Monday, September 11, 2023

pizza while waiting for a train / Moncton Sept 2023

Annie was at the Moncton train station three hours early, but that was okay. Better to be there. Her brother-in-law had driven her from St. John. Her sister was supposed to have brought her, but she fainted twice and was rushed to the hospital. Annie had fainted too but she wanted to get home. She had a cute little apartment outside of Quebec City. It cost $1,100/month, two meals a day included. 

She'd been visiting her two sisters in St. John. One had Parkinson's. The other sister--the one who'd fainted--had beaded four beautiful paintings for Annie's birthday. One was of a castle in moonlight, another of two ponies in pink and blue. The beads shone prettily. Thousands of beads in each painting! Her sister had to use tweezers to thread the beads. 

Annie unrolled the paintings to show the two people from Montreal who had also come early because he had to check a bicycle. She told them about her sister and that she had fainted too, once when she was still at her sister's house and again in the car, but it didn't matter. She wasn't afraid to die. Maybe she had cancer or maybe there was something wrong with her heart. She would go to her doctor in Quebec City when she got home. She was going to pin the pretty beaded paintings on her closet and her apartment door. She liked everything to look nice. 

Before she'd come on this trip she had her legs and eyebrows waxed and her pageboy wig washed. She wore rings, bracelets, necklaces--and her short red dress so that people could see the tattoo that curled around her calf. She was 74 years old and still had great legs. She wasn't so steady on her feet, even with her cane, and had chosen her red Mary Jane shoes. She couldn't wear heels anymore. Her brother-in-law didn't like that she fainted in the car but what could she do? He'd brought all her bags inside and left them on the floor in front of the Baggage Check. All she was going to take on the train was her purse and the beaded paintings. 

Monsieur, she called when she saw a man behind the Baggage Check counter, but he said he wasn't ready yet. She knew he wasn't but it was good to let people know you were there. The Montreal fellow carried her bags to the counter for her. The Baggage Check man said there were too many and she had to pay $80. She would gladly pay but she didn't have that much cash and she didn't have a credit card. Okay, the man sighed, I won't charge you. Let me kiss you, she said, but he said that was all right. 

She watched to make sure he put tags on all her bags. She told him about fainting that morning. When he finished, she asked if he could keep her paintings behind the counter because she wanted to go the shopping mall across the street. He said, I thought you don't have money. She ignored that because it was rude.  

When she returned, there were more people in the train station--and they would be there for a while yet because the train from Halifax was late. On the overhead there was an announcement that they still had to wait for more than an hour!  

Jim was excited about setting off on a trip and didn't like how people looked unhappy about the train being late. One lady said she'd booked a sleeper, which was expensive, and meals were included--and when was she going to get her supper now if the train came too late? Hey! Jim leapt to his feet. We're all stuck here so how about we have pizza? It's on me! Pizza for everyone! He fished out his cellphone. How many pizzas was that going to be? He asked if people wanted all-dressed or vegetarian or what? People weren't saying, but he knew how that worked. They were afraid they were going to have to pay. I'm paying, he shouted. It's my job to make sure you're happy. He started turning it into a game, guessing who wanted cheese and who wanted all-dressed. Jim was a bolt of skinny energy with long hair and baseball cap, determined that everyone was going to have a slice of pizza.  

Steve thought this guy shouting about pizza was hilarious. He'd started filming on his phone. He doubted it was going to happen. Look at how he pretended to check the time on his watch--only he wasn't even wearing a watch! What a hoot. Steve winked at other people and shook his head. Can you believe this guy? You bet, he was going to post this on FB!  

Steve was on his way to see Pierre, whom he'd met online and who was going to take him on the big ferris wheel in Old Montreal and show him the Village. Steve hadn't told Pierre that he was afraid of heights. Talking was going to be complicated since Pierre didn't speak English and Steve didn't speak French, but Steve had the Duolingo app on his phone and was going to practice on the train. (Which I can tell you he did, because Steve sat next to us and he had not brought earphones.)  

Nobody in the waiting room thought they would see Jim again once he disappeared to "get the pizzas", but then he burst through the doors with a stack of pizza boxes, paper plates and napkins. He said he hadn't remembered what everyone wanted but he'd got a good selection and he walked from one person to the next with an open box in each hand. He called the men Sir and the women Ma'am or Miss. Not everyone accepted a piece, but when they saw that other people were having pizza and Jim refused all offers of payment, they did. Jim told everyone that it was important to be generous when we could and right now he was the one being generous. We're all stuck here, waiting for a train, so let's make the most of it! 

One woman said she was sorry, she couldn't eat pizza. What she needed was a piece of fruit. But that was her problem, not his, she said. She complimented Jim on being so generous with the pizza. 

Steve had three slices of pizza on a plate on his lap and was asking Jim where he'd come from. Miramichi! And he could tell you everything you wanted to know about fisheries and why you should NEVER eat lobster in Toronto. There had been time in jail too, but he wasn't guilty. He'd taken the rap anyhow, because what could you do? He had no regrets.   

Annie had decided to sit next to Fernando who had sad eyes and looked lonely. When she took a slice of pizza, she offered to give Jim a kiss. That was payment he happily stooped to receive. Have some pizza, she chided Fernando. You have to trust people. We could both die tonight but look at me, I'm not afraid to die and I probably have cancer. She had already guessed that Fernando would sit with her on the train and they would talk until late into the night, telling each other secrets, and that they would fall asleep with their heads touching. She hoped he didn't snore because she'd hated how her husband had snored. Do you snore? she asked bluntly--but hadn't meant to say it so loudly that several people sitting around glanced across to hear his answer. He blushed and said he didn't think so. With such a sweet blush, she would forgive him even if he did. It was only for a night.

At intervals there were announcements that the train was delayed another few moments. People would groan, but now it was a communal, we're all in this together sound. Someone was streaming country and western loudly on the phone. Annie said it put her in the mood to dance. Fernando looked alarmed and she patted his arm and said that was all right.  

Even the woman, who was still expecting to have the supper that came with the cost of her sleeper, had had pizza. Nobody had noticed that Jim had once again disappeared--until he burst through the doors with his duffel bag over his shoulder, reached into it with a flourish and presented the woman who said she needed a piece of fruit with a pomegranate. 

Steve now insisted on a selfie with Jim--and the woman who posed before them with the pomegranate on her open palm. Steve explained that he was filming because he was a musician and his fans had asked him to post a play by play account of his trip. He showed people sitting nearby pics of himself in his sequined shirt. His singing rosary video on Youtube had over a million hits. People loved it!   

Jim did a last round of the waiting room with the remaining pizza. Only once he was satisfied that everyone was as happy as they could be waiting for a train that was late did he sit and take a fat, homemade sandwich from his duffel bag. No pizza for him, thanks. 

The algorithm of country and western music had segued into Christmas songs. The train must have sped up. The last few announcements were that the train was arriving sooner--by all of four minutes since the previous announcement--though it was still over an hour and a half late. Ah, who cared? We would get to wherever we were going when we got there. 

R had cycled from Montreal to Moncton. I had taken the train to Moncton and we'd crossed to Prince Edward Island. We were now heading home. Here is the route he cycled, approx 2000 km.

When you spend 18 hours on a train with the small group of people with whom you were waiting for it arrive, you get to hear their stories. 

Monday, June 19, 2023

a snagged bracelet, gin and wildflowers / la Gaspésie May-June 2023

A month by the sea. 

The light, the water, the sky move constantly. The very first tiny wildflowers were opening. White treacleberry. Purple wood violets. Fiddleheads unfurled, becoming fiddles. Heaps of moose poop. The clothesline-that-needs-oil keen of the blue jays. The white-throated sparrows orchestrating a companionable round of song from high in the spruce trees. A fox leisurely crossing the neighbour’s yard in afternoon sunlight that turned her bushy tail a pale, post-winter gold. The enormous crows. 

There wasn’t as much snowmelt rushing down the hills and the banks to the shore as there usually is. Most years I can’t walk along the beach because the rivulets are too wide and deep for me to cross. 

One day when we were walking we saw a fat log up ahead on the beach. Then the head moved and I thought of a dog wrapped in a thick blanket. A few more steps. Too large for a dog. Too fat for a blanket. We wondered if the seal was hurt and had washed ashore, but she looked inquisitive and alert—even friendly. We kept a respectful distance. Ten minutes later, when we turned and looked back, she’d swum back into the surf.

It is always big news when a new cantine/canteen opens. Frîtes, poutines, hotdogs, guédilles (like a lobster roll but on a hotdog bun and can be made with shrimp or crab and I don’t know what else, I’ve never been tempted), club sandwiches, etc. This new cantine is on the main drag (which is also the only drag) in Mont St Pierre. The cook has hefty tattooed arms, an equally generous application of eye makeup, makes excellent fast food as the crowded parking lot will attest, remembers her regulars and the variations they like. No pickle for you! I gave you extra onion! Except it was the lunch rush and she’d snagged her bracelet on the catch of the screen window she’d opened to set out an order. Maudit! Tabernak! She couldn’t free herself and wouldn’t let anyone help. Her assistant paced in the tiny kitchen but didn’t dare go close. Customers backed up as well as they could in the narrow space, but also not wanting to lose their spot in line. The mayor’s wife, who sat on one of the window stools eating a poutine, got up and said, Let me. You cannot tell the mayor’s wife to mind her own fucking business.

R overheard forestry workers say that in the interior of the peninsula it was 38C. The trees were dry and with so many forest fires elsewhere in the province, people were anxious. We were lucky because the next day it rained--heavily. In some places in the Gaspé, 100 mm came down and there was flooding. 

We attended a community hotdog and pétanque event in Rivière-à-Claude, a village that in 2016 had the debatable honour of housing the oldest population in the province of Quebec with a median age of 59.

The article is called, "The end of an epoque", but in the meantime a group of young people ‘from away’ realized that the broad valley behind the village had a microclimate suited for farming. Bravo! I love these people. Here’s a picture from the farm last summer. 

In the hills there are mountain bike trails and places to camp.  Solar-powered yurts and cabins. 

AND: there are children. Even the oldies in the village who grumble about the tie-dyed clothes and long hair are delighted to hear children laughing and running about. 

Then, with the pandemic, the abandoned houses along the coast that had sat empty for years were bought and are now inhabited. I’m waiting for the next census report.

I spoke with a young man—ie young enough to be my grandchild—whose father bought the old church which they are turning into a gin distillery. I was interested in seeing the inside of the building before everything was dismantled and he offered to show me. He explained the layout they were planning as per government guidelines. Here for storage, here for production, here for receiving clients, and here in the balcony would be la salle de dégustation—the tasting room—with a view onto the sea and the cemetery. 

The confessional and the pews were still in place. The altar had been pushed aside. On an inside cupboard door was a handwritten list for whoever once upon a time prepared the altar for mass. “Placer le ciboire s’il y a des hosties à consacrer. Vérifier lampion…"

We talked about juniper berries and sourcing local legends for names for the different flavours of gin that he planned. I had just spent the week hearing male moose bellow from the forest that they were hot for a female. I said, How about L’Orignal Bandé? Moose with an Erection. He looked startled. I explained. 

Either that was too local for him or he didn't expect a woman of my age to say that. Hm, he said. Maybe.  

There is a long story about an old house that I won't tell here. 

We spotted our first forget-me-nots. The beach peas started blooming. The buttercups. 

The wind changed direction and we got Mordor sunsets.

Back in Montreal now. 

ps I apologize for the change in spacing and size of font, but Blogger has become increasingly not-user-friendly.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

first story published / a new novel

Up there, where someone has painted SCRIBE? That's where I met the editors who published my first story in 1992.

It was an apartment, not an office. Drafty and cold, minimally furnished with sidewalk leavings. I remember cigarette smoke. We sat in the kitchen. Stephen Evans and Keith Marchand had started a magazine called errata. On the masthead they wrote, "An IBM or Macintosh format disk is appreciated." That's how long ago 1992 was. 

I had typed my story, revised it as well as I could, and sent it off into the world with an SASE. How often have I done that since? Only now it's online via Submittable. I keep track of what I've sent where in a little notebook. I'm still using the same notebook. 

I've googled Stephen Evans and Keith Marchand + writing + publishing, and get no hits. Where are they now? I only met them that one time and I don't think errata made it past the first few issues, despite their enthusiasm for keeping it going long enough to be able to get government grants. 

When I go to the Jean Talon market or textile shopping on St. Hubert, and walk home along St. Laurent, of course I glance at the modest building where two guys whom I didn't know, who weren't friends or family, told me I'd written a good story they wanted to publish. Validation from the world, small as it was. That meant my words existed--for real!

How funny that all these years later SCRIBE shouts from the wall. FAVOP too, but I don't know what that means. A name? 

The words weren't there a couple of months ago when I last walked past. What are the chances that someone involved with writing or publishing lives there now? Maybe those brick walls radiate vibes that someone felt should be advertised. They would have needed scaffolding or ropes to do it. 

I've never stopped writing, though I am slow. Life gets in the way. I rewrite more than I write. The public aspect of being a writer in today's world gives me the heebie-jeebies. I have no playlist I want to share publicly. And yet, in my slow fashion, ignoring a heap of rejection letters that should have discouraged anyone sensible, I continue to write since it's what I most love to do. Characters and their stories absorb me.

And so: I will have a new novel coming out with Freehand Books in the fall of 2024. I'm happy. I raise my glasses to SCRIBE.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

needle doodle / "N'importe quoi"

My neurologist asked years ago if I doodled. I told him I didn't. 

A little scribbling while I'm talking on the phone? 


On the corner of a list? 


When my writing isn't going well and I've already got a pen in my hand? A little cross-hatching, maybe a few circles?

Definitely not. 

Big sigh. There was a study that claimed all migrainers doodled. 

That did not prompt me to go home and start doodling. Doodling is something you do or you don't. 

A couple of months ago, a children's toy and bookstore in Westmount closed. A friend went in and discovered that the store also stocked beautiful embroidery thread from Germany that the owner was selling at a huge discount. My friend bought some for herself and some for me. 

I've embroidered in the past but never seriously. I like the textural look of embroidery. I go to textile museums and admire embroidery. I have a large textbook of embroidery stitches. I like working with yarn and with textiles. But to actually sit down and do embroidery?  

I decided to see what this lovely coloured thread looked like if I stitched handmade paper. I have some from a paper manufacturer on the Lachine Canal called Papeterie St. Armand. They've been around since 1979. If you want to buy excellent, handmade paper, I cannot praise this place highly enough. 
Since I'm not an artist, I get the N'importe quoi scrap bags. 

I LIKED stitching paper! Heavy paper lends itself to stitching a design much more easily than fabric that has to be fastened to a hoop. 

I liked it so much that I walked up the hill to Westmount during a snowstorm to get more of this gorgeous embroidery floss. The store was closing the next day and the owner said to take as much as I could carry. She wanted to give me a large box but I was walking. I also didn't know how much thread I would ever use. 

What a mistake. I should have stuffed my knapsack because I don't just like embroidering. I LOVE IT. Especially with these rich colours. 

Those blank moments when I can't figure out where my writing is going next? I sit on my pea-green chair in the window and stitch a rosette chain or a few Palestrina knots. I get out my oil pastels for a change of texture. I sneak into R's studio and do some finger painting. 

I can now tell my neurologist that I doodle. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023


For as long as I've known R, he's drawn cartoons. I have one he did of me radiating menstrual cramps in front of the Eiffel Tower. It's an ugly portrait but it's in the nature of cartoons to exaggerate and I was having a seriously ugly day. It's my memento of Paris. 

Recently a friend started a cartoon/comics course. She's enjoying it and was showing me what she was doing. 

As we talked, I remembered that R once asked to me to write a story for him to illustrate.  Years ago. I'd completely forgotten. I wrote the story in a couple of hours and there's not much to it. At that point I hadn't read any graphic novels yet. I assumed it would mostly be about the drawings. 

R always has a few projects on the go and I didn't know he was working on the drawings until he showed them to me a year or so later. He'd painted approx 120 frames.  

Unfortunately--though perhaps understandably for a writer--my reaction when he showed me was not to see the paintings, but that he'd included the messy first draft of the story I'd given him. I'd thought he was using it as a guide, not putting it in the cartoons. I said he needed to let me revise the wording. He said it was too late. I was in a state of writerly pique that he hadn't respected my work ethic. We argued.  

Fifteen years passed and I was having a beer with my friend who was showing me the project she was working on for her course. When I came home, I asked R if he remembered that story he'd illustrated. He wasn't sure he still had it. He found it on Weebly where it's been hiding since 2007. 

Now, when I look at it, I see the drawings. They're a record of a neighbourhood where we used to live in the late 90s--that doesn't look like that anymore. The cobbler who used sit on a kitchen chair on the sidewalk. The tatoo parlour.  

The story is thin, but at that time I was still figuring out a lot about writing myself. I still am. I also didn't know how serious R was. Next time--if there's a next time--I'll write a better story. And I'll revise it before I give it to R. 

If you're interested meet Scribe: 

Merci, D, for reminding me!

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

the last noodle

I didn't cook noodles tonight so I don't have a pic with any bearing on this story. I'll show you a heart because hearts are my thing. Most of you have hearts that beat the way they're supposed to. Mine doesn't. Ça va, I'm still alive. 

This heart was stitched with glass beads and nylon thread by Sarah Maloney in 2008. I believe I took the pic at the McCord Museum in Montreal. 

Whatever I was doing in the kitchen this evening reminded me of the woman who told R (who told me) that she often felt like the last noodle in the pot. You know how there are always a couple of noodles stuck on the bottom of the pot? What did she mean? What does that feel like?

I've always wanted to add this to a story and never found the right place. 

So before I forget, I'll put it here. If you can use it, it's yours. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

taking the train / winnipeg to toronto jan 2023

On the very last days of 2022 R and I travelled to Winnipeg to visit our friends whose boys we've known since they were babies. All but the youngest is taller than I am now. 

The weather was mild, considering that we were in Winnipeg in the winter. Only about -8C. For a few days there was no wind and the hoarfrost was impressive. 

We walked for long afternoons and into the dusk, often on the Assiniboine River, once on the Red, also on smaller rivers where one of our young friends who's enamoured of ice fishing set up his equipment that now includes a sonic device he built himself. I have to admit I wasn't paying as much attention to his enthusiastic explanation of its workings as to moon that was visible at 2:30 pm.  

I lay in the snow a lot because it makes a firm mattress that moulds to the body, and cold through my coat feels delicious when I'm overheated from trudging along for a couple of hours.  

To return to Montreal, R and I took the train. I wasn't sure whether I would like a 38-hr trip, but R convinced me with his sketches from a previous trip. I wanted to see winter in Northern Ontario. 

How far north does the train go? Farther north than the Great Lakes. 

And although it's a long trip, I could walk around--as I often did--and eavesdrop on the pockets of talk around me. 

The train was LONG. Three locomotives to pull it. The conductor sometimes let us get off at stops or when we had to wait for freight trains to pass. There were also lots of stops for the smokers. I jumped around a bit, stretched my back and legs. 

The smokers complained when the train stopped and they weren't allowed to get off--but the woman who was accompanied by her psychiatric service dog could. They understood that the dog needed to pee, but boy oh boy, they'd better not look out the window and see her smoking!

I sat and wrote here because it was quiet and the endless trees were good companions. Between somewhere and somewhere a man parked himself at a table and tried to chat up the young woman who worked at the snack bar. He told her about his job and she told him that someone had broken into her apartment and that her mom was in the hospital. Then it was his stop and he disappeared into the night. 

There was a woman who engaged everyone who walked past, including the conductor. I never saw her leave her seat, although she was already installed in a nest of blankets when we got on in Winnipeg and she was going all the way to Toronto. A couple of hours before Toronto, she did a full makeup procedure with a hand mirror. She was obsessed with cost. When someone said they had an apartment in Red Deer, Alberta, she wanted to know how much they paid for rent--and were utilities included or extra? She asked people what they did and how much they were paid. She asked how much a coat cost. When the person sitting across from her returned with a sandwich from the snackbar, she wanted to know how much it cost. She had a long phone conversation  in Spanish about the cost of a house in Nicaragua. I avoided looking at her and she didn't ask me anything. 

A man got on in the evening and was calling family farther south to tell them that yup, yup, yup, he was on his way. He kept the phone on speaker so I heard that people were disappointed that he wasn't underway sooner. I gathered someone was very ill. They told him he should have taken the bus (which runs more frequently than the train). At one point he misdialed a number, heard the person's voice who answered and tried to say it was a wrong number and hang up. The person said, Jim, is that you? Are you okay? Have you quit yet? Jim said he'd been trying and he was grateful for all the help the friend had given him, but with all his might he couldn't manage. He'd tried, oh he'd tried, but the plain fact was he liked smoking. 

I have a sense of what it means to live far from an urban centre since R and I spend a couple of months every year on the northeastern coast of Quebec. But: we don't live there year-round and there's a HUGE difference between a 6-hr, a 16-hr, and a 26-hr drive to the nearest large hospital. 

Some might use Costco or a concert hall for reference, but for me the essential is a good cardiology department. 

There was a woman travelling from Alberta to work as a cook in a "bunker" in a place she called Alsace. When she said we were only an hour away, I looked it up on the map. Elsas. She'd worked as a cook in mines and lumber camps from Alberta to Ontario, but called Alberta home because that's where her daughter and grandkids lived. I don't know whether she was a good cook or not, but she was travelling 3000 k to get to this job. 

ps When I say I looked it up, I mean one of those rare moments when we were near a cell tower. Outside of towns, northern Ontario is off the grid.  

The second evening on the train, I wanted a beer and had come to the lounge with R. On previous visits I'd noticed the two men who sat separately but spoke with each other in a language I couldn't recognize. R guessed Turkish. They were delighted to see that beer was available, which they may not have known if they couldn't read the menu. They went to the snack bar to get themselves beer and snacks. When they returned and realized we had no snacks, one dropped a handful of nuts on our table and the other Pringles. This was very friendly and kind, but technically there was a virus out and about, and they had both touched the nuts and chips with fingers that were going back and forth to their mouths. 

We decided that acknowledging their kindness and was more important than hygiene. We ate the snacks.  

Here's a better pic of the Sky Lounge which I believe was designed to see the country--through the Rockies, across the Prairies and northern Ontario. It belongs to the train that does the Vancouver to Toronto run. 

Hey, VIA, it would nice to have an observation car like that for the train from Montreal to Halifax too! 

Slowly slowly slowly the train made its way southward. 

R and I still had to catch the train from Toronto to Montreal (550 k) the next morning. I had booked a room close to the train station at the Radisson Blu. The lovely reception clerk asked where we'd come from and gave us an upgrade to a studio with a fireplace (electric) on the top floor overlooking the lake. Very nice. Thank you, Radisson!

And yes, R sketched on this trip too. Here's our breakfast of tangerines and coffee. Coffee from the snackbar. We brought the fruit. 

For a more rambling, irreverent version of the trip including the part where R travelled by bus from Toronto, our trip to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and his thoughts on the books he was reading: 

Note that we usually have different takes on 'what happened'. That's just how it is.