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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
Thursday, September 30, 2004  

Yesterday we drove up through the vast flat fields above the Canadian border, where the corn that stretched to the horizon all summer is being cut and ground up for silage. We turned off the main road to investigate a billowing cloud of dust. The source was a big tractor dragging a steel I-beam up and down a cut, plowed, dry field, levelling it and breaking up any clods of dirt that had formed. In another place, a drainage ditch stretched all the way beyond a golden field of drying soybeans into the town far beyond, with its metallic-aluminum-painted church steeple and red-roofed houses -- a setting for a modern painting by the likes of Millet. You could stand beside the standing corn and hear it singing: the half-dry stalks rubbing and rustling against each other for miles and miles.

Here in the city, the park has changed a lot in two weeks. The trees are turning; most of the pique-nique tables are stacked up for the winter; there is less lounging-in-the-grass and summer exuberance, and a more somber, reflective mood, although I did see one romantic couple wrapped together, sleeping contentedly under a blanket in teh early afternoon. A shorn black standard poodle chased happily after a squirrel; the old men in their short jackets and caps played cards; and here and there bike riders had stopped and were sitting on benches, looking out over the lake or the trees.

I rode through the park and over to Waldman’s, the big fresh fish market on rue Roy, to see what they had today. I guess Thursday is a good day to go, because the great tables of ice were loaded with hundreds of fresh fish of every description: grey sole and snapper, skate, salmon, a pile of rough oysters, a box of snapping blue crabs. Of the whole fish there were many kinds I had never even seen before; the filets and steaks looked perfect and were, to my mind, expensive. It was too much for me. All I had wanted were some sole filets, which they didn’t have today. Instead I stared at the glassy golden eyes of the silvery bonita, the camouflage patterning of the mackerel, a spiny greenish pile of sea urchins, recoiled from a huge yellow-spotted eel, and left empty-handed but visually satiated.

9:29 PM |

Tuesday, September 28, 2004  
"The spirit we have,
not the work we do,
is what makes us important
to the people around us."
Joan Chittister, OSB

JOAN CHITTISTER, Benedictine nun, writer, and progressive Catholic, will be celebrating her 50th year as a sister in the Benedictine order on Oct 2. I've admired her courageous, forthright essays for years, and while I was looking for an old one today, I came across this recent essay, The Sacredness of the Singular, one of her "From Where I Stand" columns for the National Catholic Reporter, written about a recent trip to Japan. She talks about the vast differences in cultural values - which struck her both positively and negatively - and what they taught her about her own culture in America.

I asked my translator at dinner what I was eating as an appetizer. I expected her to say something like, "it's an avocado salad or a liver pate or a Japanese antipasto. But no. Instead she took her chopsticks, picked up what I thought was a sliver of vegetable about one-sixteenth of an inch long, almost obscured by the chopstick itself, and said, "This is sole." And then, in the same way, "This piece is spinach." and "This is a rosemary flower," and pointing to the bottom of the dish, "and that is its leaf." One by one, each single, almost invisible piece was lifted up to some kind of living splendor...

I know why I went to Japan. I went so that whatever the madness and massiveness of this world, I could remember the sacredness of the singular, the space that silence gives, the wonder of the individual, the reverence for the other and the comfort of order.

It's hard enough being liberal in an liberal-leaning denomination such as mine. But Joan has gone up against so many old, hidebound attitudes in hers, taking on the male hierarchy and engaging the pressing issues of our time. She stands up for women's ordination and women's rights, the environment, peace and justice...and writes eloquently and firmly: no nonsense about her. It's refreshing, and I'm glad for her voice. May she have many more years to carry on.


ROWAN WILLIAMS, Archbishop of Canterbury, has disappointed many of us by his apparent weakness in dealing with the fundamentalist bishops who want sanctions or excommunication from the Anglican Communion for the American and Canadian Churches for their stance on homosexual ordinations. He is, however, a brilliant theologian and scholar. During a recent trip to Egypt, he addressed a Muslim audience at al-Azhar al-Sharif Institute in Cairo, a reknowned center of study for Sunni Islam. His address focussed on one of the main points of contention between Muslims and Christians - the doctrine of the Trinity, and whether this means that Christians are not true Monotheists.

For anyone who's interested in theology, Williams' remarks are well worth reading; having tried to engage this debate myself with Muslim friends, I thought what he said was remarkable. I doubt it would fly with most American Christians, who have been raised on a much less intellectual and historical view. As one of my friends, a professor of Islamic studies, remarked, "The concept of Jesus being your best friend is a peculiarly American invention."

I read parts of this lecture as the reflection today at our monthly interfaith prayers for peace, and it sparked some lively discussion afterwards between the Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

11:33 AM |

Monday, September 27, 2004  

I had just put last night's leftover rice on the stove to heat up, and was washing some lettuce, when I heard voices downstairs, and my husband laughing. "Look who's here, honey!" he said. Coming up the stairs were our rector and his wife, good friends of ours. Yesterday, I had invited them for dinner tonight, but they hadn't called back - or so I'd thought. Instead, the wife said she had called and left a message saying they were coming, and she'd bring a big bowl of broccoli - which she had in her hand as she came up through the darkness. We hadn't turned a single light on, of course.

Well, after the initial apologies and laughter, none of this was a problem. Everybody settled down immediately; I found more lettuce, took a loaf of French bread out of the freezer, steamed the broccoli, and cooked the pound of fish I had bought expecting to get two meals for ourselves; there was plenty. For dessert we had Arabic coffee and four big apples. I would have probably fussed over dinner if I'd known they were coming; Rev. H. is a diabetic on a strict diet and trying to control his cholesterol, so that limits things; as it was we just threw together what was in the refrigerator and within the dietary limitations, and everyone was perfectly happy. The point was, after all, being together. It turned out to be one of the most relaxed and happy evenings we've spent in a long time.

H.'s wife, T., told a funny story of a friend who was invited to a dinner party. She and her husband got all dressed up and arrived at the house, only to be told that the party was actually the next night - but their friends invited them in anyway, and they all had a good time. The next night, they dressed again, and went to the party at the appointed hour. On the following night, her husband said, "Hey, let's get dressed up and go over there again," - and they did! Their friends thought it was hysterical, and invited them in for the third time. And all four of them still tell the story.

10:19 PM |

Sunday, September 26, 2004  

At church this morning, one of my friends who has just been in England handed me a copy, hot off the press, of Stephen Bates' new book A Church at War/Anglicans and Homosexuality. It has Bishop Gene Robinson on the cover, and is the only book besides mine, that I know of, to take on these issues.

Stephen Bates, a highly-respected writer and journalist who is the religion and royal correspondent for The Guardian, wrote a book that is about the organized effort by the conservative right to take over the heart of the Anglican Communion, and their use of this particular issue to drive the final wedge that may mean schism. I'm sure it is excellent, and I'm anxious to read it. Although I will be dealing with that opposition a good deal, it's not my focus; my book is about Gene Robinson himself; who he is; how and why his election happened; why it has meant so much to people outside the church as well as within it; and what opportunities and challenges lie ahead as a result. It's a progressive Episcopalian, and probably typically American, point of view that assumes continual forward motion toward inclusion and true acceptance, despite the power of the conservative movement and the potential for schism.

Right now Bates' book is sitting temptingly, and a little ominously, over there on my table. I could sit down and read it right now. Or I could work on my own book. Or I could take the Sabbath off for once, and go soak up some sun while working on the garden. I think that last choice sounds like the best one, frankly.

See you later.

1:50 PM |

Saturday, September 25, 2004  

At Zeke's Gallery, (the physical gallery is not far from where I live in Montreal (I haven't visited in person yet but I plan to on my next stay there, if I can) an interview with artist Chris Dyer, who paints fascinating and intricate paintings on busted skateboards. Lots of pictures of the art included.

"En ville, sans ma voiture": Wednesday was NoCar Day in much of central Montreal and in the Plateau. We were VERY sorry to miss this, but Blork has posted some great pictures, with a running commentary. Be sure to check out the photos of the tiny European electric cars and the police vehicle - no, they are not toys!

My biggest and most unexpected laughs this week came from the discovery of YarnHarlot, a terrific blog all about knitting written by a woman who is soooo funny. The link above is for a post on the saga of her Latvian Mittens. ("SMS", explained in an earlier post, is "Second Mitten Syndrome".) Maybe non-knitters won't enjoy the humor quite so much, but I truly understood the concept of rolling around in one's collection of double-points, hoping for a puncture wound, after a particularly horrible mistake-discovery. (By the way, she is a wonderfully skilled knitter, too.)

10:10 AM |

Friday, September 24, 2004  

Writing, writing, writing. I've been determined to finish a chapter of the book this week, and today it bifurcated into two chapters. That's OK - I've seen it coming - and the result is a marked improvement - but it's going to be hard to finish both by Tuesday, although I've got a chance. I've never worked this concentratedly on a long piece of writing, and I wasn't sure I could. Now that it is actually coming together, making sense, and I can see the pages - virtual though they may be - accumulating, I am quite amazed. Maybe I can do this, after all.

In the middle of the afternoon, in need of a break for my weary eyes, neck and head, I made a cup of tea and went out to sit on the back steps and look at the garden in the fall sunlight. There's not much in bloom - sedum, and the last black-eyed susans and phlox, a few late roses - but it's pretty in a tangled, artfully disordered way. My gaze, though, settled on the grass in front of me. I rested the teacup against my cheek, feeling the warmth, and watched the green strands, grown tall on the cool northern side of the house. They were - dancing. In a breeze too imperceptible to toss a leaf, or be sensed by the tiny hairs on my arm, the long strands were swaying by the hundreds, the thousands. Beneath and among the grass, I could see the busy movement of ants hurrying on their tasks, and the occasional touch-down of a bee, the size of a helicopter in this miniature metropolis. Closer to my eyes, I saw further planes of existence, where gnats drifted on the same invisible breeze, backlit by the sunlight. It was a scene as fascinating as watching Manhattan from the top of those vanished towers, and for a short time my own existence vanished too, so caught up was I in the myriad lives before me, in their emerald city.

8:02 PM |

Thursday, September 23, 2004  
I was proud to read this statement published by the members of the Anglican Peace and Justice Network, representing 23 Provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion, who recently visited the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. They wrote that they were "inspired by the faith of the people in the diocese, while also being exposed to the draconian conditions of the continuing Occupation under which so many Palestinians live." The statement is worth reading as a succinct summary of the reality of the situation, the destablilizing role of the U.S., and a careful point-by-point recommendation of what needs to be done.

The members of the delegation are listed, and I was glad to see two familiar names: Ethan Flad, the editor of The Witness, which has published two articles of mine in the past year, and Nancy Dinsmore, who works for Episcopal Relief and Development in Jerusalem and was our contact when we were coordinating some relief funds for Episcopal hospitals serving both the Christian and Muslim populations in the West Bank. I had heard a few months ago that Israel was planning to deny visa extensions for people like Nancy. She has worked there for nearly ten years, and I hope this means she was somehow allowed to stay and continue her very important work.

1:33 PM |

Tuesday, September 21, 2004  

Oh my. Leonard Cohen is 70 today. I have to say, I can't quite get my head around that.

Back in the summer of 1970, when the poet was not quite 36 and I was not quite 18, I had my first real romance. The guy in question was a year older than I was: a soulful, bearded Jewish radical who had a year of college under his belt. He was urban, stuck in our small town for a summer where his father, a businessman, had come to run a factory. I spotted him right away - who was this darkly fascinating guy in our rural, waspy town, taking photographs in the park with a cool Leica that hung from a woven, bright-colored hippie camera strap over his shoulders? It turned out we had a friend in common. We met. I was naive, bored, eager, nervous. He was bored, sweet, funny, a good teacher...

And among other things, he taught me about music. He had The Badge - he'd been to Woodstock. That summer he took me all the way to Utica to see the movie so that I could feel a little better what it had been like; see Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin; revel in the muddy utopian vision that Woodstock had been. I was in love; I tried hard to get it. He worked as a counselor and photography instructor at a summer camp, and on the hot humid nights he'd sometimes drive the forty miles or so to come and see me. We'd sit on the dock and look at the stars, and then come inside and play music in the dark: Crosby, Stills & Nash. The Band (his favorite). Sometimes we listened to the Firesign Theater. And, of course, Leonard Cohen.

It was all so bittersweet and doomed, right from the beginning, but that, of course, fit in with everything else that was happening to our world. Our parents looked on, too wise, knowing us too well, probably glad that the summer was as short as it was. They could see our lives stretching out in all their bright potential; we were caught up in our own poignant, tragic moment. The night before I left for college his father, who I liked a great deal, told me, fondly, "Knock 'em dead". I didn't know what to respond. I was so ready to go, and so miserable about leaving this first love - he'd wait for me, right? He'd be there at Thanksgiving?

We lay on his bed in the upstairs room, and listened to Leonard Cohen: Suzanne, Bird on the Wire, those ultra-cheery lyrics of Dress Rehearsal Rag - "Why don't you join the Rosicrucians/they will give you back your hope" - we knew them all by heart. He kissed me again and again. We cried. I left.

He broke up with me that fall. He had had a girlfriend in Washington all along; he went back to her; I couldn't believe it. I cried every morning of the first semester, and then, slowly, I began to get over it, to enjoy college, and even start thinking I might be able to knock 'em a little bit for a loop, if not so soundly dead as that prescient, entrepreneurial father had suggested. He was a kind man who had seen it all unfolding, and probably wished he had been young again too. He had spoken to my mother, who told me later that he'd said, worrying in his bearlike, warm, Jewish way: "She's a wonderful girl. And I'm a passionate man, and I know my son..."

We never got that far; he didn't need to worry. I wonder if his son has the same memories I do - all good ones, at this point, of a summer that couldn't have happened at any other time in history, and of our own young lives intertwined in the lyrics of those sad and exuberant songs.

Sisters of Mercy
by Leonard Cohen

O the sisters of mercy they are not
Departed or gone,
They were waiting for me when I thought
That I just can’t go on,
And they brought me their comfort
And later they brought me this song.
O I hope you run into them
You who’ve been traveling so long.

Yes, you who must leave everything
That you cannot control;
It begins with your family,
But soon it comes round to your soul.
Well, I’ve been where you’re hanging
I think I can see how you’re pinned.
When you’re not feeling holy,
Your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.

Well they lay down beside me
I made my confession to them.
They touched both my eyes
And I touched the dew on their hem.
If your life is a leaf
That the seasons tear off and condemn
They will bind you with love
That is graceful and green as a stem.

When I left they were sleeping,
I hope you run into them soon.
Don’t turn on the light
You can read their address by the moon;
And you won’t make me jealous
If I hear that they sweeten your night
We weren’t lovers like that
And besides it would still be all right
We weren’t lovers like that
And besides it would still be all right.

7:24 PM |

Monday, September 20, 2004  

It's not tomorrow yet (see the previous post) and here I am again, NOT writing about politics. It's my birthday, as some of my friends have already noted in the comments, so first of all thank you - for the birthday wishes, and for making this past year so much more interesting and fulfilling and encouraging than it would have been without you. Right now I am full of cake and rather sleepy, and just wishing I could have shared our little party with all of you.

As elck wrote so marvelously in his Steinberg Variations, Bach's Chaconne in D minor is a musical touchstone. A few years ago, I encountered the variations on the Bach Chaconne by Ferrucchio Busoni, written for solo piano. A dear friend of mine had heard the performance of the Bach-Busoni on an international flight between Europe and the Far East. The pianist was Mikhael Pletnev, and it was a live performance - his astounding Carnegie Hall debut - which was fortunately recorded and released as a two-disc CD - the encores alone comprise the second CD. The performance begins with the Bach-Busoni, in which the piano states the theme simply - or as simply as a piano can, compared to a solo violin - and then proceeds to expound on the Chaconne, in homage to the Chaconne, in gratitude to the Chaconne, in wonder at the Chaconne.

After the flight, my friend - who is, like me, an amateur pianist and classical music lover - sent me the CD as a birthday present. I put it on, and listened. I had never heard anything in teh piano literature like this adaptation of the Bach Chaconne; I was transfixed; exhilarated, deeply moved; I listened again. To this day, I can't hear it without tears in my eyes.

What that piece represents to me is difficult to describe. The Chaconne in Bach's Second Partita for Violin is a sublime statement, pared down to its absolute essentials - one line of notes, stretching for some twelve minutes and a bit more. It is like pure light. Busoni's piece is a mirror reflecting that light, held at different angles: a mirror trying to explain what light means to it. To me, it is one of the most extraordinary attempts to show, in music, what a piece of music meant to another human being. And then there is the pianist who performs it: him or herself another mirror, reflecting again the original light, as seen in the mirror.

Some purists don't like variations, but I think they are one of the most wonderful forms in music, used to full advantage by some of the greatest composers. Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn come to mind, or Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, or Bach's Goldbergs, or the many, many variations of Mozart. When you try to play them yourself, the themes are revealed, inside out and upside down, major and minor, turned into waltzes, danced as gigs, squared up as a march. It boggles the mind, delights the heart, and strains the fingers; this is the human mind at its most inventive.

I once tracked down the score for the Bach-Busoni in Archambault, a big music store in Montreal, and took the sheet music over to a couch and sat down, reading it in my head. I knew the music well enough to be able to follow it in my head, but on a practical level it was utterly unplayable, or so it looked to me - making Pletnev's achievement even more astounding. Reverently, humbly, I put the music back in the shelf, to wait for someone far more skilled than myself; all I needed I had gotten: the mental image I carry with me still of the thousands of notes cascading over the pages, spilling their story of all the gratitude, passion, love, sorrow, joy and relinquishment a life could possibly hold.

The story of the Busoni arrangement of the Bach Chaconne reminds me, too, of what we sometimes do here: how one person's words - themselves an attempt to distill the ineffable into words, -inspire someone else to elaborate, or tell another story of their own, without taking anything away from the original. I loved the comment thread after elck's post: how some people had a great deal to say, some just a word, all those threads weaving together in response to something quite extraordinary we had read and shared, originally inspired by a work of Bach's that many, I am guessing, have never heard.

9:21 PM |

The more time I spend outside the U.S., the more of a shock it is each time we come back. We arrived at our house last last night, went to bed, and today one of my first tasks after reading the news - always cheery, no matter where you are these days - was to go get the mail and then go to the supermarket to get some food. Even in French Montreal, with its butchers, bakers, and chocolate-makers, there are supermarkets, and I do go to them sometimes. So this morning the Price Chopper itself was not the shock, it's more the vastness of the selection, and the fact that meat, for instance, is so inexpensive. You would never, in a million years, guess that people in the world are hungry or that there is anything but an endless supply of foodstuffs, by looking at an American supermarket. I've heard that people from Russia, for instance, want to go to an American supermarket as one of their first stops when visiting the U.S. What on earth do they think? What is it like for them when they go home?

And then there are the yellow ribbons on the cars, more every time. I restrained myself from making a collection in the parking lot. Then as I drove down the strip, i noticed that the sign at the seafood restaurant chain read: "Military Monday". What does that mean, I wondered. Special prices for ex-servicepeople? A percentage goes to the troops? Should I go ask? No, I told myself, just keep driving, go home, make yourself a cup of tea.

But good for John Kerry, to finally take a stand on the war. If he's going to go down, better to go down swinging, and to have the campaign be about something. And having it be about real issues is surely the only way he can win.

And I wish every American could have the opportunities I am having to talk to Canadians about politics. They are eager to talk, and enter the conversation not with the criticism you might expect, but a kind of pleading hopefulness that seems to say, "Please tell me there is some cause for optimism. Tell me that the America I have experienced and admire and care about hasn't gone to sleep or succumbed to paranoia. Please tell me that you see some glimmers of change." There is, of course, incredulity about American foreign policy and the ignorance of the electorate - but when I have these conversations I have the sense of talking to a deeply concerned friend who sees the fall off the wagon, the self-destructiveness, the acting-out and the torpor that come when fear takes over.

"What about the academics? The intellectuals? The students?" they say. "I've met such brilliant, sophisticated, world-conscious people who are American. Scientists. Teachers. Entrepreneurs. Artists and writers. Isn't there any organized opposition? Is it really all about oil? And what about Congress, don't you have a system of checks and balances? Why can't Congress pass a better energy policy? What about those gigantic cars? Why are Americans so protective of Israel? Are Americans really that afraid, even in small towns? Why? What about these 'gated communities' we hear about, is that really true?"

How do you explain these things?

It's fascinating, and quite sad to see the reaction when I am unable to be optimistic, at least in the short term, although I continue to believe - and say so - in goodness and fairness winning in the long run. I just wish everybody could experience this; it might wake more of us up.

And I promise tomorrow not to talk about politics.

3:03 PM |

Saturday, September 18, 2004  
Yesterday we had coffee with a neighbor, a wonderful woman who has been very kind and helpful to us. As it often does in this city, the conversation turned to food. She made several recommendations, including a place I visited today, La Vieille Europe, a charcuterie cum fromagerie cum epicier…which we Anglos might call, in shorthand, a glorified deli. La Vieille Europe is a small store packed with goods imported from Europe, including England: 300 varieties of cheese, or so they claim; many many coffees, roasted fresh on the premises; pastas; teas; oils; sea salts and spices; packaged cookies and snacks; a wonderful charcuterie of cold cuts, salamis, fresh sausages and pates; and a mind-boggling selection of European chocolates. I was fortunate to get out of there with only one chocolate bar, some Polish ham and summer salami, and two pounds coffee, one of which was from Cuba. It took me nearly the whole bike ride back home to realize that this was probably the first Cuban product I have ever bought. I immediately made a cup for J., and the aroma filled our apartment.

I also asked my neighbor about a French tutor – did she know anyone who might help me improve my listening comprehension and speaking? Today she came by our apartment and said, indeed, she had asked her friends and found someone, who I later called. I think it may be a fine match. The woman is also a writer, very kind and nice, and she told me – speaking French all the while and helping me when I had trouble on the phone – that she’d like to meet but not in the house – let’s walk, she said, in the park, and visit the patisserie, the charcuterie, the café – and talk as we walk. I write in the morning, she explained, and I need to get out in the afternoon. It sounded perfect to me, especially after a week of hard work moving words around. I’m excited to meet her – a new adventure!

We've both worked hard on professional jobs this week, and haven't gone out much at all; right now we're busy stripping wallpaper and prepping the bedroom for painting tomorrow. Last night we went to a remarkable film, Silent Waters, a Pakistani film about the impact of two Islamic fundamentalist organizers on a small village in Pakistan. Overlaid on the tension between conservative and more liberal Muslims, and the fight between India and Pakistan, is an old conflict between Sikhs and Muslims. In spite of the sweep of large-scale political realities that the film portrayed, it was also a very subtle examination of the way individuals make choices – often in conflict with prevailing societal mores – based on love and personal morality. It is also an examination of simple women’s lives in that culture, and how they are affected by male decisions about “honor” or “pride” or “virtue”, even to the point of death. It was riveting, shocking, moving, haunting; often beautiful in the way Iranian movies are beautiful, joyful in the way Indian movies are joyful, but something all on its own. J. groaned when we sat down in the theater – although the listing had said “English subtitles”, the movie was in Urdu with French subtitles. But even so, he managed to get the sense of it easily. I’ve been thinking about it all day.

8:58 PM |

Thursday, September 16, 2004  

what party we missed in the park on Sunday. The Health Festival and the Montreal Marathon, which started on the Jacques Cartier Bridge and finished very near to us. Damn! A la prochaine!

and, coming up this weekend:

The Third Citizen's Summit on the Future of Montreal

Toward participatory democracy - A Citizen Agenda!

Participants at the 3rd Citizen's Summit will work toward building a Citizen's Agenda on local democracy

-To propose concrete means of bringing forward the principles of sustainable development, equity, inclusiveness and transparency of the elected.

-To offer opportunities for citizens and community groups to contribute to the creation of new means of citizen participation in the planning and the management of urban affairs thereby strengthening local democracy in Montreal.

Vers la démocratie participative - Un agenda citoyen!

Les échanges durant le 3ième Sommet contribueront à bâtir un Agenda citoyen de la démocratie locale pour

-mettre à l’avant-plan des principes de développement durable, d’équité et d’inclusivité, d’imputabilité et de transparence des élus, et proposant des moyens concrets d’y parvenir.

-permettre aux citoyennes et citoyens et aux organismes socio-communautaires qui en feront la promotion, de contribuer à la création de nouveaux espaces de participation citoyenne à la gestion et à la planification des affaires urbaines et ainsi de renforcer la démocratie locale montréalaise.

8:16 PM |


Yes, my home state of Vermont is still pretty idyllic in many places. Above, the congregational church and old school in a tiny hill town between Royalton and Brookfield, and below, a typical upland pasture. If you look closely, there's a rope tow (for downhill skiing) running out of that shed and up the hill. J. learned to ski on a tow like that in Woodstock, Vermont, home of the first rope tow in the U.S.


Susurra and Chris have been musing lately, in the comments and elsewhere, about the efficacy of non-violent protest. One of my greatest frustrations during the year prior to the war in Iraq was the lack of public protest. I was out on a streetcorner every Friday for that entire year, but it was like flogging dead horses to get people - in a liberal, university town, no less - to protest with their feet. The excuses read like a second-grade teacher's list: "Oh, I've written to my Senators," "Protesting just isn't my style", "Isn't that a sixties kind of thing?", "It doesn't do any good," "I've never done anything like that, sorry", “I don’t believe in demonstrating,” – this often from young people - to “thanks for being out here for me” – in a timid voice from adults, usually women – and even "wow, you guys are really quaint." Our small band of fuzzy, greying old hippies was undeterred, but what we saw was deeply discouraging. We all knew, from experience, that writing our senators and congressmen was next to useless. In fact, I'd spoken to all their offices on the phone a number of times, and been told, flat out, by the foreign policy aides -- this is in our liberal state of Vermont, where opposition to war would NOT effect re-election - "Privately I can tell you that Senator so-and-so agrees with you, but here in Washington he feels he simply can't speak out at this time."

Standing there in the freezing winter, we spoke often to students who saw us as relics, I think, or curiosities. “We’re doing this for you,” we often told them, and were met with raised eyebrows. “What will you do if there is a draft?” we asked. “Uh, I just don’t think about that,” they’d answer, or, “That’s not going to happen.” To them, everything they saw or heard was theoretical. Academic departments held formal symposia about foreign policy; attendance and participation seemed to expiate any guilt about a possible war – students and faculty had done their bit. But when the swim team’s budget was cut, due to university fiscal concerns, the students turned out by the hundreds at the President’s office. They walked past us after their morning protest, tears streaming down their faces in rage and frustration that such a terrible thing could have happened, making no connection at all between their protest signs and ours.

While it’s true that the huge anti-war, anti-Republican demonstrations that have taken place in the past couple of years in US cities like Washington and New York have been underreported, controlled, and dismissed in the media, those of us who lived through Vietnam and the civil rights era know that public protest does have an effect when it becomes endemic. I have never condoned violent tactics - I can’t – but I understand why people cross that line. And it works both ways: destructive actions can sometimes multiply the attention given to peaceful ones; violent reactions by authorities can undermine their own control and power. Look at what happened after Kent State. On the other hand, reading eyewitness reports of the totally out-of-control police reaction to the recent NYC protests at the convention, where uninvolved people were beaten, jailed, and treated inhumanely just for walking by in a closed area where they lived, or for pulling out a cell phone (“ohmigod, we can’t let any of this be reported!”), it is clear that government control and suppression of the media and the truth have reached unprecedented levels.

What is the most frustrating is that I know that if every person in this country who really believed we’re on the wrong course --whether on foreign policy, environmental policy, health care, you name it; voters and non-voters, establishment and dis-enfranchised alike – got out onto the streets one organized day and said “We have had it” – this government would fall. Policies that oppress and hurt people continue when people feel too helpless and too fearful to act, and to reach that critical mass necessary for change. Governments throughout history have known this, and they are skilled in creating the necessary atmosphere of fear and helplessness. There’s a name for them: dictatorships. Look around.

We are certainly in a different era than during Vietnam, and the powers that be are banking on people’s complacency, their love of money and security over morality that has been nurtured by our consumerist culture throughout the last few decades, the removal of grass-roots control and responsibility from nearly all aspects of daily life, and the successfully-manipulated climate of fear and anxiety. What will it take?

I was interested to read about the research on the history of environmental protest conducted by Jon Agnone, a University of Washington sociology doctoral student, presented on Aug. 17 at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association:

The study compares the number of bills passed by Congress with tactics employed by green groups in the same year. Jon Agnone, a sociologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, found that sit-ins, rallies and boycotts were highly effective at forcing new environmental laws. Each protest raised the number of pro-environment bills passed by 2.2 per cent. Neither effort spent schmoozing politicians nor the state of public opinion made any difference.

But conventional politics does play a part. Environmental legislation is 75 per cent more likely to pass when Democrats control both houses of Congress. And it gets a 200 per cent boost in congressional election years, presumably because politicians see it as a vote winner.

Agnone, who presented his results on 17 August at the American Sociological Association's meeting in San Francisco, says protest groups lose their edge when they become part of the system. Their most effective weapon is disruption. "If you make a big enough disturbance then people have to recognise what you are doing."

(from the New Scientist, vol. 183 and an article by Joel Schwarz of the University of Washington, and a summary by Jon Christensen at Conservation News.

And, by the way – after the student protests, that swim team budget got re-instated.

11:14 AM |

Wednesday, September 15, 2004  
Thanks to Pica, who gave me the heads-up, I read the latest post by DocRoc today: Sayonara, Malibu! And Why It Was Worth It. Not only is it great writing, which goes in one stunning heartbeat from funny to reach-for-your-handkerchief poignant, but she has a remarkable story to tell. I confess that I didn't make it through without tears when I read it out loud to J. For those of us who find ourselves hauled back to the nightmare of the Vietnam years by current events, this post is a reminder that you never know when you'll have a chance to make a significant difference in a stranger's life. Thanks, Doc, for what you did, and for making my day today.

4:56 PM |

Tuesday, September 14, 2004  


Today when we checked our mail, which is delivered to a locked, steel boite de poste, we found an unaddressed envelope from the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal. Inside was a brochure describing the services offered by the basilica; its hours; times for Mass and confessions; with pictures on the front of the facade of the cathedral and the Virgin Mary, ascending to heaven on a cloud: "Montee au ciel...comme Marie, nous sommes destines a la glorification." Even those of you without any French can figure that out, I think.

There was also a letter. I opened it and read, "Chers paroissiens, Cheres paroissiennes" - "Dear parishioners" (male and female). I read it, slightly wide-eyed, in French before realizing there was an English version on the reverse. Basically, the letter said that Cardinal Jean-Claude Trucotte had created a new Pastoral Unit for Old Montreal and the Latin Quarter (I don't quite see how our block is in either of those areas, but that's a minor detail). The priest who signed the letter, along with two other priests, a nun, and a social worker brother specializing in the homeless, had been assigned to this Unit.

The next paragraph mentioned that "real estate developments have brought some new arrivals to this area...We would like to welcome you and remind you of the services our parishes offer: catechism, preparation for baptism and absolution, preparation for the Eucharista dn confirmation, and preparation for marriage," as well as offering the sacraments and pastoral guidance to the less fortunate."

There were a few more friendly paragraphs, and the letter concluded with "United in prayer and charity, in the Risen Christ."

I didn't mind receiving this at all, in fact I was rather intrigued by the letter and the sincere sentiment it expressed - not being a Quebec Catholic, I don't have the vehemently negative response to the Church that I've run up against in several natives. "It sounds almost Episcopalian," J. remarked, after I read it out loud to him. I smiled, wanly. "Oh, you don't like that," he said.

"No, it's OK." I admitted. "You're right - except for the Mary part. But how did it get in our box?"

That was the real question. In the US, mail has to be addressed, and even junk mail has to have postage on it. This had neither. It was just...there, as if a hand from the Pastoral Unit had opened our box and put it inside - but no one except the postman has a key. And how did the Church know we were one of those "new arrivals?" Does the Catholic Church in Quebec have some special relationship with the government, so that they get inside information on real estate transactions, and are they also able to send out unaddressed, unstamped bulk-mail to be delivered to those addresses? Seems incroyable. Or perhaps the letter just passed through the metal box on its own...a small miracle.

9:04 PM |

On today's BBC, a gallery of pictures by this year's winner of the Oscar Barnak award in photography, Austrian photographer Peter Granser, for a series of photographs he took of America's first amusement park, Coney Island. Being American already, I was more intrigued, I think, by photo #6, from a series of photos of Eastern Europe taken by Martin Koller. (BTW, Oscar Barnak was the inventor of the Leica camera.)

2:00 PM |

Monday, September 13, 2004  
Yesterday there must have been some sort of big party or neighborhood event in the park and on the streets close by. There are barriers along the streets, set back now, unused, and sections of orange plastic-net snow-fence, and an abandoned reviewing stand, and two very large white tents with stacked chairs and tables and bags of garbage waiting to be picked up, and overflowing trash bins – something unheard of here. I feel like a child who has missed the parade, the elephants, and the cotton candy!

But today, it’s autumn, and I note the sudden chilliness with consternation. People bike and walk past in sleeveless summer tops and dresses, while others wear leather coats, wool sweaters and scarves. This temperature schizophrenia seems to be a Montreal phenomenon; I saw people wearing parkas in midsummer, but nobody was paying any attention – in this city, you can wear whatever you feel like, and people do.

Before supper, I walked into the park and laid down on one of the big flat rocks near the lake. Nearby, on a matching rock, a man had positioned his bicycle exactly so the seat formed a rest for his head while he laid on his rock. Below mine, I noticed, yellowjackets were flying in and out of a ground nest, but I decided they weren’t going to bother me. I shut my eyes, let the heat soak into my body, and listened to the quacking of the ducks, and the seagulls fighting over bits of bread.

The chill in the air, though, is apparently for real. There was a note taped to our apartment door today, and it said that there would be a collective order for bois de chauffage - fireplace wood - going out soon, so people should figure out if they want to participate and how much they’d like to order. A great idea -- but I am not ready for this!

8:50 PM |


BLACK-EYED SUSANS in the backyard garden

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the remarkable comment thread here last week (still trickling in, but I think we've just about exhausted the topic for this time around.) I especially appreciate the willingness to disagree, but kindly, and to respect each other's opinions, that was so much in evidence.

We're back in Montreal as of last night, and I am hoping to make some more progress on my book, as well as some other writing, and take some needed time for myself. I can feel that various factors - the world situation, personal things, the move, pressure I feel about the book - are conspiring to turn up the stress screws, and that means I need to pay attention and take care of myself. The pattern that seems to be emerging is that the time in the "south" is very full socially, and also workwise, and there are also a lot of repetitive things we need to take care of there. My father-in-law's health is declining too. In the weeks to come, we'll have to start getting the house buttoned up for winter, and we are also beginning our downsizing, going through and sorting and thinking about what we can get rid of, what we can sell or give away, and what we absolutely have to keep. I felt like I didn't have a single minute to spare during the last week. It may also be that the travel time (and packing up and preparation for leaving) is making a bigger dent in the available hours than we realized it would - although, as a result, our lives and living spaces are both staying far better organized and cleaner than I would have dreamed! We also find it difficult to explain what we are doing, and why, to people who don't understand, or who have a lot invested in their lives there and maybe aren't open to other perspectives. By the same token, there continue to be levels of relinquishment and loss as we disengage from former modes of relationship and involvement. You find out surprising things through people's reactions. Some who you thought would care are indifferent. Some you thought would be supportive are anything but. Some people cling. Others give you a blessing and a cheer, and make it clear that your friendship can survive and prosper despite change.

All of this is a way of saying that blogging may be somewhat lighter than usual this week, but I will definitely be posting some photographs, and no doubt writing something to go along with them.

2:19 PM |

Friday, September 10, 2004  

Lovers of place writing will enjoy the post from Thursday, Sept. 9 at Footprints. It's a memoir by an Icelander, now living temporarily in the U.S., about the sheep-herding drives he used to participate in as a young man, and is both an evocative description of places and experiences few of us will ever share, and a coming-of-age story. And the author is a dear friend, so I can vouch for his authenticity!

"There were four of us heading up from the farm I had worked on. Each one had a pair of well-rested horses, and a saddlebag with a few sandwiches, a thick slice of blood sausage, and a bottle of milk. We started our ascend at first light, about six o'clock. This early, even the wind is not awake yet. We floated lazily up the neck of the mountain, along the canyon, where the river tirelessly pushed itself down one waterfall after the other. As we reached the shoulder, the wind had picked up, and it began to rain. After reaching the middle of the moor, around mid-day, we ate quietly, and then split up. As we parted, one of the other men reached over and stuffed a package of cigarettes and a box of matches into my coat pocket. "You'll need it", he said, and rode away..."

3:43 PM |

Thursday, September 09, 2004  


I rarely talk here about what I’ve done all these years to make a living. I’m a graphic designer, and J. and I have worked together in our own design/publishing firm for twenty-five years. Yesterday we were at a large regional printer for the press approval of two jobs for a client. There had been a serious hitch: the proofs for one of the jobs, Fed-X’d to Montreal, had gotten lost and were on their way to California instead – only the second time this has ever happened during the years we’ve been in business. So yesterday we arrived early to go over a new set of proofs, and then approve the job on press.

When you’ve been doing this for a long time, you sort of take the process for granted – but actually it’s very complicated, even with all the digital advances of the past fifteen or so years. A pressroom is a pretty cool thing, especially in the age of virtual communication: modern printing presses are big huge metal machines with complex moving parts, computerized controls, and a million things that can get out of whack, and yet they manage to place microscopic dots of ink precisely where they need to go, in register with three other colors, and form a printed image on a sheet of paper. The work required to prepare a piece for printing used to be a long, mechanical process involving cameras, chemistry, precise handwork by skilled craftsmen, and a lot of judgement based on years of experience. Advances in digital pre-press technology has meant that much of that work has now migrated away from the printing industry into the hands of specialized pre-press houses, or designers like us. We did all our own color separations and proofed them in our own shop; one hour before presstime, the printer was making our final changes on our original .pdf file, before making the offset printing plates that would go on the press.

High-end color printing is meticulous and expensive, but it still seems to satisfy something in the human psyche that computer screens don’t. I sometimes wonder if we humans have a particular affinity with paper – its dryness, the way it feels in our hands, the way we can look at it, turn it over, see ourselves and our world reflected upon it in words and images. Along with my collection of books, I have drawers and drawers of blank paper in my studio: heavy watercolor sheets, light drawing paper, translucent tracing paper, charcoal paper that feels like the cloth it is made from, colored papers and printed papers with beautiful patterns. I save them, and occasionally am inspired to make marks on their surfaces or fix them together into a painting, calligraphy, a drawing, a box, a book.

The restrained preciousness of those papers is one reason the pressroom feels so over-the-top: here there is an entire stack of paper, so heavy it has to be moved by a forklift, on the end of the press, ready to be printed on both sides with images and words that came into existence inside our computers. I’ve spent a good deal of my adult life learning exactly how this is done, and keeping up with the revolution that has happened during that time in the graphic arts industry (yes, when I started we used wax and x-acto knives and ruling pens) so that we can handle the mysterious procedure, at minimal risk and reasonable cost, for the clients who hire us. Nearly all of our work is digital, and much is now web-based, and never printed at all. But there is still an excitement for me when I walk into a pressroom: I love the smell of the ink, and the plain-speaking, skilled people who run the presses, and the heavy whack-whack of the rotating cylinders, and the sight of the identical pages coming off the press - pages I’ve imagined in my mind, and then seen here on this screen, now on their way into somebody’s hands.

4:47 PM |

"The Surreal World of Bush" - an editorial by Haroon Siddiqui in the Toronto Star.
Politicians don't always deliver what they promise. But George W. Bush is in a league all his own. ..

9:41 AM |

Wednesday, September 08, 2004  
Last night, driving down from Canada, we passed through torrential rain and then, over Vermont, the skies became perfectly clear - a great black bowl studded with a million stars. The Milky Way arched over us, complete, and the rest of the stars were so bright and numerous as to nearly obliterate the patterns of constellations. But when we made that final left turn, getting off the interstate, there was the Drinking Gourd hovering in the north, like the signpost it once was for the slaves escaping the south.

In our house, with the windows opened, I listened to the song of the insects outside, serenading the summer. Tonight it's raining here. I close my eyes and listen to the sheets of sound, falling like vertical stripes on a piece of old silk: gloss/matte/gloss/matte. Without looking, I can see where the water has pooled in the street and where the streetlight shines in it, reflecting the aging leaves of the big cut-leaf maple. It sounds like the rain will keep up all night.

7:33 PM |

Tuesday, September 07, 2004  
Last night I was very moved by P.'s essay, part of the current Ecotone topic "Creating A Safe Place", about trying to create a safe physical and emotional environment for his little girl in a world that seems anything but safe and predictable. Today I've been ruminating about various aspects of this dilemma. Part of it is to recognize the actual odds and risks, which are much smaller than political figures would like us to believe - more on that another time. Another aspect is the very great need for deep, ongoing, societal self-analysis, driven by people, not politicians, who recognize that the current policies are not making anyone in our world safer.

Today's BBC had a small headline beside the report about the funerals of the Russian children and other hostages. It read: "Press Bares Russian Soul" and the link led to several excerpts from editorials that have recently appeared about the tragedy in Russian newspapers.

The excerpts were remarkable for their direct critique of both the givernment and present Russian society: for someone like me, raised during the height of Cold War, this forthrightness was amazing. but they were also remarkable for the close parallels to what one might say about our own society and government, and to the differences between political rhetoric and human reality. Both our countries are, after all, struggling with terror. Both have taken a very hard line of refusing to negotiate. Both have suffered large civilian losses. In the wake of September 11th, Americans did a lot of soul-searching. The Russians seem to be doing that now. I wonder if their path will be any different from the one we have taken.

"Beslan, and other tragedies testify to one of our fundamental characteristics - indifference to the squandering of human life. To us, human life is not the most precious thing. We are ready to sacrifice a huge number of people. This happened 100 years ago, and 300 years ago, and during the rule of Ivan the Terrible. Corpses floated down the Volkhov river for a week, but the state's objective was achieved - Novgorod was forced to join Moscow. Exactly the same thing has happened now. We have lost several hundred people, but we have shown that we cannot be spoken to in that manner."

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

"We in Russia are fond of reproaching everybody for double standards, whilst we ourselves, for the sake of our prestige in the Arab world, continue to cling on to Yasser Arafat, for whom terror has always been and still is a way of exerting political pressure on Israel. We try to fight against terrorism, yet we protect Syria because it buys weapons from us. We prefer to overlook the fact that Damascus has sheltered 15-odd terrorist organisations and openly approves of terrorist attacks if they are directed against Israelis.

Countries which have suffered from terrorist attacks have one common weakness. They are so concerned at rebuffing terrorism that they do not particularly concern themselves with the reasons for it. Not only Russia, but also Israel is trying to play down the connection between terror and the problem of a real and full settlement of the conflicts. Moscow asserts that 'the political process' in Chechnya is in full swing and the situation is swiftly changing for the better. However, this does not convince the terrorists. Jerusalem repeats that there is nobody in Palestine with whom to conduct talks, and shuts itself off from it with a wall. But the terrorists find loopholes in it. Meanwhile, both Russia and Israel cherish the hope that the fire can be extinguished by foisting loyal leaders on Chechnya and Palestine."

Commentary in Kommersant

Read more here.

2:50 PM |

Monday, September 06, 2004  
Tomorrow we'll be traveling back south. I'm not eager, which is less a comment on what awaits me than the fact that I'm still having trouble adjusting to the transitions between places. I wonder how people do adjust to this sort of dual lifestyle. Other than Coup de Vent, are there any other readers/bloggers out there who live in two markedly different places on a regular basis?

Aside from the fact that I woke up in the middle of the night with a wickedly sore throat (it's much better, but I'm still not sure if it's a cold or allergies, or a reaction to the stuff we've been using to try to remove the wallpaper in our bedroom), today had two excellent aspects. The first was a number of solid, productive hours on The Book - the best day of work I've managed in ages. (This has been a major source of frustration and angst, although I haven't talked about it much here - so today was a big psychological boost.) The second was a bike ride in the late afternoon out to Parc Maisonneuve, across from the Stade Olympique. Parc Maisonneuve is adjacent to the Botanical Garden, and it is a huge, open expanse of rolling grass and trees with paved paths which today were being used by a wide variety of human-propelled conveyances: roller blades, baby carriages, bikes of every type and description, occupied by riders of every age from toddlers to geriatrics. There were so many seniors on roller blades - huzzah for them! And little kids learning to ride and skate. Novice roller-bladers, and people gliding effortlessly, one hand behind their back, who looked like speed skaters training for competition. Children in bike seats, on attached training bikes, in canopied carriages pushed by roller-bading parents. I saw a little dog carried papoose-style, in a snugglie, by a tall girl on blades.

Under the trees, lovers and friends sat or laid in the grass, talking. A couple flew a white kite with black eye-spots. Kids played with a whirring frisbee. We'd never been to this park before, and so we too left the path for a while to sit under a tree, marvelling at the size of the park, and the variety of human exuberance within it.

It's a strange thing. One of the aspects of Montreal that we are responding to most positively is just being around so many more people; to seeing a much wider spectrum of seemingly-happy human beings in a place where people are far less self-conscious, less anxious, stressed, and rushed than where we came from. So far, this is endlessly fascinating, and very freeing. At the same time, the two of us are more isolated than we've ever been: more thrown together, more dependent on each other for reassurance and affirmation about what we're experiencing. I don't want to add any analysis to those statements; it's simply where we're at - and no doubt all this is subject to further change.

8:43 PM |

Sunday, September 05, 2004  


It's a long weekend in Canada too; at the bakery yesterday a small handwritten sign said that the shop woud be closed Monday for the "Fete du Travail". I was surprised, because when I asked, once, when they were closed they replied, cheerily, "Jamais!" - "never". Yesterday and today Avenue Mont Royal was closed to through traffic, and a street fair was in progress. It was actually more of a sidewalk sale than a fair, with most of the merchants putting out late season items on tables and under tents, and pedestrians lazily cruising up and down, stopping once in a while for a cup of coffee or the delicious-looking mangos-on-a-stick that were being sold by several Asian resturants: peeled mangos cut sort of like an artichoke, so that the golden flesh had opened up and was easy to eat. It was all very low key, and I wasn't sure that a lot of buying or selling was taking place.

Yesterday we met friends for brunch at Le Petit Alep, a Syrian restaurant near the Jean-Talon market, where we drank fresh lemonade and ate grilled pita sandwiches, and then we took a leisurely walk through the very crowded marketplace, where bushels of San Marzano tomatoes, huge bunches of basil, garlic and hot pepper strings and late-season eggplants and colored peppers shared the spotlight with the last of the summer berries. Our friends pointed out a special Quebec delicacy: chocolate-covered blueberries. At one vendor we found an opened box, set out for people to taste. They were truly delicious - a light coating of chocolate melting on your tongue, and then the burst of the blueberry skin and juice.

This morning I set off on my bike and rode through the sparkling light on the criss-crossing paths in the park until I was tired. At 10:00 the bells of St. Jean-Baptiste began ringing for mass, and I got off my bike and stopped at a shady overlook above the lake and the fountain. Sea gulls skimmed the lake, screeching, while nonplussed ducks floated in the rushes on the edge. A few people walked along the paths; one man in the distance had gotten off his bike and was feeding the squirrels, while under the trees two young men practiced martial arts moves in slow motion. Someone was singing.

I sat and listened to the bells, and felt my heart and breathing gradually slow. Why was it, I wondered, that I felt no urge these days - months - to go to church? And yet, there was the same spiritual pull I always have, especially in nature: the desire to slow down, to listen deeply. I sat and watched the fountain spray its white lace into the dark water. A couple lingered on the footbridge; another stopped to feed the ducks. The sun went behind a cloud, and a woman pulled a shawl from her bag and wrapped it around her shoulders. A bicycle bell sounded in the distance. A runner went by on the path behind me; I heard her feet and her rhythmic breaths come closer and then fade away. Time moved, and did not move; I asked my questions, let the thoughts fade away.

People make music alone in the parks, and they also talk to themselves - something I find rather endearing. No one pays much attention. The parks aren't crowded, so you can have your own space, even an aural one, and it's respected. When I had stopped meditating, I felt like singing - something I've been wanting to do on my bike or in the park anyway, but I've felt too shy. This time I didn't. First I sang an Italian art song, sitting there on the bench, and then two Mozart arias - in fractured Italian, since I couldn't remember all the words - getting a bit bolder with each one. It didn't sound that bad, I thought. The runners and bikers just kept going past behind me, and the sea gulls didn't pause in the swooping flight, and the man kept on feeding the squirrels. Nobody seemed to think I was any crazier than anyone else, or more or less interesting, for that matter. I was just happy, singing -- and then I got on my bike and pedalled off to buy eggs and a loaf of bread.

8:30 PM |

Saturday, September 04, 2004  


Friday: J. is taking pictures out our front window; I’m writing and thinking about what to make for dinner. This afternoon we both went out on our bikes – he went to the Sherbrooke branch of our bank, and I went up to Av. Mont-Royal to buy first-aid supplies – since we were caught so unprepared last time - and some fruit. I discovered that the street was closed to traffic and a street fair was in progress, and ended up looking through bins of hippie clothing along with a multitude of other women. There was a basket of reversible sarong skirts, all in silk prints and marked $15 Canadian, and a number of us gravitated there, holding up the lovely double-faced lengths of light silk, which blew in the breeze as each woman held the skirt up to her body. I chose one in beautiful reddish-orange, with details in pink, green, beige and slate blue; it reverses to a burnished, soft golden color with a subtle green and orange-red print. Wearing it, I feel like I’ve just stepped out of a Persian miniature.

I biked home with my knapsack pockets filled with my new skirt, a package of gauze, some antibiotic ointment, and surgical tape, and a little basket of wild blueberries and some strawberries.

Also this afternoon, we heard the sound of a snare drum, whistles and bells, and went outside to see a parade of school children from the Ecole Lanaudiere (an elementary school on rue Lanaudiere), all decorated with headbands and masks that they had painted, and carrying signs celebrating the arts. Vive les Arts! said one poster. "Drama!” “Les Arts Plastiques!” There were signs extolling Monet, and Picasso, and Mondrian, and a poster of a nude blowing big blue bubbles, and the teachers, many also decorated with handmade headbands, signs, and facepaint, were providing the musical accompaniment to the parade. (You can see some "Mondrian" headbands in the picture above.) It was all exuberant and jovial, and we stood in wide-eyed amazement as the parade wound its way around our block and back to the school.

10:26 AM |

Thursday, September 02, 2004  
Oh, yesterday was a bloggy day in Montreal-town ! Only a half hour after our own arrival here, we met Language Hat and his wife at our door and proceeded to enjoy a bottle of wine (Borsao, which I thought was Chilean and presumed to argue - how dumb can you be - with LH, who said it had to be Spanish - of course he was right) and then off we went to a nearby Afghan restaurant - Khyber Pass - where we sampled spicy red lentil soup, various chelows and koftas, and a rice-starch dessert flavored with rose water. The two non-blogging spouses found they had quite a bit in common as well, and all four of us enjoyed the food, each other, and the wide-ranging conversation on an outdoor terrace hung with bougainvilla vines on turquoise-painted overhead trellises.

Then we walked over to Blvd. St. Laurent and La Cabane, where the monthly Yulblog meeting of Montreal bloggers was already in full, noisy swing. LH was urged to stay by Zenon, who reads his blog regularly, but to no avail - it was a cameo appearance only, and the Hat and his intrepid spouse disappeared into the night to sleep well, one hopes, and rise early for their return home.

We, however, stayed until nearly midnight. I had a long conversation with Zenon and a new acquaintence, Sally, whose blog and memoirs of Vietnam I am looking forward to reading very much. We spoke, or tried to speak, over the din, in French and English about the differences between our languages and the difficulties of each, about our own blogs, and about religion and metaphysics. Then we were joined by Patrick, who organizes these gatherings and is involved in various projects such as mapping the wireless internet access points in the city, and spoke briefly to Martine and Blork before all of us tumbled out into the cool night, eyes burning from smoke and fatigue but in an excellent mood.

Today has been a much-needed quiet day; I spent a lot of it fixing curtains for our bedroom windows and, in the evening, J. taught me how to wire Ethernet cables myself.

Just before dinner (which was sweet corn and fresh green beans that we'd bought at a farm on the way up here, and braised pork chops with cooked onions and peaches) I walked to the neighborhood bakery to buy a baguette. Once there, I spotted some small, 4" tarts in the pastry case and chose a glistening almond-encrusted gem to split for our dessert. The girl who waited on me asked, in French, if I wanted it in a box or just to take as it was. A box seemed ridiculous, and I was only walking a couple of blocks, so I said, "No, c'est bon dans la main". So I walked home with my baguette in one hand, the little tart balanced on a square of waxed paper on the other, past the elementary school, the salon, the depanneur (convenience store) and the bicycle shop, feeling as if the world - despite hostage-takers and Republicans - was still smiling.

9:34 PM |

Oh ye timid, embittered, or discouraged artists of any ilk - hie thee over to whiskey river and read the current excerpt from Brenda Ueland on "what kills the creative impulse" - and then take courage and pen in hand.

5:07 PM |

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