Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Blue Moon

And then there suddenly appeared before me
The only one my heart could ever love
I heard sombody whisper "please adore me"
And when I looked the moon had turned to gold

This morning after breakfast a CBC program we were listening to played that wonderful old piece, "Blue Moon". Another song of our youth. Immediately we hear one of these songs we are plunged deep into delighted memory and a blush of pleasure washes over us. As so often happens, he will be working downstairs in his studio, painting or in his workshop putting something together while listening to the radio. Most often I will not have heard anything as I don't tend to play the radio as devoutly as he does. I will hear him thundering upstairs and wonder what's happening. All will become clear as he rushes toward me, grabs me away from whatever I'm doing in the kitchen or elsewhere and we dance to one of the old songs.

On this occasion, however, there was no need for him to rush anywhere; we were at home together, a Tuesday morning after breakfast. A late breakfast as it happened, since because of the forecast for yet another 34-degree day with high humidex, high UV, we had taken our little dogs out to the ravine for our hike right after our shower, while there was still a breeze, before the day became impossibly hot. We'd read the newspapers, had gone out to the back garden to wander about, to note what had transpired there since the last time we looked - the morning before. But in a garden things are transformed overnight, and more roses were open, the morning glories reaching higher in their clamber to maturity, the pink lupin was still flowering, as was the white clematis, the cornflower-blue clematis, the yellow-pink honeysuckle too. And to our delight, the first of the huge red double-petaled poppies had opened. The apples on one of our three apple trees seem to grow by leaps and bounds while the others still looked crabbed. I watered the parsley, oregano, and basil as they're growing in clay pots which tend to dry very quickly. Then back into the house to clean up the kitchen, and we heard the soft strains of "Blue Moon" waft through our house.

An exchanged glance and we were in each other's arms, dancing. In the family room, moving slowly about, avoiding the furniture, the two little dogs looking up at us quizzicaly as we danced as we once did so long ago when we were young. We're not at all awkward, for we're young again, never in fact having ever grown old, though we have grown older. His arms encircling me are as strong and firm as ever they were. His girth not much more than it was so very long ago. Nor is mine, truth be told and I wind my arms about him aching to reach even closer, but closer is not at all possible.

It could very well be fifty, perhaps fifty-two years since last we danced together to this particular piece of music. In hindsight we were such - children, I imagine. We were aware of our urges, our desires, our wish to be together, yet we were so young. Thinking about it now I wonder at our youthful companionship, the electricity between us, the tenderness, the drive that ensured we would defy our parents' edicts and seek one another out to fulfil our needs.

I was always aware as a very young child that there was something lacking, that I felt a compelling need to share life and experiences with someone. Accordingly, I was always looking for someone, and of course when I was five, six, seven that someone could very well have been a girlfriend with whom I could share my thoughts, my feelings, my apprehensions. That someone special just never did materialize, although I never did stop searching. One day, just after my fourteenth birthday I was introduced to a young boy and I felt a shock of recognition upon meeting him. By then I had dreamt time after time of meeting a boy, and this boy, I knew, would be the one for whom I had searched so relentlessly. Imagine! at the age of fourteen harbouring such a conviction. How absurd it must seem.

Physically this boy completely resembled the one of my dreams. For his part, he seemed amenable to extending a relationship to me, and from that time forward we became constant companions, inseparable, much to the dismay of my parents and the casual indifference of his. We would see one another daily after school into the early evening. He would walk to my house, I would await him there. We would go out for long walks on area streets, parks, go to libraries together, attend youth-oriented activities at social centres.

The youth of my dreams became transformed into the man of my dreams. We matured together, melded together. Did we always agree on everything? Nothing could be further from the fact of our joined existence, for we often had disagreements and still do. We still perceive things from our individual perspectives, but it was never all that difficult for each of us to accept the deviance of the other, and sometimes one of us even came around to the other's way of thinking, but not that often. Our values and backgrounds were somewhat similar and that, of course, helped. In all our years together he has never been but gentle with me. I rarely heard a word of reproach or a raised voice, although the same could not be said for him.

I still cannot predict his reactions, nor can he mine. Do we know ourselves completely? How then can we know another to the point of rewarded anticipation? I do know that I delight in the fertility of his mind and his stunning ability to master just about any art form that intrigues him. I admire the elasticity of his brain, the breadth of his knowledge; arcane at times. I know that without him and his love for me I would be diminished to the point of mere existence.

Blue Moon, now I'm no longer alone
Without a song in my heart
Without a love of my own

Monday, July 11, 2005

Merchant of Venice

As a young girl in high school I recall studying several of William Shakespeare's plays. One of them was The Merchant of Venice. The dreadful figure of the Jewish character Shylock as portrayed in the play alongside the sterling characters of the Christian nobility utterly shocked me.

As a child I had been baited by other children because I was a Jewish child. I had been, on occasion, reminded, lest I forget from previous accusations, that I was a Christ-killer. I was by no means the only child of my acquaintance who had thus suffered, for I knew other Jewish children, some of whom were even in my class at school, and none of whom I was particularly friendly with. My parents were secular and when other children stayed home for the Jewish High Holidays, I did not, and I was embarrassed by this. Although I did not quite understand the distinction between religious observance and secular Judaism, I felt myself to be a proud Jewish child, proud to be Jewish. Still, I was left out of the picture, as it were, not one with the other non-Jewish children, not belonging to the faction reflecting the religious upbringing of the other Jewish children; a loner. Ah, but wasn't I shocked one morning to see one of the little Jewish girls crying and to be told, on enquiry, that she was crying because she didn't want to be Jewish. Impossible, I thought, just not possible for someone who is Jewish to wish to be other than that.

I was also a child who adored books, who read incessantly. I admired the great playwright, even as a young child, for children have great open ears, and as my parents were also bookish, his name was not unknown to me. Yet, how could he write in such a manner of Jews? It was only later, as I grew older, and studied the text that I realized that anyone who could write the plaintive plea arguing that he, Shylock, was also human was no anti-Semite: "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? if we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? revenge: if a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his suffering be by Christian example? why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction". The great man was, instead, attempting through the genius of his pen, to make his readers understand that differences between people can be respected, not rejected, that in the final analysis we are one and the same.

Last night, finally, we watched the film version of "Merchant of Venice" starring Robert deNiro and Jeremy Irons. What a wonderful treat. What a marvellous film. As a theatrical period piece it was superb. As a tribute to the illustrious playwright, I do believe he would have approved. The brilliantly-shot scenes of Venice were candy for the eye. The canals, palaces, gondolas, gowns and outfits were unsurpassed for scene-setting. The scenarios whereby it was made abundantly clear prior to the onset of the story itself -- which illustrated the societal contempt in which Jews were held -- set the tone and the stage for what was to follow in the most brilliant and empathetic manner.

Robert deNiro's role as Shylock the money-lending Jew would have been a challenge for anyone, but he took this part and made it his own. I seriously doubt anyone could ever surpass this man's acting in this particular role. His visual appearance, his body language, his obvious anguish at the misery of his position, his outrage, his bitter search for vengeance were all graphically and masterfully conveyed by this veteran actor. In short, he was, in the role, the most believable of personages, and homage is due him for a truly superb performance.

Jeremy Irons played a passable aristocrat in Antonio, the man who was a man of his time, an elevated citizen of Venice, a merchant of means, a respected man of influence. This character casually spits upon the near physical presence of a hated Jew-figure, in this instance, that of Shylock, the money-lender. Yet he does not hesitate to turn to him for a bridging loan until, literally, his 'ships come in'. Irons is a good, solid actor, possessed of a stolid repertoire of facial expressions and physical gravitas; less an actor than a predictable presence.

DeNiro carried this film by his immense presence, his charismatic understanding of the person he was to portray, the historical Jew of ill social repute, part of a despised clan to whom the church-prohibited position of money-lender was granted in lieu of an honest livelihood. The supporting actors were too self-conscious, even at times bumptious (in keeping with the comedic aspects, slight though they be, in the play) and entirely too precious for reality.

When Elephants Weep

I've been curious about the book, "When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals" and having read it, my curiosity is more than satisfied.

It's not that hard to believe that animals other than humans have emotions, feelings and wants. Anyone who has an animal companion can see proof of these emotions at any time during their daily relationships with their pets.

It does not border on anthropomorphism when people realize that animals are capable of understanding what we say to them and to ourselves understand that animals are also able to communicate with humans. Close to home, our companion pets weigh all manner of signals emanating from body language to gauge our moods, our intent. Intelligent dogs like Poodles for example, amass a very respectable vocabulary of word-recognition aided and abetted by tone of voice and physical stance.

Dogs are known to sniff the clothing of their companion-humans to determine what their destination may be, and whether it might possibly include them. If someone pulls on jeans that are normally used for hiking it's a clear cue to the waiting dog that they're both going to enjoy a nice hike. If working clothes are worn, dogs then realize that their companions are off to another place which excludes their presence. The same can be said of our own two dogs, that when they see me hauling out a dry mop and dusters a good number of hours will be lost to them as I'm busy cleaning the house we share. They take themselves off for the duration of my activities until they're signalled by the invariably last activity which is a return of area rugs to floors which have been washed - and they know, following this that a more amicable inclusiveness is available to them.

Suggest to one of our dogs that they go and retrieve a ball and off they go to retrieve that favourite toy. To the other dog, the operative word is 'your toy', as he is not wedded to a ball, and off he will go to retrieve one of his toys from his toychest. Tell them to settle down and go to sleep and they do just that. Say something to the effect of "who's there?" and they become mad with excitement anticipating a visit from a family member. Ask one of them to come out from under a favoured position under an armchair and he won't budge. Add that you want to wash his eyes and out he comes, however reluctantly. Tell them that it's time to brush their teeth and they know what's in the offing. In the evening settle down with their hair brushes and invite them over, and they settle, each in turn (the older one first) between my outstretched legs, for their evening hairbrushing. Yes, they like us, are creatures of habit and that too helps, but this is still meaningful communication between two species of animal.

Animal researchers like Jane Goodall have furthered our knowledge about the possibility of communication between humans and their close biological counterparts. Despite which, there is still and will likely always be a real paucity of hard information derived from intensive research to demonstrate just how well we have the potential of communicating with other species. The fact is, humans feel quite content in the knowledge that we are superior animals, the only animals capable of deep emotional feelings, of reasoning, of looking to the future. We collectively resign to the rubbish-heap of impossibilities the facts which stare us in the face when it comes to animal behaviour and emotions.

It is, in fact, entirely possible that animals other than ourselves can be capable of tenderness, protectiveness, tolerance, aesthetic appreciation and the kind of love for one another that we feel is the sole prerogative of humans. Gratitude and vengefulness are emotions which surface in animals much as they do in humans. We know that some animals pair for life, but we shrug this off as an aberration of nature. We can see that birds take pleasure in flight, in songs, in colourful displays. Animals accept a social hierarchy, and to do that there must presumably be a degree of social awareness.

We humans look forward to special events in our lives, from life-altering experiences like the birth of a child, to the simple pleasures inherent in a walk in the woods. Although dogs, for example, have relinquished their unique independence aeons ago to remain house companions of humans they desire and appreciate any opportunity to delve into the deep woods, just as we do, only they, of course, are far more at home there than we are, as closer children of nature.

I suppose it's too much to ask that we view animals as deserving as much respect from us as we demand from them. We are, after all, their 'masters', and they our 'pets'. There is an ownership relationship, wherein pets are considered personal property, not partners in existence. On the other hand, perhaps it's not all that surprising that we cannot confer partnership on other animals since we appear to have so much difficulty, person-to-person, adjudging other humans to be equal to ourselves. We are, alas, less discriminating as a force of nature, than discriminatory toward all others who share this planet with us.

More's the pity.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

David Ahenakew

What can one say about someone like native leader David Ahenakew? He has a long history of activism for aboriginal rights and as one of the original leaders in Saskatchewan has the gratitude of his people. He is, among them, highly respected, a much esteemed man, a hero for his time. He also was a Canadian soldier and was stationed for a time in Germany. Integrated, it would seem, into the society at large, and doing his utmost to wrest justice from the Government of Canada for Canadian aboriginals.

For his work on behalf of his people David Ahenakew was recognized and the honour of the Order of Canada was bestowed upon him. This signal honour is one he was very proud of, as well he should be. It is given to scant few Canadians, always to those whose work and focus has been for the betterment of society at large and which has brought lustre to this country's reputation and social standards.

This same man who claims to have personally suffered from racial discrimination, and who has placed himself front and centre as a representative of his people knows something of which he speaks, obviously. Canada's indigenous population, reflecting the situation of indigenous populations all over the world, from Japan to Argentina, from North America to New Zealand, have suffered untold tragedies with the historical incursion into their native countries of settlers who forcibly removed them from their ancestral lands, who murdered and orphaned them, who sought their expulsion from any meaningful association with their countries' modern establishments.

Yet this is the very same man who, on more than one occasion, and in public, brought shame upon himself through his utterances which claimed that Jews were a disease to be avoided, to be expunged. Jews, he claimed, 'started' the Second World War. They did this by attempting to take over the world. Ahenakew had sympathy for Nazi Germany and its leader, explaining that Adolph Hitler had no choice but to extinguish millions of Jewish lives, because, he said, they were taking over the country. No wonder, he said, Hitler 'fried' those Jews.

Charges of promoting hatred against an identifiable minority were brought against this man. It is true that directly following the news of his pronouncements, the media-inspired public tumult frightened him and caused him to deny his previously-stated beliefs, caused him to apologize abjectly and with much weeping. However, he later repeated his original slurs and did so with much panache. The real discrimination, he averred, was that which the aboriginal populations endured, not the Jews. Ahenakew took the services of the notorious Doug Christie, an avowed Jew-hater, Jew-baiter, Holocaust-denier. In and of itself that action spoke volumes.

Finally, the Order of Canada is no longer sullied; it has been revoked from his possession and his name struck, with ignominy, from the record. The man has been found guilty of fomenting hatred against an identifiable minority. Justice has been done.

From Osama to 7/7

Anyone who wants to understand, however slightly, where militant Islam is derived from should read "A History of the Arab Peoples" by Albert Hourani. There one discovers the genesis of Islam through the Prophet Muhammad, written in the Qur'an and the Hadith. The nature of Islam is revealed in this book, as well as the search for religious knowledge, the worshipping of Islam's 'one true God', the transcriptions by Muslim scholars of the true meaning of the connection of Muslims to their God, through the Arabic language. The schism between the Sunnis and the Shiites is revealed, and the multifarious battles between the irreconcilable sects, the assassinations, the conquests as well. That's the start, that is the legitimate, historical Islam. The book details many historic events, among them the creeping Islamicization of of the Middle East, Africa, the East and the Mediterranean. Islam has never forgiven Christianity for forcing it through conquest to relinquish the jewel in its crown, Andalusian Spain. It has never forgiven the Crusaders and the rivers of blood that were shed in the Holy Land. That same place that still sheds blood without let.

From there one views the film "Osama" filmed in Afghanistan, during the period when the country was heartlessly ruled by the Taliban, a group of hard-line, fanatic Mullahs whose contempt for anything which they felt belittled Islam was boundless. Under the Taliban hospitals and schools were closed, female children were denied education, while the male children were 'taught' in Madrassas. These were the Saudi-funded religious institutions which have turned out fundamentalist Islamists whose focus became the vindication of historic Islam, against the humiliations suffered at the hands of Christians and Jews, as they would have it. Music, dancing and any type of celebratory rituals were banned. Women were forced to wear stifling burkas, were not permitted to work, were not permitted to be in public unless in the 'care' of a male. The film demonstrates in a graphic manner the miserable deprivation and desperation of the Afghan population under the Taliban, brothers-in-spirit to the Jihadists who now threaten the western world.

It is these embittered, ignorant, venal and mendacious Imams and Mullahs who have fomented an attitude of outraged xenophobia among a young population of willing students. They assert it is the will of God, their God, to war with the western, industrialized countries, where morals are corrupt beyond salvation and values decadent beyond belief. The collective memory of these groups will not be assuaged and they mourn their historical loss of hegemony, agitate against their history, invoke the hated memory of the Crusaders. Nothing remains but the past, there is no adjustment to the present, no sense of getting on with life, only a deep and abiding resentment and the targets of that implacable resentment are quite particular: Christians and Jews. Infidels yes, and also, it seems, Muslims whose understanding of Islam does not quite conform to that of the Jihadists.

The great pool of believers in Islam believe in piety and make a conscious effort to remain true to the original spirit of the religion. The great majority of these people decry the fanatical beliefs and hostile actions of the Islamists, but it is human nature to try to defend those who 'belong' to a vast family of specific adherents. Through emigration from traditionally Muslim countries Europe and North America now host extremely large populations of Muslims who have sought a future for themselves and their families there, largely on economic grounds. Conventionally, when one becomes an immigrant to another country the focus has been on surviving the culture shock, remaining true to one's original cultural identity, but melding with time into the new greater social culture in which one finds oneself. The ability to adapt to one's new surroundings is paramount to the future advancement of one's family.

As mosques became established in the new countries, home-grown Imams were brought to the newly-adopted countries and they did their best to assist their people in reconciling their religious obligations to their new civic obligations. Unfortunately, among these imported Imams were more than a few fanatics whose function it became to inflame immigrants against the perceived injustices brought to bear by the very countries which had welcomed the immigrants against traditional Islam. A recipe for disaster as cultures collided and resentment was turned to reaction. The great burden of the majority of Muslims now is to reject the dreadful harm militant Islam is wreaking throughout the world. They must understand that it is not enough to shrug shoulders and insist they themselves are not militants, then cry discrimination when identifiable groups are questioned or sequestered for the greater public good. They must stop funding terrorist groups, they must refuse to share religious space with them, they must denounce their destructive tactics unequivocally.

The attacks on the World Trade Center were unexpected and horrific. The attacks on the train system in Madrid were anticipated and no less horrible. The attacks in London on July 7 happened in a city which had braced itself for just such an event, but was yet powerless to deter it. Its population of 700,000 Muslims must take some responsibility and take steps to disassociate themselves irrecovably from those amongst them who seek to bring the roof down on everyone's heads, who feel the deaths of innocent people equal justice as they see it.

"Jihadist, Jihadist, where have you been?
I've been to England to see the Queen.

"Jihadist, Jihadist, what did you there?
I set four bombs and vented my spleen."

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The View from Here

I am heartily sick of the cult of celebrity, and all the baggage it hauls with it. That so many people worship at the alter of this quasi-21st-century version of royalty (possibly even theism) is degrading to the spirit of cerebral functioning, of intelligent values.

I am heartsick at the dilemma of African poverty. That vast, diverse and resource-rich continent whose people appear to be destined to live forever in a stench-ridden cauldron of deprivation. Yet within that population exists a relative handful of cunning, venal egotists whose sole purpose and pleasure in life appears to be the plunder of their country, leaving their countrymen to a daily struggle with disease, deprivation and death.

Odd that the two are now so fatefully linked. Is there that much difference between the celebrities who vaunt their fame, prodding the rest of us to pony up, while they lend the lustre of their names to an effort which, when fully examined, turns out to be an enterprise of self- advertisement that no amount of publicity could possibly equal - and the corrupt dictators who rule that direly wasted continent?

How much of their vast personal fortunes have the world's celebrities who are so eager to excoriate and exhort the rest of us to cough up more and yet more of our own meagre earnings to the cause of African relief given to this selfsame cause? Why don't we know? Why don't we ask? Why do we accept, blindly, that it is enough for these celebrities to lend their names and their fame to their perceived counterpart of western government aid to third world countries in need, and not ask of them to also put their money where their self-adulatory mouths are?

The wealthy developed countries of the world have poured billions of dollars in aid to those parts of the world whose development has been arrested and many of those same countries, India, China, Vietnam, Korea, have managed to pull themselves into positions of economic feasibility, giving their populations decent standards of living. Not so with Africa where one country after another has suffered from the limitless personal greed of its rulers. The African Union itself estimates that Africa loses up to $148 billion each year to corruption. Its leaders are unwilling to singly and collectively ameliorate the dreadful conditions their people live in. Corruption has become the lingua franca of these countries' rulers and ruling classes. Almost without exception these leaders become Mercedes-Benz-driving, palace-building, psychopaths, eager only to build up their personal reserves while spurning the need of the African masses whose existence is a daily struggle in futility.

Western countries have forgiven billions of dollars in debt to those scant few African countries which have demonstrated a willingness to make meaningful changes, to keep corruption to a minimum, to attempt to provide clean drinking water, education, medical services to their populations. The vast majority of leaders of African countries remain dedicated to spiriting monetary aid out of their countries into their personal Swiss bank accounts, into the purchase of properties abroad, registered slyly, but in their names. Why, the intelligent observer might enquire, should western countries remain dedicated to African relief, when it has been and continues to be a figment of hope, and in reality aid remains elusive to the poor underclasses who live the most dire of existences?

Could there be a more heartless quandary than this? Could it be possible that Western countries make a physical presence in these countries of need, and themselves oversee the introduction of needed infrastructures to provide the bare and basic necessities of life for millions of disenfranchised Africans? Screams of imperialism would abound from those same African leaders who demand the cancellation of debt, and that Western countries give more aid. They are fully capable of development they assert, as they revel in the status quo.

Enough, enough. Wealthy industrialized countries will continue to do the best they can, but the aid they profer is meaningless as long as they are not themselves willing to audit the results. The very ineptitude of the wealthy West in offering aid but not following up, and accepting the fallout is also at fault. Better, far better, if these governments handed over working funds to NGOs with a proven track record of being on site and utterly devoted to the work at hand, which is to better the lives and lifestyles of those who need it most; the millions upon millions of impoverished, disease-ridden, uneducated Africans. And while they're at it, these wealthy governments should just stop their tired and fruitless subsidies to their own farmers and industries if they're really serious about giving Africa and Africans a hand up.

Tough times require tough decisions. If the west cannot persuade the African Union to get tough themselves on their member states, if corrupt African leaders persist in their corrupt feather-bedding to the vile detriment of their countries and countrymen, then bypass them and if we're really serious about giving that hand up, then do it via dependable aid agencies and give the African Union, African leaders the cold shoulder. It's about time.

Monday, July 04, 2005


Saturday morning dawned cool, beautifully cool. After what seems like an aeon of hot, sticky weather Environment Canada promised us a high of 22 breezy degrees. A hike further afield was in the offing, and off indeed we went. Only a week since our last trip up to Gatineau Park, our wonderful wildlife preserve only a half-hour drive from Ottawa into Quebec, and aren't we lucky? Only a week and already there have been changes. Beside the parkway in the green expanses, thyme is in bloom, spreading its colour everywhere, purple-on-green. For that matter, last week there were no Cornflowers in blue bloom, nor masses of golden Trailing Lotus, nor yet - so early! - Queen Anne's Lace, lofting its multipetaled heads.

Backtracking, before we were able to escape the city we'd had to do the food shopping, as the day before everything commercial was unavailable. While checking out in the self-help, dirt-cheap supermarket we shop at, I overheard the cashier chirp to the man ahead of me in the line-up how nice it was that he had finally retired. She's looking in from the other end, younger and still working, and he, obviously, doesn't find his situation nice at all, for his rejoinder was something to the effect of "why do we have to get old?". I couldn't resist: confided in him that there is an alternative, but most people don't find it appealing. A weak half-smile issued from his pallid, pouched countenance, sitting above his grey and paunchy frame. He would, he assured the cashier, begin to spend a whole lot more time at the Legion. Playing darts! she responded brightly. Practising my drinking, he corrected. Wotalife.

Our little dogs deduced in their clever way where we were headed and as we drove closer to our destination their excitement became palpable. Button, the miniature-sized female, likes to sit beside me in the car seat, while Riley, the toy male, takes his place on my lap. They nap while we're in highway-driving mode, then become instantly alert when we turn off into the park. Button edges onto my lap, shoving her bony backside into my chest, and I keep pushing her off, to little avail. Riley turns his attention to the window and hoists himself as high as he can on my chest to see as much as possible of the passing scene. By the time we pull into a parking spot they're both frantic to eject themselves from the car and into the greenspace.

Leashed and eager, they sniff and snuffle everywhere, and urinate freely, happily, for the first five minutes. We finally head uphill to begin our circuit and the sweet trill of a thrush drifts through the trees. Shafts of light slant through the thickness of leaves and the trail welcomes us. The Geraniums that hosted so many bright pink flowers are exhausted, and only the marsh Marigolds and pink daisy-heads of the Fleabane, along with clovers in pink, yellow, white and mauve colour the underbrush. We don't that often see other hikers along this portion of the trail, for even though it's a popular enough destination thanks to its proximity to both Ottawa and Gatineau (the city) most people hike only at the opposite end.

We come to the overlook and Irving takes a photograph of me and the dogs. Two men have hiked from the opposite end of the trail to this point, and they are puzzling over a small map, attempting to orient themselves. Irv tells them that they're looking northeast, pointing in that direction, and tells them that the river snakes down below, just beyond sight. River they ask, what river? Ah, they're tourists, and he tells them it's the mighty Ottawa River. They turn to argue between themselves and we continue on.

By the time we're halfway through the hike we begin to see more people. I have a habit which Irving does not share, of greeting people as we come abreast of them. Some respond, most do their best to ignore my greeting. It isn't difficult to identify those who ignore me, as they're offended that I greet them in English, not French. Irving is angry, it hurts him that I'm ignored. I'm not angry, only puzzled, that people can behave so uncivilly. Irv contends that people like that are basically suffering from feelings of inferiority, and he may be right. He spoils his insight by declaring them to be inferior in any event, while I consider them merely embittered.

We pass two young men walking alongside their gender counterparts and one of the men effusively greets Riley with a resounding "Hallo, dawg!". Riley responds through my voicebox: "Hallo, person!", and the young man grins delightedly. By this time the trail has taken us along the creeks that feed the watertable downstream and we begin seeing tall stately Rue among the grasses and rushes, the lush voluminous ferns, and admire their thick white flowerheads, embroidering the landscape.

Making our way up one of the long hills that leads downhill to The Waterfalls, a truly miserable trickle over a rocky outcropping, maliciously designed by nature to pose as the real thing, and which the National Capital Commission loves to hawk as a sightseeing destination, we face two well dressed genteel-appearing men carefully making their way downhill, and, considering their age (younger than us but unfit) and garb, I offer the information that it's a long climb down and consequently a difficult one back up. They're headed down to the falls, one of them tells me. Not worth the effort, I respond, and we stop for a few minutes to describe the ill-publicized wonder. They turn about and head back up, beside us, and soon we reach the balance of their group, the women as attractively dressed as the men and obviously on a sightseeing outing. A slender, bearded, white man stops to read aloud the sign that says: "Valley of the Kings" and I snort in derision and toss back the opinion that the lily has been gilded beyond belief. With them too we have a brief chat of the history of the place and its former owner: a nation's leader, sad mama's boy, lunatic.

It becomes clear soon that these six people are together, forming a family group. Two are residents of the area, the other four are relatives visiting from Toronto; Trinidadian-Canadians. They follow us up the long hill, and instead of veering off to the right to return to Mooreside, decide to walk alongside us to the lake. This is where, on the trail, we begin to get quite uncomfortable. The 22-degree weather that has made us up until now so glad we've come up here has also re-awakened those bloody blackflies and they're everywhere about us, driving us crazy. They're not biting, Irving helpfully advises as he successfully ignores them (or they ignore him) and the rest of us are flailing about, trying to disperse them. As we walk along the trail, rising on another hill, the troupe begins to flag, the women's shoes, unlike our hiking boots, clearly unsuitable for the terrain, but they slog slowly on. Button becomes a little concerned with all these legs surrounding her and at one point panics, uncertain where we are in the crowd. I point out to the woman with whom I'm speaking at the moment, the flying jewel of a Damselfly, alighting upon a Thimbleberry bush, its irridescent blue body shining in the sun. Politely, the woman smiles, asks what a Thimbleberry bush is, and I also point out the Solomon's Seal we're passing, and she repeats its name.

Is the little museum close to the yellow cottages open now at the lake? she asks me. Museum? what museum? I respond, confused for the moment. There's no museum, no yellow cottages at Lake Mulvihill, far as I can recall. Then I realize, they think they're heading toward King's Lake, and I stop and explain, as does Irving, which direction they should be headed toward. The wiry man wants to stick around anyway and keep talking with Irving. His wife asks where we live, and we tell them, and bloody darn if they don't live a few streets away from us, small world. We part with smiles and friendly waves.

Later that evening we view a film we'd picked up at the video store, set in the 50s in small-town America. It's a fairly good film and we enjoy its quiet introspection and empathize with the quiet desperation of its characters. But the music, omigawd, the music! It's the music of our childhood, of our teen years, of our early years together, and I can feel, I can honestly feel the physical sensation of what it was like, Irving clasping me close to his body when we were 14, 15 years old, dancing together to these very same songs.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Canada's Day

Today is Canada's birthday: Canada Day. July 1st. It used to be called Dominion Day, until former Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau changed it to Canada Day. Fittingly, I feel, although my husband doesn't agree. After all, although we were (and, in a sense, still are) part of Great Britain's "dominion" we are also, as it happens, a country in our own right, with our own Constitution (repatriated as it was by the selfsame P.E.T.).

Canadians are not nationalistic, they are quietly patriotic. Although, particularly of late, we are becoming more obviously enamored of demonstrating our love for country. We have taken, in the past decade, to flying the flag of Canada, most especially on this July 1 day of celebration. We are, therefore we celebrate.

We, my husband and I, aren't given to public displays of this kind. This year we adopted a rather more subtle riffle on the flag display. You see up there a photograph of a portion of our garden and the brickwork done by my talented husband four years ago (at the end of which a right turn will take you to a walkway leading up to the house), well that's our symbolic flag. I said it was subtle, you have to use your imagination and look for it. Yes, that's it: bottom right-hand corner. White ceramic pot, red geraniums: red/white, the colours of Canadian patriotism. From sea to sea to sea. From the east to the west, south to north.

I wore blue today. Not for me these public displays of, for example, red shirt, white trousers. Nor did I stencil a red/white flag on my forehead. On our way up the street to access the ravine entrance we came across a family of two adults, three young children. They drove their van from Prince Edward Island back to Ottawa. They lived on the street adjacent ours until three years ago when they decided to move to P.E.I. They cannot believe the escalated house prices here in Ottawa now. They bought their house on one-and-a-half acres of land, close by a beach for $138,000. Now the townhouse condo they sold in Ottawa is valued at one hundred thousand over that. Housing is inexpensive there, but food, hard goods, utilities and services are more expensive. It balances out. They don't have the shopping choices, nor the level of services we enjoy here, they lament. Ah, but the good clean air, the laid back style of life, the fact that in seven minutes he travels from home to office, that's worth a great deal, isn't it?

I received an email today from a former neighbour who lived at the foot of our street. She and her husband with their one child moved to British Columbia three years ago. They love it there, of course. They'll be coming back for a visit in mid-July and she plans to come around for a reuinion, brief though that will be. Canadians get around. From the mid-point of the country, the Nation's capital city, to the furthest point east, point west.

It was hot, really hot today. The U.V. index stood at 9, the humidex around 40, the temperature at 30 degrees. There were thirty thousand Canadians milling about Parliament Hill this afternoon, happy, despite the heat, to take in the entertainment. To be there to hear the Prime Minister and our Governor General make their feel-good-about-Canada speeches. Really, they were there more for the public entertainment, the music, than anything else. It's a huge street party, a true feel-good event. When our children were young we took them once to the Canada Day celebrations around Parliament Hill. We heard Louis Quilico sing, the Prime Minister gave a speech, everyone cheered, everyone was happy. And then the fireworks! Who doesn't love the incredible incendiary skywide spectacle of fireworks?

Happy Canada Day Canada

Survived Day One

School is out, and we're in. As full-time caregivers, that is. Sigh. Not that we don't love her, not that we don't enjoy her company, not that we're "too busy" to attend to our grandchild's needs. Not, not, not. There's a time/space diseqilibrium in there, something like 60 years, so it's difficult, no doubt about it. Serenity, introspection, forget it. Everything must now be considered in the context of how what we do will affect this child, from going out for our daily ravine walks (when she was months old we used to back-pack her into the ravine) to doing the shopping ("Wah! I don't want to go to that store: people bump into me!) to doing summer day-trips, or simply going further afield for hikes than normal. Spontaneity, we miss you already. Hey, it's not that bad, day 1 is over and the rest of the summer will be a breeze. This is what our angelic Angelyne looked like yesterday morning, above. She was wearing one of the new skirts her mother had bought for her at Byward Market, and she kept demonstrating how beautifully it would rise about her as she twirled. This is one girly girl, a newly-hatched age nine.

We'd just come out of the shower, both of us, when she rushed up the stairs just after eight. Our little dogs were delighted, yapping crazily in welcome. She wasn't very hungry, she said, although she'd decided to have breakfast with us, rather than at home. Her mother had a 9:00 a.m. meeting downtown and rushed right out. We explored the possibilities of cereal, nope, juice, nope, orange, nope. "We" decided to take charge, set the table, stirred up a nice big mug of cocoa, defrosted a bowl of frozen blueberries, toasted three slices of eggbraid bread, and once this was consumed, those nine-year-old fingers of acquisition roamed over to her grandfather's toasted onion buns and added those to her plate, ditto orange juice.

No, she definitely did not want to take her own walking stick to the ravine. Instead, she kept "borrowing" her grandfather's once we were in there trekking up hill, down dale. Our usual relaxed pace was notched up a few extra steps-per-second by default, now that our crowd had swelled by one nine-year-old. Although it was hot enough, it lacked the miserable mugginess we've been blessed with of late, and we enjoyed a moderate hike. Out on the street we met up with one of our neighbours who, about fourteen years ago, introduced himself to me as we both walked from the bus stop after work, up the street where we both lived. This young(er) man informed me that he had known my husband many years ago, when my husband had been a departmental senior and this new neighbour had been brought in fresh out of university. Now, isn't that a small world? Bob Becker, for such is his name, captured my husband, and Angelyne and I walked on down the street with the dogs, she anxious to avoid Bob, who always seems to make her uncomfortably conscious of something I can't quite fathom.

Could I cut her hair, she begged. How short, asked I. About to here, she gestured - short, short. Your mother will not be happy, I reminded her. Yes, she admitted. But I want it short. Call your mother, I suggested, and she did. My daughter agreed, but not short, she warned. Oh, I said breezily, I was thinking about 2 inches. Out we went to the deck and I began, regretting my compliance almost immediately, as I raised one hank of curled, burnished hair after another - and cut. The separated skein of hair, lustrous and beautiful, hung in my hand, and a pang of remorse lay heavy on my chest. Ah, she sighed, that feels better already. And I forged on. Two inches? It is to laugh - or cry, if you must. It's great, I love it! she exclaimed, it feels great, I'm not hot. This was one happy little girl, and truth to tell, I don't blame her. The good news is that her long hair will grow again to its former length at least by winter, when it can perform the enviable function of hugging her for warmth when it's needed.

After lunch, we sat out on the deck, swinging on the two-seater, with a chapter book of her choosing. She read one page, I read the other. We went through two stories in this way. She is making a real attempt to ensure that she colours her reading with appropriate emphasis, a reflection of the moods relayed through the story. Her reading is fairly fluid and full of expression. There's a lot of giggling.

Especially later, when we begin a tickling contest. It's rather one-sided, as I do the bulk of the tickling, being infinitely more skilled at it than she is, or even attempts to be. The reason is obvious: she prefers to be the ticklee and is content for me to be the tickler. Ever since she can recall we have shared these moments of ticklese, and she loves them. I have denied them to her of late, but this seemed a splendid opportunity to revive the old contest, however temporarily. For her, a double reward, in keeping with the end of school and the prospect of an endless summer before us....

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