Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina

There are no words.

Sitemeter offers a world view of my blog hits as dots on a map. I enjoy checking where readers are from and wonder who they are, where they live and what they're like. I've had dots along the Gulf coast and been thrilled - I always wanted to visit that area of the U.S.

Please, when you can, let us know you and your loved ones are OK.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Adventures of a Birthday Goddess

Well, that term started out years ago as “Birthday Slut”, but I changed it to reflect the obeisance owed The Haver of The Birthday. G’ahead… try it out… be relentlessly self-promoting, imperious and demanding on your birthday. Insist on adoration and acquiescence to all your wishes. It’s a grand feeling. And here’s a little known secret: the older you get, the longer you can milk it. I’m 43 and am having a Birthday Week. By the time I’m 80, it’ll be a month.

I had a perfect birthday. Just perfect. The weather was lovely (which in Danish means you’ve been a good girl/boy the previous year – ah, the ways we impart a sense of responsibility in our children… “be good or the entire country will suffer!”), had lovely birthday wishes with English, Danish and Mexican birthday songs, plus a phonetic version of the Danish that should be made available to the public, and in general, was made a complete fuss of.

In the afternoon, friends and I spent time at Buskerfest. We were lucky to see the only woman in the world who's ever successfully juggled 5 porcupines and a tennis racket while standing on the back of a giant turtle.





Which is utter crap from the recesses of my fevered imagination, but given my view, it's as likely as anything else.

Other moments:









After the friends departed, I went to the park and had a moment of perfect happiness:



In the evening, a lovely dinner out and when it was all over and because I was in the mood for something elegant and madcap, I watched The Philadelphia Story. Nice way to end the day.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Mormor


This



is my mormor – my mother’s mother (the cute kid is my sister 20 years ago – she now looks like this). Her name was Søster Karen Christensen and she was the perfect grandmother.

She was funny and not afraid to use herself as the punch line. Once, in her mid-eighties, in a checkout line, she looked at some parsley and sighed, completely deadpan, “I once looked like that” and calmly continued stacking her groceries while everyone else fell about laughing.

When I was a child and staying with her and morfar (grandpa), I’d sleep with mormor in their bed (morfar took the divan) and I’d be lying in bed, watching her get ready. Every night, after she took out her dentures, I’d pester her to say futtog (“choo-choo train” in Danish). You haven’t lived until you’ve heard how that sounds without teeth. She wouldn’t do it all the time for she understood that the special disappears when it is made routine.

Those times I stayed with mormor and morfar were among the best memories of my childhood. Mormor and I would putter around, go shopping, feed the ducks here, just minutes from her home, go to the cemetery and take care of the graves. At lunch, she would make liver pate sandwiches on dark ryebread and cut them into small bites for the wild cats that lived in the back yard of the building. I would carry the food and she would carry the heated milk she served with it and dozens of cats would come twine themselves around her.

She started my lifelong fascination with scaring myself when we watched The Spiral Staircase together. I was about 10 years old and we agreed not to tell my mother. I was gripped, excited and loved every minute of it. I’ve been looking for that movie ever since, but haven’t found it. I wonder if it’s a good as I remember?

Every summer, the whole family would go to Grib Skov to pick wild raspberries. Mormor had a special place that it seemed no one else know about – there were always more raspberries that we could possibly pick and we picked buckets. I’d thread them on long stalks of grass, stacking little globes of dark red one atop another, and eat them sitting on the sun dappled forest floor, surrounded by the smell of pine and sand, watching my family talk and laugh and pick. Then mormor and mor would make raspberry jam that never seemed to run out. It’s the best jam I’ve ever had, the wild raspberries a taste of that day in the woods, even on the darkest, coldest winter morning.

My image of mormor includes the cigar. As she worked, she always had a rarely lit cigar of various lengths in her mouth. The apartment smelled of stale smoke, but somehow, that was part of mormor. And if flakes of ash should oocasionally drift into the gravy, well… it just added a certain je ne sais quois to the dinner. She quit in her eighties, after decades of smoking.

Mormor left her childhood home at 14 to go into service. She nursed strangers through the 1918 influenza pandemic and eventually made her way to Søllerød Kro (English review here), where she started her apprenticeship as a smorgasbord chef. She was the image of the independent woman – smartly dressed, valued for her talent at a time when women were less valued, free at a time where most women weren’t. She seemed to me to have a slight air of wistfulness sometimes, as if she wondered what would have happened had she not married and had children and I think this was one of the first times I was aware of choices and their consequences.

And talented she was. She put on the best smorgasbord I’ve ever had. Several times a year, at Easter and Christmas and sometimes more, the whole family would gather at her and morfar’s and eat leisurely for hours. Afterwards, the men would sleep or go for walks while the women cleaned up before coffee and cake. Before I knew what feminism was, I thought it was unfair that women had to continue to work, while the men lolled about, stupefied with food. It didn’t take me long, however, to realize that it was in the kitchen, over soapy dishes and brewing coffee, that all the important things happened.

Mormor always hummed, no matter what she did. The Danish hymnal lists the composer and lyricist of each hymn – some says “own melody”, which means the lyricist had composed the music, as well. As a child, mormor thought this meant that she got to make up her own music and although the teacher disabused her of this notion, for as long as I can remember, she’d be humming her own songs. Not terribly catchy - you certainly couldn’t sing along - they were more like improvisational jams flowing out of her soul.

When mormor could no longer handle the physical demands of her apartment, she chose which nursinghome she wanted and lived there for years, charming everyone in her wake. One day, in her 94th year, she said she was tired and set about to die. It took her two weeks, but die she did, on her own terms and her own schedule. She died on my birthday, 11 years ago today, and at first, I thought it would cast a pall over “my day” in years to come. After that first day, though, it has become a special link to our unique bond. Every year, I take some time to think of her on this day. Every year, I give her a silent toast, just between her and I, at my birthday dinner. This year, not so silent.

Skål, mormor.




Friday, August 26, 2005

Quintessential Summer

I went to the park with a book. It was a gorgeous day – no longer hot as dragon’s breath, but nicely warm. Compared to most of this summer, 30 degrees Celcius (86F) is only warm. In a lot of countries that would be sveltering, but not in Toronto, not this year.

I went to the middle of the field, an expanse of grass, left long-ish by the Parks people and I like it that way. The scent of it, the intensely green smell was all around me, enveloped me, carried me off to a place of leafy heaven.

I closed my eyes, turned my face towards the sun and basked. There’s no other word for it: I basked. The light suffused the world, bathed me in its yellow warmth, flowed through my skin, into my body, all the way through to the bones, warming, relaxing, healing. I felt aglow with it. A drop of sweat trickled down the back of my neck, taking with it all my worries, leaving only sun.

The wind was perfect, too. Enough to refresh and that was all. Lazy waves of air lapping against my sunkissed skin, leaving the smell of summer on me, to take home, a transient memory of this.

Only one more thing to make this a flawless moment. And ah… there it was:


#!$* Blogger

I'd post, but they've changed something and taken away my wysiwyg view and I don't speak HTML and I don't know why they did this. More later when I've figured it out.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Training Humans

As all people who share their homes with cats know, they are in charge. The cats, I mean. I figure I just live here to serve Mojo’s every need, but even so, I sometimes get surprised at just how extensively she has trained me (at times foolishly believing that just because she responds to certain requests when it suits her, that I’ve trained her).

Mojo doesn’t like drinking from a bowl. I’ve heard stories of cats that are all about running water and some that drink from various odd receptacles. Mojo likes glasses and cold water. A while back, when she’d walk around looking at me with the “find me some water, woman” look, I’d taken to tapping the side of the glass with my nail and she’d jump up and drink. A few days later, she called me (yes, she calls me and I respond, but I figure it’s only fair – she responds when I call her) and I came out into the living room and found her perched on the table, next to the glass, looking very expectantly at me. So I tapped the glass and she drank. After this had happened for a few days, I called my mother to tell her about how Mojo trained me without me noticing.

This is what my mother said and it is one of the many reasons I love her to bits:

“Well, who’s the stupid cow in your place, then?”


Friday, August 19, 2005

Say It Ain't So!

(ed.: it's been brought to my attention that people who are new might not know of my... er... tiny obsession with Big Brother 6, could be confused by this post. So that's what I'm rabbiting on about)

My Kaysar is gone. Well, I suspect there might be several million North American women (and gay men) who are willing to fight me for him, but it’s my blog, my world and here, he’s my Kaysar. And he's gone just because he’s a nice man and an honourable man and that just makes it all much worse (and him more swoon-worthy).

I will admit that had it not been a member of the Fiendship who orchestrated this move, I might have chortled in glee. Instead, I want to… well, better not say what I want to do to Ms. Cartwheeling Cheerleader. I’m trying to lead with kindness, really I am, but when it comes to the Cult of Cappy, it’s not easy. They are so smug, so hypocritical, so lacking in any interesting personality traits whatsoever. Take Beau, for example. Clearly CBS were trying for Marcellas 2.0, but failed miserably; his “big, chocolate pee-pee” (quoting the houseguests here – I’d never use that term) might be the only thing that distinguishes him from a houseplant. Maggie… well, Maggie is only vaguely cap(!)tivating when she speaks of Eric, at which time her face becomes radiantly soft and you’re left wondering how her boyfriend and Eric’s wife feel about that. April is a gossip who gets other people to do her dirty work and… well, you get the picture.

And speaking of CBS. I don’t think it’s quite a coincidence that they kept showing Kaysar saying ominous things and looking very… shall we just say intense? We never saw anything but tiny glimpses of the compassion all of the houseguests – even the morons – have spoken of; apparently, he was the one they all went to for a shoulder to cry on. I think they (CBS) were at the very least trying to set him up as the Machiavellian genius of the season (typecasting, much?) and were only thwarted by him being a such decent person. It’s not like they’ve shown Beau’s discussion of his past in an “escort service” or Ivette referring to Kaysar as “Osama bin Laden” and “suicide bomber” (seen on several forums for BB6). Nope. Ivette’s portrayed as a sweet and naïve girl who makes fun games, but we all remember her viciousness early in the season and it’s starting to tick me off that we don’t see what a racist she is (nicely done for a double minority, dontcha think?).

I’m of two minds. Part of me wants to stop watching in disgust and solidarity with my Kaysar. Part of me wants – nay, needs – to see what happens when the idiots at Camp Cappy’s Sheep have to turn on each other.

Bah.

(I may just have demonstrated what happens to a perfectly normal and mostly sane person when exposed to reality shows. Save yourselves. STEP… AWAY… FROM… THE… TV!)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Leeway Cottage

I just finished reading Leeway Cottage by Beth Gutcheon. Heard about it some place I can’t remember and given the theme of Denmark during World War II, I naturally had to read it. Audible only had an abridged version, so my take on it will likely be coloured by that. And by the way? It took me a while to find that word – all that was in my mind was ‘tainted’. I hate abridgement. I fail to understand why anyone in their right mind would wish to read a novel that has been amputated. I also fail to understand why it’s OK to abridge. There’s a reason for all those words, people! The writer put them there with great deliberation to paint a picture with words – I mean, no one abridges Van Gogh or Monet, do they?

Back to the main track…

The book is the story of two people, a marriage and a war and spans about 80 years. Poor little rich girl Sydney Brant marries Laurus Moss, a Dane. When the Germans invade and occupy Denmark, Laurus feels compelled to go to London to work with the Danish resistance. After the war, when he returns home, we witness the growth of their marriage and family, all linked by entries in the guest book of the family’s summer home (the Leeway Cottage of the title).

As I was reading, I was sure that the author was Danish or married to a Dane, as she just about nails us and the Danish character traits. It was odd to feel so known in an English-language novel. It was even odder to realize that so much of what I thought was unique to me and my family, is actually a reflection of a national characteristic. That’ll teach me to feel all special!

My favourite part of the book was the living history lesson (so to speak) of Denmark during the war. Exceptionally well researched, it tells a story little known outside of Denmark or the Jewish community, a story quite different from the experiences of other countries. This is stuff I’ve grown up with, have been told by my parents and grandparents, have re-lived every year when we commemorate the occupation on April 9 and celebrate the liberation on May 4. Hearing it again made me so homesick. (On her website, Beth Gutcheon has posted more information on the topic)

The book has its problems. Some, but not all, likely the result of being abridged – it has an “and then this happened and then this and then this” feeling of recitation at times, which may also be a result of the sprawling nature of the story. However, Gutcheon can describe moments and emotions in a way that touches you unexpectedly. This makes the book itself feel very Danish. It is in many ways very matter of fact, but Gutcheon has an ability to capture a moment so subtly, you don’t notice the heartbreak until you realize you’re weeping in the park. That’s very Danish – practical and matter-of-fact on the surface, while all the big things happen at a barely noticeable level, with a quiet courtesy and dignity that makes it near-impossible for people not raised in the emotional vernacular to understand what’s going on.

A strand of pearls play a significant role in this book and I couldn’t help but feel that the book itself is akin to a strand of pearls. The telling of sequential events forms the strand, the foundation, while the moments that make up a life shimmer like perfect pearls along it.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Go, Kaysar!


Please note: the following post can only really be understood by people who watch Big Brother 6. if you do not, don’t bother reading it. In fact, I urge you not to, as you’ll not only be mystified, but likely to mock me in the comments.


I’ve watched every Big Brother since its inception. I love the inanity of it – it’s the TV version of a fantastic beach read. Totally engrossing while immersed in it, utterly forgettable the day after the winner’s been announced. During the run, I gradually get so sucked into the BB universe that I start dreaming about it. Not until it’s been part of my life – 3 shows a week! – for about two months, but then... I have the odd Big Brother dream.


When I tuned in to the first episode this summer, I was very disappointed at the cast – so young (the oldest is in her mid-thirties!), so pretty, so ridiculous (I’ve just described almost every reality show contestant out there). However, my rule with any new show (reality, drama, whatever) is to give it 3-4 tries, as they often improve as things go along. And am I ever glad I did. By the beginning of the second week, I was hooked on what is possibly the best Big Brother, evah! (oops, sorry – that’s Bachelor speak)


It’s all because of Kaysar. Tall, dark and handsome (that man’s born to have a goatee), smarter than all the rest of the houseguests put together, ethical, honest and did I mention sexy? That moment when he shook the Chenbot’s hand while bowing slightly sealed it. I’m a sucker for elegance.


Yes, I've had impure thoughts about him. Very impure.


By the fourth week, I was heard to describe Tuesday’s show as “the best hour of TV I’ve seen in ages”. Kaysar’s engineering of Eric’s the Psychotic Fire Captain’s ouster was masterful. When Eric’s little cult voted out Kaysar the week after, I was thisclose to not watching anymore. The rest of them couldn’t come up with an even vaguely interesting strategy if their lives depended on it.


Enter America’s Choice! The second perfectly brilliant moment of the season came when the audience voted to bring Kaysar back (by 82%!). The third brilliant moment came when the steroid-infused fireplug stood there blinking stupidly trying to process that America chose an Iraqi-American, Muslim man with his own mind, rather than a fire fighter, family man and cult leader (oh, c’mon! “The Friendship”?? That’s so a cult). Classic.

It's a good summer.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Run, Run Like the Wind!

The cat came home last night, carried into the place like a conquering hero by the Mojo Transportation Team. Here she is, running full speed away from the evil carrier, headed towards the bedroom closet.



After a brief stop in the ultimate Safe Place, she came back out and checked over every square centimetre of the apartment for infractions committed in her absence. In between fleeting sojourns to the safety of the closet, she told me, in a loud and very affronted voice all about the nasty people in the nasty place with their nasty instruments and even nastier procedures. In great detail. Although she eventually subsided from yelling to more of a grumble, she did keep it up fairly continuously until bedtime. When she wasn’t demanding water, nibblies, brushing and general adoration, that is.

My mistress is home and I no longer have time to do anything but penance for daring to spend hundreds (and hundreds) of dollars doing something which (hopefully) will prolong her life.

Might shorten mine, if she doesn’t settle in soon…


Monday, August 08, 2005

In the Wind


After a week of being entirely adult, doing all kinds of things I’d rather not and having Mojo’s stay at the vet’s extended through the weekend, I decided to be decadent and have a No responsibilities Weekend (NRW).

Kicked things off nicely on Friday evening by having a lovely dinner with my friend Andrew. Great conversation over grilled salmon with an absolutely fantastic tomato-basil salsa, which rendered me utterly incapable of stopping when I was full. I was a total pig. Made even better by Andrew insisting on paying, which was very in the keeping with the NRW theme.

Had a perfect acupuncture/massage by the incredibly talented Liz (who really should get a website so I can plug her business by relentlessly linking to her).

Sat in the sun watching a guy play soccer with his dog while listening to Mike from troubled diva’s latest podcast. Lots of good music, perfect for summer sunshine listening. My favourite (but not exactly light and summery) of the bunch was “Bugger Bognor” from the album Das Capital by Luke Haines & the Auteurs. Find it, give it a listen, it’s as great as the title suggests (if it wasn’t $40, I’d buy it and I still might, if I can’t find it cheaper elsewhere).

Ate ripe, spicy cherry vine tomatoes, dipped in coarse kosher salt. Heaven.

Saturday, after dinner, I went out for coffee and didn’t rinse my plate first. Left it on the dining room table, in fact. With a crumbled-up napkin on top. Unheard of. This may have been the most significant expression of my relinquishing responsibility utterly and completely. Feel more than a little embarrassed about it, in a sort of astonished, slightly giggly way. Possibly a bit skeevy, too. Not skeevy enough to not blog about it, though…

And… took no pictures. Not a one. Can’t even make this into some amusing/twee (depending on your point of view) photo essay, because, well… if you leave the plate on the table, you’ve pretty much abandoned all sense of civilization and concern for others, haven’t you?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

I Don't Know How Parents Do It

Yesterday, I sent Mojo to the vet. She went in for some tests (general wellness and senior cat check), to stay overnight and then go under for dental cleaning today. Given that I can’t take her in myself, my mother and Michele brought her in (yes, it takes two adults. One of Mojo’s nicknames is The Psycho Cat from Hell. She doesn’t like to be forced to do anything). The look on her face when they put her in the carrier, the instant escape attempt(s), the crashing up against the sides and top of the carrier once locked in. And then, as she was carried out the door, the crying started. From both of us.

I freely admit to being an absolute sap when it comes to the wee beastie, but still… I have no idea how parents do it. How do you find the strength to do something that has to be done, even though it frightens and hurts your kids? It just broke my heart. And I didn’t even give birth to her.

There is one thing I plan to do while she’s gone, though. Normally, I drive carefully inside my apartment and do a constant cat scan to make sure I don’t accidentally smush her with the chair. But while she’s gone…

I’m cranking the music and dancing in the living room.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Rated PG for Nudity


I’ve been thinking a lot about getting naked lately. Not the regular kind of unclothed – sorry to anyone who’d started drooling and to those of you who covered your eyes, you can read on without trepidation. I’m talking about the kind of naked that shows the real you – or most of the real you (with thanks to Heather Armstrong of dooce for the inspiration).

I’ve spent a large portion of my life hiding the darker, messier side of having arthritis and a disability from the rest of the world. Being open leads to people getting uncomfortable, which too often goes into pity and in case you didn’t know, pity is just about the worst thing to have thrust upon you. The “oh, thank god it isn’t me” shows through, right after the condescension. On the other hand, keeping that part hidden can lead straight to the point where you are seen as all brave and inspirational. Super Cripple territory. Once you’re in that place, it also gets hard to show parts of yourself that aren’t about the disability and all of a sudden, you’ve got barriers on top of fences on top of shields. It weighs you down.

I think we all hide ourselves and hide too much. I think people who are members of a minority group especially hide what makes them different and in the quest to be seen for who you are, rather than what you are, you can lose sight of yourself.

The personal is still political and I started thinking about why the consequences of being me – all of me - and being open about what that entails felt so dire? I thought of how I often spend the first few minutes upon meeting someone new doing a quick and subtle educational dance about where the focus should be (me, not the disability), what would be OK (no pity, thanks, I’m fine) and what to expect (don’t worry, I won’t pee on you). Nothing that explicit, you understand – a few words of ordinary greeting with the right inflection, a few jokes and as the eyes shift from the wheelchair to your face, you can see the tension leave their bodies.

Why was I twisting myself into a pretzel to keep the messy stuff from view? How much of this was about making others feel at ease around me, so no one (myself included) would suffer the indignity of able-bodied people feeling all icky? What did it do to me and my sense of inner peace to pretend I was more “normal” than I am?

The past year has taught me a valuable lesson: pretending, even to protect your dignity, takes energy. A lot of it. I started wondering what my life would look like if I reclaimed the energy and time it takes for me to keep the crap and the details hidden. What might I get done if I used that energy for something else? Who might I find if I stopped trying to keep up appearances and looked underneath all the protection? Would people like her? Would I like her? Would I, after decades of the automatic song-and-dance, even know how?

And why was I thinking of doing it in public, on a blog, for heaven’s sake? (probably as an official challenge to myself so I don’t chicken out)

How deep will things be? How many layers of the onion am I going to peel off? Exactly what am I talking about? Time will tell – it’s a work in progress.

Change is good.