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


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.

Bulletin from Shangri-la #5: village life

Village in Sierra MountainsMy mother was gravely ill for several years before she passed. She took comfort in the idea that God never closes a door without opening a window.

My own experience was summed up in a recent cartoon. Two women are lunching. One says to the other,” I find that when God closes a door and locks all the windows, I can still squeeze in through the dog door.”

But black humour aside, great misfortune often produces blessings.

One upside to the economic crash is that my family and I found ‘Shangri-la’, a mountain village in the Sierras. (Notice how canny I am about not naming it or providing its co-ordinates. Get your own great misfortune.)

For all I know people may live to be several hundred years old here as they did in James Hilton’s fictional paradise in Lost Horizon, high in the Himalayas. Certainly there are a lot of older people here, retired cowboys, architects, doctors, executives. Many working visual artists and an unusual number of professional musicians surviving the music industry’s transition. They can’t seem to get even free beer for plying their craft, but it doesn’t stop them from gathering and playing their hearts out.

After a previous -but lesser- misfortune, I moved to a country village in Ontario, Canada. For one thing it was cheaper there and things were on a human scale. You could park anywhere at no charge. I was right at the centre of town, a no-stop-light intersection, beside the church and the post office and across the road from the only store. I could walk out to the country in 4 directions in less than 15 minutes. One Christmas Day, I picked up a parcel from Belgium. My Newfie dog could wander in the field behind me at will. I went to buy a saw at the store one day. The Korean owner asked me what I needed to saw. I said ” A piece of wood this big.” I was mending a door frame. “Take it and bring it back when your done,” he said. The guy in the Mt. Albert hardware store always understood what thingamagig I needed and generously explained how to install it. I even had my own barn. Lots of storage there. And the tallest TV antenna tower for miles around. It soothed my soul. And set me up nicely for the real estate crash that coincided with the necessary selling of the house.

But it wasn’t Shangri-la. I was an in-comer for the entire seven years I lived there. The long term residents still mistrusted me, although they welcomed me at church. Like the other in-comers I commuted to work, although unlike them, I did not drive a big rig. Some of them thawed when one of my seven cats took to following me and the Newfie every time we went for a walk. “Oh, you’re the woman who walks her cat…”

In this Sierrra Shangri-la, everyone speaks to us. Getting croissants or the mail has to be leisurely. Dogs and people waylay us. It’s true that my son-in-law knows all the musicians and golfers, my daughter knows the musicians and everyone who goes to the daily tai chi and yoga classes, they both know all the artists, and the Vegas mother-in-law talks to everyone in the casinos, so of course she talks to everyone in the village. You simply do not pass anyone without speaking.

Worn out by the short walk “downtown” -it is high, remember- I collapse into the big chair, my feet up on the big hassock. The door is open to the breeze on this warm day. The pines are sighing, whispering, a song of deep contentment that I have brought with me from my childhood when we picnic-ed under them.

Life on a human scale! This is bliss.