Apparently, the New York Times has cancelled April Fool’s Day. On whose authority? Did Trump order that? Governor Cuomo? It’s probably an illegal order. April Fool’s Day has never been a statutory holiday. It’s part of our freedom of expression as a culture. Since when can a newspaper dictate the cultural expression of the masses? Or Trump for that matter? What are they afraid of? Hackers taking over the world? I guess they could, but we desperately need a little levity. And, besides, I have never heard of such an order in Canada. We live in Canada.
But now we know that the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 (hopefully not extending into 2021) is not a joke. We are in it for a long haul. Who would have guessed that we would find ourselves in a period of cataclysmic historical change? I wonder if people felt this way at the beginning of World War One? Or on the fall of the stock market in 1929?? Or the start of World War Two? Maybe 9/11 is the closest in my generation. When we emerge from this pandemic, the world will not be the same. In an instant we will have pivoted to modernity.
“In these hard times,” to use my son Ben’s favourite phrase, we need to look for the bright spots. Already they are apparent.
In Canada at least, the tedious war between partisan interests, premiers and the federal government, and groups mobilized to pursue their own agendas, has ended. We are all in this together. We need each other. Our lives depend on good leadership and the cooperation of every citizen. This common experience will change our political culture and create a new climate of collaboration. We may be less wealthy, but we are already more cooperative and more nimble than we have been in decades.
Our Parliamentary system is working well. The government proposed to give itself the broadest possible powers necessary to fight an unprecedented epidemic. The Opposition challenged their draft legislation as over-reach. After hours of negotiation, but in historically fast time, all parties agreed to a compromise which appears to have given the government the powers it needed for a much shorter period. That Quebec was instrumental in proposing the compromise is a good thing for confederation. For all the last-minute drama, the parties did agree to an expedited process to approve the legislation in the House. And did you notice how quickly the Senate convened to approve the legislation? A refreshing reassurance that the Senate can move with expedition when necessary.
We are lucky to live in Canada. Our politicians of all stripes are rising to the challenge. Our civil service and public servants are professional and not gutted. We have a strong banking system and banks which owe a debt to the society which has sustained them. We have a public health care system and a social welfare infrastructure which provides the basis for speedy responses. We have the CBC which, for all its faults, is professional and brings the country together. We have business, cultural and community sectors which are innovative, energetic and willing to do what they can for the common good. For all our political and cultural diversity, we share common values and a sense of community.
We now know that we are living through a revolution. B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry noted that, in this age of modern technology, physical distancing need not mean social distancing. In World War One, young men and women left their families to fight abroad. Only the occasional letter or parcel arrived between family back home and the troops and medical personnel overseas. People lived in a state of dreaded anticipation. By World War Two, the telephone was commonplace at home, but less so across the water. Today, communications around the world are instantaneous over a proliferation of devices and apps. People (particularly those in the wealthy industrialized world of which we are a part) can see each other, conduct business, share common experiences of every possible kind, even write a book collaboratively with a host of experts located all around the continent.
Compare the spectacle of partisanship and dysfunction south of the border. Their response has been a horror show, and will lead to horrific results. Trump and the anti-science Republicans around him are doomed. What we are seeing is a massive human experiment, a comparison between how a pandemic should be fought versus how it is being fought in the USA. Canada’s going to come out looking good in this.
So while we do our part as troops in this environmental war, we are living through a total transformation of our society. It is our technological revolution. We are hurtling towards modernity in all sectors of our society and our lives. Governments are working collaboratively across the country (when did that happen last?) and with business and labour (both nationally and locally). Our public health care system will never be the same again. E-education is coming on a massive scale, whether we like it or not. Even the musty old legal system has stopped. When it gets going again, the old practices and culture that impeded reform will be swept away. Truckers and grocery staff are now recognized as essential workers. All sectors of the economy are joining in a communal effort.
Millions of people in lock-down and mandatory isolation are a captive audience who must find something to do to fill their time. In modern times, we are used to going out and about, shopping in the malls, using the gyms and the parks, visiting our friends and relatives in public spaces, restaurants, bars, discos. We are not used to being cooped up. How we deal with being housebound will be a major test. We need to find ways to divert ourselves in close quarters and in the physical presence of only our immediate family. It’s time to read the classics, take up an old or a new hobby, learn to play the piano, take up cooking, declutter the house. In the weeks ahead, we will talk about what people are doing, how they are doing it, and what resources are available to assist.
To survive, we are also going to need to learn about modern technology. Have you heard about Zoom? Two weeks ago, I knew nothing about it. Now I hear stock shares in Zoom are skyrocketing, and that it will sweep the world. Last Saturday, I was at my first Zoom gathering with my family. It was a hoot. I am meeting my close girlfriends for a Zoom date this coming Friday. Our next post will feature a Guest Blogger who will tell us how to set up Zoom and how to use it.
Did you pick up on the fact that Canada led the world in ensuring that the 2020 Olympics will be postponed until 2021? We had a great Winter Olympics in 2010. We know what hosting an Olympics entails. Good work to the Canadian Olympic Committee and the athletes who led that effort.
And did you notice that the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear the appeal from the City of Toronto against Doug Ford’s arbitrary cut to the size of the Toronto City Council in the midst of the last municipal election? Maybe we will get some much-needed clarification of the modern law relating to the powers of municipal governments, and the standards of fairness that apply to the municipal context. This is going to be very useful.
It’s time to make lemonade out of lemons, everyone.
I’m shell-shocked. As is everyone else. So much has happened so quickly. Each day brings new information about what we should, and should not, be doing. It’s mind boggling. And now we find ourselves in the fight of our lives.
Two weeks ago, we were preoccupied with railroad blockades and Indigenous rights in Canada and the Democratic primaries in the United States. Our son living in Whitby sent an email asking when we were coming home. Our other son living in Petawawa encouraged us to stay in Vancouver as long as we could. That Saturday, our house-sitter called to say she had just cancelled her April trip to California and could stay in the house if we wanted to delay our return. At the time, we’d never discussed how long she could stay; we assumed to the end of April. She has since assured us that she will look after our house and the cat for as long as it takes… which is well over and above what we can really expect.
My husband and I are both 75 years old and, like most people our age, have co-morbidities. Neither of us were keen to go through YVR or Pearson, nor to spend four to five hours in the petri dish of an airplane returning to Toronto. It was my husband who first proposed that we stay. Uncharacteristically, for the blue-stocking BC chauvinist that I am, I was plagued with doubts and worries. For ten days, we dithered (“I dithered” may be more correct) about whether we should take our return flight to Toronto which was scheduled for March 26th. That would have been yesterday.
Last Saturday, Air Canada sent an email telling us that our 1:30 p.m. flight was changed to 6:30 a.m. because of “a government travel advisory.” They also offered us an opportunity to upgrade to another class of seat. I had had it. I pressed the button to “Cancel Booking” without waiting for the later instruction which told me how I should have proceeded if travelling on Aeroplan. Maybe I will lose those points. Maybe I won’t. But If I do, it won’t compare to the exorbitant airfares countless others have now had to shell out for new tickets home.
Having made our decision to “stay in place,” I thought that the hard part was over. We have a nice two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in an old rental building in West Vancouver. It has a balcony and a view over the water. Our “cottage in Vancouver” (which I’ve written about before) seemed a perfect spot to sit out a pandemic.
How hard could it be? We are bloody lucky to have the place. The Sunday before the library next door closed, I took out some books. Among them, three volumes of stories by Alice Munro and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Canadian classics I have never read. I figured that would tide me over.
Alas, on Sunday evening, I discovered that our fifteen-year-old-plus television was on the fritz. How could we survive here in isolation without a tv? The story of the tv will be a blog post in itself, but by Tuesday morning, we had a new television. Had not yet set it up. Too tired.
By now, there were many more pressing priorities at hand. Like what do we do if one of us were to get the virus? How would we self-isolate or go into quarantine in this apartment? The reality of the existential danger facing us sank in. We had to think seriously about our living arrangements, our standards of sanitation, our interactions with each other, and how we were going to survive.
I wanted to get Effervescent Bubble going again, and dear friends encouraged me to do so. But how to get it going when all was doom and gloom and I felt anything but effervescent?
I certainly don’t want to dwell on the hard news which dominates the media. I want (no, need) some good news, some levity, some practical instruction about how to survive. I also yearn for more efficient contact with the people I love, both those in my family, and the many friends across the country and around the globe who are already part of the Effervescent Bubble community as well as those who may choose to join us in the future.
Last Thursday, Mike Crisolago’s article entitled “Beat Isolation Blues with Virtual Concerts and More,” published on everythingzoomer.com, appeared in my Inbox. Apparently, the New York Metropolitan Opera is streaming their Encore opera repertoire free of charge. That night, I watched La Traviata and loved it. (Another blog post to come.)
Lori Myers, my EB editor and friend in Toronto, wrote an email telling me about a virtual “family birthday party” planned for Saturday night, using Zoom. I had never heard of Zoom. My two daughters-in-law (the technologically gifted members of our family) hadn’t either, but they suggested that we form a Video Chat group on Messenger. And then there is FaceTime and Facebook and all the other social media that bring people together when they are physically apart. (Another obvious blog post.)
It occurred to me that if we are to endure a pandemic, we have all the tools at hand to meet many of our basic social needs even while in isolation. Many already operate in a virtual world. For others of us, this pandemic is going to be a crash course in modern technology.
On Sunday night, Lori sent me a long, long email setting out dozens of topics that would be of interest to people who have followed my blog. Clearly, it’s time for The Effervescent Bubble to get off her duff and reconnect.
It feels good to be back on board. I look forward to our ride together. Keep safe.
It was my first trip around the Stanley Park seawall this visit. And my first time riding an electric bike ever.
The attendant at Jo-e Cycles on Denman showed me the electric bike I would rent. It looked new, had small tires, an internal battery, and was somewhat heavy to lift. He lowered the seat and handlebars, demonstrated the derailleur control, brakes, bell, and then use of the additional electric power. To turn the electric power on or off, “you press down on this button for at least three seconds,” he said, “and there is a five-speed program: zero is coasting, one to five from slow to fast. I would recommend you stay on zero and one.”
When I left the store, the idea of additional power on a city street was too much. I cycled the bike on my own steam down the bicycle path from Denman to Stanley Park.
The cycle path around the Stanley Park seawall is nine kilometres long and designated one way. It heads north and east around Coal Harbour to Brockton Point, then west past Lumberman’s Arch and the Lions Gate Bridge to under Prospect Point, and on to Siwash Rock. It then heads south past Third Beach and Second Beach to exit at English Bay or to return past Lost Lagoon to Georgia Street.
Once on the cycle-only trail in the park, I pressed on the power and felt a surge of additional push up a small hill. That was nice, and certainly easier than if I had been pedalling on my own. Then I tried the power-pushed coasting past the pedestrians walking beside the yacht club and around Coal Harbour. This was fun. By the time I got to Brockton Point, I had the hang of it and felt sufficiently secure that I was willing to stop and take some photos.
Taking photos required that I get off the bike. That was easy enough. Getting back on was more difficult. I discovered that my legs are so short that lifting them over the bar and the battery of the bike was a major challenge. Stopping near a curb, a rock, a log or a fence helped. Standing on the additional height made it easier.
At Third Beach, I left the elevated cycle path to read some signs. When I tried to get back onto the cycle path, I found lifting the bike up the few inches of elevation difficult. Worse still, there was no place for me to stand to get back onto the bike. I had visions of falling off the path as I struggled with my balance on the bike. Fortunately, a friendly passerby offered to lift the bike and to hold it while I got back on. I greatly appreciated his help.
The cycle-path is paved all around the park, but in places it is narrow, there are several blind corners, and other cyclists pass from behind. I did exactly as I had been told, coast at zero and speed at one. Coasting is not passive, it still requires pedalling. According to the health app I discovered on my iPhone recently, I did over 5000 “steps” cycling around the park. Pedalling may not use the same energy as does walking, but at least it is something. As for the speed, it was fast enough for me. With all my stops for photos, I got around the park in two hours. Some people run around the park is less time than that. For me, it was the perfect pace.
And the vistas from the seawall are sublime. Such lovely views of the mountains, the harbour, the beaches, the trees and the people enjoying it all. There’s no better way to spend a quiet Sunday morning.
In the past, I have written about Tafelmusik’s Sing-along Messiah. Last Saturday, I shared a sing-along experience with a great choir which was totally different, but equally uplifting. On Sunday, February 23rd, the Bach Choir will perform Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in concert at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver. This weekend, they invited other choirs and the public at large to join their rehearsal in a sing-along run-through. It was an utterly delightful experience.
German composer Carl Orff wrote Carmina Burana in 1935-36. It is a cantata based on 24 poems from a medieval collection which covered a range of topics described in Wikipedia as “the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.” Written in secular Latin, Middle High German, and Old French, it is one of the favourites of the classical music repertoire. You can hear it on YouTube. Normally sung with full orchestration, for the sing-along, Stephen Smith, rehearsal accompanist for the choir, played the piano.
Cathrie Yuen, Assistant Conductor of the choir, led the singing. She started with a series of exercises, to get the body in shape and the voice ready for the demanding music which followed. Then down to the serious business of singing “Oh Fortuna” and the twenty-four other movements that make up the cantata. After most major movements, Cathrie had suggestions for improvements and the group repeated the singing as she wanted it done. Needless to say, most people knew the music well.
My friend and I chose to sing alto and had never seen the score before. Of course, we had never sung it before. We felt good if we were able to find in the score where the rest were actually singing. It was great fun. And, sitting in the choir, the music was wonderful.
The Vancouver Bach Choir is in its 89th season and is one of the largest symphonic choirs in Canada. Under the direction of Leslie Dala, it performs traditional and new choral works, for a local, national and international audience. Since 1984, it has also built a multi-tiered children’s program that provides choral training to over 350 singers from kindergarten to post-secondary school. More recently, the Sarabande Chamber Choir has emerged for graduates of the youth program, current Vancouver Bach Youth Choir members, and outside applicants.
Donations from the Singable Saturday event were given to the Vancouver Adapted Music Society. Sam Sullivan and Dave Symington, two Vancouver musicians who became disabled as a result of sports injuries, co-founded that organization in 1988. The Society has specialized adaptive equipment which allows people of all levels of disability to learn to play the guitar, bass, keyboards, and to study singing. It also has a fully-accessible studio, which enables disabled musicians to learn studio techniques, record their music, and perform at Vancouver-area gigs. A worthy recipient of a most inspiring event.
While walking beside the sea in Ambleside park a couple of weeks ago, I came across a cluster of translucent domes sitting on the grass beside what used to be the beach refreshment stand. A sandwich board beside the sidewalk read: “Dinner with a View, January 15 – February 16. Seatings at 5:30, 7:30, 9:30. Book Online. Promo Code POPUP60 Dine with a view experience #dinnerwithaview.ca.” A passerby told me that he was taking his girlfriend there the next night to celebrate her birthday. I thought that would be a fun experience and made a note to check it out.
The website was enticing. It offered “a perfect evening” “under the sky,” “at an incredible place,” “with those you cherish most.” And a celebrity chef to boot. What more could you want? Apparently, this was the third Dinner with a View pop up experience. The first ones were in Toronto and Montreal in the spring of 2019. The next will be in San Diego next month and Chicago in the fall.
Making a reservation was an interesting process. There were two costs: $199.00 for the dome and $109 for each meal; drinks and tips were extra. The costs of the dome and the meal had to be prepaid, and clients had to choose one of three blind pre-set dishes: fish, meat, or vegan. The menu was guaranteed to be shellfish, pork, and nut-free.
But, according to the internet, “all reservations had a minimum of four and a maximum of six.” That was a problem. My husband and I had only recently come to Vancouver and our usual dinner partners were out of town. How could we put together four people for what appeared to be a relatively expensive event?
I checked their reservation calendar and discovered that all the 7:30 sittings were booked, but that there were vacancies for the 5:30 and 9:30 weeknight sittings. I sent an email enquiring if they would take us as a couple. We would be willing to share a dome. They replied that they would offer us a private dome at 75% off the dome price for the next night. We couldn’t go then, but we agreed that I would check in the following morning at 9:00 a.m. when they reviewed the reservations and see if there was room then. I did, and there was, and I made the reservation directly with the head office for the 5:30 sitting.
That day started dark, dreary, and wet. But, as happens often in Vancouver, the weather in the west cleared during the day and by the time of our dinner date, it was a lovely evening, clear but crisp. After parking directly opposite the entrance, several staff standing beside a fire pit welcomed us and showed us to our dome.
It was a translucent plastic dome designed to simulate a terrarium, with a door that zippered open and shut. On the wooden floor inside was a table with chairs, each with a blanket folded neatly over the back. We had a heater at our feet and were surrounded by plants. The terrain outside was aglow with white lights in the trees, an aqua screen adding more colour, and outdoor fire pits with blazing fires. All this behind a white picket fence beside the sea with a pale sunset in the west. It was utterly enchanting.
Wearing toques, our servers were young people, friendly and cosmopolitan. One was from Quebec, had never been to Vancouver before, and was eager to practice her English. Another was from Chile, in Canada on a work permit that she wanted to extend. They popped in and out, zipping the door open and shut, always attentive to what we needed.
And the food? It was exquisite. We started with a beet and apple salad appetizer which instantly told us that this cuisine was superb. My husband had black cod with onions and leeks. I had chicken with tiny carrots, fingerling potatoes, and mushrooms foraged by the chef. Our dessert was a fruit, mousse, and mint crumble that was light and utterly delectable. We were satisfied that the cooking was as good as, if not better than, anything we had ever had in Toronto.
Our chef was Paul Moran, Executive Chef of the widely-acclaimed 1909 Kitchen restaurant and The Hatch pub at Tofino Resort and Marina on Vancouver Island. He apprenticed with David Hawksworth in Vancouver and was the Top Chef Canada Winner in the 2019 Food Networks Canada’s Top Chef competition. He visited us in our dome after our meal and we chatted at length. It was a warm and wonderful conclusion to a fabulous evening.
I bought my iPhone 10XS from Costco in October 2018, over fifteen months ago. My old iPhone 5S was slow and often did not do what I wanted it to do. The time had come to get a new device. The new iPhone cost a lot of money, was beautiful to look at, and felt good in my hand. It held out the promise of efficiency, and access to the best that computer technology had to offer. I figured that this iPhone would do me for the next decade or so and, whatever the cost, the upgrade was worth it.
Alas, until now, I never knew how to use it. I have been struggling with basic functions that I didn’t know how to work. How to use the camera. How to select, cut/copy, and paste. How to use the device for other functions while still talking on the telephone. Of course, I could use the telephone, the text messages, the notes and the calendar, but I had no idea how to access the wonderful new features, supposedly on this telephone, which made it worthwhile. I was so frustrated. Ultimately, I concluded that it must be me. I must be losing it. Clearly I no longer had the mental capacity to deal with modern technology.
All that has changed. Two weeks ago, I signed up for a series of three-hour workshops on iPhones and iPads offered at the West Vancouver Seniors Activity Centre. The first three sessions were on the iOS13, the current operating system that runs the device. Then there are individual sessions on “Organizing your email,” “Messages,” “Everything Siri,” and “Photo Artistry.” Wow. I was thrilled. This appeared to be exactly what I needed to learn, to use my iPhone.
And indeed it has been so. The instructor is Andrea MacDonald who specializes in technology for seniors. Her card says that she offers “Patient, Gentle Instruction.” Maybe so. But she knows her stuff, moves the material along quickly, identifies the basic skills and has us practice them there and then. She also requires homework. After the first session, I dutifully went to the local coffee shop and asked for their wifi address and password. Andrea says that “this is a basic skill, necessary in modern life.” Who would have thunk it? But she is right. All the young people use Starbucks, Delaney’s, and all those other coffee emporia as pop-up workspaces. Accessing wifi today is like accessing the washroom.
This week, Andrea has required me to clean up my Contacts using the criteria required by the App. I have 657 contacts and “the homework” will take hours. But, of course, I only have to do it once. The changes will instantly show up on all my devices and once it is done…
Another example: I had tinkered with the dictation function on my previous smartphone. In theory, the dictation function is wonderful. You talk and the device instantly produces a transcript of what you have said. In the past, my transcripts were often garbled and full of mistakes. I needed to check them right away to ensure that I actually knew what I was talking about.
Andrea demonstrated dictation in class. She spoke in her usual voice, at her usual speed, with the iPhone on the table in front of her, and produced a perfect replica of what she had said, instantly. I was amazed. I went home and started dictating. I realized that I needed to slow down a little, enunciate more clearly, and think more precisely about what I was saying as I went along. Voilà: even I produced a perfect transcript. Now I dictate everything. My email. My messages. My notes. My blog posts. What I dictate is shared to all my devices, an instant first draft. That was after the first lesson.
In lesson number two, Andrea taught us about Swipe Typing. I had never heard of it. Then she demonstrated how pecking letter by letter on the keyboard was so passé. (Note, by the way, my newfound agility with adding accents.) Now the technology allows us to “write on the keyboard,” using a skating motion of the finger, lifting only between each word. As we glide over the letters, the automatic intelligence built into the smartphone fills in the entire words. It actually works. Amazing. But I still think dictating is easier.
A very fundamental truth which Andrea taught right up front was that modern iPhones are built to respond to a specific kind of touch. A light touch. A touch that is quick and even “lazy.” A touch that is too heavy-handed, too earnest, won’t work. For particular functions, the device is engineered to respond to a heavier steady touch. Press on the telephone icon, for example, and a window will pop up, like the “right-click” of a mouse, with convenient options for further actions. And, of course, with no home button any more, “the swipe” is essential. It’s “the swipe from the upper right corner” which opens the Control Centre. I’ve seen other people using that window before, but never knew how to access it. How to get out of Apps and other windows? Just touch or swipe. No wonder I have had such a hard time with my iPhone this past year.
I could go on. And on. But I won’t. The moral of the story is that it is never too late to take an appropriate computer training course. After only two weeks, I feel many years younger. I guess I haven’t lost my marbles after all.
Rain in Vancouver in January is the normal daily forecast. 70%, 80%, 90% chance of rain is what the weather reports will say.
What the locals know is that the rain seldom goes on all day long. Watch the sky. It will seem to brighten, if only in the west. The cloud cover will lighten; distinct dark clouds may move on and maybe an instant of blue will appear in the sky. The pitter-patter of rain on the windows will stop. Pedestrians will appear on the sidewalks without umbrellas. All signs that the rain has stopped.
At those times, the seawalk in Ambleside will be full of people, particularly people with dogs. Now is the moment to get the dog out for a walk or a run on the beach or the boardwalk. The off-leash area for dogs is awash with a diversity of dogs, many chasing balls. One of the dogs I saw was a tiny thing with fluffy white fur, so pristine that it almost shone in the dreary day. I asked his owners how often they had to clean it. “Every day,” they smiled.
It’s a mistake to be lured into these breaks in the rain with the expectation that “the good day” will continue. It can be bright one moment and raining heavily the next. I was leaving the Seniors’ Centre on Monday in a drizzle. A man leaving with me, wearing only a zippered fleece, explained that it hadn’t been raining when he left home. Of course not. He hardly needed to explain.
But yesterday, on my first of the daily walks I intend to take here, I tried to lower the weight I was carrying. I brought my keys, my wallet, and my iPhone, thinking that would do.
No way. Twenty minutes out, I could take a rest on a bench on the beach and do some email while watching the water. I could stop and take photos of new developments, particularly ones that could be a potential topic for a future blog post. I could talk with strangers and they were happy to engage in a short conversation. Twenty minutes later, the rains came again.
By the time I reached Park Royal and found the entrance, I was soaking wet. I had to find a chesterfield in the mall, take off my supposedly water-resistant jacket and hang it to dry. All of which took some time. I should have known that you never go anywhere on any day in Vancouver in the winter without taking an umbrella.
A Vancouverite friend responded to my post with tips about “rain management” that only a local would know. She said that many prefer jackets with hoods rather than using an umbrella. “Good for dashing from cars when your hands are full or walking shorter distances.” Although some stores have umbrella stands by their doors, “you don’t want a damp umbrella in your pack or purse!”
She said that living in Kitsilano, you never “leave the house without your small umbrella and a reusable shopping bag.” Umbrella lovers have a collection of umbrellas of different weights, sizes and designs. “And because we use them so much we choose their colours and patterns carefully. They are a year-round accessory!”
So it is. Yesterday, on the seawall in a slight rain, I noticed that many, younger walkers particularly, were in rain gear with hoods. Older folk tended to stick with umbrellas. I was somewhat proud that I had not yet used the umbrella I carried in my pack.
Alerted to umbrellas as a “wardrobe accessory,” I noticed umbrellas that stood out. One was a collection of cartoons from the Vancouver Sun. Another was a strikingly colourful motif of a couple each carrying an umbrella. According to the owner, this was from a famous American painting she had seen in the Chicago Museum of Modern Art. She bought it years ago from a family-owned umbrella store that existed on Granville Island for decades. The store had made their own umbrellas which were more expensive but more sturdy than others. She expected that this umbrella would last longer than she does. She also spoke ruefully of a summer parasol (made of material that could not be used in the rain) which she had bought from the store. That umbrella had been stolen and she still missed it. I never would have thought how much one can learn from umbrellas.
The hot tub located in the women’s locker room of the West End College Street YMCA in Toronto is one of the highlights of the Y experience. (The men have a hot tub, too, but I know nothing of what happens there.) Unlike some Ys, where access to the hot tub is limited to members who pay a premium, the West End Y hot tub is open to everyone. Many love the warm luxury of the hot water and the “water therapy” provided by the jets. Together with the steam room, sauna and showers, the swimming pool, sports facilities, and the Zen deck on the roof, it provides “the ultimate spa experience” for those who like to treat it as such, even for a day.
The current hot tub is a pool clad with white tiles, up three stairs from the showers, sauna, and steam room. These stairs make the hot tub inaccessible to those in wheelchairs, hardly conducive to the Y’s commitment to physical accessibility. How this was missed during a relatively recent renovation escapes me, but it was. Putting that aside….
The tub holds a maximum of eight people at a time, sitting on underwater tile-clad benches, with jets on two sides. Sometimes when I use the hot tub, I have the hot tub to myself. Other times it is full. Each time, I wonder what my hot tub experience will bring that day. Consistent with the prevailing etiquette, sometimes all the bathers like to talk. Other times, it is apparent that some individuals want quiet time and it is best not to clutter their serenity with chatter.
I have met the most interesting people in the hot tub. One day, I was the sole fluent anglophone among four Portuguese women of a certain age, all talking to each other in Portuguese. I discovered that they had immigrated to Canada thirty or forty years ago and worked as cleaning ladies. They were talking about their summer vacations “back home.” All had second and even third homes in Portugal, near their families, which were opened up and aired out every summer in anticipation of their arrival. They all had at least one luxury car, a Mercedes, or an Audi, or a BMW, which they kept in Portugal for their use. I loved the fact that these modest immigrant women were so successful and that Canada had given them the means to be so.
Another time, I shared the pool with a trio of much younger women from Vietnam. In faltering English, they described how they came to Canada recently and, having learned about the Y from their friends, came to “use the spa.” Two had lived in Cambodia during the Vietnamese war; the third came from Ho Chi Minh City. Another Vietnamese woman told me that she worked long hours as a nurse and, although not a Y member, she spent her days off at this Y as a guest, because of the spa. When I admired the very distinctive flowered green bathing suit worn by yet another woman, also from Viet Nam, she told me that she had made it herself. She was the very first person I have ever met who made her own bathing suit.
The hot tub has become a font of invaluable information which consistently improves my life. A woman who was a writer told me about a legal book she published which was available as part of a series for young people from the Toronto Public Library. Although I have been very active in public legal education during my career, I did not know about the series and went to borrow her book right away. She also told me about a book store on Bathurst near Bloor which I did not know existed.
Just last week, I met a woman from Porto, in Portugal, who sews for a living from her studio on Vaughan Road. Among her clients is Malabar, Toronto’s pre-eminent costume emporium on McCaul Street. I figured that anyone who works for Malabar must be good. I told her about the sewing I needed to have done and she invited me to visit her studio. I gathered up some old jackets and dresses which have languished unworn for years and brought them to her. She pinned everything carefully and suggested several design remakes which were simple but which updated the outfits dramatically. I think I have finally found a fashion designer/seamstress/tailor who is more than a worthy successor to my beloved Frank the Tailor, who retired several years ago. (See my post about Frank, here.) After spending two hours with Naty, I went home and wrote this post on the YMCA Hot Tub which I have wanted to do for years.
Like traditional “waters” and community wells of old, the hot tub is the locus of the best that that Y has to offer. Where else could I meet such a variety of people and, by asking just a few questions, learn their stories, and become their friend or at least their acquaintance? It’s a marvellous means for cross-cultural interaction. By its mere existence, it reflects and builds the community of which it is a part.
My husband and I have lived in Toronto for forty-nine years and, until Labour Day this year, we had never once fished in Lake Ontario. Like most everyone else I know, we assumed that the lake was too dirty and the fish were inedible, or at least so toxic that consumption would need to be limited.
Not true. The lake has been cleaned dramatically in recent years. The government stocks the lake with salmon and rainbow trout. Every year the Toronto Sun sponsors the Great Ontario Salmon Fishing Derby which this year ran from June 29th to August l7th. During the derby, big prizes are offered to those who catch the biggest fish each week, the biggest fish during the derby, and the charter boats that catch the most fish. Winning fish can weigh twenty-seven to forty pounds.
My husband has been a fly fisherman most of his life; in B.C. as a youth, in the Wyoming mountain wilderness, and in northern Ontario rivers years ago. His catches were generally no more than a foot long and eaten immediately. We often salivate over stories of our relatives out west who go on big fishing trips in the salt chuck or on the big rivers of the B.C. interior. Once my brother caught a halibut well over 100 pounds near Tofino. It took over an hour to land and fed family and friends all winter. Two of my mother’s cousins fished for salmon up the B.C. coast until well into their eighties, canning the fresh salmon on the beach before they brought it home. People who live on the west coast are preoccupied with the size and health of the four-year salmon run. In Toronto, we didn’t even appreciate that there were salmon in Lake Ontario, also living a four-year cycle before they go upriver to spawn.
To celebrate my husband’s birthday, my younger son arranged to charter a fishing boat for a morning from Epic Sportfishing in Scarborough. At 6:00 a.m. on September 2nd, my husband, two sons, and I met skipper Aaron Flavell in the pre-dawn dark at Bluffers Park Marina. Before long, we were out in the water opposite the Scarborough Bluffs and Aaron began to let out what became eight lines, all set for different lengths and depths according to where his fish-finder indicated the fish could be. Fishing has obviously become a very sophisticated high tech affair.
Within a half-hour of leaving the dock, I caught our first fish, a rainbow trout well over five pounds and well over two feet long. Within minutes, Bill and Carl each caught, almost together, a couple of salmon of about the same size. Aaron said that they were two years old. We were utterly delighted. These were the biggest fish we had ever caught. It was Ben’s turn to reel in the next catch which turned out to be a yearling which we decided was too small to keep; our first catch and release. Ben’s next was another rainbow trout of a good size which ended up in the cooler. Over less than five hours, we caught nine fish: three rainbow trout and six salmon. We kept the six over five pounds to take home
Throughout the morning, Aaron filled us in on the mechanics of modern sports fishing, how the fish finder and the bottom feeders worked, and the advantages of different types of lines and reels. He told us about the big summer salmon-fishing derby, and how many of his clients had been winners. He was somewhat disappointed that we hadn’t pulled in a twenty-pounder. By contrast, we were ecstatic. Even more so when he filleted the fish for us as we returned to the marina. We brought our share home to put in the freezer.
It was a beautiful day for fishing. Not too hot nor too sunny. Apart from the fishing, the early morning air, the shining waters, the waves of monarch butterflies we saw flying south, and the vistas of the shore and the city were invigorating. The easy camaraderie between us was great fun. This was undoubtedly the beginning of a new tradition.
For the Canada Day weekend, the Globe and Mail published a full-page Giant Summer Crossword. Like its Giant Holiday Crossword published during the Christmas season, this challenge is intended to engage all the family, or at least to absorb crossword enthusiasts during some holiday downtime. I have always wanted to do the puzzle, but am not a crossword regular and never found the conditions right. Canada Day weekend 2018 was a first.
My husband and I were visiting relatives in Campbell River, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, a couple of hours up-island from Nanaimo. The relatives included my sister- and brother-in-law, two of their adult children, six grandchildren, and other friends, all together for a weekend of family activities. With so much action both inside and out, who would have thought that the conditions would be right to do a giant crossword?
My sister-in-law noticed the “giant crossword” in the paper edition of the Globe which I had bought on the ferry. Apparently, their family do the giant crossword every Christmas and they even had an appropriately sized board for it. Normally, they divide the puzzle into quadrants, make copies of the relevant clues, and everyone takes a section. We were not so well-organized but, with the crossword taped to the board, and the board on the dining table, we were all set to begin.
It helped that my sister-in-law was chief cook for the weekend and, happily preparing dishes at the kitchen counter beside the table, was delighted with a mental diversion. I did what I could do on the puzzle, and readily responded to her invitation to “read out the clues.” She does crosswords, is super literate, and has “a mind that accumulates useless trivia,” as she puts it. Much of what I did not know, she did.
Notwithstanding the demands of the children, the other adults in the crowd joined in to fill in the blanks. The thirty and forty-year-olds knew the pop music references, and the sports clues. My brother-in-law, a former teacher, knew many of the scientific terms and the French-Canadian hints. My husband, a professional historian, contributed his two cents’ worth.
Every bit helped. Each new set of eyes that surveyed the crossword found words (both long and short) that had been missing and should have been obvious. Focused quiet times produced great leaps forward. We eventually recognized that there were certain words we could never get and gave ourselves permission to look them up on the iPad.
By Monday evening, we had completed all but seven or eight words. Among others which I can’t remember, we were hung up on “meet and greet, eg,” “pumpkin shell?” and “b-ball.” My sister-in-law took a late night bath, cleared her head, and returned to the puzzle with a new mind-set.
Rather than looking for a noun that would describe the networking activity implicit in the clue, she recognized that “meet and greet” were examples of simple “rhymes.” Of course. “Pumpkin shell?” does not refer to the nursery rhyme or any artifact of Hallowe’en, but is potentially a “piecrust.” The cross-clues had already given us the first and last letters and we should have thought of that. We knew that “b-ball” refers to basketball. She saw instantly that we had failed to consider “hoops” because I had misspelled “Riyadh” in the cross-clue. Doesn’t everyone know the correct spelling of Riyadh?
Crossword novice that I am, I was somewhat surprised that a Giant Crossword published on the Canada Day weekend did not have more Canadian references. Doing the puzzle, I had expected to learn much more trivia about my country. But maybe my expectations were unrealistic. I had overlooked the fact that it was only billed as a “great summer” crossword. My sister-in-law tells me that there is a big community of crossword enthusiasts out there who will have opinions about the pros and cons of the puzzle. That conversation would be fun to follow.
The completed Crossword will find its way to the recycling bin. Doing the crossword together was great fun, a good brain exercise, and, for my sister-in-law, multi-tasking par excellence. What more could one want?