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Who was Cassandra?
In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.

the cassandra pages
words, pictures, and a life
Tuesday, November 30, 2004  

It just occured to me, writing that title, that I don't know where the expression "catch-up" came from. LH, where are you? Or maybe somebody else knows?

Mr. Bush is here, and I'm proud to say that the Canadians haven't given him a very warm welcome. He may think he's king of the world, but he hasn't managed to control other populations yet; Jack Leyton of the NDP called on people to protest the visit, and they are.

It seems like many of us are behind on our blog reading, due to holiday cooking, guests, and traveling, so I won't write much tonight. I'm sitting here listening to a great jazz show on Espace Musique, 100.7; there are candles burning in the old brass candlesticks on the mantle, illuminating some delicate pine boughs and the two tall Swedish angels, made of wood and straw, that used to be part of my grandmother's Christmas decorating. It's a peaceful, gentle night, after a good day of work - the book in the morning, and some upcoming professional projects in the afternoon. I went out for a mid-afternoon walk in the sun-drenched but cold air, venturing to the eastern edge of the Plateau, where I bought a salmon filet, and then worked my way back down Mont-Royal and Brebeuf to the bakery for a baguette and a little tarte aux poires that we shared, with coffee, a couple hours after dinner.

10:22 PM |

Monday, November 29, 2004  

Some WINTER REFLECTIONS for those in warmer climes.

10:01 PM |

Sunday, November 28, 2004  
This morning we attended the 10:00 service at Christ Church Cathedral, where we're beginning to be recognized and greeted by familiar faces. It was Advent I, and the sung Eucharist used a modern choral setting, Missa Adventus ed Quadragesimae, by the Czech composer Petr Eben (b. 1929, and previously unknown to me) for a choir of adult men, which totally blew us both away. I'm amazed by the hand-in-hand beauty, sincerity, and solemn informality of the services at the cathedral. It is a grand and glorious place, with fine choirs and a great organ, a lofty vaulted ceiling and carvings and stained glass, and many clergy, and could easily be very full of itself. But instead, the Dean comes to the lectern in front before each service begins, welcomes everyone very warmly, gives the announcements, and also explains the order of service and how to follow it. They take risks: they've decided to lead the way by being a progressive, open, and inclusive church, and this is expressed in a multitude of ways. What comes across is a sense of generosity rather than pomposity; they understand that theirs is a particular mission of welcome to strangers, many of whom may not be Anglican at all - and they carry this out with humility and grace, rather than trying to impress by calling attention to how grand and important they are. As a result, one comes away more moved and more uplifted.

It's nice not to sing in the choir, for once, and to be able to sit beside my husband, who didn't come to church for years. And it was wonderful to sing the great Advent hymns: Bach's "Sleepers Wake" and the plainsong "O Come O Come Emmanuel", and a couple of solid, new-to-me hymns from the Canadian hymnal.

I also liked that the bulletin requested that imperishable food for the needy be brought to the church pantry. And, oh, all right, I'm willing to pray for the Queen as well as Paul Martin and Rowan Williams once a week; with that family, she probably needs it!

9:12 PM |

Saturday, November 27, 2004  

SNOWY MORNING at my parents' home

We're back in Montreal. What a voyage in one day: from midday in the sparsely-populated, economically-stressed agricultural rolling hills of central New York to the ethnically-diverse, busy streets of a French-speaking city at nightfall. We drove up the far side of New York, on the crumbly, sedimentary plateau bordering Lake Ontario, under slate skies washed with striated clouds. Huge flocks of Canada geese beat their strong wings overhead; we saw grazing deer, too many large hawks to count, and a flock of thirty or forty wild turkeys in a cut cornfield -- but for the most part, the terrain (except for the St. Lawrence seaway and river crossing at Thousand Islands) is fairly monotonous and, for the second half of the trip, flat as a tortilla from the strangely-named town of Mexico, New York - an anomaly on a map filled with ancient Greek and Native American place names, with a few historical figures like Henry Clay (Clay, NY) thrown in for good measure.

It was a good trip back "home" (as in "ancestral"): I was reassured to find my parents both looking vibrant and cheerful, and we had a nice family gathering at my cousin's house on Thursday noon. I was an only child who grew up in an extended family of parents, grandparents, and great-aunts, with two aunts and several cousins nearby, two of whom were practically like siblings. My cousin B., who is just 8 months younger than I am, and I were somewhat at odds most of our childhood – but we share the same family memories, which becomes more important to me as the years accumulate. We are different: she grew up on a big dairy farm, dropped out of college, married a high school teacher, had three kids, and has stayed four miles from where she grew up to raise them, driving many miles every morning to work at a state correctional facility. We were both good musicians who loved playing in band, and good French students, but the scholastic and social resemblances stopped there; I was “weird”, in her book: artsy and intellectual, a townie and an over-achiever who was headed elsewhere. So we diverged even more, but B. has mellowed with time, even if her typical upstate accent has not, and probably I have too. There’s nothing for either of us to be jealous over anymore, or threatened by. I admire her parenting, her sense of humor, and her husband’s dedication to teaching. But more than any of that, she and her brother, who is five years older, remember the same things I do, and I think we all find, with the passage of time, that it matters to us more and more to be able to talk about it.

This trip did feel like a red state/blue state thing. Although Kerry did pretty well, Republicans always win that part of New York, and the American flags and yellow ribbon magnets are as ubiquitous as the pick-up trucks. But I mostly forgot about the outer world (and it really does feel "outer" in that context) for the days I was there; my family is pretty sensible - even the rednecks among them – and besides, we had other things to talk about. And this was the first year for a new generation at our Thanksgiving table, bumping my own generation up a notch in the ancestral hierarchy. Maybe that’s part of why people engage in these annual rituals - they provide a background against which to view the passage of time and one’s place in it, different from one’s regular life which so often moves like a video on fast-forward against the blurred familiar.

9:07 PM |

Tuesday, November 23, 2004  

CORN near Iberville, Quebec

Tomorrow we'll be heading over the river (the Hudson, in this case) and through the woods (the Adirondacks) to what used to be grandmother's house, for the annual Thanksgiving family gathering. I don't think I've ever missed one - if I have, I don't remember when, or why. The gatherings, the place, even the foods have changed greatly over the years, along with the faces around the table. I don't always even want to be there, but I go, and almost always I'm glad I did.

This evening I read a report from Falluja by an embedded BBC reporter who is with an American Marine division. Paul Wood is a good reporter, and he made me feel the fear and the courage of the officers and soldiers who he described. He also made me feel the fear and desperation of the civilians and the dead rebels, including a ten-year-old boy who the marines discovered, dead, rifle in hand, when they stormed a building from which they'd been being attacked. War is hell, and this was a description of hell.

Earlier today I was doing some shopping; all the stores were decked out for Christmas, of course, and there were shoppers shopping, and clerks clerking, and cheery bell-laden music playing -- and yet what I felt was sheer, pervasive joylessness everywhere I went. Everyone was going through the motions, doing what we do this time of year, but there was absolutely no delight in it. The air was heavy.

Thinking back on the Norman Rockwell Thanksgivings of my childhood, during the Eisenhower years, I remember long one season of anticipation and happiness stretching from Thanksgiving all the way to New Year's. The gratitude I remember, as the extended family talked happily from one end of the long tables, spanning two rooms, to the other, may have been still fresh: World War II had ended, nearly everyone in the family had come back safe, babies were arriving, life was beginning anew. The adults never seemed worried or stressed, although of course they must have been sometimes, but we children didn't feel it, at least not until later when the Cold War heated up.

I'm still grateful for those years and those gatherings. One entire generation is gone now, and half of the next one, but those strong personalities and spirits remain quite present in my life, especially at this time of year. From them I learned that it was possible to live graciously and generously even when you had your own troubles; my grandparents and great aunt never stopped giving, and they never stopped being grateful for all the good things in their life - chief among which was the family.

This year, when I'm finding it difficult to be grateful, when so much feels like it is falling apart rather than coming together, and the atmosphere of the entire country feels somber and anxiety-ridden, I find myself casting back to happier times and finding both solace and strength in those memories, seen through the filter of four additional decades of life. "Everything changes," says the Buddhist calligraphy on my desk, and it's true: better not hold on too tightly. But it's also not true; some things don't change: the love and wisdom and lessons that enter most deeply into us and wait there, almost unknown, for the times when we really need them.

9:03 PM |

Monday, November 22, 2004  

Saturday night we had some good friends over for dinner. There was a lively conversation and the wine flowed freely while sleet fell on the grass in the dark and splattered on the windows. I like to drink. But I have to watch it. There are quite a few things I can’t drink at all, and usually I stick to vodka or a glass of red wine – and never both. That’s “a” glass – one. Maybe one and a half. More than that and I wake up like I did in the middle of last night with a massive, throbbing headache that analgesics will dull, but not eliminate. It’s not a hangover – I wasn’t even close to feeling drunk - as much as it’s an allergic reaction like the one that gives so many people migraines. I find this annoying and boring – one of those getting-older things that feels like an affront and an unnecessary reminder. J. says my body is like a sports car – very touchy – and compared to his, it is. In any case, today was different from what I’d anticipated, but it turned out to be nice: I did some knitting, took a long nap under the comforter on the couch, cleaned my desk, thought about things. It was actually a Sabbath day, and at the end of it, with my headache discernable only as a dull distant ache, I’m almost grateful.

When I spoke to my mother last night, she said that hunting season had just opened, and a friend who lived further out in the country had said it sounded like a war in the woods near his house. Tom wrote about hunting season today too. I haven’t heard any shots here – we often don’t, in the village – but next week, when we go to see my parents and I go for my usual November walk along the fenceline near the river, I’ll put on Dad’s old red plaid jacket and be very careful.

A few days ago we were driving back on one of the main roads here, and there was a pickup truck stopped on the side, with a gunrack in the back, and the driver was pointing out the window to his companion. Down in the deep gully across the road was a beautiful big doe. “Think he’s going to shoot across the road, out the window?” J. asked. I saw someone do that once, in central New York – he pulled off the road in the opposite lane and shot across, right in front of my car. The deer bounded away, white tail flying, into the woods. I can only imagine the fear these already skittish creatures live with during these days.

I don’t hunt and never have, although I used to fish. There is no way I could deliberately take the life of one of those beautiful, wild, long-legged companions of the woods I love so much – and yet I know the toll that overpopulation takes on the herd. There are killers, and there are hunters – those like my uncle Dick, who used to shoot a deer each year for meat and was completely respectful of the animals and that relationship, using every bit of the meat and the hide – I still have some small pieces of chamois he gave me when I was young. And then there were hunters like my mentor, Herm, who went into the woods with a bow and arrow and often sat the entire time in meditation under a tree, or up in one, watching the deer he knew so well walk by, graze, lift their heads and sniff the wind with delicate nostrils. For both of those men, and for me, the woods were temple and cathedral, filled with Spirit, and home to an occasional encounter that’s as close to union as we’re ever granted in this life.

8:05 AM |

Saturday, November 20, 2004  


Oh, we're all so dispirited by the news these days, and posts like the previous one I wrote don't help. So here are a few good things from my day yesterday:

- young knobby sumac shoots covered with velvety fur, just like a young deer's antlers

- a totally blue sky

- clumps of crimson nightshade berries, each with a heavy water droplet refusing to fall

- a group of peeling white birches, so brilliantly white in the afternoon light that it almost hurt my eyes to look at them

- getting less winded and going further on my afternoon hike up the steep hill in back of our house

- spending most of the day doing research and writing about southern evangelicals and realizing I was more interested than depressed

- reading intelligent, thoughtful blog comments

- an email conversation about writing

- hamburgers for dinner, grilled outside in the dark at 38 degrees

- a long hot bath

- listening to my husband fall asleep beside me

9:13 AM |

Thursday, November 18, 2004  

TWO PALESTINIAN GIRLS, from Sabeel, Ecumenical Center for Palestinian Liberation Theology

Forgive me for ranting. I’m very angry.

An appeal came into my inbox today from CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, asking for letters of objection to be sent to MS-NBC cable television for remarks made by a colleague on Don Imus’ show referring to Palestinians as “filthy animals” and suggesting that they all be killed. This was on November 12th, during a discussion of Yasser Arafat’s funeral. Here’s a transcript of what was said:

DON IMUS: They’re (the Palestinians) eating dirt and that fat pig wife of his is living in Paris.
COLLEAGUE: They’re all brainwashed, though. That’s what it is. And they’re stupid, to begin with, but they’re brainwashed now. Stinking animals. They ought to drop the bomb right there, kill ‘em all right now.
IMUS: Well, the problem is we have (reporter) Andrea (Mitchell) there; we don’t want anything to happen to her.
COLLEAGUE: Oh, she’s got to get out. Andrea, get out and then drop the bomb and kill everybody.
COLLEAGUE: Look at this. Animals. Animals!

The appeal went on to say “This is not the first time Imus has been involved in a controversy over anti-Arab and Islamophobic remarks. As early as 1985, he was forced to apologize for referring to Arabs as ‘goat-humping weasels’. (Sunday Mail, 4/21/85) He has also been criticized for using the derogatory term ‘raghead.’ (Accuracy in Media) In a reference to the crash of an Iranian airliner earlier this year that killed 43 passengers, Imus said, ‘When I hear stories like that, I think who cares.’ He then stated: ‘Too bad it wasn't full of Saudi Arabians.’ (National Iranian American Council)”

How on earth are we supposed to ever move toward peace when this sort of hatred is all over the airwaves, unchallenged? And why should the Muslim community be solely responsible for trying to counter it? Why shouldn’t all people of conscience object? Even during the worst days of Vietnam, I don’t remember hearing racist bigotry and hatred on this level from the media – maybe it went on among the military or the hawks, but you didn’t hear it on mass media radio and TV. I know how popular Don Imus is – friends and family of mine listen to him every day, and enjoy his particular brand of “humor”. No wonder our country is so polarized and so filled with fear and hate, with this sort of thing as “entertainment”.

Objections should be sent to Neal Shapiro at MS-NBC. (

6:30 PM |

Tuesday, November 16, 2004  


Yesterday, on our way out of the city, we stopped on St. Laurent to do two errands: a run to Haddad, a small, family-run Middle Eastern grocery we've become fond of, and the purchase of two Vietnamese sandwiches for lunch. Both are within a couple of blocks of each other, so we parked in Chinatown and walked. I bought the sandwiches - which are more like subs on French bread, with grilled chicken, white radishes, slivered carrots, cilantro, extremely hot green peppers, and a special sauce that turns this combination of ingredients into something like heaven - and then went back to keep an eye on the car, which had disguised but valuable cameras and computers inside.

Montreal's Chinatown is small, packed, and enterprisingly touristy while also catering authentically to the needs of the local population for everything from travel to banking. Apothecary shops filled with dried herbs and brightly-colored boxes of Chinese patent medicines are chock-a-block with clothing stores selling cheap silk robes and slippers; young rough-looking vegetable vendors, cigarettes dangling from their lips, slice bunches of greens on the street; an old man with a hand-lettered sign offers to tell your fortune; an itinerant musician plays a melancholy one-string lute while, a few steps away, members of Falun Gong meditate and pass out literature. The food is generally good, sometimes terrific, and the narrow streets are crowded with mothers and children, yellow-haired adolescents, shuffling ancients.

I sat outside the Dental Center in the picture above, and watched the people go by. Everyone is trying, it seems, to get by, and even get ahead. Under the Centre Dentaire and its universal tooth were other signs: Bureau de change (currency exchange); Bijouterie (jewelry); watch batteries; cell phones. A steady stream of patients and customers came and went. Even this northern, much smaller Chinatown is, as in the famous movie, a place where a lot goes on that may not be on the up-and-up; I saw some questionable activities in the twenty minutes I sat there, but nothing that seemed to be endangering anyone. Mostly I wondered about the lives of the people who passed by, casting their shadows on the bright wall: these young lovers; this young woman in her skintight jeans and high heels; this old woman; these mixed-race groups of adolescents in hip-hop clothing; this beggar who stops a woman and tells her - what? a sad story? - until she shakes her head "no" and, clutching her purse, continues doggedly on.

8:11 PM |

Monday, November 15, 2004  
A response to elck's unpunctuated-sentence challenge:

Home under a night curtain punched with flying star-holes and the tiny careful slice of moon home to icy grass a key in the lock pink buds on the Christmas cactus home to a fly buzzing near the piano and a bat flying darkly and startled in a bedroom suddenly filled with light.

9:37 PM |


This is a travel day for us; I've spent the last few hours cleaning and doing laundry and am about to go out and get some food to take back with us. The produce here is better than what we get three hours to the south, although a lot of it comes from the United States. This is puzzling. But even worse has been the realization that this excellent produce spoils a lot faster, even in the refrigerator. I'm not disturbed about that at all - what bothers me is that this indicates that the American produce has been treated much more with preservatives, fungicides, and the like, as well as being shipped and sold when it is less ripe.

In the summers we've historically grown a good deal of our own food, and I've always had an organic garden, so I'm aware of the normal "shelf-life" of untreated produce. But we don't buy organic produce all the time; I've followed the advice that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for you and outweighs the dangers of nonorganic, treated produce - if you wash it, peel waxed fruit, and so on. Being a gardener and having studied plenty of biology, though, I know that washing will never remove systemic pesticides, and that plants are absorbent organisms which take in the substances that touch them, including after-harvest treatments to prolong shelf life. Seeing how differently ordinary store produce behaves here, I'm really wondering now what we've been eating all these years, and I am wondering if the two countries have different shipping systems, and different regulations about what preservatives can be used to treat the food supply.

10:09 AM |

Saturday, November 13, 2004  

Eglise St. Jean-Baptiste, rue Rachel est (St. John the Baptist Church, on Rachel East,
not far from our house, where there are many classical chamber music concerts)

We've been having beautiful days - but quite cold. After hours (two days, really) of struggling to understand and chronicle the rise of the so-called "renewal movement" (and locus of anti-gay activity) in the Episcopal Church - a misnomer if I ever heard one, since the latest incarnations thereof seek not to "renew" the church, in my opinion, but to replace the historically spacious, questioning, and litugically rich tradition with a rigid, conservative one - I felt emotionally exhausted and almost soiled, as one does when forced to be in too close proximity to negativity, closed-mindedness, hatred, and fear. So I went out on my bike, all wrapped up in scarves and gloves; the cold air on my face felt glorious and I rode down to Chinatown, where I bought pantoufles (slippers), and on into the downtown and then north, stopping at my cafe for a cup of coffee. There I listened to two earnest McGill students discussing ideal primes for a final in Abstract Algebra, and wrote the outline for my section on the opposition to Gene's ordination. Then I rode home happily through bright streets, but after I got back I had to soak in a hot bath to warm up. If this bike-riding goes on (and I hope it does) I'm going to have to add long-johns.

Last night we had dinner with our former landlady, her husband, and their wonderful little three-year-old girl, who is alternately "un lion", "un chien", or "un chat". She prefers things that growl, loudly, and is in her element with four adoring adults as an audience. J. made pizza at their house - a brilliant improvisational performance - and we drank wine and ate and told stories, switching back and forth in the two languages.

I told G. about my new lenses, and said I'd done some shopping. She is young, creative, ingenious and thrifty, and loves putting together outfits; she wanted to know what I'd bought. Not much, I said - a very short black skirt that was on sale - mostly I just and looked. She smiled, knowingly. "We say lecher la vitrine - licking the window."

6:34 PM |

Friday, November 12, 2004  

Last night we went with new Montreal friends to hear Madeleine Peyroux at the recently renovated and re-opened Cabaret la Tulipe on Papineau, close to Av. Mont Royal. It was a brisk night; J. and I walked west to St. Laurent to meet our friends for pizza before the show, enjoying the slower pace (bicycle days are definitely becoming numbered; the bike paths are being closed now so that the city will be able to do snow removal, although there are diehards who keep biking, apparently, through the entire winter on bikes outfitted with studded tires and covered derailleur mechanisms) as we walked down rue Rachel with its little bring-your-own wine, white-tableclothed bistros where waiters polished glasses in preparation for the first customers; the small specialty clothing boutiques; the Portugese bakeries.

When we arrived at la Tulipe, glistening with a new coat of shiny chocolate-colored paint, nearly an hour before the starting time for Peyroux, the lower floor - set up cabaret-style with small tables and a bar in the back - was completely full. We sat in the balcony, which was tight and filled with standard theater-style seats on a steeply-pitched floor; a small bar had been set up in the left box-seat area, and people brought glasses of wine and bottle of beer and Perrier back to their seats; we heard the empty bottles rolling - and occasionally crashing - for the rest of the evening. The good-natured crowd was non-plussed, but la Tulipe's owners clearly still have some de-bugging to do.

A young man from Sacramento, Jackie Green, opened for Peyroux, and he won over the appreciative crowd almost instantly. He was a lanky, skinny kid with straight black hair falling into his eyes, totally at ease with his acoustic guitar and the harmonica mounted around his neck that he played like a man possessed; he peeled off his jacket after the first number and played in shirtsleeves and frayed jeans. His Dylanesque ballads and blues had fine lyrics that the obviously young man ("Let me get this out of the way," he confessed, with an endearing glance out from under the fringe of hair - "I'm 23.") sang with a confidence befitting someone who had lived a lot longer and suffered a lot more heartache than he probably has: such is the product of raw talent, as well as, I'm sure, countless hours in a California bedroom, practicing his guitar, penning love lyrics, and wailing on his harmonicas.

Peyroux, by contrast, was one of the most uncomfortable stage performers I've ever seen, yet she has a truly unusual voice - now soft and torchlike, now twangy - and a unique jazz timing that is part Billie Holiday, part Patsy Cline. She's a tall, lanky woman herself, part self-styled hippie, part chanteuse; last night she was wearing a drapey pink top with slit sleeves - the Greek karyatid look, perhaps? - with high heeled sandals and a pair of beautiful russet-colored velveteen trousers, slit to the knees, but her chin-length straight hair seemed to annoy her, so she kept tucking it behind her ears like a school girl. The contradictions would have been more appealing if she hadn't seemed so awkward: nervous about performing in front of a French audience despite her famililiarity with the language, and with recurrent vocal control problems, with both pitch and breath, but the audience - fans of the two CDs, spaced eight years apart, that she's released in her elusive, critically-praised, and rather atypical career - were mostly supportive and encouraging, even adoring, especially at the point, late in the evening, when she abandoned her guitar and stood, waiflike in the smoke-filled spotlight against the blue stage, and sang Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose". Other highlights were her cover of Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love" and Patsy Cline's signature tune, "Walking After Midnight". She's clearly terrific in the recording studio; maybe she'll come into her own as a stage performer with more tours like the one she's just been on.

By 11:30 some of the Montrealers had left - past their bedtime on a Thursday night?? - but the others called Peyroux and her excellent bass and keyboard players back for an encore. She came back out onstage, followed by a sleepy Jackie Green, harmonica in hand, looking like he had been woken up from a nap in the wings, and they sang two American folk songs: a Dylan-inspired rendition of "Wish I Was in Dixie," and "Goodnight Irene" - a sure-fire, American sing-along song that the mostly-French-speaking crowd liked but certainly didn't know; the evening thus ended on an enthusiastic but fittingly bemused note.

10:11 AM |

Wednesday, November 10, 2004  

After seeing my opthamologist in the U.S., I got a second opinion from a doctor in Montreal. She felt I should try soft contacts, which can now correct astigmatism, and yesterday I went to pick them up. I've worn hard, gas-permeable lenses for thirty years, only using glasses early in the morning or late at night, and being without any contacts for the past month has been quite a trip down memory lane for me: the fogging-up of glasses upon coming into a warm interior after being outside; the way they get all greasy when you pull off a turtleneck and smush the glasses against your forehead; that clicking thing and potential entanglement when you kiss someone else who's wearing glasses (yes, J. even wears reading glasses now, but he sure didn't when we met). It's OK; I have new glasses that I really really like - they are Italian and stylish and much nicer-looking on my face than the wire- or tortoise-shell rims I've tended to choose in the past - but I miss my face.

So yesterday I drove back out to Boulevard l'Acadie for a contact lens fitting and, if all went well, to bring a pair home to try. The drive itself was exciting: I'm just learning to drive and navigate in the city, so it was fun to go all by myself and feel confident and, sort of like that other rite of passage from thirty-plus years ago - getting a driver's license - free to explore on my own.

I arrived at the office building - one of hundreds in the flat sea of retail outlets, home renovations depots, restaurants and produce warehouses that flank Blvd. l'Acadie - and went up the elevator to the third floor. There wasn't a long wait, and I was asked to come into a fitting room where a white-coated assistant asked me to wash my hands and proceeded to show me how to put in, take out, and care for the lenses. She was a woman a little older than myself, and she spoke almost no English, so we managed a rather technical conversation with two fractured languages, a lot of pantomime, and considerable good humor - she was very nice, and we liked each other. "Il faut que pousser?" I said, putting the lens against my eye and watching her mime a pushing motion; when I didn't push the lens didn't stick to my eye but came away on my finger. Such a strange thing - this tiny glistening blue bowl that was flexible, not rigid, and determined to turn itself inside-out on my fingertip, and yet could correct my vision perfectly!

After putting in the lenses I sat and waited for the doctor, who came in a few minutes. She is a young woman, very pretty and blond, who grew up in the Eastern Townships of Quebec; like all the professionals I've dealt with here, she has been unhurried, very direct, kind, and interested in having a mutually-satisfactory encounter. "The fit seems very good, they're moving well, and your vision is 20/20 - we can't ask for more than that!' she said, swinging the machines away from my face and looking pleased. "But how do they feel to you?"

I said so far they felt fine; I was a little amazed, since I well remembered the painful process of getting used to hard lenses. "That's great," she said, "often it takes several tries with different kinds. But I think these seem like they'll be fine for you."

We said goodbye and I checked back in with the nice woman who had given me the training; she put her hand on my arm and laughed, "We did all right!" she said. I said I'd try the lenses for a couple of weeks and then call her to place the order if they continued to feel good.

I looked out from the third floor window of the waiting room as I put on my coat and scarf, using the tall verdegris steeples of the churches near Jean-Talon and little Italy to orient myself to the city arrayed on the flat plain before me. Montreal has a compact downtown, but the city stretches for miles in every direction on the wide floodplain of the St. Lawrence. It's not beautiful, in any classic sense, and the landscape is really fairly monotonous - but Montreal is unique, and becoming familiar, and I actually know where I am most of the time, and how to get where I need to go. Standing in front of those big, clean plate-glass windows, with my new crystal-clear vision, I watched big jets slowly pass overhead on their way to Trudeau airport, and imagined the scene on the streets I now could identify in the distance. I felt a surge of affection for my new, adopted home, and utter astonishment that I could call it that. And then I went down the elevator and out into the cold air to buy groceries at Adonis, the nearby Middle Eastern market, and take them home for lunch.

8:38 PM |

Voilà le tourisme... grippal!

Those of you who read French will be amused by this article - if you don't, the gist of it is that a New York company is offering travel packages for Americans to come to Canada and get a flu shot. The price for two days and a shot? 220 $ US.
«Nous leur offrons un moyen relaxant d’avoir leur vaccin, en plus de découvrir Montréal», dit Douglas Tam, de l’entreprise AuctionMatic USA.

I've been wondering whether to get one; we usually do, but I've never been sure if they were all that effective. I also haven't had the flu for a number of years. Tomorrow there are clinics in our area - free to seniors and those "at risk", $10 Canadian for others - but I don't want to pay the "American premium", if there is one! Still - sure beats a nine hour bus ride!

8:29 PM |


A report from a resident of Falluja, a local journalist who has been writing reports in Arabic for the BBC.

And a report from P., a longtime resident of Ohio, on demographic trends he's observed and why they led to Bushs victory there (from comments here, but I don't want you to miss it.)

9:00 AM |

Tuesday, November 09, 2004  

Jason's comments on the previous post are worth reading, and while you're at it (not indulging in extreme stereotyping and dividing, that is) please take a look at this map of Purple America, previously linked at Creek Running North and referenced in Jason's comments.

Like Chris, I grew up in a state that was very mixed, a county that was mixed, and a town that was mixed (although in descending order of heterogeneity). It was the same state as his, actually - New York. It seems to me that during my lifetime, upstate New York has become less hidebound and conservative, perhaps partially due to the fact that there has been an influx of "otherness" that the people have gradually gotten more used to: urban people, liberals, Jews, a few blacks, gays and lesbians. But people in general are not as rigid or easily pigeonholed as the analysts would like us to believe: how else could a state be proud of such a diverse cast of characters as Hillary Clinton, Mario Cuomo, Nelson Rockefeller, Ralph Giuliani? Perhaps because those people all have admirable qualities and less-admirable ones: above all, they are real, and New Yorkers - both downstate and upstate - see aspects of themselves reflected in each of them.

As Chris and Jason point out, the national county map is a far more accurate way of looking at our country and ourselves than in big Electoral College blocks, though sadly, that is what it still comes down to. The worst of it is how dismissive this system, and this sort of red/blue analysis, is of the individual voter.

I haven't wanted to write much about politics since the election; others were doing such a good job, and I didn't feel like adding one more voice to the blog-din. I also wanted to take some time to be quiet and reflect on what was happening, especially from this northern perch across the border. I still feel that way.

I wasn't surprised about the election. The trend seemed ever clearer to me during the year that I stood on a street corner every Friday, before the war in Iraq, watching the reactions of people going by. I was shocked at first - and eventually numbed - by the intense polarization of the small numbers who did have an opinion, and the indifference of the much larger group who didn't. Among the latter, there seemed to be a complete lack of understanding that this government's policies have a direct effect on our lives; if they made up their minds about one candidate, it was likely to be on one or two issues taken out of context, or on that elusive factor known as "image". Among the former, everything was black-and-white, and although it was hard to know sometimes why the people held such definite opinions, it seemed to come down mostly to self-identity and background: they'd served in the military or knew someone who was serving; they had a religious reason for either supporting the government (adamantly pro-Israeli, fundamentalist Christian) or being against it (concerned progressive Jew; Arab or Muslim; committed progressive Christian pacifists); or maybe they had been war resisters during Vietnam...some, like the young men who'd drive by and yell obscenities from their cars, just seemed to be excited by the prospect of America going somewhere and "kicking ass".

While I appreciate all the soul-searching that's going on in blogland, and all the sincere attempts to understand the minds of those who voted for Bush, I think there are some clear rights and wrongs going on. It's wrong to kill, humiliate, and maim other human beings; to destroy their homes and livelihood; and especially to kill unarmed civilians, women and children. Yet we are doing this, and our tax dollars are supporting it - for nothing that could possibly be called "justifiable. I can't condone this. I can't say it's OK, or spend more time trying to understand someone's convoluted reasons for thinking it is OK. It's not. And I also cannot spend any more time and personal energy arguing about it, or waiting for a charismatic national leader with the courage to stand up and unequivocably, persistently say so.

I have a list of people who attend the monthly interfaith prayers for peace that I lead. After the election, a clergyperson in another denomination forwarded an invitation to hear a Jewish peace activist talk about the Middle East and foreign policy in the wake of our election. She said it would be an evening of hope and discussion for those who had been dismayed by the "disatrous" results of the election. Another friend of mine, who attends these monthly services, wrote and asked sarcastically if he would be welcome, being someone who was "excited and positive" about the election. This is what I no longer have time or energy for: the endless conflict, the arguing, the posturing, the insistence that both views have equal time as if both are morally equivalent. I am sorry. In God's world, and in the world I try to live out on earth, they are not.

Of course we are our brothers' keepers, and we are called upon to be decent to one another; I will always try to be decent even when it's not reciprocated. But we are faced with a grim situation, not only for the world but for our own survival as thinking, feeling, compassionate beings who have chosen not to live out a world view of continual aggression, conflict, and destruction as a means of pursuing "peace" and "freedom". As individuals, we have several potential paths. One is to continue to work toward policies and coalitions that will change the power balance. Another is to work to relieve suffering wherever we encounter it - any small way that we can help is vital, including helping one another. And we must take care of ourselves and our spirits by remembering and living out what it means to be human - continuing, despite the prevailing climate, to be creative, thoughtful, aware of the past, appreciative of the present and engaged in the possibilities for our future: to be people who refuse to despair.

I've decided to concentrate on these paths. Standing on the street corner with a group of commmitted women in black, I listened while others who shared our basic convictions were unable to stand silently, but spent the hour arguing about which way the Left should go - what actions should be taken, who was right and who was wrong - on and on. Local meetings of the peace and justice coalition dissolved into shouting matches. What we're seeing now is just as fragmented, and it doesn't bode well for organized resistance to the powers that be.

Personally, I've decided to step back for a while, to try to discern where I can be of the most service.

5:12 PM |

David Brook's article on Exurbia, from the New York Times, is a start: even if it doesn't tell us how to talk to this "other" America - it points out why and where it exists - and that Karl Rove got there long before us.

1:56 PM |

It's snowing.

9:02 AM |

Sunday, November 07, 2004  
This morning was brighter, warmer, and not raining, so after an early breakfast of pancakes, made with a wonderful Quebec mix of quatre farines – four flours (wheat, buckwheat, rice, and corn) we rode our bikes to the cathedral in the center of the downtown. I had thought today was the Festival of All Saints’, but that was celebrated here last week; instead it was Remembrance Day, the Canadian equivalent of Veteran's Day conflated with Memorial Day. On the steps of the cathedral were several Canadian guardsmen in green camouflage fatigues and black berets, sporting bright red poppies on their lapels – if fatigues can be said to have lapels. “A woman has fallen on the steps inside, and we’re waiting for an ambulance,” one apologized. “If you wouldn’t mind, could you please go in the side entrance?”

We entered the church and were surprised to see all the central pews filled with Canadian troops, seated by regiment, wearing various uniforms. We gathered our service leaflet and Book of Alternative Services and hymnals, and found a seat. The altar was bedecked with a sea of paper poppies. After the first hymn and the procession of clergy and choir, three grenadier guardsmen in red uniforms and tall black bearskin hats came up the aisle in silence with flags which were then taken up onto the altar, and the service began. Church attendance in Canada is nothing like what it is in America; the entire regular cathedral congregation in this huge city is smaller than my home parish. We got the impression that many of the young service men and women present were not accustomed to being in church, but being Canadian, they were patient, and extremely polite, joining in the hymns, following the service, and most of them – having been warmly invited by the Dean of the cathedral – took communion.

The service was long, solemn, quite beautiful, and to my surprise not at all a glorification of heroic military service, or an attempt to somehow justify a connection between religion and war - although connections were being made by the service's very existence - but a moving time of remembrance of the dead and what those deaths might mean to us today. The sermon, by the head of the theological school, was delivered curiously and effectively in French and English, but not repetitively – there were sort of two parallel stories, with an occasional restatement of an idea in the other language. He talked first about the ancient Greek ideal of the heroic fallen warrior who in literature and myth becomes a symbol for the nobility and suffering of all our human lives, and then stated that whether or not we think a war – such as the Second World War – is just, nothing – not even the freedom we enjoy today – can compensate for the tragedy of the death of an individual soldier who has forfeited their life. He suggested that by looking at Christ’s death on the cross – a military device used as, he said, “a shock and awe technique” by the Romans – and considering the possibility of eternal life that is given to us through that death – we can in fact find some solace in the deaths of the fallen.

I had two thoughts, hearing that. One was that an American military audience might well have walked out of the church; this one didn’t seem to have a problem with what was being said at all. The other was that I was enormously grateful that the Canadian government had refused to send these bright-eyed young people to Iraq, and just as sad to think of all the young Americans who are there, facing such an uncertain future. The Canadian army, at this point, is a true defensive force – these troops are trained, as one of the commanders told us at the lunch buffet afterwards, to defend the Canadian borders, "in all types of terrain and weather conditions”, but some, I’m sure, are also assigned to international peacekeeping forces. He said that you simply study the history and traditions of the various regiments and choose one that appeals to you. He was one of the grenadier guards in the red coats who had carried the flags – “but we’re infantry soldiers too,” he said.

The formerly American priest who I had met last time (he had immigrated in the 1960s and been a counselor for draft resisters during Vietnam) came up to us after the service, eager to meet my husband and to commiserate with us about the election (as have all our Canadian friends and neighbors). I asked about an announcement in the bulletin that next week there would be a discussion of the Windsor Report. Would I be welcome? “Of course!" he said. "I think the Dean is in charge of that - have you met him?” The Dean was at the reception – a large spread put on by the Grenadier Guards - and when we saw him eating alone, we went over to introduce ourselves. I mentioned that we were Americans, from the Diocese of New Hampshire, and that I was working on a book about Gene Robinson. “Ah-ha!” he said, again to my surprise. “Joyce told me about you!” (Joyce Sanchez is the assistant priest, who I had met two weeks ago.) “And Gene, of course, is one of our heros!” I said we had enjoyed the service; he replied bluntly that it wasn’t one of his favorite occasions – that he had been raised “in the pacifist tradition of the Church” and was uncomfortable with any combination of religion and patriotism.

So we proceeded to have a fascinating talk; he is British, a former Anglican priest who served with British diplomatic missions in Dunkirk and later in Finland and Sweden before moving to Canada fifteen years ago. And when we began to talk about the Windor Report, I was stunned - I thought I was progressive. He was not only extremely liberal and ready to cut ties with the Anglican Communion – “after all, it’s a vestige of the British Empire” but he was comfortably outspoken about his views in a way that seems very foreign to me, reminding me again how restrained and careful we tend to be in the American church about expressing potentially controversial opinions. He invited us up to his office and gave us a photocopy of a humorous cartoon reaction to the Report, and suggested a book that we immediately bought this afternoon: Fire and Ice, by Michael Adams, about the ways in which, despite Canadian fears of convergence, Canada and America are actually moving in different directions. It's based on a study of trends in values expressed by a cross-section of people in the two societies. I can’t wait to read it. And I hope I can be here next week to hear the Dean’s presentation on the history of the Anglican Communion, and how this history is reflected in the Windsor Report.

Then we had a late lunch at the Iraqi café, and stopped at a grocery store nearby, where I noticed a stack of today’s La Presse. On the cover, under the headline “Avant de donner l’assault a Falluja, les Americains jouent les gladiateurs” (“before the assault on Falluja, Americans play as gladiators”) was a shocking picture of American marines dressed up as gladiators, a la Ben Hur, cheered on by troops, getting them worked up for the assault on Falluja. How bizarrely, amazingly ignorant: this "Christian" army donning the garb of the Roman legions who crucified Christ. I’d like to know if anyone has seen this photo reproduced anywhere else. I’m sure it’s in the Arab media, working up others who also think they have God on their side.

5:56 PM |

Saturday, November 06, 2004  

I went for a long walk yesterday afternoon, under grey skies. There was a fierce wind - nearly strong enough to support my leaning weight when I stopped at the first intersection, and for a brief moment I felt the winter's first tiny ice bits hitting my cheek. I walked up to Avenue Mont Royal and then west. There are still bicyclists, but fewer, and the people who were on the street walked hurriedly, heads down, in grey or black clothes, necks wrapped in thick scarves.

I pulled my black beret down over my ears and forehead and huddled down into my own lavender scarf. In the shoestore window, boots and winter shoes nestled in drifts of artificial snow, accompanied by jaunty penguins made from black and white feathers. I looked longingly into cafe windows as I went past, picking up my pace as the wind tunneled down the street, and finally, ears stinging, ducked into a favorite used bookstore, filled with French titles and a big collection of used CDs. I browsed for half an hour, looking at art books; photography; French language guides and reference books; English authors like Robert Ludlum translated into French; Quebecois fiction; classics; children's picture books; recordings in the jazz and classical piano sections. Other browsers stood alongside me, and I watched sideways as their hands, like mine, quickly riffled through the tightly-packed plastic cases of CDs. Someone in a brown coat next to me, a man, muttered to me in French, perhaps something about excuse me, I just want to switch places and look over here. I glanced at him and moved over; he didn't expect a response but was intent on some particular title. Suddenly he plucked a case triumphantly out of the shelf, held it up to the light, and, still muttering to himself, headed off to the register.

I put my hat back on and went out into the street, making a detour through Moisson (a well-known chain of Montreal high-end bakeries) but was unable to decide on anything. I walked back down Brebeuf, along the bike path without seeing a single cyclist, past M. Pinchot, my favorite bakery. Ah! I made it past! We didn't need a baguette for dinner, and I ignored the other loaves in the window. But no - in the other window was a basket of fresh almond croissants, which they don't always have. Up the steps, into the tiny shop and the aroma of hot soup and baking bread. One of the pretty helpers came out, in black pants and a black t-shirt with a white apron and kerchief. I asked for a single almond croissant, she smiled, I paid: un sac? she asked. non. I put the croissant, in its little wax-paper bag, into my knapsack; the pastry was still warm. I glanced at my watch - half an hour before I said I'd be back - and headed down to the park.

In the summer, the grande allee (in the picture above) is always filled rollerbladers practicing their tricks, while other park denizens sit on the benches and read, play instruments, write poetry, talk to themselves, kiss their lovers, feed the squirrels. Not a soul there today. At the end of the allee, I stopped to converse with a squirrel who was busily eating an acorn. He showed no interest in moving, so we stood and looked at each other; he went on eating; I turned to go and found three other squirrels six inches from my feet, looking at me expectantly like cats. Forget it! I said. Nothing for you today.

The leaves are half off the trees here, half on the ground in loose drifts that stir and toss in the invisible currents of air. I started down the hill toward the lake, now merely a beach of wet pebbles. A flock of seagulls waddled back and forth under the trees, and I laughed out loud, noticing that their tailfeathers were black with big white polkadots. It all seemed, suddenly, like a dance: the miming, hungry squirrels; the carnival-like seagulls; the set - a mosaic of yellow, beige, gold, red, chartreuse leaves against the blue-grey paved walkways; the wind tearing overhead in the trees in huge gusting waves, like orchestra strings in unison, while across the stage - now left, now right - rushed a yellow corps de ballet of fallen leaves.

I turned and started for home, as if returning from a performance, exhilarated as I always am by being out in nature when it is wild and unruly. Nothing we humans could do would ever stop that wind, and I found the thought oddly comforting, as was my anonymity. I turned the outside key in the lock, watching myself go inside, into my own small nest: unknown here as a squirrel, fleeting as a leaf, cheeks bright from the wind.

7:05 AM |

Wednesday, November 03, 2004  

I'll have more to say - hopefully of a constructive nature - tomorrow. Right now we are trying to get a professional job out the door, which is mercifully taking my mind off, at least a little, the death sentence that was signed yesterday for thousands more human beings, American and non-American. I am in mourning for them, and for those who will be wounded and maimed, and for the people who love them.

At last night's election gathering, one man told me he had been listening to a report from Florida, saying that the turnout of young black males in a particular area had been very high. The reason was that several hip-hop DJs there had been repeatedly broadcasting the chant "Vote or Die" - and the youth in that particular area had listened and figured maybe they had better vote.

Other can only watch. The picture above was taken on a recent Sunday afternoon in a Montreal café – the one I often visit which is owned by an Iraqi. The usual group of McGill students was studying together by the window which looks out over the rue Milton/Av. Du Parc bus stop. I ordered a cappuccino and the day’s special - my choice of three out of six or seven types of Middle Eastern vegetable salads, always delicious and absolutely fresh. Cucumbers in a vinaigrette, cauliflower and carrots, taboulleh. While I ate I read the paper, which had, as usual, a page of in-depth articles on the Middle East, and this large picture of a wounded woman and child in Iraq, taken during the recent Falluja offensive.

A different man tends the counter and the espresso machine on Sundays; he looks Arab as well. I ordered in French and then listened as I drank my coffee; most of the other people who came in spoke to him in English. When I finished eating and reading I got up and gave him my plate and cup, and asked him if he preferred to converse in English. Yes, he said, smiling. It was easier for him to respond that way. I apologized for not being able to speak Arabic, and asked if he was also Iraqi. Yes, he said. I told him that I was married to someone Middle Eastern, and we talked for quite a while, liking each other, finding our common ground. Do you still have family in Iraq? I asked. Of course, he said, and shrugged. In Baghdad? Yes. A long silence.

I understand a little about America, why it thinks the way it does, he then said. I remember visiting a friend in San Diego. We were sitting on his deck, eating a beautiful lunch, and there was the ocean, this lovely home. That was during the first Gulf War and Baghdad had been bombed, so I was very distracted. And I asked him how he could not be concerned, and he said, I am so busy here, I have so many things to think about just to care for my family, my house, my job, my life. And I understand that. It’s hard for you to imagine the desert and the dust when everything around you is green, and your home seems so solid and you have your job and your family. All that is very far away. I know. I have been here for seventeen years and I have so much to do just to try to take care of my family. It’s hard sometimes even for me to remember to think of my family back in Baghdad, even with all of this going on.

I told him we weren’t Muslim but that I had close friends who were. He waved my comment away, and gestured up, over his head. It’s not important what religion we are, he said, meeting my eyes. Religion is something between you and the Creator, he said. But humanity… is humanity.

6:24 PM |

Tuesday, November 02, 2004  


I'm allowing myself to feel just slightly, ever-so-slightly optimistic. My mother just called, saying that a friend who is in Wisconsin with the Kerry campaign called home and said not to worry, they are sure they will carry Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The heavy turnout should favor Kerry as well. But it's going to be very tight.

Tonight we're invited to an election-night potluck "party" to watch the returns. We were at this same place four years ago, cheering as Florida went Democratic, and then watching in stunned disbelief as the call was reversed. It still makes my stomach plunge to think about it.

We voted already, and hadn't planned to be in the U.S. today, but I'm glad I'm here, regardless of outcome. It would be very strange to be in another country. The only other time in my life I voted by absentee ballot was in my very first election, in 1972. (I had been a door-to-door campaigner for Eugene McCarthy in 1968, but had been too young to vote.) I still remember marking that ballot in my college dorm room and mailing it in.

1:37 PM |

Monday, November 01, 2004  
A blogger friend sent this BBC link to the latest news from the African Anglican bishops, who say that they will no longer send their priests for training in the West, and resolved "to set up their own institutions, consistent with African culture and theology."

This is a decisive move away from a colonial model of church towards one in which Africans see the roles reversed - that is, where the parent Church of England should learn from them...

Many Anglicans in Africa see the decline in Western Christianity as the product of secular decadence and believe it is up to them to uphold the purity of the gospel...The message of this meeting in Lagos appears to be that whether or not the Americans repent of their actions, African clergy will lead the way with a "pure" home-grown theology.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?


Worried about tomorrow's election, I've spent the day trying to work myself out of the morose mood of the morning by transcribing interview tapes for the book. It's the first work I've done on it in a week, because we had professional jobs that were top priority. Over the weekend, we also had two huge computer problems, the worst of which has been resolved. For the other - affecting our large-format printer - the repairman is coming tomorrow. Sigh. Dealing with our technological infrastructure is not my job or forte; J. does all of it, and he suffers as a result.

But at 5:00 I sat down at the piano, and played for the first time in a long while. I read through parts of two Schubert Impromptus - badly, but enjoyably - and then sight-read, much easily, Mozart's Nine Variations on a Minuet of Duport. What a delight! When I was young, playing both flute and piano, I was given a lot of pieces by Mozart, and found them less than enchanting. Probably I had no idea how to make them really musical: the repetitive passages bored and annoyed me, and the different thematic sections seemed disjointed and unrelated except by key. I suppose I craved easily-grasped melody and romance at that age. But later, especially after discovering and studying Mozart's operas and liturgical music, I was willing to go back and rediscover the piano literature.

A dear friend gave me most of Mozart's piano works for my fiftieth birthday, with the dryly encouraging note, "This should keep you busy until you're 90." He's right, of course, although he and I both like music that's all over the historical map. What I loved about these variations today was their inventiveness, naturally, and their range, but the seventh variation made me laugh out loud - so fresh and surprising, so deft, so complete in itself and yet a wonderful further exploration of the simple theme. At times like that the centuries simply collapse, and Mozart and I are right there in the room together - he quite amazed by my Schimmel upright, capable of bass and volume unheard of in his day - and I can practically hear him laughing delightedly at himself at the last note and pleading for praise - "Pretty good one, isn't it??" I was grateful to him for making me feel better, in this world he couldn't possibly have conjured, even in that teeming imagination.

6:32 PM |

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