Wednesday, 21 September 2011

What is it about islands?

I like islands. One of my earliest memories is of going to Toronto Island with my mother and paternal grandmother. I must have been about three when we went there – probably to Ward’s island because I remember a lot of trees near the shore. I remember swimming in only my white underwear and vest and thinking I really should be in a swim suit. A sense of propriety cosseted me even then, it seems.

Later while I was a student teacher, I visited Toronto Island in the middle of winter and stayed for a week at the Toronto Island School. Even though we were so close to downtown Toronto, it was an adventure for both the pupils and the teachers. We learned why ducks’ feet don’t freeze in the winter and, amazingly, how to shoot a BB gun.

Since then, I have travelled to many Canadian islands: Malcolm Island in B.C., Manitoulin, Pelee and Grand Manon, the Magdalens, Newfoundland, Cape Breton, and of course, Prince Edward Island. I suppose going across the water on a  boat is a big part of the attraction. There is that enforced pause: slowing down to a halt to wait for the ferry and then lounging about on board while the crossing is made. How often are we made to slow down and stop in life, to merely wait and wool gather with no choice but to enjoy patience.

Now that the fixed link has replaced one of the ferries to PEI, some of the magic of the crossing has been sacrificed for efficiency, but going to PEI each summer is what I look forward to all year long. This year Greg and I visited yet again, and I was not disappointed.

Some mainland habits die hard. A short distance from Confederation Village, there is an ESSO gas station, where the tarmac is always clogged with cars. Not for fuel for the vehicle, apparently, as much as for fuel for the body: the first Tim Horton’s, probably since Moncton, is located here. In fact, a sign enjoins visitors to pay for their gas before they get their Tim's.

Once we fueled up both ways, we headed for Victoria-by-the Sea, a former ship-building village, where the old frame buildings, now restored and painted glorious bright colours, house an inn, a playhouse, B & Bs, and one-of-a-kind shops. All were open but one; according to the notice on the door it was closed due to the wedding of the owner’s niece.  It might be the height of the tourist season, but family comes first!

Islanders are pretty trusting: Not all of the shops we visited were staffed. In one, I found a print I wanted to buy. As there was no one in the store, I wandered out a side door and found four people in a rather pleasant back garden enjoying tea.  One left the group and helped me make my purchase.

After doodling along the shore taking in potato fields and rolls of hay we arrived at our lodging for the night, the Desable motel, an unintentional paean to the 1970s and before. Each unit had an orange plastic basket chair outside the door.

The bathtub sloped slightly, but the water was hot, and behind the motel were walking trails to the ocean, an unexpected treat for the travel-bleary.   Meals were served across the highway at the Blue Goose Restaurant and Bakery, recommended by the motel proprietor who often went to eat there. She was right; the food was good.

The next day was Sunday, and we decided to go to church in Charlottetown. We had plenty of time to get to the 11:00 service, or so we thought, as we dipsy-doodled our way along Highway 19.

We came to a park, the Port-la-Joye – Fort Amherst National Historic Site of Canada, to be exact. From there, we could look across the bay towards what is now Charlottetown and agree with Louis Denys de La Ronde, a French naval officer and explorer, who wrote in 1721, "...Port-la-Joye, one of the most beautiful harbours that the eye can behold."

Unfortunately, despite a damp wind, we lingered a bit too long over the history of the M’ikmaq, the Acadians and the English and got to church in the nick of time, we thought, only to find that the summer services started at 10:00. "Oh, well," said the cheery greeter at the door, "You haven’t missed the most important reason for coming." By this she meant Holy Communion.  Needless to say, St. Peter’s is in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

Clutching the bulletin and masses of inserts, so typical of any Anglican tradition, we crept into the back pew, where a plump, jolly older woman made sure we knew where the hymns were to be found. Once the very formal service was completed, we were invited to assemble for lemonade on the lawn – well, everyone went except for us, who were held in thrall by the same dear old soul, as she recounted decades of Anglican history and the lives of a number of rectors  from the Island and Upper Canada. Other congregants looked at us with a mixture of alarm and pity before quickly exiting.  

(On our way off the island at the end of the week,  we attended the other Anglican church in Charlottetown, a much more informal service, so low church in fact that during the chatty portion of passing the peace, someone left to go to the washroom - located conveniently in the narthex. He returned in lots of time for the resumption of the liturgy.)

  We agreed neither was necessary, as a cross draft provided all the air conditioning we needed, and the satellite TV offered the same two programs in every time zone across Canada.  However, I was happy to have WiFi and even happier to enjoy gourmet meals, lovely gardens, and a view of the Bay.  

Our week on the Island had begun well.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Poem: Advent Sunday 2010

Above me, while I take my walk,
the  November clouds hang
heavy, grey and silent. 

Like their rain that does not fall,
my tears are tight in my throat.

 I remember your hands – hands I loved –
palms down on the table:
Stubby fingered, wrinkled, ominously grey.

“Poor circulation,” I noted,
but only to myself. 

For what we did that last time, we did heedlessly:
Heedless that your heart would stop,
when you went walking.

And now the great grey hands of grief
squeeze my heart
and there is no resuscitation.

 Lorna Harris  (November 28, 2010)

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Poem: Breaking News

Not all unidentified flying objects
come from outer space.

The one I saw was in my mind’s eye,
hovering just over my right temple:
there … yes, up there …  just to the right.

A long shape:
red on one end and black on the other,
threatening  fire and darkness.
It was your name –
first name was the red, last name was the black.

I couldn’t see you or imagine you – just your name without words.
Just red and black.
And though it said nothing, it was a loud shape.

After a few days, I realized such objects don’t exist.
After a few days, I remembered where I was
when I heard you'd died: 
in the office chair, by the computer,

Then  a voice saying,
 “ Oh … oh … I think she’d like to talk to you.”

I turned.

It was the black phone handed to me –
from above  to the right, and
the searing words I had to ask to hear twice:

“Your first name (red)
Your last name (black)
died yesterday and
I thought you might not know.”

Lorna Harris  (October 19, 2010)

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Feeling films: observations on four films I saw at TIFF 2011

The Toronto International Film Festival was great. I attended for the first time this year, but for only a couple of days. I am not sure which I enjoyed more: the films themselves, of course, but also talking to people in line and waiting for the film to begin, and just listening to the buzz of all the conversations. The volunteers were wonderful;I clapped for them at every film. The Bell Lightbox, where I viewed the first two films, provides state-of-the-art projection and sound. Getting tickets at 7:00 a.m. is a great idea and according to a chap from Nebraska I talked to in the row in front at the screening of The Artist, not a common practice at other film festivals.

I had time to see only four films. Oddly enough, they were all period pieces. Wuthering Heights was set in the 1850s; Alfred Nobbs and A Dangerous Method, at the turn of the last century. The one I enjoyed the most was The Artist, a silent movie set in the 1930s.

Ironically, for a movie with no dialogue, it was the most articulate of them all. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, it was witty and charming with just the right number of twists and turns and surprises as far as the plot was concerned. As well, Hazanavicius provided subtle commentary on the art of film-making and audience appeal. I felt for the characters! Judging from the applause, other film-goers loved it too. I couldn’t stay for the Q&A, alas, but rushed to the next film: Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights was the most disappointing of the four for me because of the decision noted by director Andrea Arnold to deliberately omit the great speeches in the book. She told the story from Heathcliff’s point of view. Her petulant and unloved Heathciff spent a lot of time brooding in doorways and glaring through keyholes. What with wind blowing, curses flying, rain pelting, blows thudding, and branches scraping in pathetic fallacy, there was not a lack of sound in the film, but it got repetitious all too quickly. The film was too long. We were given the point about dark passion and alienation - and we got it - over and over again!

Alfred Nobbs was oddly stilted and, considering the necessarily repressed nature of the title character, not in a good way. The conceit of having a woman concealing herself as a manservant did not engage me on a feeling level to the degree I would have liked - perhaps because we were in on the disguise it too soon - or maybe too suddenly. Apparently director Rodrigo Garcia chose not to tell the story using a narrative voice-over. This was a mistake. According to Garcia, in the short story on which the film is based, the point of view is provided by a small boy who is puzzled by what he sees. The fictional boy was apparently based on the childhood experience of the short story authors, George Moore and John Banville. The boy’s curiosity should be our curiosity. The little boy appeared in the film but after the fact, and therefore, for no particular narrative purpose. For me, the film lacked a sense of the incremental stripping away of the secret about Nobes. Anyhow, I want to read the original short story. The film faltered somewhat in comparison to The Remains of the Day (repressed life), A Crying Game (hiding gender/ cross dressing) and Gosford Park (class distinction).

Finally, A Dangerous Method will raise the ire of both Jung’s family and his uncritical worshippers and unfortunately likely bore everyone else. David Cronenberg has no reservations that Jung and Sabina Spielrein were lovers – a scandalizing assertion for many in the former two groups. But beautiful cinematography will likely not redeem this film’s endless talkiness for everyone else. The long, long conversations were based on the letters of the Jung, Freud and Spielrein. Emma Jung was given somewhat short shrift. All the well-known (to Jungians ) stories were there: yes, there was the talk therapy, the cracking bookcase, the discussion of dreams which Freud refused to participate in, Jung’s dream of the red tide of blood just prior to the First World War. But unless you knew these events are [Capital S] Significant, they just seem very static. The circumstances under which Jung wrote the Red Book would have been much more conducive to film, which rises or falls on images and action (whether internal or external).

Anyhow, I wish I could have stayed for the whole week.  So many films; so little time! I can hardly wait until next year.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Shunpiking across New England

Greg and I have just returned from our annual jaunt to Prince Edward Island. Ordinarily I would be writing about happenings here in the wilds of NM, but I am breaking with tradition to expound on that age-old theme: what we did on our summer vacation.  

I’d like to say our journey involved meaningful reflection and momentous activity which begged to be revealed, but the real reason is that not a lot seems to have happened in our village while we were away. Mind you, I slept in this morning and missed coffee with my neighbours, so I may be jumping to dangerous conclusions.   

Nevertheless, all I can report is that our morning glories, mistaking the sunflowers for an additional trellis, got so heavily entangled with them that they all fell in a heap onto the strawberries. Something ate bits out of one of the only two pumpkins big enough to be a Hallowe’en jack o’ lantern. And the hummingbird feeder was bone dry.  

So to PEI: On our road trips, I navigate, and Greg drives. I enjoy reading maps – the kind that are made of paper and have to be folded to fit one’s knee. I am not a GPS person. Unfortunately, I am mildly – but I feel, rather charmingly – dyslexic, with the result that I frequently say “turn left” when I mean “turn right” and vice versa, as in “Turn right, no… no… left, that’s right, I mean, that’s correct.”  

Greg, on the other hand, has a – somewhat annoying – hearing deficit. We remind me of the elderly couple who used to motor around Parkhill; one couldn’t see properly, and the other had mobility problems preventing him from getting behind the wheel. Unfortunately, when one spouse died, the other had to give up driving.   

In any event, Greg seems to have a hard time hearing my directions. For example, I say, “There is a turn coming up.  You’ll need turn left, no, sorry, right … in about 100 yards… I’d slow down now … now…. slow … slow, here it is, it’s here, turn, turn now.” 

 Greg snaps to attention only when he hears these words:  “That was the turn. You just missed it. We will have to turn around.” Those of us who still attend church may be reminded, as I am, of a similar rhythm in “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” words whose sudden intonation in the middle of the communion prayer wake up those of us who have turned our attention elsewhere.

In any event, freeway driving makes a lot of sense for us, since turns are at a minimum. Therefore, it was with a bit of trepidation that, hearing dire reports about the imminent collapse of bridges, tunnels and traffic flow in Montreal, I decided we would “drive through the States.“ This involved long stretches of two-lane highway wending its way through northern New England. 

After getting advice from my cousin, whose work frequently takes him to New York State, we decided to cross over at Cornwall, remembering to “go past the burnt-out customs station on the island and continue right across the river.” Our more cautious overnight hosts in Morrisburg advised crossing at Valleyfield, but that bridge was in Quebec and likely near collapse, and if we missed the turn to it, we would find ourselves willy-nilly going through Montreal, so we fortified ourselves with Tim Horton’s coffee and set out from Cornwall.

Ironically, there was bridge construction there, but nothing, including us, fell into the St. Lawrence. In addition, the line-up consisted of only of us and three other cars approaching three customs booths. I always get nervous at the border, and my hands were so sweaty the envelope containing the passports stuck shut. The customs official asked where we were going, and did we have reservations for the night. We did, but quickly realized that was not quite what he meant. Greg couldn’t remember the name of the place we’d booked, and I mispronounced Skowhegan. But the agent waved us through anyway.

Fortunately, he didn’t ask any of the questions we’d been asked before and for which we now had composed witty ripostes: Are you married … to each other?  (What’s it to you?). So do you have the agenda for this dream conference? (As a matter of fact, yes, I do; I’ll just get out my binder). Who is the Archbishop of Canterbury? (Like you know who he is!). Have you ever been prevented from entering the United States? (You mean like the American ambassador to Canada?). Do you have any fruit? This time, I did, but I figured hey, don’t ask/ don’t tell.

Driving in a foreign country can be tricky, but we found it pretty straightforward. Soon, we crossed Lake Champlain on a small ferry, which came every fifteen minutes and had sides, thank goodness. A sign in the tiny washroom on the deck advised keeping the door closed in winter to avoid having the pipes freeze.

When we came to a crossroads on the Vermont side, I put my earlier use of street view on Google Earth to good effect and said, “Take the car past that big red-brick building with the two chimneys where they sell pizza,” rather than “Turn left, I mean right.” The restaurant was just as it appeared on Google Earth in 2009 except that a large empty flower box had been added to titivate the gravel parking lot.

 Slowly, we made our way towards Skowhegan. We went 25 miles per hour through a lot of very small towns with nowhere to eat. In between, we sped up to 50 mph and watched for moose. We finally ate at the first place we saw in a college town on Highway 2 in northern New Hampshire. Signs said the eatery had been voted the best pizza place in the area three years in a row ending last year. There were pizza crusts on the floor presumably from the night before. A sign in the somewhat sticky unisex bathroom, which also held extra pop (or is that soda?) cartons and an old refrigerator, indicated what cleaning tasks should be performed. None had been checked off.

 I did not order pizza, but my spinach wrap was surprisingly good, once the chatty college boys in the other room remembered to serve it. After a longer than anticipated break, no sooner did we get back into the car, turn left, no, right, up a steep incline to the main road, but we spotted the town’s slightly more upscale “Family Restaurant.” I took an extra acidophilus tablet and hoped for the best.

Such are the delights in going off the beaten path, but I must stop now, as I have run through 1,100 words and, as in our travels so far recorded, gotten almost nowhere.

To be continued …