Monday, April 25, 2016

hapless but eager gardener

I have no green thumb. If I thought I had a green toe, I would gladly stick my foot in the soil. My beans get blight. My cucumbers wilt. My tomatoes flower and that's about it. Eggplant will grow for me, but even when I shelter it inside chicken wire some beastie still manages to get inside and shred it to bits.

And yet I feel good about digging and sifting earth to make it soft enough for beets. I curl tendrils of snow pea vines around the teepee poles I've built to support them. I plant blue cornflowers to attract bees. I pick arugula to stuff into my sandwich at lunch. All winter I have pesto I've made from the basil I've grown.
Sometimes another gardener is stooped over the earth or watering plants. Birds chatter in the wooded area next to our plots. Every so often a train goes by on the embankment--actually so often that I associate the sound of shunting and wheel grinding with working in my garden.


Just now, my plot doesn't look like much--an 8' x 11' rectangle of earth among other rectangles of earth. Some people have small bushes of herbs, winter onions ready to be picked, pansies already blooming. Here's my rhubarb which wintered very well, thank you.


My soil should be good this year since last year we emptied our backyard composter in the garden. Yup, that was R trundling wheelbarrows of rich, shit-stinky compost through the Pointe. After a season of snow, the compost no longer smells, though I'll have to pick out the corncobs and avocado pits that haven't decomposed yet. Or leave them.

This week I hope to seed beets, lettuce, snow peas, radishes.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

travel notebooks

These are some of my travel notebooks, as described in this piece that was published in rob mclennan's ottawa poetry newsletter blog.
Indeed, I don't live in Ottawa and I don't write poetry, but I'm not the only hitchhiker on the site.
http://ottawapoetry.blogspot.ca/2016/03/on-writing-89-alice-zorn.html

Monday, April 11, 2016

picking up the trail / writing


After two weeks away from my desk, I wanted to get back to my writing again today. I thought to get myself organized yesterday evening and looked on the shelf where I keep my notebooks.

Yeah, I still prefer to write first draft longhand. It's time-consuming because I don't enjoy the bouts of typing after I've written, but I write more efficiently when I write by hand. I move forward. On a keyboard I keep rereading and foozling with words.

There was nothing current on the shelf. No fat notebook full of words I remembered having written, though I couldn't remember what they were. Nor my notes to keep track of dates and names. No timelines. Nothing! Nothing!

I was about to start shrieking when I recalled this tiny anxiety I sometimes get about all my notes being destroyed by a fire when I'm away from home. It's not an entirely groundless fear. Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, Your house is on fire, Your children will burn. I live in an old neighbourhood of row houses and often hear the fire truck roaring by. I knew a man who had all paintings destroyed in a house fire. When I still worked at the hospital, I used to store my notebooks and USB pens in my locker when I went away. This time I could have taken everything to a friend's house, but I hadn't thought of it in time.

I recalled that I'd done something neurotic and probably useless to make myself feel better. A sandbag technique. But what? I searched my office and found nothing. I had to look through the house before I saw a CAKE TIN under a pile of folded clothing.

Had there been a fire, what are the chances that a cake tin would have kept my notes intact? Not good, but at least I didn't worry about them while away.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

sand in my ears

There are a few ways of getting sand in your ears. Swimming in Pacific surf when you're used to quiet lake waters is one. I had a few somersault tumbles between the waves and the undertow.

Here's another way.


That's R keeping an eye on the boys.
My way of keeping an eye isn't as physical.

I'm teaching him how to do "Here's the church and here's the steeple. And here are all the people." Turn your hand and wiggle your fingers that should be tucked underneath.

The cliffs get the surf too. Once we figured out the tides, we had a few walks along the beach.


Only a week and we were en route to the airport again.


I knew we were back in Montreal when we got in the cab and a hockey game was blasting--because, hey, everyone wants to hear the hockey, right?


Five days later and I've still got fine white sand in my ears. With wet snow underfoot.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

looking for colour / March blues

If April is a cruel month, forcing lilacs from the dead land, March is dead land.

The city snow melts, exposing eddies of thawed garbage, soggy cardboard, litter that won't break down in a thousand years, decomposing turds. knotted baggies of dog poop. Why do people collect the poop and leave the bags of poop on the side walk?

If only I could get into my garden allotment where I'm sure crimson rhubarb spears are thrusting up through the earth--belying the dead land--but the gate is still padlocked.

Yesterday I went looking for colour which, admittedly, was plastic and paint and oxidized copper, but even that cheered me in these last dreary days of March.

A fence in sunlight. 

An old Xmas wreath. 

The usual Montreal road havoc which  guarantees a daily dose of orange to beat Hallowe'en.

No lack of graffiti

Copper turns milky blue green as it oxidizes. 


And she brought her own colour with her jacket and hat, and matching lipstick, fingernails, earbuds, cell phone. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

writing research / Five Roses, a novel

Increasingly, I do things because I need to know how something works or how it’s done, because I want to write about it. Writing makes me go out and explore the world. 


A few weeks ago I spent an afternoon with a tailor in her atelier. She was tracing a pattern she'd made on fine grey wool that she'd imported from England. We talked fabric, design, making patterns, cutting them, and more. Listening to her talk about her work and how she’d trained for it was fascinating. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: Susana Vera. 

On a personal level I'm interested in how one acquires skills, but I would never have contacted a tailor and asked if I could spend an afternoon with her if I weren’t writing about costumes.

Talking with people is one way of doing research. Trawling the internet is another. (How did we ever manage without the internet????) Youtube, books, a camera. maps, looking over people's shoulders. Taking a trip and taking notes. And baking cream puffs, why not? 



I have a new novel, Five Roses, coming out this summer. The novel isn’t about food, but two of the characters work in a patisserie. I thought it would be fun to include a recipe with the book--and wanted an easy one that didn't require fancy equipment. I used to make cream puffs when I was kid. You don’t even need a mixer. They are that easy. But I haven’t made them for years and felt I should test the recipe before sending it to my publisher. I took a picture in sunlight so you can see how light and airy they are. I poked them with the knife to release steam and keep them dry before they’re filled with... whipped cream, custard, ice cream, jam, sliced fruit?

I also wanted something made with flour since the novel is called Five Roses--for the FARINE FIVE ROSES sign on the south-west horizon of Montreal. The sign was erected in 1948. Each letter is 15 feet or 5 metres high.


I live west of the sign in Pointe St-Charles, the post-industrial neighbourhood where the novel is set, and on days when the wind comes from that direction, you can smell flour being milled. It gets up your nose.

I didn't write about the milling of flour in Five Roses, but I'm thinking that's something else I want to know about. More research.  

Sunday, February 28, 2016

bloody sanitary napkins

I was lying in the passenger seat of a parked car in front of Frite Alors! on Parc in Montreal. There's a grocery store across the street and R had dashed in to buy fixings for supper. The seat was flat and I had wads of blood-stained café napkins on my chest and lap. I had pushed my glasses onto my forehead because it hurt too much to wear them on my swollen nose, so anything happening outside was a blur. I could hear how people driving along Parc made warning taps on their horns and revved their engines angling for parking spots.

I was biding time, waiting for the bleeding from my nose to stop. I knew it could take a while since I'm on a blood thinner. I probably should have but didn't want to go to the hospital. I've spent enough time in hospitals. Why lie on a stretcher in Emergency bleeding into napkins? I could do right here. I could do that at home. If the bleeding never stopped, then, okay, I would go. But not yet. It had only been 3 hrs.

Then a woman on the side walk started shouting through the window at me. I thought she was alarmed on my account--but these few bloody napkins were nothing compared to the crimson mandala I'd left in the snow. I didn't want her to be upset but I also didn't want to talk to her. This wasn't our car, so I didn't know how to open the window and wasn't going to raise my head--definitely NOT going to raise my head--to try to figure it out.

Then I realized she wasn't alarmed for me. She was yelling at me for lying there with my bloody Kotex on view for anyone who was walking by to see! What form of social abomination was I?

Now I wondered if my door was locked. The rigidity of her body language made me think she might fling the door open any moment, all the better to let the spittle of her outrage splash me. Or haul me off my palanquin into the street? I lifted a fistful of napkins. Look! Not Kotex. Something you use to sop up coffee! But ooooh, they were bloody. In any case--none of which I was explaining to her--I'm menopausal. I haven't used Kotex since I don't know when--but as I remember, they go inside panties, not displayed across stomach and chest. Though I suppose displaying bloody ones would be a kind of statement. Why should a woman hide what happens to her naturally? But even so, if such a woman wanted to make a statement, why hide it below normal sight lines in a parked car?

Where was R?!! He'd rescued me from my accident but now I needed him to rescue me from this woman in a pink tam. I couldn't even lift my head or sit up or I might start bleeding again.

The day had started sweetly. We had the use of a friend's car and decided to head north to the Laurentians to go cross-country skiing. Our skis were ancient--second-hand or garbage finds when we got them, and more time in a closet or the cellar than we ever used them. R was tying up one of his shoes when the tongue tore. The metal bindings on my skis were rusty. But we figured we were fine for a short ski in the woods.

The weather wasn't cold. The trail was freshly groomed. I was reminded of how hale and in good spirits people are when they're striding/gliding across snow. There weren't many people, but all of the women coming toward us were wearing lipstick--which was especially brilliant in the monochromatic landscape. R was wearing the new hat I knit.


We had a great ski--and no, I didn't have an accident while skiing. What happened was that we decided to stop at a café. Remember those blood-stained café napkins? That's where we stopped. I tried to get my shoes out of the rusty bindings and couldn't, so I squatted to do it manually. As I squatted, I lost my balance and tipped forward with all the momentum of my weight landing directly on my nose. What are the chances of that happening? I don't think I could do it if I tried.

There was an immediate and copious outpouring of blood. I thought of my blood thinner--SHIT! Broken glasses? NO! Bite off tongue? NO! Eyes can open? YES! Neck can move? YES! I was groping for kleenex in my coat pocket and trying not to get blood on myself. I wanted to roll onto my back because that was all I could think to do for a nosebleed. And there was poor R. Not the first time he's had to hover and help salvage the pieces. Should he call an ambulance? No! Another fellow was convinced I must have smashed my head open because there was so much blood. I told him I was okay. He said I didn't look okay. R said I was okay because that was what I said.

We were 5 k from where the car was parked. I asked R to make me a bag of snow to put on my nose-- which, I later discovered, probably helped slow the bleeding. He got me to a bench in a hut where I lay down with the bag of snow on my face. I could feel my nose swelling. My eyes too. When you're on a blood thinner, there's no telling how you'll bruise. R had to ski back to get the car. I suggested he ask someone in the café to drive him back, but he took off. I'm thinking it's the fastest ski he ever did in his life.

Every now and then someone came into the hut and asked if I was okay. I was thinking of the various things I do where I can potentially hurt myself--and every hurt becomes worse because I'm on a blood thinner. Cycling, walking on icy side walks in the winter, hiking along rocky paths... But I hadn't even hurt myself skiing! I'd hurt myself while squatting to the ground. A person can't live in a box. Or maybe a person can. I don't want to. However, I should maybe reconsider cycling by myself.

This morning when I woke, I'd more or less stopped bleeding. It depends on what I do. Bending over isn't a good idea. Ditto going out into the cold. I have a fat nose with a blue bruise on the bridge where my glasses sit. Wearing glasses isn't comfortable. I have a wine-red streak under one eye. My upper eyelids look reptilian. But I don't think my nose is broken. I might call my family doctor tomorrow to see if he wants to look at it and do an Xray.

The woman in the pink tam stomped off before R returned with groceries, but she's still up there, roaming along Parc near the Frite Alors! looking for someone who offends her sensibilities.