Monday, November 4, 2019

Gaspé Sept Oct, 2019

Although it was a suprise to return to Montreal, and the leaves were still green on the trees after we'd seen the hills by the sea turn orange and bronze with a few flaming red maples--the autumn colours heightened by the fir trees looking all the more green, even black, in contrast--the trees in Montreal are now bare. Most of them. Which is a roundabout way of saying that time has passed, but yes, a month ago we were by the sea.

Some days the sky was wide, open blue, others we had clouds and mist. Some dawns were pale mauve, some tangerine, some grey. Every sunset is different. We walked by the shore--sometimes rocky, sometimes sandy. We walked in the hills.

We worked on the house some more. I painted the small bedroom floor while R sanded the larger bedroom floor which we decided to varnish. (Furniture still to come.) Both of these bedroom had to be made--walls, insulation, drywall, plastering. I've always wanted a red floor.

Our neighbours, who live elsewhere but come to the Gaspé as we do, are gifted gardeners. They grow even fruit trees in a climate* that's generally thought too short for anything but lettuce and green beans. This year they had to return to their winter home before they could harvest the plum tree. Two huge sacks of plums, so I made Zwetschgenmus or plum butter. I've always thought fruit butter was hard to make but it's easier than jam. It gets baked in a slow oven (200F) for 20 hrs. It only needs to be stirred every few hrs and uses minimal sugar. At such low heat, you can ignore it. 

*The climate in the Gaspé is changing as it is everywhere. This past summer there was hardly any rain and the temperatures have been higher for longer periods than previously recorded. That is not good news, since in the winter the Gulf of St. Lawrence doesn't freeze as it used to and the violence of the water is eroding shorelines, low-lying villages, the highway.

Here's me on my birthday. The pic is already outdated since I now have very short hair. We had brunch in Mont Louis, then climbed Mont St. Pierre (430 m/1400 ft). R made supper to have by the fire.

The first pic below is from our porch, which is called a gallery in Quebec. The second is a house up the road that has looked like that for  ten years, including the car. The third is in Percé where we spent a night on our way home.

Here, we were on the way back to Montreal... Picture on the go, from the car.

Monday, October 28, 2019

walking from Kahnawà:ke to Montreal

What are you going to say about today? she asked. Pink blue mauve sky. End of a long day.

We had walked from Kahnawà:ke, a Mohawk Territory First Nation reserve on the shore of the St. Lawrence River southwest of Montreal. We'd just crossed the last bridge to get us back to Montreal. (Adding a few kilometres to the approx 25 we'd already walked.) The others had taken a cab for that last stretch but we lived close enough that it made more sense to keep walking.

She had blonde hair looped in a bun. Earlier in the day her hair was braided. Her background was Hungarian and, also earlier in the day, we'd talked about dumplings. Bread dumplings, spätzle, cottage cheese and plum dumplings. My background is Austrian. One hundred years ago our forebears lived in the shadow or in the glory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Either way, I guessed we shared traditional dishes as conquerors/settlers/indigenous/survivors often do. You can get excellent curry in England. French food in Algeria, Algerian food in France. The destruction of war and bulldozers versus the persistence of kitchens.

My companion was familiar with the dumplings I quizzed her on, but she said she couldn't make cottage cheese dumplings in Canada. The cheese was too wet. I told her Adonis sold dry, pressed cottage cheese. That was the right kind.

Backtrack to dawn: we took a cab to Kahnawà:ke from Montreal. The sun hadn't risen yet. We were going to walk across land from which the Mohawk had been expropriated--in some cases forcibly dragged from their houses--in the 1950s. Why? So that the St. Lawrence Seaway could be built.

The walk was organized by a friend, Matthew Anderson, who is a long-time pilgrim, committed to "bodily territorial acknowledgement", including a 350-k trek across Saskatchewan. See his blog for countless tales, photos, and documentation of long-distance trekking with a pilgrim's sensibility.

Except for birds, Kahnawà:ke didn't seem to be awake yet. Few cars, no people in the streets. A Husky appeared, gave us a once-over, maybe saw we had maps--maps?--decided to be our guide. He made sure we stayed together, kept an eye on the laggards snapping pics. He only left us when we stopped for breakfast.

Our path took us under the Mercier bridge, which I had only ever seen from the Montreal side as a bridge. If you've never had a look under the structures that support what we take for granted, give it a try. That applies to more than bridges.

For the first part of the walk we were eleven, then only seven--and for a while a cyclist bearing apples and trail mix joined us. Where people used to live, now ships the size of apartment buildings drifted by. When we were having breakfast, a ship larger than the diner loomed past. That's how close the Seaway is.
At Friend's (which is how it's spelled on the sign) you get a big old-style breakfast with eggs, home fries, toast, sausage, ham, bacon and beans. If you're looking for it, on Google Maps it's called SunnySide Diner. Kahnawà:ke real life versus Google reality. They have pancakes and French toast too. Real maple syrup.

We each had different, though often similar reasons for doing this walk. By being there, I felt I was showing my awareness that land had been taken--and that ownership of part of the land we were walking on was still disputed. As someone else in the group said, she was there as an ally. It's a small gesture but one I was making with my body. Walking walking walking. Bearing witness with my steps.

For years I've cycled on the bike path along this narrow strip of land that divides the St. Lawrence River and the St. Lawrence Seaway without knowing that once upon a time--not so long ago--there were houses here. People were taken from their homes. Houses were bulldozed. Families were resettled to live within the smaller borders allotted to them. Allotted to them by what power?

My family wasn't in Canada when this happened, but the ones who took the land made it possible for all our families to come here. None of us have clean hands.

As we walked, we talked, formed loose groups, drifted apart, walked alone, formed new groups. Stories were told, some very private. I suspect the meditative pace of walking was making them surface. There were no distractions. Just us, scuffing, ambling, walking along. Polite chitchat has no weight when the land is still, the city is far away--across the water, as we could see--and you have to get there with your feet, your knees, your hips. No wheels, no engines. The trees were having their last burst of glory before winter. It was a time to say what would be said. So that was an interesting experience too--how a sense of companionship is knit between people who have agreed to walk from sunrise to sunset together.

The moment that stayed with me throughout the walk--and still now--was at the beginning when one of our party led a smudge. She had sage leaves in a large, beautiful shell, lit them and stood before each of us so that we could draw the smoke into our hearts, over our heads, our shoulders. We could smell the sage smouldering in the crisp air just as the first long rays of the sun cleared the peaks of the houses of Kahnawà:ke. Light touched the iridescent mother of pearl in the shell, gleamed along its rim like a blessing.

That was my experience of the walk. Those are my feet up top--when I was lying on my back after lunch.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

finishing a manuscript

I took a break from blogging because I was deep into the final edits of a manuscript. I've now done what I can do with it and sent the pages away.

Slowly I've been getting around to all the things I let pile up. Top on the list is clean my desk. Lots of scraps of paper with sentences, scenes, details that were cut and that I never did figure out where to put but was loath to throw away. They've now been swept into the recycling bin. I don't write in pencil so I don't know why there are drifts of eraser rubbings. Or maybe that's what dust looks like when it's been left to accumulate and gets shoved around. I believe I only use one pen--a fountain pen--though there are dozens of pens and coloured markers when I finish picking them all up.

My desk is a boardroom table that I inherited from a friend when he left Montreal. The shelf structure up top is adapted from the design of the desk I used at the Banff Writing Studio in 2007. I was working on a novel with nine points of view. The shelves helped me keep the paper narrative chunks separate. I came home and asked R to build me something similar.

The shelves look sparse now but I've packed away the notebooks and research material I was using. Before long they'll be full again as I start toying with ideas for what I want to work on next. There are already a couple of notebooks and folders. A tantalizing book with "object-based research" in its subtitle.

For a while now I've been wanting to sew some pockets inside my knapsacks. They're never the right size or where I want them. Easier to add them myself. I cut up squares of funky upholstery material, silk, velvet, corduroy.

A friend gave me one of his mother's sarees since she cannot wear them anymore. He thought I might make myself something with the silk, but it's very fine and I worried that my sewing machine would chew it. Ideal would be as little stitching as possible. I backed it with cotton to make a duvet cover.

His mother made the best flaked shark curry. Once we spent a morning alone together when I'd been there overnight. She was unsure what to give me for breakfast. She had no bread. We finally settled on sliced mango.

Dr Alphoneyous Nitpicker needed a new beard since he will be exhibiting paintings at an upcoming group show in October. Originally from Greenland, Dr Nitpicker had an illustrious career as a surgeon and short order cook at the Hospital/Snackbar at the University of Gimli, Manitoba. He's now put his scalpel aside and left Gimli in order to live in Montreal and paint. He is known for his many inventions including a barbecue that also works as a respirator in the ICU, as well as his chickenless nugget machine. The chickens feed chick peas into it. (I am not responsible for Dr Nitpicker. I only make the beards.)

I haven't gone through my filing cabinets for years and thought I would try to thin them. Among the stack of folders I found two would-be novels that I wrote in the 90s. It's been interesting to read them and see what I thought made a story when I was younger. They're mostly interconnected character studies that progress along a faint narrative arc. One is set in Toronto in the mid-80s, details taken from when I lived there as a grad student and later worked in restaurant kitchens on Queen St West. The writing reminds me of the places and the people I knew then. Annex apartments, restaurant kitchens, bars, Queen St W in the 80s, trying to teach bored students who hadn't read the material. I may end up keeping all the folders for nostalgic value.

Another task I'm slowly getting to is painting my very small sewing room. You would think a small room would take no time at all to paint but there are two doors and one long window and wood trim around the ceiling and baseboards. The ceiling is 11' high so there's a lot of climbing up and down the ladder. Rolls and rolls of masking tape. I'm painting the walls pale winter straw. That was the colour I was looking for. The paint name is something else. The pic is before I started.

The list of things-to-do is still longer. Eventually I'll hear about the manuscript I sent off.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

overheard phone conversation 2006

I've been clearing out my office, emptying drawers, leafing through old notebooks, finding notes for story ideas I'll never get to, though it's fun to imagine the directions possible stories could take.
This was scribbled on a bus and pasted in a notebook. Not dated but the previous scribble is from 2006. An overheard phone conversation. Fellow about 20.

Do you have to point out every single thing I did wrong to make me feel bad? I said I'm sorry.
I don't know what you want. I don't know what to say to make you happy.
Like I mean right now.  This fucking conversation we're having. You yelling at me.
Okay, so I'm not very smart. Do you think the way you're talking now is helping to make me smart? It doesn't. You're just making me feel bad. Does that make you happy?
What the fuck! What do you want? For me to chase after you? Fuck!
No, I'm not a daycare. I don't want to take care of you.
You know what, I hate this. I hate that whenever you get pissed off, I'm the one who has to back down.
Yeah, you keep poking me. Digging, poking, digging, poking. What is this? Poke the angry bear?
I'm very angry. You're not making me feel better. I said I'm sorry.
Yeah, right.
No, it doesn't.
Hello? Hello?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

when I am gone...

One day somebody is going to be sorting through my debris and wondering what some of it meant. Or maybe no one will wonder because everything will be dumped into bags and get tossed. Why would anyone but myself feel attached to or nostalgic about a rhomboid of amethyst crystal; a blown glass dish; a stone from a beach in PEI sorta shaped like a heart; a piece of wood from a beach in the Gaspé sorta shaped like a footprint? For sure, I'm the only one who's ever known (or cared) where I found the dry bean pod, why I kept it, or that it's on a piece of weaving I made myself.

And why would I have a prayer book? I'm not religious. I went to a Catholic school from Grade One to Eight, but my parents didn't go to church and there was too much weirdness at the school for the Catholic stuff ever to stick or make sense. 

Yet there's a prayer book with a carved ivory cover, silver filigree clasp, embossed silk endpapers. The book is in German and inscribed to my great-grandmother, Anna, at her christening in 1892. She was about twenty. She'd converted from Judaism to marry my great-grandfather, Jakob.

There are several possible stories here. What did conversion mean to her. What was it like for her living in a small village in Austria during the 1930s and 40s. What happened to her family back in Prague. I know one of her siblings was sent to Dachau because I contacted him in the 1980s and we corresponded for a while. His daughter found me on FB a few years ago. There's also the story of the book itself. I don't mean the prayers but the physical object. The carved ivory cover is hard like heavy china. Who did the carving? Is it hard to carve ivory? Does it crack? How did the ivory get to Vienna where the book was made? And yes, the story of the elephant--probably slaughtered only for the tusks.

All the untold stories like a ghost aura around this book. A puzzle for whoever finds it. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

summer in the city / montreal

Had a great day yesterday, topped with a rainbow over the St. Lawrence as were heading home from a three-hour cycle. The rainbow is faint because the rain was somewhere else. We had a few clouds, mostly blue sky. There was an ice cream at halfway point because I needed the calorie boost to get me home again.

And who's to say you have to go to Mexico to watch dancing on a warm Saturday evening at dusk?

And here, from earlier in the day...
I don't often eat jam, but when I do, apricot is my favourite.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

la Gaspésie July 2019 / paean for low tide

We like waves that swish, swash, swirl and splash. They're hypnotic, sweeping in as they do. We try to guess which wave will be the largest and come the farthest. The roll sweeps in, the undertow tugs back. There's drama in waves and there's more drama at high tide.

But I like low tide too. I can see what lies under the water. I can walk up next to rock walls that I usually only see as a lichen crust in the waves.

We walk farther out--over where we can't walk a couple of hours hence when the water's too deep again. The rocks are crusted with barnacles--those white patches--that crisp and crunch under your shoes. It's like stepping on broken china, except these don't break. Seaweed floats in the tidal pools. Bright green moss. Fronds. Smaller marine organisms. A fellow bent close tells me he sees baby shrimp. I see what looks like a fish with many legs. 

These are barnacles--as well as I could zoom in on them. If they look fuzzy, that's my camera. They're hard as cement and as tenacious. You can't pick them up.

On one of our usual walks along the beach, we come to a river. To get to the other side and continue on the beach, we have to walk along a wharf, up a driveway, over the bridge on the road, down the road for a while, and only finally back to the beach again. The detour takes about 20 minutes. But at low tide, we can walk across the river. Easy! Or so R assured me, standing in the very cold water rushing along at a clip. What you don't see, because we're not standing side by side, is that I'm a few inches shorter. So that very cold water...

But I did it. Gooseflesh legs, feet numb, but saved us the detour.

This isn't rippled water. The receding tide has sculpted the sand. This is low tide.

Here's another day, another beach, also low tide. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

by the sea/ work nonetheless

We're on vacation from the city but working nontheless. At home in Montréal, my office window faces a tree and brick row houses. Here, in la Gaspésie, my office faces the road and the sea. 

R is upstairs with various power tools I try not to hear. He's working on the bedrooms. For a few years now our bed is in a construction zone. Walls had to knocked down, new ones put up. There's still a way to go. The walls have been insulated, drywalled, plastered, sanded and painted with primer.

R has just installed the doors because he wanted to know if they would fit. Both were recuperated from Montréal--one from the sidewalk garbage outside a funeral home, another from our house when we replaced it with a French door that was also recycled.

My work goes more slowly. But the view is grand.

Monday, July 8, 2019

edge of the continent / la Gaspésie / neighbours

R groans, Not another picture of a sunset... So many times I've left my chair and glass of wine or the table just set with supper to dash outside to take a pic of the sun as it's setting. This moment seems perfect, better than any other, and even though I know a camera never gets the full splendour of the sky over water. Then I'm sitting again but this moment looks more perfect and I reach for the camera again. Can't help myself.

In September the sun sets while we're eating. In July the sun still has a way to go, the kitchen where we eat is sideswiped by apricot light from the west. I've understood more about grade school explanations of the sun and the tilt of the Earth's axis from sitting on the edge of the continent, watching the sun go down over water, than I ever did in grade school.

Back at the table, I take another pic of the sun going down, but this time the light is reflected off the covered plate our neighbour has brought because we've just arrived that afternoon and she guesses I might not have made dessert yet. She's right, I haven't. We don't usually eat dessert. She calls what she's made tourbillon, which means whirlwind or vortex. It's saucy and messy with rhubarb, strawberries, and chunks of baked biscuit. I should have taken a pic but it's eaten.