Monday, November 30, 2015

Canada's oldest newspaper

Don't look too closely at the image. Then answer without stopping to think. What was Canada's first newspaper?

Image of first issue from the Canadian Encyclopedia

If you said the Montreal Gazette, the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, or Le Devoir, you'd be wrong.

The Halifax Gazette was first published in 1752, 115 years before Confederation. It would have come out sooner, if there had been any local news, said publisher John Bushell. Technically, it's still alive, after morphing into the Nova Scotia Royal Gazette, a government information publication.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Horizonless vista

The weather is only lightly clouded, but what little cloud there is has obscured the horizon completely.

Memory assures me it lies just beyond that outcrop of land, but disorientingly, it remains shrouded in mist.

This blurred transition reminds me of how I've been feeling the last while. I know where I've been, and that I'm no longer there, exactly.

But what is coming next, and when will it arrive? At present all I can see is the blurred horizon of change, shrouding a new phase, the precise shape of which remains invisible, until the clouds dissipate.

Meanwhile, I hold to patience and faith.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Mystic fishermen

On a misty afternoon, the eye cannot descry the horizon, nor can it identify the fishermen.

This gives the picture a mystic feeling.

For as long as men have walked the earth near lakes, rivers and seas, they have gone fishing to gather food from beneath the waters.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Gulls behave as if at a formal affair

Approaching the party of gulls at White Rock Beach, I'm surprised by the formal seating arrangement. Males and females alternate as they would at a Victorian dinner. All are decked out in evening garb. The males seem to wear serious expressions, along with their grey suits and white shirts. The plumage of the lady gulls is soft, their colours sober, understated.

Gulls are sensitive to the click of a camera; some members of the party had left before I could snap the picture. I imagine them at table. Dinner is about to begin but one female is in the powder room and a last minute arrival is seen practically skidding in to his place.

As for the two at the near end, they've flouted custom and seated themselves. The hostess will be obliged to request that they switch places before the meal.  

Thursday, November 26, 2015

One leaf caught in the act of falling

To create the autumnal carpet we see on the ground, each individual leaf must part company with its tree.

The leaves let go and fall one by one.

This one was caught in midair by my cell phone camera at the park on Kits Point.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Willan Choir celebrates a centenarian

Helen, who has sung with the Willan Choir for 36 years, celebrated her 100th birthday last week.
On the right, she shares a laugh with Choir Director Patricia Plumley. Helen also did Tai Chi into her eighties. She knows the value of song and laughter in promoting healthy longevity.

The Willan Choir will perform both on its own and with other massed choirs on Friday, November 27, at 7pm in the Atrium of Building B at Vancouver Community College. All are welcome to come and hear our choral renditions of a variety of Ave Marias by Brahms, Dvorzak, Haydn, Arcadelt, Rachmaninov, and more. The last will be sung in Russian, the others in Latin.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Falling into the sky in Bear Creek Park

On a recent walk, we enjoyed looking over the bridge rails into this backwash. Sometimes, there are beavers; their dams are visible.

Owls have been known to roost in the nearby cottonwoods, possibly preying on the rabbits.

Buffleheads and mallards are often seen diving for food and kicking up their orange feet.

On this day, the reflection of the sky looked so inviting we felt we could fall into it.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Seeing through fresh eyes

Each year around this time, I enjoy sitting in this lovely room at Hycroft, listening to music performed by choristers and harpists.

This year, sitting on the partner sofa of this one, I soaked up the sun streaming in through the window.

My position was also perfect for seeing the carved eave of the old house through the top pane.

From where I sat, I noticed how that pane was reflected perfectly in the shiny surface of the coffee table.

However, the window was so full of light from the sun and the lamp that the picture hardly does justice to the very special perspective I enjoyed from the cozy couch.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Atmosphere of the past at Hycroft

Patterns of moss on the wall surrounding Hycroft Manor, home of the University Women's Club of Vancouver.

The iron gate, the high wall and the rampant ivy that enclose the private garden evoke other places, other times.

The Christmas Fair continues till Sunday evening.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Kerrisdale Bell Ringers at Hycroft

The Hycroft Christmas Fair is an annual event I haven't missed in many years. Our annual pilgrimage began when my daughter was young and went on until she left home for UVic, and even after that. Now I go with a friend or alone. The lovely old house, the decorations and the variety of Christmas music continue to appeal.

This was the first year ever that I got to the fair on opening day. Thanks to the bell ringers, who played there only on that day.

I'd always wanted to hear bell ringers, but had little idea of what to expect. It was impressive. With two bells each, these four ladies played an amazing variety of carols.

Meanwhile, back at Kerrisdale Community Centre, there's a whole lot more bell-ringing going on. Jean, the leader of this travelling Christmas bell ringing troupe told us with a gleam in her eye that the bell ringers, "an orchestra really," played all kinds of music and had "chimes, drums, mallets, lots of things." Unfortunately, a lot of the instruments aren't too portable, and a lot of venues can't host such large numbers of performers.

But let me tell you, after having our ears delighted by the small travelling Christmas quartet, next year I intend to go to the  annual home concert. This year it's on December 6, but we were already booked. Meanwhile, the harps, choirs and fair continue until Sunday evening at Hycroft.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Six year blogging anniversary

Image from British Council

One of my earliest blog posts was a cooperative effort. Silvia Pandini, a teacher from Brazil, was brushing up her English in my ESL class. "I will if you will," she challenged, and so we promised one another. Together, we posted a piece she wrote called "Teachers and Mills." The original was in Portuguese; Silvia translated her ideas; my contribution was to make the English smooth.

Silvia returned to Brazil soon after. But the blogging bug had bitten me, and I carried on. At first occasionally, then weekly and bi-weekly. A couple of times I tried to quit, but I missed the new opportunity to formulate my passing thoughts in words. For the past three years, this has been more or less a daily discipline. I post on books I've read, and also on non-fiction subjects that require time-consuming research. Meanwhile, I have other writing projects.

Recently, I was about to quit blogging again when something strange happened. For the first time in ages, I went ego-surfing and saw, to my astonishment, that "Carol Tulpar blog" is now a search term. The Google algorithms appear to have noticed me. Does that means I should carry on?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Wily O'Reilly

Image from Patrick Taylor author site

A retired medical specialist, Dr. Patrick Taylor has been writing all his life. While practicing medicine, he wrote textbooks and edited a medical journal as well as contributing a regular humour column in Stitches: The Journal of Medical Humour, keeping his readers laughing at the antics of the lovable reprobate, Ulster GP Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly.

After retiring from active practice, O'Reilly grew and developed as Patrick began his fiction career in earnest. When his tenth novel in the Irish Country Doctor series came out in 2015, fans were unsurprized when it followed its predecessors onto the New York Times and Globe and Mail bestseller lists.

Throughout the novel series, the crafty WWII naval veteran protagonist, village GP Dr. O'Reilly is described through the point of view of Dr. Barry Laverty, who is first his locum, and later his partner and friend. The books bring to life a typical though fictitious Ulster village from before WWII through the post-war period, casting light and shadow on every aspects of life in Ballybucklebo.

The Wily O'Reilly (Forge, 2014) is a series of vignettes about the same crusty widower, selected from earlier humour columns. Now middle-aged and self-confident to a fault, O'Reilly is devoted to his Jamieson's whiskey, his widowed housekeeper's cooking, and to making sure the patients never "get the upper hand."

Fingal O'Reilly is a "classical scholar, bagpiper, poacher, hard drinker, and foul-mouthed country GP." The first time his foil, Dr. Taylor, reports for duty as a locum, he observes his new employer: a large man, "six foot thirteen'' with "the shoulders of Atlas." The fact that his nose tip is "an alabaster white" turns out to be an omen of the doctor's anger. Indeed, at this moment, he is propelling a hapless young man out the door for showing up with filthy feet. A moment later, the doctor pleasantly informs the prospective patient that although surgery hours are over, he'll wait and see him if he washes his feet and returns within an hour.

After this startling juncture, the new locum is obliged to introduce himself. Timidly, he asks, "Doctor O'Reilly?"

No, ripostes the other, "John--bloody--Wayne."

As he shares his medical experience with Dr. Taylor, O'Reilly confuses his hapless locum by habitually speaking in bizarre non-sequiturs. He also involves his unwilling assistant in a series of ludicrous adventures and schemes, many of which the young doctor foresees will end badly, adding "And yet his patients loved him, and I suppose in time, so did I."

Taylor's humour is refreshingly light. Though he refers in passing to darker subjects like war, disease, and social inequality, he does so in an oblique fashion, often by larding his tales with linguistically lush and bizarrely exaggerated military and sporting similes. After explaining how the landed gentry purchased, raised and "coddled" their pheasants, he then goes on to describe shooting season when the "bewildered birds...flapping fearfully in full flight," are set upon by "hordes of happy hunters" who blaze away "with all the enthusiasm of Montgomery's artillery during the warm-up to the away match at El Alamein."

His description of poaching follows. He makes much use of alliteration, here using the letter p (once characterized by Margaret Atwood as the funniest in the alphabet). This avian theft by "lesser mortals" was "frowned upon by the upper crust" who historically "spent considerable resources to ensure that vast tracts of Australia were populated by platoons of penurious peasants who'd purloined or pilfered privately purchased pheasants."

Exaggerated though these tales are, the book carries us warmly to a past time and another place, where pints are sunk at the "Mucky Duck," a pub that serves stout to dogs but where women cannot go, and where the Christmas pageant is disrupted by a fainting nun who, along with the rest of the audience, is scandalized by a young actor who happens to be Fingal's nephew. Miffed by his demotion from the role of Joseph and grudgingly playing the part of the innkeeper, he invites Mary to come into the inn but tells Joseph to "feck off."

For this infringement, the sinner is catechized to stop him swearing and made to eat his meals standing up for an extended period. He also has his pocket money stopped for three months. Ere long, the intrepid child overcomes this hurdle when an unexpected business opportunity presents itself, allowing him to rent his school cap to other boys sequentially, for reasons I will not reveal.

The Wily O'Reilly is of a different style and format from the novels, which are historically accurate and more serious, though still warm in tone and filled with funny moments. Having finished the vignettes, I look forward to choosing one of the two that wait on my chair as we speak.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Dreaming about dreams

Image from Lonely Planet

Last night I had a dream about Hong Kong. The place looked and felt familiar, and I recognized it without a trace of doubt. I'd been there before; I knew it from a previous visit. When I arrived at the hotel, looking down on the pool and across at the green hills was a kind of homecoming.

The strangest part happened after I woke. Lying in bed enjoying the memory of my travels, I realized that the place had not been Hong Kong. I did visit that city in 1983, but the dream place was somewhere else. Yet where? It was none of the real places I'd been, yet it was familiar.

In the end, I was convinced that the dream place was somewhere I'd visited in a dream before. This nocturnal sleep journey was a dream of a dream.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Your Body's Many Cries for Water by Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj

Image from amazon

This amazing book, originally published in 1992, was reissued in 1997, 2004 and 2008.

Dr. Batmanghelidj was born in Iran in 1931. He prepared to be a doctor in Fettes College Scotland and St. Mary's University Medical School at London University and practiced in the UK before returning to Iran to develop hospitals and medical centers.

When the Iranian Revolution broke out in 1979, he was arrested and imprisoned. It was during the two and a half years he spent in Evin prison that Dr. Batmanghelidj discovered the power of water to treat the many ills of his fellow political prisoners. Lacking other medicines, he used water with amazing success to treat peptic ulcers.

The intrepid doctor was fifty, when, after being released from prison, he left Iran for the US. There he began his research into chronic unintentional dehydration, discovering that pain in various parts of the body is a common signal of water shortage. Dehydration, he maintains, can lead to asthma, arthritis, angina, hypertension, lupus and more. The drugs given for these conditions often tend to worsen them, and exacerbate the original dehydration.

According to the book, 'His message to the world is, "You are not sick, you are thirsty. Don't treat thirst with medication."

Monday, November 16, 2015

Exploding crabapples?

A friend was in town and we walked in the van Dusen garden, admiring the vast collection of strange and wonderful plants. First we thought they were berries, but they're crab apples. For some reason, their skins have split open.

Here's a selfie of old friends Carol and Carol admiring them.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Alberta style medicine wheel recreated in VanDusen

The Canadian Heritage section of the gardens is divided into sections, each filled with flora from one of Canada's geographic regions.

This picture shows the boreal forest that covers much of our country. The segmented stone circle is an aboriginal medicine wheel like the ones found across Alberta and Saskatchewan, some up to 7500 years old. Medicine wheels mark the seasons and remind us of our deep connection to earth. At VanDusen, ceremonies are sometimes held here.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Thomas Merton and the Noonday Demon by Donald Grayston

Author Don Grayston's laughs with friends as he prepares to launch his book Thomas Merton and the Noonday Demon at the Canadian Memorial United Church and Centre for Peace.

It's always a pleasure to hear my former SFU professor speak, and wherever he addresses a group, there is laughter.

That doesn't mean Donald Grayston is frivolous. Far from it. An anti-war activist, he has long worked for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. He is also a proponent and practitioner of inter-faith dialogue.

The way forward, he says, is to "include and transcend," adding, "There is no them -- only larger groups of us."

Pope Francis, Don told us, has called the monk Thomas Merton one of four great Americans and an outstanding spiritual writer of the 20th century. Merton's life was marked by restlessness. His parents, from different countries, were dead by the time he was sixteen. Merton graduated from Columbia University "at the edge of a nervous breakdown" and joined the Roman Catholic church, where he remained a monk for 27 years.

His main concerns were peace, war and non-violence. Desiring a solitude in which he could be present to himself and to God, he lived a life of contemplation at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, where he wrote extensively, publishing, as Don reported to an appreciative audience, "67 books while he was alive and another forty after his death."

Thomas Merton was also concerned with ecology. He corresponded with Rachel Carson, the author of the groundbreaking book, Silent Spring.

When his abbey grew noisy with renovations and innovations, Merton was motivated to seek permission to join a monastery in Camaldoli, Tuscany. About this effort, Don opined, Merton was a "scamp." Since the monk knew the abbott read all incoming and outgoing correspondence, he smuggled out the letter of request for a hermitage at Camaldoli, and instructed his interlocutor to answer in a code that concerned roses.

Merton, said his biographer, was "both independent and deferential." In spite of his efforts, his attempt to move from Kentucky to Italy was scuttled. Yet perhaps this was for the best. At that time, Camaldoli was in the midst of a "culture war" between tradition and modernity.

The answer to this period of restlessness was a change of position. Given the great responsibility as the Master of Novices, he settled down and lasted ten years before restlessness struck once more.  This time, feeling he had a particular ministry for intellectuals, he sought and received permission to go to Mexico City. However, in the atmosphere of Cold War, the church kiboshed this plan too, out of fear of the influence of "somewhat communist" clerics there.

Once more Merton was told, "Bloom where you are planted." This time the consolation prize was a hermitage near the abbey, where he stayed three years. During this time, Joan Baez visited and brought him jazz records. Jazz was not allowed in the main community.

1966 turned out to be the peak year for priests to leave the church. Rather than a loss of vocation, Merton underwent back surgery. During his hospital stay, a third phase of restlessness hit, and aged 51, he fell in love with a 24-year-old nurse called Margie. Their shared passion was a highly unusual romance. For Merton, it resolved longstanding doubts about his lovability.

Fifty years later, the story of their passion still retains a certain suspense. Margie, who later married and had children, burned Merton's letters and never spoke about their affair. She has written about it, but this document will be released only upon her death. Amazingly, she has done interviews for the CBC, which will also be aired after her passing.

Merton himself died accidentally in Thailand in 1968, while he was at the height of his powers. A great practitioner of interfaith dialogue, he'd recently had a profound spiritual experience at a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. And it was after talking to Merton that the Dalai Lama said he never understood Christianity until he talked to Thomas Merton.

One of many written about Thomas Merton, Don Grayston's book deals with the Canadoli correspondence, and includes fascinating letters written to and by the great man.  

In closing, Donald Grayston quoted Merton as saying, in the context of his nuclear pacifism, "the root of war is fear. Until we deal with fear, we will not deal with violence." As someone who has worked toward nuclear disarmament, our speaker reminded us that though the press no longer harps on this, both the US and Russia still have missiles on hair trigger alert.

As much as I enjoyed hearing about it, I look forward to reading this book.

Unique garden bench art

If I asked you to guess what this was, would you ever guess it was a the back of a park bench?

The reeds and waterlilies are cut out of the black metal like a stencil.

The effect is truly striking.

Just one more thing to admire at the VanDusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Last Post?

Image from

Should this be the last post? I well remember putting up the first post, then looking at the archive of a single item.

Within hours, the blog had generated its first visitors. That was mysterious and exciting. People I would never know, in countries I had never visited, were looking at my blog. Though that didn't necessarily mean they'd read my posts, they had seen the site.

The next thrill came from seeing that some visitors were looking at more than one post. Then I began to get occasional comments on my writings. Over time, the 2013 post on Ammolite was visited over 4500 times, and book reviews I did on Brooklyn in 2012 and Indian Horse in 2013 continue to get regular visitors. All this encouraged me to keep going.

Since those early days, my writing exercise at Essay-eh has hosted more than 52,000 visitors from many countries and garnered more than 208,500 page views.

November 20 will be the sixth anniversary of that first post. For the last few weeks, I've been toying with the idea of making this one, on Remembrance Day, my last.

I'm waiting for a sign to help me decide.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Paper Mulberry in VanDusen Gardens

Moraceae broussonetia papyrifera, the paper mulberry, is a useful as well as a beautiful tree.

While admiring it in the gardens, we learned that in Japan and China, its bark has traditionally been used to make paper and cloth.

But its virtues do not end there. The fruit, stems and sap are useful in treating sore eyes, coughs and bleeding. These plant parts also have a diuretic effect. The heavy latex-like sap the plant produces may be applied to the skin to relieve insect bites and neurodermatitis.

It is sometimes called the deer's tree, as these animals feed on its tender shoots. Native to Australia, this tree now grows in East Africa and elsewhere.

Most of the leaves from this tree had turned  yellow and fallen, but the picture on the right, from eattheweeds, shows their shape and what they look like when they're green.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Upside down sky and lone salmon swimming upstream

It was a good day for water views, and our afternoon walk brought these two lovely ones. In Bear Creek Park, the sky is reflected in a pond, while under the bridge a salmon struggles upstream from the ocean to spawn in its home stream.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Figs in the rainforest, and apples of course

UBC Botanical Garden held its annual Apple Festival a couple of weeks ago.

I was surprised to see a potted fig happily displaying fruit in its exposed location in the dark parking lot. Of course, it was in a pot!

As always, the huge variety of fresh heritage apples and pears was wonderful. We're still working on the Rubinettes, so sweet and crisp. A bag of Glosters is waiting in the fridge. The label on the bag says they're best from December on.

This annual festival is a rare chance to eat the less familiar varieties of fresh apples that haven't been polished or oiled or kept for ages in cold storage.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

We the City at SFU

Hosted by Mo Dhaliwal, last Thursday's event followed a city wide art happening called Tilt City, and featured Mo in conversation with three artists who also spoke about their work.   

Image right from

SFU President Andrew Petter got the ball rolling with a "Ferlingettiesque" poem he had penned for the occasion on the theme of What makes a city great? Mo Dhaliwal spoke of his mission to, his determination to hold his intention to "create some connective tissue where their was none before," so we can all feel more sense of belonging. His ideal is an "organic reciprocity" between arts and culture, which he described as "the dark matter that lies behind everything."

Image right of Teju Cole from

Writer and photographer Teju Cole showed some of his famous city images, which included an image of a palimpsest, a vellum that has been used, erased and reused, and a "map" of the Anatolian city of Catal Huyuk, so old that it predated the invention of streets; the houses were simply jammed together. Cities, said Cole, are an invention, a technology. Some of the major benefits they provide are to conserve resources and foster tolerance.

The highly original artist Candy Chang is the woman behind the amazing Before I Die...project, which has now spread to 70 countries and presented as a TED talk. Listening to her, one soon realizes how much more friendly and welcoming cities might look if more people--including introverts--had a chance to participate in creating their surroundings.

Image left the Lavina agency
Candy Chang  is also a city planner. "Small experimental interventions," she says, "can lead to better informed bigger ones." Honesty leads to vulnerability which leads to trust which creates a more compassionate society. She shared the advice of Carl Jung: to welcome neurosis as "the arrow that points to the wound, the pain of the soul as yet undiscovered," and that "dying well is a moral obligation for ourselves and others."

Beloved singer-Songwriter Buffy Ste. Marie was encouraged by new thinking about conflict resolution. Candy Chang, an expert at getting people involved in art, then said that doing things quickly and cheaply engaged a different part of the mind, which in turn inspired Buffy to note the value of beginner's mind. Buffy rounded off the evening with a poem, "Cook it up yourself," and a song. And all of us are naturally creative; after all, we are all made in the image of the creator.  

Image right from unl

Artists, she said, are visionaries, on the cutting edge. And they aren't just about the output. They have to be sensitive to what's coming in. This dynamic woman has had the joy of a life "on the edge between music and social justice," and has "tried to cover the bases no one else was covering."

Early in life, this remarkable woman was told many strange lies: "There are no more Indians," and "you can't be a musician because you can't read music." Fortunately she didn't let these things stand in her way. Her closing comment concerned the value of the internet. "Now we can publish what we want, and find one another again."

Friday, November 6, 2015

Transitioning home: Contact! unload

Hall and stairs of Ponderosa Annex F, UBC

As Remembrance Day nears, I wear my poppy and think about war veterans. When Dad returned from World War II, the only support system for men after combat was the Legion, where old war buddies met to remember -- or forget -- by sousing themselves in beer and rum.

Today, thanks to a program developed through Men's Health Research at UBC, there is a better way for veterans to release trauma: Contact! Unload.

November 4, in UBC's shabby but historic Ponderosa F on the ancestral lands of the Musqueam, I witnessed a unique theatre production. Men released their traumatic wartime memories by playing out scenes from their own lives.

This unique intervention was created through a Network devoted to reducing male depression and suicide. An interdisciplinary collaboration involved John Oliffe from Nursing, Derek Gregory from Geography, Marvin Westwood from Counselling Psychology and George Beliveau from Theatre Education. They worked with returned vets to evolve scenes from their lives in combat into a form that they could remember, relive, and perform. In this way, the extreme emotion of the memories became manageable for the participants.

Art was a part of the project as well. Carver Rick Xwalactun created a tribute pole using two caskets. The use of ritual to create and raise this totem pole to honour and release the memories of the men was therapeutic. So, explains counsellor Marvin Westwood, is the dramatic re-enactment.

From a theatrical point of view, challenges arose in choosing and shaping scenes from the all-too-real memories of the participants. The goal was to give the audience an experience by proxy, to let them witness at close hand what it feels like to belong to a "band of brothers."

This unique veterans' program has helped many men to overcome depression, anger, addictions and other symptoms that typically follow the trauma of combat, and 580 men have already benefited.

Such interventions are sorely needed. In 2014, we were told, 56 Canadian vets took their own lives. Not surprisingly, these men are at a much greater psychological risk than the average person, yet many other Canadian men also suffer alone in silence.

An important aspect of the learning experience was to listen to the men answer questions after the "show." They balanced the heavy experience of acting out their remembered traumas with zany jokes and laughter. One fellow mentioned that two core personality characteristics required by the special forces are cheerfulness under adversity and a sense of humour.

Naturally there was a serious side to the conversation. One young man who had volunteered for military service at age 18 clearly thought of it as his calling. He spoke of the leadership skills he had learned, and of securing combat zones to keep women and children safe. Hard as I found it to imagine being called to such service, I had no trouble at all believing in his passionate conviction.

This unique show will be performed again on December 10 - 12 at the Davie Street Armouries. The group is also on schedule to share their show in London, at Canada House. The devoted volunteers and professionals who did the hard and emotionally groundbreaking work behind it deserve great credit, and the groups that supported it--Movember, the Peter Wall Institute and more--deserve warm thanks. May the courage of the men who have overcome trauma by voicing it inspire other depressed sufferers to be brave enough to step up and ask for help.

Walking at dusk across the leaf-strewn lawns of the campus of my first alma mater, I was plunged into memory. For a long time now, a book I've been planning to write based on my father's letters from convoy duty in the WWII North Atlantic has been sitting in the proverbial drawer.

Maybe it's time to get out that manuscript. Sitting in the car, I remembered the sudden knowing I felt working on Letters to the Twentieth Century a few years ago. Intimately connected to my veteran father and his war service was a lostness I carried with me, and couldn't seem to shake.

As the cozy darkness fell along Marine Drive, I was filled with gratitude, knowing that whatever caused that lostness and whatever it consisted of, I have finally left it behind.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Hotel on Place Vendome by Tilar Mazzeo

Image from amazon

The Hotel Ritz of Paris legend is the hostelry in question. The book highlights its history from its image as the "mirror of Paris," before World War II -- an international mecca for artists, writers as well as old aristocrats and the newly rich.

Tilar Mazzeo describes the WWII Ritz as the meeting place of the mavens of journalism and politics, couture and culture. When France was occupied in 1940, it stayed open. On the surface, the privileged life of fashionable elites, dining on fresh oysters and champagne, carried on much as before.

The new arrivals in 1940 were Nazis. The morphine-addicted Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering had an enormous bathtub built into his room to facilitate a new treatment that was supposed to help him get off the drug. Headquartered at the Ritz, he ate, drank, looted French art and helped run the Nazi war machine.

The Ritz was also rife with collaborators, although their cooperation with the Nazi conquerors would later be hard to prove. This was especially true of the Coco Chanel. Openly anti-Semitic, she tried to use the German occupation to have her Jewish business partners stripped of their assets. The lover of German diplomat Hans Gunther von Dincklage, whose loyalties were also uncertain, she travelled to Berlin twice during the war, assisted by Abwehr head Walter Schellenberg.

Spies on both sides, including both employees and guests, spent the war at the Ritz. Jews and even some downed pilots were hidden for long periods in concealed wings of the hotel. Meanwhile, two factions of German spies watched each other in the Place Vendome, and some German agents doubled as informants to MI6. Ritz guest and Abwehr head in Paris, Wilhelm Canaris acted as a double agent for the British until he was caught in 1944.

The failed Operation Valkyrie that was supposed to kill Hitler, replace the government and make peace with the Allied side was planned in part at the Ritz, where its architects included Colonel Hans Speidel, Carl-Heinrich Stulpnagel, and Caesar von Hofacker.

Many politicians visited the Ritz during WWII. British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill spent time there, as did Georges Mandel, the man he hoped would lead post-war France. Indeed Mandel, a Ritz resident, persuaded Swiss owner Marie-Louise Ritz to keep the hotel open when France fell to the Nazis. Vichy collaborators Pierre Laval and Paul Morand were at the Ritz too.

This work reveals a darkly clownish side of Charles de Gaulle. Having remained safely in England during the occupation, he returned during the liberation of August 1944, causing much trouble for his allies by delaying their entry into Paris and courting the very real danger that Hitler's instructions to burn the city would be carried out before the allies arrived.

He then  made a rousing speech about how France had liberated itself, making no mention of the Americans or other allies. This astonishing blunder reminds Canadians of how he provoked a diplomatic incident by shouting "Vive le Quebec libre!" from a Montreal balcony during Expo '67.

Winston Churchill's wife Clementine gave de Gaulle a piece of advice he didn't take: "General, you must not hate your friends more than you hate your enemies." An interesting historical footnote: then President de Gaulle fled to Baden Baden at the onset of the student riots in Paris in 1968.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, decided Nazi sympathizers, spent time at the Ritz until the British government shipped them off to Bermuda, far from their Nazi friends, in the hope of minimizing the trouble they might cause.

Naturally, the hotel was full of international journalists covering the war. Ernest Hemingway was the most famous of this motley crew of raucous boozers, jealous lovers, and determined scoopers. "Papa" fell out with Robert Capa when his longtime photographer buddy befriended Hemingway's jilted third wife Martha Gellhorn. Later Capa had an affair with Ingrid Bergman, whom he met at the Ritz.

The actress Marlene Dietrich deserves special mention. Though this Hollywood siren caused bitter jealousy among Hemingway's women, she was one of the few at the Ritz who chose her side without waiting to see which way the wind would blow. Passionately anti-fascist, she took out American citizenship "in defiance of Adolf Hitler."

The heyday of the Ritz ended with the peace. It went quietly downhill until the eighties, then enjoyed a resurgence when Mohamed al Fayed bought and renovated it. Tragically, it was from there that his son Dodi and Princess Diana fled before the fatal crash that killed them both.

Since then, it has been resold, re-renovated and is about to be re-opened once again. What will be the future of this historic Paris luxury hotel?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Japanese red maple in its season

The same Japanese maple in the front garden is seen in its glory from without and within.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Melton Court, a Kitsilano landmark

Melton Court on Cornwall Avenue in Vancouver is a building I have admired since I arrived in the city in the late sixties. This ornate structure of brick holds a unique appeal for me. I love the two wings that face the beach, the fancy cornices and well-established gardens. I've never been inside.

These days, this building with its near-perfect location across Cornwall from Kits Pool and the beach is a Housing Co-Op for seniors.

Like so many of our Canadian buildings and streets, this name originated in the UK. Melton Court has a counterpart in Poole, Dorset. It bears a slight resemblance to the Kits one; oddly enough, it also houses seniors.

Another Melton Court, probably the original of this one, can be seen on Old Brompton Road in London.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Hiding from Halloween and starting Nanowrimo

This year, we hid from Halloween. Instead of gutting pumpkins and carving lanterns, I enjoyed an afternoon walk in Holland Park.

An afternoon trip to the movies proved good timing. The parking lot and movie theatre were quite empty for the 4:30 showing of Truth, and we returned home to discuss this interesting film over tea.

We didn't miss out on the pumpkin entirely -- I made a pumpkin curry to enjoy tomorrow.

Today is the first day of Nanowrimo, and I'm in. Have to get something down of the next novel up, no matter how rough. Deadlines are brilliant for making that happen. The first step is to sketch out a rough map of the story on tracing paper; then I crank out my first 1667 words. I'm pumped!