Monday, 30 November 2015

'Cause love's such an old-fashioned word

So, CBC Music posted a link on my Facebook wall from their "archives", because I've "liked" them. (Because I do.)

This is an a cappella group from Finland called Rajaton and while I listened to this simply magnificent version of "Under Pressure", I had to find out whose these people were, and when Googling, the National Arts Centre came up. That's when I decided to check our tickets for this season.

We get to see Rajaton performing a concert of songs by Queen in the new year!

Things are looking up.

And Christmas is definitely coming. Talk about "under pressure"...

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Mais nous, nous serons morts

A news item from the CBC described our new prime minister Justin Trudeau visiting the Bataclan concert hall where the most people died in the Paris attacks two weeks ago. The visit to the site had been organized by a Québec delegation, and a Franco-Ontarian singer named Véronic Dicaire (who is from Embrun, which is south-east of Ottawa) sang "Quand tous les hommes vivront d'amour".

I first heard the song when I was in a summer French Immersion course in Trois-Rivières. It was sung at several gatherings in a folksy style, but the original recording by its composer Raymond Levesque is in the jazzy and relaxed rhythm of the cafés of Paris, which belies its melancholic message: "When people live in love and peace, life will be beautiful, but you and I will be long gone, bud."

Raymond Levesque, who was born in Montréal, was living in Paris in the 1950s, and wrote this song in response to the war in Algeria in 1956. The lyrics are not totally pessimistic; they suggest that the world of peace and love must have its beginning in us, if only so those enjoying it might remember those who used to live in an atmosphere of hate and war.

Last week, when the official memorial service was held in Paris, another song I had not heard for a long time was featured, and it was also written by someone who lived in Paris, but was not a Frenchman: "Quand on n'a que l'amour" by the Belgian Jacques Brel. I am more familiar with the English version of the song which was featured in the stage musical and movie Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. (He isn't - he died in 1978.) This is from the 1975 film version starring Mort Shuman, Elly Stone and Joe Masiell. The English lyrics are by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman.

If we only have love, we can melt all the guns, and then give the new world to our daughters and sons.

Gotta hold on to the dream.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

An oldie but goodie that's short and sweet

I'm bushed and running out of time, so very quickly, here's what may have been the very first Doctor Who fanvid I ever encountered.

Doctor Who and Monty Python: the perfect combination. There are others, and if I'm short of time again - which is likely - I'll look them up and see if they're still out there.

Friday, 27 November 2015


There are two wonderful kinds of music experiences.

One is falling in love with an artist or a piece of music, the other is rediscovering a piece of music or artist through an extraordinary rendition.

In the summer of 2005, an international fundraising event called "Live 8" was televised, and among many, many performances, the one I remember is by two artists I've never been that enthusiastic about, and a song I've never particularly cared for.

Yes, I'm perfectly aware that Sarah McLachlan and Josh Groban are talented singers and I know that McLachlan's "Angel" is a song that means a great deal to a great many people, but it was this moment in Live 8 when I stopped what I was doing to listen and marvel. It didn't make me a fan of either nor of the song, but highly respectful of all three.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Somebody you knew only vaguely

John Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare (1781)
A year or so ago, I stumbled upon an article which is hysterical if you are at all familiar with the short stories of Alice Munro. If you're not, it will probably just mystify you. How to Tell if You Are in an Alice Munro Story is sort of a parlour game with a couple of dozen examples of a Munro-ish situations stated in one or more laconic sentences. If you decide to follow the link, the examples supplied by readers in the comment section are as funny as the article:

Somebody you knew only vaguely in your small town drowned.

You had a cousin and when you were younger she smoked a cigarette and left a lipstick stain on it. Sometimes, even now, you remember being in a car with her.

A man condescends to you. You say nothing. A woman says something that wouldn't be snide, if it were someone else saying it. You say nothing. You never speak again, but not because of them. You simply have nothing that needs to be said.

The fun here is in summarizing a typical "Munrovian" (?) short story plot. Alice Munro's prose isn't particularly laconic, but it is economic.

It had been a couple of years. I was pleased to see her.
Her smile didn't reach her eyes.
"Ah, Persephone," she purred, as if I weren't there.
"My little shadow."
Something sank and shrank within me. If I found anything else to say, I don't remember it.

I met Alice Munro. She was the lady who, for one glorious Sunday School term, taught us Creative Writing. One week, as a writing prompt, she brought a print of that disturbing painting of a troll perched on a sleeping lady's belly.

I didn't know she was a writer, nor that she was famous. I just looked forward to Sunday School in a way I never had before or since.

Later, of course, I read several of her short stories and her novel Lives of Girls and Women, which isn't so much a novel as a collection of short stories about one awkward young girl growing up in a small Ontario town. Munro was a master of describing and distilling the acute embarrassment of adolescence, just as she was later to put a merciless finger on the disappointments of middle life and old age.

I don't know how autobiographical her stories are. I suspect Lives of Girls and Women probably is. They don't reflect my experience of life exactly - thank goodness - but they are uncomfortably familiar and certain images and phrases stab at me.

The latest prickle-fest I've been reading is The Love of a Good Woman, a short story collection published in 1998.  It just showed up when I was spring-cleaning; I have no recollection of how it got into the house.  The titular story and one called "Save the Reaper" are both creepy and border on being horror stories or thrillers - we're left hanging.  The rest are pure Munro:  very Canadian and melancholic.  (Munro can be very funny; an early story, first published in 1961, called "A Ounce of Cure" is one of my favourites.)  They are set in places I have been and peopled with characters I haven't met, but recognize.  I reach the end of a story and am startled; each one reads like a novel.

I can't really say I like one over another; I rarely "like" a Munro tale, but they do resonate, rather painfully.  Like that long-ago memory of the girl who thought of me - if she thought of me at all - as her  shadow.  As it happens, she was one of Alice Munro's daughters.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The café of requirement

With younger daughter consistently coming home on her own for the past three weeks or so, I'm suddenly faced with the challenge of finding a new way to shape my day.  As time-consuming as the round-trip out to Bells Corners was, it got me out of the house.  So does walking the Accent Snob, but elder daughter needs to get out of the house too, so she's been seizing the midday stroll, leaving me the late afternoon one.

I've always found that getting a start on what writing I'm to do works better in a library or coffee shop.  The library is one kilometre up a hill and has rather irregular hours.  I can't always find a seat at our local Second Cup, the local Bridgehead is draughty and smells a little like a barn, and the SconeWitch has scones which are not a great idea for daily consumption -- not for me, anyway.

So this frosty morning, on a tip from the Resident Fan Boy, I strolled up Beechwood to try the Red Door.  It's been open about a year, but is easy to miss, you really have to be looking for it, like Hogwart's Room of Requirement. I managed to find it; it's a house with a large red door, oddly enough.

I walked in to find a rather small café with an unsurprisingly hipster vibe.  The coffee was very strong, the croissants flaky and I found a table at the back which was very comfortable for the most part, except when they took a series of deliveries through the back door.  An older couple with their granddaughter grimaced sympathetically as the cold air blasted past my table and helped me close the door until the young deliverymen tramped outside for the last time.

I wrote a bit, gazed out at the white-edge branches, and rather enjoyed the music they had piped in.  As I prepared to go I asked the girl if it was an album, but it was, of course, one of those computer mixes.  I said I'd particularly enjoyed a particular song and she obligingly punched a computer screen, wrote the artist and song title on a post-it note, and I happily headed home.

I gather they're very crowded at lunchtime with a daily soup and half a dozen variations on grilled cheese sandwiches, so early-ish in the morning would probably be best for me. I could do it on a rotation with the Second Cup, SconeWitch (a scone a week is unlikely to do much damage), and the barn.

This was the song.  Part of me probably recognized it, because I gather it's in the soundtrack of Shrek 2, another of younger daughter's favourites.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

There is freedom within

The Resident Fan Boy was betrayed by Environment Canada yet again.  He treats their web page like holy writ and is always in indignant disbelief when the actual weather differs from what was forecast.

This morning, we woke to the first blanket of white of the season - Environment Canada had promised scattered flurries - and we started the morning with a frantic scramble in the basement to locate one of younger daughter's boots.  It finally turned up under the canvas casing from elder daughter's old Girl Guide camp days.

For the first time, I bundled myself into my brand-new wine-coloured commuter coat, an early Christmas gift from Demeter.  I've been resisting its siren call for the past few weeks, but the time has come to admit that winter is at our doorstep, although the forecast is for warmer temperatures later this week.

As if we could trust the forecast.

This evening, shaking off the cold of the day, I sat by the cyber-hearth and found the following video, posted by one of my Facebook "likes".  It's Neil Finn, New Zealand-born and sometime member of the  Australian pop group Crowded House performing with the beautiful and spare back-up of a strings section on his "Solo with Strings" tour last summer.  This particular concert was in Auckland, New Zealand.

"Don't Dream It's Over" pulls me back to the summer of 1987 and my first teaching job.  When I hear it, I see the sun setting in mid-evening behind the trees and buildings at the University of Victoria.

Monday, 23 November 2015

To all the ships at sea

Finally, a version of "My Heart Will Go On" that I can stand!  This is, once again, from the wildly talented folks at Postmodern Jukebox - I've waxed lyrically about them before and subscribed to them on YouTube.  I'd just like to draw your attention to the work of the rather magnificent backup singers Brandon Rogers and Matt Bloyd before you take a listen -- and you simply must.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Just as long as I don't get two in a row

One of the tougher things about coming to Hades has been the more frequent occurrences of what I call "used years". I stole the idea from Charles Schultz, of course.

What's a used year? It's a year that diminishes you. You struggle through the quicksand of the approximate twelve months, only to discover that a better aspect of you has been scraped off: 2002 - 2005 - 2008...

I had used years in Victoria as well. The year my father left for the last time. My final year of high school - I barely got out alive. The year the Resident Fan Boy lost his job and his mother. Those years, however, had plenty of space between them. Since I came to Hades, it seems I've had a "used year" every two to three years, and frankly, the years in between haven't been something to write home about, which explains why my mother complains about not getting letters.

On the optimistic side (and by "optimistic", I mean "I haven't been killed, so I must be stronger --- right?"), I have coping mechanisms. You see a lot of them on this blog: art, music, drama, books. Anything beautiful. Exercise (believe it or not). Creative visualization. Family research. Getting out of the house. Accomplishing small goals. Reaching out to friends.

The last is difficult because my friends have their own problems, and I don't want to reach out and drag them under.

I don't want to drag you under, either. So I'll shut up.

That way, the water can't get in.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

A kind of December

Kate Hennig and Paul Rainville
Photo: Andrew Alexander
At the end of the first scene of The December Man, I thought to myself: Oh gawd. I read the review. I forgot that it's backwards. We had just seen a tableau of quiet despair, and lost all hope of anything getting better.

In the late 1970s, Harold Pinter wrote a very famous play called Betrayal, which follows the course of a doomed love affair, but in reverse chronology. The effect is devastating. With each scene, the narrative takes a step back in time and audience knows what's coming. As a result, the last scene, which begins with the seduction, lacks any thrill or eroticism because we've just witnessed the resulting heartbreak.

However, The December Man cranks up the agony several more notches, because it is about the aftermath of a mass murder.

Six years ago, I wrote a post about the École Polytechnique de Montréal massacre, a watershed moment in Canadian history when a man with a rifle entered an engineering class on an early December evening in 1989, told the men to leave and shot the nine remaining women, killing six of them. By the time he shot himself, he had murdered eight more women, and wounded ten women and four men. I was frantic because wounded people are never named in news reports and several of my male Québecois ESL summer students were studying at L'École Polytechnique in the winter. There were no emails, text, or web sites in 1989, so I had to fire off letters. It turned out all my former students were safe and none had been present at the shootings. It was clear though, that nothing would ever be the same, not for those who never dreamed of such a thing happening in Canada, not for the families of the slain women, not for the wounded students, nor for the men who were forced to leave the classroom, and heard the shots and screams.

The "December Man" is a fictional student named Jean, an only child who lives with his working class parents and is their pride, joy, and hope. He is one of the male engineering students in that classroom, and in inexorable reverse order, his breakdown, and those of his parents is played out. The story would have been difficult to watch from start to finish. From finish to start, it's almost unbearable.

Ottawa audiences, it seems, will give standing ovations for any competent performance. Maybe it's a desire to be fair, or to be liked, or to justify the money spent on the tickets. This time, the performances of the three actors (Kayvon Kelly as Jean; Kate Hennig and Paul Rainville as his parents) achieving a portrayal of decent people doing their best and falling short - and managing to do this in reverse order, no less - warranted everyone rising to their feet, applauding while struggling with a 26-year-old tragedy that many of us still remember, and the fresher impressions of recent horrors.

Friday, 20 November 2015


One thing I rather like about November is that with the foliage gone, you can see the rivers. (Sounds a bit like I'm clutching at straws, doesn't it?)

About this time, three years ago, I was taking the Accent Snob on what I call The Long Walk. We followed the streets that line the back of the grounds of Rideau Hall, the residence of the Canadian Governor General, following the wrought iron railings until the dog and I reached the Rockcliffe Parkway. From there, just a short walk away from 24 Sussex Drive, official residence of the Prime Minister, I looked out over the Ottawa River to the province of Québec.

This is what I saw one late Sunday afternoon in 2012:
You can click on this to enlarge it.

Writing blog-posts forces you to look things up. It took a bit of scrolling over a Google Map of the neighbourhood to figure out that I was looking at the Paroisse St-François-De-Sales, built in 1840, and standing on the bank of the Gatineau River, just before it meets the Ottawa River, which in turn flows in an easterly direction towards Montréal, where it merges with the St Lawrence.

That late afternoon in Ottawa, it was a nameless ethereal church glowing in the light of a dying afternoon, framed with the tattered remains of autumn.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

But get the ice, or else no dice

Yesterday, I asked younger daughter if she'd like to see a late matinée screening at the Bytowne Cinema of the 1953 movie version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Rather to my surprise, she readily agreed. It turns out that she loves "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend". I bet you do, too.
G'wan, watch it, you know you want to:

Younger daughter was thrilled when I pointed out a young George Chakiris amongst the dancing millionaires. She's a huge fan of West Side Story, in which Marni Nixon provided the singing for Natalie Wood's Maria. Marni Nixon also hits the high notes for Marilyn Monroe in this movie, and provides the operatic "No's" at the beginning of the song.

The 1953 film is based on the 1949 Broadway musical which was based on the 1925 book by Anita Loos which was created out of a series of stories that Anita Loos wrote for the magazine Harper's Bazaar, based on her observation of her friend HL Mencken's helplessness at the hands of a blond bombshell. The Broadway musical was set in the 1920s; the 1953 movie wasn't, and the plots of neither had much to do with the book nor each other.

The Broadway musical starred a young Carol Channing. I can't imagine anyone less like Carol Channing than Marilyn Munroe, but the show and movie also had little in common, and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" is closely associated with both Channing and Monroe. Here's Carol Channing singing it on a 1957 television show (I don't know which one):

It's really younger daughter who led me to the discovery that watching movies in a movie theatre is worthwhile, even when the movie is readily available on TV, DVD, or online. You won't be getting up to do things around the house, nor multitasking. Your concentration is on the movie; this is the first time I've actually watched GPB straight through. You hear the reaction of the audience around you. You can eat popcorn, and in the Bytowne, you're watching the film in the sort of movie theatre in which it would have been shown in 1953.

Mind you, the experience is digital and the mindset you bring into the theatre belongs to the twenty-first century.

What, for example, does a denizen of the twenty-first century make of the following number?

This is supposedly the American Olympic Team - would they really make their way to the 1952 Oslo games via Paris? Jane Russell's character is crest-fallen because the team has a strict curfew and is thus unavailable for amorous activities. Am I the only one who suspects the curfew is not the chief barrier for a woman making out with these fellas? Oh well, they may have thought otherwise in 1953; it was another time.

After the movie, the Resident Fan Boy and I discussed how sexual politics have changed (or not), and remembered Madonna's famous video for "Material Girl", which has a different message from the famous song and film that it references. Or does it?

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Odd exchanges at artistic events: part two

There was a magical period in my life before children when I had time and money. Rather more time than money, so for a couple of years, I subscribed to the Victoria Symphony at the cheapest rate possible. This had me very close to the stage, which I didn't mind, and surrounded by "comps" (complimentary tickets) which I mostly didn't mind.

"Comps" make an interesting segment of the audience because they are usually people who normally wouldn't come to a symphony performance. Once I found myself next to a lovely older couple who realized, in the midst of a performance of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, that they recognized many of the tunes.
So they sang along.
And were deeply indignant when I tried, gently and quietly, to restrain them.

One of my favourite "comps" was an elder Scottish lady who was delighted to be there. After the first piece of the afternoon, she remarked to me, "I don't remember Shumann ever sounding like that."
"That's because it was Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland," I explained.
She threw back her head and laughed.
"I wondered why they had the piano way at the back!"

The Schumann piano concerto she had come to hear followed in due course.

I retold this story to a couple of Victoria Symphony musicians at a house party some weeks later. Their jaws dropped.
"That's just the sort of thing we're afraid is happening out there," they sighed, shaking their heads.

Personally, I think they needed to lighten up.

My Scottish lady may have come for the Schumann, but I had been looking forward to Appalachian Spring which has been one of my favourites since discovering Aaron Copland in my early teens.

The Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen, based in Bruges, Belgium, is, from what I can see, similar in size to the Victoria Symphony. The part of Appalachian Spring that I love most begins at the 3:30 part, but the whole thing is gorgeous.

(The pianist is on the right edge, behind the harpist.)

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Odd exchanges at artistic events: part one

A few days ago, I mentioned in passing a small Chagall exhibit I recently visited at the National Gallery of Canada. It was a collection of Marc Chagall's (1887-1985) illustrations of the story of Daphnis and Chloe - two rather clueless youngsters who take a year to figure out the mechanics of sex. They spend rather a lot of that year naked, although they do wear clothes in the winter and at their wedding ceremony, thank goodness.

Both begin life being suckled by wild animals. The security guard leant towards me confidentially as I checked back on some notes posted at the entrance of the exhibit.

"Do you think that's possible?" She nodded towards the drawings. "Could a baby really be nursed by a sheep or goat?"

I thought for a second.

"Well, the animal would have to lie down, and the baby would need to have a strong suck…"

She nodded appreciatively.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Over the pop

I've never been much of a fan of epic movies. I find them a bit overblown, lacking in levity, and too damn long.

However, younger daughter loves movies and music, and especially movie-music, so we had tickets for a National Arts Centre Orchestra pop concert celebrating the theme music of about fifteen larger-than-life films. I'd seen about five of them, including Titanic, which isn't my favourite movie - there are too many moments when I want to hurl things at the screen - but which had wonderful art direction and, let's face it, a beautiful score by James Horner. This isn't quite what we heard. We didn't have a soprano soloist, got some other incidental music as well, and, alas, were subjected to a full-throated choral rendering of "My Heart Will Go On".

The rest of the concert was just as beautifully performed, but epic movie themes, much like the movies they accompany, are a much of a muchness. As the woman behind me in the line-up for the ladies' room put it at intermission, lots of ooohing and ahhhing from the choir.

The same couldn't be said of the concert's opening.

We have a subscription to Pops, again, due to younger daughter's love of jazz, pop, and movies, so we're familiar with the Pops Principal Conductor Jack Everly and knew something was different the moment he walked onstage. Usually spritely and jovial, he now said a few quiet words about Paris, then turned to the orchestra and combined choirs behind him.

"Here we go; I've been expecting this," said the Resident Fan Boy, quickly rising. I hurriedly joined him because if it's one thing I know, it's that you get to your feet if you can when a national anthem is playing. I don't have a video of the NACO playing the Marseillaise, nor of the Ottawa Choral Society and the Ottawa Festival chorus singing it, but it sounded pretty splendid. Almost epic.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Danced to distraction

Given the news lately, any distraction is welcome, and this is a dandy. About eight months ago, I was talking about interpretations and possible inspirations for Uptown Funk. Well, someone with some talent for editing, access to some of the best dance routines of the first half of the twentieth century, and a helluva lot of time has pulled together this very clever collage.

Oh. And if you'd like the movie titles and years, hit the "CC" button.

It certainly has cheered me up!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Fine-boned, spectral and skeletal

It's early morning -- for a Saturday, and I find myself being carried through the streets of Lowertown and Sandy Hill on a bus filled with mostly young women with loosely piled-up hair. Outside, it's a world of solitary young men, well, more like a few parallel solitary worlds, each containing a young man out on his own - walking his dog, sitting in shirt-sleeves on the floor of a rickety metal balcony (not even shivering at 0 degrees Celsius), striding along with a coffee, or with earbuds, or with coffee and earbuds.

The young women disembark en masse at the University of Ottawa, dispersing and disappearing along various pathways leading to academic buildings, probably libraries on this Saturday morning as the post-secondary community moves into term essay season.

I see Nordstrom's coming into view, remembering how it was Eaton's when I first arrived in this city, became a ghost-town version of Sears, and now has shed all pretensions of being Canadian. I have a wait between buses, and have had no breakfast, so I grab a coffee and pastry at the quasi-swish department store coffee shop - then make a mental resolution not to do that again. Something that expensive should be reasonably delicious.

Along the Québec bank of the Ottawa River, there are puddles of sunshine. The trees caught in the slanting light are glowing in silvery-white ghostliness, all vestiges of autumn colour vanished, leaving them spectral and skeletal, like fish-bones.

Friday, 13 November 2015

I've never been to Paris

The Resident Fan Boy, Demeter, and elder daughter have all visited Paris, all when they were young. Each set of memories will be radically different, belonging to different decades. The overwhelming sadness of what happened there this evening will be about the same. For myself, I think of all those frantic parents who must be having the worst night ever. This is the song I found drifting through my head as the news reports got steadily worse. There are dozens of versions on YouTube, but this one is simple enough.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

But we're all strange and maybe we don't want to change

In September, when we were easing younger daughter back into school (and there was nuthin' easy about it), there were a couple of mornings when her morning lift was not available and I'd find myself sitting on the #5 while she and the Resident Fan Boy sat behind, riding through the dawn sunshine to the Mackenzie King Bridge where we'd bid farewell to the RFB and clamber on the 97 to Bells Corners. When I think of this song, I think of the sun rising over Strathcona Park as the bus trundled along Laurier East.

As pretty as this video is, it's more a song to be listened to than watched, and even if you're listening hard, it's best not to puzzle over the lyrics much.

The band is the Strumbellas, who seem to have a sort of Lumineers thing going on. They're based in Toronto, but four of the six members come from Lindsay, in south-eastern Ontario, near Peterborough. A friend of mine used to say that Peterborough was full of alcoholics, but I think she was mad at her ex-husband.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Remembrance Day Retreat (write of passage number thirty-seven)

Remembrance Day fell on a Sunday in 2001.

It was getting toward noon, and the Resident Fan Boy and I stood at a bus stop downtown with our daughters, then aged nine and five.  An imposing lady addressed the girls in that school-teacherish fashion that some older people take with strangers' children.

"It's a beautiful day to be out,  isn't it?"

Elder daughter smiled shyly and nodded politely.  Younger daughter was cheerfully oblivious.

An extra note entered the woman's tone, slightly challenging, slightly accusatory, with an overlying aura of righteousness.

"Were you girls down at the ceremony honouring our soldiers?"

Elder daughter froze and hesitated, her eyes widening.  My cue to intervene and cut the sidewalk sermon short.

"We were in church," I said, with a pleasant smile while fixing the lady with an unmistakeable "Mum" look.  Trump card.

"Oh," she fluttered.  "Well, then, that's just as good..."

She didn't say another word as the bus arrived.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

You ain't no punk, you punk

Rant alert.  I'm here to talk trash.  Literally.

What is it about garbage that makes us treat our neighbours like rubbish?

We live just up the road from a coffee shop, which is usually a pleasant convenience, except every now and then, people strolling up Springfield Road on our neighbourhood's garbage and recycling pick-up day would toss their  half-full coffee cups into our empty garbage can after the trucks had been by.  It was neither fun nor particularly easy to retrieve soggy cardboard cups from the bottom of the receptacle and then rinse the coffee out.  After a couple of times,  I made sure to get our containers away from the sidewalk as soon as they were empty to foil coffee-tossers or dog-poop disposers.  (Actually, I'm flummoxed by the number of dog-owners who leave their used poop bags on the edge, and sometimes on, the sidewalk.  Why?  Why would they bother to bag it up then just leave it? Do they think someone else will pick it up?  I suppose so. No one's gonna pick it up, sunshine.)

This morning was another garbage and recycling pickup day, and while the Resident Fan Boy was taking the Accent Snob for his dawn relief walk, somebody slithered by with about three bags of trash, lifted and discarded the lid of our bin set by the sidewalk for the garbage truck, and stuffed the bags in, heedless of the overflow.  When the trucks had gone, about mid-morning, I found a small pile consisting of packaging, a very liquified banana peel and a flattened soup can with the paper label still on it.  Unsurprisingly, our donor doesn't bother to sort the compostables and recyclables.

This rather spoiled the mood of goodwill and tranquility I'd worked hard to establish after waking.

I guess the thinking (if any thinking were involved), goes something like this:  "It's a garbage can; so it's okay to put my trash in it 'cause then I'm not littering, see?"

They don't care, of course, that other people - like me, for example - have to pick up the disgusting slop-overs that didn't make it into the truck because their gift to us was in three (three!) flimsy and open bags.  Why?  Because I'm not a friend, family member or acquaintance of this dumper and therefore don't matter.

While the Resident Fan Boy and I were steaming, we recalled a morning a few years back when we left an ancient, defunct and very heavy TV set by the curb for pick-up.  It had disappeared by daybreak and then - get this - whoever had taken it discovered that there was a reason we were throwing it out and returned it to the curb in front of our house the next morning.  We were forced to lug the weighty bit of junk into the garage, wait for the next pickup in two weeks' time as it was winter, and set it out again, this time with a large sign reading "BROKEN - This television does NOT work".

Such crap is not limited to Hades. When we lived in Victoria, we had a picket fence around our tiny front lawn which evidently caused  passersby to mistake our yard for a wastebasket.

I've said something like this before: if we treat people we don't know as if they don't matter because we don't know them, then there is little hope for us.  The world is simply getting too small.

All of which means, I suppose, that I shouldn't fantasize about tossing these miscreants down the garbage shute like Veruca Salt, but heck, this was the one song I really liked from the 2005 version of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's very Beach-Boy-ish, as in Pet Sounds. It's also a firm favourite with younger daughter, who dressed up as Veruca Salt (pre-garbage-shute) a few Hallowe'ens back:

Or I can vent my rage like The Cramps.  I know I've posted this song before, but I can't resist.  Take it away, Lux Interior and Poison Ivy.
Just take it away.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Taken by surprise

New Forest
A few weeks ago, I nipped into the National Gallery to see a small Chagall exhibit. And it was okay.

However, because it was small (which, because it was in the National Gallery, meant it was pretty big), there was another exhibit slipped in beside it. It was the work of an English photographer of whom I'd never heard: one Frederick H. Evans (1853-1943).

I ended up enjoying this exhibit more than the Chagall one -- although the Chagall was perfectly fine. I guess it was the pleasant surprise.
Gloucester Cathedral: Alabaster Effigy
This was one of my favourites, probably taken in the last decade of the 19th century. I love the layers seen through the arches.

A Sea of Steps
This is one of his most famous photos, taken at Wells Cathedral in 1904.

Afterwards, I went to have a quiet lunch at Memories which used to be a rather funky restaurant on Clarence, but the ancient building it was in was declared dangerous, so it's now a rather posh place tucked in behind the corner of St Patrick and Sussex Drive. The food is still good, though, and they were playing a song by Sting that I'd completely forgotten about.

Last week, when younger daughter got lost and my mind was full of a tune by Paul Simon, I looked up the song on YouTube and up came this recent performance by Paul Simon and Sting which dovetails "Mother and Child Reunion" with "Love is the Seventh Wave".

And that too, was a pleasant surprise.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Phantom leaves

I took this picture on November 4th, 2012. It's the sidewalk behind Rideau Hall, along Lisgar Road, what was left after that autumn's leaves had been swept away.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

To sleep, perchance to dream

Horatio and Hamlet survey the Elsinore rubble.

We have discovered that there are more Cumberbitches in Ottawa than DT fan girls. Two years ago, we attended a "live-stream" cinema screening of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Richard II, starring David Tennant. It was well-attended but not sold out.

A couple of evenings ago, I decided to check out the ticket situation for an encore presentation of a not-quite-live-stream (not live in Canada, anyway) performance of the National Theatre's presentation of Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. (Just as an aside, Mr Cumberbatch has gone on record as saying he prefers to refer to his female fans as the "Cumbercollective".) When I logged on to the Cineplex website, there were exactly 27 tickets left for this afternoon's showing.

Keeping that in mind, the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter, and I turned up at the Silver City cinema nearly an hour early, and this was only partly due to the unreliability of weekend buses in Hades. About a dozen people had already staked out seats - Ottawans are very territorial about their vantage points - so we grabbed our favourites: last row, centre, and savoured the schadenfreude of watching later arrivals trying to find seats where they could a) sit with their friends; b) see the whole screen.

The production? A little too clever for its own good, and the tinkering with the order of the scenes and the rather heavy-handed use of stages-within-stages, slow motion, and rubble failed to tell me anything new.

Mind you, I'm hardly one to talk. The problem with a full cinema is that there are over 300 bodies warming the place nicely, and I kept dropping off, despite my best efforts. Also, there was only one intermission, which meant two-thirds of the play had elapsed before there was an opportunity to dash for the long queues to both washrooms. The length of the first "half" effectively finished younger daughter off, so she and the Resident Fan Boy made a break for it.

I stayed, and the cooler extra space next to me, in combination with the events hurtling to their violent conclusion on the screen, kept me awake and attentive during the final "half" (third). The cast was good, but the one stand-out for me was Karl Johnson, one of those madly busy British character actors, who played both the ghost and the gravedigger.

Mr Cumberbatch gave a flawless performance, but while I enjoy and admire his work, I'm not a Cumberbitch. I find it a struggle enough not to be any kind of bitch.

Clicking on the screen makes it way bigger.
The show had started at about 1pm, and when I emerged from the theatre, it was past 4:30. I rarely see spectacular sunsets in Ottawa, but we got one of a British Columbia calibre this evening.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Nose dive

Kingfisher 1983
When I first came to Hades almost exactly fifteen years ago, one of my first stops was the National Gallery of Canada. Back then, you could stroll through the permanent galleries for free; you only paid for special exhibitions. I had been familiar with the almost photographic and slightly unsettling pictures of Alex Colville - nude people standing around refrigerators at night drinking milk and the like.

My gallery technique is to hurry through a display, then return to the ones that call to me. I got a very strange call from Colville's Kingfisher. It's very tall and thin, and when you get close, there's a sinister gleam in the bird's eye.

Moon and Cow 1963
One of the things I do to take the sting out of having to leave Victoria to come back and live in Hades is saving treats for myself. This year, I resisted going to the Alex Colville retrospective until a couple of days before it closed. (Alex Colville died two years ago, preceded by a few months by his wife and muse Rhoda Wright.)

Seven Crows 1980
This meant I had younger daughter along with me. This is usually not a problem. The art gallery tires her quickly, but she says she enjoys it.

The problem this summer was that she had taken to walking around with her eyes closed, a development that started at school last spring and slopped over into our home life as the summer began. I wondered how on earth she would manage an art exhibit.

Dog, Boy and School Bus 1960
She managed it by setting herself up in a corner near this painting. I pointed it out to her, but she turned her head and told me to go away. I went to the other side of the room and examined the other paintings, watching her surreptitiously. She remained standing in the corner, and I mean facing the corner. I got her to move from room to room by telling her where I was going then moving ahead, praying she would follow.

Dog, Boy, and St John River 1958
When we were walking to the bus stop, I asked her which painting she liked the best, expecting it to be "Dog, Boy and School Bus".
"I liked 'Dog, Boy, and St John River'", she said. I had to look it up when we got home. Clearly, she had been paying attention.

She also liked the Alex Colville movie connections. Apparently the art direction of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom is based on Colville's work, and about four of his paintings are hanging in the background of scenes in The Shining.
"That's the movie where Jack Nicholson says 'Heeeere's Johnny!", younger daughter informed me.
"Have you seen that movie?" I've never had the nerve, myself, but they've shown films like Psycho at her school.
"No!" she scoffed. She's a great scoffer.
"It's a very famous movie, Mom!"

Horse and Church 1964
The paintings that stuck with me? Well, this one is haunting. Colville painted it after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A black horse bolting in blind panic from a windowless chapel. It feels a bit like my life lately.

Mr. Wood in April 1960
However, this one kept calling me back. It's a painting in springtime. The bleak early spring of eastern and central Canada. I like the truthfulness of it.

My kingfisher favourite was not a part of this retrospective.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Being neighbourly, Hades-style

The other-worldliness of Hades made itself known within weeks of our arrival fifteen years ago. For one thing, Pierre Elliot Trudeau died.  We found the intensity of the mourning in Ottawa was somewhat startling.  Don't get us wrong, we didn't rejoice; we felt the historical impact of the passing of arguably the last real Canadian statesman, but we were, after all, fresh from British Columbia where Mr. Trudeau had never been popular.  As a matter of fact, my Friend of the Right Hand got the news in Victoria when her husband stalked to the centre of the living room and intoned:  "The Dark Lord is dead."

Our moving day coincided with the day of P.E.T.'s funeral. While the Resident Fan Boy and Demeter supervised the movers at our new house in the Ottawa neighbourhood of New Edinburgh, I stayed behind in the hotel which had been our home for five weeks, cleaning up, tossing our transition clothes and supplies into suitcases, while watching and listening to the live television coverage, the highlight of which was the eulogy, given by the eldest Trudeau son whom most Canadians last remembered as being a young boy.

Elder daughter was, by that time, well established in her new school. Three grades ahead of her was Pierre Elliot Trudeau's ex-wife's daughter from her second marriage. (You can see Margaret Trudeau glowing proudly at her son at several points in the preceding video.) One grade ahead of elder daughter was Pierre Trudeau's daughter from his arcane relationship with Deborah Coyne. (You can see them both at the 5:51 mark in the video.)

I never ran into Margaret Trudeau, but I ran into Deborah Coyne a few weeks later at the local animal clinic. I was there with our cat; she was there with her dog. She introduced herself to me, and I made pleasant chit-chat while thinking, "I remember you from the funeral." Our paths crossed again when she brought her son to an appointment at the same office where younger daughter had speech therapy. We smiled, nodded, and left it at that.

Our neighbourhood is rife with prime-ministerial connections. I saw Jean Chretian with his wife Aline at the local coffee shop. No one approached them except the proprietor. Chretian was Prime Minister at the time of the Trudeau funeral - and can be seen with his wife at the ten-minute mark. Joe Clark, the subject of Justin Trudeau's story about the nice man with the little blond daughter (just before the eight-minute mark), once told younger daughter what a beautiful princess she was when she came trick-or-treating to his doorstep. And when younger daughter was at the local elementary, the children of Stephen Harper sandwiched her: one in the grade ahead; one in the grade behind. Burly men in dark suits with earpieces stood sentry in the hallways and at the entrance where we now had to be buzzed in. The prime minister's children would take their selected play dates and disappear into a fleet of black SUVs after school. Harper himself showed up at the occasional school concert, where I had to shush the RFB, who insisted on hissing him.

The oddest run-in occurred at the restaurant down our street which features the occasional "family dinner" - a fixed menu with platters of food from which you serve yourself, like at home. We're fans of these dinners and one evening, two years ago, we were ushered to our table and hesitated, as we recognized the young family already seated. It was Justin Trudeau with his pregnant wife and two ankle-biters. The RFB introduced himself, assured Justin that we understood they might want private family time, and we awkwardly but politely ignored them for the rest of the meal. It sort of sums up the concept of Ottawa neighbourliness. We acknowledge each other, then strive not to intrude.

Photo by Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail
Yesterday, elder daughter and I watched on television, while a few blocks away, they took charge of the country. Just another day in the neighbourhood.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

In recovery

Is this a honey locust tree?
I'm still reeling from yesterday, but younger daughter is unfazed.  She took the bus home from Bells Corners on her own, and texted to me cheerfully about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Elton John.  The day has been lovely and the autumn colours are lingering longer than usual.  I need another sleep.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The course of a lifetime runs over and over again

The most stressful days of my life always seem to be temperate and lovely. I was out with the Accent Snob just before a sushi lunch with the Resident Fan Boy and elder daughter, thinking how wonderful it was that my knees didn't hurt as they did for nearly a year, and resolving to be grateful for this, knowing it's not likely to be permanent, because time isn't kind to joints in the long run.

The RFB had a doctor's appointment (which is why he was home for lunch), and as we waited at the bus stop, I got a text from younger daughter, who was meeting me for her ritual pre-music-lesson coffee shop visit. Today's difference was that she was taking the bus by herself from her school in Bells Corner in the far west of Greater Ottawa.

This was not particularly worrying because she has come all the way home at least three times (once without our knowledge), which involves a bus change downtown. The trek to the coffee shop would be one bus dropping her off nearly at the entrance. She was texting to ask me if she should get ready to leave. She was ten minutes early, so I told her she could, or she could leave when the wristwatch alarm in her packsack went off. (She refuses to wear the watch.) Either way, it would give her plenty of time to make the five-minute walk to the bus stop by 2:50.

I chatted on the bus with the RFB before we parted ways. I strolled down to the main library to return a DVD, then headed for the coffee shop. I cheerfully told the staff what was happening; they're quite familiar with younger daughter from our weekly visits. I settled with my coffee and checked in with younger daughter.

She'd missed her bus.

Well, no matter. I looked up the GPS for the next bus and gave her updates. It was only after I'd asked her if she could see the 97 yet that she informed me she was on the 118.
The 118 does not go downtown.
She said she was scared and didn't know where to get off.

I kept calm and phoned her directly. I told her to get off at the Baseline Station. I followed up with a text telling her to cross to the other side and catch a 95 or a 94. She's done this with me before a few times.

Her next text asked: "Which is the other side?"

I called her again, but my explanations didn't make any sense to her.

"Do you want me to come get you?"

I abandoned my cup and dashed to Slater Street where a 95 was drawing up. It was, naturally, a sluggish one. As I exchanged messages with an increasingly distressed younger daughter, I noticed I was now down to one third of my phone battery. I phoned elder daughter, gave her a quick rundown of the predicament.

After what seemed an eternity, I leapt out of the bus at Baseline Station, scanning the long, long platform for the familiar pink hoodie. Heart sinking, I realized why she didn't understand what "the other side" was.

She hadn't got out at Baseline Station.

I phoned her again and tried to get her to tell me the number of her stop, or to describe where she was, knowing my battery was getting lower and lower.

My bladder was also getting fuller and fuller. I'd left the coffee shop too quickly.

I dashed for Centrepointe,listening to the warning beeps of my dying battery, knowing there would be pay phones. And washrooms.

As I frog-marched into the building, some old codger intoned dryly: "Left! Right! Left! Right!"
"This is not funny," I snarled as I swept by him. "This is an emergency!"
"Oh," he said.

Without access to my phone, I had no access to phone numbers. I remembered I'd written elder daughter's onto a scrap of paper which I'd slipped into my bus pass back in the days before I had my own cell phone. However, elder daughter's cell still has a Halifax area code, so the phone was demanding $5.60 and refusing to take toonies. (That's a two-dollar coin, for you non-Canadians.) I slipped in my credit card, which has worked in past emergencies, but the phone couldn't read it. Now close to tears, it suddenly occurred to me that elder daughter was home which meant I could use our landline.

She didn't pick up, of course, not until she heard my frantic voice berating her for failing to answer during a known family emergency. She has a phobia of telephone solicitors, scared of hurting their feelings, I suppose. I told her to phone her dad and her sister, and see if she could pinpoint the latter's location - which could be anywhere along the 118's route, which stretches across the southern side of the city, pretty well the whole length of Baseline Road. I gave her the number of the pay phone.

After more than five minutes - I could see people peering cautiously at me from behind pillars - I finally phoned back. Apparently the pay phone number hadn't worked, but elder daughter had cajoled younger daughter into walking to the closest corner and reading a street sign: Centrepointe Drive. If she'd got off a 118 bus at Centrepointe Drive, she was relatively close by. I barrelled out a back exit.

The sun was just disappearing. All sorts of strange thoughts whirled through my head:

Centrepointe Drive is a crescent, isn't it? Suppose she's at the other end?

I suppose this will seem funny -- at some point.

Isn't Baseline Road closer than this?

I know you're out there somewhere.

No, I would not give you false hope, on this strange and mournful day, but the mother and child reunion is only a motion away...

The setting sun blinded me as I look frantically west. I blinked, looked east -- and there she was, talking on her phone to her sister. She was very upset about having to reschedule her lesson. I held my tongue as I led her to Baseline Station. There's no point arguing with someone living on the autistic spectrum with a newly diagnosed anxiety disorder.

Half an hour later, I left younger daughter and the Resident Fan Boy at the coffee shop. I climbed up the hill towards the Parliament Buildings, noticing for the first time that my legs felt weak. All the confident strength I'd felt five hours earlier had ebbed away. By the time I'd reached my bus stop, my left thigh ached and my knee stung. I tried stretches and found I could barely lift my foot. It was as if I'd aged a decade in an afternoon.

Oh little daughter of mine…

Monday, 2 November 2015

And winter closing in

I took the Accent Snob out for his preprandial walk this evening. Actually, the Accent Snob has never, in the four years he's lived with us, been enthusiastic about walks, so it's more like taking him out for a smell.

Anyway, the neighbourhood is still in Hallowe'en mode, every second house had a jack o' lantern still grinning on the steps. I've hacked our three into cubes ready for steaming, but these outcasts will probably be sitting out until the Christmas lights start to appear. They won't rot; it's getting too cold for that.

Squinting through the twilight while the Accent Snob methodically sniffed and balanced, I spotted our house through the backyards of the next block. I haven't been able to see our house from Vaughan Street since last April; the leaves that obscure the view have dropped, although there is still a lot of autumn colour. The year has turned the corner.

And there were Christmas commercials on TV this evening.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Cue the Paul Dukas

I won't forget this Hallowe'en in a hurry. But gawd knows I'll try. I've spent the better part of this All Saints' Day chopping this and our two other jack o' lanterns into cubes which I will steam, mash, and freeze for future pies. It's been very therapeutic.