Monday, 2 January 2017

Some years begin with a whimper

If "begin as you mean to continue" applies to years, I may be in trouble. I did try to begin 2017 with energy and motivation, but soon found myself wheezing, whimpering, and coughing in a corner of the living room, felled by the Resident Fan Boy's Christmas gift to me: a man-cold in all its phlegmy glory. He also gave me the DVD set of Wolf Hall, lest you think less of him.

As someone who hasn't really had a bad cold in over a year, I am out of practice with invalidism. I do wipe down surfaces with rubbing alcohol to excellent effect, but got trapped in our tiny front hall with four of the RFB's power sneezes, which, he insists, he is unable to contain.

Heaven help us if we're ever in hiding.

I'm deriving dubious comfort from this song from The Divine Comedy which was released in 1999, but, I believe, didn't chart in Britain until a decade later. It's about allergies, but I'm living with symptoms -- particularly those liquidy sneezes in the instrumental bridge.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

All Christmases are last Christmases

It's the seventh Day of Christmas, and I still haven't seen this year's Doctor Who Christmas special.

Part of the reason for this is that while the Resident Fan Boy was in the living room, sleeping during the transmission (he says he won't and always does), I was upstairs watching the production of Richard III that makes up The Hollow Crown, a rollicking holiday fun-fest of drownings, smotherings, decapitations, and general treachery, warfare and murder. Take that, Prince of Peace.

However, some hours earlier, after the family had opened their presents Christmas afternoon, I watched the 2014 and 2015 DW Christmas specials. I think I was the one who dropped off to sleep during the original broadcasts in past years, so they were practically new viewing for me, and they both, at some point, have the same message: every Christmas is a last Christmas. We gather together, as Clara said to the Doctor, never knowing whether this will be the last time; that's why we reach out to family and friends as the days draw shorter and darker.

I pondered on this, thinking about Demeter watching us in Hades via Skype as we opened our presents after lunch, as is our custom, the Resident Fan Boy being the son of an Anglican minister who couldn't join the family by the tree until the four Christmas Day services had taken place. Demeter is still with us; the RFB's father is long gone, his last Christmas being nearly twenty years ago.

I think I was still watching Doctor Who when elder daughter appeared and told me that George Michael had just died. George Michael had a big hit with a song called "Last Christmas"; it's one of my least favourite songs ever, but there is no question that he was a huge talent. This was demonstrated to me beyond a shadow of a doubt on an Easter weekend nearly twenty-five years ago, when I, nearly nine months pregnant, willed elder daughter to stay put until after my birthday, which was the following Wednesday. I lay quietly in our bedroom watching the Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert (Mercury had had his last Christmas a few months before), and George Michael nearly blew Wembley Stadium away with this song.

May the coming year, as uncertain as it may appear, be filled with wonderful firsts, and, if there must be lasts, may they be things with which you are glad to part.

Friday, 18 November 2016

"You don't understand my phrases"

As winter nights (and Donald Trump and his merry band) close in inexorably, I bury my head in art, drama, and music.

Recently, we went to see the New Zealand String Quartet (one of whom is actually a New Zealander) at the lovely Dominion-Chalmers United Church.

Younger daughter was furious, saying it would be too long and at night, but I felt her relaxing into a Haydn concerto, and stimming happily during a piece composed specifically for the NZSQ, which involved a playful popping bass-line (rather like that in "Somebody That I Used to Know"), and a lot of dramatic pauses to stretch on the part of the violinists.

The Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter made a quick exit during the intermission. Good thing -- the Schubert quintet that followed (with a guest cellist from the U of O faculty to make up the number) was lovely, but l-o-o-ong, especially when the regular cellist broke a string during the vigorous third movement, and had to vanish back stage for several moments.

I spent much of the time listening intently, of course, and following elder daughter's movements with my bird binoculars, as she slipped quietly into the darker recesses of the balcony to take snaps with my camera, to be published on social media -- part of her job as a communications and marketing specialist.

I recognized the second movement immediately, a summery, sleepy bit of beauty which brought out-of-focus green fields of tall grass to my mind's eye, and tried to remember which film this might have been. When I looked it up at home, I realized that it's the music that closes Conspiracy a dramatic, all-star imagining of the Wannsee Conference of 1942.

On Bank Street, largely and rather worryingly deserted at 10:30 on a Saturday evening, I searched for a bus stop where the shops weren't dark, and was accosted by a bag lady, who had a few conspiracy theories of her own. She even gave me the name of another lady who, she assured me, would tell me a different story.

"You don't understand my phrases," she said.

She was right, there.

Thursday, 17 November 2016


I'd been looking for a quieter and more comfortable place to wait while younger daughter has her morning voice lesson, and had noticed that the church puts out a welcome sign for the sanctuary at noon, so I slipped into the choir stalls because it was the only place with a bit of light, and I thought I might read for half an hour.

Eventually, I saw the lady bustling around, turning on the lights and putting the sandwich board on the sidewalk outside. Beyond her, I could see Elgin Street brimming with buses and cars, but the sanctuary itself was still.

I've sat in the choir stalls before, while waiting for younger daughter's turn to practise for recitals -- but never in the daytime and never this far back. The church is ringed with stained glass windows of various styles and vintages: the nineteenth century's idea of gothic, pre-Raphaelite imitations, even a bit of art-nouveau.

My eyes were drawn to two tiny windows across from my hiding place, high up with the midday light brightening them. I carry bird binoculars in my bag to avoid being caught short at shows in the larger venues at the National Arts Centre, so I drew them out, and focussed on the window directly opposite me.

The photo I've taken doesn't really do justice to the image of a grave little woman in loose blue clothes, accompanied by what looks like a corgi on a lead, the buildings of downtown Ottawa looking bleakly beautiful and distant, caught in an oval frame, and supplicating hands floating above her short-cropped head.

The neighbouring window seems also to be dedicated to the rather lonely-looking little lady, who died at the age of 48 nearly thirty years ago: "A much loved and devoted member of this parish". In the choir, perhaps? Likely, given the position of the windows.

Who remembers her now? I hope someone does.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Not wanting to know

Oh, but last week was balmy, fading away into evenings of gentle shades of mustard and rust. We didn't know Leonard Cohen was already dead.

Down by the Rideau River, the pathway seemed to glow in a deep aquamarine. It all reminded me, a little uncomfortably, of an evening eight years ago, which also happened to coincide with the American election.
I slipped off to the Bytowne Cinema for a movie, but returned too soon, so tuned into one of the few television channels not covering the events south of the border, before scooting off to bed early.

The next morning, I awoke at 5:26 and thought:  I don't know who won.  Let's keep it that way for another hour.

So I guess my heart knew.

In the coffee shop, a young fella told us that his American girlfriend had voted Libertarian in the advance polls, being a Bernie Sanders fan.  They're planning to immigrate.

"The Canadian Immigration web site has crashed!" he said, the air of someone delivering astonishing news.  I knew; I'd been standing in horror by the radio speakers in my bedroom.

A man fixing his coffee at the creamer and sweetener station by the door, looked up.
"Trump got in?"

He must have been the last person in Ottawa to know.

A couple of days later, the young fella was seated with his girlfriend in the coffee shop.  He recognized me but thought he'd seen me the day before.  I reminded him it had been the morning after the election.  His girlfriend was a bit taken aback that he'd been discussing her vote with strangers.

"I didn't vote for Trump," she muttered.

I decided it would be unkind to point out that, if she hadn't voted for Hillary Clinton, she had essentially voted for Trump.

Every morning, for the past week, I've woken up with a feeling similar to that when I first learned that younger daughter was special needs.  I feel depressed, trapped, and rather terrified about the future.

At the very least, I don't know how I will be able to face seeing and hearing the likes of Newt Gingrich and Ann Coulter in the media again.

I don't care to discuss the very worst.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Hallowe'en seventeen

This year, I decided to splurge and ordered up a deluxe carving kit with special scoopers, and awls and saws of delicate sizes for intricate stencil work. Here is what elder daughter, the Resident Fan Boy, and younger daughter produced after a couple of hours of diligent chiselling yesterday.
By 8:30, the candies were gone, snaffled up by scores of goblins ranging from wide-eyed and worried toddlers-in-arms to the usual large gangs of gangling teenagers. Having spent seventeen Hades Hallowe'ens, we knew to take the pumpkins in and turn off the porch lights to discourage even larger trick-or-treaters.

Looking uneasily to the south, I wonder if there's a metaphor in there somewhere.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Sunday morning ornithology

I was hurrying back from an errand this morning to get ready to go for brunch with a friend - a rare enough occurrence for me here in Hades - when material started raining down on me as I drew near to our house. I thought I heard some of it splat and starting checking my clothes for bird splotches. Glancing down at the pavement, I saw chips and chunks of wood.

I retraced my steps, following a rapping sound and peered up into the branches of one of the maples, which is always the first to change colour and hence, lose its leaves.
This meant I had an unobstructed view of a pileated woodpecker. I see them every couple of years in this neighbourhood, if I'm paying attention, and if the foliage doesn't hide them.

A fellow backed into the driveway in front of me, and baffled, remained in his truck, evidently wondering what I was doing in front of his house, smack in the middle of the sidewalk. My right-hand neighbour approached me, smiling in a rather puzzled fashion. I showed her where to look, and the driver was now staring at her, as she walked around his truck and gazed upward. As I set off, I could hear her explaining, while she took some snaps of her own.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

A bit leery of Siri

Younger daughter has been preparing for a voice competition this month, so we've been making weekly trips to practise with her accompanist, who lives in a neighbourhood that is unfamiliar to us. During the first forty-five minute practice session, I decided to make myself scarce, and wandering rather aimlessly through the strange grey streets, decided to try and find a coffee shop.

"Siri" has been popping up on my phone unsummoned ever since my iPhone updated itself a few weeks ago - shades of the robot invasion. When she does, she immediately asks: "What can I help you with?" and, because I've only had an iPhone for a few months, follows up with a brisk "Go ahead, I'm listening" while I struggle to master the right combination of taps to turn her off and find what I was actually looking for.

One time, I snapped, "I don't need you now, Siri!" and was rewarded with a tart "That seems clear!". It's probably the British accent I've given her.

This morning, I was fumbling for a map, and when Siri appeared, I decided what-the-heck: "I need to find a coffee shop close by, Siri."

"Here's what I found," she replied instantly, providing the name, a map, and the time it would take me to walk there.

It was a charming tea shop, actually, which also serves coffee, pancakes, and sandwiches, while playing jazz recordings -- in short, the ideal place to bring younger daughter.

I feel so modern. And a little afraid.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Gee, I can hardly wait...

Georgia Nichols writes a very funny daily and weekly horoscope, which often has useful advice -- even if you think astrology is bumph.

Recently, she informed me - well, I read it in her column; she doesn't advise me directly - that this coming year, starting this month, will be like October 1992 to November 1993 and November 2004 to October 2005.  As I've mentioned, I've been updating my yearly and decade-long rundowns, so I did a quick run through my diaries to see what that may mean.  ("Connect the dots!" GN exhorts.)

What I found were two very different years.  In the autumn of 1992, we moved into our much-loved house, two blocks away from Demeter, where I hoped to raise our then only daughter.  That year was filled with the joy of our firstborn's first year, and while there were disasters hitting friends and family, they pelted around us like a rock slide that didn't quite hit.  A charmed time.

Autumn 2004 to Autumn 2005?  Oh gawd.  The year when I came to the realization that I would never feel entirely at home in Hades.  Elder daughter's entry into middle school with the ensuing crises of social awkwardness and shunning.  Younger daughter's ejection from the ideal school programme which had been nearly a perfect fit for her into "regular school" -- because she was "doing so well".

Dots to connect?

Upheaval and change.

Life as usual, then.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

A mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up Globe

This past week, the British media (the arts sections anyway) were in a bit of an uproar over the termination of Emma Rice's tenure as the artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London. She's staying for the 2017 season, but apparently is on the outs because she used "inauthentic" lighting, and other modern interpretations, which is apparently not the Globe's mandate, but has also been pulling in the audiences.

I was pulled in as well -- the Globe had a live-stream last month, which permitted me to take in the closing night of Rice's Bollywood-flavoured A Midsummer Night's Dream, which reminded me pleasurably of a simply gorgeous subcontinental production I saw in 2008.

Apart from the thrill of being able to watch along with the crowd on the South Bank, the production was a delight with Katy Owen as a truly manic and rather dangerous Puck, Miaow Miaow (yep - she's a cabaret artist) as a voluptuous and uninhibited Titania, and a male Helena who is the gay BFF of a bossy Hermia. If you follow this last link - and you really should - you'll see "Helenus"(Ankur Bahl) and Hermia (Anjana Vasan) slip in a riff from Beyoncé's "All the Single Ladies", but you'll have to press the play button yourself, because I can't embed it.

The Twitter reaction has been amusing. Lots of pointing out that if the Globe really wants authenticity, they can dispense with the female actors altogether, and encourage disease, prostitution, and fruit-hurling in the audience.

This being the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, it's been a bumper year for seeing his plays. I have summer memories of a male "Maria" planted barefoot on a volcanic rock outcropping blasting an electric guitar accompaniment to "Lola" while his black Elizabethan skirts rippled in the breeze during the finale of a crossed-dressed Twelfth Night on the grounds of Camosun College. I watched Croatian dancing by flashes of lightening in another Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival production of A Winter's Tale - no rain until the final bows, because Victoria is a bit like Camelot.

We bagged the Royal Seats for A Company of Fools and their warped take on Pericles, one of the few Shakespeare plays that I have neither seen nor read. And I saw a remarkable and illuminating eighty-minute, four-person interpretation of Romeo and Juliet at the Gladstone Theatre here in Hades. Among many other live Shakespeare goodies available both in Victoria and Ottawa, of course.

However, the very wisest thing I've done on Facebook this year is to "like" the BBC's "Shakespeare Lives" page. Along with vintage clippings of classic Shakespearean productions over the past fifty or sixty years, they featured the "Complete Walk", an ambitious collection of eleven-minute films of all Shakespeare's plays -- performed in the countries and counties in which they are set.  Some short clips are still available for viewing -- go take a look!

My take on the Emma Rice controversy?  Shakespeare knew all about appealing to the groundlings and the people who could actually afford seats.  He also knew about what happened if you crossed swords with those with the power to shut you down.  He persevered and survived.  I trust Emma Rice will do the same.