.

I've never cared for shopping, accompanied or unaccompanied, so the day before the expedition, I do a dry run - a wet run, really, as it's pouring. I do a circuit of likely items and stores.

On the appointed day, I lead Demeter through, pointing out likely items. This works well.

I reach to stop the elevator at the Bay Centre as a woman with a stroller approaches, because that's what I liked to have done for me in my stroller days. It turns out she's going down, so she elects to wait.

"I never hold the elevator," Demeter explains. "You never know which direction they want."

"Yes," I say. "But I think, in the long run, it's better to acknowledge a person's presence. She knows that we knew she was there. That can change a whole day."

We're nearly done, but Demeter decides to make a three-block detour to buy green tea for elder daughter. Three blocks is quite a consideration at the tail-end of an ambitious shopping day - especially if you're at the tail-end of your eighties. I see Demeter tiring out, and suggest a restaurant, reaching out to prevent her from entering a crosswalk at which the signal is ticking down; she'll never make it across with her walker/rollator.

She decides to trundle past the bus stop instead. I move to the inner sidewalk to avoid a tangle of strollers, walkers, and wheelchairs by the shelter.

Demeter presses on past a blond woman standing in front of a pole. The woman looks after her furiously and exclaims, "Seriously!"

I'm bewildered, but join Demeter at the cross signal.  While we're waiting, the lady approaches us from behind and scolds:  "A simple 'excuse me' would suffice!"  As I gaze at her blankly, she declares, "She ran right over my foot!"  I think I might have felt tempted to apologize if it weren't for the self-righteous glare and the schoolmarmish tone. 

Even then, it's not my place to excuse my mother, who hasn't really heard her, anyway. As we cross, I relay what was said.

"I didn't run over her," Demeter says flatly.  "I feel lines on the pavement; I would have noticed her foot had I run over it."

I feel discombobulated and distressed, even as we settle into lunch.  I'm also a bit wary, because the woman looked familiar -- but then, everyone in Victoria does.

I wonder if what really pissed her off was not being acknowledged.

Monday, 19 February 2018

The belt of the hunter

Sometimes, I find myself making my way home on the black streets, with Orion glowing on the eastern horizon.

Being newly back from Ottawa, and in Victoria for the winter for the first time in several years, I'm noticing how dark the streets are. Victorian streets often have a grassy verge, whereas Ottawans walk close to the edge. Getting splashed by passing cars is slightly less likely in Victoria, but there's also a greater distance from the street lights, which fail to brighten the sidewalk much. Also, I'm realizing how much light reflected off the snow in the winter nights of Hades. Pedestrian accidents are common in Victoria, where they try to cross the shadowy streets, shadows themselves.

I'm also startled by how deserted the Victorian sidewalks are, after darkness has fallen. My home street in Hades was not a particularly busy street, other than in the morning and after-school rushes, but I'd walk out at night, even in the bitter cold, and pass several other pedestrians on my journey. Our home street here is a major artery with plenty of cars, but few people out, even reasonably early in the evening.

I'd forgotten this, possibly because I was the mother of young children when I left Victoria, and so rarely abroad after dinner.

Walking home on a dark, dark sidewalk, I can see Orion very well, far better than I ever did in Ottawa. I blink back at him with a light I've attached to my zipper, like the cyclists and joggers around me, so the cars can see what they're hitting.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

When doves fly

Younger daughter held back, gazing raptly at the beautiful old-fashioned wooden cage containing twenty-one doves.

In the closing moments of the memorial service, after the eulogies, poems, and slideshow, the guests had stepped out into a beautiful and temperate afternoon, facing Georgia Strait.

The "dove-wrangler" told us the doves would return to their home in Qualicum Bay, and drew out two doves for the two young-adult children of the poetry man to hold. The doves looked like soft white feathery ships; held firmly in two hands, their heads poked up like periscopes and swiveled, blinking.

The lady invited the other hesitant guests to come forward, and she saw the longing in younger daughter's eyes. Unfortunately, the first bird pooped on younger daughter's hands, so the handler passed it on. The second dove struggled in younger daughter's uncertain grip, and broke free in a fluttering burst, wheeling away home.

The dove-handler calmly handed younger daughter a third dove and asked someone to cover its head to lull it. I step forward to do so, and those of us with the remaining twenty doves waited for the signal.

Later, young daughter gazed over the water.
"He was kind to me," she said.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The fellas at the next table

Two fellas at the next table are bullshitting about the Stones and the Beatles, the way they probably did forty or fifty years ago.  One guy's in cycling gear; the other is in a jean jacket and jeans - the Canadian tuxedo.  Short grey hair on both, well-groomed.

They don't really know that much about the Beatles.  They're saying Ringo was never that good a drummer, that old chestnut.

Oh yes.  I'm in Victoria.

I look out at a city I haven't seen outside of summer for seventeen years.  The Pacific moisture in air makes it feel colder than it is.  I thought I might not need my trusty Ottawa commuter coat, but I pull it around me -- and still feel the chill.

From the airplane, I saw mounds of white mist collecting in bays, caught between the Gulf Islands, spilling on to the land.  Like the foam in my cup.  (Clouds in my coffee?)

The aging adolescents across the way are now talking about their first cars. 

Some things don't change.

Friday, 16 February 2018

With the best will in the world

It is dreadful to have lived so close to someone for 36 years, and feel no deep affection or sense of loss.  - Eleanor Roosevelt, in a letter to friend Joseph Lash, after the death of her mother-in-law

I'd dreamt of the moment for years.  I imagined taking off my shoes before climbing into the cab, leaving them by the curb in front of the Hades house. Arriving at the airport, I would put on a new pair of shoes, purchased in Victoria, and stride through to check in - since the Ottawa Airport isn't actually in Ottawa.

Through the years, I envisioned this.

It didn't work out that way, of course.  We left our house four days before departing Ottawa.  The cab that took us to the airport drove up a deserted Elgin Street at four in the morning.

Besides, renouncing Hades doesn't involve a clean break.  Elder daughter remains at her job, and has set up an apartment with the Accent Snob not far from Elgin Street, not far from Cooper Street -- where we began our stay seventeen years ago, and ended it.  Elder daughter texted me, saying that she thinks the Accent Snob sensed when we left the city, shoulder-checking and "rooting his paws the whole walk home".  When he first moved to her apartment, he trotted alertly and easily through the downtown streets.

I did a last laundry load in the old house the day before our flight, and wandered through the empty rooms, remembering how I sat on the stairs of our last home in Victoria, weeping heartbrokenly by myself.

This time I felt no pull.

"But this is where your daughters grew up!  This is our childhood!" elder daughter said.  Yes, and seventeen Christmases, Hallowe'ens, Easters, eighteen Thanksgivings.  Birthday parties, homework projects.

I remember Eleanor Roosevelt, and her guilt over feeling no loss for her mother-in-law.  Or was it resignation?

Cities are like people.  Some you love in spite of yourself.  For some, with all the best will in the world, you have no deep affection. No sense of loss, when the time of parting comes.

I tried, Ottawa.  I really did.

On the day before the Hades house passed out of our possession, the Resident Fan Boy, in town for a conference, went with Elder Daughter to remove a few last items.  They wept.

I guess someone has to.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Giving credit where credit is due

Nine years ago, when I was doing my first NaBloPoMo, I made a baker's dozen list of the things I missed about Victoria.

Believe it or not, there will be things I miss about Hades.  They just won't tear my heart out by the roots when I think of them.  It turns out to be a baker's dozen as well, and were basically the things that kept me alive for seventeen years:

1. Autumn. Brief, temperate, multi-coloured.  Three weeks of beauty.  Victoria has about, I dunno, about forty-nine more weeks of beauty, but autumn is rather tri-coloured: yellow, brown, and orange. (Except in the Sunken Garden at Butchart's, but you need to time it right.)

2.  A Company of Fools.  We have Shakespeare in Victoria, and a lively arts scene, but nothing that combines classical and comical quite like the Fools.

3.  The Bytowne Cinema
We have the Vic and Cinecenta in Victoria - neither have the range of films that can be seen at the Bytowne.  Won't miss the audiences much....

4. Papier. I'll have the Papery in Victoria, to say nothing of several amazing bookstores that also carry stationery, but over the years, I established a connection with Papier.  They saw me through birthdays, parties, anniversaries, Christmas, other holidays.  One of my favourite memories was on a frigid -38 morning in January, when I had Planet Coffee practically to myself, and hurried through the Byward Market alleys to get a birthday card for my mother.  Greg, one of the co-owners, looked up as I marched in, and exclaimed: "God bless you!!!
Papier, 18 Clarence Street, Ottawa


5.  The National Gallery of Canada. Sure, there are galleries in Victoria; the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is nothing to sneeze at, but Gustave Doré? Vincent Van Gogh? Alex Janvier? Alex Colville? The National Gallery has the scale to host huge and comprehensive collections, as well as more esoteric and intimate shows. Sigh...

6.  My Friend With Whom I Go For Coffee.  Sad to say, the one close friend I made and kept over seventeen years in Hades.  I have a number of close friends in Victoria.  Odd to have a social life again.

7.  BIFHSGO. Trying to pluck up the courage to attend the local genealogical society here.  So far, not seeing many topics that match my objectives.

8. Cardinals and blue jays.  When I heard the pip-pip-pip in Hades, I'd scan the area for the flash of crimson that is the male cardinal, skimming through the air.  In Victoria, pip-pip-pip means hummingbirds.  In Hades, when I heard what sounded like a seagull, I'd look for the brilliant blue flash of a jay.  In Victoria, it'll actually be a seagull....

9. Second Cup (kinda).  Planet Coffee (definitely).  Each Second Cup, unlike Starbucks, has its own distinct personality, for better or worse. The Second Cup on Metcalfe, with its patient and welcoming staff,  became a comforting haven for younger daughter.  There is only one Planet Coffee.

10.  Red Door Provisions marmalades.  Well, they never make my favourite, Pink Lady, any more. This isn't sour grapes.  It's sour grapefruit.

11.  National Theatre at the Cineplex, and other live-streamed theatre events.  Oh, you can see them in Victoria, but not everything, and not as often.  It could be worse. I could be in the Maritimes, where they're not shown at all.

12.  Bus stop notifications.  Seven years of having bus stops displayed, along with the time, have spoiled me rotten.  BC Transit has introduced an audio system with a computerized voice - which sounds like a little like a fella with a Chinese accent - not impossible to understand, but not easy either.  I'll also miss the texts with predicted bus arrivals -- OC Transpo had GPS, BC Transit does not, so all you get is the scheduled bus arrival - not where the bus actually is.  I hear this might change next year.

13.  My own washer and dryer.  Now, granted, this is nothing to do with Hades.  This is to do with living in an apartment again after more than two decades, as does not being able to have a pet nor a live Christmas tree, nor to fit more than two pie plates in the oven.  This can change.  (It had better...)

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Einstein out of reach

Early on Valentine's Day, the café is crammed, but I get a seat by the window anyway.

The couple at the neighbouring table is debating whether the cranes they see a block or so away are dismantling or putting something together.

I've started breakfast when I sense someone coming up on my left side. He's a dead ringer for Albert Einstein, peering in at my porridge over my shoulder as he shambles up the sidewalk, an inch or so away from me, separated only by a pane of glass. He's not even that disconcerted when I wave at him cheerily, but wanders on.

I see a young woman at the next table start as he veers in to view her breakfast.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The long and winding road not taken

I seemed to spend rather a lot of my last three months in Ottawa gazing down from the top of a double-decker on the long stretch of Bank Street heading south: passing the middle school where elder daughter was shunned for several painful, bewildering months. As a result, I refused to send younger daughter there. I usually averted my eyes.

Beyond is the Land of Might Have Been, which is generally Bank Street below the Queensway. One of the houses we were looking at in the early spring of 2000 was a townhouse not far from where the Lansdowne Complex of rather sterile stores and restaurants has grown and mutated beside the stadium in the intervening years.

Imagine how that would have been.

Our girls would have been Glebe girls attending Mutchmor Public and Glebe Colligiate. Our daily lives would have been shaped by the sluggish bus trips up the clogged artery of Bank Street. We would have crossed the bridge over the Rideau to go to the library, which leads to another Might Have Been in Ottawa South.

We looked at a house here too, but a decade ago, we were also looking at an independent school in the neighbourhood. Younger daughter eventually chose a school in far-flung Nepean, and, sitting high above Bank Street in the bus, I thought wistfully of coffee shops where I could have comfortably waited, along bus routes that would have taken us home without a transfer, along a road not taken.

The road I was taking was often out to the South Keys Cineplex to see a series of four marvelous lectures entitled Deconstructing the Beatles, covering the albums Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper, and the White Album.

In a time of upheaval, it was some comfort to have a Beatlefest. It engendered a sensation of a cycle being completed.

Or maybe a continual spiral.

Our last concert at Chamberfest, for example, was the same as my first Chamberfest concert: "Sergeant Pepper Reimagined", which we first saw in November 2013 with the Time Out Orchestra (whose director arranged the music). Four years ago, the singers were a kind of Canadian super-group: Steven Page (formerly of the Barenaked Ladies), John Mann (Spirit of the West), Andy Maize (Skydiggers), and Craig Northey (The Odds), who has grown considerably more silver since then.

John Mann is descending into early Altzheimer's, so Wesley Stace, who sometimes performs under the name "John Wesley Harding", was taking over for him, complete with a pink suit and dry British humour. When elder daughter first told me about the approaching concert, she was taken aback at how excited I was. "Hitler's Tears" is a longtime favourite of mine.

The audience was markedly different from the one in 2013, when it had been an eclectic group, ranging from young kids to those in their seventies. This final evening of Chamberfest, the audience was largely composed of over-50s, mostly subscribers and season ticket holders.

In fact I was amused to look on as a longtime subscriber, seated directly ahead of me, started scanning her programme, puzzled by the reprise of "Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band" (We're sorry, but it's time to go.). Clearly, she was wondering why the concert was apparently ending so soon, evidently not aware that the epic "A Day in the Life" was to follow, along with several encores, which included "Oh, Darling" (from the White Album - during which Steven Page turned aside his microphone to demonstrate how he could fill Dominion Chalmers United Church with sheer vocal power), "Here Comes the Sun"(from Abbey Road), "Penny Lane", and of course, "All You Need is Love",the song that was recorded directly after Sgt. Pepper.

Glancing over my shoulder, I saw elder daughter - so relieved that Chamberfest was winding down - standing at the back of the balcony with her co-workers, soulfully waving their lit phones in time to the music.

Oh. And I got the Deconstructing the Beatles series for Christmas. It may not be all I need, but I'll get by.