Saturday, March 25, 2023

needle doodle / "N'importe quoi"

My neurologist asked years ago if I doodled. I told him I didn't. 

A little scribbling while I'm talking on the phone? 


On the corner of a list? 


When my writing isn't going well and I've already got a pen in my hand? A little cross-hatching, maybe a few circles?

Definitely not. 

Big sigh. There was a study that claimed all migrainers doodled. 

That did not prompt me to go home and start doodling. Doodling is something you do or you don't. 

A couple of months ago, a children's toy and bookstore in Westmount closed. A friend went in and discovered that the store also stocked beautiful embroidery thread from Germany that the owner was selling at a huge discount. My friend bought some for herself and some for me. 

I've embroidered in the past but never seriously. I like the textural look of embroidery. I go to textile museums and admire embroidery. I have a large textbook of embroidery stitches. I like working with yarn and with textiles. But to actually sit down and do embroidery?  

I decided to see what this lovely coloured thread looked like if I stitched handmade paper. I have some from a paper manufacturer on the Lachine Canal called Papeterie St. Armand. They've been around since 1979. If you want to buy excellent, handmade paper, I cannot praise this place highly enough. 
Since I'm not an artist, I get the N'importe quoi scrap bags. 

I LIKED stitching paper! Heavy paper lends itself to stitching a design much more easily than fabric that has to be fastened to a hoop. 

I liked it so much that I walked up the hill to Westmount during a snowstorm to get more of this gorgeous embroidery floss. The store was closing the next day and the owner said to take as much as I could carry. She wanted to give me a large box but I was walking. I also didn't know how much thread I would ever use. 

What a mistake. I should have stuffed my knapsack because I don't just like embroidering. I LOVE IT. Especially with these rich colours. 

Those blank moments when I can't figure out where my writing is going next? I sit on my pea-green chair in the window and stitch a rosette chain or a few Palestrina knots. I get out my oil pastels for a change of texture. I sneak into R's studio and do some finger painting. 

I can now tell my neurologist that I doodle. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023


For as long as I've known R, he's drawn cartoons. I have one he did of me radiating menstrual cramps in front of the Eiffel Tower. It's an ugly portrait but it's in the nature of cartoons to exaggerate and I was having a seriously ugly day. It's my memento of Paris. 

Recently a friend started a cartoon/comics course. She's enjoying it and was showing me what she was doing. 

As we talked, I remembered that R once asked to me to write a story for him to illustrate.  Years ago. I'd completely forgotten. I wrote the story in a couple of hours and there's not much to it. At that point I hadn't read any graphic novels yet. I assumed it would mostly be about the drawings. 

R always has a few projects on the go and I didn't know he was working on the drawings until he showed them to me a year or so later. He'd painted approx 120 frames.  

Unfortunately--though perhaps understandably for a writer--my reaction when he showed me was not to see the paintings, but that he'd included the messy first draft of the story I'd given him. I'd thought he was using it as a guide, not putting it in the cartoons. I said he needed to let me revise the wording. He said it was too late. I was in a state of writerly pique that he hadn't respected my work ethic. We argued.  

Fifteen years passed and I was having a beer with my friend who was showing me the project she was working on for her course. When I came home, I asked R if he remembered that story he'd illustrated. He wasn't sure he still had it. He found it on Weebly where it's been hiding since 2007. 

Now, when I look at it, I see the drawings. They're a record of a neighbourhood where we used to live in the late 90s--that doesn't look like that anymore. The cobbler who used sit on a kitchen chair on the sidewalk. The tatoo parlour.  

The story is thin, but at that time I was still figuring out a lot about writing myself. I still am. I also didn't know how serious R was. Next time--if there's a next time--I'll write a better story. And I'll revise it before I give it to R. 

If you're interested meet Scribe: 

Merci, D, for reminding me!

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

the last noodle

I didn't cook noodles tonight so I don't have a pic with any bearing on this story. I'll show you a heart because hearts are my thing. Most of you have hearts that beat the way they're supposed to. Mine doesn't. Ça va, I'm still alive. 

This heart was stitched with glass beads and nylon thread by Sarah Maloney in 2008. I believe I took the pic at the McCord Museum in Montreal. 

Whatever I was doing in the kitchen this evening reminded me of the woman who told R (who told me) that she often felt like the last noodle in the pot. You know how there are always a couple of noodles stuck on the bottom of the pot? What did she mean? What does that feel like?

I've always wanted to add this to a story and never found the right place. 

So before I forget, I'll put it here. If you can use it, it's yours. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

taking the train / winnipeg to toronto jan 2023

On the very last days of 2022 R and I travelled to Winnipeg to visit our friends whose boys we've known since they were babies. All but the youngest is taller than I am now. 

The weather was mild, considering that we were in Winnipeg in the winter. Only about -8C. For a few days there was no wind and the hoarfrost was impressive. 

We walked for long afternoons and into the dusk, often on the Assiniboine River, once on the Red, also on smaller rivers where one of our young friends who's enamoured of ice fishing set up his equipment that now includes a sonic device he built himself. I have to admit I wasn't paying as much attention to his enthusiastic explanation of its workings as to moon that was visible at 2:30 pm.  

I lay in the snow a lot because it makes a firm mattress that moulds to the body, and cold through my coat feels delicious when I'm overheated from trudging along for a couple of hours.  

To return to Montreal, R and I took the train. I wasn't sure whether I would like a 38-hr trip, but R convinced me with his sketches from a previous trip. I wanted to see winter in Northern Ontario. 

How far north does the train go? Farther north than the Great Lakes. 

And although it's a long trip, I could walk around--as I often did--and eavesdrop on the pockets of talk around me. 

The train was LONG. Three locomotives to pull it. The conductor sometimes let us get off at stops or when we had to wait for freight trains to pass. There were also lots of stops for the smokers. I jumped around a bit, stretched my back and legs. 

The smokers complained when the train stopped and they weren't allowed to get off--but the woman who was accompanied by her psychiatric service dog could. They understood that the dog needed to pee, but boy oh boy, they'd better not look out the window and see her smoking!

I sat and wrote here because it was quiet and the endless trees were good companions. Between somewhere and somewhere a man parked himself at a table and tried to chat up the young woman who worked at the snack bar. He told her about his job and she told him that someone had broken into her apartment and that her mom was in the hospital. Then it was his stop and he disappeared into the night. 

There was a woman who engaged everyone who walked past, including the conductor. I never saw her leave her seat, although she was already installed in a nest of blankets when we got on in Winnipeg and she was going all the way to Toronto. A couple of hours before Toronto, she did a full makeup procedure with a hand mirror. She was obsessed with cost. When someone said they had an apartment in Red Deer, Alberta, she wanted to know how much they paid for rent--and were utilities included or extra? She asked people what they did and how much they were paid. She asked how much a coat cost. When the person sitting across from her returned with a sandwich from the snackbar, she wanted to know how much it cost. She had a long phone conversation  in Spanish about the cost of a house in Nicaragua. I avoided looking at her and she didn't ask me anything. 

A man got on in the evening and was calling family farther south to tell them that yup, yup, yup, he was on his way. He kept the phone on speaker so I heard that people were disappointed that he wasn't underway sooner. I gathered someone was very ill. They told him he should have taken the bus (which runs more frequently than the train). At one point he misdialed a number, heard the person's voice who answered and tried to say it was a wrong number and hang up. The person said, Jim, is that you? Are you okay? Have you quit yet? Jim said he'd been trying and he was grateful for all the help the friend had given him, but with all his might he couldn't manage. He'd tried, oh he'd tried, but the plain fact was he liked smoking. 

I have a sense of what it means to live far from an urban centre since R and I spend a couple of months every year on the northeastern coast of Quebec. But: we don't live there year-round and there's a HUGE difference between a 6-hr, a 16-hr, and a 26-hr drive to the nearest large hospital. 

Some might use Costco or a concert hall for reference, but for me the essential is a good cardiology department. 

There was a woman travelling from Alberta to work as a cook in a "bunker" in a place she called Alsace. When she said we were only an hour away, I looked it up on the map. Elsas. She'd worked as a cook in mines and lumber camps from Alberta to Ontario, but called Alberta home because that's where her daughter and grandkids lived. I don't know whether she was a good cook or not, but she was travelling 3000 k to get to this job. 

ps When I say I looked it up, I mean one of those rare moments when we were near a cell tower. Outside of towns, northern Ontario is off the grid.  

The second evening on the train, I wanted a beer and had come to the lounge with R. On previous visits I'd noticed the two men who sat separately but spoke with each other in a language I couldn't recognize. R guessed Turkish. They were delighted to see that beer was available, which they may not have known if they couldn't read the menu. They went to the snack bar to get themselves beer and snacks. When they returned and realized we had no snacks, one dropped a handful of nuts on our table and the other Pringles. This was very friendly and kind, but technically there was a virus out and about, and they had both touched the nuts and chips with fingers that were going back and forth to their mouths. 

We decided that acknowledging their kindness and was more important than hygiene. We ate the snacks.  

Here's a better pic of the Sky Lounge which I believe was designed to see the country--through the Rockies, across the Prairies and northern Ontario. It belongs to the train that does the Vancouver to Toronto run. 

Hey, VIA, it would nice to have an observation car like that for the train from Montreal to Halifax too! 

Slowly slowly slowly the train made its way southward. 

R and I still had to catch the train from Toronto to Montreal (550 k) the next morning. I had booked a room close to the train station at the Radisson Blu. The lovely reception clerk asked where we'd come from and gave us an upgrade to a studio with a fireplace (electric) on the top floor overlooking the lake. Very nice. Thank you, Radisson!

And yes, R sketched on this trip too. Here's our breakfast of tangerines and coffee. Coffee from the snackbar. We brought the fruit. 

For a more rambling, irreverent version of the trip including the part where R travelled by bus from Toronto, our trip to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and his thoughts on the books he was reading: 

Note that we usually have different takes on 'what happened'. That's just how it is. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Tunisia 2006

I've been reading through old travel journals and had to laugh, remembering this evening. Food was often hit and miss when we were on the road because we didn't always know what we were ordering. Was it tripe or spaghetti? (Italy) Across a cafeteria counter, they look the same. Why did I get a cup of hot coffee with melting ice cubes in it? (Mexico) Was that... icing sugar on the chicken pie? (Morocco) 

In 2006 we went to Tunisia for a month, mostly staying on the coast. Tunis, Sidi Bou Said, Sousse, Mahdia, Hammamet, Nabeul, El Jem, Dougga. 

We were still in Tunis, the big city where I could count on moral corruption and vice, ie a glass of wine with supper which one can't always get in a Muslim country. 

That's fine. I respect the ways of a culture. When in Rome etc. On the other hand, I knew wine was available because I saw empty bottles poked out of the trash.

That afternoon, when we were walking, I noticed a restaurant with a menu in the window that claimed to serve wine. We'd learned that this could be a ruse to get foreigners inside and sitting at a table--with wine glasses on the table--though wine was not and never served. And if there were wine, we'd be having supper in the Canadian equivalent of a smoky bar with other disreputables. 

R can take or leave wine, but he agreed to return to the restaurant that evening because he was curious about the plat du jour: malfoun. We didn't know what that was. 

That's the word as I have it in my journal but when I google it now, there's no result.  

The glass door to the restaurant was covered with a faded poster of an urn propped on seaside rocks, the blue-green Mediterranean in soft focus background. 

Inside the air was thick with smoke. Pretty unappetizing for a non-smoker but... um... yeah... I did want wine. The men--all men, of course--had their eyes trained on a TV screen under the ceiling. A soccer match. 

But they weren't so intent on the game that they didn’t see the two white people who walked in. A few voices hollered and a waiter bounded into the room. A slim man with a charming smile. Black trousers and a white shirt--slightly yellowed in the thick air. 

There were many verbal flourishes to welcome us in different languages. We settled on French.  

R said he was interested in the malfoun. What was it?
It seemed to be a stew or soup that was very spicy. 

Did we want to sit? The waiter pulled out a chair for me. As soon as we sat, he darted off. 

I hoped he wasn't going to bring us two orders of malfoun because I didn’t want a spicy stew or soup. I usually order for myself too. 

The other men in the bar nodded and gestured that we should make ourselves comfortable. One or two pointed at the screen to invite Robert to watch the soccer. 

The waiter returned, slapping a plasticized sheet on his pant legs as if to dust it off. It was a menu but not the same one as in the window.
R said he would like to try the malfoun.

Ah. Sadly there was no malfoun that evening.

So… what is the plat du jour?

Jahil and Shaima 

We didn't know the word the waiter said. When R asked him to describe it, he said it was very good, not too spicy and he would like it. 

Okay, R said. 

I’d been looking at the menu and asked for the merguez. 

The waiter frowned. He said I wouldn't like them. They were extremely spicy. 

I said I knew merguez. Lamb sausage. We had them where I lived.

You have merguez where you live? So we are like cousins, you and I! 

There was more banter, but he still discouraged me from ordering merguez. 

This was still at the beginning of our trip. I would soon learn that when the waitstaff didn't want to bring me what I ordered, I should ask for something else. Better yet--ask what they suggested. 

I said that I really and truly wanted merguez. Even if they were extremely spicy. I'd been forewarned, I wouldn't blame him if they were too spicy. I wanted them anyhow. Quand même.

And wine? the waiter asked. Because he'd guessed why I was ready to have supper in a fug of smoke to the soundtrack of soccer. The menu in the window offered red, white, and rosé wine served in one quarter, one half, and full litres. We asked for a half litre of rosé. He shook his head. He had only 1 litre bottles. We said we couldn’t drink a full litre. 

All the better! he smiled. We could share with him!

We agreed to get the litre bottle, which turned out to be a standard 750 ml bottle of decent, if not overly smooth rosé.

During the wine exchange, the waiter had stopped using vouvoyeing us. The polite form of address. We had become friends. When he set the glasses on the table, he included a third, though he didn't pour himself any. Were we supposed to tell him to have some? We weren't sure of the protocol and I didn't want to tempt him into immoral behaviour. 

We hadn't ordered appetizers, but he brought us several small plates with green olives, carrot sticks, puddles of harissa sauce inside a circle of tuna oil, sliced fennel, and a basket of bread. Before me, he set a plate of what he called tajine. It looked like cubes of fried egg filled with chopped potato. I protested that this was too much but he said it was hardly anything. 

He turned away from our table to talk with some of the men, but he seemed to know exactly when I bit into one of the cubes because he whipped around to ask me if it was good. 

Very good, I said. Potato, egg, and also tuna. 

Exquisite? he asked.

Exquisite, I agreed. 

I’ll bring you more. 

Please don't or I won't be hungry for the merguez. 

He returned with a second plate of egg, potato and tuna cubes. Again I protested. Again he insisted.

And you call this tajine? I asked. Because it's not like what they called tajine in Morocco. In Morocco tajine is a stew that's baked for a very long time.
But this is Tunisia! We are not the same country and we do not eat the same food! He'd drawn himself up as if offended. 

I said, Of course, I understood. But why did they call such different food by the same word? It would be like the Italians calling noodles pasta, and the French calling potatoes pasta. 

He shook his head as if there was something essential I wasn't understanding. 

He hurried off and returned with R's meal. A piece of meat, breaded and fried, topped with an egg and melted cheese, surrounded by puréed tomatoes. R waited for my food to arrive, but as it didn't, I told him to go ahead and eat.  

I was no longer hungry but I wondered what had happened to my meal. The waiter had disappeared. I helped myself to more wine. 

R was almost finished when the waiter returned to say that he was extremely sorry but he couldn’t serve me merguez. He had sent someone out to buy some but the butcher didn’t have any left. It was too late in the day. C'est fini. The boy had run to another butcher in the hope that he might have some, but it wasn't likely. 

That's fine, I said. I already ate too much. 

But do you forgive me? You wanted merguez. 

No, the tajine was very good. And I’m not hungry anymore.

More apologies, more protestation, more insisting. He told us his wife was French. Three years they'd been married. He asked how long we'd been married. Did we like the wine? 

He apologized again for the missing merguez. I asked why he hadn’t simply told me from the start that he didn’t have any. That would have been discourteous, he said. He turned to the men at the nearby tables to translate what I'd said. They stared at me. 

He darted off and returned with yet another plate of egg, potato, and tuna cubes. 

I can’t! I said. I can't eat anymore. I’m not going to! He danced away

We got ready to leave and wanted to pay. The extra glass still stood empty on the table but there was a third of the bottle left, so the waiter would be sharing our wine, if not while we were still there. He refused to charge for what I'd eaten because I hadn’t gotten what I ordered.  

A tip, yes, that would be welcome, but for the tajine I'd eaten, no. 

I don't know what I'm eating here but I'm sure it was excellent.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

urban kindness--it happens

No heroism, no dramatic sopranos, no red capes. Just people being nice. 

I met a friend for an impromptu catch-up-on-news in a pub and we talked and we talked. Although I'd pulled out my shabby wallet that must be 20 years old because the store where I bought it has been reinvented several times since, she paid--very nice!--and we admired her new, chic turquoise wallet from Germany. We hugged and said bye. Our schedules don't often crisscross, so this was fun.   

I was walking toward the metro but there's also a bus that would get me directly home, except it doesn't go by often. But yay! it was coming. I reached into my bag for my bus pass. It wasn't in the little pocket where it should have been. It wasn't in the corners deeper down, the outside pocket, my jeans, my coat. I was rooting through all the different possible pockets, beginning to feel like a Dr. Seuss story. 

I told the driver that I was looking for my bus pass. He said he could see. The only place I hadn't checked was under my clothes. He told me to sit down, it was okay. But it wasn't okay, because where was it? I kept patting my pockets and digging through my bag. At which point I realized that my house key was also gone. The key itself, okay, I have another one at home, but the key fob is a hand-painted ceramic knob a friend gave me.  

I needed to tell someone that I had lost my house key too!! But everyone around me was avoiding looking at this dotty woman who was squishing her pockets and checking for holes and poking her fingers into the corners of her bag. So I went back to the front to tell the driver that I'd lost my house key too. "C'est pas ta journée, Madame." Actually, I'd had a great day, I just happened to have lost my bus pass and my house key on its special gewgaw that I loved. 

I realized that I mustn't have closed the zipper after taking out my wallet in the pub and then upended the bag. I called the pub and left a flustered, crazy-sounding message on the answering machine, asking them if they could please check under the table for my key and metro pass. Have I mentioned this yet? It was Friday evening, a popular bistro/pub downtown, and the place was packed when we left. People were waiting for our table. Did the busy waitstaff have time to go looking under tables for my key and bus pass? I hadn't even given them the right table. I said I was sitting against the west wall. When I got home and was telling R, he asked me to be more specific about where I was sitting. So, okay, I can't tell left from right, east from west. I'm directionally challenged. No news flash there. R said I was sitting on the east side. 

I was too embarrassed to call the pub back and admit that someone who was old enough to be served liquor couldn't even say where she was sitting. R offered to call and this time someone answered and said yes, indeed, they'd found my bus pass and key--no comment as to where it was found. 

It's no big deal but I'm chuffed people care enough. Merci to the bus driver who let me have a free ride and a huge thank you to NYKs with their excellent food and drinks. You can find NYK's on Bleury south of Sainte-Catherine. (I think it's south.)

Sunday, May 29, 2022

snow melt and sunsets galore / gaspésie May 2022

I'll warn you right now. When the sun starts to go down over water, I grab my camera and dash outside, even if only onto the porch with the road between me and the sea. (R groans.) Whether the sky is clear, whether there are clouds--even when it's completely overcast and you don't think there's a slice where colour will get through--there is almost always a sunset of note. 

I was stunned the first time we came to the Gaspé in the winter and I was waiting for the magic over ice, and the sun set HOURS EARLIER BEHIND THE HILLS. It's by coming to the coast where land and sea meet that I've learned more about the way the Earth tilts than any lesson taught in school. I'm a hands-on learner. 

There was extraordinary snowfall in the hills this past winter and when the spring sun melts the snow, water tumbles down down down to the sea. It gushes streams, it carves the sand, it turns our yard into a sodden mat. I sit outside and hear gurgling and chuckling. We lost power for about 12 hours because the snow melt caused a rock slide. We went for a walk and found the path washed out. 

There were so many streams--getting broader and deeper every day--that I didn't do my usual rock-clambering walk along the shore because I couldn't get across them. I walked by the road, and so saw a car parked at the cemetery where there are usually only gravestones. A man was slicing squares of grass with edge of his shovel, putting the chopped pieces aside in a neat mound, making a coffin-shaped rectangle. I assumed he was a cemetery employee, but no, he told me, there is no staff. Family dig each others' graves. He was digging his aunt's grave. He'd already buried six aunts and had two more to go. Next, he said, it's my turn. He laughed. He was very cheerful. 

I do not want my body buried, but I find it fitting that a loved one, whoever that may be, should dig the grave if there is going to be a grave. I asked what happened if there is no family. He said a volunteer would do it. He dug quickly--the experience of six aunts already? he didn't mention his parents--and on my return an hour later, although his car was still there, I didn't see him. Until I noticed the shovelfuls of soil flying out of the hole. He was digging a proper grave.  

I've noticed before--in other cities, in other countries--that the dead always get prime real estate. In Montreal, the large Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish cemeteries are on the mountain. In this small village, the dead have a view on the wide horizon of sea. 

I also had a conversation of sorts with a man whose French I only half understood because he didn't quite form his consonants. They were like shadows around his vowels. In English the way he spoke would have sounded like... 'I on no ut yoooouuu 'ink' for 'I don't know what you think'. We were talking about the environment, by which I thought he meant climate change. He said you had to pay attention to the environment because if not, the environment would come back to haunt you, and what you had to do then was going to be worse than doing the right thing now. It took a while before I realized he meant the Ministry of the Environment and government rules and fines.


Where was R? He'd driven farther northeast, almost to the tip of the peninsula, to work on another old house for a few days. A back addition which we knew was collapsing had collapsed even more and the municipality had asked for it to be fixed or demolished. I haven't visited the house for a couple of years but this is what it looked like then. 

R knocked down the walls and took apart the tin roof. It wasn't easy. The construction was solid. The joints were dovetailed, the nails six inches long.  Each nail in the tin roof had been individually caulked. 28 rows of 10 nails = 280 nails. He counted in the way one counts when a task seems like it might last forever unless you define it. 

The house still contained a lot of the previous owner's abandoned furniture. R carried a lot out to the side of the road for Big Garbage Day. Jour de la collecte des objets volumineux. A washing machine, a double porcelain sink, 1960s style lamps and armchairs. I should say that on Big Garbage Day, it's understood that people driving by will stop and see if there's anything they might like to take--and they do. The sink was soon gone. One fellow began talking to R and asked if he could look through whatever was still in the house. He liked a medicine cabinet. R told him it was his. 

R kept a box of handsome brass drawer handles, spools of 100% wool for weaving, an Omega sewing machine which I'm having cleaned and repaired, an alabaster bust he found wrapped in canvas and tied in twine and wondered if there might be a dead person inside. 

For now the house is boarded up tight again. 

When we arrived in the Gaspé, there was still a bank of snow beside the deck. For the two weeks that we were there, the snow shrunk and melted, and the buds of the trees began to unfurl. Driving 800 k to Montreal was a time-lapse trip into early spring, mid to late spring, and bingo! Summer full on in Montreal.