Monday, September 10, 2018

cycling / north hatley / sherbrooke / magog

A few weekends ago we went cycling in the Eastern Townships  / Cantons de l'Est which are one of my favourite spots--well-maintained trails, places to wade or swim, gentle scenery through woods, past fields, rivers, lakes. And it's only a 1 1/2 hour drive from Montreal.

Day #2, when R pulled out our lunch, he didn't see the bag with the plums had a hole. A few rolled down the slope. A chipmunk grabbed one--as large as his head--and I expected him to stuff it in his cheek cartoon-style, but he chomped through it. Ate it more quickly than we finished out lunch.

We rented an Airbnb in Sherbrooke. The place was a condo where a man lived during the week. He had another life somewhere else with his family on the weekend. There were pics of his kids on the wall, none of a partner. The condo was decorated with inexpensive modern-style furniture and IKEA prints of wine bottles.

I was thinking how a few days in an Airbnb could be a writing prompt. You spend a few days among a person's sofa cushions and toiletries, their leftovers in the refrigerator, their professionally sharpened knives and battered pots, and you begin to imagine a life. Was he only in Sherbrooke for work? Was he divorced? Did he entertain or keep to himself? There was a guitar on a stand. A deck of cards on a side table. Lots of candles. I didn't get the impression he was a candle-burning type of guy. (Whatever that is.) Or are people who rent Airbnb's known to be charmed by candles? Give 'em candles.

Since I grew up next to an industrial city--Hamilton in Ontario--I'm curious about cities with an industrial history. We walked around Sherbrooke, looking at details and the astounding hydroelectric generating station.

This fellow with the lifelike hands was on a hotel that was boarded up, either slotted for demolition or renovation. Below him, sprawled in a doorway, a man was fast asleep.

The sign says:
The door is locked.
You knock

If someone is available, they will
come answer.

Thank you

The door wasn't identified as to what the business or service was. I really wanted to knock a few times to see what would happen but I had no idea what I would be knocking for. The door looked permanently locked, the inside of the building dark. Well, it was Sunday.

We cycled between 70 and 80 km depending on whether you believe Google Maps or the local signage. By the time we were ready to head home again, I was feeling very mellow.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Le rosier de la Pointe

I'm very happy to introduce the cover of my novel, Five Roses, translated into French by the gifted Bertrand Busson. Huge, effusive thank you to Mélanie Vincelette, publisher of Marchand de Feuilles! The book will be in bookstores as of September 12th (thereabouts).

The title translates literally as The Rosebush of the Pointe which is an excellent title for the novel--and sounds good in French.

Below is an interview which appeared this past weekend in Montreal's respected La Presse. As Dimitri said, it was a mega spread and we're both delighted.

The title of the interview is apt: The End and the Beginning of the World.

In other but hardly less significant news, my plot in the community garden won first prize in the annual horticultural awards! I'm sure it's because of my mega rhubarb!

Here I am bringing home some basil in style. Note: that's not a bouquet I'm holding in my arms. It's a bucket of basil on the floor. Our amazing community garden in the background.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

growing beets, basil, tomatoes / improv gardening


I love my community garden! I go there and feel like I'm in the most concentrated green spot in the city. There are approximately fifty plots and everyone is growing, growing, growing plants. Green beans, onions, zucchini, fennel, rhubarb, lettuce, tomatoes, raspberries, dill, hot peppers, flowers. My favourite plots have clever two-tiered structures with vines climbing up the sides, squash hanging down through the top slats, delicate greens in the shade beneath.  I will try this yet.

I was working in my plot today and another gardener asked why I was heaping damp, mucky soil around my beet roots. I have no reason. I'm not following advice I've been given or read.

But I feel that if *I* were a beet bulb starting to push out of the ground into the hot sun, I would like someone to slap cool mud around me. I guess what I'm hoping, too, is that the beets will keep growing.

Yeah, yeah, I've been known to hug trees too...

This here is all basil except for the tomatoes hanging over the top of their trellis. I planted them close together because basil is supposed to keep tomato hornworm away. Seems to have worked.

I had a good year with both basil and tomatoes and will buddy them up again.

Back in May I actually worried I wasn't going to have enough basil so I planted another little pot. I need to start making pesto.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

lists / montreal

Does everyone do this? When I see a list, I wonder about the order. Especially when it's seemingly random and the organizational principle is ad hoc? idiosyncratic? impelled by...?

We were cycling and stopped at a dep to buy a drink. The list--the usual Montreal mishmash of French and English--outside the door read:

Jerk Links (is this like jerk chicken but a sausage?)
Ice Cream
Water / Juice

So you smoke your cigar before you eat your ice cream
chew gum before a meal
milk isn't a grocery
you'll never win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket
ask what a jerk link is
check if anyone liked your last witty comment on social media
buy worms to go fishing
hope the person behind the counter doesn't get confused or worms might end up in your sandwich

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

autistic manners

I've been thinking about my sister-in-law because her birthday is coming up. She had Down Syndrome--and as I usually say after that sentence: "had" not because she was cured but because she passed away a few years ago. (You might find it obvious that she didn't stop having Down Syndrome. It's genetic, not acquired. But every year R had to fill out papers for the government stating that her condition hadn't changed.) Her birthday was the happiest day of the year for her and it's unlikely that date will ever pass without us remembering that it's *her* day.

I'm not writing about her here, only signalling that the many experiences we had with her have left me with a heightened awareness of how people who have been labelled as "not normal" behave versus people who believe they are "normal".

These two incidents happened when we were in the Gaspé a couple of weeks ago.

We were on the beach and returning from a long tromp on the sand to the car. A man walking down the road made a beeline for us. R said, Here comes Mr. Tilly Endurables. Do those stores still exist? They sold chic, high-tech, outdoor wear for people going on Arctic cruises or climbing the Alps. He had the dermatologist-approved, wide-brimmed hat, drip-dry trousers with many pockets, the Safari shirt. He was clean and freshly shaven. Before he was even within hearing range he'd started talking. He spoke well, if too much all at once too fast. He was kayaking from farther up the St. Lawrence around the Gaspé peninsula. It was an ambitious trip but he'd already done a fair bit. He talked about the water, the fish and coastline he'd seen, the villages where he'd stopped. It was too bad the weather had gotten so windy that he was forced to stop here where there wasn't a store but a very nice woman had driven him to the next village where he'd stocked up on groceries including strawberries. What a joy! Quel délice! He asked where we were from. Ah, yes, Montreal. He asked what we were doing in the Gaspé and where we were staying. He said, I'm autistic but I've learned that people like it when you ask a few questions. I can't help that I talk non-stop about myself and what I've done, but I've learned to ask questions.

We wished him a good day and drove to another village where there was a community event. Someone told us that there was a woman at a table who was German. I decided to go talk to her, though the instant I opened my mouth, after her first surprise to hear someone in the Gaspé speaking (my bastardized version of) German, I could only listen because she talked non-stop. Maybe not as fast as Mr. Tilly Endurables but within 15 minutes she'd given me her life story, her romantic highs and lows, her financial situation, her current state. Through some weird, wild fluke, she'd ended up moving from Germany to the Gaspé in the desperate wintry month of March. Why? Why else? For love.

I understood that her need to unburden herself was great, but I was still reminded of our fellow on the beach who had interrupted his monologue to ask us where we were from and what we were doing there. As he said, people like it when you ask a few questions.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

on the subway / being seen

What do strangers see when they glance at me--you know, that first unthinking, social antennae assessment. I don't mean my FB profile pic of rhubarb which has finally stopped the friend requests from widowed US military personnel who obviously don't like rhubarb. And ha! if they thought my face suggested I would make a good step-mom for their adolescent kids, boy, are they wrong.

No, I mean when I get on the subway and someone offers me their seat. I appreciate that people do it, not because I need to sit at this point in time--there were times when I did--but because it's a healthy indicator of civic attitude when people are aware that someone might need a seat. I smile and sit so the person doesn't feel their gesture has been snubbed. I don't want them to stop. 

But what do they see in a swift glance that makes them offer me a seat? I walk a lot so my legs are good. I've usually got a knapsack because I do errands when I'm out walking. I'm not completely grey yet, not that hair is an indicator of anything. I know people whose hair turned grey/white in their late 20s. What about me looks frail, infirm, fragile?

Up until my mid-40s people who didn't know me as Alice addressed me as Mademoiselle, ie here in Montreal. I didn't object but I thought it was silly. Did people think they were flattering me by pretending I was younger than I was? 

Until people started calling me Madame. Here, there, and finally everywhere. I was now a mature woman.

Made sense to me but I did sorta wonder what the indicators were. Do people have instant x-ray vision for crinkly corners at the eyes and encroaching turkey skin? (Is that why so many women drape scarves around their necks as soon as they turn 30? They'll take them off damn fast once menopause hits.)

And now strangers have once again reached a consensus: when I get on the subway, I should be offered a seat.

Monday, July 16, 2018

the Gaspésie July 2018

I take lots of pics of water and sky when I'm in the Gaspé (la Gaspésie in French).

But have I shown you what a village looks like? Sure, they're all different, each unique for various reasons, but in general a village features a string of houses dwarfed by the horizon of water out front and land behind. The landscape is grander than human. I find it humbling.

Along our stretch of coastline, the land bulks up close in aged, low mountains called the Chic Chocs.

Between the villages, you see the odd house that might be abandoned. Or someone only stays in them a few weeks a year as we do.

It's less common to see a statue out front as I used to see more frequently when driving through Quebec in the 70s. Note the stove pipe inside the lit window: for a wood stove. Also the metal roof.

When fog sets in, the hills disappear. Or the water does. Or both. If  you're out walking, you might not find your house. Sight and sound are muffled. Not even the birds sing.

My favourite view while walking along the shore in front of our place is of these receding hills. They're the arms of the bays we drive around when we go to the Post Office or to buy fish or milk in villages farther along. The hills aren't always distinct. It depends on the light, the water, how calm the water is, the time of day.

The trees across the road are growing on the side of the slope we take down to the shore.
I was *so* glad we escaped the heat wave that hit Montreal the first week in July. In the Gaspé the lilacs were still blooming. There were a few days I wore jeans instead of shorts (though as much to protect myself from the gigantic Hogweed bordering the path down the slope). Those same evenings were cool enough that we made a fire, though that was also because I like the sound of a fire. Just a little one to take the chill off the room.

The sun was strong and we saw more wildflowers than we ever have before. Fierce blooms that were shorter than their city flowerbed cousins that don't have to withstand the gusting salt wind--and perhaps the more precious for that.

There was work on the house too. A well to fix which required more digging than I'd expected, but the well wasn't where we expected--almost under the back door because, as our neighbour recalled, the back of the house was an addition after the well was dug. So: not under the back door originally.

R had rescued a door from the garbage of a funeral home being gutted near where we live in Montreal. He thought it would make a good bedroom door.

He also painted these walls and the ceiling with primer. I'd gotten used to the drywall plastered with polka dots and stripes.

I set myself up with a standing desk/ironing board in a room that faces the water to work on this ongoing novel. The photo is dark because I tried to get the camera to focus on the view.

For the moment these walls and the gables still have their polka dots and stripes.

We ate locally grown potatoes, fresh fish, a baguette from the excellent bakery in Kamouraska where we always stop on the drive out, Quebec strawberries, frîtes maison at a beach hut in Mont Louis. The chandelier candle holders were already in the house when we got it.

We had some glorious sunsets (though the sun sets every day, no matter how it sets), stars if we were willing to dare the black flies and mosquitoes, no Northern Lights at this time of year but a thunderstorm in the night that shook the house. The sky was clear again in the morning.

Here's a channel R thought we might walk across so we wouldn't have to go all the way back along the beach and down the road to get from point A to point B which was right there on the other side. We didn't that day but on another day, when it was low tide, we did. Water up to my knees, strong current, and water so cold that my feet were numb.

Can you see? I'm wearing a sequined skirt. Nah, I didn't bring it to go hiking. We'd stopped in Sainte Anne des Monts to buy pretzels and I saw it in a little dress shop on sale for $14. Always wanted a sequined skirt--and yes, you can hike in it.