July 30, 2014 § 16 Comments
July 28, 2014 § 2 Comments
Anne Morrow Lindbergh says the beach is not the place to work or read or even think. I’d gladly argue with her but for the fact that she adds something like ‘initially’, as in first you need to find the rhythm of things, of yourself, the words you take in or mull over or put out.
I notice how right she is when I arrive and set down my bag containing water, lunch, notebook, pen, reading glasses, hat, camera, and before unpacking it all… just sit for a while. I’m hungry. I want to eat and read and make notes, take photos but all that To Do can wait. To reach into that bag too soon defeats the purpose of being here.
There is the sky.
And two women, both in red and white striped tee shirts; one is elderly, the other in her forties maybe, a daughter? They’re collecting something as they walk, reaching down every few moments and picking things up. Beach glass? Are they scooping up ALL the beach glass before I can get any?? I panic a little at the thought and consider racing out in front of them. It occurs to me that in all the hundreds and thousands of times I’ve been here I’ve never once noticed anyone else collecting beach glass. People skip stones and there’s the guy who has a metal detector who showed me the old silver Tiffany locket he found. People carve initials into picnic tables and have BBQs and recently I saw a margarine container filled with really beautiful glass that someone left behind in the playground… but I’ve never seen anyone do the actual collecting.
The red and white stripes are so far along by now that to rush ahead of them would be a spectacle, not to mention tiring in the heat. I decide to let it go, that whatever glass they find is meant for them. I’ll find my own. There’s always more…
Just then two more women, up on the boardwalk this time, an elderly one in a wheelchair and another, younger, pushing. The younger smiles, maybe thinking how lovely this choice of venue but the one being pushed looks sad and I wonder if this is, in fact, the worst possible venue because it reminds her of all those days and years when she was able to walk barefoot in the water… and then I think: with some things, there’s not always more.
Long before I open my bag for lunch company arrives.
We watch each other a while.
Then back to people. The guy on the jet-ski demanding attention, thundering about the lake doing doughnuts who zooms close to shore, stops, bobs on the water for fifteen minutes… checking his phone… perhaps firing off a few tweets about the thrills and chills of solitary circles at top speed.
Two boys and a girl named Lily settle down a few feet away and begin digging among the tiny stones at the edge of the water… for beach glass. They shriek when then find some and one of them walks right in front of me and smiles and I smile back but at the same time I send a strongly worded telepathic message that he not even think about digging on my turf. And he doesn’t. Never under-estimate the power of the mind.
Lily soon gets bored and leaves and the boys follow.
The bird has also moved on.
I consider having lunch but on the pier a teenaged boy in plaid shirt and work boots, picks up a teenaged girl in a brightly coloured muu-muu, and pretends he’s about to throw her into the lake. She laughs and then they walk along the shore not holding hands.
July 23, 2014 § 17 Comments
July 21, 2014 § 2 Comments
Things I know about ‘cd’.
For her first birthday her mother made a cake entirely out of whip cream, sat ‘cd’ down in nothing but a diaper and let her have at it. Which she did. I can’t remember if I was there in person or just remember it from the movie.
She’s an excellent cook, afraid of heights, was good at baseball and has a large dog (when asked if he bites she says: only if I tell him to.)
She was the first person I ever babysat and when she was twelve she came to stay with me for a while in Toronto, during which time she tried to clean my apartment and broke the cover of an electrical outlet so hopped on a bus in search of a replacement. She didn’t find one but it was a fascinating story she told when I got home from work. This was a kid who grew up in a small town; she had zip knowledge of the city. I remember being torn between freaking out and being touched. I think touched won, but I still shake my head over her chutzpah. Years later, on another visit, we were about to order a drink in a restaurant when I sensed something bad about to happen at the next table. We left just in time to see someone being thrown through the front window. ‘cd’ wanted to stay to see how things came out. I was driving. We left.
She says it was me that introduced her to the Crunchie bar. I don’t see her often; she has lived in the States for at least twenty-five years. It is impossible to spend time in her company and not have your cheeks hurt from laughing. Hers is one of my favourite voices to hear over the phone.
How long could you go without talking? A month.
Do you prefer silence or noise? Silence.
How many pairs of shoes do you own? Less than 10.
If you won the lottery? I’d pay bills, buy an island, a beach house or something in Muskoka, kids’ tuition.
One law you’d make? Death penalty for pedophiles. Send sex predators to a remote island all their own.
Unusual talent? Throwing together a meal out of nothing.
What do you like to cook? Mac and cheese (because of the reaction it gets).
Have you or would you ever bungee jump? I haven’t, but I’d love to, but I won’t.
What’s the most dare-devilish thing you’ve done? I once jumped off a cliff into the lake.
Do you like surprise parties, practical jokes? Yes to both as long as no one gets hurt.
Favourite time of day? 8 – 9 a.m.
What tree would you be? An apple tree.
What do you like on your toast? Lots of butter.
The last thing you drew a picture of? Superman.
Last thing written in ink? Hours for work.
Favourite childhood meal? Potato stuffed dumplings.
What [past] age was your favourite? 30
Would you go back if you could? No.
Best invention? Sliced bread.
Describe your childhood bedroom. No windows, no air, hot, stuffy.
Afraid of spiders? Outside, no. Inside, yes. But centipedes are worse.
Phobias? Heights, confined spaces.
Least favourite teacher and why? First grade teacher, wouldn’t let you go to the bathroom.
Favourite children’s story? Little Red Riding Hood.
Ideal picnic ingredients? Bread, wine, cheese, pickled string beans.
Is Barbie a negative role model? Yes.
Best thing about Canada? It’s where I was born. Home.
Best thing about people in general? They can reproduce.
What flavour would you be? Maple walnut.
What colour? Red.
What would you come back as? A horse.
July 18, 2014 § 1 Comment
I’ve been talking a lot about this book ever since having read it in less than 24 hours, fast for me. Mind you, it’s written as diary entries so it’s hardly heavy going. And, just to be clear, it’s not the speed at which I read Pondlife that I’ve been talking about, although I mention it every time, but the quirky wonderfulness of its pages.
As I said, diary entries. Each noting the temperature of the Hampstead Heath ponds where the author has been swimming daily, and year round, for something like sixty years. Seventy by the time we get to the end of the book (which goes from 2003 to 2011). This is referred to as ‘cold water swimming’… also madness, but the former is the official term. Have I mentioned that the ponds are outside?
I mean, they’re ponds. Ducks and everything. (Also magpies, grebes, moorhens, thrush, coots, swifts, hawks, heron, terns and more; he watches them as he backstrokes his return to shore and his descriptions of them are some of the loveliest bits of the book.)
“The terns were fishing for breakfast: soar, pause, then the sudden plunge. They seem to fall apart as they hit the water and, for a moment, they’re gone. Then they surge out and beat upwards again, scattering drops of light. If angels existed they would look like terns…”
The water temperatures in January and February go down to 30′ F. This does not deter the cold water aficionados (of which, surprisingly, there are more than just Alvarez)… they happily report that on the coldest days the water is actually warmer than the air, as if making the obvious case for slipping into your Speedo and joining them for a dip.
Thing is they don’t ‘dip’. Some wear wetsuits (Alvarez is a purest; he goes in bare nekkid but for the swim trunks) but all swim, that is, stay in for many, many minutes. Alvarez spends as close to an hour in the water as he can… the time does shorten in the coldest temps.
At first I read this as braggadocio. It felt like the swimmers were competing, that the reason they never miss a day, or rarely, is because they don’t want to be seen by the other kids as wimps. After all, you don’t swim year round outdoors unless you pride yourself on your heartiness. And there are those that surely do it from some exterior motivation like that, but I don’t think Alvarez is one of them or, if he did, he changed his focus somewhere along the line.
He has a bum ankle, a source of much annoyance to him. Walking becomes increasingly difficult over the eight year span of the ‘diary’ and the only time he doesn’t hurt is when he’s swimming. He refers often to the way the cold water rejuvenates, makes him feel ‘reborn’ and how it feels to emerge from it.
“…you are… naked… feeling the weather on your skin… it strips away the comforts and protections that Shakespeare called ‘additions’.”
He is also having a difficult time accepting the changes that come with age. An ex-athlete and serious rock climber, he hates having to slow down, give things up. The swimming is the last of his athletic pursuits, and while that’s the book’s overall theme, and perhaps his original idea for keeping notes, as the years pass, he changes in ways he couldn’t have expected and seems almost reluctant to share those bits, as if the book was becoming something he hadn’t planned. Of course these are the best moments, witnessing the study of his own reluctance.
“I like the water cold. It reminds me I’m still alive.”
This could be about swimming, about his passion for it, his solace from it or addiction to it (because surely it’s that), but it turns out it’s about something else entirely, something that, I’m pretty sure, comes to him as a surprise in the writing. If you ask me, it’s about the way cold water makes some things disappear while bringing others into sharp focus. It’s a way of seeing and feeling the world. Some people run. Some meditate.
He admits that he’s keeping a journal with the idea of it becoming a book, although doesn’t ever delve deeply into his own psyche so I sometimes wondered what it was that he wanted to record (I would have liked a little more reflection, actually; and I would have LOVED knowing about the psyching up that’s necessary to dive into water at 30 F). Still, something in the very fact that he’s sharing these private moments suggests he’s exposing the very essence of who he is. Ultimately, this intimacy without personal details, is what I liked best, leaving interpretation of pain and pleasure up to the reader. What I liked least was his curmudgeonly way of seeing past his aging body… but that may be an unfair judgement; he complains but he also hobbles—after recovering from a stroke, and still with a painful ankle—through snow and across ice to swim alone in frigid water.
The structure of the book should be mentioned for its magical qualities—the repeated reports of weather, birds, flora, fauna, water temps, ankle soreness—sounds dull but is just the thing that kept me reading. I’ll admit that early on when, for the umpteenth time he began with weather, I considered giving up, or at least skimming the rest of the book, but then I’d decide to read just one more entry and then the next. That’s the magical part. Bordering on the hypnotic, something about the rhythm created in that structure mirrors the act of swimming… that movement through what seems to be nothing new… only to come out oddly refreshed.
July 16, 2014 § 13 Comments
July 11, 2014 § 4 Comments
Only takes a wee whiff.
A farm with a huge lavender garden. Me cycling over to pinch a few sprigs and tuck them into books and things all over my room. The farm was down the road from a shop, down a hill that was foggy most mornings. The streets were cobbled and there was a field across which I cycled to town, one time passing an elderly man who I’d heard had recently lost his mum. I stopped and said how sorry I was and he said, hardly missing a beat, “Well, it comes to us all.” I’ve thought of him often over the decades, never more so than when my own mum died.
I remember brambles and roundabouts and orange Squash at room temperature, the cream at the top of those bottles of milk on the doorstep and how fresh garlic was impossible to find (you’d be lucky to even score a jar of the ‘prepared’ stuff in the tiny ‘foreign’ section of Waitrose where the pasta was also hidden).
I remember women on the High Street with their carrier bags and baskets and everyone—really everyone—saying hello to one another. All ages too, if only by virtue of the slightest nod of acknowledgement. One time, getting back on my bike outside the Waitrose, two young boys—teeny boppers—smiled and held out a couple of weedy flowers they’d picked from between cracks in the pavement. There was an ad on TV around that time where the guy does exactly that and hands them to a girl on the street and says Impulse? which was the name of the product being advertised, a body mist. Well, the lads played this scene out with such style and giant grins, that I happily took the flowers and pedaled away, smiling too. I was in my mid-twenties then, a veritable matron, so it was in no way a come on, more like a kind of appreciation from a respectful distance, with elements of a sweet lark that I’m not sure exists anymore among young’uns… though I hope it does. Too wonderful a thing to lose.