Saturday, December 23, 2017

last errand of the day / montreal Dec 23

Snow falling, almost dusk, and we've got one more errand. It's got nothing to do with the holidays or tourtière or chestnuts or last-minute gifts or coloured lights. All of that is done. The beans (for the tourtière) are baking.  

We're looking for a squeegee to clean the shower stall because the $$ store squeegee we had broke. So where do we go? To the $$ store. It's easy. There, people are cruising the aisles with carts. The last Saturday before Christmas. I cast no aspersions. We're there too.  

There is no squeegee--called un squeegee, even though the proper French word is raclette--so we head to another store much similar. They, too, have no squeegee but direct us across the street to the hardware store. 

It's an old-style store where you tell the owner what you want and he or his daughter go behind the counters to look through their stock. He not only has squeegees, he asks if we want to use it for outdoor windows or the bathroom. He spends a while looking. His daughter goes to help. They know they have the bathroom ones. They even describe them to us. They have white plastic handles. They're either over here, or over there, or behind this, or maybe in that box. 

We look around in case we can see them, though stock is piled to the ceiling and I suspect you need to belong to the owner's gene pool to understand where to begin. There are door handles, plumbing elbows, brooms, boxes of shoelaces, anti-freeze, chocolate bars, rolls of carpet. A cream pitcher stuffed with plastic combs flanked by a few Elvis LPs. A bubble gum and a jelly bean dispenser. 

By now, several of the outdoor squeegees have been found and R picks one. It costs $3. 

We don't need a bag but the owner tells us he's ready for the municipal law supposed to come into effect in January when stores in Montreal are no allowed to give out plastic bags. He's got paper. He's all set. He can even remember when he used to tie purchases up with string and he can do that too.

We walk home through the snow sifting, drifting, falling. 

Happy holidays!

Dec 24: news from the bathroom. Outdoor window squeegees don't work on shower stalls. Nor does raclette cheese. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Gaspé Dec 2017 / Slush Puppie waves

I'd described to a friend how I was standing at the window and watching the waves on the shore rolling in slow-mo. Sorta thick. Then I went down for a walk and saw how the rocks left exposed at low tide had a coating of ice.

At high tide the ice gets smashed, making slow, slushy waves.

Which made me wonder if the inventors of the Slush Puppie drink happened to be hanging out by the coast in the winter.

We walked in the hills and found a summer cottage where someone likes to have the salt breeze on the very edge of the cliff dry their clothes.

We walked up the side of a mountain. About 300 m/1000 ft high? The range behind our house are called the Chic Chocs. They're the end of the Appalachians.

The neighbour wasn't able to do any work on trail last year. It only takes one summer for fir trees to start to grow and storms to knock down trees. By next year, it won't be possible to climb up there anymore.

I was behind R who was following moose prints. Moose prints in snow are surprisingly delicate and mincing, given the size of a moose. R's are bigger.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

old houses / the Gaspésie

When we were in the Gaspé last week, we took a trip farther down the coast to the tip of the peninsula to visit an old house. The question was whether it was a Sleeping Beauty to be woken or a dump to be demolished. Cedar shingles, planks, a crumbling chimney--but when chimneys are that crumbling, they can easily be knocked apart. What a gorgeous piece of land! That's the first from-the-road assessment.

Closer up, the house is thickly entwined by tenacious alders and dogwood. Luckily no thorns. Sometimes life is kinder than fairy tales.

We had to scramble and climb as well as we could through the branches. Some had even tried growing into the house.

R, ever the optimist when it comes to potential, pointed out how straight the walls were.

However, we weren't the first to come exploring the house. Boards had been pulled away, glass broken, plastic ripped.

But an elegant lamp stand as a bemused survivor.

This door, smashed, was on a mudroom. No big deal. But note the grasping branches. I was wondering how hard we might have to fight to establish our presence in the house.

Despite weather and neglect, this door is still upright, straight, and thick. Painted cheerfully once upon a time. It's the once-upon-a-timeness that fascinates me about the look and structure of old houses--all the while I'm asking myself whether we can get modern plumbing and a little more wiring than the two fuses currently in the tiny electrical box.

Inside, it's true, there's a mess because whoever broke the windows was as rough with the boxes and furniture. But again, as R says, look at the tongue and groove walls. Look at the ceiling.
 Close up, too, some of the garbage could be seen as treasure too.

There's an open Monopoly game, ready to be played, propped on a retro chair. The chair and the furniture in the house are from the previous, not the original owner. We think the house was built in the 1920s because of the newspaper still pasted to one of the walls upstairs.

Newspaper--and horsehair when available--was typically used for insulation. These papers aren't dated but have ads for flapper hats, including this one of a kimono called a "coolie coat". In silk.

Walls upstairs have been knocked out so that there are only two large bare rooms and we can see the original boards which are frankly gorgeous. Also the darling stairway.

The stairs are a little on the tiny side, treadwise, but people used to be smaller. The stairs aren't as narrow as in the house R has been working on for the last few years. It's still not finished but eventually it will be. We don't get there often because it's a 9-hr drive from Montreal. This new old house is 2 1/2 hrs farther. R is looking ahead to retirement when the distance from Montreal won't be such a hindrance.

Here's a map of the Gaspé peninsula in relation to eastern Canada. West of the Gaspé across the water lies Newfoundland. The name Gaspé comes from the Mi'kmaq Gesgapegiag which means Land's End.
Below that, a closer view. The new old house is the red dot. Purple X marks the old old house.

The distance between the two houses is 150 k but it takes two and half hours to drive because along that stretch are mountains and the road twists and winds with steep climbs and drops onto open water. A real-life rollercoaster ride.

The new old house is on a thin perimeter of land next to Parc Forillon, a national park. Here's the view from an upstairs window and a view from the backyard.

This will be R's third derelict old house. But the previous two have been/are still being made comfortable to our liking. Our liking is simple. We don't need heated floor tiles in the bathroom. A functioning bathroom is sufficient.

With this new old house, we weren't sure whether there was ever plumbing until R was looking at the pics I took and he noticed that my shot of cat prints had a pipe that might lead to a well. ???

This, on the back of the house, would clearly need to be torn away--but again R is optimistic. Look at all that wood!

I also have to admit that I'm not sure about the stability of a house which is propped up on beams and stones. Although the house has been standing in the face of Maritime gales since the time of flapper hats, so...

Some people worry about old houses and ghosts. In the last old house there were Satanic paintings on the dormer ceiling in one of the bedrooms. There can certainly be a sense of unquiet presence in house that's stood empty and neglected for years. In our old house in Montreal, I was convinced there was a dead body under a grave-sized heap of gravel in the dirt cellar and I made R dig to the bottom to assure me there wasn't.
If there are ghosts in this house, I guess they announced themselves to my camera. Looks sort of welcoming, no?

For me, these old houses are writing related, whether as a place to hole up to write or a place to write about. And maybe one day (if we solve the plumbing) other writers will brave the twisting, climbing road through the Chic Choc Mountains and come stay there too.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

river bathing / Gaspé November 2018

Aren’t we lucky to have this river nearby so we can wash when the pump in the house breaks! 

We always have this time of suspense after the long drive from the city and Dr N goes down to the cellar with jugs of water to get the pump used to the idea of being a conduit between the well and house again (this is calling priming the pump), but this time, though he tried and tried, and used up all the jugs of water, the pump didn’t—couldn’t?—oblige. 

There was no pressure. Maybe a leak in a pipe? Dr N got out his scalpel, sawed off the pipes, took them to the local hardware store for new ones. Hm… fellow said. Used a scalpel, did you? And advised him that heating the new pipes in warm water would make them more pliable. Easier to saw, I guess.

But it wasn’t the pipes.

A neighbour said he thought it was the clapet, which is French for…? That happened to someone else’s pump, so maybe it’s what happened to our pump. If that was the case, then we needed to dig to the well. No one's digging wells at this time of year with snow dusted across the grass and more to come any moment.

We’ve had problems with the pump before but previously our neighbour who’s a plumber has come to our aid. His curtains are closed, doors locked. We assume he’s on vacation somewhere warm where the water isn’t gun-metal grey and the sun doesn’t set at 3 pm.

Our week in the country might have gone bust—despite the long drive to get here, despite the crackling of the woodstove, the roaring of the sea at night, the sofa with view on a horizon of water, the heaps of food we brought, including persimmons, avocadoes, homemade pesto, gnocchi, yogurt, dried cranberries, brussel sprouts, clementines…

We reminded each other that we’re Canadians and every Canadian has wilderness camping experience, right? Wilderness camping means hiking into the woods and pitching a tent and hanging your food from a string between trees instead of stowing it in your tent where a nosy bear or porcupine might come looking for it. It means not washing for a few days or washing under a waterfall or in a lake or river. It means pulling down your pants and crouching over anything that doesn’t look like poison ivy or nettles, and trying not to pee on your shoes. Wilderness camping comes with the red and white maple leaf flag. So what, the wind chill is -18C and your labia are cringing?

We drove a little farther along the coast, from one scantily inhabited village to another, looking for a dépanneur that was open on a Saturday evening--not easy now that all the summer people have left the coast and even the locals flee when they can. But it’s hockey season and this is Quebec. Some déps have to stay open for people to buy beer.

We bought a mega-jug of spring water for drinking. For washing, we have the river fed from a spring in the Chic Choc mountains. Real not bottled spring water, though the real version comes with the odd spider or beetle.

Dr N very kindly offered to bring some jugs of icy water back to the house to heat on the woodstove because I’m not as hardy as he is about river-bathing in November. That’s him in the car lights, equipped with cycling headlamp, Fair-Isle hat, and gumboots.

Footnote: our neighbour the plumber wasn’t off smoking hand-rolled cigars in the tropics. He’d only gone to Rimouski for a few days to take advantage of the Black Friday sales and visit friends. He looked at the situation in the cellar and agreed that it was the clapet. He’ll come with his back hoe when we return again next summer.

That we didn’t have running water at the moment didn’t concern him. As he pointed out, old houses along the coast never did. He grew up without running water. He gave one of those Gallic c’est la vie shrugs.
Me too, I know. My family used to spend weekends and summers in a one-room cabin my father built. We didn’t have electricity or running water there. We had a Coleman lantern and the creek.

I’ve been thinking of times when Dr N and I travelled. It was common to see water trucks in Mexico stopped in front of houses that must only have the water supplied from a tank they had to fill. I’m remembering, too, how scarce water was in Morocco and Tunisia. The squat toilets. Once I stopped at a sidewalk stand for a glass of fresh-pressed orange juice. I didn’t think about the glass I was given until I was drinking the juice and watching the boy chatting up customers. He only had a small bucket of dirty water where he swished his store of three glasses between customers, dried them on a stained towel. Well of course, what other access to water did he have on a sidewalk? Disposable cups weren’t in his budget. I had a moment of squeamishness but the juice was delicious and I’d had my shots before leaving home. Water was scarce.

I remember, too, how we stayed with my Tirolean aunt and grandmother in the old Zorn house in the Alps. A pipe had been installed to bring water into the kitchen (though not out; it drained into a bucket), but there was no bathroom. Every day I had a washcloth bath from a basin. I complained about my hair being dirty—I was younger then, more secure in my inalienable privileges—but my aunt and oma paid no mind. UNTIL I was about to leave my mountain family and travel across Austria to my more well-to-do, town family. It was no longer a question of my comfort but family reputation. My aunt and oma decided to send me off bathed and with clean hair. They built up the fire, heated pots of water, rigged up blankets for privacy, hauled out a tin tub. What luxury!

Yesterday when Dr N and I had a drive farther down the coast (see next blog post), we stopped a couple of times to make purchases and each time used the bathroom and lavishly soaped and rinsed our hands in warm water that gushed from the tap.

My hair looks clean enough here, no?

Monday, November 13, 2017

death and cemeteries

I'm writing a story about death. It's not a sad story. But it is about death.
Thinking about the story has led to interesting talks with R who works in a cemetery.

So it can happen that when we're in another country, we visit cemeteries. Not to look at famous people's tombstones, but simply to see how it's done.

We were remembering Cuajimoloyas, a small village in the Sierra Norte mountains in Mexico. A man who passed us in the road asked how many hours it had taken us to get there from where we lived. I said we'd come the greatest distance by plane. He said to include that too. I tallied up the hours of our trip from Montreal to Mexico City to Oaxaca--by plane--and the drive to Cuajimoloyas. He grinned hugely, delighted to inform me that his son who had gone to Japan had travelled even more hours! I was as delighted to tell him he was right.

While we were there, we took a walk in the cemetery. At one point I heard voices and we discovered five men digging a grave. One was in the hole with a spade and shovel. The others sat nearby, talking so that he wouldn't be alone in the hole. They were surprised and a little annoyed to see white tourists wandering through their hallowed ground. I told them that we were having a look-see because R worked in a cemetery and wanted to see what theirs looked like.

They wanted to know how their cemetery compared to the one where R worked. I said the trees were different and that it wasn't possible to dig holes when the ground was frozen. I don't think they believed me when I said how high the snow could get in Montreal. I said machines were used to dig our graves which they didn't think respectful of the dead.

They asked how big R's cemetery was. A million dead, I said. Un millón muertos. Whoa!!!! They crossed themselves and gaped. They wanted to know if R wasn't terrified to be among so many dead. He told them the living were more of a problem. They liked that. They said it was okay if we took a few pics. We wished each other un buen día.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

visiting Ontario / memories (mine) of the 70s

If you've never heard the song "Signs" (1971), have a listen. It begins: "And the sign said Long-haired freaky people need not apply / So I tucked my hair up under my hat and went in to ask him why..."

The musicians called themselves the Five Man Electrical Band and they're from Ottawa. "Signs" was their international hit that sold over a million copies--back in the days of 45 rpm discs. A 45 had one song on one side, another on the reverse. You put the disc on a turntable and lowered the needle. Or if you had a more expensive turntable, you pushed a switch that raised, swung, and lowered the needle automatically. If you wanted to listen to another song, you removed that disc and put another on the turntable. Am I dating myself?

I've been looking at the pictures I took while in Stratford and Hamilton, walking by Grindstone Creek and the shore of Lake Ontario, and visiting St. Mary's. I took a lot of pics of signs.  

Some are obvious, some absurd. This sign was over a storefront that was abandoned. I wonder why.

Some sings are so obvious that they're absurd. What would warm-scooped ice cream be?

Some are memories like this one because it's the street I lived on for a year or so while at McMaster. It was a low-ceilinged attic apartment over a folk singer and pianist who was blind. I don't recall his name but we heard him perform in coffeehouses and festivals. I liked hearing him practice below us. That would have been in the late 70s. Before I moved to another attic apartment on Hollywood Rd where I looked into the parking lot of a Tim Hortons. Another Canadian institution. Or used to be before Burger King bought it in 2014.

Here's a sign from what's now a microbrewery but used to be a coffeehouse in Stratford. I'm pretty sure I saw Stan Rogers perform there, though it's possible I heard him at Smale's Pace in London. One memory that's definitely from The Black Swan is that it was the first place I ever tasted a toasted whole wheat sandwich with peanut butter and banana. I returned home, bought peanut butter and bananas, and lived on that for the following two years. I made my own bread. Of course. It was the 70s.
They don't serve peanut butter and banana on whole wheat anymore. But very good beer!

Did you ever wonder where the original barber was? I found him. Unfortunately I didn't take note of the address. He might be in Hamilton.

Another hair sign--in Stratford.

Which makes me wonder why more hair salons don't refer to Rapunzel? She's their folkloric heroine, no? It's their story.

I'm pretty sure this was a car wash--it looked like a car wash--but I don't see the rapport between calling a car wash a dog wash. Does there have to be a rationale behind putting a name on a sign? Maybe not. Maybe it was a dog wash with self-serve, coin-operated bays. For dogs.

Memories of a tasty quesadilla lunch.

Does graffiti count as a sign? You bet. Though in this case I think I was taking a pic of the old wooden shutters. Age, too, was what attracted me to the metal sign still in place for a launderer.

I'm posting this one because the angry man behind the counter told me I couldn't. He seemed to feel it was illegal for me to have a camera in the market. What if I were competition coming to check his prices. I told him I was not. But what the heck. Even if I were. It was a market, not his living room.