Tuesday, March 20, 2018

What's the cream pitcher doing above the door?

Yesterday, lunching with a friend at the Little White House in Ft Langley, I looked out the window and saw this tiny cream pitcher poised above the door. What can it mean?
  a. The jug is catching a very slow drip.
  b. A valuable antique is hidden in plain sight.
  c. A very small child playing a very small joke has arranged for a spill when the door opens.
  d. Mice ordered a keg of ale for a sill party.

No, wait. A faithful reader has just provided the answer. Elves collecting liquid silver.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Spring on White Rock beach inspires ephemeral art

Made of driftwood, this transitory tepee stands below the tide line. It's day will be done with the next high tide. Meanwhile, it's beautiful.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Versatile Tetsuro Shigematsu wows the crowd

Last evening, Canadian Authors hosted the multi-talented Tetsuro Shigematsu, writer, actor, and teacher. Recently returned from a reprise tour of his one-man show Empire of the Son, he acted out a scene for us. Then he gave the writers in the room a great tool for keeping any audience engaged. He had us analyze some movie scenes to see what made them so compelling. Truly an electrifying evening.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

Banished by her friends and neighbours for an unspecified social infraction, introverted romantic novelist Edith Hope obliges those she has offended by going away. Her out-of-season holiday at Hotel du Lac in a village on the shores of Lake Geneva is engineered by her bossy neighbour; Edith merely goes along. At the Hotel du Lac, she has trouble focusing on her writing, and falls into the habit of keeping company with three rich, spoiled and unhappy female guests who are absolutely not her type.

Observing her pinned-up hair, introverted character, and Virginia Woolf-like cardigan, others deem her a hopeless prospect for marriage. But at the Swiss hotel, she meets a man who claims to understand her. Together, they hike up the mountain and ride a pleasure steamer. Edith receives her second marriage proposal within a few months.

One of the pleasures of reading this novel is its rich eloquence. Rather than being persuaded by Mr. Neville's arguments, Brookner's protagonist is "seduced by the power of his language." Edith too is skilled at verbal evocation. What reader could fail to be struck by the image of a "hieratic profile," and who cannot picture three wealthy women engaging in "a cross fire of brands that spanned the entire continent, Gucci and Hermes, Chanel and Jean Muir?" (This book was published in 1984; today such a brand war would encompass the world.)

The author's understated literary references are another delight. Channeling Oscar Wilde, she gives this aphorism to Mr. Neville: "'Good women always think it is their fault when someone is being offensive. Bad women never take the blame for anything.'"

Predictably, he goes on a few minutes later to say "'Let me tell you what you need, Edith.'" Not again, she thinks wearily, but does not reiterate aloud: "I have just told you what I need and I know what that is better than you do."

Anita Brookner brilliantly showcases the parry and thrust of their witty conversations. Descending the mountain, they argue, but civilly. When Neville fails to notice the sharpness of her reply to his impudent presumption, she ups the conversational ante and flees down the mountain, hopefully shouting "'I hate you.'"

But Edith cannot find her way down alone, and is obliged to call out to him. Descending in silence, they walk arm in arm, still at cross purposes. After a time, she remarks, "'I find that smile of yours just the tiniest bit unamiable.'" He responds by broadening that very smile, and assures her that when she gets to know him better, she'll "'realize just how unamiable it really is.'"

Mr. Neville argues vociferously against Edith's "romanticism." He postulates that one cannot live someone else's life, but only one's own. An intelligent woman, she agrees with this, but cannot accept his dictum that "'Whatever they told you about unselfishness being good and wickedness being bad...[is] a lesson for serfs and it leads to resignation." In the mood brought on by the autumn sunshine and the wine she's imbibed, Edith feels the allure of this "dangerous gospel," but not with his view that people feel "'at home with low moral standards'" and scruples put them off.

The entire story takes place in the "closed world of the hotel, with its smells of food and scent, its notice taken of favours granted or withdrawn." It's a place where a little misunderstanding "will go on being mined for hurt feelings, and will be exploited for one reason or another, while the rest of us will use it for conversation from here to eternity or until one of us leaves." Edith's past is slowly revealed in this context. She remembers her recent indiscretion as well as her mother's lifelong professional disappointment and her father's dictum that in times of trouble, "character tells."

In a heartbreaking double entendre, Edith feels on the steamer that "there is no wind, nothing but a steady pressure forward, without any discernible progress being made," and for this reason, she clings to Neville's arm as the boat drifts into "ever thicker mists."

Yet somewhere ahead "behind the veils of mist there was a pale sun which could be seen, in the far distance, to cast a white gleam upon the water." This horizon implies that the weather will change. Edith will reach her next moment of decision, and make the choice that is right for her.

This story was filmed in 1986, starring Anna Massey as Edith, and the wonderful Patricia Hodge as the bulimic woman who lives on cakes and feeds most of her meals to her little dog.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Inside the car wash

I love going through the car wash. While the car is sprayed and scrubbed all over, we sit cosily surrounded by water, soap and those big whirling brushes. What a feeling!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Having loved Helen Simonson's The Summer Before the War, I picked up this book because it was by the same author. Also, something about the title lured me, subtly promising a type of humour that delights me. That promise was fulfilled through both character and story.

Major Pettigrew's point of view is rendered flawlessly, his weak points displayed cheek by jowl with his fairness, kindness and consideration. Jasmina Ali's intelligence and straight talk combine with her flashes of philosophical humour to make her thoroughly appealing.

The Major's social-climbing son and Mrs. Ali's sad and confused nephew are most engaging; I loved the heroic poignancy of Abdul Wahid's moment of self-assessment.

Pettigrew's almost daughter-in-law Sandy, his plotting neighbour, the bossy and squabbling village organizers and their passive husbands are portrayed with hilarious and poignant clarity.

Most of all, I adore the way this writer deploys language to draw attention to human details we can all relate to. An early laugh-out-loud moment was the Major's unreasonable bias against being driven by a woman. The reader just knows this perception tempts fate, which is about to disabuse him of his peculiar ideas about women's "cautious creeping about at intersections, their heavy-handed indifference to gear changing, and their complete indifference to the rearview mirror."

When he needs a ride, Mrs. Ali proves a fast, able and enthusiastic driver of her little blue car. Riding with her proves relaxing and pleasant. On the other hand, sitting in the back of his son's luxury vehicle with his girlfriend Sandy at the wheel makes Pettigrew feel like "a large baby in a rather luxurious pram." His relationship with his son has its ups and downs. Now his heart warms with a "flicker of filial affection;" then an unfortunate remark causes it to go out "like a pilot light in a sudden draft."

Meanwhile, the village is planning a fete. Busybody Daisy Green, the Vicar's wife, has "seized the simple title of Flower Guild chairwoman and used it to endow herself with full nobless oblige." Daisy is also part of a gang of interfering women who try to push the widowed Major's casual friendship with Grace, and send her "to a luncheon date with him, all made up and forced into a hideous silk dress" that makes her look "as ruched and tied as a holiday pork roast."

"Following the accepted rituals," Daisy also visits the Major after his brother's death. Flanked by her sidekicks, she comes bearing a tin of rather revolting luxury biscuits that strike the Major as "tumescent." In the golf club, Daisy and other women in full organizing mode turn their "behatted heads" to to the gents and fix them with "steely eyes." Though Major Pettigrew may view others in a jaundiced fashion, he is fair enough to judge his own behaviour as he does that of others, aware at the moment he stops just short of rudeness that he has "failed miserably to deliver a snub."

Major Pettigrew enjoys his fragrant walks in the countryside, where he tries to "let the colours of the landscape soak in and calm him." Preparing for another ride with Mrs. Ali, he considers whether it is safe to wear his tweed jacket in the rain; he doesn't want to cause her small car to "smell like wet sheep dipped in bay rum." Smell is for him an illuminating sense; in the lawyer's office he detects a complex whiff of "furniture wax and avarice."

Seen through the Major's eyes, the people of the village, including himself, are exposed in all their pettiness and misunderstanding. Hugh Whetstone tries "to ferret out the genealogy of everyone he met so he could use it against them later." Lord Dagenham is "a reduced kind of gentry, with all but one wing of the Hall let to a small boarding school." Most of his lands lie fallow, "producing only EU subsidy payments." When the Major, a sensitive man, is driven to extremes to escape from Grace, he feels so guilty for using the "dead relative excuse" on her that he loses his appetite for his golf club sandwich, which now seems to resemble "two rubber mats filled with horsehair."

The Major is full of non-violent contradictions. In part, he is a dreamer who harks back to a more heroic age. He is disillusioned by Dagenham's offer of a bribe, which evokes a "pale viper," even though it is "more subtle than some he had received in a career of overseas postings to places where such things were considered normal business." Later, disappointed by the village priest, he feels "no rage, only a calm and icy distance, as if this man, who had been both a friend and an adviser, was now talking to him from an ice floe in the Arctic."

His feelings for the charming widow are rendered with sweetness and humor. At the dance, he entertains "a fleeting hope that someone might knock her over into his arms." He fantasizes about offering her a duck he shot at Dagenham's hunt as "a primal offering of food from man to woman and a satisfyingly primitive declaration of intent." Yet when they find themselves alone together, he nobly hands over "the nicer of his two pairs of pajamas," then volunteers to give her the bed and sleep on the couch.

Until the shocking conclusion, this story moves along at a soothing pace, demonstrating with poignant humour our myriad human viewpoints and the ultimate but bearable solitude of our individual lives.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Children of God at the Citadel in Edmonton

Image of the cast from Windspeaker

I attended this amazing show with friends. With all the elements of a musical, it's far from the usual light-hearted entertainment we associate with the genre. Instead, playwright and Director Corey Payette reveals a new approach to reconciliation and healing. The evening ended with a literal coming together.

Audience members who were not holding hands in a long chain were on their feet in the centre of the theatre. As we chanted together with the cast, I was far from the only one with tears on my cheeks. The story is harshly intense, and its relentless unfolding has an allegorical inevitability. Yet the staging of the worst scenes is done with sensitivity, and the ending brings hope and upliftment.

For me, Dillan Chiblow, who played Tommy, was the stand-out actor. By tossing off of a school cap and jacket, he transformed himself from an endearingly optimistic and mischievous kid into the troubled young man his early suffering presaged. The scenes between him and his guilt and grief-ridden mother, ably played by noted musician Sandy Scofield, felt poignant and utterly real.

The theatre program contains Ry Moran's five questions for people who want to be involved in reconciliation (aired on CBC in October 2017 by Rosanna Deerchild). After seeing this remarkable show, anyone who would have previously answered no to the question "Have I ever participated in ceremony?" can respond with a resounding yes.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

View over Edmonton blurred by falling snow

As the river ice reveals new soft spots that are harbingers of spring breakup, the city receives a soft and quiet coating of fine snow.

The city is trying out a new anti-ice spray, which went down on the roads a couple of days ago, as the storm approached.

But this is Edmonton, not the Wet Coast. Snow may fall, but life goes on as usual. It does muffle the sounds though, making for a lovely silent morning.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The ice, the ice

At dusk, people approach Edmonton's amazing Ice Castle. This structure is made by hand with farmed icicles born of water from the North Saskatchewan River that flows through the city. The fresh water used in construction will be returned to the river when the season ends. The city of Edmonton hosted Canada's first Ice Castle; this is its third year in Hawrelak Park.

Ice Castles began when Brent Christensen, an artistic American dad, built a small one in his midwest front yard for his daughter.
The castle has a fountain, slides for kids, a real fireplace, and a gorgeous throne, sculpted of clear ice and flanked by leaf- shaped side tables. It's all sheer magic. But the ice in the river is softening, the weather warming. The castle will only be open for another few days.