Sunday, August 27, 2017


I was in the park drinking a takeout iced decaff. Late afternoon light with that pinkish intimation that the leaves will soon be changing colour. I was sitting on a low concrete wall that circled a green area of plants and bushes. I hadn't bothered to take off my knapsack because it wasn't heavy. Green beans, a few Ontario peaches, a bag of peppers. In the event you ever want to buy peppers in Quebec, the French word for the vegetable is piment, not poivre which is spice pepper. It took me a few years of living here to realize I kept asking for the wrong kind of pepper. There were other people sitting nearby or walking through the park. I was listening to an audio book. Yes, I listen to audio books, and no, I don't consider it cheating. I listen carefully and repeat chapters if I feel I didn't do them justice. Listening improves our ability to retain what we hear. Of course, I still read print books as well. I only mention that I was listening to a book so you understand that I wasn't attuned to peripheral activity.  

So that was the scene: me listening to something no one else could see, sipping my drink, aware that there were other people in the park, but mostly oblivious.

I felt a tug on my backpack and walloped behind me for all I was worth. I'm not tall nor heavy, but I have a lot of intent. I jumped up, ripped out my earbuds, whirled around and geez! A boy, maybe three years old, was lying on his back in the plants, bawling. I wanted to help him up--make sure I hadn't hurt him--but he did not want me to touch him--no surprise--and WHERE was the responsible adult???

Until finally a woman got off her phone and began hollering and barrelling down on me with a stroller where she had a baby. The boy scrambled up as soon as she got close enough. So good, he could move. I hadn't broken his back. English? Français? I asked. She was scolding him now in... my good guess would be one of the many varieties of Arabic. Français, she said coldly, dusting off her child, as annoyed with him as with me for having brought this incident upon them. Truly, I explained, I had no idea there was a child behind me. He pulled on my knapsack and I reacted. She said it was all right and wanted to wheel her stroller away, but the boy was still tearful and frightened of the nasty white woman, and I didn't want to leave it like that. I got down to his level and explained that I hadn't seen him. I just felt this great big strong yank on my bag and it frightened me! I thought it was a wolf in the park! I thought it was a monster who was hungry and wanted my groceries! I invented a few other scenarios, stretching my French fairytale vocabulary to the max. Maybe his mom thought I was crazy, but he was finally grinning and gave me a big wave when I backed away and waved at him.

So... I will probably still sit in the park listening to audio books, and woe to whoever tries to steal my green beans and Ontario peaches.

Here's a young friend who agreed to share his snack with me. I don't send all kids flying.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

staying sane


Crazy world and busy days. I keep myself sane with small accomplishments. This year is the first I've tried to grow garlic. I planted it last fall and harvested it a couple of weeks ago. It's been hanging--curing--in an old cupboard where I store a table loom and a 1950s Westinghouse fan.

Back to work...

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.