Elusive as ever, joy was still ours to be had in Toronto yesterday. It took a sporting match to make that happen and one other key ingredient in that mass celebration on parade through the downtown core: accessibility. Over and over again, fans were to be heard gushing over “our team.” It was the story of our neighbourhood streets and that neighbourhood is global. Everyone owned a piece of the Raptor’s championship. We felt close to it, felt it was ours. Millions of fans had access to refracted glory.
I was a point guard in Scarborough growing up. All the children of immigrants- Vietnamese, Asians, Black, Brown, we all played religiously so it is really special to now be with my fellow Canadians and be celebrating together. Everyone in Canada knows each other. We are one big family.
Omer Aziz, author
I played basketball too —badly—for a brief inglorious spell in high school and don’t pretend any grasp of the sport’s mechanics. Nor did I watch it much until these championships lit up and I began to peer closely at this group of talented athletes. Such power! Such poise! And for this hockey fan, such spectacular restraint under the most intense stress. I was won over by the manner in how this Raptors winning team played the sport, rather than the sport itself. So yes, I too sped downtown last Thursday night and high-fived in the wee hours with my daughter (who played basketball for years) and my other half, a fan since the origin of the Raptors. That’s him in the grainy photo, playing in the streets of Kensington Market. They were both there yesterday here in Toronto, making their way through those happy throngs. We were all there in spirit. Communal moments are as rare as perfect sleeps in this digital era.
Our collective glory held the day until some thieves tried to steal it with a gunshot scattering through a sea of peaceful humans. For those injured, a horrific moment. For those in the stampede, a panic sure to cause future sleepless nights. But these criminals were apprehended by quick thinking cops. Most of the crowd were not affected; thousands and thousands of fans dancing down the streets still turned their faces to the sun.
Fleeting as it is, joy can not be stolen. It was ours. We would do well to mark it. Bring our joy globes out to marvel and remember. There will be shadows again, but that moment is now embedded in our collective history. Age affords us this wisdom or why else are all the old folks grinning their wrinkled smiles to themselves? Someday that will be me, remembering the boys with their cigars and champagne splashing out in a spray over all of us. For the briefest moment, turning us all into bubbles.
Scientists somewhere right now must be conducting lab tests on middle-of-the night phone calls, and the human body’s capacity to absorb shock.
Perhaps in a future call, a publisher will be on the other end, telling me my manuscript was clever and the surest one they’ve seen all year. That will erase my theory that all such calls make a mockery of the dark: are they not always bad news?
It was a small voice on the phone in the dim hours:
Mom, I was in an accident. On my bike. I’m at the hospital. I will be okay.
And so to the hospital we raced, arriving to find no one in her assigned room. At the nursing station, I could hardly get the words out.
My kid, there, in that room. Where is she?
She’s been taken for tests.
What kind of tests? What is happening?
You’ll have to wait to speak to her doctors.
But can’t you tell me anything?
I’m sorry. She’s over 18. I assure you someone will be here soon to talk to you.
No news?, I spluttered. For me? But but but but...
Eventually, I learned my eldest daughter had been hit by a car while riding her bike at twilight and had lacerated her liver. She would recover fully (quickly really), and finish her final year of university the following June. Six weeks following the accident; I published my food memoir; packed my youngest off to McGill and shoved aside the blink-of-an-eye gulp that followed to assist my siblings in moving my parents from my childhood home into a retirement facility.
It was a year like any other as a mother. Thrills and spills.
I didn’t know any of that in the hospital that moment in that darkened hallway in the early hours of a new summer day; a moment that hung suspended like all the others in my memory mobile, shifting in the wind. Faced with stonewalling from a medical team who have seen the shape of these overnight shifts before, I joined my mothering sisters around the globe, back and forth through time’s tapestry.
Twenty-one years of mothering resulted in a cosmic explosion. From deep within me came a rumble.
Then a roar; a roar so stentorious all the troubled patients in that ER that night thought it was their time to exit as the heavens had finally opened; a roar the filmmaker in me would now direct my imaginary effects crew to have the ground split into fiery chasms; a roar Kate’s father still remembers as he stood there, equally shaken and, unlike me, stoic; a roar that was not Shakespearean—anyone could grasp its supremacy; a roar uniting mothers of the earth to their wildest instincts; a roar fusing all the elation (and lactation) and sensations of a journey with no end. Because there is nothing that will come between me and my babies.
Not even you, Nurse, there in front of me merely doing your job. Nurse, who doesn’t flinch when I roar from the depths of my being,
I AM HER MOTHER!!!
That furious roar was not my proudest moment but it was my purest. It will come again.
These two glories are proof.
Happy Mother’s Day. Thank you, Mom, for your instincts. Mine have never been foolproof, but, for the most part, they’re ready. To back away when necessary and to advance when needed. You gave that to me. Among all your gifts, today I am thankful for that one most.
Drop yourself anywhere in Paris and your immediate view is a film set lit avecplaisir for even the weariest heart. Each step forward, backward, and around a fabled corner and still the same miraculous mise en scène. How can we not stop and embrace right there in the middle of the street? Are we not directed to by this very stage? How can we not revisit those leaner frames we inhabited once? We were here decades ago when I ignored parental protests and scampered about these very streets with my Sorbonne student-boyfriend and considered (with great sobriety) never returning home. Paris does that to you.
The pastry shops do that to you. The chocolatiers are no mere extras either but take their proud place centre stage. There are hundreds and hundreds of food artisans in Paris and patience will get you a taste test in the middle of a charming square while your traveling companion (crazed wife) drags you from neighbourhood to neighbourhood for sinful samples. (Check back later this week in this space for my favourites)
Dining in this city is notorious for a few things: snippy service (I experienced nothing but gracious welcomes), beaucoup wine (who needs water?) and status as a UNESCO world intangible heritage. In 2010, the UN cultural organization singled out French gastronomy worthy of the same kind of protection as historically significant sites or natural wonders. Certainly, the foie gras ravioli I experienced at the historic Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie in Les Halles (‘tasting’ is too boring. Here we “experience” the food) was worthy of some kind of protection from overeager dining companions. As was the grilled duck and asparagus cooked for us another evening by our host; dear friends whose idea of hospitality was champagne and strawberries as evening starters to set the mood at sparkling and fluffy warm croissants with coffee and melon from their local market waiting for our sleepy morning kitchen entrances. I’m in, merci beaucoup and Ooh La La and that’s all the French I can remember until you pour me another glass.
Paris in spring means Paris and people. All of them wearing les baskets that are not the runners you are wearing right now to walk the dog.
Every kind of tourist is here along with us but the city holds these players with grace. We joined a few in a pastry class as we learned how to fold the dough encased in blocks of butter. Huge blocks of butter. Did I say yet that I love this city?
We mingled among them as we oogled the Impressionist Masters and wondered how we could go back in time (okay this was just me wondering) and warn these models in painters studios that someday their bodies would be out of fashion and tell them that’s just one way the world has lost its way.
We walked by them splayed out on lawns with their wine glasses the night we came to see the Eiffel Tower do its hourly dazzle. (Paris by night. Yup. It’s all true).
We joined them in the procession into Notre Dame, and formed a hushed collective as we stared up into the glorious soaring space. No one is tacky here: we are all immediately humbled, whatever our belief systems, for this iconic cathedral has always been a living monument, one revitalized by writer Victor Hugo.
The greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society; rather the offspring of a nation’s effort, than the inspired flash of a man in genius…
Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
That any of it would ever be gone wasn’t even a whisper. That I tried my hardest to ignore the rules about photography but failed when I saw this Joan of Arc statue…well I’m glad I did today as I look at those stunning images of flames and mourn along with the rest of the world as this spectacular mise en scène is blackened with smoke.
Paris, like my home town, has other smudges. On our first day of many walkabouts (my calves are as tight as my beltlines) we were stopped and searched and not permitted to walk along her most glamorous avenue thanks to recent rioting by the “Yellow Vest” protestors: their outcry continues as it highlights problems France has wrestled with for many years. That their protests involve violence is sure to affect Parisians and tourists alike. Parisians are not tilted by any of it. Today at least, there is solidarity and support over a landmark known around the world.
We flew to Paris en route to London. Along the way, we met up with these two, who are currently students in all things Euro, and proceeded to explore that ancient city for days on end. Check back in this space for my Best of London when I’ve recovered.
PS: Je t’aime, Mark. Je t’aime, Kazumi. Je t’aime Connor (and of course, Buddy!) Forget the boulevards, the Arc, the museums and the Art Fair. Forget the tower. Forget the artisanal wonders. You guys are the best in the city.
Mine snuck in without any sort of invitation and began to knock about, trying a little sneeze here, a little ahem, ahem, there. Me? I just too busy boasting about my Shiny Health Record; a badge worn along to every gym outing, every downward dog. Every time I drowned myself in lemon water instead of wine and turned down the baguette with Brie.
I didn’t notice the Winter Beast moving right in and taking up residency. She announced herself soon enough; brought along a drum kit and began to bang on it incessantly and screech: I’m here, bitch. Get ready to dance with me. It’s your turn now.
I never got a diagnosis. Was it influenza? Who knows? Who cares? A fever took hold of me as something large and unwieldy parked on my chest; everybody told me to rest. That was great Comedy, that there. Back in the day I was growing babies in my womb, I got the same advice: rest. Laughed then too. Sistahs: you know of what I speak. WHO CAN REST?
My mind raced every night. If I had read something before turning off the light, the words would form drunken cheerleading routines I couldn’t follow. If I watched any kind of video, it was hardly cinematic glory playing out but scrambled signals in one never-ending loop.
Winter twinkles and we are rosy-cheeked children in awe of pretty icicles. Winter roars and we fall down, some of us, just for a while, but when we fall, it’s not snow angels we make.
We are shivering robins, all of us, no matter how shiny our shields. Vitamins Schmitamins. Broccoli Schmoccoli. Flu Schmoo.
A week goes by and the wretch moves out but I’m no fool to think she’s beat. Arrogance is for two-year-olds who learn the potty early. The rest of us need to be fully aware of our vulnerabilities. Many are sick in ways they cannot bear, and unlike me, are fighting invading beasts today, yesterday, and all their tomorrows.
Three things saved me in this lost week of winter:
1.Old musicals. Oliver (1968). Is there anything better? As we head into Oscar weekend (look for my rant tomorrow), it pays to scroll back to past winners like this classic, adapted of course from Charles Dickens. You won’t find a better cast.
Shut up and drink your gin, snarls Fagin, Close enough, as I stirred lemon into my lemon ginger tea. In my stupor, I imagined swimming in vats of it, humming along with Oliver Twist and his Where is love? Check out myFever remedy.
Pathetic, meet Anne.
2. A fellow baker friend who knows my worst stories is going through my cookbook as a 2019 project. She kept sending me pictures of her process and the results. I would stare at the pictures and think of those days in my kitchen, baking one chocolate cake after another to determine the most delicious. It was the happiest moment of my days, those emails from that dear friend.
That, and the Friendly Greek* saying this:
3. I can’t even hug you, as if he was just of reach of a sunny field to play. This was enough to radiate warmth as I shivered in my covers, as mad as any old hag, muttering to the Winter Beast,
CONSIDER YOURSELF AT HOME? NOT.
* He missed his birthday amidst all this silly drama. Kitchen, get ready. I feel a chocolate cake coming on…
Is there ever a time you can’t muster a high? When you scoff at such a list; mind blank and steeped in bleak forecasts?
Are you screaming YES?
This was a year maybe a high might be hard to find.
A year to confront aging. A unknown father rushes in moments before a school holiday concert and mouthes “sorry” to his annoyed wife. As he brushed past me (proud aunt in the front row) to take his seat down the row, I found myself breathless-he was so very very young, this tardy father. Suddenly I was seized with panic. I was that wife, when? Yesterday, wasn’t it? We were the parents with little ones in concerts we never missed. Now I’m…what? Old?
NEVER. Have you seen me do my ab exercises? MOVE ON, NOW.
I was silly and stern and strong this year. Sad and deliriously happy. Woeful and wonderstruck both. Age is my friend after all, even if nobody gave me Time for Christmas. Hint for Santa: I only want TIME and you can bring it without wrapping as our blue bin is full.
A funny thing happened on this adventure in adulthood: there’s always a high. We go high when they go low, says Michelle Obama.
What makes me high? (My lawyer has advised me to refrain from the truth when crossing the border). Here is the secret: stories.
Here are some stories on page, stage and screen that shone for me in 2018 and maybe a few from my own story. Read More
Our dog is ten today. Lucy was an Obama puppy, born on that lucky day of the 2008 US presidential elections. Since then, we celebrate her benchmarks outside of political calendars, which seems especially prescient given the extreme anxiety surrounding this week’s American mid-term elections. It feels wrong to celebrate anything with so much at stake, unless of course sense prevails in the ballot box. Still, celebrate our pup we will. All good parties start with a toast, no?
She forgives easily. That Lucy is displeased from time to time is one of the easier lessons, as she droops her head over her chaise lounge, in a funk only teenager moping can compete with. #beentheredonethat! They’re young adults now and I’m battle worn and ready. Like them, forgive me she does, and it’s swift: a rub of the tum and she’s my BFF once more. Here’s to forgiveness.
She boasts a discriminating palate. Lucy likes bacon, green apples (sliced please, and if you could, remove the peel first, and spread a little peanut butter on it, oh aren’t you a dear?), bacon, grilled cheese, bacon, cauliflower, scrambled eggs, and is that bacon I smell? She doesn’t eat these things often thanks to a prescribed vet diet but when they’re on offer, she’s no fool. Not for her everything that falls to the ground, choosy pooch she is. That we could all be so disciplined, especially with stale Halloween candy bars.
She is gentle with kids, especially the exuberant variety that take Her Highness of All Things Fluffy under their wings, dragging her to and fro. Here’s to tolerance. She sniffs out loneliness and lends her charm to seniors. Here’s to compassion.
She loves the seasons as much as I do and is no wuss about weather. Here’s to resilience.
She knows when to duck out of divisive debate, scooting out of the room and up the stairs when the volume goes up, a skill I’m only good at with a wine glass in hand. She has grasped that silent staring is more effective than any noisy arguments. Here’s to diplomacy.
She guards her family with ferocity. Visitors, no matter how benign, are all the same to Lucy: announced first. No surprise visits for us. That’s a bonus for this writer in sweat pants.
She remains game for any kind of outing, anywhere, anytime. Lucy is my kind of party girl. Just call me ready.
She loves all humans but being with the girls is always her jam.
9. She can sleep anywhere, on anything, or anyone with soft enough centres.
As Summer offers up her breezy welcome, I salute the Spring that was, the Spring that sprung me loose, for a time, among olive groves. Did I manage to catch enough? Moments, not olives. Here follows a few that sustained me before the days became long and sunny:
Watching the sweet new documentary about Mister Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbour with my guy, both our faces stained with tears, all of us there in that theatre suddenly children again, we agreed we were the lucky ones who grew up with this gentle spirit leader, even if the experience was again peering at the snowglobe: the world will never be like this again. Go see this film, out now in theatres, my favourite from Hot Docs 2018. .
Fun Home. What a theatrical masterpiece, featuring three actors playing a character at different stages of her life; the production we saw received rapturous applause. Mine was mostly for Sara Farb for her solo, I’m changing my major to Joan. Who doesn’t remember that first thrill of amazing sex, no matter what your orientation? Here’s the Toronto cast:
Every social gathering is now lined with small screen binging currency. What have you seen? What are you watching? My answer this spring is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.Yes, it is marvellous, and reason enough, along with Mozart in the Jungle, to keep an eye on Prime. Both are antidotes to The Handmaid’s Tale. Yes, I’m watching that too and who could not as it is beautiful execution at every turn, even as it is harrowing.
To rid myself of too much angst, I go to a handful of NHL hockey games every season. Let’s leave stats and scores for the whiz kids like my nephew John but here’s a confession: it’s mostly about the collective experience for me. Are there any left? Where hollering and whooping with the rest of the crazies is better than…just better? We may be shouting Go Leafs Go but here’s a handy translation: Fuck Gloom. We’re for Glory. World Cup mania is about to hit. I’m ready.
Driving my youngest kid home after her university year wraps up and she has to say goodbye so of course there’s tears, and me maintaining control of the wheel on the 401 when there is a sudden cry in the car: she’s looking at her phone as an email just came in from her school with her marks. And her smile is as wide as the road ahead. I turn up the radio and we’re rocking all the way home now.
Hearing my father express his enduring love for our mother on their 61st anniversary with this simple grace note, when I wake up in the night and reach over, she’s there, warm beside me.
Two months later, they were together at University of Toronto, where Mom showed off her medal received, along with other classmates, for their 65th reunion from Victoria College. I sat beside Mom as she smiled at her two old chums across from her, all of them singing their school song there in Burwash Hall, and she told me she didn’t want to leave quite yet; there was strawberry shortcake after all. Memory isn’t like my ten year old dog, Lucy; she our faithful door butler/surest secret keeper. Memory flirts ferociously, flutter here, flutter there, where did I put my keys? I don’t know how to find my way there anymore… But old friends and school songs and holding hands like college coeds? That’s the there there.When my young nephew Henry came over to muck about with our dollhouse, his current set-up for the miniatures that inhabit our children’s library were configured as a band surrounded by fans. He was hearing music in his head when he set this up. Imagination just needs a door.
Then came Greece. Leaving for a spell is easy when you have people. Not rows of uniformed help. Rather, friends. A certain kind of friend who says yes when asked if she can be your surrogate caregiver while you are away. You know there’s work to be done and people in need, and without a back-up, your absence would produce challenges too hard to bear. So you ask. Her response, I would be honoured. Every day I was gone, she was here, quietly offering up intuitive leadership with efficiency of which I can only dream. My siblings cleared a way for me to travel. My friend Eva made it easy for my soul to fly.
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.
By the time March arrives, the Canadian landscape out my writing window offers little inspiration. Bleak skies begone! Behold a bevy of bougainvillea!
Wrap me in it and set me alight on a frisky wave. A strawberry daiquiri to go? Surely you jest? I like your style, and yes, I’ll have another.
Sun, sand, salt: how I love thee! Friendly winds whipping up waves for those unfazed by losing a bathing suit in the fray…this is the stuff of winter daydreams. An invitation to join my sister on vacation in Captiva, Florida, was an easy yes for this writer.
While in this charming corner of the planet, I had occasion to taste two delicious desserts. You know already what the next part is, don’t you? Read More