Thursday, 31 December 2009

Duck! Here comes another year!

So,the back half of my molar dropped out a couple of hours ago. I phoned the dentist who is closed until January 4th. I phoned the Dental Emergency Centre and the receptionist told me no immediate action need be taken unless I'm in pain.

So I'm not in pain. Yet. But half my tooth is missing. And I keep thinking the right side of my face is getting numb. And this tooth was, from the look of it, seventy percent filling, so the mercury is probably leeching into my already pitiful brain.

Brilliant! I now have an excuse for every imbecility I commit in 2010!

Wishing you all a butt-covered New Year,

Sunday, 27 December 2009

...and a cup of coffee?

Someone put the link to this on my mother's Facebook and since Demeter pretty well can't access Facebook on her computer at home (which hasn't stopped her from continually acquiring Facebook friends -- which I have to log in and accept for her), we've been checking her page while she's been here in Hades for Christmas. Last Christmas I got all wobbly and tearful over the viral video "Where the Hell is Matt?" Well, this one put we away again too.

Okay, so it's Starbucks. Just watch it okay?

I'm not sure how John Lennon would have felt about the commercial aspect, but surely this is exactly what he meant.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas cards have all been sent... Karen Carpenter used to warble when she had the strength.

Still, I need to sort the presents set aside for the Twelve Days of Christmas (mostly the out-of-town ones) so I'll cheat with some YouTube videos:

First, some Can/con with this delightful poppy number from Serena Ryder. I think this deserves to become a Canadian Christmas classic. For one thing, it's a little more cheery than "River" and "River" is really an Advent song anyway: ...although this one makes me really glad not to be dating...

Next, dascottjr has done another literal video and because Hall and Oates did two versions of the original (which I never noticed), he's done two-in-one. I think the second one is marginally funnier:

Finally, it's Christmas Eve and I used to be able to depend on CBC to play Carols from Kings, but I guess that isn't politically correct anymore. For those of you who keep Christmas (and for those who don't but like the music), here's one of my favourite carols:

God bless. See you a bit later.

Monday, 21 December 2009

O Holy Night, Batman!

We made our annual pilgrimage to the Stuart McLean Vinyl Cafe Christmas concert. After last year's trek through the blizzard without buses, it was rather a relief to take elder daughter, younger daughter, and this year, Demeter on the bus through the frigid Ottawa streets where we had a loge to ourselves. I felt confident that it would be a pretty good show when Stuart McLean opened with a slightly abbreviated version of my all-time favourite Dave-and-Morley Christmas story "Polly Anderson's Christmas Party", but I didn't see what was coming when a young man named Matt Andersen walked onto the stage.

Okay. He looks like a young Meatloaf. Sounds a bit like him too, but just imagine Meatloaf with less melodrama, more soul, a healthy dollop of folks and blues, and a Maritimer sensibility. He started singing, and I thought: He's good. As the song continued, I thought: Actually, he's amazing. And then, I don't know how to describe this, I drifted away on his voice, his performance, the marvelous support of bassist Dennis Pendrith and pianist John Sheard, both remarkable musicians in their own right and regulars on the Vinyl Cafe. The audience burst into applause mid-song and swept to their feet when he finally finished. Now, it's true that Ottawa audiences will give standing ovations to practically anybody; I'm not sure whether they want to be seen as discerning or warm (they are neither), but this time, they had a point. If you have seven minutes to spare please watch this; it will give you some idea of what we experienced. If you have two minutes, listen anyway; that's about how long it took for me to start wondering: Gad. Who is this guy?

When he came on again, they called up his mother from the audience. His parents had just flown in from New Brunswick and it had been his dad's first time on a plane, apparently. Matt sang a duet with his mum and it was...great. Then later, he sang "O Holy Night". I don't even like "O Holy Night" and I was transfixed.

Damn. This guy is good.

The rest of the show wasn't bad either.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Keeping abreast of things

Seven years ago, I found a mysterious lump in my right breast, one that kept appearing and reappearing. The doctor zipped me off to have a mammogram which found nothing, and this apparently qualified me for the dubious pleasure of having more. I've had the experience of three mammograms so far. They're not exactly fun (squishing each boob in a sort of vise twice from different angles, for the uninitiated), but there are worse things.

This year, they've introduced a new wrinkle to the process at the breast screening centre here in Hades. Now, we're submitted to a very long, very thorough manual examination after the squishing. It involves sitting up, lying down, lying on one's side, raising arms, hands behind heads, left-turn signal elbows, etc. etc. etc., while being, not exactly pummeled, but being felt up in a very clinical way. For me it requires careful breathing to keep my reflexes under control, but on a discomfort level, it's somewhere between having one's teeth cleaned and having ultrasound on one's gall bladder.

The nurse was nearly finished. She had to be nearly finished; this had been going on for several interminable minutes. My eyes were shut in self-defense; I was, after all, lying topless with a women kneading my mammaries which is not an erotic situation but a rather awkward and intimate one. I did peek into her concentrating-like-a-concert-pianist face as I noticed her fingers kept returning to my left breast. She'd carefully prod the right breast in the corresponding area, then check the left, her movements slowing down.

Oh crud.

She had me feel for myself. It took a few seconds, but there it was, a hard knobble about the size, as she put it, "of a ball-bearing". I've kept going back to it over the past couple of days. Now that I know where it is, I wonder how I missed it.

Oh well. That's why they have screening clinics, don't they? I keep thinking of that oft-repeated slogan: The only thing worse than finding a lump in your breast is not finding it. Sometimes, that even makes me feel better. Most of the time, not so much.

To put this into perspective: Two of my friends have died of breast cancer. Both had family histories of aggressive cancers. I do not. My mother, aunt, and their cousins all went through a decade or so when they were finding benign lumps on a regular basis. My great-aunt did get breast cancer --- and died of old age years later.

All the same, Merry Bloody Christmas. I should be hearing from my doctor in a few days.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The End of the Innocence

All nations have them: the dates when one can say exactly what they were doing. Some have international significance. Most people over fifty can remember even tiny events of November 22nd, 1963, because John Fitgerald Kennedy was assassinated that day and the minutiae of that November afternoon are preserved like insects in amber. Those over sixteen can probably remember the day Diana died in the tunnel in Paris, and I venture to say that the majority of people living today can remember September 11th, 2001.

Until December 6th, 1989, the Canadian "where-were-you day" seemed to be September 28th, 1972. It's a damned hockey date, of course, but geez, there have been films made about this in Canada. It was rather nice, though that Canadians shared a euphoric memory. Until December 6th, 1989. Most Canadians over the age of twenty-five can tell you where they were that day. If they can't, simply say: "Ecole Polytechnique, Montreal."

I had invited my mother to supper. She was grieving over the recent death of her fifteen-year-old cat, and I sought to distract her. I made the mistake of turning on CBC Newsworld which was then a brand-new channel. I saw the body language and heard the urgent tones of the broadcasters and knew something horrific had happened, but not where. The details narrowed it down, agonizingly slowly: It had happened in eastern Qué the Ecole Polytechnique...

A man had entered an engineering classroom, brandishing a rifle and ordered all the male students out. He yelled something about feminists ruining his life and opened fire. He made his way through the building, shooting people and in the grand tradition of such things, finally shot himself. Fourteen women died. Ten women and four men were injured.

All thoughts of providing comforting companionship to my mother vanished from my mind. I was a sessional instructor in ESL at my local university. In the summer sessions, the great majority of my students were Québecois. Many of them were from Montreal and quite a few attended the Ecole Polytechnique. To make matters worse, the news reported that one of the dead was a staff member and one of my students the previous summer had been a professor at the Ecole. I had to wait more than a day before the names of the dead were released and the names of the injured were never released, so I fired off anxious letters to those students for whom I had addresses. (This was in the days before email and IM, children.) The responses I got were reassuring. They were in shock, but comforted to know that English Canada cared. The professor's husband attended the next summer session of our ESL programme, sought me out at registration and told me that his wife was all right.

But it became evident in the weeks following the tragedy that a deep trauma had occurred. I found myself wandering through my day with Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence" running through my head:
. . . somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
I need to remember this
So baby give me just one kiss
And let me take a long last look
Before we say goodbye

Just lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

The song was about America in the time of Reagan, but Canada, in the wake of this tragedy, had lost some illusions too. We could no longer say smugly, that we were immune from American-style violence. Furthermore, female students seemed terrified. I was taking my Master's at the time, in a couple of classrooms that faced out to a quadrant darkening in early December dusk, and one of my classmates begged tearfully for the door to be bolted. The incident seemed to bring to the surface the dark fears that most women contend with: the suggestion of violence, of death for the crime of being smart, ambitious, pretty, female.

It's hard to believe this happened twenty years ago. This evening, many women will walk out to the memorials that can be found on campuses and in parks across Canada. They will leave flowers and notes, and light candles, even twenty years later.

I don't like to say the name of the murderer. He got his recognition. Instead, I will draw your attention above to the names of fourteen women who will never reach fifty.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Set sorrow aside

Sad November thoughts pursued me through the night, disturbing my rest and making me resort to hippy-dippy rituals. But when we woke up, it was December and younger daughter has been longing for December, so begins her day with the Advent Calendar and gets herself through the interminable school day dreaming of which Christmas video she will watch when she gets home.

Starting on the long return journey from her school (made longer today by one bus being too early and the other late), I found myself between audio books and dinosaur that I am, tuned my personal player to CBC Radio Two which at that time of the day straddles their morning show and "Tempo" the classical music section. Just as we hit the Transitway, the host put on a piano setting of the "Bergamasca" of Otto Resphigi's Ancient Airs and Dances, (arranged by Resphigi himself) and any lingering November gremlins were swept away by one of my favourite pieces of music ever.

One idea I had for my memorial service would be to conclude the ceremony of tearful and mirthful testimonies about how wonderful I was (oh hush, this is my fantasy) with a reflection time during which the preceding movement of the suite "Companae parisienses and Aria" would be played, and then the Bergamasca would come on, signaling the mourners to get up and, remembering me happily, go off and enjoy a nice buffet.

If that's too morbid for you, imagine me on the bus this morning, as the ice pellets gradually became huge white flakes of snow whirling above the Transitway: