Breaking a Rule



I thought I had a rule not to write about religion.  Perhaps the rule is an illusion, though.  Many times I write about flowers or trees or birds.  The sky, insects, snow or rain have all featured here.  All these things are a manifestation of the divine, I think.  So, it should not be taboo to write about church, about choir, about the divine that resides in the turning year with its feasts, customs, prayers and devotions.  Yesterday was Palm Sunday and today the start of Holy Week.  There is a certain melody that is only sing on the Monday and Tuesday of this week.  There’s a yearning in that melody that expresses perfectly the longing of a human being for unity with something beyond.

How many wise men and women have spent their whole lives wondering and pondering on that mystery…the solitude of every human being.  That solitude can never be resolved but we try in so many ways…with so many religions too.  We are in awe of a Budhist who goes on a pilgrimage by stretching himself on the ground, getting up and repeating this action thousands of times until he has come to the destination, a holy place.  Well, Christians all over the world knelt down twelve times and touched their foreheads to the ground this evening.  Oh, Muslims kneel down and touch their heads to the ground every day too.  Religions require some pretty strange practices.  Burning incense, lighting candles, repeating the same phrase over and over again.  There are things you can and can’t wear in church. One shouldn’t bring certain animals into church but others are alright.  Women do certain things there.  Men do differently things.

And the scriptures that all religions hold as the reason and the rule book of their truth, their way of achieving the mystical union with the unknown?  Impenetrable, cruel, nonsensical, sublime, true, false, open to interpretation.

I think that union, that ecstacy, that joy that every person longs for can be fleetingly found in a birdsong, the sight of a flower opening, in the arms of a lover, in the soft touch of a child’s hand.  Sometimes it can be found in the music of Monday evening of Holy Week.


Publc Poetry Reading


On Tuesday I read at a charming Cafe in Ste Anne de Bellevue.  Twigs and Leaves is located on the main drag just above the waterfront strip and almost under the bridge that leads to Ile Perrot.  Street number 73 I think.  Search it out and go there. Although it was only my second reading I was greeted as an old hand.  I guess in today’s Quebec, English language poets constitute a little pond and even new frogs can loom large.  I came with a dear friend in tow.  She was a very good person to have with me because I know her to be both sensitive and tolerant.  You never know what you might hear at poetry readings.  There is a reserved, mostly hidden English strain of DNA that has my toes curling sometimes at poetry readings.  Fortunately the Celtic part usually wins out and I can allow waves of unrequited love, deathly disease, raptures on nature, roiling rap and yearning homesickness to wash over me, amaze me, stick wih me if only for a masterly turn of phrase.

I admit I have never met a microphone I didn’t love.  I am a ham but one who does not believe in making announcements, explaining the inspiration of work, “helping” the listeners to understand.  Most of the “explainers” are teachers, I note.  Perhaps they are operating on the principle ,” tell them what you’re going to teach…teach it….tell them what they have just learned.”  Ok for geometry but not for poetry, I think.

I read something  new, something not in my one and only book, ” Northern Compass”. ( I admit to a four-second  pitch of my book before launching into the read). Oh, and it’s not a read.  I have to think about what it really is, but it’s not a heads-down read every word without looking up, whew, that’s over – read.  There’s something to love in what comes out of the mouth of the poet and at least he or she should love it.  What happens in the ear of the listener, drinking his espresso or chewing a sandwich, is another matter entirely.

What sounds good to me? . Go on You Tube and hear Sylvia Plath read “Lady Lazarus” perfect as Lazarus Saturday is coming up.  Anything by Dylan Thomas on You Tube is good too.  Reading..saying the words…..breathing the words out.

At Last!


Daffodils are among my favourite flowers.  All the other little darlings that come before: snowdrops, crocus, little blue stars, are beloved, of course.  They can survive snow and have survived several falls this year.  When the  daffodils bloom, though, I know it is really Spring.  These are miniatures and the big magnificent bunch will bloom a little later.  In the second pictures ou can see a strange pale plant growing up beside the blue flowers.  I have no idea what it is!  Well, I have a faint hope it may be a frittillia.  You will have to look that up.  Spectacular and it it survives squirrels I will feel truly blessed.

Speaking  of blessed, I am making soup and snacks for the post church service tomorrow night.  It is daunting to cook soup for thirty people.  It is daunting to transport soup for thirty people in a small car in a hilly city.   That will be tomorrow’s challenge.  Tonight…..reading my poetry wih some very good poets!  Gulp! Come to think of it….gulp tonight and gulp tomorrow night too.

Nature’s Lessons



It has has been a roller coaster week.  I have had a few emotional ups and downs. Dear reader, as the Victorians used to write, I will spare you.  It is the mark of a dear friend that he or she can stand to hear the excruciating details of the knife twists endured by a pal.  Since many of you are innocent dabblers in my blog, let us draw a veil over the delicious vagaries of human unkindness and concentrate on the practical matters.

The announcement by my upstairs tenants that water was leaking into their flat was enough to banish any pity party I was having over my broken heart.  As a woman who owns ( well, the part the bank lets me have) a small duplex, such communications induce sleepless nights.  I have learned to deal with plumbing mishaps with a call to the local firm who always put me right for a reasonable sum. I have a handyman ……more about that on another blog.  I know an electrician,whom I trust not to transform my home into a death trap.  I have messily painted a few rooms in my day.  But roofing…..a whole different story.  Mysterious, expensive, vital to the health of my building.  Roofing problems in a Caadian climate are enough to startle even the most intrepid.  My only experience had been 14 years ago shortly after I bought this place.  It took many months of whining to persuade a ” very busy, I can’t keep up with it” young roofer to come and set me up for a good long time.  He gave me a guarantee for ten years.  People were up in arms.  ” A roof should last 20 years” but as he said.  ” I’ll be honest wichew. ( Italian extraction) I could,give you for fifty years a guarantee but I won’t do it..I won’t honor it, Ya know wat I mean ?” There was a certain candour in that that appealed to me and frankly I was at the guy’s mercy.  What did I know?  What do I know now?

When my tenants delivered the bad news I panicked.  I emailed all my friends in town and was bombarded with names and numbers.  Darlings….they took my predicament to heart!  In one day I had the names and numbers of eleven roofing companies.  I started to call.  The very same day a most charming man showed up, examined the brown spots on the upstairs ceiling and declared that he could help me out right away.  I should not delay and , of course, I would want the new membrane material.  Only problem was that I  seemed to have something wrong with my flashing.  I hate when I have to talk about things without really understanding the words coming out of my mouth.  Fortunately, I was sitting down when he told me it would cost about $15,000 dollars.  Of course the flashing would be extra……my life was flashing before my eyes by then….and the little mater  of taxes…But because I was such a nice lady and retired, after all he was a kind man and seriously he was very charming, he would give me at discount of one thousand dollars.  Guarantee?  Well, only  five years…suddenly I felt a great nostalgia for the Gabby of 14 years before.

” Think it over.  Very important the roof . You want to take care of that right away. ” And with a dark hint at mould, he was off.

” I’ll be in touch,” I whispered weakly.  Then followed a frantic scrabbling through my income tax returns as I searched for a number from 2002 , honestly!  Now, I have an odd habit of keeping my agendas.  I have about 20 years of my life condensed into various volumes with phone numbers, appointments of long dead dentists, therapists, doctors, garages.    Well, they’re not all dead of course, but long out of my life.  Gabby’s number was on the inside cover of the very first agenda I pulled out! Fate!  He came over this morning!  Upstairs he went and in a minute pronounced hat I don’t need a new roof!  Condensation.  A new baby, lots of washing and drying clothes, a reluctance to open the windows because of the baby… In my gratitude I even suggested we do the roof now anyway.  Gabby’s reaction:” it’s gonna rain on Monday..let it rain ( like I could control it!) if there’ any drip. It’ll show, right?  I’ll come over . ..check things out and if you need a little touch ….some gravel, a bit of flashing…we’ll arrange. You’ll be good for another four , five years”

Is there really such a thing as an honest roofer?  It appears there is!  Although as he said modestly, ” Listen, you’re my customer, right?  If it was somebody else with a 14 year old roof….who knows? ”

OK so what does this have to do with  lessons from nature?  Don’t let adversity like snowstorms get you down.  You’re not called Snowdrop for nothing – I know this is a crocus.  Stick together and help each other.  No one goes it alone in nature , flowers, birds, bees, even damned sqirrels work together.  How corny it sounds to say the sun does come out but even when things look very dark it’s good to keep in mind.  Be courageous even as nature is courageous.  Always get a second estimate.  That rule is only good for human nature, I guess.

Thus endeth the lesson!



Trees on the hill


Sometimes I go to visit my mother in the cemetary on the hill in the middle of our city. Of course she is not really really there, but then, where is she?  She is, I suppose, the person who has had the greatest influence on me.  When I see her name and the dates of her birth and death on the stone somehow I feel that she is there waiting for me.  In a very real physical way, she is.  In terms of her spirit, her personality, she is even closer.  She is inside me.   I hear her words come out of my mouth.  I laugh, as she did, at inappropriate moments because things seem ridiculous.  I am old fashioned as she was in thinking  men should be honorable and take care of women. I think cooking should be done quickly and that people should be made comfortable.  I think reading is the way to knowledge and the best pastime.  I look at things in nature very closely.  I love the moon.  In those things I carry her around in me.  Not absolutely, of course.  I don’t care much about clothes or my appearance,  my nails or my hair.  My impulsiveness, my restlessness, my embarking on schemes…all that part comes from my father.  I regret that I can’t visit my father’s grave.  His ashes were thrown into the deepest, coldest part of the Bay of Fundy.  And that none too gently or reverently either.  But that’s another story, as they say.

So there I was this sunny afternoon, an afternoon that might have been Spring, but wasn’t.  Snow underfoot still, and a stiff breeze through the bare branches.  I went, ah, a bad habit,  to ask her to give me a hand with getting through something hard. You’d think I would stop perstering her to keep on looking after me!

And there was my reward…..the slender distinct shadow of a young tree.  Oh, I thought it was like a spirit somehow, slight and devoid of earthly things, fading away when clouds covered the sun yet persistent and distinct in bright light.  And after that lovely thing had encouraged me, there was the tall tree behind all decorated and gleaming in the spring sun that was doing its best.  A wonderful thing really.  Whoever had climbed up there?  How had those frail baubles remained in the strong wind and the heavy rain we have experienced lately?  Just the sight of that tree made me smile. Yes,  and because of those two trees I went away better than I had come to the cemetary on the hill.



Albanian Surprise




I had a wonderful surprise yesterday.  I never could have imagined that a concert in the auditorium of a little -known high school far from the centre of town would move me to wonder and to tears.  Some dear friends of mine ( in fact I am one of two godmothers to their daughter) kindly invited me to a concert by a renowned Albanian opera singer.  She was not renowned to me but my curiosity and my affection for this family made me happy to accept.

I arrived early .  My British phobia of tardiness and the fact that I was a bit vague on how to get to the venu, ensured that I arrived three quarters of an hour early.  I had time to finish a TC Boyle story in my car.  I was surprised to find  that the auditorium really was “state of the art.”  A very smartly dressed and surprisingly young crowd filled the bar area.  When we entered the hall I saw a grand piano set up to accompany  the singer. It was touching to see the reaction of the mainly Abanian crowd. The soprano, dressed in a stunning gown was greeted with a standing ovation in anticipation of what was to come.  It was one of many ovations  given by this enthusiastic crowd.  Mula is the daughter of another famous singer and this family is beloved of the community.  Her accompanist was a young man, Genc Tuici,who displayed his considerable talent in a solo performance of his own composition after the intermission. Ms. Mula was joined for some duets by a fine Macedonian soprano, Deshira Ahmet Kerliu.

Mme. Mula performed selections from various French and Italian operas including a stunning rendition of ” O Mio Bambbio Caro” .  The second part of the performance consisted of a selection of Albanian popular songs.  The sentiment in the hall was palpable. Of course I was at a disadvantage as the lyrics were a mystery to me.  However, there was something so warm and welcoming about the crowd that I found touching.

For me the highlight of the evening was the piano composition.  M. Tukici started to play after the intermission in a rather gentle and flowing way.  Then he introduced a very familiar melody, the “Rondo Alla Turc ” by Mozart.  Some of us were humming along under our breath in spite of the jazzy treatment.  Then another familiar melody, the Canadian national anthem, emerged, played in what I can only describe as a very rich and loving arrangement.  Gradually a third melody, and from the gasps of recognition, I concluded that it was the Albanian anthem. The strands of melody, familiar and beloved were so skillfully woven together that we were all carried along by the clever composition and the sentiments it evoked.

My goddaughter is charming and her parents so refreshing and energetic.  I appreciated so much the opportunity to be present at a wonderful concert.  It made me think how many other talents artists are performing, unknown to us, appreciated and hailed only by their own limited circle. We are lucky to be surrounded by such a variety of cultures.  Maybe we should explore a little more!

Mouth to mouth with a Butterfly



The Monarch butterfly reserve in Michocan province in Mexico is at a very high altitude.  The mountains are craggy and covered with a sort of pine tree.  That’s the tree Monarchs like to mate in.  Just like they like to feed on milkweed that hasn’t been sprayed with Monsanto Round-Up. They’re fussy that way.  The first time I visited, I froze on top of a docile white horse who plodded me up to the viewing site.  I felt I knew what statues of heros on horseback in the park on a chilly January morning felt like.  Only difference was that Paloma had a disconcerting habit of slithering on loose stones as I clung to the large  pommel of the solid saddle.  Although I warned my friend to dress warmly when we returned earlier this year, we were rewarded with a balmy day.  My Shetland wool sweater and windbreaker draped over the saddle as we were taken to a different site.  Seems the indiginous people who shepherd us up and make sure we behave like civilized human beings in the face of this wonder  check out the mountain every day to determine where the Monarchs are .  We sat silently watching the butterflies fluttering around or settling on the branches of the pine trees.  There were quite a lot of dead butterflies around us…..happy males who had combined duty and pleasure for the continuation of the species.  (hmmm…butterfly orgasm….an interesting field of study )

Even though we were blessed with a mild day, a cold spell arrived shortly after our visit.  My friend sent me a note to tell me that friends of hers had arrived at the site to a fall of snow.  The delicate insects, of course, were affected.  Then she provided me with an image I will not soon forget.  She wrote that the guides, horse handlers, wardens of the mountain, took chilled butterflies  into their hands ( imagine brown, hard hands, cracked and calloused) and they breathed  gently on the butterflies with their warm breath and the butterflies revived.  They set them in a sunny spot and , as the day wore on, the sun at high altitude melted the snow and ….some butterflies were saved by a breath.