Wednesday, May 20, 2015

door decorations

The doorstop to my room is made of two railroad spikes and a horseshoe. It comes from Texas.

The door knocker is Little Nell herself. She comes from Scotland. And yes, you should have a door knocker at the entrance to your study.

Monday, May 18, 2015

pottery in the topsoil / horse at a gas station

I went for my first long cycle of the year today. By long, I mean 30 k, which is long enough for a middle-aged woman with a cardiac history. We headed out along the Lachine Canal, where once shipping, warehouses, and industry reigned.

The Lachine Canal path eventually connects with the St. Lawrence River. We did the loop and cycled home.

Today is a holiday in Canada. When I was growing up in Ontario, it was called Victoria Day. I believe it still is. Queen Victoria's birthday. She was born in 1819. Talk about colonial servitude! Here in Quebec it's currently called Fête des Patriotes, which I'm not going to explain because it might well be called something else in a few years.
When I was a kid, the holiday was marked by fireworks, which I miss because I like fireworks. On my own personal calendar it was also the day I first got kissed. I was 12 yrs old. A boy by the name of ...? walked me home from fireworks at the baseball diamond. When I turned into my driveway, he grabbed me by the shoulders and kissed me roughly, then shoved me away and said, "You're no fun." I've never forgotten the words nor the tone. I am probably still "no fun". I can only suppose that people who like me aren't looking for "fun". I have always wished I could let ...? know that I didn't find him "fun" either.

I did some work in my garden this weekend. My arugula, beets, carrots, onions, and snow peas are up. My rhubarb threatens to take over the garden which, so far, is okay, because we love rhubarb. I was emptying a few bags of topsoil that we bought at the hardware store and found this in two separate bags, which makes me wonder where the soil comes from.

Yesterday when R and I were out walking along Notre Dame--a fairly busy street in Montreal--we heard the prolonged whinny of a horse. There was a gas station on the corner, and there was the horse. Note that he was not at the pumps. He was outside the convenience store. A man stood next to him, holding his halter. Both were standing calmly, except that the horse kept whinnying. Or maybe it was neighing. I'm not familiar with horses, so I don't know the difference between a neigh and a whinny, but I just listened to both on Youtube and they sound much the same to my horse-uneducated ears. The horse did not seem to be in distress, but he kept calling until we had walked beyond being able to hear him.

As we got closer to home, I stopped in a store to buy milk. The young woman at the cash was wearing a 1960s green and white gingham baby doll nightie. I wasn't sure if it might be a dress, so I stood on my tiptoes (I'm short) to see behind the counter. It brushed her upper thighs. It was a nightie. 

If I were to describe scenes like this in fiction, no one would believe them. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

story in The New Quarterly

A gracious thank you to The New Quarterly for publishing a story I wrote after a visit to Berlin in 2013.
I was walking through the Berlinische Galerie, looking at the paintings of artists whose work was repressed during the rise to power of the Nationalsozialisten in the 1930s. There were letters in display cases, pages stamped with a now-faded eagle gripping a swastika. The letters were utterly polite yet tense with menace, telling museum directors that the very paintings, which were no longer allowed to be displayed in German museums should, however, fetch a high price on the foreign market. There were lists of paintings by Kokoschka, Munch, Nolde, Dix, and more with prices beside them.
The paintings seem to have been sold, since all had a figure next to the suggested selling price with a date in ink. The ink had bled but I could make out a couple of 1937s.
The works of the artists, who had been denigrated as insane, morally corrupt, worthless members of society, were being used to fill the nation's coffers.

I knew I wanted to write a story about these letters--but didn't yet know what that story would be--and visited the museum three times to copy out the letters, word by word, because I wasn't sure I'd be able to read them off my camera.

Here's a link to order a print or digital version of the magazine.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I won't be around much longer, so you should...

Last week I was sitting in a café listening to a conversation between a middle-aged woman and her elderly parents. I thought the woman was being remarkably patient with her querulous parents. They wanted more milk for their tea than they'd been given. She got them more milk. Then they began complaining about the pastries. Mum said hers was too dry and she wanted Dad to agree. She nagged at him until he did. Then she said pastry often gave her indigestion. She wasn't sure she should finish hers. Nobody was forcing her. She had ordered it herself. She said she would be up all night if she had indigestion.
The daughter finally snapped, "Well, leave it. Just don't eat it."
Mum bristled. "You shouldn't talk to me like that. I won't be around much longer. You should be nicer."
Mum was faded and grey. I mean her skin. Her skin was grey. Her hair was tangerine bronze. Don't look at hair when you wonder how old a person is.
She was right. She probably wouldn't be around much longer.
But why should that be a reason to behave more kindly? It implies that when people are still going to be around for a long time--for example, children--you can treat them in whatever way you want.
Being around for a long time or a short time doesn't ultimately matter. Everyone is deserving of respect.
With the family above, I believe it was the daughter who wasn't getting it.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

helicopters in the garden / McCord Museum

The gate to the community garden is padlocked all winter and I was eager to see what had happened in my plot after the long season of snow. Three clumps of sorrel are already growing, though I'm told it's not as tasty if it isn't planted fresh each year. Guess I'll find out. The two rhubarb crowns I transplanted from our rhubarb patch in the Gaspé is coming along: red shoots and tightly curled leaves thrusting up in an obscene and wonderful rhubarby manner.

I knew I was going to have to deal with the maple helicopters. I'm not directly under a bank of trees but my plot lies in the direction of the wind. If all those seeds sprout, I'll have an 11' x 14' fledgling forest. Do you know what I mean by helicopters? They're the maple seeds that twirl when they fall from the tree.

After the winter on the ground they look like this:

Last year I thought they were like mulch and left them on the ground. Within weeks I had zillions of sprouts to pull out--the problem being that I'm such a newbie at gardening, I wasn't sure which was a maple tree sprout and which a leaf lettuce or a radish.
This year I thought I'd pick up all the helicopters, but after a couple of hours crouched under the sun, my lower back and knees grumbling curse words at me, I'd so-called cleaned less than half the garden. Now I'm debating whether I should just go with the flow. Do an experiment of survival of the fittest. What will I have by July? Maples or beets?

The other day I visited the McCord Museum where they have an exhibit of First Nations' identity as represented by clothing.
Afterwards I went upstairs to the Montreal exhibit and found it interesting to compare the moccasins (ca. 1900) I'd just seen with slippers worn by well-to-do Montrealers in 1860. The beaded design on the moccasins are symbols evoking sacred places. The designs on the slippers are... well, I suppose the embroidered hothouse blooms evoke sacred places as well, though I wonder if the wearer thought of that so specifically.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Manitoba in April

We went to Winnipeg for a week to visit with friends. The friends include four boys which gave R the opportunity to revisit boyhood.

The boys tumble about, but they also build things and paint.

I like how South America hangs off the edge: too large for the page but not forgotten.

I learned some pedagogical tricks in the event I ever need to tempt a 4-yr-old to get dressed. This actually worked. He was still in his pyjamas then he wasn't. I thought I was watching the whole time but didn't see when he slithered into his clothes, socks and underpants included.

We visited the Human Rights Museum and played interactive learning games, including how to make a soccer ball from crumpled newspaper, plastic bags and twine. Who needs Walmart? Especially in a world where plastic bags are ubiquitous. I watched the demonstrators show each boy how to make a soccer ball and each time waited for them to comment on the availability of plastic bags even in underdeveloped countries, but they didn't. Right, it was the Human Rights Museum. We need another museum for Environmental Disasters.

We made a trip to the Winnipeg Art Gallery as per the request of the third eldest boy who wanted to have a look at Inuit art, which we did. This was day #5 of our visit and my energy was starting to flag.

Here I made the mistake of asking if I could take a picture. 

Fort Whyte again next year? With everyone except me a head taller. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

translating words of abuse

The language with which we abuse people is harsh and unfair, but sometimes colourful as well.
Just now I'm looking at the German word Einfaltspinsel. Einfalt means naivete or simplicity. Push it a little and it means stupid. To break that down even more, a Falt is a fold or pleat, so Einfalt is a single fold or pleat.
A Pinsel is a brush. That makes an Einfaltspinsel a single-fold brush. Except brushes don't have folds, they have hairs, so an Einfaltspinsel is a single-hair brush.
Neat, eh? Who came up with that one? A master painter shouting at a hopeless apprentice? Though maybe the apprentice only had a different way of seeing and applying paint. The word first appeared in print in 1732.
In the dictionary, Einfaltspinsel translates as nitwit.

If you are planning a trip to a German-speaking country and packing a few words of abuse to toss around, I don't know how current Einfaltspinsel is. It can be found online if that's an indication.

The frog comes from my old copy of Grimms which I'm using for something else I'm writing. He's a happy frog, isn't he? Ready for spring as we all are in the unending cold that winter has been.

Back to work...