52 weeks – July 22, 2012

Books

Sunset Park, by Paul Auster. I listened to Auster reading it himself on CD. The characters are complex and believable and the prose is fresh, free of cliché and stereotyping. It’s set in 2008 USA, in Florida and New York. Auster is similar to Updike in his ability to zero in on time and place through a myriad small details, but he has his own rhythms.

Themes: harsh economic times, sexuality, awareness of the body, relationships (lovers, parents, children), remorse. It makes you think about the moments that make up a life, the ways people relate to one another, and the intolerable physical pain that comes from having made a very big mistake that can’t be undone.

Miles’ father, Morris, has waited seven years for Miles to come home:

He has done it three more times since then, once in Arizona, once in New Hampshire, and once in Florida, always watching from a place where he couldn’t be seen, the warehouse parking lot where Miles was loading crates onto the back of a truck, the hotel lobby where the boy rushed past him in a bellhop’s uniform, the little park he sat in one day as his son read The Great Gatsby and then talked to the cute high school girl who happened to be reading the same book, always tempted to step forward and say something, always tempted to pick a fight with him, to punch him, to take him in his arms, to take the boy in his arms and kiss him, but never doing anything, never saying anything, keeping himself hidden, watching Miles grow older, watching his son turn into a man as his own life dwindles into something small, too small to care about anymore …

… and now that Miles is living in Brooklyn, out there in Sunset Park next to Green-Wood Cemetery, he has come up with another character, a New York character he calls the Can Man, one of those old, broken-down men who forage among dumpsters and recycling bins for bottles and cans, five cents a bottle, five cents a can, a tough way to make a living, but times are tough and one mustn’t complain … and when the Can Man speaks, more often than not he will punctuate his remarks with absurd, outlandishly inappropriate advertising slogans, such as I’d walk a mile for a Camel, or: Don’t leave home without it, or: Reach out and touch someone, and perhaps Miles will be amused by a man who would walk a mile for a Camel, and when the Can Man wearies of his advertising slogans, he will start quoting from the Bible, saying things like: The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north, it whirleth about continually or: And that which is done is that which shall be done, and just when Miles is about to turn around and walk away, the Can Man will push his face up against his and shout: Remember, boy! Bankruptcy is not the end! It’s just a new beginning!

Food

The three-course fixed price dinner at Arms Reach, sitting on the patio on a summery evening. Baked brie with pear compote and crunchy pita. Mustard-seed-coated salmon with mushroom risotto. Raspberry crème brûlée. A Quail’s Gate wine flight to go with dinner: a Chardonnay with the brie (I don’t normally order Chardonnay but it worked well to offset the richness of the brie) and a Pinot Noir with the salmon.

Musical

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at the Stanley. Zachary Stevenson is absolutely excellent as Buddy Holly. He is better looking than Holly — but he can’t help that — and he channels Holly’s half nerd, half quintessential rocker, personality and musicality extremely well. The music is great. The story pulling it all together is, well, secondary.

Local original rock’n’roll DJ, Red Robinson, does a nice voice-over cameo.

I knew I was going to enjoy  the evening on the way in when a man behind me in the lineup started singing “Rave On,” and everyone else started jumping around and clapping along. Sometimes, the audience is just perfect.

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Not watching hockey

As a person not born in Canada, I have integrated pretty well, I think. I know the words to the national anthem in French as well as English. I can name the strengths and weaknesses of several politicians at the federal, provincial, and even municipal level. I understand some of the complexities of our love/hate relationship with our cousins, the Americans.

But I have completely failed to understand the national passion for hockey. I don’t get it at all. I am not a sports spectator anyway, though I have of course spent countless hours watching my children’s soccer and softball games — but that’s a parental requirement. Sport as such leaves me cold. And ice hockey is a particularly alien concept: fast, loud, frequently violent, and played in a cold and unfriendly environment.

I know there is something going on right now called the playoffs. Exactly what that is I couldn’t tell you, though I assume it’s some kind of end-of-season championships. But it means that even apparently normal Canadian men and women get caught up in playoff madness: needing to know the score, being elated when their team wins and cast down when it loses, criticizing players and debating endlessly what they should have done differently, and wearing hockey shirts, surely the ugliest garment ever designed, in public.

Pubs and casual restaurants that have big-screen TVs are intolerable locations during playoff time. But even if you avoid them, you are not necessarily safe. I have friends who have downloaded an iPhone app that gives them regular updates on game scores — I am lobbying to have the official list of Deadly Sins increased from seven to eight.

Of course, home is a hockey-free zone. But you have to be careful when going out. During playoff season so far, I have had to hide in artsy venues and the kind of restaurants where food and conversation are the twin priorities. I have:

  • been to a performance of Ruddigore, the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta, performed by the North Shore Light Opera Society at Presentation House Theatre;
  • attended  my daughter’s school play, an episode of Blackadder where she played Baldrick;
  • listened to Marc Destrubé and Alexander Weimann play Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms sonatas, courtesy of Early Music Vancouver, at the Unity Church on Oak;
  • listened to Jeremy Fisher and The Wailin’ Jennys at the Chan Centre;
  • dined at Les Faux Bourgeois, the Avenue Grill, and Osaka Sushi.

And —  success! Not a single televised hockey game at any of those locations.

Faux friends

Again this year, I have a collection of Christmas cards from businesses. What can you do with them? It’s one of those dilemmas of modern life. I am not going to display them along with cards from people I actually know, but it seems slightly inappropriate to throw them out right away. So I keep them lying around on a shelf for a month or so and then put them in the recycling.

I had a phone call the other night. It was from a friendly young women, a current student, on behalf of my alumni association. My telemarketer radar didn’t kick in right away, as she wanted me to update my contact information; this seemed legitimate. When I told her my email address, it seemed to naturally trigger a question about where I worked now. I hesitated but I had been lured in and now didn’t want to seem rude. Don’t you hate it when a complete stranger puts you in that position?

I reluctantly answered a question or two, which put me in the further weakened position where she could move on to ask about supporting a deserving organization. Now I attempted to regain control by asking her to email me the details.  We played the usual game: if I pledged something over the phone, I could change the amount later on (actually, she suggested I could increase it later on). At this point, I could say no — she was not my friend; she was just another person asking for money.

Well, I suppose some of this is inevitable. I am part of the consumer culture. I am in far too many databases: many of them by a kind of choice. I know collecting all those loyalty cards comes with a price: you get discounts but you provide information. And part of the price is that complete strangers know my name. Obviously, studies must have shown that people in general respond to the more personal approach.

Then there is the other side of the coin where people tell me their names. Perhaps it all started with the Keg waiters saying, “Hello, I’m Bob: I’ll be your server tonight.” There was a time when serving staff at medium-price-range restaurants were pleasantly anonymous, but no more.  Maybe someone noticed that a server got more tips when we knew his name.

But I want businesses to apply more sublety. I want them to distinguish between a friendly but businesslike manner and a false friendliness. Customer relationship management has become customer relationship invasion and far too many faux friends are invading my personal space.

Sixteen to sixtyish takes less time than you think

When I was sixteen, I had a boyfriend with a motorcycle — a Norton 650SS. It was a fast machine and I used to cling onto the back as Bad Boy Boyfriend accelerated along the straight and cranked it over into the turns.

One day, inevitably, the bike flipped on some loose gravel and I went the other way. I came to on the ground with an oddly bent right leg. A passing nurse splinted it with her umbrella and I was carted off to hospital in an ambulance.

I had broken both bones below the knee and there were several loose fragments. Today, I suspect, I would have had an operation to tidy things up a bit more. But this was a long time ago. The bones were reset twice and then the surgeon decided it was good enough. I spent the next six months in plaster. The first cast was up to the top of my thigh.

Imagine the calendar flipping over and pages blowing away … Years and decades pass.

Now all those years of use, and probably that long-ago damage, have combined to make my right knee a problem. I have minimal or no cartilage, depending on which specialist you listen to. I will have to have a knee replacement soon or maybe not for a while, again depending on the source. I definitely can’t walk downhill much any more.

I attended an arthritis assessment clinic recently. After I had got over the shock of the large-print letter reminding me to bring ALL my prescription medications with me and to wear my “normal comfortable walking shoes” (what?!) and the shock of the clinic’s location (Google Maps told me it was between the Seniors’ Activity Centre and the Lifestyle Retirement Communities), I found it was actually helpful and the staff were not patronizing.

But, oh dear. Where did the years go? Only yesterday I was a motorcycle mama and now I am, if not actually a grandmama, well and truly old enough to be one.

BC Generations Project: one way to spend 90 minutes

heel

My bone density, as measured from this heel, is in the green range! That means I currently do not have osteoporosis, which is good news for a woman of a certain age like me.

A friend told me about the BC Generations project. Over four years, the project aims to collect information and biospecimens (sounds exciting, but it just means blood and urine samples) from 40,000 people in British Columbia.

bcgplogoThe idea is to collect data that will help researchers understand how genetics, lifestyle,  and environment contribute to diseases like cancer. Well, why not? I thought. It may help my children and their children. It may help people I’m not related to. I made an appointment.

I went to the Gordon Leslie Diamond Centre on Laurel at 12th Avenue, a bright, two-year-old building. These things are important to me: I find it depressing to attend medical appointments in dingy old buildings. Okay, perhaps it’s a shallow attitude, but it makes a difference when attendance is optional.

Staff were friendly and professional. The computer program being used was fast and well-designed. You answer questions about your and your family’s medical history, and questions about food intake, caffeine and alcohol habits, etc. You get to take home the measurements done at your appointment (lung function, body mass index, waist measurement, bone density, etc.), with a guide showing the healthy range.

When you go through the permission form, you find out that the study will be keeping records on participants for the next 25 years. It’s a little sobering to wonder what my record will show in 25 years’ time.

I consoled myself for those thoughts with a delicious grilled tomato and bocconcini panino from the café on the main floor (one serving of vegetables, one serving of dairy products, two servings of grain products (not whole-grain, though).

The Whimsical Piglet

PigletFor the last few years, I have been searching for The Whimsical Piglet. Written by Hilda Boswell, published in London, England, in 1948, it was a favourite book from my childhood. I remembered that Septimus was so called because he was the seventh son of a seventh son and that he was musical.

Some childhood memories are  surprisingly powerful, even when they are fragmentary. A wistful phrase or two from The Whimsical Piglet would occasionally dance on the edge of my memory: a house “tucked away amongst the hills;” the “music of the wind and the rain.” I regretted the loss of the book but didn’t ever expect to find a copy.

A few years ago, I realized that with the existence of Abebooks, BookFinder, Amazon, eBay, and so on, there was a good chance I might be able to find one. It took a couple of years before an entry showed up on Abebooks. I immediately sent off for it, hardly flinching at the exorbitant price for a book described as:

No date listed, probably 1948 therefore the First Edition (printed in accordance with economy standards). Original grey cloth boards with green titling to front, minus the dustwrapper … Black and white illustrations illuminate each page, plus 5 full colour plates. The boards are grubby with small tear top of the spine; rear hinge pulled but pages intact; neat inscription inside … page 35, closed tear and corner creased plus one other crease …

The condition didn’t matter. This might be my last chance to find the book.

It arrived earlier than I expected. Opening the package was exciting. The book was smaller than I’d remembered, but the grey cover and green titling were immediately familiar and the text and illustrations revived more of those half memories.  I had forgotten the verse:

The seventh child of a seventh child
Is not the same as others;
He’s whimsical and odd at times,
And different from his brothers.

I had forgotten that “Septimus became famous throughout the countryside, even beyond the hills that encircled his little world, and even to the hills beyond those hills.”

And here I am, removed far beyond the hills where I grew up and removed by quite a few decades as well. How amazing that I can reach back in time and conjure up an artefact from my early life. What a magical time we live in.