Thursday, October 8, 2020

Gaspé / la Gaspésie Sept-Oct 2020

So much to see and smell and feel and taste and hear and delight in. The swoosh of the waves, the sea air, the changing colours, wet leaf mulch, the crunch of kelp. Hiking along the shore, hiking in the hills. Stooping to pick up stones and beach glass. Even when you're wearing socks and shoes, you go to bed with sand between your toes and in your hair.   

A hundred Canada Geese wheel from the sky to descend, exhausted from wherever they've flown from, still far to wherever they're going next. They land in a field of straw-yellow stubble. Black, white and gray against gold. Their long necks. 

The full moon rising from behind the low mountains, between the tops of the spruce trees. The flat cloud that slices across its nose.

Pierre Paul, who cuts our grass when we're not there so that the house doesn't look bandoned, heading off down the highway on his red tractor. Red plaid shirt and red baseball cap, blue sea behind him. 

The statue of the Virgin Mary who used to stand with her arms spread as if to show off the roses planted  before her, but the bush has grown until all you can glimpse is the crown of her head and the tips of her fingers. 

A crow hopping across the ground like a robin. Exactly like a robin. Such mimics, crows are. 

A new kind of gorse, springy and tufty, with tiny tiny tiny flowers that open when the sun shines. I stoop to the ground and see the intricately pleated lavender petals. The yellow pistils. 

The sharp angle of autumn sunlight that cuts a boulder of granite, taller than I am, into a stark mask of light and shadow. 

… So much that I didn't take pictures of except in my head.

Friday, September 25, 2020

older, wiser, younger versions of myself

A while ago I asked R if he would give me the paintings he's done of me. I love these older versions of myself in different places where we lived or travelled. I am honoured to be with someone who sees me in a way that I can look back at who I was. I recognize myself. 

Even the grotesque cartoons. I've included a couple of those too. 

A park in Outremont near where we had an apartment.

This one looks yellow because it's in a room with not much light and it's too large to take off the wall. There's another version below.

Where am I sitting? Where else? In the Gaspé.

As far as I know, I never wanted to be a ballerina, but I've got this one over my desk. 

Same armchair as above. We salvaged it from a sidewalk and had it reupholstered, but I always regretted the scratchy, beige upholstery fabric that I let the upholsterer convince me we wanted. The chair was eventually returned to the sidewalk. Within an hour, it had found a new home.  

In the background, my table loom. 

I have been known to drink wine. 

Paris. I'm wearing an old suede jacket that used to be my father-in-law's. He was short. I saw the jacket on top a pile of clothes for the charity bin. I asked if I could have it. R and I went for a walk in the woods. When we returned, I saw the jacket on the clothesline. His mother had put it in the washing machine to clean it for me. Years later, when I took it to a drycleaner, he winced and said someone had put it in a washing machine. 

I wore it for decades until seams started to rip. I've now cut it up into pieces to use for patches. 

This was done on the back of a hotel bill from when we were in Florence in the 80s. Total bill was 84,500 lire. 

I had excrutiating menstrual cramps and was in a foul mood. (In case you can't tell.)

Paintings by R aka Robert Aubé aka Dr. Alphoneyous Nitpicker. I'm not married to Nitpicker, though I sometimes (increasingly) feel like I might be living with him. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

finding your gravestone

I do not need a pandemic to let me know I'm mortal. My too too solid flesh has gone haywire a few times already. Fortunately, I'm held together by socialized healthcare, for which I never cease to be grateful, my lovely roster of doctors, surgical intervention, pharmaceuticals, and valves that look like they belong in a hardware store and give me odd images about the functioning of my body.  

I still might not have thought about my ashes except that R told me a long time ago where he wants his scattered. 

There are several places in the world I've loved enough that I could imagine spending forever there, except that I don't want an handful of me here, a handful of me there. I wanted one spot and I knew it had to be by water.  

Then I realized that my gravestone is already in place--a large, wild boulder of pink granite that I visit almost daily when we're in the Gaspé. At low tide, I can walk right around it. At high tide, waves smash against it. My favourite time is when the sun has warmed it for a few hours and it's still low tide so that I can lean against it. 

I think of it as wild or rogue, because there isn't another granite boulder this large along this stretch of mostly shale and sandstone coastline. It looks as if it was rolled in during a storm on the high seas and wedged in place. Or spit from the Earth 100,000 years ago and left to find a home. 

Here's me a couple of summers ago. Is my horizon crooked? My horizons are usually crooked. You should be used to it by now.  

Farther down the beach is a smaller sandstone boulder we sit against when we make a fire on the beach or head down to the water at sunset and wait to see if the fox will come out as it did once--running along the flat stones at the edge of the water, its tail a long phosphorecent flame in the last rays of light. I like that stone too, but it's not gravestone. 

I find it comforting to know where I will rest. The skies. The clouds. Sunsets. High tide at full moon. And yes, I know that with the first high tide I'll be washed away.  

Not that I'm in any rush to go. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020


My family name, Zorn, means anger. How people acquire their family name varies with their culture. I come from a feudal European background where the aristocrats took the name of the land they owned, artisans were identified by their trade, and peasants were labelled by a striking personal characteristic. Once upon a time, high up in the Tyrolean Alps, I had a very angry peasant forebear.

This morning I was reading Ali Smith's novel, Spring, and saw the words, "ancient hatreds". She's referring to Britain and Ireland. 

I am thinking of the news I heard yesterday that my father's sister passed away. She was 94, had worked for many years as a teacher and then a school principal, was an excellent cook--she taught me how to make various kinds of knödel or dumplings--kept her windows so clean that I once touched the glass in disbelief because I doubted it was there. I have this picture of her at 9 years old with my father. Both are barefoot. She told me once that she thought it hilarious how hikers wore stout boots. She grew up in the mountains and knew that you could feel your way much better in bare feet.  

She was pious and upstanding--and sustained by rage. No one could inveigh as she could. She stoked the flames of old grudges again and again. There was a particular family member she didn't want me to visit when I was in Austria, and she would unearth every last prejudice and slight at top volume to prove to me that I shouldn't go, and afterwards, when I had anyhow (because what did her long-ago battles have to do with me?), she would scold me again. 

Here is my grandmother (her mother) inveighing. I have cropped her victim. In any case, everyone was her victim at one time or another. She could bear grudges for decades. Once, when R and I were in Austria, he bought a loden jacket in the village. She demanded to know where. Ach! Nein! Not there! Not from that cow! What I gathered from the ire and thunder she called down upon us was that the wife of the shop owner had insulted her when they were children. When R bought the loden jacket, she was in her 80s. 

Ancient hatreds, yes. My grandmother wasn't even born a Zorn, but a Wolf. She came by her name too. 

I have my own "anger management issues", though I've learned to recognize when they flare up and I nip them while I still can--thanks to twice weekly therapy a few years ago. (Not that I always succeed.)

What is this thing that makes people rage? That they can't resist whipping up? Does it make them feel more alive? Like they're protecting their territory? Do they feel so threatened that they have to make themselves look big? 

I'm looking at the world news. Ancient hatreds, yes. Thank you for these words, Ali Smith.  

Interesting footnote? When I dictated this into the computer (because I draft longhand), the program kept writing "ancient patriots" instead of "ancient hatreds". 

On a sweeter note, since I was looking through old photos from Austria, here's me above the clouds. I am wearing boots. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

memories in a junk shop / might combust

My parents used to have a Coleman lamp like this to light our one-room cabin in the woods. I recall at least once when it burst into flames. Six of us and a burning oil lamp, all in a single room. One parent angled a broom pole through the handle and carried it out the door. It was... exciting? scary?  

Not so long ago, when people could still wander about at random, I wandered through an antique/junk store in a warehouse in Griffintown. There was so much of everything that I started taking pics. 

Is there someone in the city who might want to buy metal-clad wagon wheels? Presumably.

I thought the lamp should have a sign: Might Combust. 

These are the kind of hot water radiators I had in the 80s and 90s. A method of heating, believe it or not. Hot water in cast-iron was expected to keep a room warm when it was -30C. It didn't.

The metal wasn't always embossed with floral motifs, though the rads were  painted--mostly a variation of white or beige so that they weren't as visible against an apartment beige wall. 

I remember the clunking sound when they started to warm up--or didn't. 

If they didn't, you had to "bleed the rads" by opening the valve and releasing trapped water. Assuming it was water that came out and not hot steam. 

There was a lot of hissing, spurts and spitting. Like inviting a dragon to snort. 

There are several in this basket, so the sign should read pommeS de douche. It means shower head but translates literally as apple of the shower. I didn't know that was what they were called. If I'd ever had a problem with a shower head in a French hotel, I would have said head, not apple.

And I have had plumbing problems while staying in hotels. Memorable was the one in Dijon. This happened in the 80s when there were still cheap hotels in France. Cheap meant that the toilet was in the hallway, shared with other guests on the floor. I'm saying 'toilet' and not 'bathroom' because all there was in the hallway cubicle was a toilet. (Except for times when someone left the window open and a pigeon flew in--which happened frequently, especially in bad weather.) To wash your hands, you returned to your room where you had a sink. Sinks in the rooms might sound like a luxury, but that was also how you were supposed to wash. There might not be a shower in the hotel. And even when there was supposed to be one and you paid extra to use it, that didn't mean it was working or that there was hot water. 

But the problem in Dijon wasn't with the shower. I wanted to use the toilet in the hallway but it had overflowed onto the floor. I had come to Europe from Ontario. I had learned French at school I knew which verbs were conjugated with être. I did not have much plumbing vocabulary. 

I told the concierge that there was water in the toilet. But of course! she cried. Mais oui, Madame! Here in France we have water in the toilet. Oh, right, she thought Canadians didn't have plumbing. No, I said, water on the… I thought I said floor, but I said ceiling. Mais non, Madame! There is no water on the ceiling! She had a trumpeting, singsong voice. It took a few more attempts before she understood and her shrill voice rose to a screech for her husband to get the mop.

This wooden swan had a surgical intervention done on its neck. I'm not referring to the join that's visible. A bird with a neck of this size would almost certainly be carved in two separate pieces. Otherwise, think of the size of the piece of wood you would need in order to carve a whole swan from tail tip to beak.  

If you happen to have a large carved swan at home and cannot see the join, it's because the carpenter used wood glue to conceal the join cleverly. (That's my theory.) 

In this case, though, the join is left visible because the swan has had an osteotomy done on its collum in order to implant a pin so that the neck now pivots. 

I spent a while experimenting with swan poses to find the one that looked most coy and don't-you-want-to-take-me-home? 

Remember volume dials and buttons that you push--push until they click into place?

I learned typing from Mr. Jones in Grade Nine at Saltfleet High School in Stoney Creek, Ontario. Mr. Jones would not be impressed by how many mistakes I make now. I would never have become a writer if it had ever depended on my prowess typing. I'm relieved that at least it's easier to correct mistakes on a computer keyboard than it was when I learned on one of these stiff, heavy, disobliging machines that we had to operate with ten fingers. It was a sadist who put "a" in the little finger position. 

Are you wondering if there were chairs?

There's such an excess of Stuff in this place that it's hard to focus on anything you might actually want. 

The vintage upholstery, the footstools, the damask, the Tiffany lamps with bona fide stained glass-- 

Wait, wait, wait! Did you see that the armrest on this chair has a carved dragon head? 

But finally you leave without having bought anything, because there's just TOO MUCH. You're on your way and wondering how much time you've spent walking up and down the crowded aisles on the creaking floors, and you glance up at the clock to see what time it is. And oh, haven't you always secretly wanted to play electric guitar? 

Lots of this stuff will have been sold by now, but I'm guessing there will still be a few chairs, lamps, and golf clubs left, so if you want to put on your mask and go, the place is called Arte.

I'll bet the swan is gone though. Perfect pet for confinement.  

Thursday, August 13, 2020

living near the tracks / hamilton, ontario

First of all, I'm in the garden. Do you grow cherry tomatoes? Do you know what I mean when I say you have to practically stand on your head to spy the tiny ripe tomatoes under the leaves? They are red! It shouldn't be so hard.

And the green beans. Even with my head under the leaves, I can still feel the beans more than see them – and the leaves give me a rash even through long sleeves. But I still grow the plants because I get plentiful and delicious beans, and I was given the seeds a few years back by a fellow who told me they were from his mother who brought them from Italy a few decades ago. So itch be damned. I grow them and do my best to pick them. 

And even then, after being sure I've felt through and rifled and lifted every last itchy leaf, I'm leaving the garden, and what do I see but another clutch of beans I missed. Which makes me doubt and I have to look again.

But I'm not writing about my garden, except to say that it's doing well this year. I'm writing about where it is, next to the VIA Rail embankment and how, when I work in the garden, I hear the trains go by.  

And this is what I found out about trains a few years ago when I was visiting family in Ontario. I asked my father to give me the addresses of the places where I'd lived as a baby and a toddler--before I knew where I lived. 

At the house on Elm Street I scribbled a note to leave on the door to tell the people who lived there now that I had once lived in the upstairs flat. Why would it matter to them? I don't know, it was just something I wanted to do. 

I have vague memories of my mother telling me that the upstairs neighbour at the time complained about the noise of my shoes as I ran around the flat. I'm not sure why I was wearing shoes inside. Even now, I wonder when I see friends who walk around their places with shoes on. I have no desire to enclose my feet if I don't have to. But maybe it's a European thing. ???

In 2017, I opened the screen door in order to leave my note on the closed front door, and was walking back to the car when a man with a shaved head and pumped muscles burst out to ask what the fuck I was doing at his door. I tried to explain. He wasn't interested, he didn't believe me, he scoffed at my note.  

We decided to leave him to his bad mood and walked away, when what I noticed at the head of the street were railroad tracks. That's the photo up top. 

I also visited the apartment where I lived when I was a student at McMaster. It, too, was very close to railroad tracks. I remember I could hear the trains. The building had once been a mansion that had been chopped into apartments. We lived on the top floor in what used to be the attic. The windows were very small, the ceilings not as high as in the apartments lower down. But I loved the large balconies that had been added to the back of the building. We had a Sally Ann sofa and coffee table on ours. The balcony was larger than any single room inside the apartment. In warm weather I sat out there in the rain and read. Everyone else was outside on their balconies too. A folk musician of modest renown lived below us and he had lots of cool friends visiting. Often I wasn't reading. I was eavesdropping.

There were no train tracks near where I lived in Toronto, but for many years I lived in apartments along St. Clair – St. Clair and Oakwood, St. Clair and Arlington, St. Clair and Bathurst, St. Clair and Avenue Rd, St. Clair and Humewood.  (I moved a lot.) I can tell you this: the St. Clair streetcar is shorter than a train but there are more streetcars per hour than there are trains, and by the end of the day, the quantity of trainlike noise might be the same, though it doesn't seem to have been a noise I minded. 

Now for almost 20 years I live in Pointe St. Charles in Montreal.We moved into our house in November, and were sleeping with the windows closed. Yet every night when I was reading in bed, I noticed that one of the closet doors rattled at 11:15 promptly. I mentioned it to my neighbour at the time who was Mi'kmaw. He told me not to worry about ghosts because he had smudged the house. I wasn't thinking of ghosts, though there were a few reasons why there would be restless spirits in this house. The 11:15 rattle continued. It was only late next spring when we were sleeping with our windows open that I finally heard the long freight train that passed at 11:05. It took ten minutes for the reverberations to hit our house.

When I saw the railroad tracks so close to the first house I lived in as an infant in Hamilton, I realized that this is a sound I've been hearing for so long that it comforts me. And when I work in my garden, there is greenery and growth and bees and soil and fresh air and the birds in the trees (and the rustling of the groundhogs and the squirrels), and every now and then a freight or a passenger train goes by on the tracks above the community garden. And it is good.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

cycling in the spring / Tomifobia 2020

An exchange with a friend about sliding her kayak into the reeds to READ reminded me that I never posted these pics of a bicycle trip we did on our anniversary in mid-May. Our one trip out of the city since the start of the pandemic.

Restrictions about travel between the regions (of Quebec) had just been lifted, and R surprised me with a car rental and a map of the bicycle trail from Ayer's Cliff to Tomifobia. The drive would take a little over an hour, we could bring our food and return home in the evening.

Except for grasses, little had started growing. Trees were only in bud. But after a few months of nothing growing, a little feels so promising.

I saw the first butterflies of the year. They were white, nothing extraordinary, but the first.

Birds were nesting. Lots of exuberant birdsong.

A man was pushing a baby stroller along the path, but he had no child. The stroller was for a camera with a long telescope lens.

There were brilliant yellow marsh marigolds. You had to look for the red trilliums where the sunlight picked them out.

I wasn't surprised to find this boulder since we were in Louise Penny territory. Obviously a mystery.

By noon the sun was high and bright. Much of the path followed the Tomifobia River but there were swampy areas where frogs hummed. I thought the sun must have lulled them. I used to sleep in a bedroom with a window on a swamp, and the nighttime noise of bullfrogs doing their throat balloon bellowing and droning was loud and competitive. This was more of a companionable purring. I described the sound to my mother who used to photograph frogs (long story which I might tell one day), and she said that was the sound of contented females.

R had reserved a bench for lunch under the hemlock trees, view on the river. Fresh baguette, cheese, nuts, carrots, fruit.

I didn't think it at the time--I was too hungry--but the picture reminds me that one of the first things R did for me when we met was offer to cut and core an apple. Almost forty years later, he still carries a Swiss knife. It's not the same knife. He's lost a few going through airport security and forgetting the knife in his pocket. He's cutting me cheese here.