Tuesday, August 8, 2017

the vintage life / cycling / la route verte

Screw the cartoon-lightning-zigzags in the forecast this past weekend. We piled our bikes in the back of a rented car and headed to the Cantons de l'Est aka Eastern Townships. It's about 1 1/2 hrs from Montreal.

Since the sun was still shining when we got to North Hatley, we went for a spin. The bike path follows the Massawippi River through rolling hills, past farmland, banks of wildflowers, even an old copper mine.

We'd rented an Airbnb that was advertised as a vintage bungalow. Given that we're in 2017, vintage could mean... a king-size waterbed with disco lights? A chrome and Arborite dining set? Vintage is a broad term. We were staying in North Hatley which is not cheap, and this bungalow was not expensive.

It was a white clapboard cottage, maybe once a small farmhouse, with a wide porch and a very friendly dog tied to the neighbour's clothesline. All wiggly and delighted at the prospect of company, she defied architectural geometry to scramble onto the porch of the vintage bungalow. We never saw the neighbour. R left a note for the Airbnb woman saying that we'd have liked to know the dog's name.

In this cottage/bungalow vintage meant garage sale bargains. Not finds, bargains--because items were already showing signs of wear and tear. Or were broken. The owner didn't want the strangers renting her place to damage anything. The soup ladle was already dented, the bedroom curtain torn, the mismatched chairs wobbly. The furniture was covered in sheets and blankets to keep it clean, but also--I looked under the blankets--because it was threadbare and patched.

There was a certain charm. The house was spotless. Impeccable. And she'd made one important investment: a first-class orthopedic mattress.
The next day the sky was overcast but there were still no cartoon-lightning-zigzags, so we set out to cycle to Sherbrooke. I took a rain jacket and kept a change of dry clothes in the car. The dry T-shirt was useful on the way back, since I donated the sodden T-shirt I was wearing when R wanted a rag to wash the muck off our bikes before putting them back in the car. But I've jumped ahead.

We knew from previous visits that there's an excellent patisserie in North Hatley. For breakfast I had not only a croissant but a pecan danoise. What is a pecan danoise? Creamy pecan pie filling enfolded in buttery flake pastry, the top studded with pecans. This is Quebec where pastry is pastry, not bread.

Energized, we set off on our bikes. We stopped along the way to look at a shingle farmhouse, walk across an old bridge, watch kids playing volleyball.

We made it to Sherbrooke (23 k/14 m) before the rain started.

R said it was only a passing shower, but it wasn't passing. Coffee turned into lunch. The sky leaked buckets. Puddles spread into ponds.

We decided to strap on our helmets and head back. As a man watching us said, "Might as well go since you have to."

You know those hypnotic rainfall videos people play to put them to sleep? That's how much it was raining. Cold rain too. I didn't see any cartoon-lightning-zigzags, but I couldn't see much. I don't have windshield wipers on my glasses. I was trying to stay upright and keep the knees pumping. I did hear the thunder. Rolling, booming, inevitable thunder.

What kept me going? I was thinking about the whirlpool back at the bungalow.

That, like "vintage", was part of the advertisement. Un bain tourbillon.

In reality it was a bathtub equipped with spurting jets. While I was cycling, soaked through and chilled to my bra, the prospect of anything hot was a much-needed dangling carrot. Over the smashing, dripping, Noah's Ark rain, I shouted to R that I wanted to stop at the general store when we got back. The general store in North Hatley is one of those old-style places where you can find everything. I hoped for lavender bath salts. I found mint epsom salts. Close enough.

You're thinking I was exaggerating about the sheets and blankets on the furniture?

You can see the linoleum tile floor too. That is bona fide vintage.

How about the gloves left well in view to encourage us to keep up the cleaning?

Oh, and this note--in French and English--posted over the toilet.

Loving home repair of a wobbly table.

We now know the dog's name. Are you ready? It's Sky-Skyla-T'es-Belle. I kid you not. Some things cannot be made up. Sky-Skyla-You're-Beautiful. Maybe Belle for short?

After my epsom-salt bain turbillon, we went for a beer and a walk by Lake Massawippi.

We cycled 70 k--20 k in driving rain--which is the most I've ever done on a weekend.

Monday, July 31, 2017

jam and pesto and lying under the trees

Summer is not a bloggy time. Good weather pulls me away from the computer. I do still work but I don't have that extra impetus to spend extra-curricular time here.

So news is short.

This is the first summer that, instead saying I would make black currant jam, I actually did. I bought a small basket of fruit--it's not easy to find black currants in Quebec--and was surprised that I got as many jars as I did from it. Now I'm thinking of making cherry jam? Plum jam? A friend has been talking to me about apricot jam and if I could find apricots grown locally, I'd love to try that.

I had good luck with growing basil this year and hauled home a bucket's worth of plants to make pesto. I spent a happy afternoon plucking and washing leaves, then buzzing them in the food processor with olive oil and walnuts.

After the busyness in the kitchen, I go for a long walk or cycle. I like to lie under the trees early evening when the sun's low in the sky and hits the leaves from the side. They're a brighter green. Get under a tree and you'll see.

appropriation scenario

A magazine hosts a writing contest. The magazine editors and the judge of the contest are aware of the debate around appropriation. How could they not be? In good faith the judge awards first, second, and third prizes. Even an honourable mention.

Ah, did I mention? Judging was blind.

When the names are revealed, it turns out that two of the chosen stories are written from the point of view of characters who have no cultural, social, or gender affiliation with the authors. And yet the judge was convinced that the narratives were emotionally authentic.

I'm thinking the authors are feeling smug, the judge maybe annoyed (maybe not); the magazine stuck; the readers...?

Is this a win for the imagination or...?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

garden July 2017

We had a long cool wet spring in Montreal and my garden had a late start. My friend in Copenhagen tells me he has squash coming out his ears. My squash are the size of my head. I mean the leaves. No gourds yet.

Lettuce and snow peas had a rough start because they were razed by groundhogs. Lettuce has now recovered. I collected a handful of snow peas today. Why are they called snow peas? In French they're called pois mange-tout. Eat-everything peas.

Tomatoes and basil are doing well, though I'll be making pesto before I eat tomato salad.

Beans and Lebanese cukes coming along.

I sowed carrots three times, three weeks apart, and only a dozen came up. Ditto beets. Another gardener said that ants were making off with the seeds. Is that possible? I don't know but I felt desperate. I read online that lavender keeps ants away, so I planted lavender. The lavender is doing well, but ants are as busy as ever around it.

I read that ants don't like cinnamon and sprinkled my whole garden with cinnamon. For a few days, before it rained, I had a garden as red as a PEI beach. And aromatic. I don't know what my Bangladeshi neighbour thought.

I never saw an exodus of ants, the carrots and beets I seeded again didn't show, and the ants are back having a party around the lavender.

My prize plant so far has been rhubarb. I've made rhubarb compote (or jam as some call it), have rhubarb in the freezer, and have given some to friends.

I don't recall what species of hot pepper I got, so I don't know what colour these will finally be. They've been green, then purple, now orange. 

The reason why I'm able to have a garden in the city is that I have a plot in a community garden--Jardin Communautaire la Pointe-Verte--and it's one of the pleasures of gardening to be planting or weeding or watering with another sunhatt-ed or sari-d gardener a couple of plots over doing the same. We're all making stuff grow.

Monday, July 3, 2017

tin ceilings / Grimms / upholstery

A while ago I was walking in Montreal, looking for a tin ceiling. It's an architectural detail I recall seeing in cafes or bars when I first moved to Montreal in the 80s. I'm sure there are still some, but I couldn't find one. The taverns/bars/bistros I recall having tin ceilings have either closed or moved to larger venues that have been renovated. There are companies who will install new tin ceiling tiles for an elegant, antique look, but that's not the same. The original imprinted tin tile ceilings were a design feature conceived in the mid-1800s as an affordable alternative to carved plaster ceilings. I don't recall seeing them where I grew up in Ontario, and so I noticed them in Montreal.

In the 1990s we lived in an apartment that had tin wainscoting in the living room. The metal was imprinted with fleurs-de-lys and painted white like the plaster walls. There was handsome oak trim. The apartment had "charm" but there were problems with the plumbing, the noise between the apartments, the thin, rattling windows in the winter.

The tin ceiling in the photo belongs to Cafe Shaika on Sherbrooke where R and I went for a walk the other day. What was best? The ceiling, the generous layout of the tables, the varnished tabletops covered in pages and drawings from fairy tales? Of course, I sat at a Grimms' table with the story of the Wolf and the Seven Little Goats.

The decaff latte was good too.

Also on our walk along Sherbrooke we saw this old shop, now Pizzeria Melrose. I appreciate that they kept the original upholsterer's sign--that they've made this nod to the history of the building.

R and I had a chair reupholstered here. The man drove across the city to where we were living, picked up the chair--no charge--and delivered it once it was made new again.
Here's a pic of a younger version of myself in the new chair, with other details from my life in the 1990s. The black rotary phone, plaster Ionic column (a popular feature in Greek neighbourhoods in Montreal), the table loom in the background. I used to weave scarves on that loom. Later I got a larger floor loom.

Here's the painting R did.

I don't know what the relationship between the words and the painting is.

But I'm wondering now how old T.S. Eliot was when he wrote Prufrock. I empathized with the indecisive anguish of the poem when I was younger, but now that I'm Prufrock's age--my own hair thinning--I don't have the time nor the patience for that kind of anguish. At this age, I get on with things.

(Just looked up Eliot's age. He was 22.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

the eyebrow post

I get annoyed when R comes home from the barber who's trimmed his eyebrows. I like wild and shaggy eyebrows on men.

So... what about women?

When I was growing up, I remember that my mother had a steel comb for grooming her eyebrows. She was brunette. Maybe because my eyebrows were white-blond, she didn't bother to pass along eyebrow advice. Not till I was in my 20s did I realize that some woman plucked their eyebrows. (Ouch.) I decided I would never have to do anything like that because mine were hardly visible. Even if I shaped them, who would notice?

It never occurred to me that I might make my eyebrows more visible with eyebrow pencil, but a few years ago, a friend's mother told me I should. I was curious enough to buy an eyebrow pencil. I chose light brown because that was as far as I wanted to venture into Frida Kahlo territory. Except then, in front of the mirror, I balked. Was I supposed to draw an eyebrow over my unruly eyebrow hair? That would look crazy. I would have to shape ie get rid of some white-blond hair first. So no, that wasn't a good idea. Also, when I did draw eyebrows, I looked ridiculous. Frankensteinish.

I used to get comments from women, where I worked, who were more makeup savvy. They experienced much pain to shape and groom their eyebrows and felt that I should too. There were stories about tweezers. Wax that ripped out the hair (plus a layer of skin). There was threading. I'm still not clear how threading works, but it's apparently less painful. I'm not sure if threading is related to one woman's eyebrows that they were entwined with metal thread. I believe that was decorative. It didn't look comfortable, but she was glossy-magazine-cover beautiful.

So I've never done anything with my eyebrows. More recently, however, as the hair on my head is turning white, my white-blond eyebrows are also turning white, and age-white is more wiry than blond-white. I'm going wild and shaggy! Not yet sure what to do about that, but I suspect I'll do nothing.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Gaspé June 2017

A dusty gravel road marked by hydro poles with antique porcelain insulators. (Antique as in the age of electricity, not Greek mythology.)

We came to the Gaspé for a few days. North of New Brunswick, north of Maine, west of Newfoundland. It's a 9-hour drive from where we live in Montreal. About halfway along the drive, the St. Lawrence River is so wide that you can't see the other side of the coast.

Our house isn't in the town of Gaspé, but a smaller village nearby. In the 2011 census 130 people lived there.

There have been a few deaths since, one our neighbour who lived for 78 years in the cedar shingle house where she was born. As shingles needed to be replaced, she made new ones. Those are the larger shingles on the bottom half of the side wall. There's no doorstep at the front door, because who would be so uncouth as to go in by the front? During the time that we knew her, she lived in the kitchen where she had a wood stove, a table and chairs, a cot to sleep. She liked R and gave him a pair of thick wool socks she'd knit.

When another of our neighbours called this past winter, it wasn't to tell us how the winter storms had washed away part of the highway and damaged the coastline, but that she had passed away.

Our visit to the coast was short, and given the vagaries of Maritime weather. we were lucky to see a magnificent sunset every evening. We walked down the low cliff to the shore and found a washed up log for a front-row seat. Or sat against a granite boulder that was still warm from a day of sun. It was low tide--with the advantage being that it was high tide in the night, so we heard waves smashing in our dreams.

The waves wash in litter--always so much plastic--but some of what we found was clearly lost, not tossed aside. 

When I came home, I googled Dong-A-Pharm and discovered that Bacchus is an energy drink. They also market one called Garglin. Don't want to know what that one tastes like. The company is in Seoul. I doubt a brown glass bottle would make its way intact from South Korea to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. More likely it got tossed off a ship. That, by the way, is not my large hand but R's.  

The child's red boot above? We saw it on our first evening. On the last day we found it or its fellow farther along the shore.

We walked by the water, we walked in the hills.

In the woods we came across footprints in the mud. The only animal I can imagine this large in these forests would be a moose, though this looks like a moose with added accessories: more toes, even a hoof on the side? We found moose droppings, also on the path, close to here. 

Here's me watching terns dive-bomb into the water for fish. They hovered high up, then plummeted with their beaks like arrows into the water. They seemed already to have swallowed the fish when they surfaced again. 

You might not guess but this is my happy face as I'm eating frîtes in Marsoui. That's one reason why I don't use emoticons. There aren't any that translate my particular range of expression.

Other random sightings...

A homemade clapboard trailer. There's a hitch on it so I assume it could, at one time, have been attached to a car. Why pay good money when you can make it yourself?

And when you don't have a hoist to work on your car, an old washing machine will do as well.

Filmy and glittery. Bling-bling and rust.

This is a storage shed now but it used to be the home for a family of eight.

The St. Lawrence didn't freeze this past winter and there was damage along the coast from the winter storms. The beaches are wider, more sand and stones thrown up, the shoreline gouged away. These picnic tables, which used to be several metres from the edge of the beach, are no longer even on solid ground.

Climate change, yes.