Looking for a Job?

Maybe not this one!

It’s been a fairly mild winter so far but wet snow and icicles are hanging around. I guess some property owner got nervous about the strength of the roof. Up went boyo here with his shovel to toss off a few pounds, kilos, tons? He was quite cavalier about his task. I from my window trembled to see him close to the slope. What a job up there! I wonder what he’s like.

They say winter will begin in earnest soon. Will I see him again? Who knows?

At the Museum

Two Hearts by Jim Dine

I love Jim Dine’s work even though I am not very “good” at contemporary art. I am a volunteer guide at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. This piece is one of my favorites. It was absent from its place here at the main door of the Museum where it has welcomed so many visitors. After several months it has finally returned just in time to acquire a mantle of wet snow.

Today I led a “ welcome tour” for a group of new members. It had been several years since I had conducted a tour like that so I was a little worried about the timing. The idea is to fix a sort of road map of the various collections in the museum complex, to make the visitors feel welcome in the museum community and show off a few star pieces. The tour lasts 90 minutes and there’s no dilly dallying since we have to visit four separate buildings and drop in on the Art Hive where visitors can potentially make their own art.

High Summer by Hans Hofmann

Another of my few favorites in abstract art. Hofmann, who came to the USA in the 1930’s was perhaps the most influential teacher of postwar American artists. This week I have three tours of contemporary art with college and university students. I still have plenty of studying to do but it is becoming less of a “ challenge” and more of a joy. What is always a joy is the interaction with the visitors.

Time to get more comfortable with contemporary I guess.

All that is Left

Just a few branches

Salvaged from a most beautiful bouquet of roses sent for Christmas from my far-away daughter. The old favourite carpet that still gets away with its threadbare patches glows in morning light. My parents’ cocktail shaker, the lid lost in one of many moves, remains as a handy vase.

What remains of Christmas? Memories of music? Of happy meals, the crackers snapping, the toasts, the food, familiar or new delights? What remains? The mystery in the night? The meetings with old friends? The church, decorated and solemn?

And how many behind us? How many to come?

Out of the Storm

The park close to Mary’s  new condo was a great consolation. As her daughter had put it so persuasively, “It’s very convenient, Mum. To your right the shopping centre and to your left the lovely park for your nice walks.:

Like coaxing an old dog, Mary had thought, “Walkies girl, come on!” They were all right, of course. She couldn’t quite manage her house and the garden any more. The condo was close enough to her daughter’s place – but not too close for both their sakes.

She soon learned that the turn to the right always meant chores; boring shopping, trudging along with her wheeled cart. But the way to the left had opened up unexpected beauty.

It was one of the biggest parks in the city. If it was a little more manicured than Mary liked, there was still enough wildness, enough unofficial paths through the brush close to the two big ponds, enough birds and once, magically, a fox who held her gaze for just a moment before he plunged into the undergrowth.

By noon on Christmas Eve, Mary had spent hours gazing out of the big patio window hoping against bitter reality that the storm would abate. Hail, freezing rain and wet snow had been pelting down for over twenty-four hours. The weather channel was blaring in an orgy of self-satisfaction. Every hour or so an earnest police officer would interrupt to urge citizens to stay at home and wait out the storm.

At three o’clock the phone rang and Mary resigned herself to the expected reassurance from her daughter that if she would “just sit tight, the kids will be over tomorrow to walk you over to our place for Christmas dinner.”

Of course, there was no question that Mary would go to the Christmas Eve service.

“Stewart’s not even going to try to get the car out until this all dies down and anyway, I just looked on your church website. The service is cancelled. Imagine, first time in 62 years.”

Mary sighed , “ Right, be sure to tell Angie to bring her old sleigh tomorrow. The kids can drag me through the park to your place.”

Come on, Mum! I know it’s disappointing but at least we have electricity. Some people can’t even cook. OK so we’ll see you tomorrow. Keep snug, Bye.”

Mary turned on the TV and scrolled to a channel that showed a burning log fire. Christmas songs were playing. This year was so different.  For the first time in decades she would not open her kitchen door in the dark and step out into her little city garden with the grape arbour decorated for Christmas Eve. If she opened her kitchen door now she would be in an empty carpeted hallway impeccably vacuumed and silent as the graveyard.

She fell asleep, lulled by the howling wind and the saccharine crooning of ancient Christmas pop songs. At a little before midnight she awoke with a start. The televised fireplace had emitted a few extra-loud crackles that had convinced her that her place was on fire.

The storm was less impressive now. The spindly tree that stood between Mary’s building and that of her neighbors was thick with untouched snow. Large heavy flakes still fell but the wind had died down.

She was wide awake and stiflingly hot. On impulse she opened the patio door and stepped out onto the sheltered balcony. It was not enough. She turned, shut the door and headed for her closet. She fished out her boots and a thick jacket with a fur-trimmed hood. There were her keys hanging on the special hook her daughter had installed for her.

“No more losing your keys, eh, Mum?’ and that knowing look that meant yes, we all know you’re on the slippery slope but for as long as possible we’ll keep you out of “the home”.

The halls and the elevator were deserted. The snow on the steps was well over her ankles and the wind had driven it up into great drifts beside the ornamental tree that stood at the end of her short pathway.

She turned to the left and, walking down the middle of the deserted street, made straight for the wide entrance to the path. The snow was stopping but a few large flakes still clung to her hood. As she entered the park she noticed a small dog trotting in front of her, his slender paws skimming over the deep snow.

“Here boy,” she called, “Are you lost, come here. Who let you out on such a night?’ The little creature held his bushy tail erect, stopped for a moment and turned to look at Mary. She recognized the pointed muzzle and ears of a fox.

“Oh, what do you want, I wonder?’ Mary was quite startled. The fox sat for a moment until she had almost caught up to him and then with a lively little bound, he trotted off again, turning now and then to be sure she was following him.

“Where do you want to take me?  A strange outing for Christmas Eve!” She chuckled to think what her daughter, even her grandchildren would think of her, trudging through the thick snow alone in a deserted park to follow a fox!’

It was wonderful to walk solidly, at her own steady pace along the wide path. There were a few signs that city skiiers had been out earlier but now she only had the clearing clouds and a few stars for company.

The little fox trotted along ahead of her, just keeping his distance. Some parts of the park were very dark and Mary tried to stay on the well-lit paths but now her little companion turned off towards some rough sheds where park tools and equipment were kept.

“I think I must go back now, Foxie,” she whispered. “I must get home and go to bed.” But just as she went to retrace her solitary footprints, she noticed a faint light in one of the sheds. She could hear someone softly singing and, surely not, was that the cry of a little baby?”

She stood uncertain at the fork of the path. Perhaps there was a homeless person there, a mother with a young child. Anyone, a criminal, a drug addict, could be there.  Was it really her business? Mary stood hesitating for an endless moment and then the sharp yap of the fox was overpowered by the mooing of a cow!

 Lured on by her own curiosity, Mary approached the shed. A soft glowing light enveloped the place. It was quite crowded. A young girl sat on a rough wooden box, rocking a tiny baby while a man standing beside her shone a beat-up flashlight. Mary’s fox and a couple of racoons were curled up in a corner and a blue-jay, a cardinal and a knowing crow looked down from the rafters. And yes, a cow and a sheep with a little lamb stood chomping on one of the hay bales normally used as barriers on the toboggan run.  Three uniformed Park employees, one in a red turban, one in the park regulation cap and the third in a traditional Palestinian Kufiya stood guard at the door.

“Don’t worry, Ma’am.” murmured the gentleman in the turban. “We’re taking care of things. Everyone will be safe here tonight. Not the first time homeless people have taken shelter here, but it’s the first time we’ve had a newborn.  Christmas Eve, you know. I don’t celebrate myself, but this little family didn’t want to be rushed off to a shelter. Time enough for that tomorrow.”

“May I see the baby? ”whispered Mary.

Just as the young girl lifted a soft blue blanket from around the child, Mary felt the rush of great wings, a flurry of soft snow and a gentle power lifting her up and carrying her down the familiar park path. In an instant she found herself trembling at the foyer of her condo block, her keys in her hand.

It was just midnight. Normally at this moment Mary would have been struggling to make her rather thin soprano voice heard over the booming alto of the choir director’s daughter. This Christmas Eve had turned out quite differently. She touched the little figures of the crèche on her night table. Time to sleep now. On Christmas Day she would sort out what was real and what was a dream.

In the Spirit of the Season

In the Park

As a rule I don’t rush into decorating or playing carols. The 16th of December is my daughter’s birthday and that is the day usually reserved for “starting” the Christmas festivities. This year nature cooperated. Heavy snow has fallen and draped itself beautifully over the bare winter twigs and branches. My tree, hmm yes, my tree has been delivered. It is skinny and frankly pathetic.

Odd but lovable

My grandchildren, when they came to visit were surprisingly merciful and immediately got to work to beautify this rather unlovely tree. The result is that I am starting to love it. It is so meagre, so “ minimalist” as one of the kids remarked, that the old ornaments, full of memory and meaning, are all the more evident.

A feast for the eyes

A struggle to walk the required ten thousand steps. There were lots of cross-country skiers in the park today but I stuck to my boots, well anchored with crampons and my hiking poles.

A Surprise!

Recently many Canada geese came back to the cold ponds of the park. I can’t say I was overjoyed but I certainly thought it odd that should reappear after several weeks of absence. Perhaps they were putting their faith in a warming climate. The heavy snow settling on the frozen water must have convinced them that they were not yet in “Florida Nord “ It was odd to stamp around in thick snow and hear overhead the cries that one associates with brilliant fall colours and strolls through falling leaves. Off they flee to mark Christmas Day in a warmer spot.

Since I have decided to do Christmas shopping “on line” I have had a couple of other surprises too. The former owner of my condo forgot to charge her address and I carelessly opened a package outside my door without checking the name. Fancy chopsticks? Hmm never ordered those! I managed to get them to their right owner but I suppose if I order sight unseen I must expect surprises. like my tree! There are still a few days to see what, and when will end up at my door.

Sun and Moon

Moon saying “ GoodDay”

Early in the day, the moon slips quietly down below the horizon. At night she is the great lantern that reigns over us. We stop for a moment in the cold street to bow to her. As the sun lightens up the dark sky, she fades and timidly slips down to the horizon.

Through the trees in the park

Here comes the day, the sun, light, the bustle of the work day. Over and over again, the moon waxing and waning, the sun blazing or hiding in clouds. How often do we tell time or direction by these two? Hardly ever, but they never forsake us . Just this morning they looked at each other, greeted each other and went about their eternal business.

Across Generations

The two of us

My granddaughter and I did embroidery today. It was her idea! Now that I’ve astonished you all, I will admit that I owe her art teacher a big thank you. I think I’m going to take a good box of chocolates to that school before the Christmas holidays and leave it there for him. Yes, him. What art teacher gives a sewing project to a mixed class of 14 year olds?

She practiced her stitches, actually completed a bath mitt for herself, complete with monogram and came up with an idea for her dad’s birthday present. Oh, the book? I got it when I guided the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibit years ago.

There was no music playing, no phones, no TV, just the two of us talking about the role of hand sewing in fashion, the good news out of Iran today thanks to women’ courage, and how wonderful it is to create things. I even pulled out a neglected project and started working on it again.

Out of the drawer I took a tablecloth my mother embroidered decades ago. It featured cut-work or “ drawn threads” as she called it and it is jaw dropping in its detail and complexity. I’m sure I’ll never manage anything that wonderful. However, it’s good to know some skills are not completely lost. It was such a happy few hours. Thank you to that teacher, to my granddaughter, to every woman who ever plied a needle.

Mum’s handiwork

Beyond Lizards

A nest of the well-known oval eggs….

of a magical creature. Out on my daily walk yesterday I was astonished to see a typically sparse nest, close to a deserted parking lot in a city park, fully exposed to the elements and to the curious gaze of passers-by.

Where a cautious mother might nest

On the verge of a path in brush, perfect for adequate cover but with access to easy prey such as toddlers or old ladies with flimsy walking poles.

A mother dragon with her hatchling

This bold mother, however had chosen to flaunt her brood. I noticed most walkers gave her a wide berth and rightly so! Mother dragons are famous for their ferocity. I wondered if those walking sticks were all that was left of rash pedestrians who had irritated her. I kept a respectful distance and cooed admiringly at her one hatched dragonette who was perched safely up on mother’s back.

Pole tips a little too close for comfort

As mother dragon warned me off with a baleful hiss of steam, I bowed in respect and continued on my laps around the lake. What else lurks at the bottom of the lake I wonder and what will emerge before winters end?

Home for a nice cup of tea!

By the River

A Brilliant Day

Today I went for a long walk down by the river with a dear friend. It becomes harder and harder to meet up as all sort of stubborn viruses, colds and our old friend COVID infiltrate our lives. So, what a joy it is to finally spend time and enjoy a lovely walk with what might be called a “ kindred spirit” . The sun was so low and dazzling that I didn’t even get pictures of my beloved St Lawrence River but here is maybe a different take on the usual cement barriers

My friend Judith calls them modern Easter Island heads!

Our shadows are so distinct due to the strong sunlight. We also stopped for a great lunch in what had become “ trendy” Verdun! When did Verdun become trendy? It was called St-Lu and was full of young kids. Great food and a nice atmosphere.

After we parted I went downtown and ….. bought Euros! Just to make the Spring trip seem closer. Also, the Euro is a bit low these days so maybe it will prove advantageous to me. This evening I’m watching You Tube videos on the Camino. A long winter ahead, friends!