Archive for the ‘memories’ Category

Elusive dreams

January 8, 2013

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I awoke from a dream that ended up in a hut in Cambodia, with me hiding behind a curtain, desperately hoping an invading group of men would not see me. Before them, a group of women and children had passed along a nearby bridge, like lemmings migrating or fleeing perhaps. There had not been a sense of danger to the first but there was to the second.

The dream was far more complicated than that, but as waking comes, so our dreams and their accuracy disappear.

I was left with an uncomfortable feeling as I lay in the dark, conscious of the warmth and safety of my current condition, It was an unnamed anxiety that I left to unveil itself by lying still, soaking up the darkness, savoring the plummy feel of the warm sheets, the crispness of the cotton, the darkness of the room. Dawn had not yet broken.

I encouraged my mind to go into free fall, hoping that in a waking dream-state, I could recapture the meaning of the dream; but it became more elusive and my thoughts became more concrete, more tangible, but drawn from my personal miasma of memory, not the from the dream.

I cannot say how I made the various connections that landed me in the domain of my past loves, past affairs and other intimate but not-so-pleasant relationships. Quickly, I was sombering into disastrous affairs from so long ago and briefly feeling the hurt and bewilderment of them again.

Why did my brain still store up these negative events, unwise decisions and embarassing moments in time? Do we remember everything we have ever done; these peccadillos sitting there somewhere deep in the chasm of memory just waiting for the trigger that will release them from the subconscious bog to the troubled surface of consciousness? Do we not all make mistakes as a part of growing up and finding our way? They are over and done with. Why to they reassert themselves?

If I did not want to spend the rest of the day beating myself up for things from a distant past, I had to flee this self-indulgent reverie-gone-wrong, so I covered my head with the blankets to block out the coming light and switched on the bedside lamp. Slowly I lifted the covers to adjust my eyes to the brittle light of day.

As I watch a dear friend suffering with depression struggle with her thoughts she cannot lay to rest I liken my fleeting struggle with hers, all the while questioning how some can escape the debilitating battle locked up in our minds and how others are drawn back into a miasmic bog they cannot escape.

Fifteen minutes into this written “capture” of my dream-wakening, the details are slithering away like a disturbed nest of wood spiders running for a bolt hole. I have sent the negative thoughts back to the bottom. I’m analyzing in a purely rational way. I’ve locked out the baddies.

How did I learn to do that? Why can some do it and others not?

Like everyone, I have made mistakes in my life that I cannot undo, cannot even atone for. I even know that, in aging,  I have not necessarily learned my lessons from them. I can still, and do still, fall back into them from time to time but with a bit more success in managing outcomes. Maybe.

It makes me more humble in dealing with my friends with troubles. I’m a wayfarer with them, not a judge, as I listen to their tales. I’m more compassionate, less critical, more empathetic.

Day has broken. Outside the window, seagulls squawk and chatter, seals come up for air after a search for breakfast, the blue heron stands stalk still waiting for fish to wash up with the incoming tide, the eagle sits glaring down from its pine tree perch. A high tide laps persistently at the gravelly winter shore. Life goes on.

I’m headed downstairs for my first cup of coffee.

Flying

November 14, 2011

Six o’clock always comes too early. Kay had set the alarm for it, but she was awake five minutes before, nervous that she would not meet the seven forty-five train, the last morning train into Vancouver. She padded about doing her morning ablutions, brushing her teeth, combing her hair, slipping into the clothing that she had laid out the night before.

It was alway wise for Kay to set everything out the night before because her brain did not start working until ten, and by that time, she would already be in Vancouver.

At The Station in Vancouver, she found a coffee bar and ordered up a large sized misto, then sat watching the commuters stream from the train exit doors towards the street exit. Every few minutes, another train would arrive. Crowded, jostling people would obscure her view until, suddenly, there were only one or two people sauntering by, not concerned with being anywhere on time, not going anywhere special. Like Kay, for the next hour.

She took up an abandoned paper and worked the Sudoku then the crossword. Her camera lay on the table, the shoulder strap curled around her right arm. It was a poor area of town with druggies, not always recognizable. A good camera would give them a few hits in trade. It was wise to hang on to it against such an eventuality.

Just before ten, Kay rose, chucked her cup and newspaper, loaded her overnight bag onto her shoulder, lifted  the hidden handle to her valise and began to roll it towards the direction of the Art Gallery. Her old time friends – Degas, Monet, Manet, Fantin Latour, Val Jean, Pissaro,Toulouse Lautrec and others of their era were showing their drawings. It was a Gallery Blockbuster, borrowed from the Quai d’Orsay Museum in Paris, a rare thing for Vancouver, halfway around the world.

At noon, Kay left the gallery, sated with visions of Parisians and their environs, to head back to The Station and the Canada Line to the airport. At the Main airport terminal, she waited for the Shuttle bus, sitting on the bench beside a thin man smoking a cigarette, engrossed in his newspaper.

When she boarded, the thin man helped her with her valise, lifting the heavy red case with ease onto the back of the Shuttle Bus to the South Terminal. And then at two, the plane to Trail was boarding, for it was in Trail that Lizbet would pick her up.

Lizbet was moving. After thirty seven years in her small community, she was leaving to settle in retirement on the coast near Parksville.  Kay was coming to help her close up the house and to pack.

It was odd, thought Kay, that there was no security for these smaller airports. People lined up just like they used to in the ‘Sixties, walked through the doors and across the tarmac to the airplane, walked up rickety steps to the cabin and bent double going down the aisle to a seat of one’s choice. It felt archaic.

But the thought did not actually take form until, landing in Trail, everyone walked back down the rickety steps to the landing strip asphalt and walked to the exit gate.
It was a bright but cloud-covered day. There, not fifteen feet away behind a three foot chain link fence with no other sign of security, was Lizbet and her dog Heidi. They were  standing in an unmown patch of grass waiting with the others for the passengers to get their baggage and come out to them, ”

There was Heidi dog wriggling her whole body, furiously waving her tail, running in short circles at the end of her leash, emitting a high pitched squeal of delight at the sight of Kay.

“Hello!” said Kay, greeting Lizbet, then nodding to the dog who was trying to leap up to give Kay a dog’s kiss, “She remembers me!

“Ah yes, ” Lizbet replied, “She has a fabulous memory for people.”

And off they went to the car to continue on to Lizbet’s home.

“Do you realize,” said Kay, “how special that is? How unusual now, to have an airport with no need for major security, like this one, in Trail?”

“It gives you an odd feeling, of having found the original sense of security – that everything is right with the world here. Trusting, Safe. Right with the world.

Coming home

July 4, 2011

Where is the beginning?

Was it the e-mail late afternoon, yesterday, telling me that thirty of my paintings had been donated to the thrift store and could I tell them what they were worth? “Please call Edith

Or was it my gentle friend and gallery dealer on Texada Island who notified me that she was dying – her last diagnosis on a recurring cancer having given her only a month to live? “Would I please pick up my paintings?”

Family in Powell River picked up those paintings and kept them for me until next time when I was visiting.  I packed them in my car and traveled back along the Sunshine Coast highway, stopping at Half Moon Bay. To my surprise, there was a very pleasant book store with a strong gallery element in it.

I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the new owner, an enthusiastic young woman, and showed her my paintings. She liked them. I had a list from the previous gallery. We photocopied it and both kept a copy as proof of our transaction. I left all sixty-four paintings with her. They were small – 8×8, 8×10, 11×14,  10×12 . You get the picture – they filled two medium size cardboard boxes.  Great for the tourist traffic wanting to take home a little something from their visit. Coastal scenes, (I had lived in Pender Harbour in my early adult years), spring flowers, a few metaphysical things, nothing too deep.  Sketches, little drawings, postcard-sized watercolors .

It suited us both perfectly. Thus, she had some small stock, hopefully easily movable; and I had a place to “store” these lovely little art works.

I had moved into my mother’s place to help her in her last years and there was precious little space she was willing to allow me for studio and storage. I hadn’t known where I would put this lot,  so it was a timely solution.

Time passed. I was working full time. When I came home daily, I had mother to look after, drive to appointments, feed, get groceries for, buy clothes for, look after her bills. She ached when she walked. Despite all of her fierce independence, and prairie grit, she had become thoroughly and completely dependent. Then my brother and his two boys came to live with us. It was a thriving, busy household of five and I had become the major domo.

I didn’t hear from the gallery nor did I expect to.  In the two or three years these sixty-four paintings had been at the Holtenwood, only  two sold. They sell slowly. Besides, these small tourist galleries only do business in the summer. They only open for the tourist trade. I didn’t worry.  The paintings were safe and dry.

Then my sister Heather and her husband came in for a medical appointment. They had been up to Halfmoon Bay at the grocery and went poking into the new store there.  I don’t remember exactly what it was – a bakery, I think. Or was it a fishing tackle shop?

“Oh? Have they built something new? Is the grocery store gone?”

“No,no. It was in the little building beside the grocery.”

“But that is an art gallery,” I said,

“Oh, the gallery? It’s been gone for a few years now.”
With a sinking feeling, I realized that not only had the gallery gone with no notice to me, but also the paintings along with it. Where were they?

It ate at me. I phoned the number I had for the gallery, but of course it was out of service. I looked up the woman’s name on the Internet – BC telephone directory white pages. Not listed. I spoke about it to friends. Finally I decided I must go up to Halfmoon Bay to see if I couldn’t find out what had happened to her. Surely she would not just chuck my paintings.

It took me a while before I could find someone to mind Mom for the day. She pleaded with me not to go. She was becoming much, much more dependent. But I needed a day for myself and I did not back down. The housekeeper came to stay with her and I left.

The day was rainy, cold and miserable. The windshield wipers slashed insistently like a metronome, sending sheets of water to the pavement. Luckily, Frank had agreed to come with me.

The defogger was not responding well and the car windows had large grey patches of condensation riddled with drippy lines that just would not go away.

Once on the ferry, Frank lifted the hood and tinkered until he was able to send gusts of air through the car to dissolve away the mists, but the air was frigid. The heater was not working.

We arrived in Langdale, disembarked and drove to Half Moon Bay, the windshield wipers still slapping away aggressively at the interminable rain.

At the little cove, the grocery was open but the small companion store was locked up for the season.

“Where has the gallery gone?” I asked the first person I saw in the store.

“Don’t know” was the answer “I moved here two years ago. I never knew the gallery. But the owner will be back in ten minutes. He’s lived here for a while.”

There was nowhere to go. The rain was teeming down. We stood near the cash register and waited more than fifteen minutes.

“She was a nurse’s aide or a nurse, I think,” the owner said. “She might be working at the hospital. That’s where she said she was going at that time. It must have been two years ago. There was some talk,” he said vaguely. “I don’t know if she’s still around.”

Hope dwindled. We drove back to the local hospital discussing my next move. What if she wasn’t there? Then what?

And what if she was there? What could I say? Why hadn’t she tried to contact me or send the paintings back? Had this long uncomfortable trip been for nothing? Was there a possibility that she could tell us where they were and we could just pick them up. Had she sold them and kept the money?
At the hospital, she hadn’t yet arrived for her shift. The receptionist said she would leave a message for her to come to see us on arrival. We could wait.

We sat, feeling numb. We couldn’t talk, with the injured and sick patients sitting morosely around us. Besides, in a small town, everyone knows everyone. It would have been indiscreet.

“I’m going back to the car. It’s your business,” Frank said flatly, suddenly leaving me to wait alone. I wasn’t surprised. He wanted to smoke.

The reading material was dismal – old Health journals – but I flipped through one nevertheless while I searched possibilities of what I could say.

“Are you Kay?”

The woman standing before me was thirty something, dark hair straggling around her face. I had a flash of Mother complaining, “In our day, nurses wore uniforms and crisp clean caps. They were polished and neat. Now you can’t tell the doctor from the nurses from nurses’ aides.”

“I am ,” I said.

I explained my business. I wanted to have my paintings back.

“You didn’t come to pick them up when I closed, ” she said accusingly.

“You never told me your were going out of business,” I defended.

“I notified everyone,” she replied defiantly.

“And how did you do that?”
“I put up posters everywhere in Halfmoon Bay and all the way down to Langdale.

“I live in Vancouver. How could you expect me to see your posters?”

“I phoned you and you  had moved. The answering machine name wasn’t the same.”

“I haven’t moved in eight years,” I said, a note of accusation in my voice. I didn’t believe her. She was making things up as she went along. As for the answering machine, it was possibly true. We had one of the nephews living with us record the message. Had they included my name on it? There was a measure of doubt. The menfolk in the family were not always responsible about phone messages. Had she phoned and I hadn’t gotten back to her?
“Well, that doesn’t really matter now, does it. I’m here now. What did you do with the paintings?”

“I must have sent them by Canada Post,” she said. “I sent them to the address you gave me when you first brought them in.”

“Canada Post?” I knew it was an unlikely way to send parcels, they were so expensive. I was incredulous. “You sent them when you thought I didn’t live there anymore?” I purposely brought the rising anger in me down, down down, until  I could speak normally. “Well, they never arrived. Didn’t you get the parcel back then, undeliverable?”

“I can’t remember. I’ve been so busy. My mother’s been very sick and now she’s died. I’m looking after her estate. Now my father’s sick. My boyfriend left me.”

The litany of woes, of misplaced blame, came out in staccatto form.

“Supposing they came back, what would you have done with them?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember. It was too long ago. They could be in my mother’s attic. But I’m just going through things now. If I find them, I’ll let you know.

She was defensive and I was trying to keep the conversation on a level. After all, I wanted her cooperation. I didn’t want to shut her down. She was trying to make me go away. I wanted a commitment from her to find the paintings.

“Could you keep an eye out for them? Please take my name and telephone number and give me yours.”

We exchanged information. I returned to the car thinking, “She doesn’t care one whit.” I suspected that my business card would find the nearest waste basket as soon as she turned the corner. The little scrap of paper which I had,  I carefully folded into my wallet.

On the way back to Vancouver, impatiently-waiting Frank was sullen and weary. I repeated the conversation I’d had with her and proceeded to pick it apart. She’d never sent them. Was it possible she had called my  house? Why would she say she would look for them at her mother’s when she said she had sent them by Canada Post. How careless could that woman be?  Had she kept the paintings for herself? Had she sold some and couldn’t pay me for them, so was avoiding me?

Fast forward to last night:

I’ve been busy myself, enough to  forget things. I’ve had a six week pile of documents on my kitchen counter that I haven’t found time to sort.

Last night, I took from the pile all the exhibition data  – price lists, artist statements, resumes, submission cover letters, invitation designs, posters, press releases and sorted them out to be able to put them in a binder. At the end of the pile, I was holding a list of some sixty four works consigned to the Anchor Rock Gallery in Halfmoon Bay.

That confirmed it. The thrift store had my Anchor Rock paintings. No one else I knew had more than five of my works. It was the only answer.   Now how coincidental is that? I hadn’t seen the list in many a year and the list of works/contract finds itself into my hands on the same day as the e-mail arrives.

To be continued.                                    .

If you don’t, then I will …

November 30, 2010

The plate glass window gave no privacy. It was at ground level, looking out to the courtyard. Kay pulled the thick red drape across. She didn’t like the room and this made it worse. She would be a self-made prisoner of her hotel room. But it didn’t matter. It was only for two nights.

She selected a water bottle, some whole grain bars, a pen and note book, her map of Zurich and her camera and stuffed them into her black carry all, slung it over her shoulder and locked the door behind her. As she unlocked the tubular steel gate, she noticed a commotion on the road. Just in front of the cafe doors, a paddy wagon was loading a street person.

At least the police frequent the area,” Kay said wryly to herself, repeating “it’s only for two days” as a mantra. It was a small measure of comfort. She checked to her left and right. There was no reason why she shouldn’t cross, and she stepped out smartly towards the corner to head back to the station and then into town.

When she went past the circus area, she crossed the street to the other side to avoid a small knot of people. A drug deal was in progress. She hastened her step, consciously not looking, keeping to herself, passing between a police woman with arms crossed, waiting, and the midnight blue van with the circulating blue light. It wasn’t her business.

Soon she arrived at the canal and instead of heading to the station she followed the canal  into the old city where she sought a cafe. A hot steamy cup of European coffee would do much to restore her spirits.

The center of the city was filled with holiday-goers and upscale shoppers. There were quality stores for clothing and watches, for footwear and for financial dealings. There was little in sight for dining or cafe-people-watching. She walked along, alert to her surroundings, knowing she would have to find her way back to the hotel without the aid of Gretel’s white stones.

It was getting on in the afternoon, but the September sun wouldn’t set until after seven. She walked up to St. Peter’s church and was shooed out of it. It was too late.  She wandered down an adjoining street and found a place  filled with smartly dressed people where she found a small empty table and ordered coffee. At ground level, the store fronts were modernized and elegant. One story up, the stone carved window frames spoke of centuries gone by, with shutters wide open to let the least breeze in against the unseasonal heat.

It was, she decided, not really a pretty city. There was a greyness to it.  What was she doing here, she asked herself, wandering alone through less than exciting streets while her green luscious garden was growing back home? She didn’t like shopping at home and she didn’t like it when she was away. It was ridiculous to be window shopping day after day for something to do.

She had been traveling too long. She had no one to share her table; no one to share her meanderings through the street. Traveling with someone was much better, she concluded. But she would not waste the day, and she rose to tackle a few more streets in search of something interesting.

At six, she began to find her way home through streets that were ill marked. Finally she saw the station and knew she could orient herself from there.  By now, she was tired and putting one foot in front of the other with stubborn perseverance. It was time to find some dinner.
I’ll eat near the hotel.  I won’t be trying to  finding my way in a rough part of town in the dark.” She was determined to be home early, though in her effort to travel light she had brought very little to amuse herself for a whole evening in her miniscule hotel room.

When she came up Militarstrasse, she passed by the pizza place making a mental note that the men outside were swarthy and mafia-like. It would be a last choice, she thought.  At the corner, she poked her nose in the cafe, but it was dirty and the customers looked none too clean either. Outside the cafe, only men sat at the side walk cafe, but inside there were a few women. The proportion was about ten to one.  She would not eat here.

She passed by this establishment a few steps forward to the Irish Pub, but it had no windows to be able to see what it might offer.  As she came alongside it, she stopped to see the notice board. Strip dancing shows were continuous, a poster stated. The lovely ladies were displayed in black and white photos behind the glass encased notices. That was definitely not a place for dinner.

Across the street, another cafe offered it’s wares. The tables were rickety, covered with plastic tablecloths and the chairs were old and worn. It was six o’clock but there were only four men in it, drinking. A large television had a sports program running. The walls and the decor was all a muddied buttercup yellow making it look lurid. There was no evidence of food except for a soiled menu posted on the door.  Kay was uncomfortable about it and didn’t even come close to read it.  She continued on.

Beside the yellow cafe was a lingerie shop. Red lace garters and black brassieres  were lustily filled with dark skinned mannequins. Next to it was an African  jewelry store displaying the wares in a wholesale style, crowded together. There were mannequin heads with wigs in a rainbow of colors – cotton candy pinks, greens and blues; an electric blue, a lemon yellow, an orange and a purple – that sat on a shelf just above the necklaces and bracelets. Who would wear these?

It was evident. There was no decent place to eat up this street. So Kay turned back to explore the lateral streets, with no better success. She sighed and returned to the pizza place.

At Milano Pizzeria, the men at the outdoor tables eyed her, mentally calculating her interest to them. She went swiftly by them into the cafe and found herself in a dining room with thirty tables, each dressed in a linen cloth with folded napkin, silverware and a wine  and water glasses.

A tall, thin waiter who had been lounging outside the door turned back into the cafe.

“Can I eat inside?” Kay asked, warily in French.

“Of course!” he answered in French without an accent. “Where would you like to sit?”

The place was empty. She chose one with her back to the door, close to the door where people walking by outside could not see her easily. He handed her a menu and left her to make her selection.  Across two tables, there was a bar where a young man was rolling pizza dough in the air. The waiter returned, spoke to him briefly in Italian. The man at the bar brought out some glasses and filled them with red wine and the waiter whisked them away to his sidewalk patrons.

He returned to Kay in five minutes.

“Have you chosen?” he solicitously.

“No,” she said, forlornly. “I can’t read a word of what is written here. It’s all in German. The only thing I can guess at is Schwein.  That’s pork, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” His  mouth registered a trace of a smile. Diplomacy was good business if a tip were to be earned.

“Well, please would you chose something for me? Not too expensive. I just want a light dinner. And not spicy.”

“Cotelets?” he asked. “Everything is very good. I think you will like this.”

It was schwein with tagliatelle for twenty two Swiss francs. Expensive, she thought, but what was she to do? Whatever tagliatelle was, she would eat it. She had never heard of it before but she didn’t want to expose her ignorance. She nodded her agreement.

“And an entrée?”
She declined, shaking her head, “No.” He looked askance as if she had offended the propriety of eating out. An entrée was de rigeur!

“But a glass of house wine. Red. Please?”

“Of course.” And he went to place the order.

Kay sat, her head spinning, wary like a fox of her surroundings, railing against the expense of eating out day by day and not even getting what she wanted for dinner. There seemed no middle ground for nourishment for a tourist much less any low cost options.

Two men came in from the sidewalk tables. They sat four tables away from Kay and she watched out of boredom. They did not seem interesting. Then the waiter came to their table and sat with them. The lad from the bar brought them each a drink.

They were not noticing her, so she brought out her sketch book and drew them, noting the particularity of their shapes, the dark of their business jackets, the  light of their faces, in comparison, and the dark of their hair.  She drew them rapidly, hoping they would not see her doing so and perhaps object.  What if they did not want to be seen here. Her sketching of them might be interpreted as an invasion. A danger.

She flipped the page and began a drawing of the tables with the repetition of cutlery and glassware, serviettes, tables and chair backs. The waiter came carrying a pizza. She closed her sketchbook.

“Would you like a piece?” he asked.

“Oh, no thanks,” Kay replied.

“Go ahead. It’s mine. Really, have a piece.”

She felt as if she might insult him if she did not accept, so she smiled and allowed him to give her a slice on a small bread plate.

It was delicious. She had not expected her hunger was so strong; it was due to all the walking; but she was thankful that she had not ordered the pizza for dinner. It was thin crusted and there was very little on it.

Soon her dinner arrived. It was indeed a pork chop, a thin one, covered in an excellent creamy pepper sauce and it came with a small portion of pasta.

“Did you like it?” he asked when he picked up her plate.

“Oh yes! Your sauce master is an excellent cook! May I have a coffee? ”

” No dessert?” He seemed offended.

“No dessert.”

He brought the coffee and the bill.

When he left, she examined the bill. The main dish. Twenty two francs. Wine. Six francs. Tagliatelle five francs. Coffee, four francs. Total thirty seven. The Swiss franc was even with the Canadian dollar. Thirty seven dollars for a thin pork chop and hardly anything n the plate. That was outrageous.

So he had charged her for the pizza after all, she thought bitterly. They can see a tourist coming a mile away. But she was determined not to  complain. She felt too vulnerable, all round, to have to challenge the bill and she wanted desperately to have a pleasant part to her day.  Especially in this place, she would not complain; but she vowed she would not eat in this district the next day. But really! Five francs for a slice of pizza!

She brought out her money and placed exactly thirty seven francs on the table. At this price, with so little dinner, I’m not giving a tip besides, she thought.

He came and lingered at the table.

“Alors! A budding Picasso!”

“Picassa, I think. Do you want to see?”

“Fantastico!”

“Here. It’s yours.” Kay tore the page from her sketchbook and gave it to him.

His smile stretched wide and he took it.

She packed her things and left.  At the corner, she stopped at the grocery store, a grim little place with ready-made snacks. She took an apple, yogurt, a bottle of spring water and a cereal bar. That would give her breakfast. Thirteen francs for a Rothaus hotel breakfast was just too much!

In her room, there was a book, her journal and the television for the remainder of the evening.  From her bed, the only place to relax, she watched Pretty Woman with Richard Gere in dubbed Italian.  Kay didn’t understand a word, but she had seen it twice before, long ago,  and knew the story.

The next day she toured the city for galleries and points of interest. She ate her meal late in the afternoon and was back early at the Rothaus. Just as she approached, she once again saw the paddy wagon, blue light flashing, doors open just at the entrance of the hotel.

A man was being loaded into it. On the ground, a woman sat, dazed, the entire contents of her purse spread around her – condoms, syringes, pills, lipstick, personal effects. The police woman was urging her to gather her belongings and come with her, I suppose, the second customer for the wagon in blue.

Kay caught the police woman’s eye, pointed her finger towards the Rothaus gate and received a nod. Yes, she could pass by with impunity. She could get into her hotel.

At least the police frequent the area. It’s just one more night. I can leave early in the morning,” she calmed herself. “It’s just one more night.

Kay was telling her experience to an Italian friend when she got back home.

“Anyway,” she said, “what is tagliatelle?”

“It’s pasta.”

“Pasta? They charged me five francs for pasta? That’s outrageous!”

“But he didn’t charge me for the pizza. It really was a gift!”

If you don’t…

November 28, 2010

“I’m going to put my laundry in. If you don’t find a hotel by the time I get back, I’ll find you one and at any price. You can afford it. It’s about time you started staying in better hotels.”

It was Hugh, frustrated with Kay’s seeming inability to book a hotel through Expedia or Hotels.ca. If Hugh was frustrated with Kay’s lack of computer brilliance, Kay was more so with the computer.

First, she wasn’t used to the laptop cursor control and the little arrow was flying over the page sometimes and then refusing to move at other times. Then, she became boggled down trying to compare prices and places. There were so many hotels and she knew so little about where they were, in a city she knew nothing about.  She could end up in some obscure location and spend half her time traveling back and forth to the hotel, when there were other hotels that were perfect for her meandering through the old parts of the city. But how was she to know when she had never been there. She’d chosen a hotel in New York that way.

It was three hundred dollars a night that she shared with her friend Kathy on a long-weekend side trip they had done from Toronto to New York, tagged on to a work-related convention. The hotel had been central alright. But the promised two beds was a trundle bed that pulled out from underneath a cot-like contraption. The second mattress lay on the floor which looked none too clean. The blankets were surplus from the First World War – gray, heavy woolen ones with dark blue stripes at the top – and there was hardly any room to move or to put luggage.  The towels were thin raggedy looking ones. Pictures  of hotels, Kay knew, were deceptive on the Internet.

Kay went back and forth between this hotel and that but they all seemed far to expensive for just sleep and nothing else. Finally she found one at one hundred Swiss francs and that seemed fine to her. The blurb stated that it was close to the city centre and the train station. There was a pub-restaurant with live music on weekends. That was a dicey thing. Perhaps with loud music, she wouldn’t be able to sleep. On the other hand, maybe it would be interesting music and it would give her something to do, close to her hotel, in the evenings.

She proceed through the steps of booking on-line, but every time she did so, the system informed her that she was missing information and booted her out. It was on the fifth try that Hugh came back from the basement with his knapsack full of clean laundry.

“Well, have you got it yet?”

“No”, she replied defensively, “but it’s not for want of trying”. She explained her trials with the computer and the booking system and how she kept getting error messages when nothing seemed missing. She showed him her selection and he took back his computer and started to key into the site where she had been looking.

Kay lamented not being able to compare the hotels.

“It’s so easy,” he replied. “Look! Here are references from other travellers. “Near the heart of town. Close to the train station. Staff is very friendly. Rating 5 out of 6. Cleanliness 5 out of 6. Sounds good. Entertainment in the surrounding district. 5 out of 6.”

“See these ratings? ” he continued. “Travelers leave there impressions and you can do the same when you have finished your trip. The other one you’ve chosen has no ratings at all.  You can’t tell. So take this one with the decent reviews. ”

After a few minutes, Hugh, too, was being booted out of the reservation system. He looked at Kay with a baffled expression.

“Well, there’s a telephone number here. We could telephone, but you’ll have to give me your credit card number so I can book for you. Only don’t stay on the phone long. I pay for my minutes if I stay on too long.”

Kay said nothing and watched Hugh thumb the telephone number into his cellular phone. It rang on the other end. Kay could hear the unfamiliar European ring repeating itself.  Hugh asked if they spoke English and then turned to Kay.

“You are sure you want to stay two nights? It’s going on your credit card. You won’t pay anything when you get there. They’ll give the special price you would have had if you had booked through Hotels.ca.  Shall I go ahead? Are you sure it’s the fifth and the sixth?”

Kay nodded mutely as  he proceeded to provide her card number. When he was finished, he turned to her and said, “See. It’s not so difficult. The only thing is, you can’t do it on line less than 24 hours before you are going to be there. ” He printed her a Google map and with a highlighter, traced her path from the station to the hotel. “Here. Take this with you. You can’t get lost.”

Kay nodded again, then, thinking the process had gone miraculously more smoothly than she could have mustered, she said, “Let’s do the one for Paris for when I return home; and let’s get one for Strasbourg for the sixth.”

“Look,” he said with a chastising tone, “You have to stop choosing the least expensive hotels. You can afford better. Suck it up. I’m going to get you a good hotel and  I get to choose.”

They argued a bit, but in the end Kay was defeated when Hugh announced, “If you want a cheaper hotel, you can do it.” Kay, feeling rather beaten, nodded her head, still wordless, with a grim feeling of panic.

The next day she left early with Hugh, down the hill to the bus stop, then down to the train station where she was on her own now, fending for herself with a continuing feeling of vulnerability. I’m getting on, she thought to herself. Now I need a magnifying glass to read a map and everyone will know I am a tourist. Now I need help to get my luggage up into a train. I no longer have the stamina to walk miles, and I’m about to go to a city where I don’t know sixteen words of the language. I’ll have to find a different way to travel.

The train ride was a long, with one transfer to Bern, then another to Zurich.

Industrial sprawl petered out around Lausanne. The steep hills above Lac Leman were green and corduroyed with ownerships of vines,  and accented with red-tiled roofs of the farm houses. Small cities were linked together by the railway, Nyon, Lausanne,  Vevey, Montreux, and then the train began to climb away from the lake towards Bern.

In the mountains, bright green pastures climbed high onto the slopes that were covered with deep green stands of pine and fir. The farm-style houses of the lower levels gave way to small chalets of the traditional sort – dark -wooded, two storied, steep-roofed to let the snow slide away.

At Bern, she had to ask a fellow voyager if it were the right place to get off the train. The signs were now all in German. With only six minutes to get her corresponding train, she followed the stream of other travelers. Then when they dispersed, she found herself in a long hall with no clear indication of which of many stairwells she must take to get there.

People streamed by in hasty determination to catch their trains, while disembarking passengers wove by in the opposite  direction – a dance that never ended in collision.

“Zurich, please!” she cried out in mounting panic. “Where’s the track for Zurich?”  and an adolescent in school uniform plucked her sleeve. “Follow me, ” she said, pulling Kay in the right direction. “It’s the train after mine. Watch there,” she directed, pointing to a automated board that clicked over numbers as the trains came and went away again.

“Next one!” the girl waved as she  and her classmates disappeared into a train.

And so Kay got on the next train and sure enough, it deposited her in Zurich.

Once again there was a baffling configuration of halls giving on to train tracks. It was the main hall that she wanted, and an exit to the city. When she looked out she hoped was  the front of the station, there was construction going on. She couldn’t tell because everything was shrouded in scaffolding and swaths of plastic. No street names were in view. When she looked back into the station, there were three other exit possibilities. What to do?

She walked down the long hall with shops on either side looking for the Tourist Information Center.  It was not obvious despite the large sign that hung up  above along with a huge surreal sculpture of a woman floating just below the rafters.  She returned back to the central point, close to the wall, passing a florist, a bakery, coffee shop, the ticket counters and other businesses. She returned to the ticket counter, stood in line and waited five minutes.

“It’s not here,” replied the bored clerk in a dull, flat voice. He pointed to the opposite side of the hall at the far end.  Back she went, now annoyed.

“Please, do you speak English,” she asked, and the Tourist Information clerk nodded.

“How can I help you?”

“I already have a hotel. I reserved it on the Internet.I just don’t know where I am on this map, which exit to take, which direction to go.”

He pulled out a city map in an automatic gesture from under the counter, without swerving his  kind eyes from Kay.  “And your hotel?”

“The Rothaus.”

His expression did not change, nor did he say a thing, but there was a slight movement backwards of his whole upper body. It was the first indication that something might be wrong.

Smoothly, he continued on, “The Rothaus.There is a bus at the end of this street. Just turn right out this door, he pointed,  and walk down to the street at the end. There’s a bus stop. Take the number 3.”

“Bus?” replied Kay. She had no change and felt more vulnerable on the bus. What if she went far past her stop and got lost. It was different if one was traveling with a friend. They could sort things out and there was company if things didn’t work out. But now it was  all up to her. “Couldn’t I walk?”

“You could but it’s better to take the bus. You go out this door, turn right, walk the full length of the station, There’s a bus stop just right there. But if you really want to walk, cross the street, again to the right until you come to the corner, then walk two blocks to the river, cross over the bridge,  one block left, then about five blocks down Militarstrasse.”

It was too much to remember, but it was now highlighted on the new map and she thanked him and headed out the door.

The front of the station was shrouded, Christo-like, in scaffolding and plastic wrap. There were detours around construction hoarding covered with graffiti and posters apologizing for the inconvenience. At the end of the station street, there was one block of uninviting shops and then the commercial aspect of the streets petered out.

Kay crossed the canal by bridge, turned left a block and found her street.

There was nothing of note for a block, then a huge open space fenced by a stone wall with forged iron fencing ran for about three blocks. Three large, striped tents were situated about a block away in the center of it and there were circus animals in pens outside.

As Kay was taking in the details of the circus, two swarthy men passed her clicking their tongues as they brushed passed her in, raising their brows and leering.

“Oh Lord, ” thought Kay. ”  All this long trip, she had not been pestered by the migrant North Africans as she had been thirty some years before. Was she just entering a poorer district? Was she marked as a tourist and therefore was prey? She tightened her hold on her black carry-all and took mental note. She would not bring her camera out in this district. It was dicey.

In the next block, there were young people, about fifty, she guessed,  waiting for the bus. It appeared to be beside the entrance to a technical school. They payed her no attention, forcing Kay out into the street to pass them. She sped her steps, leery of European drivers who stopped for no one.

Once she was beyond them she once again took stock of her surroundings. Across the street was Milano Pizzeria. At worst, I could eat a pizza tonight, she thought. There was a grimy-looking corner store, but possibly there was an inexpensive dinner in there as well – maybe yogurt, cheese, some bread, a banana or an apple. Kitty-corner there was a cafe which she was fast approaching, and on fourth corner, a clothing shop with racks and racks of cheap, gaudy merchandise.

Kay noted that there were only men sitting outside the sidewalk cafes, and that there were a few women hanging around aimlessly, drably dressed, not going anywhere.  With relief, she saw her hotel, a red brick structure on the corner of a side street less than twenty meters ahead.

“Rothaus. Red House. Of course!” thought Kay, translating from the Swiss German to English with an educated guess. Here it was!

The main door led to an empty cafe where she supposed the music was in the evening.  To left and right, she could not see a hotel entrance, but saw an arrow pointing to one side. There was a locked gate made of unpainted tubular steel and a buzzer with a sign which she hoped was for the hotel, and an intercom.  Just past the gate was another buzzer which, she supposed, was to let oneself out.  The intercom answered, “Rothaus!” ,  a female voice.

“Rothaus Hotel?” asked Kay.  The buzzer sounded and Kay pushed the gate. It opened and she entered. A narrow grey door in an unfinished concrete stucco wall was marked Hotel in white paste on letters. It didn’t look promising.

Inside, a young woman at the desk asked Kay’s business.

“I reserved over the phone last night. Kerrer is the last name, ” Kay said. “Do you speak English? It’s already paid for,” she added, making sure she would not be asked for more money.

“Oh yes.  Your room is number 64. I’ll show you.” She handed Kay the key and preceded her back to the courtyard. At the door, she pointed to a small new building within the compound, built like a blockhouse, square, three storied, uninteresting.

“There’s a door just under the stairwell. Your room is at the end of the hall.” she said and ushered Kay out past her.

The corridor inside the blockhouse was narrow, plain and dark. At the end she found three doors. It didn’t compute. The building was so small. Was there room for three hotel rooms in here?

Inside the room, it became evident. There was a double bed with crisp white linens and a bright red bed cover. At the end of the bed, there was no room at all. A twelve inch shelf ran from one side of the room to the other. An modern style stool fit underneath it, the only other piece of furniture.  A guest was not expected to sit here in the evening, nor write, nor relax in a chair.

Along the bedside, was a narrow space from the door to the shelf, not thirty inches wide. Four colourful plastic hangers swung from a bracket, above, in this space. It was the nearest thing to a closet that there was.
In the bathroom, the toilet was so close to the wall that the paper fixture stuck out into the room making it necessary to sit sideways first before settling in.  A concrete lip on the floor provided the base for the shower in one corner and the curtain, gathered close to the wall, provided the two other sides for it.  The pedestal wash stand was cracked.

“It’s only for two nights” thought Kay. She couldn’t bear the thought of returning to the station to find a different hotel. She couldn’t imagine trying to get her money back from this one. “At least it’s clean, ” she added, talking out her concerns to herself.

Time was wasting. She only had two days, so she sorted out what she would need for a walk and then, leaving the remainder in the room, she consulted her map, then went out to explore the city.

To be continued.

A working girl

April 15, 2010

During the week there is a gallery manager at the Fort Gallery, but on Saturdays and Sundays, we, the artists, have to mind the store. Today is my first day for this, and being the worrier that I am, I came a day early to find out just what I have to do.

First of all there is the dreaded alarm. Bette, one of the others, had taken time to tell me all about it at the last opening, but of course, Memory-like-a-sieve didn’t write it down and I needed a refresher. About noon, I hopped in the car and drove across the Fraser River to Fort Langley. It was grey and rainy. What’s new?

Inside the gallery, though, Claire was doing duty, drawing in her sketchbook in preparation for a new work. With dynamic black and white photos of dancers, she was plotting out a composition, emptying the background of all clutter, in a line drawing that had as much activity to it as her photo figures. It was a delight to see.

As we engaged in discussion, all thoughts of the grey, rainy day outside disappeared.  Terry soon arrived to take the second portion of the shift. Each of us had sold a painting from this show and were elated. Claire had a different one to put up and  we helped her with it. It’s another protest against the Olympic decision that women ski-jumpers are not permitted to compete in the games.  With her fertile mind and sense of humour, she has a female figure lifting another into that flat out form that ski-jumpers take as they fly through the air. There are red tassels dangling from her breasts.

Those are nipple covers” she laughs. “There’s a real name for them, but it doesn’t come to mind. ”

“They’re called  pasties!,” adds in Terry with more laughter.

“”Yeah! Oh, yeah! Pasties. What are the women supposed to do? Are they only acceptable to these men-decision-makers if they wearing pasties?”

“If they won’t let them compete, what are they supposed to do? Pole dance? And did you see? There’s a delegation of pole dancers asking for that to be an Olympic event. Now if they accept that and won’t accept women’s ski jump…..” The thought trailed off and we all shrugged our shoulders and grimaced in half smiles.

On the Sunday, I was sitting the gallery by myself. I had written enough down to remind me of the alarm codes and I got in without any mishap.

In the adjoining Open Space, there is a wonderful program going on. It’s a teaching and learning space. People who want some coaching in their painting can come, at low cost and continue to be mentored. Some of the gallery artists teach mini-courses that will help aspiring artists to improve their work. It’s a flexible arrangement meant especially to provide learning opportunities for those who have a modicum of training and who want to continue on, improving their skills, expressing their thoughts in paint.

One of the artists from the Fort Gallery teaches print making there and another who is a specialist in art therapy, teaches journaling through art as a means of becoming more aware of one’s self.

It so happened that Betty Spackman, the author of this Open Studio program, was there mentoring her Sunday group of four artists. As the students painted, absorbed in their individual expression, I had a chance to talk with Betty. We are very privileged to have her here.  She is internationally active as an installation artist, and her  works are absolutely delightful, full of humor and insight.

She is encouraging me to think about teaching in the Open Studio, myself, since her involvement may be diminishing as she moves forward into new projects that may take her away from us and back to Europe and Toronto where her principle art practice has been located. Her next show is in Penticton.

Mid afternoon, a couple of interested onlookers came into the Open Studio and were welcomed to have a look and then encouraged to come into the gallery next door.

An elegant man in his seventies, I’m guessing, with a faint Dutch accent that I recognized came through and I engaged him in conversation as his wife went onwards into the gallery to have a look. Was his accent noticeable, then? He seemed gently amused. I then spoke of my own Dutch heritage, though I can’t speak a word of my father’s mother-tongue.

There was a joyous moment of recognition. It was Willy van Yperen!  It was a fantastic moment of awe that this coincidence of our meeting should happen.

“Do you come out here often?” I asked.

“Never!” he replied. ” We decided to come explore Fort Langley for an outing. I haven’t been here for simply ages.”

We got to reminiscing.

As a student just after high school and then in all my years of university, I had worked at Henry Birks and Sons, the famous Canadian jewelery shop. One of those first summers, Willy van Yperen had immigrated from the Netherlands to repair jewelry in the workshop above the store. From time to time, I was able to go up to this fascinating place where a team of men worked over their benches, mostly repairing rings, brooches and necklaces of the elite of Vancouver.  There were engravers of silver to monogram cutlery and platters; there were watchmakers and gemologists. There were stringers of pearls and various other artisanal disciplines there.

For a young girl who had grown up in a family of teachers and knew nothing but, it was like being allowed into Santa’s workshop. Whenever I had a chance to linger there, I did.  Willy must have been maybe ten years older than I, and a kindly soul. He allowed me to watch him work and we chatted, though I dared not stay to long. It was an organization that expected employees to have their nose to the grindstone  and there was to be no idle chitter-chatter. I wouldn’t have dreamed of getting either of us in trouble with the hawk-like managers.

In my final year of University, a friend and I were playing hooky from our classes on a sunny afternoon. We were wandering the  shops of Upper Tenth Avenue, a village like shopping district that served the students and the intelligensia of the University of British Columbia.  We entered an interesting jewelry shop that was beautifully arranged in a designers fashion (unlike the warehouse style of the mass-manufactured jewelry shops).

There, in a window midway down the shop, overlooking his rows of rings, necklaces and brooches, was Willy, bent over his workbench, lit by the intense lamps that clarified his minute crafting.

He had just escaped the drudgery of his Birks employment and was now set up to sell his own creations. He was, after all, an artist, not the repairman that Birks had made him out to be. And so we come full circle.

I have spent the last 23 years working in a profession that had nothing to do with my art work. We are both retired, though he is ten years ahead of me, even still.

He promises to come out to my show in July and once again, I will be delighted to see this cosmopolitan jeweler, designer of excellence,  and listen to his faint Dutch accent.

I believe in destiny and I am often amazed how some individuals, important in my life, keep coming back through with that spark of friendship that does not diminish, carrying reminders for me that I must keep up my standard and reach for excellence.

Forever sorting – sort of downsizing

April 15, 2010

More sorting. It’s never ending.

I’m into the boxes that are marked “Books” or “Art books”.

Frank has come round. In both senses of the word. We are talking, which is a relief to me. I’d like to leave this world reconciled with all – not that it’s imminent, to my knowledge, but you never know. Sometimes relationships take time.

One of my friends asked me quite tartly to me the other day, “Why do you even speak to him anymore?”  I’ve been pondering that quite a bit since. It’s a valid question. Do  I have a valid answer?And maybe that’s too personal, in any case. The upshot, though, is that Frank has offered to take the walls down in a little room that used to be a sauna, in the basement. It has been decommissioned as a sauna and I’m more interested in having a proper place to store paintings, so  he is going to help me convert it. The wall coverings need to be replaced and some decent flooring is needed. He’s capable of doing both.

This little room has been the hidey-hole for the massive number of books that I brought with me when I moved and I don’t even know what’s in there anymore. There’s enough to start a book store! I had a month to clear it out before Frank would be back to start work on it. Those days are ticking away relentlessly and I’m having to work faster and pay less attention to detail. For those cheering me on in my downsizing efforts, I have  gotten rid of about four boxes of records (my own)that are not worth keeping. That has translated three huge bags of paper shredding, which will go out with the recycling this evening.

One of the boxes contained old papers that Mom had collected. It contained many of the souvenirs of my Father’s illustrious career as a professor. At various times, he had been the president of various professional societies in his own disciplines.  He came from humble beginnings and was so very thankful for the support that he had received in getting an education, that he felt he should give back to his community. He did that in both service and monetary donations, all his life. Bless his soul.

I am excited about this because, for the family history that I am writing, I am going to be able to piece together some more details of his career, of which I knew very little as a child.

In the same box, I found a poem which originally I thought must have been one that he liked to quote to us when we were children. However, it was handwritten in perfectly composed MacLean’s method lettering which was my mother’s hallmark.

Digging a little deeper, I found three more poems, each typescript on good paper, an onion skin carbon copy (as was done in the olden days, for you new generation computer users – hence the abbreviations that we use “cc” at the end of letters), and there was a handwritten draft with many crossings out and overwriting.

All doubts were gone. These were poems written by my mother. I vaguely remember her sitting at her writing desk, shooing us away if we interrupted, because she was concentrating on bringing her poem to fruition. She never read it to us. She never let us read it. My sister Lizbet tells me that she sent it out to a publisher and it was returned.  Such a shame. It was the end of her publishing dreams. She never sent it out again.  Unfortunately, it was the end of her writing attempts too. She was discouraged. Perhaps, with four children, she was also too busy.

Back to sorting.

I closed up that box once I had taken all the duplication away and had topped up the available space with more family documents. I parked it in a safe place for future inspection.  It will be a while before I get there.

Several boxes that came next were art books I’ve been waiting to find. I’ve missed them, needed them for my teaching. Those books have risen to the main floor and I’ll find room for them somehow. Then, in one box from Mom’s study, hastily packed when I departed from her home two years ago, was a collection of Canadian books and a leather case. In it were bundles of supplicant letters from every charity in the world that she supported.

Today, as I look at this empty leather case, I see the little tag in it marked, John D. Barrow, maker, Vancouver. Though I looked him up on the  ‘Net, I didn’t easily find anything. So if anyone knows something about John D. Barrow, please let me know.

It’s a solid little letter writing case. Tan Brown. Pig skin bubbly surface. Made for a half size of lined and hole-punched paper. I’ve decided to appropriate it for my own use.

Seeing it brought a flood of memories, of Mother taking a year’s worth of these solicitation letters – Red Cross, Christian Blind Mission, Lepers something-aruther, several Cancer agencies, United Way, Union Gospel Mission, Salvation Army, Boy Scouts and more – and having me sort them in piles alphabetically, then selecting the ones she wished me to make out cheques for her charitable donations.

The letters and envelopes are all gone now, but I noticed the folder by my computer filled with many such solicitations and I see by that accumulation that I have taken on her accumulating habit. Ah, me! I’ll have to go through the pile and throw most of them out.  In the meantime, I’m back to hauling boxes, opening them and sorting out the wheat from the chaff.

Endings and beginnings

March 29, 2010

Hugh is  elated. He has been appointed as an Intern to an International Mission for Canada in Europe. It’s his first job in his own field.

Kay , bursting with excitement for him, has been pointing out potential pitfalls, handing out advice that rarely meets the mark because, really, Hugh is an intelligent guy and has it all in hand. He’s  good at planning what he needs and procuring it, mostly through the Internet. Over the three years of his studies, he has carefully fostered contacts, too, and he’s been briefed before departure by a number of professors, research gurus and friendly field service officers, all of them friends.

He is nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time.  Wouldn’t you know, though, he gets the flu a week before departure and it develops into a secondary infection. He’s out of commission for two days and then struggles to get his affairs in order – emptying his room to storage so someone else can rent it while he is gone; collecting his visa which is supposed to be ready at the Embassy (but isn’t); getting to the bank and arranging his financial facility; completing his taxes because he won’t be here at tax time; ordering two suits and a few good shirts so that he can present himself well; buying two pairs of dress shoes because he’s sure he will not be received well in either hiking boots or running shoes.

The comforting thing, he mollifies her, is that Skype exists now. The only difference to their twice weekly calls is that he’ ll be calling from his new posting and he’s another few thousand kilometers away.
He says, “It’s not like when you  stayed in Europe; and Skype is still for free.”

“No,” she agrees. “When I left, it would be ten months before I got back home.  Long distance phone calls were prohibitive. I wrote letters, but I wasn’t staying in one place.  I was moving around. There was no place for anyone to write me until I got an apartment just before I started school.  I felt dreadfully lonely. No one around me spoke my language except other back-packers like me. I struggled with French. I could barely speak it. My Lord! What ever got into me – going off for a year like that, all alone,  without even being able to speak the language!”

“It was six months before I found anyone to talk to, and those were a pair of Norwegian girls. I thought I would go starkers with loneliness!”

“Darned if I was going to give in, though. I started to take second-language lessons at the University and then things eased up.”

“Your aunt Lizbet was in school in Geneva that year, but there was no phone where she boarded. I couldn’t call her. She wasn’t much of a writer. She spoke the language, at least. She’d taken her Masters in the teaching of French. When finally she wrote, she too was feeling very lonely.  I suggested that she come visit me for her birthday in December and she said she would.”

“Then, in a panic, I didn’t know what to do.”

“She didn’t turn up at the train station at the appointed time when I went to meet her.  She just wasn’t there.  I turned up for every possible train and went back home after midnight, my head spinning. What had happened to her? Had she missed the train? Was the train delayed? Did I have the wrong day? Perhaps she had not been able to get a reservation for the day she said she was coming?”

“On Saturday, I went to the train station from morning to night for every possible connection just in case I had made a mistake and still she was not there; and then I knew that she was not coming.”
“Should I tell the police? Or had I gotten something wrong? She had said Friday, but what if she meant the next Friday. Had she had an accident on the way? Had she been abducted? We had both been warned about the white slave-trade .”

“I waited, each day my stomach churning and my head filled with tragic possibilities. Should I call our parents? But what could they do from there? And what if it were nothing and they came all the way from Canada to find everything was alright? The expense of travel was prohibitive. I decided to wait.”

“A good ten days later, I got a letter. Her classmates had for the very first time invited her to join them for dinner and it turned out to be a surprise birthday celebration for her. She had stayed. But she had no way of getting in touch with me.  She rationalized that I would understand; that I would get her letter of explanation in a day or two and everything would be alright.”

“It was. But I had felt ever so vulnerable, ever so sick about it, all of that time that I didn’t know.”

“Auntie, Auntie,” interrupted Hugh, ” It won’t be like that. I will have a work place. I have a rooming house already, thanks to Cousin Barb. We have Skype and if need be, the telephone. I’ll call you twice a week – maybe more because I won’t know anyone there in the first month or so; and you can always just e-mail me.”

When Kay and Hugh finished their phone call, Kay returned to her chores in the basement where she was sorting out boxes of books to keep or not to keep – boxes that had been stored for two and a half years now as she settled into the new-to-her house. While she was mechanically opening boxes, chucking books into the keeper box or the other, her mind began to dial back to that earlier time.

How thoughtless she had been. Perhaps it wasn’t so much thoughtless as ego-centric. She had never thought how her mother might have felt, her rebellious and rather naive daughter winging off to France for a year without a place to stay nor a relative to depend on, with nothing but her clothing on her back, whatever she could stuff into a backpack and a wad of American Express cheques.

It’s the way of the world for the young to leave the nest, to try their own wings.  A generation later, it was Kay herself who told her nephews that it was their time to find their own paths, to find out who they were and what they wanted from life; that they didn’t have to ask permission to go or have a fight about it. All they had to say was, “I’d like to go live on my own now.” And here was Hugh, doing it.

Not to say that he hadn’t been fending for himself all these years of University; but it was his first job in his own field; and he would be living abroad.

As Kay’s heart twinged at  his leaving, she thought back to her mother. She had been the same age or just-about as Kay was now. And then Kay remembered the last of the three summers she had come back to work to allow herself to return to France to finish her Diplome.

“I’ve met a man,” she said to her mother,” and I’m going to meet his mother this fall.”

“You can’t go with that ragged coat,” Mother had replied, eyeing Kay from head to foot. ‘I’ll buy you a new one. If you are going into a new family, you will need to show you come from a good family.”

So they went shopping and Kay selected a brown and white herring-bone coat that reached to her ankles. It had a rust-coloured leather collar and buttons to match.  With her leather boots and three inch heels, her long blond hippie hair flowing down her back, she looked like a tall, slender Russian poet.

Kay admired her figure in the mirror. She would turn heads, she thought, with smug satisfaction.

Had she said thank you, thought Kay? Not just the words, but a proper thank you? Or had she just thought it was her due – parents buy their offspring clothing – or had Kay had any idea of the the reconciliation that this gesture had been from a mother to her headstrong daughter? It had been such a concession on her mother’s part.  She was letting go, for once, without making a fuss and showed for once, a certain trust in Kay’s judgment.

Kay sighed.

It was odd how life brought these bits of wisdom to her too late. It wasn’t a regret, exactly. Mother had come from a different era. One didn’t express one’s emotions. All her longings and vicarious wishes for Kay lay under the surface, bottled, capped, bundled and wrapped in a tight explosive corner of her heart. Kay’s too, thought Kay.

Kay was grateful that time had taught her to say what she felt. Kay had not wanted to make the same mistakes she felt she had grown up with. She was determined to let the boys, these nephews of hers, know that she loved them and encouraged them.  It had worked with one but not the other. Hugh was close, but not Ron.

Kay felt especially grateful about Hugh. She would not lose him for years at a time as she had been estranged from her mother. Hugh had become a friend – a deep and lasting friend. She would have the pleasure of sharing his adventures, she knew, and wished, far too late for it ever to happen, that she had been able to do the same with her Mom.

How different the world had become in thirty years! How much smaller the world had become because of all these electronic gadgets! And how much more open had become the ways of speaking one’s emotions to the people we loved.

Hanky panky

February 2, 2010

“Have you got your lunch? Have you got a handkerchief? Have you got your bus fare?”

The litany repeated every morning when I left for school, then later, when I went out to work. As if I could forget!

“Yes, Mom.” The reply was  a “stop-nagging” whine.

It changed on Sundays. “Have you got your handkerchief? Do you have some money for collection?”  Always, a nice girl would need a handkerchief. One did not touch one’s face. Or at least, we were not supposed to, but I was always getting chided for this sin of commission. And of course, if you had sniffles….

I brought the shoe box up to my nose. It was full of handkerchiefs and there were a few head scarves as well. It had an old smell, not musty, but of face powder and bath salts that women seldom use these days.

I noticed one day that my friend Geraldine carried cloth hankerchiefs and remarked on it.

“One day, I’ll come across the box of Mom’s handkerchiefs and I’ll give them to you,”  I promised. “I don’t use them, myself. I picked up a lot of them for her at the Lutheran Church at their Christmas and Easter sales. It’s amazing how many brand new handkerchiefs I could pick up there, for less than a quarter a piece. After a few years, the lady who ran the thrift table saved them for me. ”
“People brought them back to Mother, too, as presents – from Switzerland, from Germany, from England.”

“My box runneth over with handkerchiefs, ” I mused.

And here was the box with wrinkled and mussy handkerchiefs still smelling of Mom and her toiletries.

Just as mother was reaching her teenage years,  Kleenex made its debut in 1924, designed as a facial tissue made of  “Cellucotton” to wipe cold cream or make-up from one’s face. But it was The Depression and resources were scare. A cloth hankie could be used over and over again, but a tissue could be used but once.

I left the sixty-plus handkerchiefs to soak in a basin of hot water laced with a delicate-fabric soap and came back to rinse them and dry them a few hours later.  In a futile attempt to save time, I did not take them to the basement and the automatic clothes dryer, but began to stretch them, as Mother used to do, flat on the bathroom counter, but I quickly ran out or space and began to hang them out on the towel racks, along the edge of the laundry basket and all along the bathtub rim, and I was only half way through.

Later in the afternoon, I came back to do the other half and take the dry ones to iron.

As I pressed the first one, a light translucent cotton printed with a gay pattern of red and blue flowers, it came to mind that I must have learned to iron on these practical little squares of cloth, something that a child of seven could not ruin easily in her first domestic ironings.

As I continued on the task, I became conscious that I only had six matching handkerchief. Every other one was different.

Of the older types, there were ones with cut work lace (above) and embroidery (below),

with tatted edges or ones with crochet

The needle work is often hand-done with a finesse that is rarely seen today and the fabrics are so sheer, sometimes, that I marvel at the delicacy of it. How do they spin the cotton so fine so that the fiber is strong enough not to break in the weaving process and yet so small in diameter that  the fabric is almost see-through.
There are plain ones and flocked ones, there are silk ones brought from China by some thankful student;

there are ones with crocheted edges in variegated colour;

There are ones made especially for Christmas,

Some are geometric, or striped – regular horn-blowers for days of groggy flu or sinus numbing colds,

and some have curious, modern calligraphy upon them.

And this nest one was her favorite. It was the kind a flirtatious woman could drop on the floor and her eager swain would stoop to rescue.

Father passed away in 1983.

One day when I was visiting, before I came to live with her, to care for her, we had a cup of tea in the afternoon and she was being coy. Something was on her mind that she wanted to say but she wasn’t sure what my reaction would be, I discovered later.

Finally, she told me she had received a letter from one of Dad’s and her university acquaintances whom they had kept in touch with all their lives. He was an prominent Engineer – a brilliant man, she assured me.

“I can’t read his writing any more,” she said. “Would you read it for me?”

I struggled with the chicken scratchings that marked the page.

“Mom, this isn’t writing. It’s code. It’s unreadable!”

I was teasing her. There were occasional words that were recognizable. With a bit of effort, the entirety could be decoded. I read it to her haltingly as I deciphered it.

“He’ll be here on the twenty-fourth. He’s asking you to have dinner with him.”

I suspected that she already knew, that she had already read the letter and knew its contents.

She had an expression on her face that made me think of a wary animal waiting, not knowing if she were to be caressed or smacked.Timid. Unsure.

“That’s fabulous, Mom!” I said.  “How exciting! You do want to go, don’t you?”

“Yes, but what will you children think. Do you think I am being disloyal to your father?”

“Heavens, no! For Pete’s sake, Mom. Dad would want you to be happy. He would want you to enjoy your long term friendships still. I don’t think he want’s you to be a nun and cloister yourself away.”

Now I knew why she was being shy and coy! She was over eighty, but she was thinking of him as a suitor, a beau, a potential boyfriend.

On the twenty-fourth, I was summoned to get her to the hair dresser, then to help her dress. I brushed her clothes to ensure there was not a hair out of place, nor an escapee dangler left on her shoulders. I polished her favorite necklace – a Haida silver man-in-the-moon pendant.

She sat at her dresser, her sterling brush set sitting before her, as she trimmed her nails and put on polish, then selected a bracelet to go with the pendant. I put it on for her and secured the latch of it. She selected a perfume and dabbed it behind her ears.

She powdered her cheeks and brushed on rouge then wiped it away gently with a paper tissue.  Nervously, she fingered the little cut crystal pots with silver lids that were her pride and joy – her symbols of ladyship – and moved them, reorganized them, tidied them.

She leaned into the mirror, puckered her lips and carefully drew over her lips with a strong red lipstick.

Into her evening bag, she slipped into it  a twenty dollar bill, her lipstick, a compact with rouge, her driver’s license (though she no longer drove), a comb and a nail file.

“Do I look OK?” she asked when she was all done.  She was unsure. Excited. Like for a first date.

“You look wonderful, Mom,” I assured her. “There’s not a thing out of place. You look beautiful!”

“Have you got a handkerchief?” I asked. She hadn’t. It was the last thing to do.

She opened the top drawer beside her, pulled out a wad ironed handkerchiefs and picked out this one, her very best, with hand-made Belgian lace and a ruffle on each corner.  Soft and refined. The kind one could drop, for a suitor to pick up and admire. And she tucked it into her sleeve.

It’s threadbare now, but that doesn’t matter. I think I will keep this one, in memory.

A day trip in the Fraser Valley farmlands

January 24, 2010

I met my  friend Jacki on my first day of teaching. She was a new (but seasoned) secretary for the high school and I was a neophyte teacher.

I was expected to collect art fees and locker fees from each student and give them a receipt, but there were no receipts books to be had.   I parked my self at the counter just in front of her desk and demanded in a most frustrated manner to know, if there were no receipt books, when would they be coming in.

She had been equally frustrated by the beginning of school and, she tells me, muttered under her breath, “Bloody snotty bitch! Who does she think she is,” and then replied in her clipped English accent in a very pointedly, over-polite tone , “We don’t have them and we don’t know when they are coming in. I’ll let you know when we’ve got them.”

I thanked her in equally over-polite words and then turned on my heel saying just loudly enough for her to hear, “Bloody secretaries and janitors! They run the bloody  schools!”

Of course, this last statement is correct. They do. We couldn’t operate without them. Instead of being bitter about it as I was that day, I came to appreciate their services even more so than the principal’s.

At some time in the second year, I moved to Richmond where she, too, lived. Memory is dim, these forty years on. Somehow she offered to drive me home and I accepted. It became a regular thing. We became such good friends that we never stopped being friends.

Sometimes there would be years in between when we no longer saw each other, like when I studied in France for four years. But when we got back together, the conversation began and never ended.

She had my number quite early. I was an innocent dropped into a wicked world. I would walk into situations where no rational person would go and somehow would walk back out unscathed.  Over the years, like any youth, I became more worldly, but always there was this obliviousness to danger, and often I would get into scrapes. So OK, maybe I wasn’t unscathed.

Jacki was always there like a safety net. She was five years older and much like an wise sister.

It has been a while since last we saw each other, maybe six months, and the previous time before was two years. She’s a Realtor and when I bought this house, she was my first visitor. I hadn’t bought the house through her because it was outside of her area of expertise, but she wanted to make sure I had done well with my purchase and she wanted to know what the place looked like so she could imagine me here when she phoned me or sent an e-mail. These latter forms of communication, I must say, are also far and few between.

Last week, we finally set a date and yesterday was it. I left the  house at one o’clock and set out to find her in White Rock. I’ve been there once before but I”m not super on directions. I had them written down but I now find it harder than before. So much has changed.

I won’t bore you with the details.  I had a couple of chores to do en route – the bank, picking up a prepaid order of toner for my laser printer at Staples and then across the river to Langley via the new Golden Ears Bridge.

All that went fairly quickly, except that Staples did not have my order ready and they had “forgotten” to give me my rebate since they guarantee that they will have toner in stock and if they don’t they give you ten dollars off your bill. Thus, it was more like two o’clock when I got down to serious driving and I was twenty dollars plus richer than I had been half an hour before.

The Number Ten Highway is way down around the border – about seventy blocks away, in this grid system of ours, and I simply headed south and knew I would run into it.

Jacki lives between Sixty-fourth and Sixty-second streets way to the west in Surrey. I could simply take a cross street that went right through and get there, it seemed to me. I never did find the Number Ten Highway and so when I came to Sixty-fourth, I took it. It’s a main road in Surrey.

What I didn’t know is that it curves onto the highway. Well, this was good.

I was blithely driving along the highway but our system of marking streets, it seems to me, is not very clear. I had driven a few miles before I saw that the highway I was on was the Fraser Highway. Was it the same thing? There was nowhere to park at the side of the road and look. Traffic was going fast. There was construction going on and the cars were funneled into a single lane with a jolly looking young woman in fluorescent yellow crisscrossed with neon red waving drivers along. I couldn’t stop.

I must have driven about ten miles before I was able to catch a few signs showing that I have arrived at Ninety-eighth Street.  It meant that the Fraser Highway was not the Number Ten and that I had begun to head north on a diagonal. I was driving away from my destination! But finally, I was in territory I knew.  I got on a westward axis and headed for Scott Road then turned due south again. This time I had thirty blocks to go. I was tired and frustrated.

“It is what it is. Jacki will understand.” I muttered to myself. There was nothing I could do about it. I hadn’t brought my cell phone. The battery needs replacement. It won’t hold a charge.

By the time I arrived, I had been driving for an hour and a half. Although I had given myself lots of lead time, I was over an hour late.  To add to my driving misery, I should have turned at Boundary Gate Road, but the  sign for that street said Sunshine Gate Road and I missed it, only recognizing just after it was too late to turn, and I had this fellow behind me tail-gaiting.   Still heading south, not half a block later, I saw Highway Ten. It would have brought me within a block of Jacki’s house, had I found it at the beginning of the trip. I was there now, though,  and past it, going in the wrong direction!

I’m dense but not that dense. I realized that if I turned to “go around the block” to get myself back to Jacki’s I would be on the highway again without means of going back for a couple of miles. Instead, I went south and eventually found a way to do a U-turn.

She lives in a gated community with several monster houses divided up in to town homes. Her door is hidden behind a garage structure. The signage there is dreadful as well.  It was impossible to tell if I had arrived at the  right place. I saw a neighbour and got out of the car.

Fortunately, everyone knows everyone else in this enclave. He walked down to where I could park the car (also super-discreetly marked so as to be virtually unnoticable) and then pointed out Jacki’s home.

I had arrived.

My pent up frustrations would have made me a terrible guest. I was feeling very surly and out of sorts. I grabbed onto a suggestion she had made the day before as we planned our visit and asked if we could start by going for a walk.

There is a little lake nearby.  Really little. A pond, in normal parlance, but since Real Estate complexes laud their best features, this has become known as “the lake” – not even a half a kilometer in circumference.

There are a few ducks and a swan floating serenely on the glassy  surface. Some of the birds gather at the fence-line hoping for hand-outs. I had my camera and shot  a few pictures of them.

Jacki and I walked around twice before going back to her place.  It did me good.  The pent up frustration melted away. We chatted as we walked and shared our news and tribulations. We both have a few at  the moment.

Back at her home, we collected the address for my next destination from the car and, like a mother hen, she found the map, showed me where I would be going, walked me through it step by step.I would be going back by Highway Ten. It goes, after all, in a straight line from West to East.   I now knew where to find it!

“Do you remember, ” I asked, ” that when you came out last time, you came this route and you were so excited by the drive through the farmlands?”
She nodded.

“Well, I’m sure that the Number Ten is much better than the Fraser Highway. I couldn’t believe it! There are developments lining it – strip development – covering over almost every bit of farm land!”

“How did they get away with it?” I continued. “We are supposed to have laws about taking land out of the Agricultural Reserve. I was appalled by the sheer size and extent of it. There is hardly any farm land left! The apartment blocks are massive! What do we need five story apartment blocks here for? It’s all built on spec. I bet they are hoping to sell a lot of it during the Olympics and then the investors will go away and leave the units empty. ”
“But it is so far away from anything – from shops, from services – and to go anywhere, you have to have a car! We’re trying to phase out cars, and here we are spreading out, making people captive to their “rural” setting. And for that matter, as soon as you have a five story  walk up, you no longer have rural!”

I was ranting. Was there no stop to this? Were we going to eventually pave over every bit of earth in Canada. It is so sad!!!!

Jacki joined the kvetching. She agreed. It was so ugly, and we were destroying so much of the environment that we should be leaving as protected nature.

I had to cut a lot out of this picture to bring it to you as if it were natural:

And this next one shows how those monster houses are encroaching on the grasslands. I couldn’t stop to take photos on the highway, but I wouldn’t have wanted to show you the monster apartment blocks. They are simply dehumanizing in scale. I’ve been in ones like these.  There are  miles and miles of new ones being built. The interior corridors are long, long tunnels with fire doors dividing up the length.  No one stays in the hallway, they are so depressing. There is no natural light. And there are doors, one after the other, like prison cells.

After that rant, we  had a lovely visit and talked about everything and anything. Just before I had to go she put together sandwiches so that I could eat before I went to my evening meeting. She had made home made bread, sliced it thin and spread it with a chicken salad mixture she had chopped up herself. There was a Greek salad too, done only as Jacki would, with the ingredients chopped so much finer than what one would find in a restaurant. Hers was done to aesthetic perfection with yellow and red peppers, a crumbly feta cheese and small morsels of tomatoes. It was served up in a fine china bowl.

It was dark when I left. I drove out to the Number Ten and headed back east. If I had any illusions that this other route would be any better, I was disabused of the idea very quickly.  On this route, there are automobile dealerships fit for the princes of Arabia. The buildings are glass-fronted and shinywith catherdral-high ceilings. At night, the kilowatt hours are pumping through there ina  contest of brilliance with each other. One hardly has need of car lights, it’s so illuminated – and the lots are full of shiny new cars. It goes on and on and on for miles. And all for the almighty car! The polluter of the planet. I shake my head.

Can no politician say no to development – this kind of development? Can we not build up instead of out? Do we need to have acres and acres of cars? Do we need to light up the night and make it into day? Isn’t anyone in government getting the message?

I found my evening meeting place without too much difficulty. The meeting went smoothly – my first as a new member of the artists’ cooperative. I only had one glitch in my drive home. I finally made it into my own driveway by ten-thirty and I was rarely so glad to see it. It’s eighty-six years old, sturdily built and still full of charm.

And so, when I tell you that bit by big bit, the developers are covering over the farmlands, they are making themselves rich; but we the residents, we are poorer for all that. Once the outcropping of concrete has been established in the fields, there is no going back. Malls will become obsolete. They will be abandoned, like they are in my town; and then instead of tearing down an old building down to rebuild on the spot, they simply go and build a new one on deaccessioned Agricultural reserve.

Which makes the title of this post quite ironic. Much of the farmland is gone now. And the covering over continues apace. Much of can never be restored.