Sunday, September 28, 2014

cycling in montreal / lachine canal / st. lawrence river

The weather was grand this weekend and we decided to go cycling.
In Montreal you don't have to leave the city to cycle next to water and trees--and if you take the Lachine Canal path, even some industrial history. The narrow trail here is for pedestrians. The bike path is to the left.

The Lachine Canal was dug in the 1800s to bypass the rapids in the St. Lawrence River, thereby opening the interior of North America to commerce and manufacturing.

Here's a picture I took of Canada Malting last November. The complex has been abandoned since 1989. As a footnote, I became curious about the shiny surface of the silos. They're covered in glazed ceramic tiles which kept the temperature lower for grain storage. The silos are a rare example of this method of insulation. Not rare enough, though, to have kept the factories from being abandoned or, like the Redpath Sugar Refinery farther along the canal to the east, to convert them to luxury condos.

If you cycle to the end of the canal, you come to the wide open river.

From my place, that's about 15 k, at which point you may feel you deserve a treat.

From here you can hook up to the river path and head back toward the city. After about 8 k, if you squint down the river, you might just make out a downtown skyscraper. The other bumps are small islands with trees.

Usually when I do this trip, I go with my all-time favourite cycling buddy.

He toodles along ahead or behind or beside me. Throughout the week he cycles to work--from river level to the top of Mount Royal. The climb is 200 m or 650 ft. When he cycles with me, he doesn't even break a sweat--and I exude enough salt to rival a kosher pickle.
When we get home, he goes for a jog. I rest.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

swinging by the sea / september 2014

September by the sea. The first day was cool. I dressed in layers, though R wore shorts--on principle. By the last day, it was so warm I wished I’d brought shorts too.

I take endless pictures of water. I can't help myself. I take videos, too, so that when it's January and the deep-freeze has set in, I can remind myself of what moving water sounds like.

According to lore, when there are this many clusters of fat berries on the mountain ash trees, it will be a long winter. Except I think Climate Change trumps the Farmer's Almanac, so who knows?

One of the errands we had to do while there was pay the man who cuts the lawn during the months our house sits empty. He keeps the number of times he cuts the grass written in a small notebook. We aren't sure if he charges by hour or by the number of visits. Every year--the longer he knows us--the less it is.
R had gone to the side door of his house to ask his wife where he is or when he'll be back or if she has an idea of how much we owe him--though she always says she can't make heads or tails of his scribbles to do with grass and keys and cords of wood.
I sat in the car, watching a cloud cross the ridge of the mountains. The wind was so high the cloud was moving with the dogged headway of a man who wasn’t late for work, but would still just make it in time and couldn’t stop to say hi to a friend. I could see him want to stop in the way the cloud wisped around the edges. On the clothesline shirts ballooned and snapped. Those weren’t dollar-store clothespins like the ones I use in the city. There must be special Maritime-grade clothespins that grip clothes tight.
I could have gone with R to the door, but sometimes I'm lazy about trying to understand rural French. The wife is friendly and always has lots of gossip—about the boy who lives in the next village who was exorcised when his grandmother's cut-glass sugar bowl and creamer jumped off the shelves and crashed, about the bipolar couple who’ve taken refuge from society by living in a yurt (which she calls a yogurt) in the woods. This year was full of news because—we’d heard it on the news in Montreal—Hurricane Arthur had touched the coastline.
Ramparts of clouds had cleared the mountains, the laundry still hadn’t torn off the line, and finally I got out of the car. The neighbour very nicely spoke more clearly for my benefit. The washing machine chugged beside the door. The house is a large square box with many rooms. Only the two of them live there now that their children have grown up and moved away, but she must have decided that having the washing machine right next to the door was the most practical arrangement for getting out to the clothesline.
Her front windows face the sea and the house across the road where his parents once lived and where his older brothers were born. It looks like a storybook setup, but it's not. It's a real house where a family of four used to live. Right behind the house drops the edge of the cliff. For scale, that's me standing in front of it.

He keeps it whitewashed because tourists stop to take pictures. Once, in Montreal, we saw a calendar featuring scenes from Quebec with this house on the cover and we got it for him. 
She told us her husband was out at his camp cleaning up the damage from Arthur. The rain had come down so hard and so fast that a deluge of water roared down the mountain, tearing up trees, taking the most convenient path which was the old logging road.

Work had been done on the road in the two months since Arthur passed, but we still had to park and walk two miles into the camp. (Canada uses metric, but old-timers, even Quebecois, still talk in miles.)
We found our neighbour working with another man, attaching heavy cables onto tree trunks and hauling them to where he would take a chainsaw to them. The violence of the damage was appalling. He said he had a path of wrenched and crashed trees all the way up through his ten miles of land into the mountains. I was surprised by how specific the path was: gaping holes in the earth where trees had been upended and only a few feet away, a whimsical bridge—built from old barn doors—across a trickling stream.

I don’t look sure I’m going to trust the bridge, but I did.
His camp, too, wasn’t damaged.

He stopped working to give us a tour of his chalet. In Quebec, cottages are called chalets. It's built of recuperated barn board. Inside, it's one large room, about twice the size of the home his parents and brothers lived in, with linoleum flooring, and many rockers and chairs because the whole family—all 26 of them!—come for Christmas supper. There’s a sink with running water that works on gravity (water coming down the hills), a gas stove, several tables pushed together, Christmas lights permanently strung across the ceiling, an oil painting of a deer in the woods.
R supposed out loud that the little white shack behind the chalet was an outhouse. Nope, there was a proper toilet. With a flourish the neighbour opened what I'd thought was a closet door. He was proud of how organized his chalet was.
Beds? R asked. The couch folded out, but it was rare anyone slept there with the big house so close by.

We spent the rest of our days reading by the fire, tromping along the beach and exploring the coastline.

This house is in the village of Sainte-Madeleine-de-la-Rivière-de-Madeleine. Just in case you get it confused with another Sainte Madeleine.

Here I found a kiddie swing and squished myself onto it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

homegrown = idiosyncratic

It's wonderful to come home after a week away and see that my garden has been progressing, albeit slowly in the cool weather. True, the last melon was scooped hollow by some large-mouth creature or an industrious army of voracious beasties, but overall the melons weren't a success. They tasted like round peach-coloured cucumbers. Arugula and hot peppers did well. The last tomatoes are still green. I brought home a bouquet of red and cream carnations. And a heap of radishes.
I'm not sure how the lovely bundles of radishes at the market are all the same size and shape--or do the radishes that aren't the correct size and shape get thrown away as retards? Even at the organic stalls the radishes show more radish solidarity. Mine... well, I guess they're mine.

More on the week away later.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

pianos outdoors in montreal

I love these old pianos on the street or in a square. I have no idea if they're kept tuned. How can they be, exposed to the weather? This one looks like it's seen a few sleepless nights.
There are several throughout the city. This one's in Verdun on Wellington across from a store, Ardene, that sells plastic jewellery and other fine accessories, and a Thai Express. It's next to the church that I think of as the de l'Eglise church because it's next to the de l'Eglise subway station, though that makes no sense since "de l'Eglise" means "of the church". Who would call a church Of The Church? Sounds overdone even for Catholics.
Anyone who walks by can sit down at the piano and start playing. I've heard mini-concerts. Or people can just horse around. That's okay too.
I am not musically adept and can only play one piece on piano--Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. It was taught to me by a musical prodigy who could hardly talk yet, but refused to believe me when I, an adult, told her I couldn't play piano at all. She taught me Twinkle Twinkle. It's true, anyone with five fingers on one hand can play it. It requires the minimum of coordination.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dear Ebay

Dear Ebay,
You may think I'm looking for a deal. Otherwise I'd go to a store and buy a new camera. Everything new is better, right?
But listen, I bought a new camera and I don't like it. It takes pictures with all the texture flattened.
I understand a picture is 2-D: technically flat. I don't understand the physics or the optics or whatever it's called, but there should still be some sense of what's closer, what's velvet, what's concrete. With this new camera, a woman at a cafe table looks like a cutout doll stuck onto the flowers behind her. She isn't sitting in sunlight but the colours are bleached.
I want a camera like the one I had stolen last spring in Mexico City. That camera took this picture.

You can tell who's 93 and who's 56. The colours haven't been doctored. It wasn't an expensive camera with fancy lenses. It was a simple snapshot camera that cost $125 in 2011 and it took pictures that had depth and texture. That's what I want in a camera.
Small enough, too, that I can slip it in my pocket. I'm not a photographer. I only take snapshots--but I want them to be snapshots worth looking at again or I wouldn't bother taking a picture.
There are ever less decent snapshot cameras available because people use their phones. So, okay, I'm behind the times. I have a phone that stays at home and takes messages.
I also want a viewfinder. Remember that little eye that you look through? I don't like taking pictures with a display screen. In fact, you can't use the display screen if you're outside or in the sun--all those times when you might want to take a picture. Sure, I can do what everyone else does, point my device and take a picture. Who cares if it's in the frame or not? Take a few pix and pick the best.
I still want a viewfinder where I can... get a view.
At the moment there's only one inexpensive snapshot camera on the market with a viewfinder. It's a Canon. Canon used to make a good camera too. That's the camera I had that was stolen.
The model currently in the stores is the A1400. It is shit. Plastic shit. From one to ten, with one on the lower end of the scale, I would give it a two because it does actually take pictures. However, it's been so simplified it should be marketed as a toy, not a camera. WTF, Canon???
So that brings me to you, Ebay. I have reasons for not trusting you. I don't like having to pay duty for a secondhand item that is supposed to be exempt under NAFTA. I don't like gambling that the item might be shipped by UPS and I'll have to pay UPS a sum at the door for some trumped-up UPS charges. Blah-blah-blah...Customs...blah-blah...fill out a form and get a reimbursement...blah-blah-blah. Is it worth it?
But at this point you're my best bet. I'm looking for a camera like the one I used to have. It could even be the one I had stolen in Mexico City that--who knows?--made it to some enterprising person in West Virginia who wants to sell it on Ebay.
Wouldn't it be funny to buy a camera that has all the pictures I took in Mexico City still on the SD card?
Ever hopeful.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Three guesses what this can do.

I'll give you a hint: it's not used during surgery.

Another hint: I have a friend who can do what this does using a wooden gadget.

It doesn't push corks into wine bottles, though I've seen wine-bottle-corkers that look like this.

It doesn't ambulate. It's not a robot. No artificial intelligence hidden in those levers and handles.

But there are moving parts that rotate in circles.

If you stereotype genders--I called my friend a he--you might not expect that this is an implement for cooking. Here he is using his wooden press.

He's making individual nests of pasta called stringhoppers--or idiyappams, which is what his Sri Lankan parents call them. There are other names throughout south-east Asia where they're served in a variety of ways.

The dough is made of red rice flour. It's forced through a press to make noodles that are twirled onto baskets which are set inside a larger basket then steamed.

I apologize for the angle, but you get the idea:


He was telling me how his mother always made extra so they could have them in the morning for breakfast with sugar. He wants his boys to have this experience too--the idiyappam experience in general, idiyappam leftovers with sugar for breakfast. But the boys clamour for sugar the moment they see them. Forget waiting till breakfast.

The adults ate them with curry. They were delicious. A delicacy. But labour-intensive, which explains the attempt to invent a machine that forces out noodles it swirls into nests.

Made in the machine, would they be as good though? I have a friend who says bread is best when made by hand. Gluten won't develop as it's meant to if you don't knead the dough with your hands, stretch and pummel it. When I lived in Toronto, I used to work in a kitchen where the chef made the bartender stand in the refrigerator (obviously a walk-in fridge; their relationship wasn't that weird) to beat cream with a whisk. He didn't believe in whipping cream with a machine. I think I remember that the hand-whipped cream stayed stiff longer.

On another note entirely: does anyone remember Marianne Wiggins? She was Salman Rushdie's second wife. I was looking for a book on my shelves and found her short story collection, Bet They'll Miss Us When We're Gone (1991). Isn't that a good title? I'm on a streak of reading short fiction and think I'll reread this next. I wonder what she's written since. To be a writer, as well as the partner of a writer with outstanding notoriety, must complicate the questions and doubts that often characterize the writing process. I'm not referring to the notoriety of the fatwa but that Rushdie had already won the Booker when they were married.

The weather is changing. Getting cooler. The wood in the house is creaking, resettling.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

dropped the ball

I had a boyfriend once who was devoted to basketball. He wasn't tall enough to play varsity, but he played intramural on every team that would have him. He played pickup with friends. He got up at 6:30 to coach kids. Rumour has it that he could sink a ball from anywhere on the court. I didn't know enough about basketball at the time to know that was a skill. He was under the much-mistaken impression that I was going to play too. Since the young age when I discovered I couldn't catch a ball, I had no interest in playing games that involved balls. You might wonder that we got so far into a relationship without him realizing that. When we started going out he had a sprained ankle, so I didn't know he was athletic. I had no sprained ankle though. He should have figured out I didn't care about team sports. But we were still in the heyday of our romance, and finally he convinced me to put on shorts and join him on the gym floor. He told me who was on our team which I immediately forgot. He said the goal was to throw the ball in the basket. But oh, you couldn't just grab the ball and run. You had to dribble it. (Seriously, what a dumb word to use in a sport. Dribbling is what a leaky faucet does.) If I couldn't catch a ball, I certainly couldn't dribble it. Shortly into the game, I was asked to leave the court. Afterward he told me I'd embarrassed him. I'd embarrassed him?

This past summer I dropped the ball on blogging. Not because I was lazing around on a dock trailing my feet in the water and reading detective fiction. I've been home for the most part. My own wee personal life has been fine, but too many of my friends have been going through the emotional equivalents of earthquakes. I mean earthquakes on a scale that would make San Francisco a memory. Given which, I didn't feel like writing about some lighthearted topic. The tomatoes growing in my garden, cycling, Spanish grammar, making pesto...

Slowly I'll get back to it. Good things are happening too. Friends about to have babies. Friends with new books coming out.