Archive for December, 2008

Luck and Lemons
December 31, 2008

E. who is elderly and frail, can’t go out in the snow – so I offered to pick up some grocery items for her.   After work, I went to the new Safeway store, which just opened a day earlier.  On her list, E. had requested some lemons and these were on sale – 3 for $1 to Safeway members.   As I went through the check-out, I gave my member number to get the deal.  A small alarm rang and buzzed.  I was the surprised random winner of an Ipod Shuffle.  E. laughed when she heard about my luck and immediately pointed out  it was a 3-lemon jackpot win.


So Long, Marianne
December 27, 2008

Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Hallelujah’ was number 1, 2 and 36 on the British charts last week – in versions sung by various artists, including himself .

I first learned to appreciate Leonard Cohen when I worked one summer in London.  I arrived in town to find a job with no work visa and no idea how to look for work.  I was staying in a private hostel on Eardley Crescent in Earl’s Court.  After a few days of panic, I was hired on at that hostel.  One of the staff was fired for stealing from the guests and I asked for the job.  I spent the summer of ’78 there, making beds and serving cereal and toast to tourists.  

The big news that summer was the birth of Louise Brown, the first test tube baby.  It was also the summer of punk rock.  One of the other staff ,Carl, a young punk from Birmingham, used to wake up late sleeping guests by putting on, full blast, the Sex Pistols’s album “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.”   

The other staff were three Irish boys from poorer (they told me) areas of Dublin – Summerhill and Ballyfermot.  When they heard I was Canadian, one of our first conversations was about Leonard Cohen.  They were huge fans and told me he was big in Ireland.  I was invited to listen to a Leonard Cohen LP with them and heard it played over and over again all that summer.    When I hear any news of Leonard Cohen, I always remember his distinctive voice singing ‘So Long, Marianne’ – and their Dublin voices joining in loudly on the chorus.

Impromptu No. 4 in A flat major
December 19, 2008

I have always remembered a scene from the movie, Portrait of a Lady, based on the Henry James novel.

Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman) descends a stairway, struck by the beautiful piano music she hears from below.   The music plays on as she walks slowly downward.   Isabel reaches the foot of the stairs and turns into a room where another woman is playing the piano.   The woman stops playing, turns to Isabel and says, smiling,  “Sometimes Schubert has nothing to say to us.” 

I was also riveted by the music and felt I had heard it somewhere before.  It was compelling for some reason I wasn’t sure of.   I watched the movie credits but missed the reference to it.   A few months later, I heard the same music piece on the CBC and noted it down.  Impromptu No. 4 in A flat major by Schubert.  I went out and bought a CD of Schubert Impromptus performed by Radu Lupu, the Romanian virtuoso.

When I played the music a few times, I realized it was reminding me of my mother – and the house I grew up in.   After some thought, I was fairly sure I knew why.   In the 60’s,  my  mother almost always had the radio on during the day.   She usually listened to a classical station, CHQM or else the CBC.  I think that a part of this impromptu was the opening signature tune of a radio program that came on every afternoon.  I ‘m sure I once heard part of  it regularly.

When I want to remember my mother, I often put on this lovely music.   I know she would be more than happy to be remembered by a Schubert Impromptu.

Kitchen Pears
December 15, 2008


Vintage 1950’s Egg Cup
December 11, 2008


When we sold our family cabin at Point Roberts,  I cleaned out the last of the remants of our family life there.  In the kitchen cupboards, among the plastic plates, I found three old egg cups – we each had one as young kids.   One was a pelican (badly chipped); another was a hen (not very interesting) and the last was a chicken (above).  I threw the first two out but kept the last as it struck me as a wonderfully evocative artifact of the 50’s. 

 Years later, I painted it and it made a good subject.  I thought I might like to paint a few of them in an arrangement and regretted throwing the other two out.  I got the idea to go to the second hand/antique stores along Main Street where I might find some others.  In one store, the owner asked me what I was browsing for.   I told him.

“Oh, there were a lot of those egg cups imported from Japan in the 50’s.   Are you a collector?” 

“No.”  I said, feeling surprised they were collectable. “I paint watercolours and I want to paint them.”

“Well, If you find some and later want to sell them, I’d be interested in buying.” 

“Oh. Okay.”

I didn’t find any in the Main Street stores and the desire to paint them has passed.   I did look recently on the internet and these vintage Japanese egg cups are worth $25-35 each.  Too bad I threw the other two out.  But these things are ephemeral by nature.  And $25-35 is really not much money – certainly not enough to buy a charming little artifact so evocative and of another era, not to mention the family connection.  The little chicken started life as a utilitarian object and is now an ‘objet d’art’.

Scar Tissue
December 8, 2008

Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff  is also the author of the novel,  Scar Tissue – which was short-listed for the Booker prize when it was published in the ’90s.  The book is a fictional account of Ignatieff’s brother’s struggle to care for their mother through her decline and death from Alzheimer’s.   Although I read the book over 10 years ago, two quotes from it have always stayed with me.

“A heritary disease is like a bullet that has left the chamber but not yet reached its target.”

“Memory is the only afterlife I have ever believed in.”

Autumn Leaves
December 8, 2008


Go Ask Alice
December 5, 2008

The other day, T, a mother of three, soccer mom and community volunteer, was laughing again about her youthful experience with LSD.

When she was in her late teens, T and her friends were headed out to a party.  Someone had a couple of tabs of acid and they all took some.  When they arrived at the party,  T. was amazed at how beautiful the house was.  It was like a mansion, she said.  Chandeliers, huge rooms,  lush carpets and expensive furniture.   She and her friends partied all night there.

The next morning, when they awoke, T.  and her friends were in an unfinished basement.