Sunday, June 27, 2010


Drizzly Saturday at Bluffer's Park, and in between raindrops I went for a walk and counted all these birds in under one hour:
  • 1 Kingfisher
  • 1 bright yellow flash (was that a finch or a warbler?)
  • 1 cormorant (separated from the flock?  a later time in the day and it would be hundreds)
  • 2 male cardinals, so scarlet they looked like tanagers
  • 4 killdeer (limping and flapping to steer me away from the nest)
  • 4 trumpeter swans, gliding elegantly on the water's surface
  • 5 mourning doves
  • 10 pigeons
  • 10 redwing blackbirds
  • 12 mallards with glossy green heads
  • 15 robins digging for worms
  • 60 seagulls (white and beige)
  • 100's of swallows, white and rose breasted, swooping and diving and filling their mouths with tiny insects
Amazing diversity along the shoreline.

photo credit

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Honey Moon - June

Flower moon.

Honey moon.

The bee drinking in this moon flower's nectar will be working away as the petals unfold. I can imagine the flower sounding a bit like the rustling of a taffeta skirt, the buzzing of the bee slowed to the percussion sounds of a tabla drum.  Exotic, sexy symphony of sound.

The full moon this month is also the date of a lunar eclipse. This event can be seen in the sky Saturday evening in the U.S, India, the Pacific, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan.

If I  happen to  wake up between 3 and 4 tonight I will climb up on deck to catch a glimpse - hopefully it is not too cloudy to watch it happen.

bee photolink
moon photo link

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Recent Reads

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Henry the VIII is a flamboyant historical figure, remembered as much for his earthly appetites as for fathering the English Reformation.  Although he plays a central role in the novel Wolf Hall, the real story is about Thomas Cromwell and his rise from obscurity to political influence - no mean feat in an age of rigid class structure.  That's what makes the book so fascinating - the speculation about Cromwell's rise to power.  It also offers a pretty chilling portrait of Thomas More and insight into the machinations of the women in the court.

Hilary Mantel had already won the 2009 Man Booker prize when she was interviewed by Michael Enright on CBC Sunday Edition. She spoke about growing up in a working class Irish family, going to a ladies 'finishing school' and her quirky upbringing.  It's a wonderful interview, in which she also admits the novel is not an easy read but she hopes the reader was rewarded for their efforts.  True on both counts.

I think what makes the book somewhat difficult is that it assumes the reader is intimate with the chronology of events and full cast of characters. But it is time well spent.

The Last Station, by Jay Parini

This was a BPYC book club pick and many put the book down because they couldn't follow who was speaking and found it too disjointed.  Each chapter is titled with a set of initials to prepare the reader for the point of view of the shifting narrators.  What makes it a bit tricky is that in the Russian, familiar names and formal names are different.  In the edition I was reading there was no explanation for the discrepancy, which is too bad, I think it would have helped several of the readers to persevere.  

The device of telling the story from myriad points of view worked for me.  Most of the characters I could place, but there was one set of initials that kept me wondering.  Who was JP and why was poetry inserted?  It was pointed out to me that JP is the author's initials.

It was unfortunate the book club didn't discuss it much beyond who had read and who had not read the book.  Some disliked it so much and found the hopping around so difficult they simply put the book down and didn't bother finishing.  But the host had gone to the trouble of preparing Russian food and it was delicious.

I read the book before I saw the movie so I wouldn't be unduly influenced by the screen adaptation.  I love Helen Mirren and casting her with Christopher Plummer's Tolstoy made for a sexy pair, indeed.  In the film, Tolstoy's wife comes across as deeply in love with her husband - in the book, the love is obvious but far more complicated.  In the film, the wife is clearly wronged and shut out from her husbands inner circle.  In the book, she more clearly represents a woman who is as committed to her ideals as her husband is to his, and she seems a woman clearly ahead of her time.

Prisoner of Tehran, by Marina Nemat

Also a BPYC Book Club pick, this memoir was made all the more riveting by having the author present to discuss the book.

I've read similar titles, like Reading Lolita in Tehran and Infidel.  These stories make the personal political and sometimes drift into diatribe.  Prisoner of Tehran is clearly a very personal story.

Marina grew up Christian in a Muslim country under the Shah's rule and was bewildered by the turn of events under the Ayatolla.  At only 16 years old, the author finds herself tortured and about to be executed, when her interrogator intervenes to save her life.  He returns five months later with a proposal she can't refuse - to become his wife or see her family and the man she loves arrested.

Her first husband was executed after a few months and she fled to Canada, her story untold for decades.  People knew she had been a political prisoner, but no one asked for details.  Not her mother, father, second husband or children. The need to tell the story and bear witness is part of the author's personal journey. 

We take so much for granted in our society - freedom of speech, personal liberty, even libraries.  It's not perfect in Canada but we have much to be thankful for.

I asked Marina to sign the Toronto Public Library book so people who sign it out after me will know the author's hands have truly touched those pages.  

George Stroumboulopoulos interviewed the author on The Hour:

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dock party!

'M' Dock's turn to host the annual dock party brought an international theme.

Boats were to choose a nation and serve the drinks and food of that country, with sailors from the other docks hopping from boat to boat. Ireland,  Japan, Wales, Iran, France, Italy, and Quebec to name a few.  Passports were stamped when a drink was shared and the winners (with most boats visited) would get gift certificates to the LCBO.

Thanks to the organizers, Robin and Shannon for pulling it all together.  We lucked out with the weather -  the thunderstorm forecast was proven wrong and the ominous clouds floated off as we enjoyed our celebration.

Mostly people flew flags of their heritage, but Rob and I are such a mix we couldn't decide (Irish, German, English, French, Native American, Romanian).  So we chose Venice and served lemoncella, in honour of the last hour we spent drinking in the scenery there, wanting to savour every minute we could before leaving its shore.

Liz and Darcy came to share in the night's festivities and brought a great bottle of white burgundy, Jaffelin Bougogne Aligote.  Really delicious! 

Although we were hosting I was able to do some boat hopping myself, and visited a little Greek cafe serving retsina, tasted Canadian beer on tap, kicked back a Polish vodka frozen in a block of ice, had a glass of Bulgarian red wine and a tasty French white.  Plus several shots of lemoncella and a couple glasses of white burgundy.  Spaced over seven hours, but still, waking up early the next morning for my weekly yoga class with my brother took some discipline.

While I was testing my stamina in a back-bending class, Alex took his dad out for a Father's Day brunch. 

Later that afternoon, Rob and I spent a few hours chasing pockets of wind along the bluffs.  Underneath the patches of clouds the breezes picked up, but in the sun they seemed to disappear.  I was just as happy to drift warmly in the sun as to skim across the water as the wind lifted our sails.

Monday, June 14, 2010

First Sail

Sunday was the first time for us out of the gap, admiring the bluffs and hoisting sails.


The gentle breeze made the first sail of the season on Yondering a real pleasure.

It is always a bit nerve-wracking the first time out, wondering if the furling will work and the instruments are all in order.  Rob did a ton of work on her over winter:  removing the macerator,  jib sail altered, fine tuning the motor.  Not to mention getting the mast up, rigging done and sails set.  Lucky for me he is on the case!

Usually by the first week of May we've had our 'shake-down' sail (so called because if we've forgotten any wrenches or tools here and there they'll 'shake down').

This year, though, the depth in the gap meant we had to adjust Sail Past last weekend.  Traditionally everyone takes their boat out on the lake and sails around the Commodore's boat.  This year - the Commodore motored past people in their docks.  Because Rob is Vice-Commodore, Grace invited us to join her on her boat.  It was actually a lot of fun, waving at everyone.  It felt a bit like being in a parade.  We certainly were on a "float".

This past weekend we even went on the first official club cruise without leaving the dock.  Due to crappy weather the cruisers decided to stay at Bluffer's and party here.  And why not?  After all, as members keep repeating.... "we're the best damn club on the lake!"  Sounds like the perfect tagline to me.

Friday, June 11, 2010

There is a door that I have shut until the end of the world.

Almost thirty years ago I sat in the back of a bus with P.K. Page, slightly in awe to be in the same space as such an accomplished poet.  At her reading earlier in the day, many of the other poets there seemed to defer to her - George Bowering, Patrick Lane, David McFaddden, and Margaret Atwood (whose international star was rapidly rising).

P.K. died Jan 14, 2010.

She was nominated posthumously for a Griffin award this year, and at the reading, Toronto's poet laureate Dionne Brand recited a few of the poems that were shortlisted.  One in particular made my hairs stand on end.  It also made me want to read some Borges again.

In this poem, to me, P.K. wasn't writing of death as an event so much as the cumulative losses of aging.  Of the limbo world of forgetting.  

The Last Time

There is a line of Verlaine I shall not recall again, 
There is a nearby street forbidden to my step,
There is a mirror that has seen me for the last time,
There is a door I have shut until the end of the world.
- "Limits" (Anthony Kerrigan, tr.) Jorge Luis Borges

I have been an omnivorous reader, cereal boxes
when I was a child at breakfast, comic strips
and all those stories in Girls' Own Annual
that arrived at Christmas year after year and then
historical novels, Henty and Hugh Walpole
(and let me not forget 'The Little Red Hen'!)
Soon I shall not remember any detail -
the Arabian Nights, the Russians or D.H.L.
(When shall I totally not remember? When?)
There is a line of Verlaine I shall not recall again.

Everything slips away.  The street I lived on
at the first address I ever learned by heart.
And all those years in barracks, teenage travels
England, Spain, and Fatima's Hand on doors.
The mysterious foreign world unfolded for me.
And places closer to home.  Now their time is up.
Do they miss my footfall?  My eager foolish heart?
Not only the streets of New York, the streets of London
and not only the path that leads uphill to the top,
there is a nearby street forbidden to my step.

And then there are mirrors in which I am forgotten.
Until puberty I was like a cat or dog
unable to see myself, but vanity came
with adolescence - does that ear stick out?
And later, 'Am I beautiful enough to please him?'
And later still, 'My anti-wrinkle cream
is  total disaster.'  I am grey, without lustre.
I refuse to look at myself in the glass.
Though I tell myself old age is not a crime,
there is a mirror that has seen me for the last time.

When will the end of the world, its trumpets blaring,
uplift the holy and take them home to heaven?
And what of us, the wicked, who were not taken?
Don't ask.  There are a multitude of answers
all of them known to hospitals and prisons.
Shall I lie with my nails painted, my hair curled
awaiting my beloved, as of old?
Will darkness snuff me out in the blink of an eye?
or shall I, like Jorge Luis Borges, see only gold?
There is a door that I have shut until the end of the world.

photo credit:  me!  Venice

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ladies Tea Party

High Tea at Bluffers Park!

Gidget invited us to put on flowered dresses and hats and hosted a high tea for some of the ladies at BPYC.

Fine china & gorgeous teacups were used to set a beautiful table.  I've never been to a High Tea before so this was a real treat:  pinwheel sandwiches, scones, meringues, lemon squares and petit fours.  Much of it prepared from scratch by the talented Gidget herself.  Yummy.

We also sampled different kinds of tea:
  • Harmony flowering tea, with a delicate unfolding flower
  • Princess Earl Grey (a combination of white tea with tiny rosebuds and the aroma of bergamot)
  • Creamy Nut Oolong (apple pieces, caramel bits, almond pieces, sunflower and mallow flower)
  • Coco Caramel (a dessert blend of Rooibos, cocoa bean shells & caramel flavours - the colour of toffee!)
  • Sunset Honeybush (a wellness blend with mangoe pieces, strawberry leaves & pieces + orange peel)
The teas were poured into glass pots so we could taste with our eyes:  the flowers and herbs, the colour of the water deepen with the leaves.  After sampling them all, I felt a bit drugged and very relaxed.  As the festivities wore on, more than a few of the men wandered past with forlorn looks on their faces, asking why they hadn't been invited.  Poor things. Next time they will just have to wear flowered  dresses.

Thanks, Gidget!  What a great time! 

Monday, June 7, 2010


I took a series of photos when night was falling in Venice that turned out very blurry...  but they somehow manage to capture the mood and quality of light.  Dreamy, impressionistic.

What a city!

We hopped off the ship early in the morning and didn't return until almost midnight.

Over 400 churches, Marco Polo's apartments, Cassanova's apartments, the Doge's Palace, St. Mark's square, the markets, the gardens, the canals, the cafes, the gelato....

Gorgeous buildings. Layers on layers of paint, the different colours peeking through centuries.

I liked the bits and pieces I learned about the Venetians.  They were practical merchants, loved beauty and good government.  The noblemen had a very complicated system to elect the Doge - trying to avoid undo influence:
Thirty members of the Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were once more reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven finally chose the forty-one who actually elected the doge.[1]

They loved to count and chronicle.  At one point the census showed more than 11,000 prostitutes and courtesans.  They had their special quarters, as did the Jews.  And the Germans.  And the merchants.  Very organized.  Extremely regimented.  The public archives are open and available to scholars who can access these ancient records, along with fragments left by Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Napolean is not well liked by most Italians, but especially not by Venetians, because he destroyed the Republic of Venice, which had existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century AD until the year 1797. It is often referred to as La Serenissima, in reference to its title in Venetian, the Most Serene Republic.

When we were leaving the Doge's Palace I saw a book called 'Secret Gardens of Venice' and would have bought it if I didn't have to lug it around.  Now that I am googling at home I see there are regular tours that can be arranged.

Every once in awhile I'd glimpse some green, like this little garden.  And the hanging baskets and window boxes and terrace gardens. With so much stone and water everwhere, the vegetation really pops.

A full day of walking around ended with a gondola ride, just as night was falling.  We waited until most of the gondolas has been put to bed and avoided the traffic jam.  As we toured in the magic hour we only crossed paths with one other boat.  A few Italian bats flew overhead to keep us company.

When it was dark we went to St. Mark's Square.  There were three different restaraunts with orchestras playing, and the crowd would run from one to the next as they played.  We decided to sit down.  A waiter dressed in a tux came and gave us the menu - $12 Euro for an ice cream seemed extravagant, but we wanted to treat Alex.  And of course, a glass of wine for me, and a Compari for Rob.  We were still surprised when the bill came.  It didn't add up.  And then we saw the charge for the 'music show'.  Another $17 Euro.  Yet, somehow it seemed a small price to pay.

When we woke the next morning, this was the view from our suite's window.  The boat had traveled to the base of St. Mark's, and we hopped off as quick as we could to see more.

Departure time was 1:30 so we were able to cram in more sights.  At 1:00 we returned to the boat and it looked like 2000 people were standing in line to board.  So we grabbed a table at a nearby cafe and sipped on lemoncello.  For as long as we possibly could.  I think we were among the last ten to board.

Next time I will rent an apartment and stay at least two weeks.

I recently spoke with someone who spent a year writing in Venice and improving their Italian.  Sounds like an excellent investment to me!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cinque Terre

The five villages of Cinque Terre are built right into the cliffside... the buildings look as though they might slide into the sea.   But looks are deceiving;  they've weathered centuries.

The use of cars and bikes is restricted here, which helps preserve the cobblestone... and the overall feeling of tranquility. The train makes travel between villages very quick, but serious hikers opt to use the connecting trails between hamlets.

Many of the churches are well-preserved, others are falling into neglect., but all seem distinct and unique.  One was dark, cool, with candles flickering in the heat of the day.  Another was filled with marble and glowed in the sunlight.  Yet another had statues of macabre skeletons and skulls waving down at you from the ceiling, reminding you of your mortality. Another had a portal to the sea - I can imagine the priest blessing the villagers' fishing boats.

The views everywhere are stunning.  We found ourselves peering down the rockface into crashing waves and then staring up into the green terraced vineyards.

The art of  Silvio Benedetto appears throughout the villages on murals or mosaics.  Birds, fish, waves, sea, sky.  In one mural, he's captured the backbreaking work of people constructing the terraces.  It is no accident that the villagers  depicted here are older. Like many towns the younger generation is flocking to urban centres, looking for easier work.

These terraces were first built without the benefit of heavy machinery.  Rocks gathered and carried, lifted, and then buried in place by men and women working on their hands and knees.  

Now grapes are grown here.  The most famous wine of this DOC is its namesake - Cinque Terre - a dry white wine made of Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes.  Absolutely delicious.  There was the taste of the cliffs and the Mediterranean sea in the glass I sampled.  Unfortunately Cinque Terre wine isn't easily found in Toronto...  I've looked for it since I've been back, but it is bottled in too small a quantity and apparently doesn't travel well. 

In Manarola we had the most amazing pizza.  Basil pesto, tomato sauce, and white cheese painted in swirls on a delicious crust.  Every bite a different flavour combination. We enjoyed the taste sitting in the warm sun, watching the water bobbing the boats.

We didn't get to see Cinque Terre at night, so I guess we will just have to go back some day.  Now there are direct flights from New York to Pisa.  A great itinerary would be a few days in New York City, followed by flying to Italy to spend a week at a Tuscan farmhouse, and then a few days by the sea in Cinque Terre.  Harvest time would be ideal!

Friday, June 4, 2010


So this is the Côte d'Azur.  Sun glittering on the turquoise Mediterranean sea, the wind blowing my hair as we tender to shore.   Cool and sunny. 

It is unbelievably crowded in Cannes the day of our visit, because both the film festival and Monaco Grand Prix are taking place the same weekend.

Paparazzi are setting up ladders and staking territory, but it will be hours before an A-lister shows... In the meantime the tour bus is inching through the chaos to take us to Grasse and St. Paul de Vence.

After what feels like an hour but is more likely ten minutes, we've cleared traffic and are racing through the countryside and heading into Provence, passing  pale yellow stucco cottages with terracotta roofs.

This is not the Grasse of my fantasies.  I had hoped for acres of roses and jasmine, this being the perfume capital of the world.  But now most of the flowers are shipped from other countries in the form of essential oils.   A pretty French woman at Gallimard explains to us that it takes about one metric tonne of jasmine petals to make a single kilogram of Jasmine oil.  She says this with a charming accent that magically combines the sound of well borne British and lilting Parisian.

She shows us the room where 'the Nose' tries to come up with the perfume that will take the world by storm.  There are very few 'Noses' in the world and they live a cloistered life.  No alcohol, no spicy food.  On the upside, they only work three or four hours a day.  But I have to wonder what they do with all their free time?  On display are the tools that were used centuries ago to distill scents.  Copper pots and rose and jasmine petals caught in glycerine frames.

Somehow the tour ends in the showroom, with an explanation of what good value we'll get by spending our perfume dollars at the source.  The beautiful blonde does a great job of selling.  Alex picks out something special for Penny.  I buy a sampler of fragrances because I can't decide.  Even Rob buys some perfume that smells of "sea and forest".... Who can resist?  As I type this I am dabbing some Canaica on my pulse points - I've never really worn perfume in the past but now it seems like a great way to travel!

On to St. Paul de Vence.  Past the young men playing Boulles in the courtyard, and then wandering through the twisty, narrow streets.  If we had more time I would go to the Maeght Foundation  to see Chagall.  It is a surprise to see his grave, I didn't realize he died here.  The monument is simple and spare.  I didn't know Chagall was Jewish, but in honour of his tradition I leave a pebble.

No graffiti here. The doors and cisterns and bricks all seem to be works of art.

I wonder about the people who walked these streets 1000 years ago and what they might think if they saw the crowds wandering in their streets now.

Every so often through the fortified walls I catch a glimpse of the rolling hills beyond and think of the sea.  It must have been much closer to the foothills of this fortress than it is today.  How boundaries shift.

The avenues are filled with galleries,  artists new and established hoping to make a sale. Shops with something for every price point.  I consider buying a Provence-inspired tablecloth, but no, it is round and my table is square.  Handmade paper.  Olive oil.  Wine.  Absinthe.  As tempting as everything is I don't want to stop and purchase.  I don't want to carry heavy bags, they'll just weigh me down.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Going through some of the Barcelona photos.   This great city was the port of our departure.

After we stowed our bags at the hotel, Rob talked Alex and I into heading underground.   The subway was a tangled maze... Here in Toronto we really only have two lines to contend with, but Barcelonians seem to have at least eight spiderly legs to navigate.  We traveled a few stops along one line and then transferred to another to get to La Segrada Familia.

Exhausted after the long flight, and in a bit of a daze. Cameras in hand. Snap-happy, we were.  It is just so easy to point and shoot.  I made a genuine effort to turn off the camera every now and then to remind myself the view was much bigger than the digital fragments caught by my camera.  Of course, no sooner did I turn it off than another shot  presented itself.

In 'Girls Like Us', Carly Simon said she would often come across her mother standing and staring off into space, and when asked what she was doing, she would say, "Taking a picture with my mind."  There were many times on this trip when I tried to absorb myself in the scenery,  putting all my senses to work, even using my skin to register what it felt like to be in that place, at that moment.

Which brings me to standing in La Segrada Familia, and feeling as though I'd been turned into some kind of ephemeral underwater plant.  The vaulted ceiling arching so high above.  Such a vibrant space, light spilling against curves.  I've never been in an interior - let alone a church - that seemed to capture so much contradiction within its walls.  Sacred, profane, dark, light, fleeting, eternal.  Could have spent days there.  The sound in the background was loud, shrill construction:  electric drills, welding tools, heavy objects scraping against the floor.  Construction started here in 1883 and they are working frantically because the Pope will be coming to consecrate the building November 7, 2010.  Masses are supposed to start being held again in September 2010.  But the building will be far from finished - I think construction is scheduled for the next 100 years.

From there we ventured to La Rambla.  This street is made for walking, and goes on for miles.  We kept veering off the straight path to explore the narrow streets.  And then suddenly, right ahead of us, we came across St. Josep, the market we wanted to see.  Alive with colour, a tumble of smells and delicious sounds. We grabbed a fistful of macadamia nuts - the biggest I've ever seen - and continued to munch on them as we wandered.

Some of the graffiti we came across was quite artful, others, not so much.  Seeing 500 year-old doors defaced by inarticulate blotches was sometimes distressing.  In other places the swatches of colour brought dark corners to life.

We had a light supper and fell into our beds.

The next morning, we took one of those tour buses for a whirlwind two hour tour.  The buildings and balconies rushed past, we climbed up the mountain and back down again, snaking our way past the port.  The city seems so livable, with lush green parks,  wide boulevards.  Sexy-curvy Gaudi buildings, sleek steel, glittering glass, gothic cathedrals - everywhere a picture. I raised my camera like a periscope in the air, snap happy again, not even bothering to use the viewfinder.

Then time to grab the luggage and head for the boat.