Friday, April 12, 2013

what I didn't see today

Kathleen is doing lovely blog posts called "Things I Saw Today".

People wonder what it takes to be a writer. Quite apart from being able to keep the bum in the chair, mastering narrative arcs, getting into the skin of a character, having a notion of syntax, verb tense, pov and the like, is the very HUGE aspect of being able to see the world. There is all that we make up and concoct in our fiction--and all that we've scooped simply by keeping eyes, ears and antennae open.

Today I went swimming at a pool where I've never been before. I meant to go Tues and then Wed, but it took me until yesterday to figure out how to put on the obligatory bathing cap. Friends kindly sent instructional videos. Thank you. Friends gave me advice. Thank you.

The problem was that, unlike all the people in the videos who slip their caps on no problemo, I have a stub of a ponytail. So I can't tug it on front to back. I have to do it nape of the neck up. It took me a while to figure that out.

Next hindrance was that I decided to try on my bathing suit, which I bought last summer and have used maybe twice--and the leg holes sag! What gives with bathing suits? Every summer I buy one. Every next summer the elastic on the legs is kaput. I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to this swimming pool venture and didn't feel like spending $90 on a new suit right now. R suggested I sew the legs tighter, which sounded too stupid to credit, but then I thought what the heck. I have a... I think they're called a tankini top (which Google is telling me is not a word--grrrr!--am I the only one who finds Google rude?), which I could tug over the funny pleat on the hips this seam would make.

I thought a mid-April blizzard would be the perfect time to try the pool because who else would be so silly as to go out if they didn't have to? I changed, forgot my flip flops, remembered to bring a lock, did the bathing cap thing without attracting stares, showered, grabbed my towel, headed for the pool, took off my glasses, which I left with my towel, jumped in. Did three lengths and realized I had no idea how to get out. My arms aren't strong to heave myself out. As far as I could tell, the whole pool was deep end. I am extremely myopic. I squinted every which way. Was that a ladder over there, across six lanes, each of which was separated by some coiled contraption? I plugged my nose and ducked. Peered across water to make sure I didn't have a thrashing swimmer barrelling at me. These were the rapid swim lanes.

By the time I'd hauled myself out, I had the lifeguard's attention. Are you ALL RIGHT? She could see I was all right physically. She wasn't sure I was ALL RIGHT in the head. I explained that I'd never been there before, I wasn't wearing my glasses, and I couldn't find the ladder. Well, she said slowly, where are your glasses? Maybe you should put them on and check out the pool before you get in. There's a ladder there, a ladder there, a ladder there.

I think ladders should be painted a fluorescent colour.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

update to skumin's syndrome / 15 months after heart surgery

It's been 15 months since I had two heart valves replaced with mechanical clickers. I wrote several posts about this. If you're interested in reading them, the links are below.

What I want to say is that I'm okay now. More than okay. A week ago I went snowshoeing--2 hrs/day, a few days in a row. Strenuous? Some of it was straight uphill. Yesterday I walked 12 k (7.5 miles). Once the weather is nicer, I'll start cycling again.

Indeed, it's possible to have heart surgery and get back to an excellent level of activity--assuming, of course, that's what you want. I'm still fairly young (mid 50s) for having had heart surgery. I was easily fatigued in the months immediately after surgery. I had to push myself. My heart often felt like it was pounding fit to burst. I told my cardiologist who said that my body had to get used to having blood coursing in a way that it hadn't for years. I had to believe that made sense (which it did) and that I wasn't hurting myself by exercising.

Before I had my surgery, I did some research and discovered that there is a non-psychotic mental disorder called Skumin's Syndrome. What can happen--ie it doesn't have to--is that people who've had heart surgery are afraid to push their heart; they constantly check their pulse; they're anxious; the persistent clacking of their new valve disturbs them and keeps them awake at night. GUESS WHAT? YOU GET USED TO IT. You do. You think you won't, but you do. It doesn't happen in the first two months, nor even the first ten months. But you do.

As for the anxieties that characterize Skumin's Syndrome? Trust your doctors. The surgery was done to correct a problem. It's corrected now. Give yourself time to heal. Start to exercise. Go live what's left of your life.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

more about berlin

I'd said I would write more about the art we saw in Berlin. And the subways.

Subways, you think. So what about subways? We'd gone to the land of das Auto. Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen. I was brought up believing that German-made cars were the only automobile worth driving. My father still drives a Volkswagen. For the only year of my life that I owned a car, it was a VW bug.

Given that background, I had high expectations of the Berlin subway. I assumed the trains would whizz faster and more soundlessly than the trains in Montreal. They did not. In fact, it would hard to decide which subway cars rumble worse, Toronto's or Berlin's.

What I loved was seeing above-ground trains moving past pre-Industrial Revolution façades.

This next one is surely a reconstruction of something historical that was bombed in WWII, but you can't keep thinking like that when you're in Berlin or you don't know where to look next.

I like cities with rivers and bridges and canals too. This bridge is called Oberbaumstrasse Brücke.

Ober means over. Baum means tree. Strasse is a street, except that in this case it’s a bridge. The bridge is a street that goes over the trees. Technically, I suppose it’s more important that it goes over the river, but Overtheriver Bridge would be too weird a name, even for matter-of-fact Germans.

Often, when we walked by the canal, there was snow. (As a footnote, R tells me that this past March was the coldest in Europe in 130 yrs. So... not just me being neurotic. It was cold. On the other hand, we're living in a time of climate change. Whatever's happening now, get ready, because it will only get worse.) Here's a picture from our last day when it got a bit warmer and the sun stayed for more than 0-2 hours. Did I  mention this yet? In Germany, weather forecasts come with predicted hours of sunshine per day. The weather forecasts in Germany are no more accurate than anywhere else, but I guess they like having another category.

We saw a lot of art in Berlin--excuse me, Art.

I will not pretend to begin talking about Art. What I often notice are the people looking at Art. I listened in on some kids who’d been taken to the museum to learn what to look for. They sat on the floor in front of a large abstract. Now, I have always assumed that one isn’t meant to see figures in an abstract. If there are figures, then it’s a figurative painting. Abstract art is about colour, lines, harmony… Isn't it?

In this world-renowned gallery in the big city of Berlin, the teacher—who wore a beret!—was asking the kids what shapes they could see in the medley of colours. One boy saw some hatched lines that he thought was a railroad track. Another decided a yellow blob could be the sun. One sweet thing piped up that she saw two raindrops. I loved that she saw raindrops. Some people, seeing the two side-by-side drop shapes, would have said teardrops. I’m sure.

I got a kick out of this woman who’s looking at a Henry Moore as if she walked up against a mirror.

Near our hotel there was an elementary school. The Grade Sixers had been taken to a museum to look at Picasso and had done copies with all the clothing in fabric collage. Okay, the idea must have been the teacher's, but the kids did a great job and had their projects on display in the school windows.

In the courtyard beside the school was the entrance to one of Hitler's bunkers. During the day, there was always a lineup of tourists to get inside. Eingang zum Bunker. I don't know what bothered me more: the fact of the bunker or the people who wanted to get inside.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

berlin in march, 2013

We went to Berlin in March. It's a city full of history. The capital of Prussia, the Nazis, the Holocaust memorials, the Berlin Wall, the Stasi. Berlin is chockfull of tourist sights with signposts to lead the way.

R and I saw some sights, avoided others. We did not go to Checkpoint Charlie. We did walk along the Karl Marx Allee.

We headed through neighbourhoods and down the backstreets. There was grandiose modern architecture, blocky Communist buildings, sometimes jazzed up with paint, fairytale steeples, ruins left in place to remind you.

Did I mention how cold it was? Colder than in Montreal. We warmed up in the cafés which were charming and Old World, even with the clack of laptop keys and ambient techno music.

This café is empty because, believe it or not, people preferred to sit outside. Okay, the sun had come out, but it was only about 3C. We noticed that too in Berlin: the outdoor café tables always had what I first thought were tablecloths draped over the backs of the chairs. Well, sure, I thought. It's way too cold to sit outside. But they were blankets. People sat with them draped across their laps or around their shoulders, cocooned inside them.

And since I'm on the subject of cafés, let me mention the bathrooms. The decor was always interesting, sometimes featuring boudoir furniture, tables you could stand at (why?), marble floors, curious paper towel dispensers. I started taking my camera when I went to use the facilities.

Have you zoomed on that frame?

I asked R about the men's washrooms and he told me one featured a ten-foot porcelain trough with running water that washed away the urine. One bathroom had a soccer ball and goal contraption in the urinals so you could... try to make a goal with your stream?

Here we are in yet another café--my favourite travelling buddy.

The restaurants were cozy too. This one served German/Austrian cuisine—dumplings with schweinebraten, dumplings with venison, spätzle with cheese, red cabbage soup. Yes, that's snow in the square outside.

The quality of the food was very high. True, German cooking is heavy on starch and not every restaurant had a vegetarian option. But there were restaurants that were 100% organic. I was especially impressed by the variety and choice of organic fruit and veg in ordinary grocery stores. Sure, when I travel, I go to grocery stores. I like a fruit bowl in my hotel room. With real fruit, please.

Next post I'll write about kids being taught how to look at abstract art. And subways. I was fascinated by the subways in Berlin.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

snow-shoeing by the sea / in the gaspé

There was so much snow, piled so high and thick, that any fallen tree trunks where we might have sat to rest were too deep down. Snow upon snow upon snow. This late in the season, softened in the hot spring sun, hardened again in the cold spring nights. Crusted with ice that crunched or snowman sticky.

We started out climbing the slope of a low mountain (about 800 metres?). We were underway for a little over an hour when I decided that getting to the top was a guy thing and I didn’t need to do it.