Monday, December 11, 2017

Faces Places (Visages Villages)

Confusing - I'm sitting here with two identical silver MacBook Airs, only one was bought in 2011 and the other last week, on sale on Cyber Monday. I figured my Mac - eight years old! - must be getting close to the end and thought I should replace it before it dies. Grace came over to help me transfer files, but we'd barely started before she had to go. So now I have a lovely new machine with hardly any files and a lovely old machine that contains my entire life. As soon as my genius Grace returns, I'll sort this out. The new one just startled me with a loud DING. What does that mean?

Still heartsick about this dark time on our planet, and yet so much, despite all, is wonderful and good. Today I went to see "Faces Places," the film 88-year old French filmmaker Agnes Varda made with a young artist, and it's sheer joy, absolutely one of the best - and in fact, on the NYT "Best 10 films of the year" list. The premise is so simple - an old woman with two-tone hair and a young man who never removes his hat or sunglasses become friends and colleagues and drive around the French countryside finding interesting working people to photograph, whose pictures are then plastered, metres high, on buildings, on trains, on abandoned bunkers. It's profoundly moving, quirky, a affirmation of life and art and our common humanity. I loved every minute - and fantasized about being 88 myself and finding a young man to work with. Tiny round Varda has so much fun.
That's Varda's eye in the background. Their work in the film reminded me of the exhibition I saw at the Met in NYC earlier this year of the work of photographer Irving Penn, who besides his long career shooting models at Vogue, travelled the world photographing tribespeople in Africa and working people in France and England. Faces. Places.

When I emerged from the Bloor - and how I love this cinema, devoted to documentaries, how lucky we are in this city to have it - it had started to snow, the first snowfall of winter. How excited my grandsons must be. I walked partway home, through my beautiful neighbourhood, in the particular muffled silence brought on by snow.


Yesterday's joy, two of my favourite male persons, Eli and Wayson, playing pirate boat and having supper. There's a great bond between my sometimes-mature grandson and my sometimes-playfully childlike writer friend.
After I'd delivered Eli back home, Wayson and I had dinner and binge-watched 3 episodes of the new season of "The Crown." On my old computer, which has the Netflix password. Delicious.

At this time of year more than any other, I feel blessed - health, a roof, a meal, a family and friends, and things I love to do, including my work. What more do we need? I know I know, a few more sane politicians would be nice. And a crushing defeat for the vile Roy Moore in Alabama tomorrow. Come on, my American friends, you can do it!

Oh - and then there's this headline in the Star on Saturday: "Eating cheese every day might actually be healthy." Now that's what I call good news.

Friday, December 8, 2017

the infuriating loss of Al Franken

I am more heartsick about the state of the world today than yesterday, something I didn't think was possible. Jerusalem - let's throw dynamite into this volatile situation and see what happens, chuckles Trump, the gleeful psychopathic six-year old. And Al Franken, one of the sanest voices in that insane land, sacrificed on the altar of political correctness in a country now so toxic, ripping itself apart from inside, it's hard to imagine how it will continue to survive. Franken was foolish and juvenile, pretending to squeeze a sleeping woman's breasts; another says he tried to kiss her, and another - oh imagine the horror! - that he squeezed some of the flesh of her waist during a photo op. What the hell is going on out there? Every minuscule grievance now has its chance to parade on the world stage, while an immoral pedophile makes his way to the Senate and the most loathsome predator on earth sits in the White House.

Okay, stop, racing heart. It will not do any good. Bill Maher must be climbing the walls. He's always shouting at the Democrats for being so prissy and holier than thou, as opposed to the Republicans who have not a single iota of decency or shame. And now, at a time when a man like Franken could not be more vital to the fragile democracy they claim to love, they've shot themselves in the foot once again. Franken, a clever, diplomatic, reasonable, and funny man, a rare politician popular on both sides of the aisle - gone.

I know many will disagree - that any bad behaviour must be punished. And I say when the other side agrees, let them all go together. Otherwise, you're handing the American government to the world's most sexist, blind, cold-hearted men and women, just wait to see what they come up with. I had a long argument with my friends on FB about this yesterday; one wrote this, about Franken, whom I was defending:
When "good men" do despicable things, they are no longer "good men." All the female Democratic Senators have called on him to resign, because what he did was not "something silly" - it was something disgusting and demeaning towards women. He does not get a free card because he is a Democrat.

Can we define "despicable"? "Due process" - have we heard of that? The fabulous, ultra-cool Deanne Taylor came up with the final word:
I don't believe any 'accusations', only proof established with due process. Some of us female-persons have to stand up for a sense of proportion, for knowing the difference between a mistake and a pathology, for not screaming 'victim' or 'survivor' over a fumbled pass.

SENSE OF PROPORTION. Now, there's an idea.

Heartsick. However. Pull yourself together, girl. It's cold but sunny. I spent yesterday rewriting my book proposal and getting it out to a publisher. No choice, it's got to be done; I will send to ten publishers and then, next spring, publish it myself and move on. Onward.

Heartsick.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Jane Goodall and Ben Bradlee - a magnificent pair

And now for something completely different: a shot from the taxi home from the island airport. Beautiful downtown Toronto.
No problematic Canada geese floating about amidst the concrete and sparkles. Above it all, invisible here, a super moon.

Today's excitement: a TWO documentary day. First, to the glorious "Jane" at the Bloor with friend Ken. It's about Jane Goodall, and what a story - I had no idea she was not a trained scientist when she went to Africa to study chimps, just a young woman who loved animals. She spent months living in the bush to gradually integrate herself into the chimps' world, and at one point, her mother came from the British countryside to live with her - two fearless Englishwomen camping in the African bush, amidst poisonous snakes and leopards, not to mention the male chimps who, as one interviewer pointed out, "could have ripped your face off." I knew I'd be fine, she replied serenely, because I was where I should be.

It turns into a love story when a handsome National Geographic reporter arrives to film her; they end up married with a baby, and the story takes a different turn. But always, she was with her animals in Africa, as close to them as to her own family, if not more so. Inspiring, especially now, as wild animals are more endangered than ever. Brava to a heroic woman, still out there doing this work.

And then tonight, most of a TV doc on Ben Bradlee, another extremely inspiring figure, the editor of the Washington Post when it followed and blew open the Watergate story; the exposé might not have happened if not for his courage. What he hated most, said the narrator, was politicians who lie. What would he have made of the guy there now and his execrable mendacious team? Just as well Bradlee's not around to see the travesty going on in his country. I missed the beginning and came in as they were talking about JFK's extra-marital affairs, how one night the President followed and sexually assaulted Bradlee's then wife during a party. And we're surprised men have continued to get away with that kind of thing!

Had a great talk with my son today about this. He thinks the rise in sexual assault is at least partly because of porn on the internet, which dehumanizes women - and sex itself. He told me a guy he knows can only "get it up" when he's watching a screen, so when he and his girlfriend are making love, she films what they're doing and he watches on the phone. How's that for dehumanizing? Sam thinks the rise in gun violence is partly because of video games; guys spend thousands of hours blowing things up on a screen until violence isn't real any more. We're fucked, he said. And I might agree, were people not making fabulous documentaries to show us the truth and bring us to our senses.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

homeward bound

Flight delayed; sitting in the Porter lounge with shortbread cookies, cappuccino, and thou. In my suitcase - Ikea junk and smoked salmon from my brother, to go into the freezer for us to devour Xmas morning. And on the computer, a 10 page typed document of family memories I just sent to my cousins in Washington. Treasure.
From my quick morning walk:
Who knew that Ottawa had a Poets' Pathway?
 There was sun, briefly, and many annoyingly noisy Canada geese. Question: why don't we eat them? Wouldn't that kill two birds, literally, and help with hunger and an over-abundant goose population?
I kept singing Macca's sweet song "The Two of Us": "You and I have memories/longer than the road that stretches/out ahead ..."
Could not resist - this is part of my aunt's collection of plastic bags, the ones she has carefully folded and wrapped in rubber bands. But when we needed a plastic bag, she opened her dishwasher, which was stuffed full to overflowing with them. My mother too had a huge collection of plastic bags, and sometimes, I'm tempted to hoard them myself. CAUTION! TURNING INTO AN OLD PERSON!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Lady Bird

Look at this woman, talking one of her 3 nieces, Barbara in Washington, this evening. She was born in April 1920. As her friend Una said yesterday, there is absolutely nothing wrong with her. She has never had cancer or heart problems. Her feet give her a bit of trouble, she has to wear awkward orthotics, and she was diagnosed with macular degeneration in one eye which never amounted to anything. Her brain is phenomenal; I have taken 9 typed pages of notes about the family's past, including the addresses of various of her grandparents in Northampton in the twenties. She prides herself on her speed with the daily word jumble in the newspaper and is off tomorrow to win again at Scrabble. It's clear I must always depart BS - Before Scrabble.

Yes, there was as always some pretty gross stuff in her fridge that had to be dealt with, and there are often crumbs on her sweater, and she's more frail than before and does forget things. She's fiercely independent and stubborn - won't accept help unless it's strictly necessary. When we got to Ikea, I asked if she wanted a wheelchair, to make those miles of corridors easier. Oh no, she said, brandishing her cane. I don't want to start that kind of thing.

Today I took her to the movies, which is another of our regular treats. Last time disastrously - the only British film out was the Harry Potter spinoff about fantastical beasts, which turned out to be very loud and incomprehensible to her. Today we went to see "Lady Bird," which has had uniformly good reviews and was in a movie theatre nearby with reclining chairs - extremely comfortable, so much so that Do slept through most of the film. But she didn't understand much anyway, the story of a teen coming of age in 2002 in Sacramento. I loved it; it's spare, beautifully written and acted and directed, haunting. It showed once more one of the most important lessons I tell my classes - the more we tell our own small story with depth and passion and skill, the more others will see themselves in our tale. This is the story of one girl growing up a bit, and yet somehow it's about all families, the flawed love of parents for their children and vice versa, the desperate need of teenagers to figure out who they are and make their independent mark. It made me ache. Every family I saw for hours after seemed to be in the movie.

And then back to Do's for an improvised dinner and more typing as she talked about OUR family. I will miss her.