July 29, 2014

Books for the Armchair Traveller

I have not travelled to many places far from home in my life. I have not been off the North American continent, in fact. Most of my exotic travel has taken place in my imagination through the writings of gifted authors who can bring the very dust alive of a country where I have never set foot. Most of these authors are transplants from North America or England and their stories are relatable, often funny, and full of love for their adopted homeland.

Peter Mayle and his A Year in Provence books was the first transplanted author to really get my attention. He and his wife, Jenny, vacationed in the Provence region in the south of France in the early 1980's. In 1986 they moved to the area and began renovating an old stone farmhouse. Mayle's lighthearted and often comic descriptions of the food and wine, the Provencal characters, the landscape and the lifestyle opened up the world of armchair travelling to me and I happily return to Provence at least once every couple of years.

American Chef, Julia Child wrote a beautiful memoir, My Life in France about the years she and her husband, an American diplomat, spent living in Paris and Marseille. Needing something to do in a strange country, Julia took cooking lessons and discovered she had an aptitude for the art. With her trademark candid style, Julia describes with delight all the sights, sounds and smells of her adventures in France. She absolutely fell for Paris, fell for cooking, and fell for the French people.

An artist friend loaned me a couple of books by Hungarian-Canadian cum Tuscan author Ferenc Mate. The Hills of Tuscany and A Vineyard in Tuscany lept to mind when I was viewing the Facebook photos of a friend who is presently travelling in that part of Italy. Mate, a true Renaissance man, and his wife Candace, a painter, moved to Tuscany from New York (although I am happy to say they met by chance in Vancouver) to make a life there. Mate writes with a great deal of warmth, love, humour and self-deprecation. Between the lines one can sense his innate talent at making lifelong friends and succeeding at anything he turns his hand to. In the second book, he and his wife and their young son Peter, buy a former convent and turn it into a beautifully stunning, award-winning winery in the Montalcino region of Tuscany. Reading his books was like making a new friend, one for whom you feel an immediate appreciation and look forward to visiting again. I have a feeling I will be rereading Mate's sun-drenched memoirs this winter when the coastal weather here is particularly dreary.

I must confess that non-fiction has not always been my thing. I am a fairly dedicated reader of novels and short stories, but if a writer can entice me with true stories, I become a life-long fan. I can do plenty of armchair travelling through novels: Rumer Godden wrote exquisitely of India, Mary Stewart of Greece, Michael Ondaatje of pretty much anywhere, but there is something unmistakably wonderful about a writer who can write truly engaging non-fiction. Gerald Durrell and his My Family and other Animals, about growing up a junior naturalist in Greece, M.Wylie Blanchet and her The Curve of Time in which she takes us along with her family on their adventures by boat in and along the fjords and coastline of Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast are two such books. Their stories have an immediacy to them which scoops up the reader and takes them along as a guest on the journey, and I have a true appreciation for that quality in a book. Especially when long-flight travel is not on my real-life agenda any time soon.

Have you any recommendations of similar type books for me? Let me know in the comments, please!? Thank you. 

July 22, 2014

Things I Wrote as a Kid, Part 2

Our local Arts Festival just ended on Sunday night with a wonderful concert with Ricardo Tesi and Banditaliano from Italy. Our festival is a bit of an endurance test. Ten days of music and art bookended by jam-packed weekends of the same makes for an exhilirated yet exausted family and a messy, neglected house. Never mind, after a day of recovery I spent this morning cleaning and doing laundry, while this evening I will enjoy attending my regular yoga class. Ahhhh...it almost makes me appreciate returning to regular life.

As I said in my previous post, Things I Wrote as a Kid, I have been reading my teenage diaries. One day last week it occured to me to share my entries regarding the Winnipeg Folk Festival which I attended the summer of 1987 with my sisters, Monica and Clare and Clare's husband, Brent, along with some of their many friends. I had taken the train to Winnipeg after graduating from high school (I was seventeen) and was staying with Monica and her husband Matthew and their little daughter Anna. When rereading my diary entries I felt so blessed to have such close relationships with my sisters and brothers who were so generous and kind to me, their youngest sister. We had so much fun! I will include some highlights of my trip and time spent eating and cycling my way around Winnipeg. I hope my readers enjoy them.

Travelling to Revelstoke
I'm a little tired from the goodbye party Toni and the girls gave me last night. (They made posters of sheep for me; they made popcorn balls with Nibs as feet and eyes (sheep, a theme due to their nickname for me, 'Baa') and raspberry punch and pretzels. They made me a hilarious collage and an Ann Taylor portfolio with all my favourite pictures from magazines. Val gave me some fake Lauren perfume - cheap but a pretty fair copy. It was a really nice night). 
We started the morning with cantaloupe and me crying on Stephen's shoulder. I will miss him and Pauline (my brother and sister closest in age to me) Pauline and Steve gave me a bit more money for the trip, too. Then we packed up the Beluga (our fond name for the car). We had to use bungee cords to keep the lid of the trunk down because of my bike box. Chaos!
We rambled through the Slocan Valley (I don't know the sequence of towns) and through Silverton. We stopped at the Silverton Lookout. It was so quiet. You turn your back on the highway and look down into the lake below and across to the mountains. Nobody lives anywhere below but if I had the choice I would live right down on the cliffs. We had coffee in Silverton too and Mom madly (well not quite madly) ran around putting up museum and arts council posters. Then we stopped and ate at Nakusp on the beach. Bagels and cream cheese and pickles, tomatoes, cukes and sprouts! We didn't swim, though. We crossed the Ferry to Blanket Creek to swim. It is a small lake off the river and is quite warm. It's almost like a large bowl in that it becomes very deep in the middle. So, I couldn't stay out of the water. We got to Revelstoke and napped until 5:30 at our motel, The Swiss Chalet (tacky but clean). We ate in the motel restaurant and I had Weiner Schnitzel, which is breaded pork. It's not too exciting but with a squeeze of lemon it becomes quite good. We also had homemade chocolate cake which was excellent. We went for a long walk in the 105 degree air! The sun went down, though, as we headed back to first pack my bike in its box and then go to bed. I fell asleep around 11:45 I think. Mom had to watch the Journal Art and Music News. 
I woke up at 3:15 and had an invigorating shower and washed my hair! I felt so much better. We drove to the station and waited one hour for the late train. Eventually its whistle was finally heard. I boarded and got ready mentally for the trip. I had to sit in the smoking section until Calgary! But! Behind and across from me were two lovely Kiwis - very quiet but sweet. Right across from me was a really great Aussie named Tom. We met quickly and from then on we talked and talked! He bought me a coffee but a little while later I bought him a tea. He told me about all the food he'd eaten in all the places he'd been. His favourite, I gather, is Asia. We discussed art and everything else (Cabbages and Kings!) It was really neat to meet someone who could talk my ear off. He even seemed to enjoy talking to me. He's a dentist and is 29 but handsome (I like the 'but') and someone I could respect highly. 
The stops have been short until now. We didn't even get to walk around Lake Louise or Banff where Tom got off. The Rockies weren't as impressive as I'd imagined. They looked so old and grey. There were, however, a few majestic mountains yet even these looked ready to crumble...(I feel differently about the Rocky Mountains now.)

Monica, Clare, Matthew and Anna met me at the station. We got back to (Monica and Matthew's) funky apartment and I had a bath. Beautiful! I felt revived and sat down and had some breky (scrambled eggs and some banana bread). Then, I went to sleep for 5 and a half hours. When I got up Clare French-braided my hair...

June 29th
Got up about 8 a.m. because Anna was making a bit of noise. Matt made me breakfast and then I played with Anna who was really cute with me. Monica went to work and so Matthew and I took a drive. We brought Mon's lunch to her work and she introduced me for about 2 seconds to everyone _ I really like Alam. He is a tall, black man from Eritria who talks like, "Oh, so thees ees Moneeca's sistah."...we went to the Provincial Museum and saw the 'Non-Such'. It was neat but there is no way I would cross the Atlantic Ocean in it! We came home and relaxed and then Monica bugged me about being spoiled at home so I rebelliously did the dishes to prove her wrong. I may not do anything at home but I am able to. Clare and Brent came and got me after supper. It was really good to see Brent. He brought me a huge bag of tacky souvenirs (and some very useful ones such as a bicycle road map, a hat, and some postcards) One thing he stapled on tied with many other things such as buttons, matches, and pins was a really ugly and heavy bottle opener. Attached to it was a note, "Also good for beating off men." It was really funny...We then drove all around the city and went to a place called Osborne Village where the trendies hang out and had ice cream. I had one scoop of pistacio and one of fudge torte. Yummy! 

June 30th (Actually July 1st 3:40 a.m.) 
I am hyped on coffee! Tonight I went to the Bluenote (a dark cafe that has good music and long-haired waiters) with Matthew, John Cook and Alan Cox. They had the best coffee I've ever had and I must have had 4 cups! Ack!!!...Clare and I went to see 'Roxanne' again and generally let everyone around us know that Nelson was our hometown and that I 'appeared' in the movie. Then we walked home with Monica and my feet got sore from my new sandals and I had to be carried across the railroad tracks because I had taken the sandals off!

July 8th
Clare, Jen and Brent came to pick me up and we headed out to Bird's Hill Park for the first installment of the four day Winnipeg Folk Festival. When we got there this gospel blues band with four rather heavy-set black women singing such favourites as 'Amazing Grace' and 'Lord lift us up where we belong'. Mmmm. Then we heard a Montreal-based band called Latin-something-or-other. We danced to them and had fun. Then! Ladysmith Black Mombazo came on! They are about a 10 piece singing group from South Africa. They sing in Zulu and English and have wonderful choreography! They were a marvel to watch - so happy and bouncy. I really enjoyed them. It rained hard, though. Then it was off to Robin's Doughnuts and then Cousin's cafe for coffee and Sleepytime Tea respectively. Mom is sending me money! Yeah!

July 12th
We went to the Folk Festival yesterday - in fact CBC is broadcasting live at the Folk Fest. It was incredible! I was very impressed. We heard real folk, rock, Celtic rock, everything! We went from workshop to workshop, food stand to food stand! The best part I think was the night concert. Maria Muldaur, a Celtic rock band (Capercaillie), and David Lindley provoked us to dance crazily and sing along to songs such as 'You-oo--oo--oo send me" and "I love freedom" (we slyly added 'maxi pads' after each 'I love freedom') We ached from all our dancing. We got cold and put on sweaters, pants, anoraks - only to take them off again when we jumped and flailed our arms and yelled and hollered. It was such a high. At one workshop - the Afro-Calypso one, we imitated everyone we knew. It was hilarious - one can only get away with such craziness at Folk Fests! At the end we decided to stand at the back - way behind the thousands so we could leave a bit early to avoid traffic. Back there the music was bouncing off every food stand and fence and coming back to us in a very strange rhythm. 

July 13th
I got up at 11 and started a bath about 12 but Monica and Clare came home for lunch so I postponed my hot, peaceful solitude to dine with my beloved siblings. We ate cream of mushroom soup after dessert, of course! (brown sugar cake with whipped cream) I was still tired so I sat down to watch TV, but I looked around and the house was a mess so I cleaned the kitchen, put out laundry, and cleaned my room. I have discovered that when I do things in the house Matthew buys me a cold pop when he goes out to get the paper. Silent and sweet - that's our Matt - well, not too silent. When he gets going about history he can tell you lots of interesting things not at all silently! I danced with Anna while Monica started a letter. I then gave Anna a bath and dressed her, shirt coordinating with socks, of course! 

July 16th
I got up at 9:00 so I wouldn't waste the day...I was going to go downtown with Cathy but Pat Pyrz dropped by. We had a huge talk session which lasted until supper, through supper, all the way (while riding our bikes) to Assiniboine Park where it ceased for 1 and 1/2 hours because we watched Shakespeare in the Park. Pat's brother Gene was in it - Two Gentlemen from Verona. It was hilarious! The talk session lasted on the bike ride to the Impressions Cafe where all the wanna-be-folkies and some actually real folkies hang out, and it sustained until 12:30 p.m. between Pat, Monica, me, and neighbour Robin. Then Pat took me to a little eatery where we talked until about 2! Ack! Every subject from travel to glue-on bikinis was covered. What a day! I'm worn out!

Little Anna and me - taken by Brent at my parents' house

And that is where the diary of my summer in Winnipeg ends. After considering many options for the fall of 1987 including attending Lakehead University with Clare and Brent I decided I was homesick for my mountains and went back home to attend my local college. And so began another series of adventures, and another diary.

Note: all of this may seem shallow and silly considering all the sad and sobering things that are happening in the world these days, but I do find that when I am feeling weighed down by sadness a good antidote is to write about something that made or makes me happy. Something innocent, something free.

July 8, 2014

Things I Wrote as a Kid

Recently, I discovered a CBC Radio show called Grown Ups Read Things They Wrote as Kids. I heard  the show for the first time a couple of weeks ago when, on a Saturday evening I was driving the ten minutes to the village where my husband works in order to pick him up. I left the radio on as I waited for him in the back parking lot of the hotel and laughed until the tears were rolling down my cheeks. I listened to the show again this past weekend and then, I had an idea. I have a lot of writing I did as a teenager and I thought perhaps I would share some of it. Of course, my idea of posting things I wrote as a kid won't have the same impact as if I were to read them out loud in front of a live audience like they do on the radio show, but my hope is that they will provide at least a little entertainment to the reader.

What I noticed about the people on the radio show was their laughter at their younger selves who wrote about fantasies of glory or teen angst or harboured resentment against the perceived unjust actions of their parents. Most of what they were reading out loud to the audience was never meant to be read by anyone else, and at the time of writing it they had been most serious. I think it is important to both laugh at our younger selves and also to honour them. When I read my diaries I laugh a lot but the feelings of the time do come back with the memories. I, like most teenagers felt intense joy, pain, confusion, and all the other more subtle emotions in between. Growing up was an often baffling experience. As I read the diaries I began at aged fifteen I realize I cared about five main things: my family, my friends, food, boys and dance, but not necessarily in that order.

Myself at 15, taken in the school courtyard

June 19th, 1985 
Hi. I did o.k. on my Math final. Tomorrow I have English. I'm not looking forward to it. I have nothing except Summer after 10:45 tomorrow. I can't wait. I don't believe it's finally here. I'm growing my nails, so far it's working. I'm glad! Toni and Val and I 'supposedly' studied today. Val is very 'trendy'. I have a nice tan! In John's letter yesterday, He called me 'Miss Popular.' I guess I'm liked by a lot of people but I wouldn't say 'Miss Popular' - sort of bitchy sounding. Mark lent me a tape of assorted artists from England. Here's some of the Weird names: Vice Squad, The Vibrators, Angelic Upstarts, Attila the Stockbroker, The Dead Kennedys, Hollywood Brats, Abrasive Wheels, English Dogs, U.K. Subs, Adicts,Cockney Rejects, Instant Agony, Major Accident, Pressure. WIERD!!! Anyways, now I'm listening to Limahl and then Don Henley. Well I should go and sleep! 
Bye, Rebecca (doodle of a heart)

June 20th, 1985
I had an English final. It was pretty easy. All my exams are finished. Summer is here and next year I'll be in Grade 11. Wierd!! Today, Toni, Tanja, Colin, and I went to my house and ate, to Toni's and ate. Tanja went home and me, Toni, Colin and Jen went to Colin's and ate. Then me and Jen sat outside her house and talked about Scott. I keep thinking he'll come here (Scott was a boy I met from another city). I miss him. I saw a Good Play on TV. John's birthday is on Sunday. (John was another boy I met at a youth function).
Love, Rebecca (doodle of a heart)

June 23rd, 1985
Well, today I went to a Youth Group picnic. It was fun but I got thrown in the lake and I also don't like organized activities like games. After the picnic I went to Sam our leader's house and she did a survey on my personality. I'm an ENFP - Extrovert (outgoing); Intuitive (go on hunches); Feeling (sensitive); Perceptive. It was a good evening. My knee really hurts right now so I have ice on it. I was talking to Sam and I said I sleep all bundled up sort of guarding myself. She asked me if I had a secret to guard. I said yes and I won't even tell you! Maybe someday but right now I'm just learning to trust a diary in the house of my family, o.k.? (I wish I could remember now what that secret was) I thought about John since it's his birthday today. My survey said I would go well with a mate who was stable or a mate with his head in the clouds and sort of scientific. John and Scott!!! Well I gotta go. 
Love, Reb (heart doodle)

Stay tuned for next week's entry in which I describe my knee surgery performed by a very handsome surgeon. If anyone out there would also like to post things they wrote as kids I would love to read them. I had to look up 'Limahl' because I couldn't for the life of me remember anything about them. Thankfully, Google delivered: Synth heavy 80's tune by Limahl I'm happy to report that my taste in music improved over the next few years.