Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas pudding

This isn't a black picture. Look again. It's a lovely gift of homemade Christmas pudding steamed for 1 1/2 hrs, upended on a flameproof dish, doused in brandy and lit with the lights turned off. In real life the blue flame made a larger, more impressive halo. And--we turned the lights on again--SO delicious to eat.

Normally I would ask for the recipe to learn how to make this myself, but in this case I don't want to know how. I hope we get a Christmas pudding again one day.

Monday, December 22, 2014

social action nativity scene / pointe st-charles

What do we have here? It's a few days before Christmas and looks like a nativity scene such as you can see at this time of year in countries where Christianity is practiced. This one's in our neighbourhood, one street over outside the health clinic.

The sign behind it translates as: Birthing Center, Pointe Sainte Charles. We can't wait any longer. They're coming out!  Or however you want to translate Ça pousse!

On closer examination, it's not Mary and Joseph hovering over a baby in a manger, but a doctor or midwife delivering a nappy-haired infant. Pregnant women are standing waiting. All kinds of pregnant women.

Subtext? Give these women somewhere better than a stable. More than one healthcare professional available please. All those babies just ready to drop.

Whoever designed this display: thumbs up!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

14 / 12 / 14

Went for a walk by the river today. A grey day makes you more aware of the yellow grasses, the pink sky, the glassy reflections. And don't forget the snow dogs in the park.

All this less than an hour's walk from where I live in Montreal.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

still snowing 12 hrs later

It's not just the snow. In terms of depth, this is nothing. What's interesting about today's downfall is how it sticks even to vertical surfaces. It's doing a surround-blow, get-into-the-crevices, coat-the-branches, suffocate-with-white gig. The wind keeps it moving, gives it some upswing. The ice pellets help it stick.
I walked home into the wind and ice pellets. The road I was on had not yet been cleared, so my walk was more of a stagger and trudge. I'd had a lovely supper of grilled Parmesan-Portobello mushroom drizzled with secret ingredients, followed by lamb pierogi. A glass of port, a bit of old cheddar, some cherry tomatoes.
The cold outside makes you want to imagine good things to eat.

snow on the trees / Pointe St-Charles

It was snowing yesterday evening when I went out for a walk. Still snowing when I stopped reading at midnight. Even in my sleep I knew it kept snowing because the house felt ever more cushioned. Et voilà, here's what I see out my study window this morning. 

Snow on the trees. Brick row houses across the street. 
That particular group of houses are painted a colour called brick red--sort of like the difference between a real cherry and a maraschino cherry. Painting is a cheap way to freshen up brick that's aged and beginning to chip and flake. The houses were built 120 years ago by Irish settlers who were nostalgic for home. Brick row houses with one family living upstairs, one family downstairs. Families with twelve children. R and I are extravagant, living in our house alone. 
On the window ledge are stones and bits of pottery I've kept. For whatever reason. The ceramic tiles were bought in Tunisia. The glass bottle is a gift from a friend who brought it home from Ecuador. And there's that funny pot I made when I took a pottery course in 1973. It was the first summer I lived with a man and although I was glad to be away from my family, in retrospect I wish I'd had a little more imagination about how to support myself. I had a long summer of reading Margaret Laurence, Marian Engel, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Gabrielle Roy... Women growing ever more conscious of their unrest with domesticity. Me too. 

Clearly, fixing the back gate onto the alley is not a priority.  
I should be studying Spanish. Exam today. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

zipper shopping in downtown montreal

I needed to buy a zipper but there are no longer any fabric stores in downtown Montreal. This clearly hasn't occasioned an outcry. I must be the only who sometimes needs thread or a button or a zipper.
Sure, there's dollar store thread that a 2-yr-old can break. Or I can head up to St. Hubert and buy an industrial-sized bobbin, but I don't want 50 kilometers of yellow thread, and St. Hubert is way across the city from where I live.
Since when did a few minor sewing repairs become something only people who live in the suburbs do? Please, yes, I would like to petition one of the zillions of Starbucks in the downtown core to open a nook with threads and zippers for people who still do at-home repairs. Or a bookstore like Renaud-Bray or Indigo. They're selling everything else to make up for the seeming dearth of books in the world. Why not add a selection of thread to the woven napkins and mugs?

I looked online and found the closest fabric store near the end of a subway line. I came out at the intersection of two four-lane speedways. Whichever direction I faced, I could buy a hamburger, a soft drink, a donut. There was a mega-grocery store, a Walmart, a Toys "R" Us. I was supposed to head northwest to find the fabric store where I could buy a zipper. However, since each of the four corners looked the same--there are no identifying features to Shopping Land and Parking Lots--I didn't know which way was northwest.
The last time I came to Shopping Land and Parking Lots, I discovered that asking people which way east and west was confused them. I asked whether they lived in the area. Oui. Yes. Could you tell me please--pourriez vous me dire s'il vous plaît...
So forget cardinal directions. I asked if they knew which way was downtown, because even when I was a kid living in the country I knew which way the big lights were.
Downtown? Nobody knew where downtown was either. Who needs big lights when you're in Shopping Land and Parking Lots?
I walked for a long time in what I could only assume was the wrong direction because I never found the fabric store. I decided to turn around and see if it was the other way. Damp sidewalk, grey sky, the roar of traffic and gigantic store lights. (That's not a missing Oxford comma. I mean: the roar of traffic and [the roar of] gigantic store lights.)
I took a chance by accosting a fellow who was loping along, minding his own business, wary of a woman with a question. I begged his pardon and asked if he knew where downtown was. He reared his head as if doubting my sanity. I'm lost, I told him. He nodded behind his shoulder. The direction I was going. Thanks, I said. Merci.
I found the store, bought my zipper.

In other not entirely unrelated news, I started knitting again--after 30 yrs of not knitting--only to discover that pieces of knitting that are stitched together have largely been replaced by patterns that are knit entirely in the round. I wasn't sure I liked that idea--all that weight all at once. However, I'm a few projects along and decided to try. There are several yarn and knitting supply stores closer to the center of the city. Knitting seems to be cool. Sewing isn't. Or at least not cool enough.

For my first try, I did an experiment with a tiny newborn sweater for Baby Larkin!

I was also asked to knit/crochet a beard for a doctor who needed a disguise.

Monday, November 17, 2014

an anonymous author (tongue twister)

Writers react differently to being published. Some tell everyone and then some. Some want only to write and nothing to do with marketing or becoming a public personality. Though, as a rule, even if only when cuddled up in bed, authors are happy to see their name on the spine of a book. That's me! That's me! That's me me me!

Last week I decided to paint my office which meant having to move all the books. Big job. Not impossible but enough of a schlep that I've been putting off painting for years.
1) I bought paint which meant I had to do it, since I can't afford to waste money.
2) I took a few hundred photos off the walls, pried out the nails, puttied and sanded the holes.
3) I moved all the books off the shelves onto the floor of another room.

I group my books loosely under the authors' names. All the A's together, the B's etc. You get the idea. I carried armloads of G's to the next room, armloads of L's, and so on.

I happened to notice a book with no author's name. Not on the spine, nor on the front of the book, nor the back. There is no title page. I can't find the author's name anywhere in the book. The author isn't nobody because she (I decided it's a she) has acknowledged the Arts Council of Ireland and a couple other foundations and writing residencies who gave her financial support during the writing of the book. One of her short stories was included in a collection Haruki Murakami edited. Another story was published in Granta. Most writers would be flinging their name in every cardinal direction.

Now I am wondering about this woman who published a book but did not name herself. Sure, I can find out who she is online because there is a title on a cover page and the stories inside the book have titles. Still. It's curious.

Here's my room, freshly painted, desk pushed back into place. No clutter yet. Books very slowly being carried back to the shelves on the other side of the room.

Monday, November 10, 2014

sea glass / la gaspésie autumn 2014

I told my doctor I was going to the sea and he said to collect sea glass. I'm not sure what bearing sea glass has on my thyroid, but I welcome these forays into non-traditional medicine.

On this last trip to the Gaspé, in late autumn, the water was rougher with whole tree trunks washed ashore. Sometimes we ended up clambering along rocks and still got splashed. 

I don't know if my doc has rules about collecting sea glass. Whether it has to be a certain colour or shape or collected at a certain time of day. He grumbled about the prevalence of plastic in today's world--all too true--and how there soon wouldn't be any sea glass, only junk tossed up.
Indeed, there's always human litter. As small as tampon applicators, as large as car fenders. Sometimes a happy coincidence makes the litter cute. This piece of plastic did a stint as an ad hoc vase. The next high tide washed it away.

Sea glass isn't just broken glass--as in last week's bottle of Beaujolais tossed off a ship. The broken edges have to be smooth, the sheen worn away until the surface is hazed or frosted. For that to happen takes anywhere between 20 and 50 yrs of tumbling about in the waves. There are other factors too--pH, soda, lime... This man, Richard Lamotte, who began collecting sea glass for his wife who makes jewellery, has become a specialist.   

I pick up glass because I do. I don't look for it. I see it now and then, stoop, examine it, slip it in my pocket. Back at the house, I drop it in a milk jug. I didn't bring it back to Montreal, so I hope my doc doesn't need it for further diagnostic study of my thyroid.

I don't take green glass because it's so common on the shore in front of our house. Though I will pick up green if there are letters or it's an unusual shape.

I do wonder where all the green comes from. It's a Heineken or Sprite bottle green, but there can't be that many people out there drinking Heineken and Sprite--20 to 50 yrs ago, remember. Especially in this province where domestic beer in brown bottles is more popular than imported. And where one of the pejorative nicknames for Quebecois used to be "Pepsis" because once upon a time that was the soft drink of choice here. Though who knows from how far away all that green glass washes in? Newfoundland? England? Sweden? Greenland?

The next most common glass is clear, which becomes white from its time in the sea, then turquoise then brown. Rare is yellow. I've yet to find red or orange. 

As always, we walked by the sea. We walked in the woods and hills behind the house.
I look for the last dying colours before the winter comes.

This stretch of coastline is my daily walk. It's low tide so the water is far out. I aim for the yellow house with the red roof in the distance, the perspective of receding hills, each a little more cloaked in mist.

Here's our neighbour's house. It's a cedar shingle house built maybe in the 1920s. Once--only once--she invited us in and showed us which room she was born in and where she slept as she was growing up. She was moved every time a new child was born. The coveted place during the winter was next to the stove pipe where it goes from the kitchen to the roof. She has the original tongue and groove cupboards in the kitchen, though she's painted the slats in alternating stripes of violet, cream, and lavender. I was dying to take pictures but that would have offended her mightily. She lives here alone, though her daughter has invited her many times to move to the city. "Not me." R asked about her husband. She scoffed. "Never needed one of those." 

Work on the upstairs of our house is ongoing. R hammers and saws and curses for awhile, has a nap and picks up a hammer again.

I worked on my writing and went for walks. I'm endlessly fascinated by the slosh and swoosh and smash of the waves. I've been coming to the Gaspé for more than 30 yrs and am still astounded by how high and low the tides are. (Such an inland geek.) Here is a huge boulder of pink granite that's almost covered at high tide. I'm behind it now--not crouched, I assure you. Standing on tiptoe.

On our last day we got a foretaste of the monochromatic months to come. The hills are covered in mist. The snow is up to my knees.  


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

another Grimms fairytale: clever Else / die kluge Else

This Grimms fairytale, "Die kluge Else" or "Clever Else", always tortured me a little as a child, because when my name is pronounced by a German speaker--as were my parents and their friends--it sounds more like Else than the English Alice. (Only in later years did my parents learn how to say Alice the English way.)
As well, as a child, I sort of hoped I was clever. But did that mean this miserable creature might by my fate?

Clever Else

Once there was a man who had a daughter called Else. When she grew up, he said, "We want her to marry."
--right to the point, those German fathers

"Yes," said her mother, "if only a man would come she would consent to have."
--nice that her mother rights the balance, though she does it by making Else sound difficult

Finally a man by the name of Hans came from far away. He decided he was interested, though he made the condition that clever Else also had to be wise.
"Goodness," her father said, "she's so smart, you can hear her thoughts whirring."
 --is this a compliment or a nuisance? In German the literal words are: she has thread in her head.

Her mother said, "She sees the wind in the alleys and hears flies cough."
"All very well," said Hans, "but if she's not wise, I won't take her."
--I thought Else was the difficult one, but so far we haven't heard her say a word. Hans is making all the conditions.

Once they were finished eating, Else's mother said, "Else, go to the cellar and fetch beer."
Else took the jug from its hook, went down the stairs, and on the way opened and shut the lid so the time would pass quickly.
--this is the first we've seen of clever Else and I'm not overly impressed with how she amuses herself. True, the clapping sound could be a cover for deep philosophical rumination, but I dunno.

If you're not familiar with beer jugs or mugs with lids, here's an example:

In the cellar Else fetched a little stool and set it before the beer tap so she wouldn't have to stoop and strain her back or otherwise hurt herself.
She held the jug under the spout, and while the beer poured, she didn't want her eyes to be idle so she began to examine the wall, looking from side to side, and finally noticing the pickaxe that hung over the barrel.
Clever Else said, "If I marry Hans and we have a child and it gets older and we send it down to the cellar to get beer, the pickaxe will fall on its head and kill it."
She began to cry with all her heart over this impending misfortune.

Upstairs they waited for their beer, but clever Else did not return. The mother told the maid to go to the cellar to see what was keeping Else. The maid found her sitting and weeping before the barrel.
The maid asked why she was crying.
"Why wouldn't I cry? If I marry Hans and we have a child and it gets older and we send it down to the cellar to get beer, that pickaxe might will fall on its head and kill it."
The maid was astounded at how smart Else was, sat down next to her and began crying about this poor child who would have such misfortune.
After a while, when neither Else nor the maid returned and they were thirsty at the table, Else's mother told the servant to go see what had happened.
He went downstairs and saw Else and the maid sitting together weeping. "Why are you crying?" he asked.
"Of course we're crying," said Else. "If I marry Hans and we have a child and it comes down here to get beer, the pickaxe will fall on its head and kill it."
The servant said, "Oh, Else, you're so smart." And he, too, sat down next to Else and the maid and began sobbing.
Upstairs they were still waiting for their beer and no one had returned.
--not getting their beer seems more important than the curious fact that they've stayed in the cellar

The man said to his wife, "Go down into the cellar and see what's keeping Else." His wife found all three lamenting in front of the beer barrel. When she asked why, Else explained that her future child would be killed when it came to fetch beer and the pickaxe fell on its head.
Her mother threw up her arms at this clever deduction, exclaimed at how smart Else was, and sat down to cry with the others.
Upstairs the man waited for a while longer, but his wife didn't return and his thirst was great.
--again: beer. He's got his priorities.

He said, "It looks as if I'll have to go see for myself what's keeping Else downstairs."
But in the cellar, when he saw them all sitting and weeping and the reason for their dismay was explained to him--about Else having a child and the child growing so big that it would be sent to the cellar to fetch beer and the child would stand right here where the pickaxe would fall on its head and kill it--he cried, "Else is so clever!" And sat with the others and lamented with them.

For a long time the groom sat upstairs alone. As no one returned, he thought: They're waiting for you in the cellar.You should see what's going on.
--this last sentence is so bizarre--him thinking about himself in 2nd person--I translated it as is

He climbed down the stairs and saw all five of them, each one weeping louder than the next.
"What great misfortune has happened?" he asked.
"Oh, my poor dear Hans," Else said, "if we marry each other and have a child and it gets older, and we send it to the cellar to fetch beer, well, look! That pickaxe up there is going to chop off its head! Is that not reason enough to weep?"
"Wow," said Hans, "a more brilliant mind than this I don't need for my household. Since you are such a clever Else, I will have you." He took her by the hand, brought her outside and married her.
--the plot takes forever repeating the scenario with the as yet nonexistent child and the pickaxe but once Hans is brought up to speed, things move fast

When they were married for a while, Hans said, "Wife, I will go work and earn some money. You go into the field and cut some corn so that we can have bread."
"Yes, my dear Hans, I will."
Once Hans was gone, she cooked herself some porridge.
--in German she cooks herself Brei which translates as mash. It might be a very healthy mash made with... what? What did they have in the kitchen if he hasn't been working and she needs to cut corn and mill it to make flour before she can even bake bread? Porridge is poor enough. I don't want to say mash. And of course, it's true, Brei might have been a more substantial dish in the 1800s.

She took her porridge into the field and when she got to their allotment, she wondered out loud, "What do I do? Do I cut the corn first, or do I eat first? Gee, I think I'd better eat first." She ate the whole pot until she was full, and then said, "What do I do? Should I take a nap first or should I cut the corn first? Gee, I think I'd better sleep first." She lay down in the corn and fell fast asleep.

Hans had long been home and Else still hadn't returned. He said, "What a clever Else I have. She works so hard that she doesn't even come home to eat." But as she still didn't come home and it began to get dark, Hans went to see how much corn she had cut. Nothing was cut and she lay on the ground, fast asleep.
Hans ran home as quickly as he could and grabbed a net for catching birds that was hung with little bells and draped it around her. She kept sleeping.
Again he ran home, shut the door, sat on a stool and worked.
Finally, when it was already very dark, clever Else woke, and when she stood up, the bells in the net began tinkling. The sound frightened and disoriented her until she wasn't sure if she was truly clever Else. "Am I or am I not?" But she didn't know what the answer was and stood for a while in confusion.
Finally she thought, I will go home and ask if I am who I am or if I'm not. At home they'll be able to tell me.
She ran to the house door but it was closed. She knocked on the window and called, "Hans, is Else in there?"
"Yes," said Hans. "She's in here."
This alarmed Else who said, "Oh god, then I'm not me!"
She ran to another door but when people heard the bells, they wouldn't open, and she couldn't get any help. She kept running until she'd run from the village and no one ever saw her again.

The end.

What to say to this? I suppose Else can be seen as the folkloric version of a questioning Hamlet--and as such, she's the butt of the story, more ridiculous than practical.
Hans is the one who bothers me. He decides to marry her and then... does he trick her? Is he mean? Is he vengeful?

When I read this story as a child, I could never understand why no one suggested taking the pickaxe off the wall.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

cycling in montreal / lachine canal / st. lawrence river

The weather was grand this weekend and we decided to go cycling.
In Montreal you don't have to leave the city to cycle next to water and trees--and if you take the Lachine Canal path, even some industrial history. The narrow trail here is for pedestrians. The bike path is to the left.

The Lachine Canal was dug in the 1800s to bypass the rapids in the St. Lawrence River, thereby opening the interior of North America to commerce and manufacturing.

Here's a picture I took of Canada Malting last November. The complex has been abandoned since 1989. As a footnote, I became curious about the shiny surface of the silos. They're covered in glazed ceramic tiles which kept the temperature lower for grain storage. The silos are a rare example of this method of insulation. Not rare enough, though, to have kept the factories from being abandoned or, like the Redpath Sugar Refinery farther along the canal to the east, to convert them to luxury condos.

If you cycle to the end of the canal, you come to the wide open river.

From my place, that's about 15 k, at which point you may feel you deserve a treat.

From here you can hook up to the river path and head back toward the city. After about 8 k, if you squint down the river, you might just make out a downtown skyscraper. The other bumps are small islands with trees.

Usually when I do this trip, I go with my all-time favourite cycling buddy.

He toodles along ahead or behind or beside me. Throughout the week he cycles to work--from river level to the top of Mount Royal. The climb is 200 m or 650 ft. When he cycles with me, he doesn't even break a sweat--and I exude enough salt to rival a kosher pickle.
When we get home, he goes for a jog. I rest.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

swinging by the sea / september 2014

September by the sea. The first day was cool. I dressed in layers, though R wore shorts--on principle. By the last day, it was so warm I wished I’d brought shorts too.

I take endless pictures of water. I can't help myself. I take videos, too, so that when it's January and the deep-freeze has set in, I can remind myself of what moving water sounds like.

According to lore, when there are this many clusters of fat berries on the mountain ash trees, it will be a long winter. Except I think Climate Change trumps the Farmer's Almanac, so who knows?

One of the errands we had to do while there was pay the man who cuts the lawn during the months our house sits empty. He keeps the number of times he cuts the grass written in a small notebook. We aren't sure if he charges by hour or by the number of visits. Every year--the longer he knows us--the less it is.
R had gone to the side door of his house to ask his wife where he is or when he'll be back or if she has an idea of how much we owe him--though she always says she can't make heads or tails of his scribbles to do with grass and keys and cords of wood.
I sat in the car, watching a cloud cross the ridge of the mountains. The wind was so high the cloud was moving with the dogged headway of a man who wasn’t late for work, but would still just make it in time and couldn’t stop to say hi to a friend. I could see him want to stop in the way the cloud wisped around the edges. On the clothesline shirts ballooned and snapped. Those weren’t dollar-store clothespins like the ones I use in the city. There must be special Maritime-grade clothespins that grip clothes tight.
I could have gone with R to the door, but sometimes I'm lazy about trying to understand rural French. The wife is friendly and always has lots of gossip—about the boy who lives in the next village who was exorcised when his grandmother's cut-glass sugar bowl and creamer jumped off the shelves and crashed, about the bipolar couple who’ve taken refuge from society by living in a yurt (which she calls a yogurt) in the woods. This year was full of news because—we’d heard it on the news in Montreal—Hurricane Arthur had touched the coastline.
Ramparts of clouds had cleared the mountains, the laundry still hadn’t torn off the line, and finally I got out of the car. The neighbour very nicely spoke more clearly for my benefit. The washing machine chugged beside the door. The house is a large square box with many rooms. Only the two of them live there now that their children have grown up and moved away, but she must have decided that having the washing machine right next to the door was the most practical arrangement for getting out to the clothesline.
Her front windows face the sea and the house across the road where his parents once lived and where his older brothers were born. It looks like a storybook setup, but it's not. It's a real house where a family of four used to live. Right behind the house drops the edge of the cliff. For scale, that's me standing in front of it.

He keeps it whitewashed because tourists stop to take pictures. Once, in Montreal, we saw a calendar featuring scenes from Quebec with this house on the cover and we got it for him. 
She told us her husband was out at his camp cleaning up the damage from Arthur. The rain had come down so hard and so fast that a deluge of water roared down the mountain, tearing up trees, taking the most convenient path which was the old logging road.

Work had been done on the road in the two months since Arthur passed, but we still had to park and walk two miles into the camp. (Canada uses metric, but old-timers, even Quebecois, still talk in miles.)
We found our neighbour working with another man, attaching heavy cables onto tree trunks and hauling them to where he would take a chainsaw to them. The violence of the damage was appalling. He said he had a path of wrenched and crashed trees all the way up through his ten miles of land into the mountains. I was surprised by how specific the path was: gaping holes in the earth where trees had been upended and only a few feet away, a whimsical bridge—built from old barn doors—across a trickling stream.

I don’t look sure I’m going to trust the bridge, but I did.
His camp, too, wasn’t damaged.

He stopped working to give us a tour of his chalet. In Quebec, cottages are called chalets. It's built of recuperated barn board. Inside, it's one large room, about twice the size of the home his parents and brothers lived in, with linoleum flooring, and many rockers and chairs because the whole family—all 26 of them!—come for Christmas supper. There’s a sink with running water that works on gravity (water coming down the hills), a gas stove, several tables pushed together, Christmas lights permanently strung across the ceiling, an oil painting of a deer in the woods.
R supposed out loud that the little white shack behind the chalet was an outhouse. Nope, there was a proper toilet. With a flourish the neighbour opened what I'd thought was a closet door. He was proud of how organized his chalet was.
Beds? R asked. The couch folded out, but it was rare anyone slept there with the big house so close by.

We spent the rest of our days reading by the fire, tromping along the beach and exploring the coastline.

This house is in the village of Sainte-Madeleine-de-la-Rivière-de-Madeleine. Just in case you get it confused with another Sainte Madeleine.

Here I found a kiddie swing and squished myself onto it.