Wednesday, May 22, 2019

skylights and shrinking staircases

R had gone to find a free parking spot in a city not known for free parking. I thought I might have a nap. The hotel room was tiny and on the top floor--once an attic?--of a limestone building. It had a gabled ceiling and a skylight.

Nothing but the slanted lines of the ceiling and the hole onto the sky were similar, but I was reminded of the attic room in the hotel in the Marais where we stayed in 1985. It was late October and wind blew in around the badly sealed, thin window. Not just late October, but Halloween! I was curious to see how Parisians carved pumpkins. They didn't. The evening was wet and black, the streets slick. Rain was battering the leaves off the plane trees. The French might not celebrate Halloween, but Toussaint--All Saints' Day--on November 1st was a holiday. Banks closed, no ATM machines in 1985, tough luck stupid Canadians.

Last Friday we drove from Montreal to Cornwall, then cut down to the "old country road"--Hwy 2--along the shore of the St. Lawrence to where it meets Lake Ontario. Century-old barns, swamp, rock-knoll islands, bridges to the US, and flooding. Trees stood in water, houses had water at the doorstep. Or worse.

A man once told me his dream was to build a small house on an island just large enough for himself, his dog, his guitar. I'm wondering if he did. If he still has enough room.

We stopped at a bakery in a small town for lunch. Our sandwiches, made to order at a counter, had a bewildering variety of options for the unprepared. Six kinds of bread. Butter? You want butter?  Mayomustard? Oniontomato? Picklettuce? Saltpepper? The woman making my sandwiches had fingernails three inches long in that shade of emerald green I remember from school pencil crayons. The bakery sold date squares, peanutbutter cookies, tea biscuits, banana loaf.

Our tiny room in Paris was five flights up, with each stairway becoming narrower and plainer as they ascended. Structurally, how does one do that--shrink the width of staircases? The stairs at the bottom were marble. The last two flights were wood and had no bannister. We also had the smallest WC on our floor. It was in the hallway as was common at that time in inexpensive hotels in Europe. The size of a closet, a toilet, no sink. The window was usually open and the pigeons, who were cold too, would fly in. I learned to bang on the door and wait for the whack and flutter of wings before opening it. Tough luck about the bird shit on the toilet seat.

The sink was in our room. Like the stairway, the WC, and the room, it was also diminutive. The size of a modest salad bowl. But--very important since this was where we had sailor's bath (soap and washcloth) and washed our hair--it had a swan's neck faucet. We didn't take rooms if they didn't have a swan's neck faucet.

There was a shower available in the hotel, but it cost almost half the price of the room for a night and the hot water was iffy. Not always hot, not much of it. Still, every few days I would go downstairs with the necessary francs to get the key for the shower.

The man at the desk wore a leather jacket and gloves. When I complained that our room was cold, he mocked me. He said we were Canadians and should be used to cold. He was Algerian. He also told me that cold was good because it killed germs. Ça tue les microbes. Those silly words have become snagged in the verbal loop that will play through my brain till I'm demented. Maybe even then. Ça tue les microbes.

Another contribution to the verbal loop from that trip to France comes from another hotel--in Dijon. I was trying to tell the concierge that the floor in the WC was flooded but I confused the word for floor with ceiling. When I told her there was water on the ceiling, she singsonged at me that no, there was no water on the ceiling. No, no, I said. Il y a l'eau dans la toilette. There is water in the toilet. She thought that very cute. Maybe I only knew outhouses back home in the wilds of Canada. Oui, Madame, she informed me brightly. Il y a l'eau dans la toilette! There is water in the toilet. It took a few more tries but finally she understood and shrieked for her husband.

The fellow at the Farmers' Market this past Saturday probably won't stay with me for 34 years, but I recall one line of dialogue for its courteous honesty. In the morning, when I walked through the market, I stopped to look at the jewellery he had on display. He said he cut and polished the stones himself. I do not need more earrings but I liked the ones he had. Later that afternoon, when we walked by the market again and he was still there, I told him that I didn't buy anything that morning but I said I would if he was still there in the afternoon. He said, "I'm sorry, I don't recall that conversation." No, I said, I was talking to myself. 

When we got to Paris we took a room on the Left Bank. At first glance it looked clean, but getting out of bed in the night I stepped on olive pits and baguette crusts. We left the next day and crossed the Seine to the Right Bank. Although our room under the skylight was cold, we stayed there for 12 nights. I kept a record on the back pages of my notebook--mostly to keep track of how much money I was spending. I'd brought $7000 to last me for however long it would. R had a similar amount. Both sets of parents were disappointed that, instead of making a downpayment on a house, we went to Europe to drink espresso and look at art.

This past weekend we had blue skies and it's spring. Tulips and magnolia in bloom. We took the ferry to Wolfe Island. We walked. Had good food and drink. Breakfast and supper outside. A full moon on the lake. Another tiny attic room with a skylight--and a bathroom. 

Pics were taken en route, in and around Kingston. Pink kid leather gloves with tassels courtesy of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

We did not travel with a camera in 1985.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

outdoor church / St. Anne's, Montreal

The placement of the park benches aren't accidental. They're ranged where once there were church pews facing an altar.

Saint Anne's Church was opened in 1854 to serve the Irish Catholic community of southwest Montreal. The church was demolished in 1970, though some still remember it as a church. I walked past a few years ago and an elderly priest and a few parishioners had gathered for a small ceremony. More often I see someone sitting on a pew, checking their messages, having lunch, or a smoke. I've sat there myself. I *hope* it's a zoned and protected green space, though who ever knows? There's a height restriction for buildings along the canal that some developers have clearly surpassed.

I pass this ghost church at least once a week depending on the route I've chosen to walk home. It's at the bottom of de la Montagne where it meets Wellington in the now-trendy Griffintown neighbourhood. "G-town" as some marketing firms are trying to brand it. Given the endless mushrooming of condos in this sector, it's all the more surprising that the site of the old church has--so far at least--been left intact.

I had to take a picture while walking past today because I don't know how much longer it will be there.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

backyards (and Omas) once upon a time

Theresa's essay on the clematis that they planted when they first settled in their house on the Sechelt Peninsula in BC made me think of the clematis that we first planted when we moved into our house in Montreal. I appreciate her nod into the past and looking forward (stubbing her toe) on the future.

Ours is a very small, inner-city backyard in Montreal. When we moved here, we had the tendrils of a clematis snaked over the neighbour's fence. We went to the local Ukranian Tire and bought our own. That was our first year in the backyard when we thought we had enough sun for a garden. We don't. (That's why I have a plot in the local community garden.) That first summer I planted canteloupe that trailed long vines but never any melons larger than capers. The squirrels uprooted the neat rows of lettuce that attempted to sprout. Ditto the pansies in the flowerboxes.

The clematis had to do plant battle with the ivy that was invading our fence. I wanted the clematis that bloomed and asked R if we could cut back the ivy. The deciding factor were the mosquitos that lived in the ivy.

I remember our first weekend visitors to the house, R & R. (I do know people whose names don't start with R). They arrived just when the clematis started to bloom. Every year since then I've waited till the first week in July for the clematis to bloom because that's when it bloomed that first year. Though it sometimes blooms mid-June. I remember one of the R's wandering around the backyard in bare feet, looking up at the maple. I remember the other on her back in the grass in yoga pants and bra doing exercises in front of the clematis.

Not only the ivy, I'm remembering now. There was an ash tree, a mulberry, a sumac, a cedar, a cherry tree, a maple. As I said, it's a tiny space. Twenty strides from our back door to the back gate. It wasn't a backyard, it was a grotto. As the summer progressed the greenery got scrawny and leggy because there wasn't enough light. Decisions had to be made in the interests of a few against the many.

Now we have clematis, the maple tree twice as tall as the house, a bush whose name I don't know, raspberries, and two new black currant bushes that apparently like dappled light.

Our clematis has not even sprouted leaves yet, while Theresa's in BC is blooming.

I've just searched through the box of photos but can't find any to show you the backyard when it was a grotto--except for the one that includes bra and yoga pants which she wouldn't appreciate.

Here, instead, is another photo I found of my Alpie grandmother at 90 brushing her hair which she would later braid and pin up into a bun. She refused help brushing her hair, though she nearly tipped backward every time she got halfway down.

There is no relationship between our backyard and my oma, except that today I was talking about Austria and it seems to be a day of memories.   

Monday, May 6, 2019

gardening gardening gardening

This will be of no interest to anyone who doesn't like to get their hands in the soil--and maybe only of passing interest to anyone who does since I am still a neophyte gardener. But today today TODAY I walked over to my community garden and began to dig a little, turn the soil.

First thing I notice is that others have already cleaned and raked their soil. In fact, their soil is so clean and raked that I feel I should put up a sign to explain why mine isn't.

This is my  neighbour's plot. Rhubarb and raspberries so far. He will have tomatoes that should win a prize by August.

My soil is chunkier and messier. Why? Don't I know where the rakes are in the cabin? Mais, oui.

BUT: every autumn I ask R to trundle the wheelbarrow filled with the kitchen compost from our backyard composter to my garden plot. We always wait till the last day of the season because the compost frankly stinks and it's a 5-min walk. I don't want to gross out the neighbours. Over the long winter, under the snow, the stink goes away. But the avocado peelings, corncobs, and eggshell have not all disintegrated. That's okay, they will.

It makes for a disorderly-looking garden, but the plants never complain and I want the added nutrients and I hate to see all that "green waste" go to waste.

My rhubarb and garlic did well over the winter Today I planted lettuce (maybe a bit too early?) and snow peas--and blue cornflowers for the bees. I took pics but they don't look like much. More soil.

Part of what's best working in the garden on a sunny day in May is being glad I can and remembering that last year at this time I couldn't. I had sciatica and ended up in the hospital for 10 days--not because of the sciatica itself, but as a result of a medical mistake which was made when the doctor who saw me for sciatica did not listen when I spoke to him. Asshole, eh?

Next weekend I'm hoping R will put in some stakes for when I get tomatoes. Then basil and habaneros and green beans and onions and already I won't have enough room. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

konmari? no

Since I don't konmari my/our living space, I live with what some would call clutter. The clutter might not bring me joy, but I'm not an overly joyful person, so that's okay. I am, however, fond of stories and I keep objects when a glance is enough to remind me of a place, a time, a person.

This hand-lettered plastic jar comes from the guide who led us on a hike in the Sierra Norte mountains of Mexico. On our walk, she explained the medicinal properties of the Alpine plants. When R grazed his hand on a rock, she dug into her crocheted bag for this jar of salve she'd made. She said it would disinfect the cut and stop the bleeding. That's not what it says on the jar but R's bleeding stopped, and she was so helpful. She even included her phone number in the event we wanted more. For two years the jar has lived in a corner of the bathroom cabinet. R uses it occasionally when he cuts himself shaving. Or on dry patches of skin. He says it helps. It has a pleasant, healthy-weedy vegetable smell.

Here's the rock where R grazed his hand. A variety of medicinal plants.

Another corner--a shelf in my office. How long have I had this roll of paper? More than ten years. As long as twenty? Inside the roll is a poem called "Through the Looking Glasses, Markly". It was written for me. Nobody else has ever written a poem for me, so I love it, quite apart from the wisdom and absurdity of the lines. Favourite lines? "Know thy animals as thyself." "Not that I trust anyone who would wear a tuxedo, either." This refers to the magpies that abound in Denmark where the poem was penned. "Some butterflies have a certain dignity in their erratic flight..." "To which I say, I believe that's organic rot, Alice." My friend knows me well enough to call me on my vanities, writerly and otherwise. It's a joke, for example, to say that any lines are favourite because the WHOLE POEM is a favourite. Nobody else has ever written a poem for me. (Have I already said that?) The roll is 26"/66.5 cm long. Paper has been folded and taped together. I don't recall how I received it. Obviously by mail because I have never met this dear friend face to face, but why is there an airmail sticker on it as if the roll arrived like that, intact? And hm, maybe Marie Kondo would argue that I get so much joy out of this poem, that I should keep it--but I AM NOT GOING TO FOLD IT the way she would. It is and will always remain a roll. 

And here, an admittedly dirty window ledge which I'll wash once I have all the windows open again. Scattered across it I have a few pieces of beach glass, as well as what I particularly like to find because they're more rare: pottery that's been washed up on shore. The patterned pink and white piece was found in the Gaspé, on the beach in front of our house. I found the blue piece in either Morocco or Tunisia. Being disorganized about what I find means that I don't always remember--but it doesn't matter because I'm happy remembering either place. (Oh, no, is that more joy?)

Technically I should not have kept the beach glass--also from the Gaspé--because it has not been worn completely smooth by the wash of the waves. But it's turquoise which is a rare colour and I liked the ribbed pattern. So...

I can make my own rules.

Friday, April 26, 2019

rainy day walk

A few pics as I warm up with ginger lemon tea and think about what to make for supper.

There is a theme here...

Sunday, April 7, 2019

the sound of farts

I was out walking yesterday, wanted to eat the sandwich I'd brought along, sat on a low wall. The stone was cold and I remembered how my mother used to warn me that I would get Blasenguitar if I sat on cold stone or concrete, which I suppose I did frequently because I heard the word often enough. My mother spoke German when she arrived in Canada. She learned English quickly--English because we lived in Ontario--though the odd German word persisted. To this day I'll bet my younger brothers, who do not speak German, know what a Kehrschaufel is because that was the only word she used for dustpan.

Although I was often warned about getting Blasenguitar and I understood from the way she said it that it was painful and I would be sorry, she never explained what it was. I knew Blasen meant to blow. A guitar wasn't an instrument you blew into but there was a hole where one could? There was no guitar in our house for me to test. Also how, without a guitar, was I going to get Blasenguitar? Since it would happen when I sat on cold stone and blowing was involved, I finally wondered if it was going to affect how I farted. To sound like a guitar? 

Note that I didn't worry about it. Blasenguitar seemed like other parental warnings to be ignored. But I wondered what the word meant. 

Decades later I was in Austria when I heard the word, Katarrh, used to refer to a cold. I remembered the old bogey monster and heard it anew as Blasenkatarrh. The verb to blow might include a thing that could be blown. Somewhere I'd read a novel where boys played with a pig's bladder filled with water. I had to be almost middle-aged to understand that sitting on cold stone might give me a bladder infection. 


Pics taken while walking from Old Montreal to the Pointe--with a view on the FARINE FIVE ROSES sign that's not visible from this angle when the trees are in leaf.