Dreams: Ian, Mae and Harold Arlen

I woke up to Ian Tyson singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Siri had slipped her leash and shuffled from White Noise on repeat.

I don’t need to tell you, dear constant reader, that that song is from a famous movie

The first real movie I ever saw was The Wizard of Oz. I was probably 8-years-old. That was 1944. In the province of Quebec, children were not permitted to go to movies, ostensibly because of a terrible fire in a theatre that had killed children, but, more likely, the Catholic Church deemed movies corrupting. The Catholic Church ruled in the mostly French province.

I had seen films, made by the National Film Board of Canada in class, quite a few of them. I think the projectionist made a circuit of the schools, English schools in my case, and we got to see whatever he brought whether it related to the curriculum or not. So I was already enraptured by flickering motion pictures in a darkened room, but the moment when Oz burst into colour sealed my fate.

Quite simply I had to go there.

True my life did not include tornadoes, but it did contain World War II, which I initially thought was right next door. Uncles were overseas, German prisoners kept escaping from the POW camp in Sherbrook and my friend’s uncle got shot down and died. Plus there was the on-going war at home, not just the struggle to live on little money and rationing, but the very real possibility that my father would eventually succeed in killing one of us.

So I dreamed.

Eventually, I realized Oz didn’t exist and I would have to make do with Hollywood. My Aunt Mae could tell the future and she said that yes, I would go there. I wasn’t clear why she was laughing as she hugged me close.

I kept scrap books of movie stars and pursued an acting career. I had a few gigs at Christmas concerts and variety shows. I did Burlington Bertie from Bow, like I saw once in a movie. I got the lead roles in half a dozen high school and university plays. The only movie role I was ever offered got cancelled before shooting started. But I did go to Hollywood. Over seventy times and I plan to return in a few weeks.

Spoiler alert: I produced a daughter who went there to live and she produced two sons. I starred as grandma. Daddy #2 introduced me to a movie star at whose Malibu beach house I stayed. Her present husband took me to Warner Bros and we ate in the commissary. I didn’t get to go to the Emmys with him, but who can complain.

So thank you Aunt Mae. You kept hope alive and you didn’t exactly lie.

I woke up thinking about dreams, the kind of dreams you have about your future and which I am informed are essential to a happy life.

Shall we count them up?

I dreamed I would have 5 children and live in a ranch house. I had 2 and lived in split levels. I dreamed I would go to university. I went to McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario and lived for 2 years in a beautiful residence called Wallingford Hall. (I won’t mention the Quoncet hut  I lived in in first year.) I learned a great deal about English literature and philosophy, and continued to do so at the University of Toronto, almost dreaming spires. So check and check.

I dreamed of going to Europe and seeing Paris and the Greek ruins and the remains of ancient Rome. It helped than my younger brother escaped there and stayed, so I was able to spend long summers there and to return several times.

As it turned out, I got caught up in someone else’s dreams that included a swimming pool and a sail boat. Okay, that seems like fun. I can only say I survived.

I dreamed of a summer home in the low mountains and hills of the Eastern Townships where I was born. Not happening. No one was going to sell to my father’s daughter. But as second prize, I found a vacation home in the much higher mountains of Kern County, California where the wooded slopes breathed pine resin and sighed in the wind.

I am not the sort who dreams of having successful children. Mine succeeded by existing, but, in spite of that, they and my grandsons have achieved excellence in diverse ways.

So what are my dreams now in the winter light of my 83rd year?

Well, I dream that I will someday wrap up the executor work for the estate of that other dreamer (of sail boats and swimming pools), and I am pleased to report that I have only 3 tasks left to complete. One of them, the release of a modest bank account, which money has to be paid to a group of people I have never met, is typical of the frustratingly slow process of executing an estate. (Come back here, Boy, and I’ll give you such a slap upside the head.)

Where would he come back from? Hummm. Well, his after-life seems to be some heavenly school room where he is studying advanced physics with a side of human relations. (Can I refrain from saying ‘which he could use’?)

I’m not sure what mine will be. It will probably be a few millennia before I can stop myself from leaning back toward incarnation to make sure things are going well, not that they ever do. But, I suppose, that’s the whole point. We long and hope, yet the real lesson comes from the unfulfilled dreams, the suffering that polishes us up and fills us with light.

And those little blue birds that flew over the rainbow. My father used to see them as a child. Then they vanished. I found them again one morning as I walked along the golf course fence in Pine Mountain Club. They were singing.

 

 

 

I Am Writing This For You

I am writing this for you, not for everyone, for you. I want you to know this.

I have been grieving for a very long time. I have been wracked by loss and fear, gripped by nameless terror, in utter despair. I grieved for the death of one man and the loss of another.

I sought to comfort myself by repeating the 23rd Psalm. David found protection and peace and plenty under the Shepherd’s watchful eye.

I mourned tall, thin, dark men who turned their faces and went utterly away taking all music, poetry and joy.

Then it came to me again as it had years before as I turned north off the Rosedale Valley Road. In the midst of despair. I am still in love. The shadow of what I love is gone. The one I truly love remains.

He is here.

(Mostly he and thoroughly, inevitably here.)

The poet king, the lyre player, the one who bends to wrap his cloak around Ruth on the threshing floor, the one who stays up all night talking on the roof, the far-see-er, the one who burns, the one who easily laughs, the one whose love annhilates.

No wonder I can’t find the space to be or a way to live my life. He’s hogging the room. He takes it all. He doesn’t share. We are one or I am nothing. We are one and I am nothing. Consumed by love.

Mother on Broomstick Coming into Los Angeles

Air Canada 791 leaves Toronto at 8 a.m. On a Tuesday, it is usually quiet. Today, the third cabin, with its excellent access to emergency exits, is all but empty. I have 32 H, J and K to myself. A little more sleep. I got up at 3:30 a.m.

A youngish blonde woman (to me that could be mid 40s) with a black, long-haired boa sits in front of me. A young couple with a new baby and a toddler, behind me. The baby begins to cry and the toddler joins shriekingly in.

Okay.

I can do this.

Been a mother. Been a grandmother. Been a great aunt. Am a great, great aunt. Am a great grandmother. I’m not one of those! You know who you are – complaining to the steward and changing seats.

Or maybe not.

Earbuds. What will drown out those excruciating high notes? Let’s see Bruce Springsteen? The Stones? Glass’s Kundun? Gould’s Goldberg Concerto? Various Artists: a Special Christmas?  WHAAAAAT? Ok. Nicola Benedetti: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

I fall asleep, head full of symphonic music and wake, drooling and head lolling. To peace. The kids are asleep.

So, let’s get comfy. Put up all the arm rests, undo the seat belt, lie down, with purse as pillow and cover legs with a purloined blanket.

Two hours to go.

I wake as I woke once at Camping Krioneri on the Gulf of Corinth to the braying of a donkey. I lie contemplating this latest upgrade to the Boeing 787-9.

Listen, I can deal with this. I’ll just sink back into delicious unconsciousness where I don’t remember the pain and trouble waiting down there in Lotus Land – the on-going battle with the American health care system as it strives to diagnose a rare disease in someone I love and since it bankrupted them long ago, figure out how to provide treatment ASAP.

But no. The new arrival has the loudest laugh known to sound engineers. She’s in an excellent mood. So funny that my silent blonde neighbor laughs ever more loudly. The new arrival does physical humor  too, standing and twerking, then demonstrating the proper way to seat oneself for dressage. Or so I imagine. The seat back threatens to land on my head.

I sit up. I bring Nicola back up on the device -set to Airplane mode, of course.

What in heaven’s name is this laughing woman  taking? Something more than our recently legal Canadian marijuana surely.

But, at least for now, it’s only that dreadful boxed white wine they serve up here. She asks the male attendant at the beverage cart if the female attendant is his work wife. He pretends to blush. She invites him to her daughter’s wedding in Palm Springs. A hundred guests are coming.

In fact, I saw the bride schlepping a head high white garment bag, looking grim as brides do.

I remember that. Happy days. My girl’s wedding was in Vegas. The bride wasn’t grim until the city turned off the water to our rental house as she was getting ready. It was the last day of 2008, an auspicious time to get married.

Fortunately, I do not remember that someone from Texas brought in one of the first cases of H1N1 and we all spent January bedridden with flu.

Packed in that enormous bag of memory, 8 decades worth, I find a toddler sorting out a cupboard, every pan on the tiny kitchen floor, shrieking in joy at her newborn brother while she throws the newly folded pile of cloth diapers everywhere, a preteen glancing up as she realizes he has outgrown her, a mother in a skimpy nightgown nursing a baby on a floor futon in Venice Beach. Seventy flights like this, most of them on AC 791. Never crashed once. Be there soon, Baby.

Coming into Los Anglees/ Bringing in a couple of keys/Don’t touch my bag if you pease/Mr Customs Man

 

Leonard and I

Leonard and I were both born in Canada’s province of Quebec. He arrived, in this incarnation, on the autumn equinox of 1934, in the well-to-do Montreal suburb of Westmount. He was almost 2 when I was born in poverty in the wooded hills of the Eastern Townships.

He said he was “the little Jew who wrote the Bible”. Jesus was the only Jew I met until I was 12. He wrote me love songs, although we never met. He never did bring “my groceries in”. If I didn’t drag them in myself, an athletic mathematician did, a man quite unlike Leonard. Since loving me mandated at least tolerating poetry, Mr. Math learned to. He even wrote me a poem once, and was willing enough to go to Greece because Leonard had made me love it from afar.

Leonard, with a poet’s intuition, passed in his sleep after a fall on the night of Nov. 7th, the day before Donald Trump was elected president of Leonard’s adopted country. He had proclaimed earlier that “Democracy was coming to the USA”. I’m not saying he was wrong, just that his prediction may have been more complicated than it seemed.

Besides being born Quebec-ers (although not Quebecois), we shared an enduring depression. Leonard indicated later he had defeated it by becoming a Zen monk for five years. Kudos to him. My own excursion into Taoism did not prove as efficacious. I hope that Buddhism enabled him not to rage against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: the loss of his wealth to a larcenous business manager, the necessity to start touring again in his 70’s, the ‘unbearable’ pain of leukemia, and the inevitable losses of old age.

Personally, I am bitching mad at old age. I don’t have unbearable pain or a deadly disease (so far as I know). Of course, I don’t have Leonard’s companions either. He said the ladies had been very kind to him in his old age. Recently, two of the major problems in my immediate family have been resolved, I have published my mystery Hour of the Hawk, (joycehowe.com) I have a secure if modest income and a warm, safe place to live.The problem is that being pissed off actually makes my health problems worse.

I had a grandmother who lived to be 96, but apparently I learned nothing from her role model.

So I put in my earbuds and listen to Back on Boogie Street – not his own song but Sharon Robinson’s; he sings backup. I’m still on Booogie St. Got to market this book. Got to keep my head straight. Got to drag the groceries up to my tower of .. whatever. Coming up to 82, could l have my Nanny’s long-lived genes? Then I listen to ‘Hallelujah’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEWqDE20O3U
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrLk4vdY28Q

Youth and beauty and ecstasy are not lost. They are there, ingrained, embedded, as alive in me as any mournful loss.

Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum. Come to the Cabaret

Cabarethttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moOamKxW844

Georgia celebrated her birthday this week. I had bought tickets to Cabaret at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada. I told her where to find them in my apartment in Toronto. They weren’t where I thought they were, but she called me on my land line and I told her to look under the paper weight and there they were. I had invited Blake to go with us. He had agreed to drive. And Georgia asked her daughter to go with them on my ticket.

When I bought the tickets in May, I thought to myself that it would be a treat to compensate me for the end of summer, as well as a good way to celebrate my younger sister’s birthday. Blake, my ex-husband, has known us since we were 16 and 10 respectively and we three always enjoy each others’ company.

Only problem – I am here where summer seems never to end and a typical morning greeting is “another beautiful day in paradise”. You hear that a lot in Southern California, but never more than here high in the mountains, a place which the  Chumash called the Center of the World. It is a town built around a golf club and its sole industry is leisure. Some people actually set out at 5 a.m. to drive down to work in the cities, even as far as Los Angeles, but many more do not. They get up early to play a round of golf and only then do they eat breakfast at the club house. They are resolutely friendly, waving as they pass you in their golf carts.

Others are economic refugees, here because you can buy a house for less than a hundred thousand or rent one for less than a thousand. There are many musicians and many free musical events. They will insist on playing without as much as free beer for their reward. There are talented writers and artists as well and festivals and events that showcase their work.

There are weekenders with big houses, executives, movie people, we suppose. We don’t meet them really.

And yet I missed Cabaret.

Georgia reported that it was wonderful, the set amazing. Blake took them to a good, untouristy restaurant for lunch.

I am suddenly struck by homesickness.

The maple tree across the street from the duplex where I live will have turned red by now. The one in front will soon turn yellow. The swallows will have left on or about August 28th. The geranium on the front porch -did anyone water it?- will be dying back even if they did. Tall grasses beside the bike path will be dead. Crows will be calling more than usual. Perhaps like the swallows, they are coming south.

It goes down below 60 F here at night. The cool air comes down from the heights above as soon as the sun goes down. I close the window before dawn. But by the time I go out the door, it is beginning to get hot, reaching the upper 80s by afternoon. And it is dusty. That’s the nature of a desert climate, even a high desert with pine forest. It’s rained once in the three months I’ve been here. A short trip on the golf cart leaves me, the cart and whatever I have with me -groceries, my laptop, my laundry caked in dust. In Bakersfield, an hour north, the valley floor kicks up so much dust that the mountains beyond look misty.

My Grandpa Munn couldn’t bear to leave his home, a farm in the mountains in Quebec. He would pine away when he did, growing more silent and pale as time wore on. The longest he was ever away was a week, but to him it felt like eternity. I’m not that homesick. I didn’t even notice it until I missed Cabaret. And these mountains are very like his mountains,so they are like that early home of mine.

Besides I’ve had the good fortune of having to be here amidst such beauty and in the middle of my family. Why complain?

The north seems to built into my bones. I miss the quickening of fall.

Carrickfergus – soul song

 

jim mccannYesterday’s ear-worm, the traditional Irish ballad, “I wish I was in Carrickfergus” was so persistent that I dropped everything to deal with it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaurO8e5-mg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJMggxSzxM4

The first You Tube link is the song sung by Bruce Guthro; the second by Jim McCann  (pictured above) of the Dubliners. The latter is revered by fans of the song. There is also a version by Loudon Wainright III, done for Boardwalk Empire, as well as Van Morrison and others by women, such as Joan Baez – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_S7ITkoxojI

I have been a great lover of traditional ballads ever since those halycon days when high school curriculum loosened up in the early 70’s and such poetry was taught in English class. One of my adult children thinks I sang it, but I didn’t know the words until yesterday, so I thought she was remembering other similarly tragic ballads that I put on the record player.

If you go to Wikepedia, you get arcane tips on where the song came from, the fact that Carrickfergus is in County Antrim, which other ballads may have been melded to create it, etc. In other places, you will learn that the Irish actor, Peter O’Toole taught it to Dominic Behan who recorded it – thus bringing it to popular attention- and supposedly, added a verse of his own. On other sites, you will learn that it was written by Van Morrison, James Taylor, etc. Or perhaps it was written by an Irish poet who died in 1745. I’m tempted to say I wrote it. Why not? Usually, old ballads like this are ascribed to Anonymous and since they were orally transmitted, there are many versions. Perhaps my daughter is right about hearing the song in childhood because I have a memory of knowing how Joan Baez gave new meaning to the last two lines: Ah, but I am sick now, my days are numbered/ So come all you young men and lay me down.

The song begins:

I wish I was in Carrickfergus
Only for nights in Ballygran(d)
 I would swim over the deepest ocean
The deepest ocean for my love to find.

Some on-line commentators find “nights in Ballygran” puzzling. Really? Joan Baez makes this clearer: “I wish I had you in Carrickfergus.” Carrickfergus names a borough or wider area than the town of Ballygrand, which is located there.

Clearly, the song is about an insurmountable obstacle, which the singer first announces can be overcome by heroic effort, but then grows sadly more realistic.
But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over
And neither have I wings to fly
If I could find me a handsome (handy) boatman
To ferry me over to my love and I (and die)

Boatmen have been associated with passage to the next life ever since the Greeks put coins on the eyes of the dead to pay for ferry passage across the River Styx. (I once spent a summer holiday on the banks of this actual river – literally.)  So I think that singing and I is just a dodge to keep the crowd in the pub happy.

My childhood days bring back sad reflections
Of happy times I spent so long ago
My boyhood (girlhood) friends and my own relations
Have passed away like melting snow

Is this the verse Behan wrote? Seems so to me.

But I’ll spend my days in endless (ceaseless) roaming
Soft is the grass and my bed is free
Ah, to be back in Carrickfergus
On that long road down to the salty sea

Well, at least there was that.

And in Kilkenny it is reported
There are marble stones as black as ink (Written on stones…)
With gold and silver I did support her (he did support me)
But I’ll sing no more now till I get a drink.

I’m drunk today and I’m seldom sober
A handsome rover from town to town
Ah but I’m sick now, my days are numbered
Come all ye young men and lay me down.

So happy childhood, adult prosperity, loss, exile, vagrancy and drunkenness. These verses speak to the part of me that would love to deal with such loss by staying drunk. Fortunately, this is not an overwhelming urge because I ration the pinot grigio strictly. The lines encourage empathy in me for less sober types.

Having spent the whole day with the song, listening to it over and over, I had a good grieve. Catharsis, we English teachers call it, fear and pity that cleanse the heart.

In the end, however, I fell in love with the full-throated voices of the singers, as if it were being sung by my beloved. The song is full of the deep suffering life can bring us, the dreams that get trashed, the lovers and children and houses and status lost. But, even though we may be wanderers from town to town and deeply in need of comfort, something has been guiding us to where we are, which is where we need to be.

The alternate ending to the second verse seems to me truer to the tale the singer is telling.

The Urban Woods in Mid September

woods sunny mid SEptThe woods is very still this morning. We come down the sunny sloping path, the little caramel coloured sheba inu and I, and find a noisy smell. It takes some encouragement to get her through the domain of this angry skunk and I decide we will stick to the path just in case. Once we are through it, I hear an unseen cardinal whistle three times on the steep hillside to the left and then a chickadee call, farther off. Even the leaves of the poplars are still. The black oak leaves and the silver maple are etched against the blue sky.

blue sky above woodsI keep the walk going at a good pace in the interests of our primary mission, but once that is fulfilled and collected in the requisite stoop and scoop bag, I let the dog saunter. As we turn back three Canada Geese honk their way across the sky. They sound as if they are getting ready to migrate, but, probably, like most of their ilk, they don’t bother travelling anymore.

Now the little dog begins to show her zen-like nature, true to her Japanese genetic code perhaps. She stops beside a sunlit glade and turns her head to gaze back down the path.

sunny gladeWhat entrances her, I can not tell. Something I can not hear perhaps, for there is no nose work going on. It’s not an olfactory story she is reading. It is warm here and so quiet that I begin to relax as I wait. There are yellow flowers in front of me and a bee that hauls its whole upper body into the hanging “gondola” of the touch-me-not Jewelweed. It drinks deeply from one, tries another, finds it not to its liking and moves on.

This photo is obviously not of the yellow flower, but is the same shape.

This photo is obviously not of the yellow flower, but is the same shape.

Goldenrod made change.

Goldenrod made change.

And there are other small delights.

snail on yellow daisyA slight breeze, a true zephyr,  lifts the leaves just above our heads momentarily. Still the little dog stands gazing down the path.

Peace descends. The cares that have driven me at a fast clip along my path drop away. None of the urgent problems – economic, social and health, besetting my loved ones and me- have been resolved. They have just melted. They have been set free. I am happy. Glad of this blue-sky day in mid September. Nothing to do but breathe, at home in my urban woods.

April

April Crocus in the Rain

April Crocus in the Rain

Chaucer begins The Canterbury Tales with a jaunty tribute to April:
When that Aprill with his shoures soote
The draught of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which virtue engendered is the flour
……
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.

When April with his sweet showers has pierced to the root what March dried up and bathed every vein in such moisture… then people long to go on pilgrimages (chiefly of course to Canterbury.)

And so a knight, his young squire, a yeoman, a prioress, a nun, a monk, a friar, a merchant, a clerk, and a dozen others, including the Good Wyf besyde Bathe set out on horseback to pray to “the blisful martir”, St Thomas Becket. On their way, they pass the time by telling each other stories, some chivalric, some edifying and some downright raunchy.

Prologue-The Canterbury Tales by Lucille Gilling

Prologue-The Canterbury Tales by Lucille Gilling

T.S. Eliot, on the other hand lamented in “The Waste Land”
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Sounds a bit negative but then, this part of the poem is called “The Burial of the Dead”. Eliot felt that life, devoid of meaning, is death, while death, if sacrificial, is life-giving.

Vernon Duke, songwriter, celebrated April and Paris:
April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom,
Holiday tables  under the trees,
April in Paris, this is a feeling,
No one can ever reprise.

Lucky Paris! The chestnuts in my town won’t bloom until the end of May.

William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564 and died on April 23, 1616. He said, “Men are April when they woo and December when they wed.” His was a shot-gun wedding to an older woman.

Same ingredients, different cakes!

What do you make of April?