Monday, September 30, 2013

making movies and writing stories

Despite gentrification, Pointe St. Charles still has some backwater stretches--but not this far back. What you see here are "vintage cars" parked for the making of a movie. We came home from a week away to a piece of paper shoved through the mail slot of our door (the original door from when the house was built in 1902--more vintage than those 1960s cars), informing us about the shooting of a movie in which a motorcycle "drives in a loop on the streets". That's as much of the plot as has been volunteered, but I hope there's more. Driving why? Chasing someone? Two guys looking for a lost family member in a dilapidated part of town? Since this morning people with walkie-talkies have been patrolling the street. It's 2 pm now and the motorcycle has just started doing its loops. The truck with the film crew have to drive as fast as the motorcycle to keep up with it. I know that makes sense but it's still funny to see it. Serious tailgating.  

Also came home to the news that a story I wrote won the Best Short Fiction Prize for Prairie Fire in the 2013 Manitoba Magazine Awards. Congratulations to Prairie Fire which won four awards. Very happy for myself.

If you wanted, you could buy the mag and read the story: I don't get any money for this, but it helps all writers and small literary magazines when you support great venues for good writing.

Or you could go to a movie where a motorcycle drives in a loop on the streets.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

update on spanish

Yay! I have found another Spanish course and have had the second class now. I am learning more Spanish than I knew a month ago, though I'm still a long way away (years?) from not needing subtitles on a movie. In addition to vocab and exercises, the teacher gives us simple grammar explanations. It's all very awkward and bumbling, but hey. Hoy no hay llubia. Yo soy, tu eres, el es. Perra isn't pronounced the same way as pera. Don't make a mistake or you might buy a dog about to have a litter instead of a pear.

  The photo is a detail from the cathedral in Taxco, Mexico.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

harvest moon, fresh figs and eggplant in montreal

I'm screwing around with the calendar here. I know the full moon is tomorrow, but tonight's almost-fat moon is very close and I was walking home from the subway with a knapsack stuffed with harvest. Not the usual harvest pickings you'd expect in a northeasterly city in North America--no corn or pumpkins or squash (though I had an excellent roasted squash and kale salad for supper, and if I recall correctly, there was a pumpkin on the table).
My friend sent me home with a Nuremberger Lebkuchen tin full of fresh figs from the two trees in her backyard. Also, the now ripe eggplant planted for me. These aren't fruit and veg that one could previously grow in Montreal--and they don't grow now because of warmer temps and climate change. They grow because my friend lives in a neighbourhood of clever Italians and Greeks. These fig trees are a couple of decades old, if not older. There's a whole procedure of burying them to survive the winter. You dig a trench, uproot the tree and tip it. I've never seen it done and can't describe it in detail.
I used to have a Greek landlord who successfully grew lemons. In Montreal? Yup, in Montreal.
The only footnote I'll add is that if you plant an eggplant next to a fig tree, it won't grow up shaped like an eggplant. It will think it's a fig. Plant psychology. Peer group pressure.

Monday, September 9, 2013

learning spanish a, b, c (or is that th?)

The teacher began by saying that she was our jefe--our chief. We were to listen and follow her like Jesus Christ. She swept her hand behind her hips in case we didn't understand.

Okay, she was joking. Maybe. Her tone was a little too weary. Heavy on the subtext. She knew everything and we knew nothing.

I'd enrolled in a Spanish course because I thought it would be fun. Maybe R and I will go to Mexico again one day and I won't have to use body language to convince the fruit seller that yes, indeed, this white girl wants chili on her chopped watermelon. Pointing at the chili that he's warning me is picante and bobbing my head. If I spoke a bit of Spanish I could ask for two tickets to get on the subway instead of having to hold up my fingers and not understanding how two digits equal ten tickets and no change.

I haven't sat in a classroom for many years. Last time I did, I was an A student. I don't believe I've turned stupid in the meantime, but boy, oh boy, I wasn't following what that teacher was saying. I felt I wanted--needed--a few explanations. My brain doesn't learn language by mouthing sounds without knowing what the sounds mean. The teacher, however, hadn't allotted time for explanations. Or perhaps explanations didn't belong to her pedagogical method. We hadn't yet learned more than a few words of Spanish but we were supposed to... generate understanding ourselves?

The teacher flapped her hand in the air. Just listen and repeat. Eventually our mouths would be able to produce those sounds in given situations that might be appropriate. For example, a stranger accosts you. You say, "Como se escribe tu apellido?" because that's what you've been taught to parrot when you meet someone new. But this new person might be a policeman not interested in spelling his family name for you.

I'm more interested in the component parts of a sentence than learning how to repeat a whole sentence by rote. If I know what the individual words mean, then I'll be able to make new sentences on my own--which I would prefer to predigested ones. (And I'm not just arguing for the sake of arguing. Anyone who speaks French already can figure out how that question about spelling your name breaks down into parts. But I'm assuming that more complicated sentences were going to come.)

In defense of the teacher's method, there were some students who seemed to understand immediately. She would ask, De acuerto? And they would chirrup, Si! Si! Though maybe they already spoke a bit of Spanish.

When we learned the alfabeto, she said that C was pronounced "ce" like the English word sea. Later she asked us our names and gave us the Spanish equivalents, which she wrote on the board. Mine was Alicia, which she pronounced as Alithia. Hold it, I put up my hand. Hadn't she just told us that C is "ce"? Why was she saying Alithia? She rolled her eyes and told me that I was being complicated. But no, I said. Either you're telling us it's "ce" or it's "th".

Of course, I know that Spanish from Spain doesn't sound the same as Spanish from Central or South America. I've watched enough movies. Films from Spain are soft with th's. I wanted the teacher to say this. I also wanted her to be consistent. However Spanish is spoken elsewhere, within the walls of this classroom could we decide to pronounce C as "ce" or "th"?

She shook her head. She was leaving it up to us how we wanted to pronounce our C's. Consistency in the classroom was not a priority.

Next milestone was the letter V, which is pronounced "v" in some countries and "b" in others. So, fine, I get it. As above.

But: people who speak English don't (as a rule) mix their Texan twang with Newfoundland idiom. So... could the teacher please tell us how pronouncing C as "th" or "ce" aligned with pronouncing V as "b" or "v"? So that, when I open my mouth on some future trip to Mexico, I won't sound schizophrenic?

I don't think the teacher appreciated my presence in the class. She wanted us to speak up, but not the way I was speaking up.

We finished with the alfabeto and learning how to spell our names in Spanish. Or if not finished, we let it drop.

Next she asked us about our origen, which is pronounced orihen. After the teacher had pointed at several people who all said they were from Montreal, I put up my hand and asked if origen referred to where we lived now or where we hailed from. The teacher rolled her eyes and muttered something about this being a beginners' Spanish class, not semantica. She pointed at another student who claimed that he, too, had originated in Montreal. Except for three or four students, the whole class came from Montreal! That's statistically amazing, especially given the various hues of skin.

I learned some Spanish, yes. But I left the class with a headache and no desire to return. There are many institutions of learning in Montreal. Four universities and several colleges. Language schools too. I'll find another Spanish course. I expect the teacher won't miss me.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Pointe St. Charles goes mural

About 20 min shy of the train station in Montreal (coming from the west, ie Toronto), the train clanks through Pointe St. Charles. Along the wall of an overpass, where the track skirts the backyards of brick row houses, all summer long a group of artists have been painting a mural. It's not finished yet. More details are being added. But here's what it looked like last week when I was out walking with my camera.

Pointe St. Charles lies on low land that used to be marsh where geese lived. The Mohawk who hunted the geese were, in turn, pushed aside by settlers and nuns who came to farm the land, but this part of the history of Pointe St. Charles doesn't figure in the mural.

Jump start to the digging of the Lachine Canal in the 19th century, the building of factories along the canal, the rail yards... all the goings-on that made Montreal the city that opened the continent to the Atlantic.

Row houses were built for people to live, play music--and dance. I particularly like the Irish shamrocks on the fellow's trousers and the Quebecois fleur-de-lys on her blouse. At one time Irish and Quebecois were the predominant ethnic mix of Pointe St. Charles.

These spiral wrought-iron staircases are famous throughout Montreal--if not so common in the Pointe. I like how the steps have been painted. I have no idea what the orange dirigible, boat and oars are about.

They're being blown by a woman with white hair and kerchief partly made... of cinder blocks? And a pretty turquoise collar. Who doesn't like turquoise?

We have a healthy representation of younger and older ages of all nationalities and hairstyles in the mural. I'm all for mixing.

Is that le Petit Prince holding the globe? His sign says nous sommes ici. We are here. There's print in his hair. The community garden is important in the neighbourhood, as are the markets held on certain Saturdays.
One of the first sections to be painted was this couple entranced with each other and their reading, which made me happy.
On the right, you'll notice the tunnel under the train track, which would make getting around the Pointe easier. Off in the distance, you can see the mountain which identifies Montreal.

I like how the trompe l'oeil lines up with the bike path.

The mural isn't visible to passengers on the train who can only see the unkempt backyards. But those of us who live in the Pointe can see it very well--that panoply of colours!