Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Brief Intermission . . .

I find I need to hit the Refresh button here.

I don't know that I've ever taken a full week away from the blog in the more than ten years I've been blogging, and it feels as if it's time to do that. I expect to be back here by the end of the month, perhaps even before that, but I'm going to see if I can hold off for the week. I will probably post a few photos on IG, especially since we'll be road-tripping a little. . . .

Be sure to check back next week though -- I'm pretty excited to be hosting another Garden Visit here.  We're heading back to Europe for this one, but that's all I'm going to tell you for now. . . .

See you soon. . . .

Friday, September 15, 2017

Five Things Friday, Halfway through September. . .

 1. This climbing rose, which I suspect might be New Dawn,  began the season well, but then suffered a very persistent campaign by aphids, which not surprisingly resulted in an affliction of powdery mildew. Mid-summer, I got fed up, and I chopped it right back. I mean. . . WAY back. And then it started sending up healthy green shoots, and we picked up a few "environmentally safe" pesticides, and  this happened! It looks as if we'll have roses through at least the end of September, if not longer. . ..

2. And although this photo was taken almost a month ago, it's representative of so very many moments, almost daily, when I look over at this glass wall and thrill again at the light. We've been in the condo for just over a year now, and these last few months of very noisy, very dusty construction just across the lane have been tough, particularly with windows and doors open because of the summer heat. But that's settling down now, and the construction is less aggravating as they close in the building and move indoors (within the next two months, we hope). And I still love the light here. Good news, eh?

3. Out for a walk in the neighbourhood a few weeks ago, I glimpsed this building down a block or so, and was somehow drawn towards it.  That sign says it's the home of the Vancouver Welsh Society, and standing in front of it, I could sense my inner 11-year-old stirring, trying to remember the words she'd recited from the stage inside, for the annual Welsh Eisteddfod Festival. We'd had a Welsh elocution teacher at my school for a couple of years, until she and her husband and two young daughter moved away. I competed in a monologue class or two (something from Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest) and given a speech, in another class, on racism in Canada.

I'm sure any passers-by must have wondered what that grey-haired woman was muttering to herself in front of this handsome brick edifice. . . . And why was she smiling. . . .

 4. This is just to say I may have fallen down the Rabbit Hole labeled Pens and Inks. Fountain pens, that is, of which I still only own three, one of which I don't love and only use rarely. I did buy two new dip pens yesterday (and nibs for them, of course), so that I don't have to wait for the fountain pens to be empty should I want to write a card in a new colour. And so far, I only have four colours, one of which was only purchased yesterday (Red Velvet, if you're curious).

But this lovely is very, very tempting. A friend of my daughter's, a lovely young woman who's not only fallen down the rabbit hole but may have built her own little warren, brought a big box of her pens and inks over for me to test out. What an afternoon that was -- Rosé wine, and the delectable French pastries she brought, and a big box of wonderful writing accoutrements. Preschoolers couldn't have opened new boxes of Playmobil with any more glee than that with which I greeted the stationery goodies (oh, and she brought some fabulous samples of paper as well -- yummy!

 5. Let me wind up here, this Friday, with another photo from the walk on which I discovered that architectural blast from my past -- this is a back lane in a residential neighbourhood nearby. I can't help but marvel at how it seems worlds away from our back lane or, even more, from the mural-filled, very gritty, very urban back lane I showed you in Wednesday's post. . . .
This photo looks like something I could have photographed on our island, blackberries and all.

Now I have to run. I'm doing some before-school baby-sitting just down the road, and I'm needed there by 6:45. Not even time to edit properly. . . . Comments, etc. ... . .

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Word-less Wednesday -- Walk with Me!

 More mural art from my neighbourhood. This is from a back alley a few blocks away, behind a mix of commercial and residential buildings.

I thought I'd take you for a short walk this morning while I chat a bit about the conversation that my last post elicited. I began responding to comments there, then got too busy elsewhere, and I'm realizing now that perhaps it's enough for me to initiate the conversation but then it's okay to step back and let you talk. I know from comments that many of you appreciate my efforts to respond to all comments individually, but I also know you're a sensitive and thoughtful bunch and you can see how time-consuming this gets. I've decided I'll respond to those few comments that seem to require it, but otherwise just let you read and respond to each other. If you haven't browsed the conversation yet, I urge you to -- so rich!.

This isn't a permanent change -- but I can see that it might work for a certain kind of post, the kind that elicits a sharing of anecdotes or perspectives or memories, ones that you're really sharing to a wider audience than just me.  I hope that makes sense and that it doesn't change your willingness to participate in conversations here. Let me know what you think.
 As you'll see above, while the murals generally fare quite well (many of those from last year's Mural FEstival remain tag-free to date), this beautiful, geometrically fascinating wall by Priscilla Yu has been the victim of some vandalism by spray-can.

 Below, this giraffe peeking out from an explosion of pink magnolia blossoms easily coaxed a smile from me on a Saturday morning walkabout a couple of weeks ago. I'll definitely be heading them for some cheer on a dreary November day when smiles are harder to come by.

This mural has been up for several months now -- there's a bio of the artist, Ilya Viryachev, along with a short video of its creation last winter, here.

 And below the mural, you can see that the art on the walls has inspired some philosophical adornment of the alley's dumpsters. . . .

On the opposite side of the back lane, at a right angle to the murals above, is this gorgeous piece by portrait artist Francis Tiffany. Sadly a victim of some lesser talent armed with a spraycan, this mural is titled "Vancouver Summer Fun." And while I'd have preferred it not to be so quickly defaced, I must say that there's something about the con/text that speaks the city more clearly and honestly, to me at least, than if the same image had been painting on a large canvas and hung on a protected gallery wall. That drooping electrical cable, the bilingual warning about who may park here, that discarded paper coffee cup. . . .  The location is so close to one of the city beaches, but for some it's a world away. . .
 And to wrap up today's post, some photos from another day's walk, in a different direction but still only blocks from my home. This mural is by Vancouver-based comic-book artist Johnnie Christmas (this is a cool article about work Christmas did last year with Margaret Atwood for the Angel Catbird series), and was painted last month for the 2017 Vancouver Mural Festival (note that on his Tumblr site, the artist thanks a number of "friends, loved ones, and volunteers" who grabbed brushes to help complete the mural).
 I love the energy of this one. The sense of motion is strong, both latent and released. . .
 And the colour! Again, if you know what Vancouver can be like (note the colour and message of the text above Christmas's tiger), you can imagine how welcome this chromatic exuberance will be in November or February (or March, April, often May, for that matter).

That's today's tour. Hope you enjoyed it.  Your comments are always welcome.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Travel Journal, Paris Pages. . . .

The ardoise at Le Petit Vatel. May I recommend the boudin noir? Black pudding/blood sausage is not to everyone's taste, I know, but I suspect you'd all appreciate the Gâteau au cédrat confit (Cake with preserved citron). . . Or that clafoutis....
A few weeks ago, I shared some pages from my travel journal, pages written at a café in Paris, where I mused a bit about my progress with French.  That journal entry was dated May 24th, the first full, jet-lagged day of our spring travels, and I'd like to share the rest of it with you this Monday morning. The entry continues my observations about travel in my second language, French, focussed this time on a visit to Le Petit Vatel, a restaurant my husband and I've been eating at for at least ten years now, through several owners. I wrote about it here, back in 2008, probably the same year that we bought a copy of the previous owner (Sixte de Saint Hilaire)'s book, La Cuisine de Petit Vatel.
In fact, I've just pored through my box of old journals, and I can see that we first ate here in 2006. Back then, I restricted my record of our days to a few "bullet-point" notes scribbled in my dayplanner back in the hotel after dinner. Apparently, we tried to stop in at Le Petit Vatel on our way back to the 13th arrondissement after a day that included a photography exhibit at the Hotel de Ville, some shopping at BHV, even some browsing the gorgeous yarns and sewing notions at La Droguerie in the 1st. Sadly, our timing was off,  and Le Petit Vatel's doors weren't yet open when we strolled along Rue Lobineau. . .

But we got back there the next evening, even though we'd stopped for late tea and beautiful pastries at Ladurée on Rue Royale. . . . As far as I can tell, we must have really enjoyed our meal, because my dayplanner notes show that we tried to go back there for lunch on our last Sunday there. Doors closed again.

2007's notes remind me not only that we ate at Le Petit Vatel our first night in town, but also tell me that I started with marinated anchovies, had a chicken tagine as my main, and an île flottante for dessert. Paul's starter was the terrine de maison, followed by roast pork, with chocolate cake for dessert. I'm surprised to see that even before the blog had me making notes about meals, I was already jotting down details from the menus.

Here's another mention of Le Petit Vatel, from a page in my 2011 pocket-sized (3.5x5.5) Moleskine -- as you'll see, by this point I've become a bit more expansive, but still no sketching,

Finally, though, here's the entry from last May. . . Photos of my handwritten journal pages first, followed by my transcriptions for those who'd have trouble with my handwriting.


       Another language moment -- we ate again at Le Petit Vatel. Have we probably eaten there 10 or 12 times over the years? Not often quite so early, but we planned an early bedtime after our travel day. We managed everything in French, as we can and do and there wasn't a moment when anyone offered English. A German couple came in shortly after us and where his French faltered -- What was Tarama? -- English became the go-between language -- fish eggs. . .

       And then two American* women about our age, perhaps a bit younger, came in. Every caricature except the over Botox. Although to be fair, one woman was quiet, dressed in black and pearls (but large, costume I think, or just showy). The other, her hair stern but with a dramatic flap, dramatic highlights, brightly striped top, etc., asked loudly "Parlez-vous Englese?" Oh, so loud. So oblivious to everyone else in the tiny room. Then went through each menu item with the patient server, translating, then consulting with her friend, wanting to know if there were bones in the fish, etc.



      A bit later two young women, early 20s, first trip to Paris, speaking English that sounded Canadian to me, but only speaking at a moderated, across-the-table voice, worked their way through the menu items with curiosity and pleasure, checking for translation on their phone. I wanted to applaud, honestly.
      To be fair, the two older women settled in afterward, enjoyed their meal very much, complimented the server, etc.

     The Mastercard machine didn't work, and in chatting over the frustration, I said something about "beaucoup de défis," and she got me to repeat, then "Ah oui, beaucoup de défis" [many challenges]. Same with Paul, saying it was "gelée," the machine, frozen, blocked. And then she told us how "mignon" (cute) our accents were.
Lovely.
Better head back to the hotel now for my second coffee and a croissant with Paul. . . 

*In deciding to share this entry, I spent some time balancing my wish not to offend with my interest in articulating my observations, from my particular perspective. Please recognise that my identification of the women in the entry as "American" is not meant to generalise. However, there's no avoiding the fact that my journal reflects some obvious judgements on my part, judgements I might generally be more careful about sharing here on the blog.

I wrote and deleted and rewrote and deleted a few paragraphs trying to analyse and articulate and justify that judgement. In the end, I decided to let my May travel journal pages speak for themselves and see what you think.  .  . The only thing I'd like to be clear on is that, while my journal entry for that day was clearly focussed on the pleasure I took in my growing competence in French, my judgement of the two women my age was not based on their lack of language skills, per se. . . 

As usual, any relevant -- and civil -- comments are welcome. We could have a conversation about eating in another language/country. We could chat about restaurants you've visited over the years as you've returned to a favourite destination; we could speak of good and bad restaurant behaviour, home and abroad; we could talk about your cute accent. . . Ah, the possibilities!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Of Sleep and (Love) Letters

Sleep problems.

Breath and Breathe.
Bridge, bench, bunch, budge, brunch, billet, boulevard.
Pause, not because I'm sleeping yet, unfortunately, but because my mind is searching for another word beginning with "B."
Brigadier. Seriously,  brigadier? Where did that come from?
Boulevard. Alright, fine, moving closer to my normal lexicon.
And then, out of I-have-no-idea-where,  billet-doux.

If you're wondering, understandably, what I'm doing at 3:40 in the morning, let me point you to this article about an Oprah-approved simple trick to give insomnia the slip. It was developed by a sleep researcher here in my home province, BC, and I've had enough recourse to it lately to know that it works fairly well. Generally, as has happened twice this week, if I wake before 2 because I'm over-heated or my tummy's acting up, I just move to the couch for an hour or two before trying the bed again. But when I wake as late as 3:30 or 4, moving to the couch for a few hours would mean accepting that five hours of sleep was it for the night, and I'd rather not. . . .

So I try Luc Beaudoin's little trick,  pick a word with no duplicate letters, and then begin listing words that begin with one of the letters in that word. This morning, my word was "Best"; after I finished with the "B" words, I moved on to event, even, eventually, earnest, exercise. . . 

I suspect the day may feel long, despite Professor Beaudoin's help, but at least I dredged the word billet-doux from some slough in the vast caverns of cerebral storage.  What are the chances I might work it into a conversation today? Care to supply a sample sentence, anyone? Admittedly, this will require a particular interlocutor (Yes, I'm pulling out all the stops, big-word-wise). Most of us might, at best, muster a "Huh"? when billet-doux features in our girlfriend chat.  Perhaps we need to begin a campaign. Bring back the billet-doux!

So while I'm in a silly mood, care to share? Have you saved any of your old love letters? Or wish you had? Any steamy enough that, while you hate to destroy them, you're reluctant to leave them behind for salacious eyes to enjoy after you're gone? When's the last time you wrote one, or did you never?

How's that for a Friday can of worms? And all because i woke at 3:40 this morning. . .  (and if you want a safer route to commenting, we could discuss insomnia and your solutions. . . )
Happy weekend!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Blogging and Murals, My (Visible) Eye In/On the World . . .

As I struggle, some days, to know whether it's worth continuing to write in this space, I go back to some of the reasons I'm doing so. There has been so much emphasis, especially here in our social media neighbourhood, on the visibility of women as we grow older, from as early as 40 onward.
Honestly, I'm a bit weary of that whole plaintive wish for more visibility focused on our physical, dressed selves at that coyly "certain" age. But a broader version of visibility, now that I'm interested in. I'm keen for other demographics to understand how engaged women my age are still, how much we still have to contribute in our various ways.

When I began this blog, over ten years ago, I did so to recover (or even discover) a writing voice that I felt had been either submerged or too forcefully inflected by academe, through the process of writing my doctoral dissertation (which I took on when I was closer to 50 than to 40 . . . ).  More than just my writing voice, though, I also wanted to honour those other parts of my life that academe seemed invested in silencing. Even feminism, within the academy, was careful about domesticity, about emotion, approaching it often with deliberate rigour. I value that rigour so very much, value that training, but sometimes I also want respite from analysis, sometimes I just want to observe. Or perhaps, I might argue, sometimes I hope there is analysis made manifest through observation.

Whatever.

What I mostly hoped to do, I say retrospectively, is to become and/or to remain visible, in as much fullness as I could be comfortable with. Part of that visibility, sure, had to do with my physical self, with what I was wearing, but more of it had, and, increasingly, has had to do with what I'm seeing, thinking, doing, feeling, wanting.

When I've been thinking of letting go of the blog, lately, it's often because what I share here can feel superficial, or alternatively, too normal to be interesting. I feel too visible, too exposed, in the slightness of my observations, I suppose. They're too quotidian, too close to home, too particular, too inconsequential.

But if I go back to that Kim Stafford quotation that so often guides me (you'll see it over in the right-side column), that "Coherence is born of random abundance" -- I can decide, one more day, at least, to show you the world as I see it, as I experience it, as I move in it. And for the moment, that seems worth the effort. I provide the random abundance; you, perhaps, might perceive some coherence. One can hope . . .

These particular photographs waited weeks and weeks for me to decide that, however. I took them back in July, before this year's Mural Festival. They answer the question of how quickly these commissioned murals get covered with graffiti -- although they were painted over a year ago, you can see they've been treated pretty respectfully, despite bordering an area where empty/abandoned warehouses often accommodate drug deals, drug use, squatting. . . .

This wonderfully vibrant wall was painted by Paige Bowman whom you could follow on Instagram as @birdfingersss. So many stories here, am I right?

The photo below is of a piece called "Exhausting Machine" by the artists Christian Rebecci and Pablo Tegni, collectively known as NeverCrew (follow their Instagram account here).
Read more about this piece and find more images of it (including a very cool aerial image which shows the warehouses fronted by the piece) in this article at StreetArtNews.
Even better, go to the Swiss artists' website. Reading their "About" page will broaden your understanding of "street art," if you don't already know what a solid foundation of skills, heritage, philosophy, and social engagement underlie what many still associate with spray cans and guerrilla art (which, to be clear, I'm not ready to denigrate either).  You might also want to check out the photos of their Exhausting Machine #2s, painted in Denmark later in 2016, which extends the environmental commentary of this piece (and suggests the international breadth of this social-artistic conversation conducted through an artform more accessible to the public than that found on gallery walls).

So I've made myself visible, today, as a woman who observes, who thinks a bit, who makes some remarks about phenomena that intrigue her but about which she has little credible knowledge. It's an oddly unbalanced post, I know, but I think I'll let that be visible as well.  And I must warn you, I have so many more mural photographs in my files (if I weren't such a magpie in my interests, such an inveterate jill-of-all-pursuits, I could start a blog featuring a mural a day, or at least a week, couldn't I?) . . . But that's all for now. Comments? Always welcome, as you know by now. . .



Monday, September 4, 2017

Summer's End? Not Quite, Labour Day, Not Quite. . .

Summer's not letting Labour Day push her out the door, not here, at least, where we went swimming in the (not so very warm) Pacific last night -- delicious!

Still, I expect rhythms and activities will begin to change in the coming weeks. We have two granddaughters in school now, so our visits will be arranged around their new schedules. . .  I always feel excited about Fall and the changes it brings, but I also always feel most conscious of time slipping away as the days shorten. Some atavistic core in me counts out my life in summers, and another one is almost gone. . . .

As for Labour Day, now that I'm retired it's lost much of its immediate significance, although I have plenty of projects I'm working on. They don't feel much like labour, though, given their voluntary nature (although down in the gym, just before I wrote this post, sweating away on that mat, hefting those weights. . . . hmmm, that didn't feel so much like play).  Even my mending I'm turning into fun, having taken that sashiko course this spring. I put it aside for the summer, but finally ordered more supplies last week.  They arrived promptly from A Threaded Needle -- what fun it was to open that envelope pictured above. The thread and needles were tucked into that sweet little rabbit-printed bag along with freebies: the "Hand Made" label for stitching inside the next sweater I make for a grandchild, perhaps; a stamped, wooden button; and a postcard inviting me to the upcoming Knit City event here -- with handwritten greetings on postcard and on the tag to which button and label were stapled.

So I'll be celebrating my Not-Going-Back-to-Campus status today by mending some cashmere that a few moths have clearly laboured over. . . .

Happy Labour Day to those who are lucky enough for it to make a difference in your daily rhythm. A day that I'm very aware of my privilege indeed. . . .  May workers everywhere have their labour honoured and may we make choices that ensure progress toward fair compensation for all that labour.  
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