Monday, September 28, 2015

metal angels and sunshine in Verdun, Sept 2015

This morning a friend sent me these two side-by-side photos. They so perfectly match my mood. I've finished going through the copy edits of my new novel, Five Roses, which makes me feel... both angelic and corroded as weathered metal? And I'm looking down the sightline of another marker. Time for us Libras to go sit in the sun.

I regret that I can't get the pictures beside each other but there's only so long I have patience for fiddling with the computer.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

the blog hasn't died / editing a novel

The blog has been neglected but it hasn't died. I will get back to it. For the last while I've been very busy editing this next novel, Five Roses.

Sure, I've already revised and edited and revised again. Multiply that a few more times. But this stage of working with an editor always brings new questions.  Not to mention the tiny, little copy editing marks that question the placement of words and commas.

This is when I discover that grammatical niceties aren't as intuitive as I'd hoped. Well, no, not intuitive as in an involuntary reflex, but intuitive as in acquired at brain-marrow level after five decades of being a voracious reader. Shouldn't I simply know by now? Seems not.

So I discover that there's a difference between "hanged" and "hung"--which I need to know for this novel because there's a hanging.

I already know the difference between "farther" and "further". I had to work with a copy editor once who believed "further" sounded more posh than "farther", and changed all mine to "further". Fine, I thought. From now on, I'll use "further". I assumed it was like "ago" and "earlier". There's nothing wrong with writing "a year ago" but some writers/editors feel it's more elegant to write "a year earlier". (Which sounds needlessly fussy to my ears, but I am steeped in fairy tales where "long ago" is an existential pre-condition.)  Then I had another piece of writing returned from a copy editor with all the "furthers" changed to "farthers". I finally pulled a tome of GRAMMAR off the shelf and discovered--guess what?--that it's not a question of taste. There's a rule! "Farther" is for physical distance. "Further" is the abstract concept. Perhaps you think that I, as a writer, should already have known that but I didn't. Nor, for that matter, did these copy editors who were paid to know it.

This last read-through should be the last before Five Roses goes to the design people. It is so exasperating, because even after having read these sentences so bloody often already, I'm still seeing bits that make me groan. Groan = swearing. Did I really write, "The bus window was so clouded with dirt she couldn't tell if the moon shone"?  Seriously???? A meteorological adjective in a sentence where I already have the moon? Not to mention that "clouded" is namby-pamby gloss on the state of some Montreal bus windows.

Anyhow, I should be working...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

a society of many stripes and hues

It is wonderful to live in Canada where we have the opportunity to come into contact with so many cultures. There is different music and dance, the influence of different literatures and art, exposure to different social moeurs, different ways of dressing, different foods. How restrictive and narrow-minded it would be to close oneself off and live in a world that is only familiar.

I delight in the differences that are available in our society. One particular aspect is FOOD. I've heard it said--don't know if it's true--that a person could eat out every night for a year in Montreal and every night enjoy a different cuisine. For sure, there's a lot. I worked for many years at a hospital with people of various ethnic backgrounds, and was able to sample dishes that were Filipino, Trinidadian, Rumanian, Pakistani, Greek, Haitian, Lebanese, Eritrean, Russian, Bajan, Argentinian, etc. A couple of times, when we weren't busy, someone would pull up an image of a fruit or vegetable on the computer to tell us what it was called in their country. Breadfruit, for example, had many different names and uses. Avocado can be served either sweet or savoury.

It was an honour for me to learn how to make dhalpuri roti from my sister-in-law's mother.

Holidays are times when food takes on special importance. Coming from a western Christian tradition, I'm familiar with Christmas desserts. Note that I, too, am a child of immigrants from elsewhere, so I didn't eat the standard shortbread cookies that are often served in Canada among Anglo families. At our house our mother and her German friend got together a few weeks before Christmas to do the Weihnachtsbäckerei. These are many different kinds of cookies either layered with apricot jam and dipped in chocolate, or formed in an S-shape and glazed with lemon icing, or made with ground hazelnuts and rum, or topped with an almond half, or rolled in black pepper... In our house, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we didn't ham and turkey; we gorged ourselves on Austrian cookies.

As an adult, I've sometimes baked Austrian cookies from the old cookbook my mother brought from Austria when she came to Canada. The cookbook belonged to her mother before her. In the cookbook, one woman makes a check mark next to the recipes she likes. The other makes a cross. Rarely do they like the same one. The recipes themselves pre-date electric mixers and stoves, so the instructions call for beating egg whites for 45 minutes until stiff (with a fork), and to bake cookies at middle heat in the wood stove. 

Fact is, I don't care much for sweets and I don't get excited about Austrian Christmas cookies. R does, but when I make them, he inevitably observes that they aren't as good as my mother's. My feeling about nostalgia is that it's best left alone. Let him remember. 

The Christmas dessert which I do really like is the UK version of fruitcake. Ideally it's made almost a year ahead of Christmas. It's dense and dark and chock-a-block delicious, filled with chopped, dried fruit and nuts, drizzled every two months with brandy or rum, and wrapped tightly again. After a year of this loving, boozy treatment, the nuts have softened, and the cake and dried fruit have melded. 

However, I'm not that organized to make Christmas cakes a full year ahead, which is why mine tend to crumble rather than slice. The earliest I can manage is September. Last week I bought a kilo of dried fruit and almost a kilo of pecans and almonds. I bought all fresh spices which is another September ritual. Baked the cakes last night.  

In my roundabout way I'm saying that I believe living in Canada can only be a richer experience if we welcome many cultures--and we have the space and the means, so I don't understand why our government is making such a piss-poor showing during this time of world crisis.