Monday, September 19, 2016

surviving parental disapproval

I wish I'd had my camera because she had such a good-natured face.
This is what her hat looked like:

Yellow fake flowers and a straw hat she'd smashed onto her grey curls. She was sitting on a bench outside a pharmacy, singing in a quavering, crooning voice that reminded me of the popular Québecois singer, La Bolduc (1894-1941).

It's not a style of singing that's attractive to our modern ears. It sounds almost like complaining, except that the accompanying accordion or fiddle is in party mode. The woman outside the pharmacy didn't have an instrument, but in the interlude when one would have been playing she stopped singing and danced her fingers along in the air. She rocked on her bench as she sang. She was short and chubby and her feet didn't quite touch the ground. Her hat was ugly but cheerful. She was enjoying herself, even as she seemed aware that people were edging away. She couldn't stop herself. She had to sing.

Then she noticed that I was listening and she broke off. Oh, I'm sorry! I don't know all the words. I make up the ones I don't know. That's awful, isn't it? I should just shut up.

That's okay, I said. What's wrong with making words up? To my ears it seemed the words she'd made up matched the rhyme and rhythm of the song. And if some of them were nonsensical, many lyrics often are.

No, no, she insisted. My father used to say that only an idiot would sing if she didn't know all the words. He said that was the proof I would never amount to anything in life. She rounded her eyes at me and bobbed her head to make her point. And then she began singing again, wagging her hands in the air, rocking on the bench, smiling.

She was 70 or 80 years old. Her father was probably dead. She had outlived him and she was singing -- out in the city where anyone walking by could hear.

But also still hearing the voice of parental disapproval. It leaves such an echo.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Five Roses Book Club Resource

For those of you who belong to book clubs and are considering discussing Five Roses, the lovely team at Dundurn Press have made a resource package, including a map (!) highlighting where events in the novel take place.  Here's the link:

And also, for the fun of it, here are a few pictures and sketches of the neighbourhoods described in the novel. I took the photos. Sketches courtesy of Robert Aubé. I see the photos as factual documentation but the sketches strike me as being more quintessentially true. Whatever truth is.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Harlequin romances, demolition of a highway, eggplants

I want to bake a cake but I only just remembered to take butter out of the freezer.

So... here are some random pictures.

This one is a card a friend sent.
Yes, I mean snail mail. Remember envelopes and stamps and writing letters? Why don't more people write letters? Are they saving the trees? I really don't think the trees mind if you write words on the paper. My day is made special whenever I get a real letter or a card in the mail. But there seem to be only a few of us who still indulge.
The card is the book cover of a 1949 Harlequin romance. Look at that title. And the men with striped and spotted wings sprouting out of their ears. How was this ever billed as a romance? Looks dystopian to me.

And can you guess what this is?

It's the last of the Bonaventure Expressway that was built in 1967 to stream traffic from the south shore into the city. The noise and dust from the demolition is astounding.

The highway didn't only go into the city but right through it. Which is one good reason, I'm thinking, to get rid of it.

I took the opportunity to find a new angle on the FARINE FIVE ROSES sign. Here it is with its reflection in the Lachine Canal.

We stopped for a drink in one of the pseudo-post-industrial bars that are cropping up near the Lachine Canal. That is not R's hat but mine that I put on his head.

In other news, the garden gods--groundhogs, squirrels, and other critters--decided to leave me a few eggplants this year. It's the first year I've been able to bring home eggplant. So I'm happy.

Butter not soft yet.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

what's wrong with this map?

I bought this postcard when I was downtown today. It's a map of the city of Montreal, right? But something is wrong with it.

Sure, all the hot spots are there.

The Plateau. The mountain with its cross atop and where you can go skiing in the winter. The Oratory where you can do the stairs on your knees if you're feeling pious and want everyone going by on the Queen Mary bus to know. Espresso in Little Italy. Bagels in Mile-End. Downtown. The Gay village. And over on the Decarie the famous Orange Julep.

Cardinal directions in case you need orientation, including a patriotic fleur-de-lys in the event you need that kind of orientation as well. The highways showing you how to get off the island.

On the other side of island, the river. Not just any ol' river but the St. Lawrence River that Jacques Cartier thought would lead to China. Up top you have the remains of Expo '67. Below that the site of the Grand Prix. The Champlain Bridge which is being rebuilt as I write.  An arrow to head you toward New York.


Why is the neighbourhood where I live not marked on this map?

There is it, right there. It's called Pointe St-Charles. Believe me, it exists.

more Five Roses

I haven't much to write for Rapunzel these days because I'm busy with Alice writing, but let me show you these wonderful reviews:

Pretty happy here!

Monday, August 15, 2016

weekend escapade

The forecast for the weekend was wet. Wet plus wet plus wet plus MORE WET.
Look. Each pine needle had its own raindrop.

Forget the rain. There was a pear tree on the south shore we had agreed to pick while the owners were gone on vacation. I love pears, especially hard, green ones.

Now I'm looking for a recipe to make pears in brandy, if anyone has one they'd like to pass along.

The next part of our trip was visiting friends in North Hatley. Despite the forecast, we still planned to go camping. Who could resist with that view onto Lake Massawippi? In the afternoon when R was setting up the tent, we thought we might hear the water lapping on the shore as we fell asleep. What we heard was rain, and when it wasn't raining--which it mostly was--the crickets. Crickets are louder when you're on the ground with them. And rain, as everyone knows, is louder when you're inside a tent.

Our tent held out till the morning when a fine drizzle started to seep through the fabric. The edges of our sleeping bags were waterlogged. The air mattress had deflated. Nothing was so terrible that a steaming latte, croissant, and fresh blueberries couldn't fix.

That field, by the way, is not unkempt. The grass has been left to grow like that. Other parts of the property have been landscaped with sculpture installations. The mastermind is Pat Webster who can be found at

Although I took lots of pictures, mine aren't as fine as the ones you can see on her blog, so have a look at it.
I'll just show you my favourite, which is the bed of moss:

This belongs to an installation piece in memory of the hotel that once stood on this site and burned down in 1909.

We slept in a very comfortable dry bed on our second night. Also with a view on the lake and to the sound of rain.

It was dry long enough that I went swimming. I had company on the first day, but on the second I was told that it was too grey for everyone else. I don't need sun to love being in a lake.

The last time I was here, it was sunny and warm and there was a wedding.

And now...

She's about to say something and I was waiting to hear what. She can't say much yet, but she's getting ready. You can see it in her eyes.

We returned home to a garden bursting with tomatoes--too many to eat so I'm stewing them to freeze. And looking for a recipe for brandied pears. And following the pebbles I left myself to find the trail back into a new manuscript. I've read my Hansel & Gretel. I know birds eat crumbs.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Five Roses week #1

Lots of great things happened for Five Roses during its first official week in the world.

To start, I got an amazing review by the well-known Can Lit blogger, Kerry Clare:

That was followed by a generous review (Ian McGillis) in the Montreal Gazette, for which I was very happy.

My publisher, Dundurn, sent Five Roses on a blog tour, so every day of the week I got a new review, which made for excellent breakfast reading. If you're interested in several different takes on the novel, here are the links:

My friend, Matilda Magtree, also offered her reflections. Since I admire her writing (which can be found in her Kent Clark guise as Carin Makuz--or is that the other way around? Maybe Matilda is Kent?), I was most curious to read what she thought.

I wrote a blog post for the Dundurn website about the writing of the novel which might interest those who wonder how big--or little--of an idea can spark a novel.

The week ended with a stellar review (Dana Hansen) in the Quill & Quire.

I'm still dancing a little bit around the room about that. If you know me, then you know that I'm not much of a dancer, so I have to be careful not to trip over my feet.

And although it's part of this week, not last week, on Wed morning, in her discussion of great summer reads on CBC Ontario Morning, Kerry Clare said this: 

CBC: "How does [Zorn] compare to Richler?"
KC: "She has her own tone, her own approach."

Which is what I think too.