Wednesday, December 30, 2020

walking / halloween to winter solstice / montreal / tiohtià:ke

I walk most days. It's a slow way of seeing the world--and my world, like most everyone's world these past many months is circumscribed. Yet still so much to see. 
 From where I live in the southwest or sud-ouest of Montreal, I can walk along the St. Lawrence River--or even cross it. I can follow the Lachine Canal past the standing wreckage of factories, past the new condo projects. I can walk through St-Henri with a nod to Gabrielle Roy. There are still houses left that she would have seen. I can walk to Westmount, to NDG, or over the "mountain". (No one with family in Austria can see Montreal's little hill as "a mountain". It's what? 233 metres. I just looked it up. The very minor peak behind the house where my father grew up is ten times that height.) I can head over to Old Montreal or uptown, though I haven't done the latter very often these past months. (Once, when I decided that fleece-lined leotards *were* an imperative, essential item, and so I hiked up to Simons and bought three pair.) 

This bridge, called Pont Samuel de Champlain, is a cable-stayed bridge, opened in 2019 to replace an older bridge. Two summers ago, when we cycled to the south shore, I took a pic from underneath both bridges. The old one wasn't dismantled yet and the new bridge had just opened. Or maybe it hadn't yet.  
The new bridge is 3.4 k long and has 8 lanes. It's not yellow. That's late afternoon sunlight. You can see it like this from the eastern edge of Nuns' Island or Île des Soeurs. 

We knew a monk who called nuns "women religious". Not religious women, women religious. Is the word "nun" perjorative? Hm. Maybe he wanted to be known as a "man religious". 

I don't take many pics of dogs because their people are so possessive. Why do you want to take a picture? What are you going to do with it? 

The dogs don't mind. Look how proudly she sits, giving me her best profile. 

Cats are much easier. They don't give a damn. If they do, they give me their backs or they walk away. 

I have only ever seen this underpass, next to the Lachine Canal, in shadow. This year I happened to be walking here a couple of days before winter solstice at 3:30 pm. The sun was low in the sky, about to set. At that hour, at the solstice, the underpass gets sunshine. I would like to think--though I highly doubt it--that it was planned. Is it possible that a city engineer hailed from Newgrange and/or had a sense of humour? 

Along the top of the underpass are the railroad tracks heading to and returning from Ontario, Kingston, Toronto, Hamilton, Stratford... places where I hope to go again some day soon. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Christmas without children

Someone, whom I don't know very well, expresses surprise when I tell her we have a Christmas tree. 

You put up a tree? 

Why wouldn't we?

You don't have kids. 

Ah. That small and comparatively harmless opinion about people who don't have children. We don't--we can't--really have Christmas. What's Christmas without kids? How often have I heard that?

I say "small and comparatively harmless", because it's not on the same scale as ignorance about ethnicities, religious beliefs, class privilege, gender identity. 

But for people, who cannot have children for various biological reasons and who want them badly, comments like this hurt.

Back to our Christmas tree. I have some ornaments from my childhood, now rusted around the edges, that I hang on the tree. My real-life retro trinkets. Somewhere I have a photo of myself as a kid next to a tree with those same shiny balls.  

Holidays are for anyone who wants to celebrate them, no? If I want to make latkes at Chanukah, can't I? Light candles for Diwali? Be happy about Chinese New Year? 

More than the ornaments on our little tree, I want the coloured lights. The days are short and grey, especially this year with spending so much time at home. Coloured lights are a trick, no more than a few strands of brightness, but they cheer me up.  


Sunday, December 13, 2020

post-industrial dreams / art/ play

A character in my novel Five Roses squats in one of the towers of an abandoned industrial complex along the Lachine Canal in Montreal. 

I don't identify the building in the novel, nor is the architectural layout exactly alike, but in my mind I thought of Canada Malting. Among the derelict edifices along the canal--many of them still there in the years when I was writing the novel--Canada Malting was the only one with towers and silos as high as I imagined my characters climbing. 

Important in the novel is the watchman's cabin, which reminds Rose of her cabin in the woods (and reminds me of the cabin my father built, where our family used to spend weekends and summers).  

I was delighted to notice a year ago that the watchman's cabin on Canada Malting (still abandoned) was refurbished with a coat of pink paint and windowboxes. This year, for Xmas, an intrepid group of artists have painted the shed behind the cabin red and erected a Christmas tree they decorated. This has even made the news. (Something other than Covid-19!) The article is in French but have a look at the closeup photos and drone footage of the pink and red cabins and tree. The gift box is addressed to St-Henri, the neighbourhood below Canada Malting.

As a footnote: take pictures when doing research. It's good to have them!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

in dumpling we trust

A dim sum diner, I know, but the sign makes me think of dumplings I've had in Austria, that comforting staple you can make with bread, potatoes, herbs, browned onion, smoked bacon, even plums and apricots. If it's round and it comes on a plate, it is probably a dumpling. 

You make bread dumplings by ripping old bread into little pieces. If the bread isn't old enough, let the pieces dry out. They have to soak up eggs, milk, a bit of oil to make a dough. Add parsley, nutmeg, whatever chopped herbs you have on hand. You shape balls about the size of a small orange. My Tirolean aunt shapes the whole mass into a single ball that she wraps in a tea towel, boils, and serves in slices. It's called a Tea Towel Dumpling. Serviettenknödel. Some dumplings have fillings. The German word for dumpling is Knödel, though different regions have their own pronunciations and pet names. Ditto across borders in Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia, Poland, and maybe even wider afield. 

Did I ever tell you what happened when I wrote a short story about plum dumplings? I had a character, an old Austrian grandmother who still believed the anti-Semitic propaganda she'd learned as a young woman. I modelled her on my oma whom I only met a few times, but each was memorable. The best was probably in her late 80s when I introduced R. She didn't trust anyone who wasn't Austrian but I had been born and grown up in Canada, and presumably I hadn't been able to find an Austrian to hook up with. She stumped across to him, hand raised to measure the span of his forehead, which he gamely withstood. Her verdict? Gut! Have children with him. Another time she asked me with some disdain if I had ever met a Jew. I told her that I worked in a hospital that served the Jewish community. I had once had a boyfriend who was Jewish. I had friends who were Jewish. She screwed up her already considerably wrinkled face and asked how I could stand it. They smelled. This was astounding coming from a woman who held that you risked pneumonia if you took a bath--and so didn't.

In the early 2000s I decided to write a story in which a fictional Austrian oma came to Montreal, where she was charmed by her granddaughter's Polish Yiddish neighbour. They met when they were sitting outside, taking the sun on side-by-side, wrought-iron balconies. I knew they would be able to understand each other more or less because I can understand Polish Yiddish more or less. I wanted them to have a meal of dumplings. 

I had already written the story when it occurred to me to confirm that my Polish Yiddish gentlemen would be familiar with plum dumplings.

As it happened, there was a patient at the hospital who was Jewish and Polish. His wife frequently approached the desk to find out when he might be going for a test or to have me tell the nurse he needed pain medication. She was nice and I asked if she would mind a personal question. Did she know what plum dumplings were? I had my eyes on my hands as I described how they were made. A whole plum was wrapped in dough that was made from cottage cheese. The dumplings were simmered and then rolled in browned, buttered breadcrumbs. Only then I looked up. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. She said this was the last meal her mother had made for them before they were taken to the concentration camp.

I was appalled that I had awoken a traumatic memory. I was freaked out because that was what happened in my story when the granddaughter makes plum dumplings to serve her oma and her Yiddish neighbour.  

I apologized but the woman told me she was glad I'd reminded her of how her mother used to make plum dumplings. She hadn't thought of it for a long time. She thanked me. 

So yes: In dumpling we trust.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

walking at dusk

It gets dark earlier and I am often still out on my afternoon walk at sunset and dusk when the light effects are so interesting. 

The first pic I took was along the Lachine Canal with the abandoned Canada Malting complex in the background. When I posted it on FB, a friend commented that it looked like an Arthurian castle. It *is* a post-industrial castle. And if it deserves a fairy tale, as another friend suggested, then I offer Rose and Leo's romance in my novel, Five Roses (Le rosier de la pointe), since this is the abandoned factory where I imagined Leo squatting.  

In the second, I was looking over my shoulder at the sky--then saw the two places of worship: the steeples and the lit sign of the Dollarama. 

At the Five Roses flour mill, the doors were open and we saw milled flour being funnelled into an enormous container truck. The funnels were as large as small rooms. You could smell the flour in the air. 


Monday, November 2, 2020

studies in white

I walk through the less-travelled streets of the city during less-travelled hours when my 2-metre space is less likely to be disturbed. 

So many Covid-abandoned storefronts, some simply abandoned, some making a statement. 

Why is one mannikin posed like an Ingres? What does the other face the street, crotch exposed, yet face hidden by a piece of paper? 

This was hanging in the window of a closed physiotherapy office. The effect is happenstance I wouldn't be able to repeat if I tried. The light, the angle, the empty black space, the reflection from the street behind me.  

Will my valiant geraniums that have survived repeated attacks by squirrels  throughout the summer survive the first snow this morning?


Saturday, October 31, 2020

colours for a hat /body memory

Looking through my bin of yarn remnants to see if I have the colours to make a hat.

I knit like a European because that's how my European mother taught me. The yarn that feeds the needle is looped around my forefinger. I move my wrists to knit. Most North Americans I've watched knitting scoop one hand around the needle with every stitch. To me that looks so labour-intensive. But that's how they learned. 

Body memory has its charms. The whole point to  knitting (IMO) is not to think. It's hand meditation.  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Gaspé / la Gaspésie Sept-Oct 2020

So much to see and smell and feel and taste and hear and delight in. The swoosh of the waves, the sea air, the changing colours, wet leaf mulch, the crunch of kelp. Hiking along the shore, hiking in the hills. Stooping to pick up stones and beach glass. Even when you're wearing socks and shoes, you go to bed with sand between your toes and in your hair.   

A hundred Canada Geese wheel from the sky to descend, exhausted from wherever they've flown from, still far to wherever they're going next. They land in a field of straw-yellow stubble. Black, white and gray against gold. Their long necks. 

The full moon rising from behind the low mountains, between the tops of the spruce trees. The flat cloud that slices across its nose.

Pierre Paul, who cuts our grass when we're not there so that the house doesn't look bandoned, heading off down the highway on his red tractor. Red plaid shirt and red baseball cap, blue sea behind him. 

The statue of the Virgin Mary who used to stand with her arms spread as if to show off the roses planted  before her, but the bush has grown until all you can glimpse is the crown of her head and the tips of her fingers. 

A crow hopping across the ground like a robin. Exactly like a robin. Such mimics, crows are. 

A new kind of gorse, springy and tufty, with tiny tiny tiny flowers that open when the sun shines. I stoop to the ground and see the intricately pleated lavender petals. The yellow pistils. 

The sharp angle of autumn sunlight that cuts a boulder of granite, taller than I am, into a stark mask of light and shadow. 

… So much that I didn't take pictures of except in my head.

Friday, September 25, 2020

older, wiser, younger versions of myself

A while ago I asked R if he would give me the paintings he's done of me. I love these older versions of myself in different places where we lived or travelled. I am honoured to be with someone who sees me in a way that I can look back at who I was. I recognize myself. 

Even the grotesque cartoons. I've included a couple of those too. 

A park in Outremont near where we had an apartment.

This one looks yellow because it's in a room with not much light and it's too large to take off the wall. There's another version below.

Where am I sitting? Where else? In the Gaspé.

As far as I know, I never wanted to be a ballerina, but I've got this one over my desk. 

Same armchair as above. We salvaged it from a sidewalk and had it reupholstered, but I always regretted the scratchy, beige upholstery fabric that I let the upholsterer convince me we wanted. The chair was eventually returned to the sidewalk. Within an hour, it had found a new home.  

In the background, my table loom. 

I have been known to drink wine. 

Paris. I'm wearing an old suede jacket that used to be my father-in-law's. He was short. I saw the jacket on top a pile of clothes for the charity bin. I asked if I could have it. R and I went for a walk in the woods. When we returned, I saw the jacket on the clothesline. His mother had put it in the washing machine to clean it for me. Years later, when I took it to a drycleaner, he winced and said someone had put it in a washing machine. 

I wore it for decades until seams started to rip. I've now cut it up into pieces to use for patches. 

This was done on the back of a hotel bill from when we were in Florence in the 80s. Total bill was 84,500 lire. 

I had excrutiating menstrual cramps and was in a foul mood. (In case you can't tell.)

Paintings by R aka Robert Aubé aka Dr. Alphoneyous Nitpicker. I'm not married to Nitpicker, though I sometimes (increasingly) feel like I might be living with him.