Friday, 27 January 2012

Blow, blow thou bitter wind

Another dispatch from the Wilds of North Middlesex — likely #10

Like many Canadians, even those in faraway Prince Edward Island, renowned for its winter storms, we have had an unusually mild winter so far.   In fact, some bulbs are up, and a winter aconite was on the verge of blooming a few days ago before the mercury fell again. It’s the yellow dot near the centre of this photo :

I expect many people attribute the balminess to climate change, but I know the real cause. We decided, after several years of snow shovelling and drifts as tall as I am (not that much of an exaggeration), that it was time to get a snow blower.  Since then it has snowed —feebly — twice.  

Unlike Greg, who eschews comparison shopping, I have learned a lot about snow blowers.  My enthusiasm for on-line investigation likely warmed since there was no snow to shovel, which I actually enjoy doing in moderation, and it was raining, which dampened my eagerness for taking a walk.  See raindrops in this accompanying, somewhat dreary, photo :

According to Wikipedia, snow blowers are a Canadian invention first devised in the 1870s.   For some reason, they are now called snow throwers, and they come in one- and two- stage models.   You have to both pick up and then throw the snow; a one-stage does that in one operation, whereas in the mightier  two- stage type, one mechanism draws the snow into the augur and then another blows it out the handy chute.   We bought the latter variety; I call it the Beast.

It is a wise idea to familiarize yourself with its operating ins and outs (no pun intended). This includes how to start the Beast. In this regard, Greg had a small role to play in the ongoing history of Cub Cadets in North Middlesex. The day after we bought it in early December about an inch of snow fell.  Greg hastened out to throw snow. Nothing happened except for ever saltier language , not befitting that of a man of the cloth nor my gentle readers.  I suggested the motor /engine thing might be flooded, but I was ahead of the curve. 

A quick trip back to Parkhill Outdoor Products, and problem solved. You need to prime it first.  News travels fast here, and Greg’s adventure has already entered local lore:  Over coffee at my neighbour’s later in the week, her son-in-law, a truck driver and buddy of the salesman since high school, asked if we had had any more trouble getting it to start. 

Not a good idea, we quickly learned to blow the snow too far and have it land on your neighbour’s driveway.  Your irritated neighbour may soon land on your front porch. Also, it should come as no surprise that wearing a floaty accessory like a scarf is discouraged.  No one want to channel  poor Isadora Duncan.

 And that’s not all.

Things like garden hoses, rolled-up newspapers and forgotten small  toys may lurk under a pristine blanket of snow waiting to  jam the works. Not a wise idea to unblock the augur while the machine is turned on even if it is not actually running.   The misadventure of a local doctor entered the annals of local of history many years ago.   He tried to take a jammed-up newspaper out of the scoop at the front and lost two fingers in the process.  Even though this happened in Ailsa Craig, it is still used as a cautionary tale around here.

My re-entry into normal January activities pales by comparison. Low mobility exercise class resumed a couple of weeks ago.  As we bent and stretched to the usual pre-holiday tunes.  I was rather sorry not to be doing front roly-polies and climbing over the imaginary log to Ave Maria and O Holy Night, but there is always next year.

Speaking of January, I have resolved to make better use of my skates. After trying them out over Christmas at the rink at city hall in Toronto, I decided, once we got home, to go to the holiday community skate over at the arena. 

Toronto has a reputation in these parts for big-city lawlessness. In fact, someone at cantata practice insisted to me that the murder rate in Toronto was higher than that in Detroit, but she was from Sarnia, so I expect I should cut her some slack.  Anyhow, at the rink in Toronto, skaters travelled in the same direction, did not roughhouse, did not play throwing games with hats, did not carry  their toddlers on their shoulders, nor did they pound down the ice like Moose Vasko.  I expect it was because most of the Mega-city skaters were either arthritic (like yours truly) or still learning. Note number of skaters with both feet on ice:

But herein hockey country, it was a different story and a hair-raising experience for me.  Even though Tim Horton’s sponsored the free-for-all  (in every sense of the term), I am going to pay $2 and attend the moms and tots and seniors sessions from now on. There is a two-year-old who plods straight across the rink on the blue line, but I think I can dodge him.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Doing Jigsaws on April 28

I sit on a dining room chair,

 softened by a plump cushion,

 while I do jigsaw puzzles on the lap top.

I am thus distracted,

but soon I see the world before my eyes

break into pieces:

Grain elevators, farmers’ fields, the house across the street,

the forsythia bush in the garden,

 all fracture away.

I should get outdoors:  

maybe take the dandelions to pieces in the front lawn.

But it does nothing but rain: the grey clouds themselves  are breaking in pieces.

The sky falls onto the pavement and drains away.

Still I can choose how big my  fractures are:

Cut in two? That would be you and me,

but we are severed irretrievably,

thereby giving the lie to that simplicity.

Maybe 20?  When – too young to be anything but stupid – we took

different forks on the same road and thought we could join up later.

Or why not 176? Yes, much more challenging:  

your timelessness

broken into the days I have lived

since you ceased to be.

And I think how odd it is … life smashed into death just like that…

But unlike that puzzle, which defies remaking,

 Any jigsaw on the computer will do.

For I am slow, patient and persistent

The fragments will  jump together  eventually.

The picture will reform.

But, except in my dreams, you and I don’t jump together.

When I awaken, you are gone, and

I am fat with grief and broken in pieces.

L. Harris May 2, 2011

Anniversary — turning the year

This year’s poplar leaves are falling,

and today the northwest wind

hastens them along.

One leaf  heaves and jerks

at the end of a bare branch.

It will, of course, yield to the wind’s erratic breath,

or the inevitability of its little weight

but perhaps not  today.

 All timing is so chancy.

 You felt that little off-beat in your heart

almost all your life,

that little valve fluttering hopelessly,

 as you went to ground.

 And this dark wet windy fall,

I wanted to plant spring bulbs

where they planted you

 in that glorious autumn

we all remarked on last year.

 I wanted snowdrops to come

all green and white

 next spring

out of the earth which is cherishing you.

 But the time between desire and action

was too long:

I found there were no snowdrops left on the

shelves to buy.

And my heart’s timing, like yours, was off again.

October 15, 2011

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Carpe diem or just waste it in solipsism

Procrastination is my bête noir, my nemesis, my irritation.  Here I am writing this blog bit when I should be calling the references sent by potential contractors willing to build our much dreamed of summer cottage.  If I am ever going to get it out of my imagination and into reality, I need to bite the bullet, gird my loins, suck it up, throw caution to the winds, take a flying leap and phone a bunch of strangers for their opinions.  It does not help that for as long as I can remember and my parents let me use it I have hated using the telephone.

So far today, I have made pancakes for breakfast and reorganized my recipe binder (no more recipes for Harvest Crunch peach upside down cake, fettuccini with whole cranberries, orzo- and cherry tomato- stuffed lemons,  or gorgonzola and mint pizza).  Then I spent over an hour on the Globe and Mail crossword puzzle thanks to Google, it is now completely filled in.

Moments ago, I cast my eye on my two jewellery boxes that badly need sorting – do I really need papier maché earrings from the 70s? And is the missing half of several others going to miraculously reappear?  Like odd socks in the laundry, highly unlikely.

Muddying the waters is the fact that the more capacious of the two was given me by my ex-husband in his favourite, but my most disliked colour — black, which might sum up in a nutshell why we are no longer together, but that is another story.

Greg gave me the other smaller one – a lovely wooden box made by a craftsman in the mountains of North Carolina.  Which should be the box for up-to-date stuff and which to use for old keepsakes?   I wandered out to the kitchen and cut up an apple.

My priorities need to be focussed: Perhaps taking small steps will help me on my telephonic way.  I have printed up the lists of names the builders sent us. Now I will compose a list of identical questions. Then I will phone one person from each list.  Then I will re-blog!

But first I’ll take pictures of some of the things I’ve referenced in this blog.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Popcorn pleasures - two more four-star flicks

Several years ago I decided to spend money and time only on four-star movies. That is why, over Christmas, I made a point of getting Greg and myself off to see Margin Call and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy — each having received the requisite number of stars by reviewers in the Globe and Mail. 
The former, directed by J.C. Chandor , is about the imminent collapse of an investment firm (loosely modeled after Lehman Brothers, according to Wikipedia)  in 2008.  The latter, directed by Tomas Alfredson, is based on John Le Carre’s 1974 novel about cold war espionage.  Both directors are relative unknowns, and yet both have constructed memorable must-see movies.
I was struck by how similar the two films were despite their different settings and plots. In both films, a character uses the word “system” to describe the work they do. That tweaked my attention. Each character understands that a system is an abstract set of rules and procedures you learn in order to succeed, in other words, nothing to do with human relationships, loyalty or concern for others, but just a pattern to follow. That seemed to be the moral matrix common to the two movies.
In both the secret service and the investment firm, employees are being let go. However, in each, a dismissed employee has the key to a necessary secret about the system and what will bring it down:   it is in information in a briefcase in TTSS and in a USB memory stick in Margin Call, both of which are handed off to someone else to solve.  In both films, a recently retired or laid off employee is forced back to work to solve the crisis.
Both films show hierarchies comprised almost entirely of men at the top and woman in menial roles much further down.  The one woman in management in Margin Call is invited to fall on her sword, as it were, by allowing herself to be made an example of by being fired. A female cleaner in an elevator is ignored, as the partners talk over her head literally and figuratively, as if she is just part of her cleaning cart.  A female operative in TTSS literally loses her life when she is shot at point blank range in an interrogation room.  In another chilling scene in TTSS, a young mother nursing a baby is accidently killed by a nervous assassin. No sacrifice by the female has any meaning; whatever value they have or embody is utterly disposable or ignored.
Members of these male hierarchies are ruthless, manipulative, uncaring, unfeeling, uber-competitive, untrustworthy and not worthy of trust. Just a great group of guys … In TTSS, towards the end, a large sign, handwritten in red  letters and stuck on a fence proclaims, “The Female Will Rule”   but not just yet (and would it be any better?)
The chief image I remember from Margin Call is a set of elevators going up and down relentlessly – a not-too-subtle symbol for the fortunes made and lost in the stock market. In TTSS, it’s the spy-turned-teacher killing an owl - a symbol of the feminine - in one swift blow.  Each carries a sense of the coldly inevitable.
 In addition, in both films, there is a feeling of claustrophobia.  Time in Margin Call is breathless; the action occurs over 38 tightly wound hours.  Despite earning  —and spending — a small fortune annually, the traders spend most of  their time cooped up, whether in  small rooms at work or in dark bar-rooms. No one is shown in a relationship with anything but their work. The characters are imprisoned by their lifestyle and moral choices; the boss’s dog dies and is buried, along with the man’s humanity, in a small shallow grave, outside the home he shared with the woman who is now his former wife (the implication being he has a new trophy wife).
The story in TTSS is told via flashbacks which seem to tighten and reduce the space and time in which characters move. The settings in TTSS include the offices of  M16, housed in a series of low-ceilinged rooms, which for some reason, I recall as being underground and painted a disheartening shade of green.  There are interrogation rooms and prison cells in Moscow. Back in Britain, a tawdry hotel rooms serves as a meeting place.  As in Margin Call, there are not many shots of being out in the open air and when there are, danger lurks.  The mole, imprisoned behind barbed wire, is shot when he ventures outside for a breath of fresh air. A character in Margin Call , outdoors at the top of the office building, threatens suicide.
Towards the end of Margin Call, the Jeremy Irons character looking into the future, before the present crisis has even occurred,  says something to the effect that after all the dust settles (i.e., people’s lives are ruined), there will be a lot of money to be made picking up the pieces. 
These movies, whose directors are outside the mainstream, portray what we would like to consider is outside our personal comfort range:  the banal offhandedness we have in inflicting misery on others – usually for a supposedly higher purpose.