Sunday, July 27, 2014

diego rivera's judas figures

Here's me and a Judas head in Mexico City. Where else would that blue wall be but at Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul?

Judas figures belong to an old Catholic custom of making papier-mâché figures, representing Satan and Judas, which are burned, exploded, or flogged on the Saturday before Easter. 

I'm thinking of them now because I was leafing through an old notebook and came across the drawings I did in Diego Rivera's studio. I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside the building, though no one stopped me from sketching--which, admittedly, is not one of my fortes. Still, you get the sense. 

The bodies were about 10'/3m high, made of papier-mâché, adorned with buttons, bones, horns, stones and teeth, brightly painted and propped before a window of many panes. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo collected them. I suppose it was a way of never being alone in a room if you don't mind the company of demons. 
I sketched this fellow too. I liked his metal-hoop ribs. I couldn't tell if his limbs were made of bone or wood. I didn't forget his eyes and nose. He didn't have any. Or maybe it was a she. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

first books

I didn't grow up with children's books in English. I had no access to a library and avidly wanted to read. I took up the books my mother was using to teach herself English. They were:
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Jonathan's Swift's Gulliver's Travels
Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth

I don't know if these were the best choices for her to learn idiom in Canada in the 1950s and 60s, but that was what she had. The Jonathan Swift is a green hard-cover book that purports to be a reprint of the 1735 Dublin edition. Nouns are capitalized and the meaning or use of some words would now be considered archaic. For example--and I can open the book at any page to find an example--"But I shall not anticipate the Reader with farther Descriptions of this Kind..."

I think my mother realized that Gulliver's Travels wouldn't help her navigate the grocery store, so that book at least became mine.

As a child, I suspected the lands described in Gulliver's Travels were fictitious--but I also wasn't really sure.  

How often did I reread Pride and Prejudice? Often. By adolescence I expected potential boyfriends to be Darcys. I was ready to play scornful Elizabeth. Guys never got it. That was one way I learned the difference between real life and books.

By early adulthood P&P had become my emotional equivalent for thumb-sucking. When I felt depressed, I picked it up. I loved the language and consoled myself with the story.

I haven't read it for a while now, though I listened to it as an audio book about a year ago--when I was trying to decide whether I was game for the audio book experience. I looked for a free service online and found Librivox, which is good depending on the skill of the reader. (Even if it's a free service staffed by volunteers, I don't think people learning English as a second language should be practicing by recording Middlemarch, for example.)
I do highly recommend the recording of Pride and Prejudice by Elizabeth Klett: 

Today I was in a secondhand bookstore with a friend and I saw the same edition of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth that I read at eight years old. I'm pretty sure it's the same because it's the same cover with an original sale price of 35 cents--as I remember.

I was fascinated by the world described in this book. Although it was foreign, I believed it was real in a way that the lands Gulliver visited weren't. How much was description of social conditions, how much romanticized, I don't know. I'll have to reread the book. I bought it for $2. When I was eight, I couldn't understand what a concubine was. I think I know that now.

I was an adult before I discovered Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

rapunzel's garden: update

In Montreal it's hot and humid. Rather than complain about the heat, Rapunzel would sooner think about her garden.

You have to remember she lived many years in a tower hanging her hair out a window. She doesn't always know what she's doing in the garden. She takes advice from strangers. That funny, fabric-looking stuff around the zucchini is something a man at the gardening center said would help keep the moisture in the soil. Does it? Who knows.
She still gets startled by worms and sow bugs, though she doesn't shriek anymore when she touches one.
It's a big incentive to see how the dried peas she poked into the soil a mere 5 wks ago have grown into plants almost as high as her shoulders. (Okay, she's short.)
The carrots, beets, basil, lettuce, beans are growing. There are flowers on the canteloupe.
The eggplant hasn't flowered yet and she worries because one of her all-time favourite things to eat is barbecued eggplant. She slices the eggplant, brushes it with a paste of olive oil, paprika and mustard, grills it slowly. It's good right off the grill and even more delicious cold the next day in pita with cheese and arugula.
So far she's harvested arugula, red leaf lettuce and a Boston lettuce.

There weren't enough snow peas to make a meal, but enough for a snack. The white tissue bits on the tips are the flowers. Rapunzel thinks they should be eaten with the snow peas. Growing her own produce has made her hyper-respectful of all aspects of a plant.

Nevertheless, she knows she has to nip suckers, prune lateral stems etc. Or at least, that's what she's read. When she actually trimmed some vines off the cucumbers that were threatening to choke the beans, the women in the saris stopped gossiping to cluck disapprovingly and shake their heads. Rapunzel tried to explain. "The cucumbers--the branches are getting too big." She waved her arms to demonstrate. "Big," the women agreed. But they would have done something else to control the cucumber, Rapunzel can just tell.

Off to the side of the garden allotments is a wooded area with picnic tables and a hammock--a very comfortable hammock. Look, there's a man having a snooze right now. 

And yeah, isn't it amazing: all this in the city. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

bangladeshi stir-fry / intercultural gardening

Any ideas as to what this is? The stalks are two feet in length. R ate a leaf raw and said it tastes like grass.
The woman in the sari from the neighbouring garden plot insisted on giving me some. She couldn't tell me what it was. She said to cook it in "ulive oil" with "ninion" and "garlic". I am not making fun of her accent. I'm thinking her pronunciation might give me a clue as to what the leaves are.
I have red leaf lettuce ready to eat in my garden and offered her some. She shook her head.
I had one hot pepper almost 6" long which I picked and gave her. She smiled but looked pained. "Too..." She held up her arm and circled it with her fingers. "Like this."
The peppers are supposed to get fat as her arm before I pick them??? I didn't know.
"This..." She showed me my pepper. "Not tasty."
I'll bet it's probably as hot as I can tolerate.
So one learns.

P.S. I have since cooked the leaves. They have an interesting texture unlike spinach or sorrel. Rather than wilting as soon as they're in the oil, they get sort of crispy. Thank you to Louise Voyer who identified them as amaranth greens--aka callaloo and many other names throughout the world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

gaspésie, june 2014

As the days grow longer, I want to go to the sea where I can walk on the beach and see my shadow stretched full-length and then some. 

Here we are six hours northeast out of Montreal, having lunch in Sainte-Flavie. R is not shorter than I am. He's slouched after six hours at the wheel.

The St. Lawrence is still narrow enough here that you can see the shoreline on the other side.
By the time we get to the house (another three hours in the car), the shoreline on the other side no longer exists—or not that we can see it which amounts to the same thing, depending on how philosophical you are about horizons.

These hills are the tail end of the Appalachians, which in this part of the world are called the Chic Chocs. The name comes from the Mi'kmaq "sigsog".

This is the landscape I come for: big hills, big water.

We find the house intact, for which I’m always grateful. It’s left to fend for itself for months at a time. The winter was long here, with a greater than average accumulation of snow. Our neighbour tells us there was snow in the woods as recently as three weeks ago. The dandelions have only just started blooming—in mid-June—making up for their lateness by growing over a foot high. 

Here, we're walking down the cliff across the road from our house. It's low tide.
We go for lots of walks on the beach. Every cove or bay has a different composition of sand, shale, granite, blue mussel shells, white clam shells, no shells at all.

R found a Frida Kahlo driftwood ring he says he'll sand and paint and wear the next time we have a fancy occasion--someone's book launch or a birthday. He will have to wear it because it won't fit anyone's finger but his.

We take pics of rocks, fluorescent algae in low-tide pools, gulls that pose for us, stuff that’s washed ashore.

I think this is a piece of seaweed colonized by mollusks. At first glance I thought it was a pair of ladies’ evening gloves. With too many fingers.   

There's even a bottle with a message!

I manage to scoop the curled, damp piece of paper from the bottle, but it's only a receipt for entrance—to where? unidentified—dated Dec 2013. Too recent to be an artefact. The bottle gets relegated to the category of litter.

Until I was about 40, I’d never heard the word “lichen” said out loud. I thought it was pronounced to rhyme with “kitchen”. Then I got to know some poets and they use the word fairly often. I gather the concept of lichen is weighty with metaphorical significance. They pronounce it with a hard k—a homonym for the verb “liken” (which might be an insider’s joke, you never know with poets)—so that’s how I say it too now.

Here’s the closest village--that blocky squiggle at the base of the hills--which is about a 90-min walk along the beach from our house.  There is no store, no bank, no... name the convenience you can imagine most needing. There is a public telephone which is useful for us as we don’t have a phone at the house.

I asked R to take a picture of me on a boulder but then I had to find one I could manage to clamber onto.

In Mont-Louis we stop at Café L’Arramé, which used to be a hangar or barn, now painted purple and refurbished as an organic café. I take a picture for my collection of interesting bathroom photos.

Yup, that's a functioning sink.

Work on our house is ongoing. The second floor has been gutted and is under construction. Here, just out of the frame, R is sawing ends of floor boards to try to widen the opening so he can get sheets of drywall up that darling, narrow stairway. The house was built at a time when people were shorter, slept in smaller beds, had smaller feet. I wear a size 7 shoe and I have to take the steps at an angle.

R makes a small fire and has a nap while I work on a story.

We go for a walk in the woods.

We poke through memorabilia left in the old shed. There used to be fishing equipment we couldn’t identify. Also carpentry and gardening tools—indestructible, sumo-wrestler versions of tools now made with lighter metals and battery-operated. R kept whatever we might one day use, including the nails that are still nails, even decades old in decades-old containers. Magic Baking Powder from the 1950s!

We sit on the verandah and watch the sunset and I take way too many pictures, though I know my cheap camera will never get the effect. But when I'm back in the city, the pictures will help remind me. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

heron as tree

Glassy grey-green water. Soon it will rain. The heron on the rock has to stand extra-still to convince the fish he's a tree and his long stabbing beak is a branch. He's thinking, Come out, come out, swim by this rock here, there's no danger, just me, a do-nothing tree. If you watch a heron at this act close-up (ie with a zoom on a camera or binoculars), you'll see that now and then the bird even sways a little like a sapling in a breeze.

There is no breeze. The grey-green river is waiting for the rain to start. I'm hoping to get a cycle in before it starts. I know I won't melt in the rain, but until I get windshield wipers on my glasses, I don't like cycling in the rain.

Here's a pic from last Sunday's cycle. No herons on rocks along this stretch because it's the beginning of the rapids. On the horizon, past the islands of trees, lie Mont St Bruno and Mont St Hilaire.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

in the backseat of a car

I'm not about to unveil sexual memories. I have none that are framed by the confines of a car. There was always a bed or a sofa available. Or maybe I was always such a princess-aggravated-by-a-pea that I wasn't tempted unless the space was acceptably roomy. I've had people tell me about sex in cars and I've wondered why knees wedged between seats and door handles was in any way exciting.

My memories of the backseats of cars have to do with childhood. I began thinking about backseats when a friend told me about her son, a single child, ensconced in the backseat of a car with his cousins who began arguing. The effect was such that the next day, when another excursion was planned, the boy cried that he didn't want to go in the car. I don't blame him.

The backseat of a car is an arena for sibling torture--physical, emotional, psychological, perhaps even spiritual. The parents face ahead with their eyes on the road, pretending there's a wall between their kingdom and the peanut gallery behind them. They blank out squabbling and appeals for help, and can even ignore kicks through the upholstery.

The same amount of tension and drama at the table during a meal or in front of the TV in the living room would not be acceptable. For some reason, the rules for the back seat of the car are more lax. Every child with a sibling knows this. The bully becomes more of a bully. The weaker child milks pathos for all it's worth.

A couple of years ago I was in the backseat of a van with two boys, with the other adults and children in the seats ahead. The two boys (both whom I love, I should add) wouldn't stop jabbing and pinching each other. When the elder didn't pick on the younger, the younger needled him with a taunt. It was as vicious as it was childish as it was ongoing as it was stupid as it was cruel. I told them to stop but they knew I wasn't the adult who could punish them. I finally called ahead to the parents in the front seat. Oh yeah, I was the snitch. I'm still not sure if the boys have forgiven me, but gee, they were pushing buttons that had thick, deep-grown roots. I was one among four children. I knew all about backseat torture.

There were a few cars in my childhood. They were secondhand vehicles that my father refurbished, sanded, painted. The first one I remember really well was a Wolseley. I have a picture but it's too faded to scan, so here's a random Wolseley I found on the internet.

Ours was black. The backseat was as roomy as a sofa. I knew it well because I slept there when we did our weekend trips to the cabin. (My parents were European who, like many Europeans who come to Canada, have a fantasy about the Great Canadian North.) I did not like staying in the cabin, which was a single room with a table where we ate, my parents' bed, the sofa, the wood stove. At night, foam mattresses were pulled out for the children to sleep on the floor. I chose the Wolseley. I could read there. I could sleep there. I had no desire or skill at climbing trees or catching bloodsuckers as my siblings did.

When the Wolseley was replaced by a VW bug, which was too cramped for sleeping, I graduated to a tent, but since I didn't take it down between weekends, it got infested with trapped grasshoppers and sometimes snakes.

Four children in the backseat of a VW bug, travelling from the house where they lived to the cabin where they spent the weekend, was a trial--to be relived at the beginning and end of every weekend. This was before the days of booster seats and seat belts. If there had been such contraptions, our backseat scenario would have been illegal. Since I was the eldest, depending on what was packed in the car, I could sit in the compartment behind the back seat. Do you know what I mean? It was just large enough for two suitcases set upright. I had to sit with my legs drawn up--but I preferred it to being jostled, elbows and skinny bums with my siblings.

I mean, can you see us all in the backseat of a small car?