Wearing Poppies Early

poppyA colleague of mine recently provided me with a lovely life lesson to remember our fallen. She was wearing a red poppy, a full two weeks ahead of Remembrance Day, before the Royal Canadian Legion has even put out poppy boxes on every corner, and before Hallowe’en. This was a good kind of early start on a national holiday, completely antithetical to usual appearance of Christmas decorations at Costco in August.

Her rationale? Why do we only wear poppies for the week leading up to Remembrance Day? We should be wearing that symbolic red of Flanders Fields, from World War I, with a good lead in to a day that all Canadians should honour, not as just a day off of work or school, but a day to pay homage to those men and women who have sacrificed their lives, both in life and in death, to ensure that we can keep living the easy life.

We are lucky to have first world problems here in Canada and, frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I won the birth lottery the day I was born in Vancouver. I didn’t have to struggle through refugee camps and tangled immigration tape like my grandparents, or have to learn new languages, like both my parents. I didn’t have to deal with racism, poverty, or want. I not only have a high school education, but an university one and, on that note, not one, but two university degrees; I can collect degrees like crackerjack prizes. I have the privilege of voting, of speaking my mind, of taking a sick day off of work without being penalized, of expressing myself in any which way, and of having food on my table. I can throw away food that doesn’t look good or turn up my nose at carbs. I can choose to not take modern medication because I can soapbox about the evils of pharmaceuticals. I can rage on the road behind the wheel of my car. I can toss a shirt when it goes out of fashion.

I have.

I have because of the good fight fought by people like my grandfather in World War II Poland, people like the thousands of Canadian and other Allied soldiers who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars, people like Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and WO Patrice Vincent.

I’m not sure if Vincent saw any action overseas, and I’m certain Cirillo had not, as he was just embarking on his military career, but both had put their lives on the altar of my country, and died on that altar. I am so proud of both these sterling soldiers, and the many unsung thousands who slog through anonymity until such tragedies strike at our very core; only then do we learn their names.

My colleague was right to wear the poppy early.

I dug out last year’s poppy, held with a little Canada flag pin, and put it on the collar of my coat. I’ll wear it the next few weeks, and past November 11, to honour those who lived in war and in peace, and those who died in war and peace, and be thankful that they did it so the rest of us could go about our daily minutiae, living our lives blissfully ignorant of the troubles that this world really has to offer. But at least we can remember, and not just for one day.

Do You Remember Where You Were: Ottawa Shooting

shooting_CBCI remember the frozen moment,
Sitting at my desk, opening up Explorer
to dial in to Drive online
And get my fix of Radio 2 Morning.
I thought I’d check out the news,
To see if anything interesting was happening.

OTTAWA PARLIAMENT HILL SHOOTING: LIVE UPDATES
What the hell? In my country?
My little big Canada,
Our National War Memorial?
A radical nut, inspired by hate and rage,
Decided to shoot a student reservist:
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, father, son, friend,
Dead, as it turned out, later that afternoon,
From massive injuries sustained
When shot at close range.
Rest in Peace, soldier,
Your country mourns.
I mourn.

Shocking. My heart raced,
As I read the updates from Ottawa,
And watched the live coverage.
Chaos inside Parliament:
Police running in one direction,
Shots fired from another,
Parliamentary pedestrians ducking for cover.
One shooter, dead,
No two shooters, maybe three,
Still on the loose.

Mayhem on streets,
A city in lockdown,
Systematic searching for answers,And any lingering doubts.

Bloody hell, ISIS.
No, really, you go there.
You’ve invaded my country now,
Brought the fight inside our kitchen.
But you know what,
We’re not pacifist Canadians;
We have a long history of fighting the good fight,
Of taking the side of the righteous,
And, unlike you, our righteousness is pure,
And doesn’t involve killing innocents in the name of God.
So fuck you.

****

Sadness, at innocence lost,
And at joining that sombre club of countries,
In which terror has attempted to take hold.

Outrage, that this even happened,
That some young pups
Have been stupid enough to listen to the insane,
And have been insane enough to act on that stupidity.

Determination, and resolve,
To end fear.

Pride, in those who serve,
And give up their lives
For us to have our opinions,
Our freedoms, and our lives.

Lest We Forget.
Ottawa 10/22.

Autumn Haikus of Hope

Breath forms in the air,
Picked up by Pacific wind –
Whispered sweet nothings.

stormStorms rage on the horizon.
Hot tea warms my heart
and hands, and thoughts of you.

One apple

An orchard empty of fruit,
Save one ruby red apple
That hangs in the balance.

 

A Cathartic Weekend: Thanksgiving in Brief

Turkey, de-boned, in a provocative position.

Turkey, de-boned, in a provocative position.

Thanksgiving finally came around,
And while my hand was stuffed up the bird’s cavity,
Cutting out the carcass,
Concentrating on placing the fillet knife,
Between bone and muscle,
Listening for that satisfying pop,
That indicated I’d torn a tendon
And disjointed the fowl,
I realized that I had a lot
For which to be thankful,
This past year.

The same time, last year,
I was engaged in a similar exercise,
But I had been 45 pounds heavier.
I’d bought an apartment,
But hadn’t lived in it yet,
And was experiencing
A traumatizing bathroom reno,
For a waterfall and rain shower,
And pretty glass shower doors.
I was dating some two bit Dutch guy
Whose idea of wine was two buck chuck.

Now, I’m almost as fit as I was twenty years ago,
(although it makes me feel old to say it that way),
Hiking up mountains, walking to work,
Running without running out of breath.
I’ve had to swap out an entire new wardrobe,
To accommodate the changes.
I turn heads.
I feel more in control, more confident,
More strut in my step.
(you Sexy Ol’ Thang)

That step now involves heels,
High heels, classy heels.
Classy clothes, staying in fashion,
Wearing things that fit, that show off, that look good.
It’s shallow, I know,
But it’s a good feeling.

I’ve met some great people this year,
And cemented some amazing friendships.
I’ve had two weddings,
That took me to Hawaii
And, each time, I made a new friend,
And had an amazing experience under that tropical sun.

I met a good man,
And thought it didn’t work out,
I wish him all the best,
As his friendship gave me confidence in my self,
(and in my self in high heels).

I have friends who care,
And who care deeply for my outcomes.
I have family who love,
And who support, without question.
How many people in this world can say the same?
I am lucky.

Yes, I have a lot for which to be thankful.
And, sometimes, it takes a weekend
Of marathon cooking for a Thanksgiving crowd,
To help you see all that good that pervades our lives.

People, You Are Not Alone In Feeling Overwhelmed

I came across this blog of somebody who liked one of the poems that I’d posted (thank you, Antony R), and it reminded me of a friend in a similar spot.

People: you aren’t alone, it’s cathartic to share what’s bringing you down, and there are those of us who care and want to help, at least to lend an ear if nothing else.

-Alex

Mountains to Mats

Well let’s see…  It’s hard for me to describe how I’ve been feeling.  I have so many thoughts bouncing around in my head.  It’s like a thousand voices screaming and I have to figure out what each one is saying (I’m not saying that I hear voices).  I feel so overwhelmed.  I want it all to stop but I don’t know how to make it happen…

I have not been happy for quite a while.  So many things have contributed to this.  I read blogs and social media posts where people say that if you want to be happy, you will be.  That’s fucking bullshit.  I’ve tried to make myself happy.  I sit there and I say to myself, “Hey asshole, be happy!”  It doesn’t work.  I have moments of levity where I think maybe I’m going to be happy, but it doesn’t last.  I’m pretty sure that my wife…

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Pacifying the Spirit with Whiskey

Mr. Larson's WhiskeyMr. Lawson died in his sleep,
In his flat, along a LoLo street.
Wife moved out,
Sold the place quick in a real estate drought.
Friend moved in,
Seeing potential in the old bin.
Reno’d the place,
To rid the seventies vibe of the space:
New floors, new bath,
New paint, new splash.
Closets were lacking,
But nothing like garbage bags for packing;
‘Sides, that’s what the boyfriend
Could do for his part, and get on an IKEA bend.

Just about, when all was complete,
Old Mr. Lawson decided the new owner to greet.

For a lark
He made smoke come out with nary a spark,
But enough to cause fright,
For my friend to pull the alarm at night,
Half toasted from a bottle of gin,
Split with friends and many a grin.
The building emptied out,
Each sleepy face in a pout,
Watching as the fire brigade,
Into the flat did stray,
To look for a fire,
That, in actuality, had not transpired.
My friend, hair like a rat race,
and makeup running down her face,
Hid behind the door
As North Van’s bravest glared at her for this 2am chore.
Mr. Lawson chuckled in delight,
At the chaos caused by his smoky slight.

He next caused the bathroom to flood,
Warped the new floors down to the studs.
(The friend had barely time to use the seat,
Before the toilet was hoisted out by its feet)
For the next four weeks,
She had live like a freak,
A half life, in half a flat,
While restoration tried to put it all back.
And just when it was about to be done,
Bathroom working on a dry run,
The tiler said he’d do the floors,
But the artless ass,
Had no class,
When laying down the wood,
So my friend fired him as fast as she could,
And find a replacement to finish the work,
So that she could finally experience the flat’s perks.

Mr. Lawson didn’t want to let her off that easy,
So tweaked the brass in her vanity,
And caused another minor flood,
And my friend to curse “This is CRUD!
I’ve had enough,
Lay on you daft old Scottish MacDuff,
I’ll play you at your own bluff.”
And with a brilliant flash of inspiration,
To pacify the old goat, with a bit of imagination,
She poured him a glass of scotch,
Single malt, top notch,
And left it for the old git,
To sip at his leisure, and hopefully the place to quit.

She told me this morning the ice cubes were eaten;
So maybe, finally, the ghost of old Lawson, has finally been beaten.

The Graves That Dot Our Landscapes

I called my dad on Friday, as he’d left a voicemail for me to call him back. Whenever he’s cryptic in his voicemails, I know it has something to do with a bill, usually a cell bill, that I need to pay. This time though, after asking if I’d paid my portion of the linked account, he casually mentioned that my brother had been nattering on about me, as he’d been in Squamish for a month already, and I’d only seen him once, and had made no effort to go out to see him. Fair dinkum, it was all true. I had a lot going on in my life that made me escape to the comfortable solace of my friends’ living rooms instead, plus I had been house sitting out in Caulfeild on and off. Gas was expensive, time was short, Squamish was forty-five minutes too far away for the perceived hassle. But Dad was right, I should touch base with Marek.

I’d spoken to Steve about going shopping on Saturday, and he said he was interested in joining, but I knew that he’d be okay with it if I bailed on him; family trumps, and Steve understood this. So I called Marek to see where he was at (playing a zombie shoot ’em) and in between grunted efforts to skewer a particularly tough undead, he let me know that he was going mushroom picking with Evie the next morning. I asked if he wanted to come out to West Van, and we could go to our regular haunts, but he said no, he wanted to stay in Squamish. Alright, Squamish it was, I’d suck up the gas cost and spend some quality time with my brother and my niece.

The next morning, I got up bright and early at 7am, a painful sleep-in of only half an hour from my usual wake-up time during the week. I took Sophie out for her morning constitutional, and this time she didn’t fuss about going out so early, as the six thirty am walk was usually a bit of a drag for her and sometimes we’d only make it to the end of the driveway and back. This time, because I was in a bit of a rush, she decided to sniff every bit of foliage available and check all the neighbourhood pee-mail. When I got back to the house, I noticed that I’d missed a call from Marek: he needed to come into Vancouver to look for a book. I told him it would be better if he’d call to the bookstore ahead of time to see if they even carried for what he was looking, so as not to waste a trip out. I had my mind set on going to Squamish at this point. He agreed and said he’d wait for me.

I put Sophie out on the patio for the day, thankfully it wasn’t raining, and drove out to Squamish. As luck would have it, it started to piss buckets around Britannia Beach, and a virtual deluge by Murrin Lake. It wasn’t boding well for picking mushrooms, but then, we’d be under forest cover anyhow, and we weren’t made of sugar. When I arrived at my parents’ place, the rain had let up somewhat, thankfully.

Mum and dad were just sitting down to breakfast, mushroom omelettes, with Evie picking at the mushrooms. She looked at me shyly, from behind my mum’s leg; she rarely saw me to be fair, and I must have seem like some odd interjection into her life. Marek bundled her up in gumboots, three layers of sweaters, and a hat, and swapped out car seats from the Forerunner to the Explorer. We set out for Alice Lake to look for chantarelles.

photo 1(1)

Chantarelles

The plateau was bereft of chantarelles, sadly. I caveat here that we were in full mushroom-picking gear, that is to say, gardening jeans, rubber boots, over-sized sweater, and rain coat. Rather, I was in full mushroom-picking gear, looking slightly eccentric like a homeless person trying to make a stint of it in the great outdoors. I carried a bag in one hand for any mushrooms, and a expensive and sharp knife that I’d picked up at a gun show in New Mexico (gun shows are crazy places, but that is another story, for another time) in my pocket.

Mum and I had reached a conclusion some years ago that chantarelles really like to grow in places where there are salal bushes and a lot of moss, places where the leaves turn the same sort of yellow as the mushroom, so I waded into the forest undergrowth, brushing branches aside, and dodging scurrilously placed spider webs (where was a pointy wavy stick when you needed one, anyhow?). You have to walk slowly, or you’ll miss the faded yellow-orange of the chantarelle cap, and often the wee buggers hide under logs or in wooden niches.

photo 4

Matsutake, or Pine, Mushroom

Unfortunately, the place had been picked over; either that or it was a bad year for chantarelles. The forests between Squamish and Whistler are the haunts of many a professional picker, and if you have a found a good area for chantarelles, you don’t tell anybody where that area is. It’s a rule of thumb that if I had to tell you where my spots are, I’d have to kill you. So sorry, the mushrooms are that delicious. And for professional pickers, chantarelles are an easy bit of gold, as the mushrooms can go for up to fifty dollars a kilo. Even more lucrative are pine mushrooms, beloved by the Japanese as matsutake mushrooms, as well as lobster mushrooms, and these forests are also known for this particular bit of foodie heaven.

For better or for worse, the chantarelles were scarce and the lobsters minced. The only chantarelles were a couple of beauties, to be fair, that were hidden in places that were hard to reach, into which whomever had come before us hadn’t bothered to go. We found two intact lobster mushrooms that seemed to be the good variety, but I later found out that they were bitter so we had picked the wrong russula, covered with a secondary bright red fungus that gave the lobster mushroom its distinctive stunted look.

Evie entertained herself by digging into layer of Douglas fir needles that carpeted the forest floor, as she waited with either Marek or myself, as the other would tromp into the bush to go for a look; we didn’t want her out of arm’s reach, as the area was also known for cougars and bears, and cougars in particular would eye a little one and a half year old as easy pickings for a mid-day snack.

We eyed our miserable little haul and Marek suggested we head towards Whistler, as he’d seen some places where people seemed to regularly stop, and he was pretty sure it was to pick mushrooms. I agreed, as we had time, and it was worth the trek if we could find a good spot. One place, the entry to Garibaldi, I recalled from a previous mushroom excursion the year before, with my parents. We’d noticed a long cable lining the beginning of the drive into Garibaldi, and surmised that perhaps professional pickers were coming into the forest at night to look for pine mushrooms and needed the cable to drive power to lights. Maybe the lights helped find the white mounds of the pine mushrooms.

By the time we arrived to this spot, just south of Green Lake, the little one had fallen asleep. Marek was okay to leave her in the car, with the windows cracked open a wee bit for fresh air and to help us hear her if she woke up, and we set off into the forest. The forest here was different, sparser, more rocky, with a thick layer of moss covering the rocks and logged stumps of years past. It felt like we were walking on a plush green uneven carpet. We talked about my love life (on the rocks, shaken, not stirred?), about Marek’s job prospects in Vancouver (with a lemon twist), about Mum and Dad, about Dad’s Parkinsons, all sorts of things. One thing we noticed, in between topics, as well was the dearth of mushrooms again, so we headed back to the car to see about Marek’s spots.

We tried the area around Brandywine Falls, but it was far too rocky to support anything but moss. Evie had woken up at this point so we showed her the river but then the impetus to try one more area took hold before we crossed the bridge to the actual falls. The river was that lovely frigid blue colour, that you know will cause hypothermia within thirty seconds of a dunk (ah, for the bathtub warm waters of Hawaii). Evie was perfectly happy to gobble down those little golden fish crackers that one feeds to small children to keep them happy, as one might feed biscuits to dogs. Her eating habits were about the same, as well.

One more spot, on the other side of the highway, a bit further south from Brandywine, Marek said. Ok, let’s give it a try.

He pulled over to a tiny little side road that lead to Hydro’s lands; it was a good thing he had the Explorer as we had to drive up a little rocky knoll that would have taken out the undercarriage of many a low-lying sedan. We were now in grizzly country, so we kept Evie even closer. We crossed some tracks, and came across a set of relatively well-established trails, which looked promising. We set off down one, trying to keep our bearings straight so that we could get back easily, as it is so easy to get lost in a new forest, and especially out in the back country. The forest was denser with trees, with fewer rocks, lots of moss and salal. I started to find chantarelles right away, large lovely fist-sized chantarelles. Even Evie found a chantarelle, hidden beneath some moss.

Marek and I were pretty happy, as we’d gathered almost a kilo at this point, including what we’d gathered out at Alice Lake. We decided to push in a bit more, just to see if we could find any more, and came across a strange sight.

photo 2(1)Right there, in the middle of this nameless forest, we came across a grave. It was a cairn of rocks, well-covered in moss and the bottommost rocks covered over by forest debris. A simple wooden cross stood out in the middle of this cairn, with the vertical timber reading at the top: “RIP” then a faded word underneath that looked like “Pax”. The horizontal beam read “SEPT 79” to the left, and to the right, a faded “Bill.” There was a strange symbol in the middle of the cross, which reminded me of the Egyptian symbol, ‘Udjat,’ the sacred eye of Horus that was placed in the wrappings of mummies to protect the deceased.

photo 3A grave, all forlorn and alone, forgotten, no friends or family by which to remember the person within. It was rather sad. I took the “79” to mean “1979” but my Mum thought it must be “1879,” for a grave in the middle of nowhere to have been dug. I think that the wood would have rotted away though, if it was over a hundred years old, but then, the rocks were covered over with a fair layer of debris, and the rocks mossy.

Perhaps it was the grave of some hermit, whose once-a-year friend had buried him upon finding him lifeless; or a hunting accident gone terribly wrong; or the ashes of a loved one who wanted to be buried in the woods that he loved so much in life that he wanted to become part of them in death.

The archeologist in me wondered whether there was an actual skeleton underneath those granite rocks, or whether just Bill’s ashes. Who was Bill in life? All we had of Bill was his grave, not even his death. How many such graves dot our landscapes, without our even realizing it.

We kept on the path for a few minutes longer, after passing by Bill. A river was nearby. Marek found a lone pine mushroom on our way back to the car, which was a triumph, as it did look like someone had cleared the place out of pine mushrooms perhaps a week or so ago as there were all these unusual indentations in the ground where a mushroom could have grown. It is a strict principle in our family to always leave the stem, so that the mushroom’s spores can reproduce for the coming year; it kills me when I see that people have taken the whole mushroom, stem and all. That is why an area can get cleared out of mushrooms and they don’t come back year after year. I am surprised that places like Whole Foods, with their mandate on sustainability, are okay with such poor mycological practices.

Bill too, was taken out, in his entirety, from his world, leaving only a small shallow dip in someone else’s life, and for some strangers to come across randomly, in the forest, while foraging for mushrooms.

Vancouver Opera’s Carmen

indexWhat a fabulous performance of VO’s Carmen. We were treated to the finale, which included Richard Troxell and Kate Alrdich in the main roles. I’ll be honest, Aldrich, as Carmen, could have a second career as a lap dancer. Not only was Aldrich’s sultry mezzo singing mesmerizing, and probably getting half of the male audience on edge, but she could hold a second career as a lap dancer in any city. She held the show, with impeccable singing that made me think of a combination of Edith Piaf and Billy Holiday, smoking a pack a day, and giving off an air of the morals of an alley cat. If half the gentlemen in the audience didn’t have a hard-on, well, they needed a prescription for Viagra.  From the first Act to the last, Aldrich’s acting as a gypsy lover was fantastic, between being able to juggle the nuances of the singing role with that of the acting: she was entirely believable as a gypsy in the throes of passion. Of note was her sultry voice, with a cigarette, raw edge: a diamond in the rough, and perfect for the role.

Richard Troxell’s Don Jose was clean but weak. His voice was almost lost behind the orchestra, and though his chemistry with Aldrich was strong, his voice was lacking which made for a more indecisive role. Although it was relatively seamless to see Don Jose caught up in the throes of passion, as one might see a varsity quarterback, seeing him murder Carmen, by stabbing her, at the end was a bit of a stretch; I would have bought a strangling more, which suited the weaker voice, than the jealous impulse of a stabbing.

Particular highlights were Farsquita and Mercedes’ roles (Caitlin Wood and Laurelle Jade Froese, respectively), as well as La Dancaire and Le Remendado (Aaron Durand and Rocco Rupolo, respectively), as the roles were well acted and well sung. I was disappointed to listen to Escamillo (Morgan Smith) who reminded me of a dated Quentin Tarantinto with a voice of mediocre strength, excellent acting, and a costume that was reminiscent of a B-western rather than of a matador. The redeeming moment for the matadors was their entry from the audience, which encouraged a great deal of ‘paricipaction’, in which the audience enthusiastically engaged. That being said, Smith, shoulders back and more swagger as you came off a good singer but a poor matador and lover.

Before entering the QE, I observed a working girl, outfitted in stilettos, stockings, short shorts, and a cropped top, wending her way to the adjacent Oktoberfest. The sight was a good segue to the debauchery of Carmen: the colourful costumes of the cigarette factory girls and gypsies; the stark sexuality of the gypsy girls trying to make a buck, and the intrinsic sexiness of the smugglers trying to win one over customs agents (not unlike trying to justify cross border shopping to Canada Customs). Similarly, the contrast between Micaela and Don Jose was reminiscent of that fable of the country versus the city mouse, and also put me to mind of the fact that church followers are often sexually repressed and react more immediately to a pretty posterior in their crotch than a more ‘experienced’ counterpart (a.k.a., if Don Jose had been more sexually experienced, would he have fallen for Carmen’s charms right off the bat?).

I particularly loved the second Act, one of debauchery and a good a night out. Particularly impressive was that Aldrich actually wielded castanets in a believable fashion, and seemed to have an iota of knowledge about what a flamenco was. It was very rewarding to see the chaste and stolid Don Jose give way to his passion for his untamed gypsy lover through the medium of dance and emotional bribery.

Overall, the performance was very active, and very engaging, and brought a new interpretation of a traditionally popular opera, which made Bizet’s Carmen feel relevant, pertinent, and current.

Carmen, October 5, 2014

Carmen, October 5, 2014

 

Carry On My Wayward Son

Kailua and WaimanaloMy Dear Boy.

I realized after I called the world a pregnant bitch,
That I was being profoundly selfish,
Thinking of my own needs and wants,
And my own feelings,
Neglecting the crux of the matter:
Namely, that you are on a path
That you must see through to the end.

The fear and loneliness,
Which you must be feeling right now,
I can only imagine.
And perhaps anger at those
Who would send you off,
After so many years of service,
When you were already thinking
Of a future, basking under a warm sun,
Of gin and tonics on weekends,
Of a life that would mean a home to return to,
After a long day’s work,
Year in, year out.

All that best laid plan,
thrown askew by a single email:

Dear {First Name} {Last Name}:

You are going to A-.
Thank you for being a man.

Sincerely,

The Detailer.

The walls of a cozy reality,
Came crashing down, like Jericho,
After being marched around for 22 years,
Upon reading that hateful message.
No, I cannot imagine how you must feel.

And I am sorry that I have reacted so poorly,
As to be an unsupportive friend.
My hand is still held out,
to hold some of that fear,
Confusion,
Anxiety,
Misery,
Guilt,
Failure,
And ease those burdens from your tired shoulders,
Because I cannot take them away.

But I can be a walking staff,
That, you, my wayward son
Can carry,
And help you find peace,
When you are done.

*here’s to positive thoughts, faith, and hope, that all is well in Guam*