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Posts Tagged ‘memories’

What do you remember of your childhood home(s)?

In aging, beauty, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, life on October 26, 2013 at 1:10 am

By Caitlin Kelly

English: Carl Nielsen outside his childhood ho...

English: Carl Nielsen outside his childhood house at Nørre Lyndelse, Funen, Denmark in 1927 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This writer, a columnist for the weekend Financial Times, Harry Eyres, is one of my favorite writers. He recently wrote a poignant piece about emptying his childhood home and finally leaving it for the last time:

Strangely, I dreaded the loss of the house from a very early age. I had nightmares about it.

Leaving a
house you love is hard. Relinquishing a house where you grew up from
your earliest childhood, where you spent your first springs, summers,
autumns, winters, every one of whose corners, cupboards, creaking
staircases, floorboards and smells became almost like an extension of
your being, is harder still…

We bade farewell to the house on a perfect golden September day,
which started misty and hazy and rather mysterious before the sun broke
through. Some people had told me that it would be easier to leave the
house when it was empty, as it would have lost many of its most personal
connotations, pieces of furniture, even curtains. But I did not find it
so.

The house seemed just as beautiful as ever to me on the day of our
departure. In some ways even more beautiful, as being emptied of
furniture can restore a certain youthfulness and sense of possibility to
a dwelling. The upstairs spare room, which had become a sort of dump
before I cleared it out, hadn’t looked so inviting for decades.

We, three generations and a stalwart family friend, had a sunny
picnic on the raised terrace outside the front door, sitting on the low
wall rising up from the hydrangea beds, as there were no longer any
chairs.

I’ve only lived in a few houses with my parents, at least those I can recall.

There was one in London, when I was very small, then one in Toronto, a big brick house with a deep backyard and my bedroom at the very top, where I lay in bed and listened to the radio. I knew my mother was climbing the stairs when I heard her ankles popping. There were brilliant yellow forsythia bushes outside the kitchen window I used to call “for cynthia” — my mother’s name.

When my parents split up, and I was about seven, that was the end of that house. I miss it still.

I didn’t live in another house until eleventh grade, when I moved in with my father into a white brick house on a Toronto corner. There was a lilac tree just outside the kitchen door and a huge park behind our yard where our dog would get out and run in circles really fast, usually whenever I was having a party and it was the last thing I wanted to deal with.

Since then, after leaving that house when I was in university, I’ve never owned one nor have my parents stayed very long in any of theirs, usually only for a few years, scooping up a healthy profit, and moving into yet another. I watch the houses come and go, envious they’ve even owned a house, let alone several. I wonder if I ever will.

My father had a 200+ year-old house in Athenry, just outside Galway City, for a few years, that’s now a nursing home. I loved my few brief visits there, scything the lawn and staring out through its ancient, rippled glass panes.

When I return to visit Toronto, I often drive past that white brick house. It doesn’t look much different, even all these years later.

Jose’s childhood home was torn down and is now the Georgia O’Keefe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The only remainder of his life there is a tiny courtyard and the apricot tree from whose fruit his late mother once made jam.

Do you remember your childhood home?

Is it still there?

How was your childhood?

In behavior, children, domestic life, family, parenting on April 19, 2013 at 4:04 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I loved this recent special issue of New York magazine focused on childhood in New York.

Barbara Walters’ dad ran nightclubs?

Chevy Chase got stabbed in the back by a mugger?

Matthew Broderick in Sweden to promote Ferris ...

Matthew Broderick in Sweden to promote Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matthew Broderick was robbed constantly?

The black and white photos are fantastic, and the memories, of New York and childhood, lovely.

I was born in Vancouver, and lived in London ages two to five, before moving to Toronto where I lived to the age of 30.

My childhood was a mixture of material comfort and emotional chaos. We lived, until my parents split up, in a large, beautiful house in a nice neighborhood. We had a huge backyard, a maid named Ada and I walked to school. But my parents were miserable and I used to hide behind the living room curtains as they shouted at one another. It was a relief when they divorced and my mother and I moved into an apartment in a downtown area much less charming.

I was at boarding school at eight, and summer camp all summer every year ages eight to 15. So I didn’t see that much of my parents. I was then an only child, so grew used to amusing myself with books, toys, art, sports.

I spent my school year awakened by bells: 6:55 wake-up; 7:05 walk around the block, regardless of weather; 7:25 breakfast. And so on. We wore plaid kilts and ties, in the Hunting Stewart tartan, and black oxfords and dark green knee socks. In summer, our camp uniform was yellow and blue, white for Sunday chapel. I spent most of my childhood surrounded by strangers — room-mates, cabin-mates, teachers, housemothers and counselors.

In retrospect, it was a distinctly odd way to grow up.

But it’s what I knew. I got a terrific education, made some wonderful friends at camp and developed my athletic skills. Camp was my happiest time and forever shaped my love of nature and outdoor adventure. I learned how to canoe, water-ski, swim, sail, ride horses. I collected badges and awards and prizes, at school and camp, for my talents, whether athletic or intellectual.

Every summer I would act in a musical, Flower Drum Song or Sound of Music or Hello Dolly!. I usually won the the lead, so knew from an early age I could win and hold an audience. I wrote songs and played them on my guitar, singing before the whole camp, an audience of 300 or so, strangely fearless.

I felt loved and safe at camp, while by Grade Nine I was always in some sort of trouble at school — my bed was messy, I talked too much in class, I sassed teachers and got into radio wars with room-mates. When my neatness scores (!) fell too low, I’d be confined to campus on weekends and had to memorize Bible  verses to atone. (“For God so loved the world…” John 3: 16, kids.)

We were only allowed to watch an hour or so of television on Sunday evenings, although we were taken to the ballet and the Royal Winter Fair to watch horse-jumping. Every Wednesday night, after filling out a permission slip, we could go out for dinner with a friend or relative — the lonely kids left behind were fed a comforting meal of fried chicken with cranberry sauce and corn.

Privacy was an unimaginable luxury when you always shared a room with four or six others. There was nowhere to shut a door and just be alone in silence, to exult or cry. I was sent to my room at school, as punishment, for laughing too loudly. We were constantly told to be “ladylike.” In both places, we ate our meals communally, at large tables, consuming whatever food was served to us whenever it was offered.

Many decades later, I’m still seeing the many ways this has shaped me, for better and for worse.

How was your childhood?

Montreal, in the snow, swirling with memories

In behavior, cities, journalism, life, travel, urban life on February 9, 2013 at 12:19 am

Montreal — like much of the Northeast U.S. right now — is in the middle of a heavy snowstorm. The streets are thick with snow. Pedestrians trudge and slip and slither, gaze firmly downward, their mouths covered by heavy, thick mufflers. The bus fills up fast, between puffy parkas and oversize backpacks.

A hallway light at the Nelligan

A hallway light at the Nelligan

When I got into the cab this morning to head north from Old Montreal — we’re at the Nelligan — to my appointment, I asked the driver, in French, “How’s traffic?”

“Terrible!”

“Are they plowing the roads?” It was then 10:30 a.m.

“Not yet,” he replied. “They won’t do it until later today.” (We only started to see plows at 3:30.)

I’m here reporting my fifth New York Times business story. It’s been interesting, since I lived here in 1969 and from 1986 to 1988 when I was a reporter at the Montreal Gazette. Jose is here with me, my husband, and he’s loving the crazy cold as much as I am.

As I move around the city, on foot and by bus and by taxi, so many memories! It was here I flew kites atop Mount Royal with my Mom and took a freezing cold caleche ride with my American beau, the man I would later marry (and divorce.) It was here my Dad took me to Expo ’67; the grey concrete cubes of Moshe Safdie’s Habitat still stand, a few blocks from our hotel.

It was here I lost a tooth — yes, really — at the Ritz-Carlton, when my father was staying there. Jose and I later took refuge there, at bargain rates, after we both reported on 9/11, terrified and exhausted. We came downstairs for breakfast and wondered who the raspy-voiced, long-haired guys were at the next table — Aerosmith.

We drove past the Royal Victoria Hospital, an enormous gray Victorian stone pile on a steep hill — and I remember the day I slipped and fell on the ice outside my hotel and tore all the ligaments in my left ankle. It took six hours to get a pair of crutches. (I was on assignment then for The Globe and Mail, and [of course] kept working, in snow and ice, on crutches.)

Here’s a photo of what was our 1969 address — now transposed to a glam condo tower from the gray limestone apartment we lived in, since torn down.

former home

It’s 3432 Peel Street, a block north of Sherbrooke. We were here for a year — my Mom had a TV talk show and I attended a private, co-ed Catholic school. It was a hell of a shock. I’m not Catholic and I had not attended school with boys since third grade – this was Grade Seven and all the girls were a year older and hopelessly sophisticated in comparison.

I promptly developed a huge crush on a pink-cheeked boy named, of course, Michel.

I love how French are this city’s aesthetic choices and offerings; I bought heavy stock Lalo notecards the exact color of raspberry coulis and an opera-length black bead necklace at Agatha, a Paris-based jewelry company. And I always enjoy Montrealais’ consistent chic — even in the bitter cold, one young woman on the subway platform, swaddled in her coat, sported a gamine pixie haircut and bright red lipstick.

We have been utter gluttons on this trip, as some of it is vacation. Yesterday we indulged in a 2.5 hour lunch, with wine at La Chronique. The restaurant, ironically designed with a menu that looks like a newspaper and a ceiling design that mimics a printer’s tray, had only four tables filled, people staying away because of the weather. It was silent, the food fantastic.

Gravlax appetizer at La Chronique

Gravlax appetizer at La Chronique

We ate one night at Lemeac, a neighborhood restaurant for affluent Francophones, and the couple at the next table were intriguing. She wore a gold signet ring the size of a grape, a leather skirt and expensive manicure. She sent back her food because they brought her a steak — not steak tartare, which is essentially uncooked ground meat. The picture of polished, wealthy, mid-life elegance, she sounded soigne en francais, and crude in English. “He’s a fucking idiot,” she snapped to her companion of someone they were discussing.

He was Asian and they slipped easily back and forth, as so many people do here, from French to English, like otters slipping in and out of water. I miss living in a place where language is so fluid and thinking done automatically en deux langues.

I took Jose to one of favorite haunts from my time here in the 1980s, Stash Cafe, whose apricot crumble is a thing of magnificence. Here he is, post-stew.

jose@stash

One major difference between Montreal and New York is that so many people, here, wear fur — trimming their parka hoods or full-length unapologetic mink and sable that sweep to their ankles. There are boutiques selling fur in a variety of forms.

It was also here, on a face-punchingly, nostril-shuttingly frigid day in February 2007, that I bought mine. (Fur horrifies many people, I know.) It is also both light, non-bulky and extraordinarily warm, making it perfect for this sort of unforgiving cold. It is nice to wear it here, and be completely unremarkable — in New York, some PETA fanatic might well douse me with red paint in fury.

Caiti:winter

People mocked us for heading north in February  — again! — for this holiday.

But, as my most Canadian friend — a former wildlife biologist — reminded us: “Cold is not the problem. Improper clothing is.”

The comfort of the familiar

In aging, beauty, behavior, cities, culture, design, domestic life, History, life, urban life on February 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm
English: Panorama of Toronto. Français : Image...

English: Panorama of Toronto. Français : Image panoramique de Toronto. Italiano: Un panorama di Toronto, al tramonto. Nella skyline si nota la CN Tower, la più alta torre per telecomunicazioni del mondo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We stood on the sidewalk, gobsmacked.

We’d walked along Queen Street in the freezing cold, counting the minutes until we were seated once more at our favorite Toronto deli, Prague, a Toronto institution of schnitzel and strudel and Pilsener and potato salad.

“Closed” read the sign.

A guy stepped out.

“What happened?”

“Some new owners bought it. They changed it. It didn’t work.”

Sigh.

I peered into the windows, looking in vain for the charming renovation they’d done a few years earlier, for the display cases filled with ham and jam and biscuits. All gone. The only thing left was the ancient mirrored wooden icebox from the original store.

There is something deeply comforting — in a life filled with constant change — in the familiar. Since I was born in Vancouver, I’ve lived in Toronto, Montreal (twice), New Hampshire, New York, Cuernavaca, Mexico, London and Paris. Between 1982 and 1989 I changed cities four times and left my native Canada for the United States.

After a few decades, when so many friends and jobs and colleagues and husbands and wives and sweeties have come and gone, knowing you’ll always find something lovely still standing in its spot takes on new power. It might be a tree, your old school, a beloved park. It’s a marker, a milestone. a piece of your past you can return to.

When we drive north to leave Toronto we pass a white brick house on a corner, the one we lived in when I was in high school. The one with tall narrow windows my Dad punched into those walls. The one with the lilac tree outside the kitchen door. The one where I lay in bed for a month with mono. The one where I wrote my essays in my first year of university while I still lived at home.

It was the last home I shared with my Dad.

I moved to New York in June 1989, so I have plenty of memories and associations there, sights and sounds I treasure as well, from our reservoir walk to weathered, patina-ed metal scrollwork of a nearby estate.

But there is something deeper for me in returning to places I first visited as a very small child and have been enjoying since. I have plenty of history in New York but much of it has been stressful — four surgeries in a decade, a brief and miserable marriage, becoming a crime victim twice in five years. For all the fun and excitement of publishing two books and re-creating my writing career, I miss the sense of optimism and excitement I had — as most of us do — in my early 20s, before I launched myself off the rocket pad of Toronto, my hometown.

We had lunch this visit at The Coffee Mill, which opened in 1963. I love the fresh rye bread, pre-buttered, they bring to the table. Their goulash and strudel and dark black coffee, all impossibly exotic in the Toronto of the 1960s. The seats are always filled with stylish regulars; when we we there this week, a famous Canadian actor sat a few tables away.

We stopped in down the block at the jeweler my Granny used to frequent, splurging her inheritance on enormous rings whose stones weighed down her hands. Jose bought my wedding ring and earrings there, a choice he happily gave me when we were deciding where to purchase that symbolic link to my future. I still own rings I bought there in my 20s and one my mother bought for me.

English: Toronto Globe newspaper office (with ...

English: Toronto Globe newspaper office (with a globe on top) on King Street East, Toronto, Canada, early 1860s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll be having lunch in a few days with my first true love, a man who’s now on his second marriage, a very late-life Dad. We’ll eat at Le Select, another Toronto institution, which sits  — of course! — directly across the street from the place where, in 1984, my writing career started in earnest, the newsroom of The Globe and Mail. I used to walk up its steeply sloping driveway ramp every morning, pulling open the metal door, grabbing a fresh paper off the stack there and stepping into that day’s chaos. Every single morning, as I did so, my pulse rate soared as adrenaline kicked in and I wondered what they’d ask me to accomplish that day. An enormous satellite dish would beam my words to Saskatoon and Moose Jaw and Victoria and Halifax. Magic!

It will be odd to see P., but lovely. We were inseparable in my first year at University of Toronto. I was 18, he 23 and editor of the school newspaper where I, desperate to become a professional journalist, spent all my time when not in class. I was still living at home, he in a big old house shared with room-mates, one of whom was a ferociously serious member of the Marxist-Leninist party. We got fancy journalism jobs, married other people, got divorced, re-connected briefly in the mid-1990s, lost touch, found one another again.

University College, south side, University of ...

University College, south side, University of Toronto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On this visit, as we always do, we had lunch with M., a friend I’ve known since my early 20s. It’s the sort of friendship where we pick up as if we’d stopped talking a week or so ago, not the three or six months that usually pass between our visits. Her love and enthusiasm and smarts are a touchstone for me. She, more than anyone except my husband, knows my intimate history — the sad dramas within my family and the ex-es who made me knees weak and possibly still could.

Do you take comfort in the familiar?

What are some of your touchstones?

Coming full circle

In aging, behavior, children, domestic life, family, life on September 26, 2012 at 12:20 am

And the seasons, they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on the carousel of time

We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came

And go round and round and round in the circle game
— Joni Mitchell

Do you ever circle back to the places of your past?

Sometimes I do it on purpose. Sometimes it happens by accident.

The first major magazine story I sold, to a Buffalo newspaper when I was a college sophomore, was about radon gas leaks in a town near Toronto, from the decayed radium left over from watchmaking and its luminous dials.

Now my Dad lives there and it’s where I come to visit for a respite from writing for a living; that first story, insanely complicated and one for which I missed a lot of classes, created a career still sustaining me, one now allows me — thanks to laptop and wi-fi — to work from anywhere.

Like, back where I started.

I go back to my old Toronto high school sometimes to lecture about journalism and book-writing. I arrived there halfway through Grade 10, pimply and completely ill at ease around boys after years of all-girl schools and summer camps. It was a very rough few years of being daily bullied by a small group of boys before, finally, I was accepted and welcome — and even chosen as prom queen at our senior prom.

So when I go back now, as a published writer, it’s with relief and pride. I spoke there on Monday. The list in the photo is of Ontario Scholars the year I graduated; you needed an 80 average.

As I was climbing the stairs to give my lecture, I passed a man I couldn’t believe still roamed those halls. “Nick! You cannot still be alive!” I said. (He’s British, devilish and always let us call him Nick.) “I’m 68,” he said proudly. (He was then an English teacher, now a part-time athletic coach.) What a hoot to run into him!

On the weekend I went for drinks to the rooftop bar of the Park Hyatt hotel, overlooking the University of Toronto campus, still one of the city’s most elegant and intimate spots for a cocktail. I’ve been savoring it since I skipped my U of T classes 30 years ago to have a drink there. I went to meet an old summer camp friend, a woman I hadn’t seen since we were 16 and who found me (of course!) on Facebook.

I took the ferry across Toronto harbor to Centre Island to attend service at the tiny church where I was married last fall. I love the ferry and its feeling of freedom, the very best way to spend $7 I can imagine. The island, lush and green in late fall sunshine, is so lovely, its gardens carefully manicured, swans and ducks and geese flapping by. I’ve been going to the Islands since I was little. They’re sometimes what I miss most about the city — wild, beautiful, unchanged.

It was odd but very pleasant to walk the paths alone where I last walked as a newlywed. (The husband is home working.)

Our wedding church, St. Andrew by The Lake.

On this visit north, I’m enjoying sitting in my father’s house, surrounded by the art and objects I’ve known since early childhood. They’re images I’ve known and loved for a long time; in a life with plenty of upheaval, (a life lived in five countries, divorce, job losses), things and places that remain fixed and lovely are securisant. They soothe me.

It also feels good to finally have an open home to return to. There were many long, painful decades when I wasn’t very welcome. His second family took precedence and didn’t like me much.

As I drove around Toronto the past few days I’ve passed so much of my past — the white brick house I lived in as a teenager, the pool where I first worked when I was 15, my first apartment building, the Victorian red brick house where my writing career began at the college newspaper.

I like revisiting my past, the good bits anyway. It comforts me.

How about you?

As the traveling sketchbook show heads to Melbourne, here are some of mine…

In art, beauty, cities, culture, travel, world on June 8, 2012 at 3:15 am

This is so cool!

A library in Brooklyn has amassed an enormous collection of sketchbooks – 7,500 from 130 countries — and their books are now traveling the world, currently in Chicago. They’re on a 14-city tour, ending in Melbourne.

I love every single thing about this:

sharing ideas globally

sharing one’s art with strangers

sharing the most private and intimate place to stash your drawings.

And they’re now collecting sketchbooks for the 2013 world tour. Jump in here!

I’ve sketched all over the world on my travels.

Here (gulp) are a few of what’s in one of my sketchbooks.

Les Halles, Paris

I spent the happiest year of my life, 1982-3, living and working out of Paris, on an eight-month journalism fellowship called Journalistes en Europe. We were chosen, 28 of us from 19 countries, ages 25 to 35, to live in Paris and travel all over Europe reporting. I got to know the Les Halles area, in the 1st. arondissement, well, as the CFPJ centre nearby was at Rue du Louvre. On one of my many later visits, alone on a frigid winter’s afternoon, I did this quick sketch with a sharpie. It’s still one of my favorites. (All these images are, in life,  4 by 6 inches.)

Le Loire Dans La Theiere

Here’s a pile of photos of the place to see what it’s really like! I did this one in colored pencil. This is a great tea-room in the Marais section of Paris. The name means The Dormouse in The Teapot, a reference from Alice in Wonderland. You’ll find it at 3 rue des Rosiers in the 4th. arondissement. Everywhere I travel, I seek out a cosy tearoom. Amusez-vous bien!

Freud’s Chair, London

Did you know that Sigmund Freud lived in London after fleeing the Nazis in his native Austria in 1938? And that you can visit his home, now a museum? I’ve been to London many times, and loved seeing his chair — which is battered brown leather — and the original psychoanalytic  couch, covered in an oriental rug, that his patients lay on. His family, a talented and eccentric bunch, has very much left their mark on British culture, from his grandson, legendary painter Lucian Freud to author and Financial Times columnist Susie Boyt, his great-grand-daughter who grew up desperately wanting to be Judy Garland. I did this quick sketch in pencil.

The paddock view, Castle Athenry, Co. Galway, Ireland

For a few years, my father owned a house built in 1789 in Galway, near the town of Athenry. It was one of the loveliest places I’ve ever been lucky enough to stay. This is a watercolor I did of the view from the kitchen into the stone-walled paddock behind the house. He sold it, sadly, and it’s now a nursing home.

Sydney Harbor, Australia.

In 1998 I was crazy enough to fly alone to Sydney — 20 hours from my home in New York — with the goal of writing a book about women sailors competing in a round-the-world race. It was an insane commitment of a ton of money and when I arrived they reneged on the deal! So it became a very costly, albeit lovely holiday I would never have dared embark on otherwise. I did this watercolor from the window of my hotel room. One of the things that intrigued me most about Sydney, which you can see here, were its corrugated metal roofs.

In 1994, I spent 21 days traveling Thailand, from very north to very south. This was a temple across the street (!) from the airport in the tiny, quiet, isolated town of Mae Hong Son, in the very northern corner, near near the border with Burma. The only sound you could hear after getting out of the airport — one strip — was the bells from this temple. I walked into town from the airport, a first, and felt I had arrived in heaven. This spot remains in my top five of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever visited.

Hope you enjoyed these!

The inner hippie emerges!

In behavior, cities, culture, life, travel, US on April 11, 2012 at 12:11 am
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA.

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever found yourself in a landscape that transforms you?

I recently returned from one amazing day spent driving through Marin County, which is across the Golden Gate bridge, north of San Francisco. I went with a friend and her tiny daughter, who turns 3 in June. It was so lovely I’m counting the minutes until I can get back on the plane for the six hour ride from my home in New York.

Marin is bathed in golden light, its velvety hills a mix of Ireland, Scotland and Vermont, dotted with black cows and brown horses. Thick groves of redwoods. A winding road that led us through Dogtown, pop. 30. (The official sign later hand-lettered, amended to 31, 32, 33…)

I felt like a chorus in a Joni Mitchell song.

We stopped in Point Reyes and bought ice cream. Four men asked me to take their photo outside the Western Saloon, which looks exactly as it sounds.

I posed them in the narrow doorway of the saloon. “You look like a rock band,” I told them, and they laughed. Until they looked at the photo on their Iphone.

“We do! Great photo!” one said, delighted.

Thick afternoon light coated the red bricks and the emerald-green California I highway sign.

The last place that had so profound an effect on me was Taos, New Mexico. Like Marin, it’s a favorite of some big name celebrities — Julia Roberts lives there, at least part-time. Taos is tiny and filled with eccentric details. (Yet, like many of these idyllic rural areas, almost a quarter of its 4,700 residents live in poverty.)

Here’s a recent essay about Taos from The New York Times:

I had come to this far-flung desert town to write a memoir about searching for traces of one of the heroes of my English adolescence, D. H. Lawrence. Taos was the only place where Lawrence had ever actually owned a house, and I suppose, as a visitor, I was hoping some of the inspiration he had drawn from the land and people might rub off on me. I had imagined the landscape would all be bare desert and mountains. The last thing I had expected was to find it reminding me of England.

But all around town there were grassy fields, tussocky, mostly flat, with patches of shorter grass where horses and cattle had grazed. They were no different from the fields back home where I had grown up, playing soccer with friends, walking the dogs, rambling, sleeping out in summer. This one near my apartment was no exception.

An unexpected sense of intense familiarity with a foreign place has been felt by other travelers in other lands, but I was surprised by how completely at home I felt in this field: the long grass, the faint scent of hay, the trees hissing softly in gusts of breeze. Of all strange things, this meadow in Taos had exactly the same rough grass stalks, feathery at their tips, as the field next door to my childhood home in the Cherwell Valley north of Oxford. And the path, beaten smooth as hide, was just like the path that ran through that field, too. And the tremendous ribbed trunks of the cottonwoods that ringed it were like the boles of old English willows.

The day we arrived in Taos I ran out and bought a tie-dyed tank top, astonishing Jose, then my boyfriend of only three months, (now my husband, 12 years later.) In New York, he’d been dating a woman who appeared buttoned-up and conservative, a WASP — me — who showed up on dates wearing turtlenecks.

Who, suddenly, was this hippie chick?

Blame it on coming of age in the 1970s, but I’m often deeply happiest in a place where I can ride horses, pick up fossils from ancient riverbeds and let my eyes roam across empty miles. Where the air smells of dry earth, old stone and sagebrush and eucalyptus. Where the light is so exquisite I’m torn between my camera, sketchbook — and simply letting it soak into memory.

I found the same qualities of Taos and Marin — of light, rugged landscape and timelessness — in Corsica. I wept when I left, in June 1996, and dream of returning to explore it much more.

How about you?

Have you been somewhere that so moves and touches you?

The death of an ordinary woman — justly celebrated

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, women on March 19, 2012 at 12:09 am

One of my close friends works at The Toronto Star, and tipped me off to this extraordinary piece of journalism, about a single, childless, non-celebrity 55-year-old Toronto woman named Shelagh Gordon.

The story came about the way the very best stories often do, when a reporter’s curiosity was piqued by an obituary privately submitted to the newspaper.

Shelagh was quirky, generous, fun, clumsy. She was not rich or well-known or politically powerful. Her husband and children — she had neither — had not carved out fame and fortune in the world.

Yet The Star decided to devote some of its most experienced career writers to chronicle this woman’s life.

She was, like many of us, simply a private citizen whose love for, and devotion to, the people in her private world brightened many lives for decades.

I’ve included a short excerpt here from this exceptional story.

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The Star dedicated unprecedented coverage to the funeral of 55-year-old Shelagh Gordon – interviewing more than 100 of her friends and family – to show how a modest life can have a huge impact.

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By Catherine Porter Columnist

I met Shelagh Gordon at her funeral.

She was soap-and-water beautiful, vital, unassuming and funny without trying to be. I could feel her spirit tripping over a purse in the funeral hall and then laughing from the floor.

She was both alone and crowded by love. In another era, she’d have been considered a spinster — no husband, no kids. But her home teemed with dogs, sisters, nieces, nephews and her “life partner” —a gay man — who would pass summer nights reading books in bed beside her wearing matching reading glasses.

Her relationships were as rich as the chocolate pudding pies she’d whip together.

She raced through ravines, airports and wine glasses (breaking them, that is). She dashed off dozens of text messages and emails and Facebook postings a day, usually mistyping words in her rush to connect.

Then, every afternoon, she’d soak for an hour in the bath while eating cut-up oranges and carrots and flipping the damp pages of a novel.

She called herself a “freak,” at first self-consciously and, later, proudly.

But my sharpest impression of Shelagh that day, as mourners in black pressed around me, was of her breathtaking kindness. Shelagh was freshly-in-love thoughtful.

I love this article and the rare journalistic commitment — in an era of celebrity fawning and faux fame — to celebrating an ordinary woman. I love its depth, detail, intimacy and humanity.

I hope you’ll make the time to read it in full, and share it through your own blogs and other social media.

Even better, please email or write to The Star, (whose editor in chief I’ve worked with twice before), to let him know how great this is. His name is Michael Cooke, 1 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5E 1E5,Canada.

The Best Meals Of My Life

In family, food, travel on August 4, 2011 at 11:26 am
New Year's Eve fireworks in Paris

Oooh-la-la! This is how my tastebuds felt. Image via Wikipedia

Having just survived eight days of an all-vegetarian retreat — I may never eat field greens again! — it got me to thinking of the best meals (and, yes, drinks!) I’ve ever enjoyed.

The food we ate wasn’t bad at all, and in fact beautifully presented, healthy, full of vitamins. The cheese/fennel scones were perfect little pillows; the berry crumble lovely; the crispy green beans just the right color and texture…

But still.

Here are some of my favorite meals:

In a port-side cafe in Concarneau, Brittany, cold, fresh oysters, a baguette with sweet butter, tiny hot sausages and a crisp glass of Muscadet.

Street-vendor food in Bangkok.

My late granny’s Christmas goose.

My mom’s hamburger smash — ground meat, salt, pepper, carrots, potatoes — all mixed up in a frying pan.

The sweetie’s blueberry pancakes with, of course, real maple syrup.

A spectacular fish soup I ate on a frigidly cold winter’s day in Old Montreal — in 1987! It was that good.

The peach crumble with sour cream at Stash Cafe, also in Old Montreal.

On my first visit to England, when I was 12, eating clotted cream right from the bottle.

Some hellaciously good barbecue in Fort Worth.

At a rooftop party in Paris on New Year’s Eve, fistfuls of fresh oysters shucked right in front of us.

At Los Almendros, in Merida, a fish dish so good we went back the next night and ate it again.

The tiny perfect sweet mussels our friend Celia made for us for dinner when she lived in Paris, served on her rooftop.

The stew my Dad and I made in Ireland from mussels we picked ourselves from Galway Bay.

My friend Mary’s Brooklyn roof-top open-air feasts, with a bottomless tureen of lethal/delicious caipirinhas.

Hot, fresh churros with a melting chocolate center, bought from a Mexico City roadside stand our driver Gerardo took us to.

The spaghetti carbonara, eaten at the bar, at Morandi in New York City.

The tacos al pastor and homemade guacamole at Toloache, also in Manhattan.

My first pisco sour, at Carlin, in Lima.

At Casa de Piedra, a long-gone and lovely hotel in Cuernavaca, my first and unforgettable taste of sweet chestnut paste. Not to mention their enormous, salty home-made potato chips. (Here’s a link to a replacement every bit as lovely and charming, Casa Colonial.)

How about you?

Dish!

Trying To Remember, Hoping To Forget

In animals, behavior, domestic life, family, Health, History, life, travel, Uncategorized on March 12, 2011 at 1:03 am
Build a clock

Image by lisibo via Flickr

Today marks the 14th. annual USA Memory Championship, which pits high school students against one another to see whose brain retains the most. It’s held in Manhattan and open to the public.

What? You forgot?

I recently finished a three-week trip and my camera kept reminding me that its memory card was full, so — on the fly — I’d ruthlessly edit images I didn’t think worth keeping to capture a few more.

Memory is one of our most precious attributes.

One of my favorite films (and also my sweetie’s) is After Life, a Japanese film from 1998 about memory and how precious it is to us. The film’s premise is that, after you die, you will be forced to choose only one memory of all those you have accumulated. Which would you choose?

My mother was diagnosed this year with dementia, and I know it will likely worsen, so memory has become more of an obesssion with me. How much longer will she remember her life, her travels, her friends?

Her only child?

Here’s a new book, wildly and widely reviewed, about memory, “Moonwalking With Einstein” by Joshua Foer.

And what of hideous memories, the ones we so badly want to forget but which, so annoyingly, seem the hardest to get rid of? For me, these would include the night my husband walked out of our brief marriage, for good; the night my beloved red convertible was stolen; watching my Mom (who came out fine) heading into a six-hour neurosurgery…And our memories shift our perceptions, altering how we create and recall new ones.

I stayed on this trip at a resort hotel whose motto is that they create memories, an interesting idea. I brought home several from that trip, perhaps the most indelible being a dog-sledding expedition of about 90 minutes that took us along a tree-lined trail, across a barren, wind-swept frozen lake, alongside a river whose waters were so clear and blue we could see all the way to the bottom.

The dogs kept looking back at us as if to make sure we were still there. Wind clawed at my cheeks so viciously I feared imminent frostbite. A winter sky was as white and impenetrable as the snow on the Rocky Mountains around us.

Unforgettable…

I hope.

What is your most powerful memory and why?

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