A Goldfinch This Morning

goldfinch

MAY TRIGGER DEPRESSIVES.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/17/goldfinch-donna-tartt-review

I borrowed an e-book version of Donna’s Tartt’s The Goldfinch from the library. (Still pretty amazed I figured out how to do that, but a rent crisis made it necessary.) This morning, I arrived at 870/1427. In this passage, the protagonist Theo Decker, who suffered a terrible loss when he was 14, as well as a remarkable, if dodgy, gain, is now 26. He decides to wean himself off his drugs of choice, Oxycontin 80s, et al. These enable him to carry on a successful life, whereas alcohol, his father’s drug, or heroin would not. So he says. (This does not reflect the views of the writer who has trouble with 100 mgs of Sertraline.) The physical withdrawal is bad enough, but after that comes the DEPRESSION.

“This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time.” (863/1427- on my iPad). Theo goes on to enumerate all the futile actions we indulge in -playing, working, having babies, redecorating, reading restaurant reviews…

Elsewhere I have confessed to a black sense of humour. I embrace Beckett’s advice to a young writer, “despair young and never look back.” except I tend to apply it to life in general. So these few pages cheered me up and made me laugh.

My 80 yr-old-body had hobbled out of bed this morning with full awareness that today more strangers would file through my apartment. Eventually, one of them would buy the triplex. Very likely, they would then evict me. My place is the only unit renovated. The only available apartments are $200-800 more than mine. (We’re having a really big real estate boom in Toronto.) I try to remember that “in my father’s house there are many mansions”, but getting into those seems too radical altogether.

So I’ve been ruminating on divorce, recession, illness, housing bubbles that burst, and those that haven’t yet. But this despondent passage in Donna Tartt’s book was so beautifully written that I didn’t care.

Goldfinches, especially painted ones, do not have voices like nightingales or mockingbirds. They twitter as they swoop, parentheses of bright flashing light.

 

The Octogenarian Hobbit

NOv oaksNo, I’m not 8-sided, but this Septuagenarian Hobbit passed a milestone on Cinco de Mayo. I’m not hairy-footed either, although I do enjoy a second breakfast, and I prefer to stay in my cozy home. Two years ago, I found myself traveling and away from home for months on end to be with ailing relatives. The Septuagenarian hobbit whined about that, despite the beauty of the two places I found myself in – the Kern County, California mountains and the elegant city of Brussels.

Now the octogenarian has a new cause for complaint. My landlord is selling my house.

How can that be? I have lived here ten years. I have poured over $135,000 into their account. I’ve replaced burned out bulbs in the hallway and swept the rugs clean. I diligently reported plumbing issues. I bought my own kitchen tap.I was the one who discovered the flood in the basement. I provide post-dated rent checks from a guaranteed pension income. I can’t be fired or laid off, although it is true, I could become deceased.

Sounds like a back-up plan.

Every house in Toronto, no matter how ramshackled is now worth $1,000,000. I have in my time “owned” four of these million dollar domiciles. The last one I sold during the ’95 real estate bust. I lost about $80,000 and came away with just enough to buy a leather couch. I had badly wanted to buy a Cuisinart as well, but I ran out of money.

No,no, don’t start crowd funding. My son’s mother-in-law found one at a garage sale. Her daughter gave it to me.

img_0100-1I absolutely love my first floor apartment in an Etobicoke triplex. You can see why. I love knowing that deer are sleeping in the woods above the South Humber River. I love the sparrows that flock in the backyard. I love the maples and the oak.

The house has been for sale for three days. I stayed for the first three showings. They were all looking for family homes, in other words, my home. It is the only fully renovated unit. True the new owner has to give me two months notice, so the earliest I could get the boot, considering a one month closing, is Dec. 31st. What a lovely idea! Jan. 31? How could I get so lucky?

There are apparently very few duplexes in the area. There is a species of low rise apartment buildings, without elevators, with rusty balconies and roadside Saturday sales of second-hand clothes. And, of course, mile-high condos that are way out of a pensioner’s league.

There are bidding wars on properties for sale, but there are also bidding wars on rental units. In the front foyer, the upstairs women and I agree: we can’t afford to live in Toronto.

Should we jump ship now? Should we rent a house together? Should I take another Lorazepam?

Meanwhile, showings scheduled 24 hours ahead are cancelled less than an hour ahead, or scheduled just when it’s dinner time, or before we are ready to crawl out of our PJs. I’d go on but I’ve got to take that pill and wash the dishes before the next showing,

Getting the Hawk off the Ground: editing a mystery

db exp:hatThis is the 4th in a series of posts about writing my mystery Hour of the Hawk. See links to the others.

https://115journals.com/2015/04/06/writer-unblocked/

https://115journals.com/2015/11/03/getting-the-hawk-off-the-ground-writing-a-mystery/

https://115journals.com/2015/11/07/getting-the-hawk-off-the-ground-editing-con/

At a certain point in the editing process, I began working on a more authentic voice. In Hour of the Hawk, I was using a first person narrator telling the story in the past tense. Past tense lends distance. First person doesn’t. Because my narrator, Joanna Hunter, had a history similar to mine, one of my first revisions had been aimed at eliminating quirks and ways of speaking that were more me than her because, of course, we were different people. I liked the new, sparer, less elliptical, more direct voice. Then I got the bad news. The voice was not authentic, which is to say, uninteresting. “A lot of it was only mediocre,” said Critic A.

So glad I keep my kitchen knives sharpened to a gleaming edge!

My authentic self was fascinating, she added, and so, therefore, was Joanna’s. Where was my effervescent personality, my wicked sense of humour? I needed to let things fly. Characters hooked readers and made them read on. And I needed to love all my characters, even the irresponsible guy who put honey in a tire swing to attract bears, and ended up getting killed by one.

I wrote the beginning again. I sent it off by email. “Not working yet,” replied Critic A. I went back to work. Several weeks later, I knew enough about Tom Braddock to write a book on him alone. He had a Chumash great grandmother and a college football career, as well as three kids, and an articulate, wife who worked at a Bakersfield hospital. Most of all, I liked him. He passed muster.

But Critic A had more to tell me. I needed to create a relationship with my reader. Joanna, for example, knew what it means to age. A person could be spiritual and loving but also skeptical and cynical. That reminded me of one of my favourite sayings: Samuel Beckett’s advice to a young writer, “Despair young and never look back.” I find that hilarious, especially with a glass of Guinness. (My biological grandfather was Irish, I have just discovered.) The notes I jotted down from that long distance conversation also include the words,”dangerously compassionate”. Don’t ask me.

So I went to see Phillipa C. on Dundas W. in Toronto and arranged for her to take a series of portraits. I brought along props. I thought I would be painfully self-conscious. I wasn’t. I have done enough acting to know how to slip into a character. When I saw them a few days later, I learned more about Joanna.

I knew she wore jeans and a cowboy hat. I’d forgotten the leather jacket. I knew she was the survivor of a dangerous family and had cop phobia. (Does knowing about a crime make you guilty?) I knew she had a rock and roll side, a toughness she could trot out driving on dark desert highways. She was capable of salty language and had once been taken to the principal by a senior student. Poor fellow had aggravated her while she was on top of a ladder adjusting a bulb high in a TV studio. Joanna also saw the world through the prism Shakespeare’s plays and the St. James Bible. Her heart had been broken more than once in a been down so long it looks like up to me sort of way. And she caught glimpses of the future from time to time, and could keep track of dead people. I went back and added this point of view in brief reflections throughout the action.

By now Critics C and D had finished reading the book. They were satisfied. Not about to sort through it again for such gems. Critic B plays golf a lot, and Critic A was now deeply into her own writing. I wait on tenterhooks. In December, we will be together in Pine Mountain Club, and we will sit down to sort our book out.

Meanwhile, Critic A/Writer B had a small breakdown on the phone because she couldn’t find her authentic voice. I thought of her horizontally stripped stockings and her three print  outfits. I thought of her exuberant dancing in hiking boots on the golf green. Only children dared enter her orbit. I said try zany. Then discovering that Roget regarded that as an insult, I came up with a list: joyful, full of life, eccentric, empathetic, outside the box, dangerously unpredictable, aggressive, digressive, diverting, out of left field, hippy, unexpected, nuclear powered love and empathy generator which heals on contact.

From what she’s read to me, she’s getting on better now.

Of Geniuses and 800-year-old Hips.

geniusOn Sunday at 2:15, I have an appointment with an Apple Genius at Sherway Gardens. I bury my late-rising self in the Saturday papers for too long, and when I raise my head civil war breaks out.

Hips demand exercise. Sorry, Hips, I say, I’ve done Feet. No time for you. I need to spend that half hour on Mind and its buddy Computer. I’ll get back to you later this afternoon. Then I stand up.

“See,” yell Hips. “We’re all seized up. You should stretch one minute for every year of your life.”

“Like I’ve got an hour and a half every expletive day!”

“Look, we’re structural, we’re the foundation. Mind is just electrical.”

Mind, tyrant that it is, does what it wants, and uses up the half hour.

So I arrive at the Genius line more or less knowing what my computer problem is.

In front of me is a beautiful boy. He has apparently tagged along with his parents, probably bored out of his mind. But no, the adults go off with their Genius, and the boy remains. Is he 12? Maybe a young-looking 13? The next Genius leads him away, asking,”What do you want to work on this time?” The boy begins a lengthy answer, not a word of which I understand.

My Genius shows up. I ask him to repeat his name. It is Chinese and sounds like the French word for yes.

I haul out my Mac Air Book-3 years and 6 months old, no longer covered by that expensive extended warranty. “I have been leaving it on because it takes so long to reboot, but it shuts off while it’s sleeping. When I go back to it, it won’t turn on until I plug it in. The battery still has a charge, so that’s not the problem. Then it takes forever to boot up again.”

He starts tapping keys. “First of all, you need to turn it off as often as possible. We’ll get rid Rapport. I know your bank told you to run it, but you don’t really need it. The bank site is secure enough. I find people who have it complain their computers run slow. Then we’ll take out this. I’ll leave this window open and when you get home, plug the computer in and click “Turn off file vault.” I check it out. Who knew I was encrypting my files.

“We’ve only got 15 minutes, so we need to use out time wisely,” he says.

Okay. We must have used 3 already.

He reboots the thing. It’s already faster and no longer black and white when it asks for my password.

“So, I tried to save my photos on iCloud, but..”

“ICloud isn’t really for photos.” He grabs my iPad, plugs it in and in a trice loads my photos there as backup. “I’m like a car mechanic. I fix things. I’m not really a teacher. Come to classes where the teacher is good at that. Here’s the screen for quitting File vault again.” Then he adds, “I suppose you don’t turn the iPad off either.”

“Isn’t it off now?”

“No, it’s sleeping.”

Okay, I wonder, does he want me to turn off my iPhone as well? I don’t ask. I give him my humble thanks. I figure he just came out ahead by at least 5 minutes, kind of a slam, bam, thank you situation.

As he departs backstage, I rise from my high stool. My bags are on the floor. How did they get so far away? “See,” yell Hips. “You need to do a full set of Tai chi, not just the exercises and not just those stupid Yoga stretches.” Stooping is not going to work.I creak forward in a deep bend from the waist. Central Back screams. I stagger down the aisles of people, some of them four-years-old, playing with chained-down devices.

Across the way is a Pottery Barn outlet. Maybe I could just saunter around it. Who knew Christmas shopping started before Remembrance Day? I sidle through the crush. I never shop in stores now. See Hips above. But I spot red lunch plates, only $9. I really really want lunch plates to go with the Fiesta Ware I received when I turned 70, but have you see the prices?. $40 later, I have a huge box of plates. I get to the outside door, but before I press the button to open it, I go back to the store to ask for a bag. Carrying the heavy box has threatened to tip me forward.

Starbucks is jammed, but a welcome rest stop.

I am parked on the deck, way out beyond civilization, past construction. I see there is a yellow hatching on other side of the road for pedestrians, complete with barriers. Cars without parking spots are cruising nose to tail slowly around blind corners. Pedestrians on the other side are flattening themselves against hoardings as I did on the way in. The walkway I’m on is more roundabout, but finally, it leads me across the road between cars to a seven inch curb painted yellow. Okay. There’s a low wall on the left. I put one hand on it to balance and step up, ignoring Hips who are crying out in agony. I glance right. A good-looking young man is looking at me. He smiles his congratulations. I’ve made it.

Good-looking young men used to check me out for a different reason.

Hips and Feet, with a little help from Legs, approximate walking all the way back to the little red Yaris.

 

Halloween Hex

cart for blogIt was raining. Actually, it was pouring. The tail end of Hurricane Patricia. A cold wind was blowing. I had on my water resistant winter coat with the hood up. I parked my car in the Sobey’s lot. The spot next to me had a grocery cart in it. I dashed for the market’s door, head down. It took only a few minutes to grab what I needed from the pharmacy shelves. I paid at the self check-out, refused to pay five cents for a bag, and carried my three articles in my hands. Out into the cold rain again, this time full in my face.

What is this? The grocery cart is now snugged up against the rear of my little red Yaris, and a woman is getting out of the car that is now parked next to me. It is nose out. The space behind is empty. She has moved the cart, and put it in behind my car, so she doesn’t have to back out of the space behind.

I’m really old, but I’m not the silent type. I start cussing her out as I throw my purchases onto the front seat. “Thank you very much,” I conclude, as I seize the cart and begin the long trek to the cart depot. She has paused in her open door. I refuse to dignify her by looking at her, but I’ve got her number. I’ve hexed her day before I can stop myself.

As I wait at the light, I back-pedal hex-wise. I pull back from a really bad day hex to a moderately bad day hex. By the time, I pull into my driveway, I really want to stop the hex altogether. Too late. She’s already ashamed. But still self justifying. How was she to know I was almost eighty, and wouldn’t come out with a cart of my own? She just thought I could return the errant cart when I returned my own. Okay, back to plan B – a moderate hex on a miserable day.

 

Between Thankgivings in the Centre of the World

Here in the mountain valley which the Chumash called the Centre of the World, I found myself caught between two Thanksgiving Days. I wasn’t home in Toronto for Canada’s day of thanks on the second Monday of October, and I won’t be here on November 27, the fourth Thursday in November, for the American Thanksgiving. And yet I had much to be thankful for and I wanted to express it. Luckily a birthday came along. I began planning.

Well, let’s be honest. First, I took stock. Was I up to cooking such a meal? I factored in my advanced age, my aching back and divided by thankfulness. The result was a decimal zero, zero, single digit. In other words, no prob!

Not turkey. Sorry turkey farmers, I don’t like your bird enough to go to all that bother. No our preferred protein is roast beast, i.e. a beef rib roast. Since I no longer have a house to mortgage, that was a sobering thought, but I said, what the heck, I’ve got a line of credit. In the event, it cost only $126 for 4 ribs, with the bones cut off and tied back on. The butcher worked away at it for 15 minutes while I looked at wine.

Of course there would be champagne and a good bottle of red. I found a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, or the Widow, on the top shelf and the wine guy who reached it down recommended a pinot noir from the Santa Barbara area, just across the mountains from the Centre of the World. I added a bottle of chardonnay for the cook in case her back got going.

I had found a “Classic Caesar Salad” recipe on line and Jamie Oliver’s root vegetable mash. Those ingredients were cheap enough as were the Brussell sprouts that I decided on at the last minute to add green to the main course.

Clara offered to split the cost, but I said it was my treat. I didn’t want to have to do CPR in the middle of the Santa Clarita Whole Foods  and besides I had that generous line of credit.

That was Thursday and dinner would be on Sunday. The plan was to to turn up the fridge and store the roast on the back shelf at the bottom. The butcher, fearful for his rep didn’t want to endorse that plan wholeheartedly, but I explained about winding mountain roads and a long trip down the I 5. In fact, it worked very well, although a container of green soup froze solid.

It was a two household project (Two households both alike in dignity/In fair Verona, etc). One had the necessary more or less empty fridge, but I would be cooking in the other house, the one in the pines where I could find the utensils I needed.

Saturday morning, I had the fridge house to myself, so I peeled the root veg into a big heavy pot and covered them with spring water. The tap water here is very heavily chlorinated because of the drought, I imagine. The wells are lower than ever. When I drink tea made with it, I fell as if I’m drinking from a tea flavoured swimming pool. I stashed the veg in the fridge and drove the golf cart over to the other house.

I had it to myself as well, the occupants having made their weekly trip to Los Angeles for treatment and shopping. I put on music on my IPod and began to prep the salad. I listened to the birthday boy’s album Shadows of Another Time (www.allmusic.com) as I worked and used his Cuisinart to make the Caesar dressing. By the time, I finished and cleaned up, I had heard most of it twice and gone on to listen to 4 versions of Carrickfergus.

Sitting at the table, I began tearing up a baguette for croutons. With the music off, I was began to think of why I felt thankful. Together as a family, we had found the right medical help and routed a potentially deadly disease. Now it was being managed. Certainly, refinements to medication were still being made, certainly it would be a lifelong condition,  but after 5 months, it was manageable. Or the patient had learned to manage it.

Sitting there, I felt all trace of my former picture of myself -78, alienated from a beloved son, prone to isolation in a cold city, survivor of a traumatic life – drop away. I was truly at the Centre of the World, washed through with love as I have seldom been even in the spring of my life and my first and abiding love.

When I came back into the house on Sunday morning, it was fragrant with coffee, bacon and pancakes already. We carried in the big pot and the roast from the golf cart. I rubbed the cut ends of the roast with butter, no salt so as to preserve the juices. When the oven got up to 450, I put it in for 20 minutes. Then I turned it down to 280.

It turned out the Brussell sprouts looked like small cabbages, so I sliced them thin, fried some bacon, added the sprouts, discovered the skillet was too small, put them in a pot and added a cup of chicken stock. Just before dinner, I would cook them 15 minutes.

I cooked the root veg -carrots, parsnips and rutabaga, early and got my sous chef to mash them with butter. I wasn’t up to that upper body exercise, but I was pleased to note that being thankful seemed to keep back pain at bay.

I sat at the table to put together the salads.

As dinner time drew near, I used a digital thermometer to monitor the meat. Luckily there was one. Cooking America which posted how to cook the perfect rib roast had threatened to wash its hands of me, if I didn’t use one. At a certain point it read 113. I wanted 120, knowing the meat would rise to medium rare. Fifteen minutes later, still 113. I jacked the oven heat up to 350 and 10 minutes later, the thermometer read 125. I took it out of the roast pan and wrapped it loosely with tin foil.

The sous chef mixed up the ingredients I had measured out for Yorkshire pudding, poured the beef drippings into popover pans, heated them in a 400 degree oven and then poured in the batter. Twenty minutes later when she turned the heat down to 350, they were already rising.

yorkshire

I was somewhat taken aback to discover all the beef drippings gone, but olive oil worked just as well with the scrapings from the roast pan. Beef stock and red wine added to the roux produced a tasty and copious gravy.

Reheating the mash took a good deal of stirring, but the excess water cooked off. The sprouts were tender by now and just needed to be lifted out with a slotted spoon. In both cases things hadn’t worked out as the recipe said and I had had to wing it.

The last ingredient, the guests, arrived just in time.

We had the champagne with the cake, a tropical coconut cake from Susiecakes in Manhattan Beach, which didn’t look exactly like this one. It had pineapple in the middle.

coconut cakeThankfulness is a great shortcut to happiness and mental health. And relief of back pain.

PS I drank the chardonnay anyway.

Mountain Diary: moths, wildfire and sand storm

 

helicopter

Moth Wars -Monday

Two moths came in the door with me Monday night.

It was full dark, so dark that I had had to take the car home and leave the unlighted golf cart behind. The sky up here on the mountain was a dome of stars, uncountable and humbling, the streets, unlit, and the driveway so dark I had to feel my way. Sandy here-rocks must be there, etc. I carried laundry, bottles of spring water and my computer bag to the porch, banging my left leg with the car door in the process. I noted two large moths pressed against the screen door as I opened the inside door into the light filled room.

It was the resident cat, Jazz, who saw the moths fly in. She began scaling tall pieces of furniture and gazing longingly at the ceiling. I thought things would settle down once the lights were out. I was wrong.

I was woken up by a series of loud thumps at irregular intervals. Noisey burglar? Clara looking for a snack? Flashlight in hand, I ventured out of my room. There was the black and white cat on the top of the step ladder – we’re still hanging pictures-  staring at the ceiling. She jumped. Not surprisingly she missed the moth but I gabbed her and carried her to Clara’s room. I scooted her through the partly open door and shut it. Problem solved.

But no. One of the moths was now making passes at my reading lamp. I sat weighing moth-murder against patience. Sure enough the moth disappeared. I waited some more. No action. Good. I went back to sleep.

In the morning I felt virtuous. Moths after all, adore light, even though suicidally. No one seems to understand why. Perhaps it is because they migrate by the moon, although most moths don’t seem to migrate. Perhaps they are drawn by the heat or the wave length which they mistake for pheromones. None of the theories seem reasonable. So I fell back on a more poetic and spiritual explanation. Moths and I aspire to the light.

That lasted 12 hours. Tuesday night, same scenario. Both moths revived, one in my bedroom, one in my bathroom. Both flew into my hair. Some barbarous part of me lashed out, more than once, leaving a lifeless winged being and moth dust.

Fire on the Mountain- Tuesday

Around 4:45 a.m., I woke up to the smell of wood smoke. Had someone got up early for work and lit a wood fire? Some people leave to drive down the mountain to work at 5. Was it the smell of our own fire place, cold as it would be, being pulled in by the furnace. No, the furnace didn’t come on until 6. Puzzling, I fell asleep.

At 7:45, I woke up again. A helicopter was circling fairly low overhead, whining off into the distance and returning. Over and over and over. I was about to snooze again, when I sat bolt upright and sprang out of bed, calling myself several versions of idiot. Wrapped in a thick, hooded robe, I dashed out onto the deck and there it was a fire on the mountain.

It was below Mount Pinos, two peaks below on Sawmill Mountain, part of the Transverse Range, running roughly east/west, unlike the Sierra Nevadas next door, which lie north/south. The fire was uncomfortably close to town.

Billows of white indicated steam rising from where the water had been dropped by the helicopter, while darker smoke on the western edge showed where the fire still burned. The helicopter would disappear down to Lake Fern, actually a pond, just below my other temporary home here, the house in the pines. Then I would hear it rising and soon it would come into view, trailing water as it rose. It flew into the cloud of mist and smoke, emerging and making directly for the rock face of Mt. Pinos. From my point of view, it was about to crash when it turned and flew over the smoke, where it dropped its water.

Another helicopter was cruising along the ridge and dipping down over the fire when the water bearing one left. I wanted more water helicopters.

On the internet, I read that it was a small, 1 acre fire. Clearly, the authorities didn’t want a panic. The large LED sign at the club house entrance apparently described it as “a moderate threat”. I could hear the people in the house next door talking about it as they watched from their windows; otherwise, no one seemed to be noticing.

One summer, in Greece, a wildfire broke out on the slopes above our camp ground. It crept steadily down from the heights until it reached the shrub-covered slope across the highway directly above. Huge bellied planes flew down over the Gulf of Corinth, scooped up water and returned to bomb the blazing hillside. The flames were so close that we could feel them. Ash fell about the camp ground and the smokey air was not breathable. I wanted to get the hell out of there, but I didn’t have a car and my Greek host took a typically Greek attitude. He shrugged his shoulders. We could always walk into the sea, he said. True it was shallow for hundreds of feet and it was warm, but cooler than the mid-day heat compounded by the fire.  I was not impressed by Greek disaster planning, but in the end, the fire was quelled, leaving a blackened hillside and an acrid smell.

Meanwhile back at the Transverse Range, two more helicopters had come in and all three were dipping into Fern Lake, one after the other, deafening nearby residents, but making more and more progress on the mountain. By the time I set out on the golf cart, the helicopters were gone, although a small area was still smoking. My path led me past two fireman standing beside their vehicles watching and listening for radio calls from the site. There were 20 others up there on the slope, one told me. They had had to hike in on an old trail that ran into the Chumash Wilderness. They were there with shovels to put out hot spots and flare-ups.

Kern County’s clinics and health care bureaucrats have not impressed me and at least one hospital ward has appalled me, but their emergency services are excellent, not least their firefighting force. A helicopter pad near us stands ready for emergency evacuations of the injured and there is an intensive education program about evacuation of the population in general, whether because of wildfire or earthquake. The village lies squarely over a fault line, which is what created the rift in the ranges that cradle the town.

As we got ready to sit down to dinner, a cell phone alarm alerted us to the message that a sand storm was imminent.

Wednesday – Sand storm

Hyper-alert to strange noises after the fire, I listened for the sound of heavy wind whenever I woke up in the night. (How can you tell I am much older than you?) Nothing alarmed me.

Before dawn two of our family members left for a  specialist appointment in Van Nuys. Around 8, I phoned our recovering patient to see how things were. In fact she had been woken up by an urgent summons to an office in Bakersfield, although for bureaucratic rather than medical purposes. You have to be healthy to survive illness apparently. Since she still can’t drive, I got dressed and high-tailed it out the door.

What was this? A brown fog hung over the entire mountain range. Another and more widespread fire? Of course not. Something different.

If you can’t go to the Mohave, Mohave will come to you.

I’m getting used to dust. By the time I drive the golf cart from one house to the other, it and I and all my goods and chattels are covered in dust. I have been tempted to wear a bandana over my mouth like a cowboy. I tried to tell myself that way over there the air was full of sand, not here. I didn’t believe me.

I thought things would improve as we drove down, but coming down the Tejon Pass to the Central Valley, I had to turn on the car lights. I have driven through blinding white fog and snowy white-outs, but this was the first time I had driven through a brown-out. On the valley floor, we couldn’t see the mountains that normally stand blue at the edges of the wide valley. It wasn’t windy. I suppose that’s why the sand just hung there. Breathing scoured the nose and throat, even in the car.

We got to the office 15 minutes before it closed. On Wednesdays, it closes at noon, another example of Kern County time, otherwise known as mountain time. You can never tell what weird schedule businesses will keep, closing randomly, like the restaurants in our village. But give Kern County credit: it notified us of the sandstorm

 

 

 

Diana Gabaldon – outlandish outlander

outlander

(Some extremely sensitive souls may find vague events mentioned to be spoilers.)

Sorry about that title.

I shouldn’t be so picky. The first 3 books in Gabaldon’s Outlander (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager) series have gone with me through a difficult month. I never lacked for something to read as we waited for appointments nor a distraction from whatever unpleasantness was at hand. I was reminded of a day of colonoscopy prep during which I watched most of the BBC’s series, Henry VIII. I was more or less unaware of the quarts of vileness I had to consume and its results, despite the dubious history and the inflamed sex scenes of the show.

Usually I don’t read romances, historical or otherwise, well not since I was 16. You may have heard that Diana Gabaldon fought long and hard to have her novels reclassified. You may have heard that she says they are not romances. I say, there are bodices and they get ripped. In the second book Dragonfly in Amber, Claire is sitting in the doctor’s lounge at the Boston hospital where she is on staff and she picks up a romance novel to pass the time. Just to prove her contention, Gabaldon includes passages from that book – in italics. So? I was not struck by any great difference. Call me a naive reader if you will, but I made my living teaching English literature.

Gabaldon had a superb idea. At the end of the second world war, Claire, a former combat nurse visiting Inverness with her historian husband, is drawn through a cleft in a circle of standing stones and finds herself in Scotland of 1743, indeed in the middle of a skirmish between highlanders and redcoats. One of the less savoury redcoats looks exactly like her husband, back in 1945. Claire remembers her history – in April 1745, the highland clans will be wiped out by the English army at the battle of Culloden and in the pillage and famine of its aftermath.

It is one of the most tragic events in British history.

What I want, I suppose, is a certain amount of gravitas, but what I get is a series of coincidences that would make Dickens blush and awful event following on the heals of awful event. Jamie, Claire’s 18th century husband, is about to be tortured and raped to death when Claire is thrust out of the prison’s back door and attacked by wolves. Pirates show up to steal the treasure on the very day Jamie tries to claim it. Three different ships, travelling separately, after 3 months crossing the Atlantic, fetch up on the same West Indian island more or less the same day.  A return after 20 year’s absence is crowned by 2 murders and a devastating fire that destroys a livelihood.

My reading partner who is slightly ahead of me keeps asking,”What shark is she jumping today?” “Oh today’s it’s the slave”, I reply.

A rollicking tale, no doubt about it. Reading online comments, I learn that in the most recent book, In My Heart’s Blood, Claire at age 62, by one reader’s calculation, is still working the way she did at 48. And of course still having sex, graphically, although by now constant readers must be able to imagine every possible move.

Be assured, though, that the author is still telling us that Jamie is strong, broad-chested, tall, with flaming hair, streaked with gold, amber and  possibly platinum by now. Whether he is still a proponent of wifely obedience and corporal punishment, I don’t know. I hear that he doubts his ability to lead an army, despite the fact that he has been leading large bodies of men for decades.

Fewer adjectives, we cry.

How does she do that, anyway? Does she sit in Scottish glades taking notes of light qualities? Or among Caribbean mangroves?

I don’t scorn Gabaldon’s abilities. I just wish she would listen to her editor. Of course she doesn’t have to. Her readers love the purplish prose. Probably the light fuzzy hairs on their arms really do shiver upright.

So why don’t I just put down Voyager and pick Crime and Punishment, do some serious reading? That’s what I hate the most about Gabaldon’s writing. I can’t stop. I’m addicted.

 

 

 

Hate California. it’s cold and it’s damp

People make assumptions about Canada and Canadians. It’s always cold there and its people are hardy.

No and no.

Okay so there’s the odd crackpot who does the Polar Bear swim on New Year’s day. Or dashes naked from a hot tub to roll in the snow, but these people are usually Canadian/ something, often German, Swedish or even English, like my ex-husband who raced on an ice floe in his late 70s. (To  race an ice flow, you lie partly on it in a wet suit and propel yourself down the river with your lower body.) See romtrenD.ca /phots

Most of us Canuks are used to central heating, a real furnace that runs as and when according to a preset thermomstat, fueled with gas or at the worst oil. Gone are the 50s when you had to stoke the fire at night and stir it up and add coal in the morning. In the country, if the oil truck doesn’t make your delivery, you fire up your wood stove and when he finally arrives, the doors are all open and the indoor temperature is over 90 F.

That’s the way my Grandma liked it. If you had a cold, you’d just go to her house, drink tea and sweat. She was cool and collected, not a hair out of place, in her flowery, well ironed house dress. “Are you warm enough?” she would say and put another piece of wood in the stove.

I have an abiding fear of cold as does my daughter. She says it’s because she was born in Toronto near the end of January and immediately taken away to a cold nursery. She blames me for that. (Well, she just points out that that is how her baby self saw things and please don’t tell me that she wouldn’t be able to remember. She clearly does.) But the more I cried to see her, the more they said I couldn’t see her. Something of a standoff. But after a good deal of shouting from the head nurse -at me-, my crying baby girl appeared.

I know. Times change just not fast enough.

I myself was born in an unheated farmhouse bedroom at the first of May during a snow storm – snow will do that in the mountains – a small baby and early.

In fact I think we could have both been born in the middle of a heat wave or in my grandma’s hot kitchen and still be cold.

My daughter’s father contributed his hardy genes to our son, leaving her his allergies and Roman nose.

So here on the mountain, the weather changed. And Clara’s house where I am living has a heater, but the pilot light is out. You probably know how to relight a propane pilot light. We don’t. We wait and wait for the gas company. They don’t work Saturdays.This morning it was 64 in the house and the next time I looked 63. Outside, it was just over 50, no joy in the sun.

I was sick. With a change of weather sickness. Not a cold. With me, it starts with a vicious headache and then settles into a fierce muscle spasm, in this case in my right hip, the muscle you use to lift you leg from the gas peddle to the brake. Inconvenient on mountain roads, also for getting in and out of bed, putting on shoes and going upstairs. The pain was so bad that I was nauseated. I stay in bed, reading, under a pile of covers. Gradually, I begin to rally, but….

So I says to Clara,” Clara…” She has her back turned as she washes dishes and she jumps violently. It’s hard to know how to get the attention of the hard of hearing. “Clara, can I put on a fire. It’s only 64 in here?’

“Are you cold,” she asks. .

I am wearing a woolen hat, a pair of woolen tights, a wool turtleneck and a think terry cloth robe with a hood.

“It’s just because you’re sick,” she adds

“I’ll look after it,” I insist, but she is out the door to get the firewood off the deck. There is a pile of smaller wood and branches on the ground. I gather up some. Then I retrieve some of the crumpled packing newspaper. Viola, I have a fire. I’ve had years of practice.

“It won’t last,” says Clara, her voice dire. Then she adds gloomily, “I can’t stand being hot.” She retreats to her bedroom, where she has been reading in her dressing gown all afternoon. But now she shrugs it off in preparation.

Gradually, as I dust mop the floors, the temperature rises to 68. At home I call my landlord at 68 and he turns the furnace on. At 68 at home, I am freezing. Here I feel myself unwind and enjoy the warmth. Of course I have to be five feet from the massive fireplace to do that.

Clara has just moved here from Vegas where, even in 110 degree heat, it never occurred to her to put on the A.C. When she had guests, she would make an exception, but turn it off at night, despite the fact that none of the windows opened. Recently, on a day when it hit 90 here on the mountain, the realtor, who sold her the place, asked me how we were enjoying the air conditioning. Not!

Amazingly three days ago, I drove Clara to Santa Clarita. Getting out of the car, she assured me it was a hundred, just like Vegas. Santa Clarita is an hour and several thousand feet of altitude down from where we live.

I am writing this in the house in the pines where I have a heater going near me.

I know room mates require diplomacy, especially when they own the house.

Oh, did I say, I also took us to the El Tejon Outlet centre, newly open off the I 5 on the way to Bakersfield. There I bought a winter jacket with a faux fur hood. I just wore it over here on the golf cart. Hardy I ain’t.