Friday, November 20, 2015

Quebec Writers' Federation

The Quebec Writers' Federation is a wonderful, busy, thriving organization. I count myself lucky to belong. I have been both a mentee and a mentor in their Mentorship Program. I have twice been asked to speak or read at events they've hosted. I've met many of my current writer friends through QWF. My book of short stories, Ruins & Relics, was a finalist for their 2009 First Book Prize.

Recently I was asked by QWF Writes to expand a piece on editing that I'd written for my blog. Here it is--tweaked and polished under the sharp editorial eye of Crystal Chan.

Monday, November 9, 2015

other fun things I did in Austria

In German this is called Klangschalentherapie. It's a Tibetan method of sending reverberations through the body. My cousin wanted to try it on my heart which doesn't always beat with a regular rhythm. R was concerned that putting the brass bowl directly on my chest might have too strong an effect, so she did it on my back. It felt interesting. Body as an echo chamber On my bum... well... there was too much adipose tissue for the reverberations to get very far.

We also visited a castle. I was asked not to say the name since it's not open to the public. It was built in the 15th century on the site of a 12th-century castle that was destroyed by invading Turks. No one lives there now, though I'm guessing it was inhabited up till the 1920s. There were still balls in the pockets of the dusty billiard table.

We visited my aunt who doesn't live in a castle, though it's still quite the house with marble floors and impressive details. Here is what you see when you walk in.

Here's the door to the kitchen. Fresco painting and gold leaf.

With a house of this pedigree, of course there's a ghost. R expected her to visit him since she did last time we were here. But she stayed on her side of the grille where she lived before she became a ghost.

Another aunt decorates cakes when someone special has a birthday. This one's for her granddaughter. The butterflies, flowers, and horn of plenty are marzipan. The Smarties are Smarties.
It wasn't my birthday while we were there, so I don't know if I'm special enough to warrant a cake. However, when we were last there, she gold-leafed a rock for R on his birthday.

I took endless pictures of this milky green river that runs past the villages and town where different members of my family live. My camera never did get the exact shade of milky green just right.

And clouds. They look so different when they billow around mountains. Though they, too, elude my cheap camera.

You bet, we sampled Austrian food. Here I'm sprinkling lemon on my Wiener Schnitzel which was excellent. R ordered a selection of stuffed dumplings which were also very tasty.

And I can never resist a yellow door. Especially on an old house.

Friday, November 6, 2015

November in Montreal

People complain about grey skies and wet, but I love how the colours stand out.
Here's the view from my study onto the wet street below.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

explaining bed head

I was having lunch with my second cousin (my mother's cousin) in Austria. She'd made cottage cheese dumplings called Kasnudel. After that we had tea and a rolled cake. 

She was telling me her version of family stories. We had fun. She said she liked to write letters and I asked if she had a computer. 

My first word processor in the 80s looked like this. You could only see three lines at a time on the screen--but it was better than having to roll paper into the machine and having to manually obliterate the mistakes you made while typing. I'm a lousy typist. One typo for every six times I hit a key. 

I love these ceramic kitchen drawers for cooking ingredients, though they too are dated. One of the drawers is for Feigenkaffee or fig coffee, which was a coffee substitute used during WWII.  

She has a traditional Austrian painted ceiling in her hallway. 

And a tranquil view onto fields and cows. On a day without fog there are mountains. 

She has a wood stove or Kachelofen decorated with tiles recuperated from her grandfather's house in the mountains. There's a curve of bench to sit by the stove and keep warm. On the cushion are a pair of leg warmers knit for her husband by his grandmother. If he died ten years ago at seventy-one, how old would that make the leg warmers, assuming his grandmother--not his mother--knit them some years ago?

At one point she asked what I put in my hair, because she'd had an excellent tip about a product from her hairdresser. She brought me into her bedroom to show me. 
Great, I said, if it works, why not? It really does, she exclaimed. But I can't figure out what it means--Bed Head. So I translated bed head and said it was a look some people aimed for. Bettkopf. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

bye bye, Vienna

When the cafés and bars in Vienna start hanging velvet curtains in the doorways to stop the draft from blowing in, it's time to head home. 
Not that Montreal is any warmer, but at least I have warmer clothes at home. 

Time for one last cone of roasted chestnuts. A sweet man, he added an extra. We live in a time when anything can be bought anywhere, but roasted chestnuts are still better in Europe.  

A last walk past the cool windows displays, often with the owner's dog in patient or resigned--certainly obedient--attendance. 

Eavesdropping on some last intense conversations in which politics, philosophy, art, refugees, and I'd-better-get-going-because-my-little-girl-is-waiting-at-daycare are being discussed. 

A few last sketches, though I don't know if he realized he was sitting under a poster for an exhibition called To Draw To Draw. 

A last visit to the Institute of Conservation where I had spent time doing research for a new novel. I was asked not to take pictures of the objects being restored. The glass case you can just see bottom right contains the wooden clogs of a 15th-century saint. The clogs will be cleaned and placed in the older case which is believed to have originally housed them. It, too, needs to be cleaned with sponges, tweezers, brushes (and a cell phone?) of several centuries of dirt. 

In the evening we had a stroll and a traditional meal of Kümmel-Schopfbraten with Knödel und Kraut in a Viennese Beisl--the Austrian word for a Gasthaus. Beisl translates as a little bite, though the little bite you'll get here will see you through a few hours of scything hay on an Alpine slope. 
What I loved about this place were the wood-panelled wine refrigerators--in honour of which I had a glass of Prosecco. 

There will be more blog posts about Austria once I'm settled again. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

shoes and cups / Vienna

There's old-style Viennese

where cups were designed so there was room on the saucer for a cookie

and what looked like gold really was gold. (That's me in the mirror.)

And new-style Viennese

where design is still paramount,

even in public bathrooms,

and sidewalk cafés still have interesting cups.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

a room with a view in Vienna

I’m having a beer in Vienna. Long windows and wood-panelled walls. Green tablecloths with tasselled lime-green runners. 

Three tables away an older woman is dictating—word for word, no notes—to a younger woman who is typing. (Do people still do this kind of work?) The older woman seems to be writing a memoir that has to do with the role she played in getting state funding for kindergartens. She had to prove the psychological and physical developmental benefits of early socialization. Lots of dry abstract language. 

Directly out the window is a cream-coloured building with decorative frieze work and wrought-iron balconies. At an angle I can see the Naschmarkt or market which is closed just now. When it’s open, you can buy herbs, fruits, honey, sausages, oysters... 
In 1977 I bought a second-hand top hat at the Naschmarkt for a man with flamboyant tastes. We’d already decided to split before I came to Europe, but at some point while away I felt nostalgic and decided to bring him a gift. It wasn't a collapsible top hat and I had to carry it in a separate bag on the plane.    

If my parents hadn’t left Austria and if I hadn’t been born in Canada, I think I would now be living in Vienna. The city fits me, I can feel it. The tempo, the people, the mood. I wouldn't need much, just one of those little windows at the top of a building where I could look out and write. 

It's not impossible that I would be a writer if I were living this other life in Austria. My grandfather Zorn wrote a novel. It was about his first love who wasn’t allowed to marry him because her mother had died and her father expected her to stay home and keep house for him. In protest she ran out into a snowstorm and froze in the snow. Or she and her father were on their way somewhere during a snowstorm and she got pneumonia and died. Or her father threw her out the door into a snowstorm when she insisted that she meant to marry my grandfather. 

I’ve heard different versions of what might have happened. The upshot was that she died. She either already had a newborn or she gave birth while she was dying. In the coffin photo she has a newborn at her side. My grandfather still had the coffin photo in his wallet when he died at 88. My grandmother buried it with him and said, Now he’s with her, I hope he’s happy. She knew he hadn't married her for love. He'd needed someone to keep house for him. Several women in my family had their fate decided over this matter of keeping house.

The two women are still working hard on the manuscript, though just now they’re having a mild disagreement over whether to use a period or a dash. Through the wall I can hear the schnitzel being pounded in the kitchen.  

On another note, the time changed last night. Spring forward, fall back. Daylight savings. This afternoon when we were walking I noticed that all the public clocks have already been changed. Even on stone church towers several centuries old. Who climbed up there? And when, at 2 am?