Summer of Song Redux


by Roxanne Tellier

I’ve been overwhelmed, recently, with the events swirling around us. It’s too much. And today, although I had planned a look into trump and Ford’s plans to re-open schools this fall, I’m gonna take a pass, and a day off. Instead of current affairs, let’s enjoy the summer sun, and take a stroll down Memory Lane, to this slightly edited column that I first wrote in August of 2015. 

How very different things look now, from the perspective of 2020, and this time of plague! Seems almost naughty to see people gathered together, without masks or social distancing! And I’m not sure if any of the places I mentioned then, are open now. Never mind… Take my hand, come along with me on the wayback machine, and forget about life for a while ….

**************************************

Idaho. Lower Salmon River. Playing guitar around campfire. MR

This is not likely to ever make the cut as a ‘best summer.’ I’m well past cavorting on beaches, fending off amorous, slight intoxicated hotties while sprinting across hot sand in an improbable bikini, and then gathering around a romantic campfire eating s’mores, while some talented and ‘mature’ looking fellow strums a guitar for a singalong.

Nope, them days are long gone, if they ever existed. And they probably only ever belonged to Annette Funicello – she may have even held the copyright on Beach Blanket Bingos … and maybe Bob, in his Stockton youth, could lay claim to the times. The Beach Boys definitely had a lock on the sound of summer itself.

Canadian summers were always a little more sedate. Maybe it’s because Canadian winters, being endlessly cold and dark, except in beer commercials, ramp up the anticipation for a few days of sun and relaxation until nothing – and certainly not the few weeks of uncertain rain or shine we generally ‘enjoy’ – can quite compete with the hype.

Canadian beach sand can be very hot, but the water, primarily lake-derived, rarely gets over the temperature of a cold bath. An intrepid Canuck would-be swimmer learns early that the proper beach protocol is to dip in a toe, shiver, and then gird your loins for a plunge into the freezing liquid, where you immediately duck under until all but your head is submerged. You must then yell to your fellow revelers, a phrase as Canadian as, “take off, eh” ….  

“It’s not so bad once you’re in!”

For the timid and the dreamy, a trip to the beach is more likely to involve stumbling over the jagged stones on the shore in your flip flops, hoping to catch just enough of a breeze and spray to cool down.

There are many incredibly lovely lakes in Ontario… Sand Dunes comes to mind, where we once spent a few hours, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other families determined to have just one fun day in the sun, and trying to keep the flies and the sand off the sandwiches.  

Torontonians can ferry out to the Toronto Islands, with families heading straight for Centreville, where apparently the sun is always shining on Far Enough Farm and the kiddie rides. You can bring a picnic, and rent a bike, a canoe, or a kayak, while humming the Cowsill’sIndian Lake.”  The daring head for the clothing-optional beach on the western shore of Hanlan’s Point

It was all so different when I was a kid. Even beyond the fantasies induced by Beach Party flicks, Elvis romps, and Beach Boys songs. In the sixties, come summer, a kid was usually on his or her own, barring maybe a couple of week stint in a community day camp, and most of the time, my sister and I would have to fend for ourselves in the heat.

Montreal summers were glaringly bright, the sun reflecting harshly off the concrete, and the crowded, standing room only, buses reeked of sweat, garlic, and dime store perfume. It was a time to check out Jarry Park to catch the Expos, or to take an insanely long bus ride out to Belmont Park, which was falling apart in a wonderfully creepy fashion. The arcade reeked of burnt popcorn and worse, and the rides – especially the Wild Mouse – were suspect. But a kid could spend a whole day there for under a buck, including bus fare.  

As a teen, my summers were mainly city bound. My girlfriends and I would start tanning in the spring, lying bonelessly in our back yards, slathered from head to toe in baby oil. The truly fashionable used sun reflectors to capture every ray. This ritual was necessary before heading toe the local outdoor community pool, where it would have been beyond devastating to appear with any part of your body revealed to be ‘fish belly white.’   

The cool kids would always gather near the pool’s deep end, clustered by age group or appearance. Few would actually swim; pool water, with its high chlorine content, could do a real number on our Summer Blonde or lemon streaked hair. And bathing suits, pre-spandex, tended to stretch out with or without much exertion. No, we were there to see and be seen, our transistor radios blaring, and fingers crossed that the boys would see beyond our gawky physique to the teen angel concealed within. Those were the Peggy March, ‘I Will Follow Him’ days, when even the most casual encounter with the opposite sex meant that we were going to be together forever … or at least until school was back in session.

It was either summer school or a summer job in the sixties. Kids would try to get hired at the hot gathering spots, like the Dairy Queen, the Orange Julep, or the A&W. One of the benefits of working at any place where other kids hung out was that the owners were usually savvy enough to keep their radios set to a happening station, like CFOX, where Dean Hagopian, Charles P. Rodney (Chuckie) Chandler, or Roger Scott played the hits.

By 1969, CKGM-FM has morphed into CHOM-FM, and the music got really groovy. Doug Pringle was the city’s top DJ, and he was THE voice of Montreal for years, entertaining us with new music, while letting us listen in on his interviews with everyone from Marc Bolan to Jesse Winchester, with multiple stops in between.

The summer of ’72 brought the Watergate Scandal,  the horror of 11 Israeli athletes being murdered at the Munich Olympics, and the first talk of the IRA planting car bombs in Ireland.

But we were far more interested in listening to Seals and Croft.

By ’76, single again, and with the Olympics in full swing in Montreal, my footsteps kept time to the music. When I wasn’t hanging out at the Olympic Village, I was cruising Crescent Street, dancing to disco in my platform sandals. Soon I’d leave for Toronto, but in the summer of ’76, the city was mine, and I was taking my joy to the streets.

The summer of 1983. New wave was now firmly established in the charts and in the street. We’d gone from girl Groups like The Go Gos and The Bangles owning the summer charts in 1980, ’81, and ’82, to a more mature sound emerging as the artists of the 70s, like Martha Davis of The Motels, lost their youths and innocence, just like the rest of us. The boomers, once again, were growing older as a group, with the music guiding our journey.

The Tragically Hip, who appeared on the scene in 1987, burst out of the gate sounding like the voice of Canada. ‘Blow at High Dough’, ’38 Years Old,’ and ‘Fifty Mission Cap’ pulled a Maple Leaf flag over the band, but in 1998, they nailed Ontario summers forever with ‘Bobcaygeon.

These days there aren’t as many songs that, for me, capture that ‘summery’ feeling. Hitting it in the summer is not the same as having a classic summer song. Sure, you had Nelly’s ‘Hot in Here’ in 2002, but that was mainly about getting jiggy, in any season. 2010s ‘California Gurls’ by Katy Perry was fun, but couldn’t hold a candle to either the Beach Boys, or even the Van Halen rendition of ‘California Girls.’

I’m the first to admit that I’m well out of the new music loop. Still, I’d gladly stack any of my summer songs against any that have come along in the last decade and a half. From the innocence of the Loving Spoonful’s ‘Rain on the Roof’ to the Who’s raucous, ‘Summertime Blues,’ Martha and the Vandella’s ‘Heatwave,’ and The Kinks louche ‘Sunny Afternoon,’ to the brassy horns of Chicago’s ‘Saturday in the Park.’ I’ve got a full house AND a royal flush of bona fide summer time music.

And that’s even before I pull out Billy Stewart’s 1966 hybrid of ‘Summertime’ that insists you feel the heat of the ‘hot’ summertime.

It’s summer. Find that Walkman you packed away a decade ago, fire up your favorite collection of greatest golden oldie summertime tunes on CD, and head on down to the nearest boardwalk. As the Doors once told us, ‘Summer’s almost gone,’ and before you know it, you’ll be saying, ‘See you in September.’

Easterish


by Roxanne Tellier

My mother loved holidays – any and all celebratable occasions. She was the Holiday Fairy, sprinkling her magic dust on us, and making special days even more memorable with her joy and enthusiasm.

A talented poet, she made our childhood Easter mornings into a treasure hunt. My sister and I would wake to riddles, clues that hinted to where our candy and chocolate had been left by the Easter Bunny.

We didn’t have a lot of money, and chocolate was a luxury we rarely enjoyed. Easter and Halloween were occasions of great joy for sugar loving kids like my sister and I. 

One year my godmother sent me an enormous chocolate bunny that was taller than I was! We ate chocolate until we could eat no more, and then mum said it would be kind to share what was left with our neighbours.  I went up and down the street with a bowl filled with broken chocolate pieces, doling out the goodies, and veering between feeling like Lady Bountiful and a kid having qualms about the giving away of her precious chocolate.

Those were the days when everyone dressed up for special occasions, and thankfully, mum was a genius on the sewing machine. Although I could be counted on to appear in public bandbox neat and clean, I have to admit I wasn’t the happiest of campers when mum regularly made Jodi and I wear matchy matchy outfits.  

Having a sister younger by five years meant that I spent a lot of time pretending to believe in things like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy andthe Easter Bunny. (Both the TF and the EB, by the way, have been officially declared ‘essential businesses’ during this Covid 19 plague.)

In Edmonton, I went to Academie Assomption, a Catholic, all girl school run by nuns. From grade three until grade six, when we left for Montreal, I learned how to survive the forty days of Lent. We would have to give up the things that gave us ‘pleasures of the flesh,’ and we had to do it with good grace and a willing heart, or – like a birthday wish spoken aloud – our sacrifice would be null and void. Forty days without candy! Forty days without teasing your siblings! Forty days of obeying your parents without talking back! Oh it was hellish, suffering such deprivation, and the days passed so slowly. But eventually, yes! We were paroled Easter Sunday morning, and got to enjoy a rare sugar overdose.

Along with the forty days of jonesing for sugar, my school classes would practice the hymns that we would be singing in church on the Big Day. “He is Risen!”  we chorused, our sweet voices rising with Him to the heavens.  

In Montreal I continued singing those hymns, first in Latin, later in English and eventually, in folk music form. I was part of that folk mass crew that tried to make going to church ‘groovy’ in the sixties. Actually, it was in the sixties that some of the best ‘Religious Rock’ was written and enjoyed.

Due to some – ahem – infractions I had been caught committing, my teenaged butt had been severely grounded in 1969. I had the choice of staying in my room ‘for the rest of your life!’ or joining our church’s youth group, which met regularly in the church basement.  

It was in that basement that I learned how to play pool, and where I danced with a male for the first time; with Father Sauvé, to Cream’s White Room. It was there that I became a part of the group that performed at the Sunday folk masses, and eventually, through some of the people that I met in those days, formed my first folk rock group, with a convenient venue already in place for our performances.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, there were many songs that crossed from the radio to the pews.  It wasn’t just songs like Ocean’s Put Your Hand in the Hand that kept our folk masses humming; we were about to enter a time when religious rock would go mainstream.

Easter of 1970, the church group had bought into a new fad – fasting for a cause. The kids from my school and church decided we’d do a sponsored fast for 24 hours, and donate any money raised to the church. Soon, all of us were camped out in the church basement with our sleeping bags, stuffed animals, and guitars.

(As we all hunker down in our bunkers, riding out this virus and keeping our social distances, I’m so often grateful that I’m not a 15-year-old kid, high on life, and bursting with hormones. I’m even more grateful that I’m not a parent having to deal with that kid while trying to avoid getting ill. There aren’t all that many benefits of aging – but knowing how to keep oneself busy while in isolation is surely one of them.)

But – back to the fast.  

So, twenty-four hours without food. An unimaginable torture to a bunch of kids ranging in age from 14 to 21. After flirting with each other for the first five or six hours, we started to get antsy. Some of us were crying, lonesome for our families. All of us could hear our bellies crying out for sustenance. And into this sea of overexcited teenagers waded Father Sauvé… with a big brown box filled with 33 1/3 records.

The basement, which was also the church’s rec centre and Saturday night dance hall, was set up for the playing of recorded music. When Father Sauvé dropped the needle on side one of the new rock musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” we all quieted and listened to the overture of what would become the first and most successful, religious rock opera.

I thrill, even as I listen to this overture this morning. At 15, and as a young woman who desperately wanted to be a professional vocalist, I was completely and utterly gobsmacked. 

50 years later, I still know every note and every word to every song of the entire opus.

I’m not the only one who felt that way; I remember reading in 2010 that another Canadian singer had had the same sort of fascination with the musical, but that she had actually done something about her lifelong obsession.

Peaches, the diminutive dynamo of raunchy electronic rock, was singing the entire libretto alone, just as she will in her one-woman show, “Peaches Christ Superstar,” which was to begin its North American tour on Friday in Boston.

As she sang her way from the Last Supper to Jesus’ trial before Pilate, Peaches cycled through nearly every character from the Gospels, embodying them in her voice and face: a dainty, mocking Herod; a guttural Caiaphas, the high priest; and a bruised Judas hurling insults at Jesus so heatedly that it raised the veins in Peaches’ ruddy face.” The New York Times, December 2010

I don’t think about Easter much these days. Time and events have left me irreligious and agnostic. And we’re so oblivious of the days during Covid that we even forgot to buy milk yesterday, when the stores were open between the Good Friday/Easter Sunday sandwich of shutdowns.   

But still – this Easter, and as I have done every Easter for fifty years, I will search out my copy of Norman Jewison’s wonderful version of the musical, and once again relive how the music made me feel, all those years ago.

Hey! Here’s some good news! If you missed the live 2018 version featuring John Legend – or if you just enjoyed it so much, you’d like to see it again … you’re in luck!

“NBC just announced that they will air an encore presentation of the 2018 production of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert this Sunday — Easter Sunday — April 12, 2020. The performance will air from 7:00-9:30 PM (ET/PT) on the NBC channel, as well as on select streaming services that offer live television, e.g. Hulu + Live TV or YouTube TV.”

Enjoy!

And … Happy Easter to YOU!

P.S. – Via my cousin Rita Donovan … food for thought .. the other side of isolation ….

No Integrity – No Confidence in Ford’s Ontario


by Roxanne Tellier

montreal driving detoursDang it. After three fun and family filled days in Montreal, with very little social or TV media contact, I’ve come home to some crazy tales of quasi legal business ‘negotiations’ that skirt ethical decency in favour of political arm-twisting and bullying, and that will have a long and lasting depressing effect on our province’s financial future.

But before I get into that – wow, Montreal! Construction season is locked and loaded, and attempting to get anywhere by car is a crazy adventure guaranteed to take at least three times the estimated travel time and distance you expected for your jaunt. We’re talking mile long detours through much of the downtown core.

tailgating car

Which really plays havoc with the favourite pastime of Montreal drivers … tailgating. It appears that every vehicle, from motorbike to taxi to city bus feels it necessary to sniff the exhaust fumes of the vehicle directly in front of them. I spent my first ten minutes on Montreal soil clutching the armrest of the taxi I was in, as my driver came perilously close to forcibly entering the trunk of the Jaguar sedan ahead of us. (tailgatin

Returning to my old hometown as a visitor is always a jolt – time almost stands still in large chunks of the city, which means I can find not only my own past residences, but those of so many others, dating back into the early 1800s. And yet, there are swaths of downtown streets – like those that greet newcomers by bus and train – that make you feel that you could be in any large metropolis in North America. It’s a sea of franchises parked in cookie cutter glass and mirror towers, and hardly representative of the romantic, historic streets and avenues that radiate outwards from the city centre.

entertainment-districtGlobalization and commerce have a huge effect on our cities, as we seek to attain certain visual standards, and to compete for the valuable rental, retail, and corporate investments that bring in and circulate the wealth necessary to pay for yet more municipal growth.

By highlighting our best commercial policies against a glittering, metropolitan backdrop, every city, province, and nation in the civilized world hopes to attract the largest corporations and investors in order to keep moving in a forward, progressive, direction.

Which is why I was gobsmacked to read that the Ford administration is determined to summarily break a ten-year contract with Ontario’s The Beer Store, in order to fulfill a promise that has always, from the beginning, sounded like the slurred, pipe dream mumblings of a hard core, gutter inhabiting, drunk. And all meant to put a buck-a-watery-beer in every corner variety store throughout the province.

ford cuts sex-ed-protest(I understand that CAMH has some amazing programs to deal with that level of addiction – unless that funding was also part of the death by a thousand cuts Ford’s been inflicting on Toronto for the last year.)

But no matter how badly Doug, or any Ontarian, needs a beer, one thing is very clear to most of us;  a deal is a deal. You learn that on the playground dirt, and, if you are a reputable, honest person – a straight shooter – you don’t renege on your word. Then or now.

I don’t think any Ontarian taxpayer really wants to pay The Beer Store a billion dollars in order to break their “sweetheart deal” that finally loosened the stranglehold the big brewers had had on the province for the last 90 years. When the provincial crown negotiated the changes, it allowed the addition of 450 new retail locations in large supermarkets, over a transitional ten year period that expires in 2025.

the beer store

That contract added value and convenience to the locations chosen to host these new outlets, which were additions to the current availability of beer products in the already existing 450 Beer Stores, 660 LCBO locations, and 210 agency outlets.

 

As this piece in The Toronto Star explains, ” Ford’s Tories will pass a law this month cancelling a signed contract between the crown and the Beer Store’s owners — condemned as a “sweetheart deal” with foreign-owned multinationals. His Progressive Conservative government shall pass legislation for cancellation without compensation, using its supreme powers to absolve Ontario of any liability in a court of law.

 Confiscatory legislation invites litigation, so we may yet pay the price — estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. But the revolution demands sacrifices.”

The article goes on to say that Ford’s willingness to use legislative powers, rather than to honour the carefully negotiated business deal, must be seen in the light that they will appear to the eyes of current and potential new investors – as the actions of a province drunk with power, that can no longer be trusted to keep it’s word.

ford not one job lostThat means you can kiss the possibility of luring multinational corporations, like Amazon for instance, into planning a long term investment in Ontario, when there is no certainty or surety in the integrity of the elected government. That kind of deal, only good as long as it pleases the “Emperor,” gives the big players no confidence, and no reason to invest in Ontario’s future.

Ford has no problem with playing the bully, and with cherry picking the ‘promises’ made during the campaign that he’ll choose to keep. So it should come as no surprise that his ‘promises’ all seen to only contribute to the detriment of the health, welfare, and comfort of the actual tax payers of the province. Any sort of pushback is met with a steely disregard for diplomacy, and a willingness to play as dirty as the dirtiest con men, druggies, and swindlers Ford rubbed shoulders with growing up.

hwy 407But if he’s going to remove the gloves, and expose himself to the world as someone who cannot be trusted, perhaps he can do Ontario a solid, and work on  ‘fixing’ previous bad governmental sell offs, ripping them from their official owners, and returning them to the people in a display of eminent domain. He can start with overturning the 99-year lease on Highway 407, which was sold to foreign owners by the Tories in 1999  for a mere $3.1 billion. It’s now worth $28 billion, so let’s have that back, please and thank you.

Or what about the old Ontario Hydro privatization that Harris pushed through? How’s that been working for you in the last twenty years? Or the $350 billion of foreign debt previous governments, both PC and Liberal, have left us … can’t you just wave your magic wand and make those disappear as well?

Because … here’s the thing, Dougie Boy;  when the first official thing you do after taking office involves unleashing a notwithstanding clause to meddle with the members of a city’s Council whom you wish to punish, and you follow that by creating laws that allow you to break official, crown-negotiated, provincial, ten year contracts without penalty, both the tax paying citizens and all future corporate investors can only come to one conclusion – that there is absolutely no reason or manner in which they can have confidence in the integrity of your spoken or written word.

Friday January 25, 2019The Ford Government has now shown that it cannot be trusted to deal fairly with either the citizens of Ontario, or the businesses and corporations that enrich the province. I don’t know who Ford thinks will ultimately be helped by his bumbling, bullying, and braggadocio, but I do know that Ford’s actions have been repeatedly shown to most definitely not be ‘for the people’ and certainly his ballyhooed, ham-handed attempt to rebrand Ontario as ‘open for business’ has only led to a lack of confidence in the province’s fiscal future.

Now if only his Cabinet would see that, and remove him from office with a legal motion of no confidence.

That’s the only way we’re gonna get him out of power before he bankrupts the place.

 

 

Montreal, Cemeteries, and Donovans


by Roxanne Tellier

My family has a tiny burial plot on Mount Royal, in the Cotes de Neiges cemetery, and that’s where the bones and ashes of my ancestors have been interred for over a hundred years.

It’s been two months since my aunt’s passing. The clan will gather this week to bring her ashes home.

Patricia Donovan, daughter of Freda (James) Donovan and Denis Patrick Donovan, the last of her generation, died March 29, 2019 in Ottawa. Born in Montreal, Patricia lived most of her life there. She enjoyed travel, and worked for a time in Washington, D.C. She moved to Toronto and cared for her mother until her mother’s passing. 

aunts and uncles 1970 001

Patricia was a writer, painter, and sculptor who pondered life’s big questions.
Auntie Pat had fifteen nieces and nephews and enjoyed a unique relationship with each of them. She is survived by the clan, and will be missed by them.”

My family has always had an easy relationship with death; when I was young, my mother would often take my sister and I to the mountain for a picnic in the graveyard. We’d loll on the well tended grass while we ate lunch, and then wander around the tombstones and mausoleums, looking for famous names.

Michael Donovan A shamrock_in_the_snowI believe that my cousin Michael Leo Donovan, a man who loves the city of Montreal with a fervour I’ve never seen excelled, wrote a book about one of the cemetery’s denizens, the statesman Thomas D’Arcy McGee, after repeatedly seeing his tomb on family visits.

darcy mcgeeIn 1867 he became a Father of Confederation. It was said that if Sir John A. MacDonald of Ontario and Sir George Etienne Cartier of Quebec were the architects of Canada. D’Arcy McGee was its prophet. He was murdered on April 6, 1868, in Ottawa, while returning home after a session of the House.” (A Shamrock in the Snow, 1996)

Other well known Canadians resting in peace at this, and the neighbouring cemetery, include the Reverend William Squire, the first person buried in Mount Royal Cemetery, who died of cholera in 1852, after performing a religious sick visit to a local merchant; Thomas Lee Hackett, a young Irishman shot during a fight between the Catholic and Protestant Irish on July 12, 1877, the day that the Orangeman had chosen to parade on the streets of Montreal; and Sir Arthur William Currie, Commander of Canadian Troops during World War I, and Principal of McGill University from 1920-1933, whose death in 1933 drew a funeral procession with a crowd estimated at 20,000 people, consisting of politicians, diplomats, military bands and hundreds of veterans. The Cross of Sacrifice, a military monument, marks his grave.

Here you will also find David Thompson, surveyor and explorer, who died very poor with no grave marker. The grave languished for seventy years, until, in 1926, the Canadian Historical Association erected a monument to him with the epitaph, “To the memory of the greatest of geographers who for 34 years explored and mapped the main travel routes between the St Lawrence and the Pacific.”

joe beef tavernMontreal’s revered Joe Beef has a place of honour. “His real Irish name was Charles McKieman. He owned the famous “Joe Beef’s Canteen,” located near the port. His 3-storey building held a tavern, a restaurant with free food for the homeless, a dorm of 100 beds and a basement full of strange menagerie. He died in 1889 aged 54. His six sons and his wife organized a very impressive funeral for him. Every office in the business district closed for the afternoon, and there were representatives of workers from all classes in the procession.”

Several more souls were added to the site in 1912, when six victims of the Titanic‘s sinking were buried there, including Charles Melville Hays, once the president of the Grand Trunk Railway. (A further five lie in the Notre Dame de Neiges Cemetery, and one in the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery. Montreal was, sadly, well represented in the tragedy.)

laurier palace fireThere is also a section dedicated to some of the 76 small children who died in the Laurier Palace Theatre fire in 1927, an event so horrific to Montrealers that a law was summarily passed forbidding the entry of children under 16 to any theatre or cinema screenings. That law remained in effect until 1961

Calixa Lavallée, the man who, in 1880 wrote our national anthem, “Oh Canada,” was born in Verchères, Quebec in 1842, but enlisted as a musician with the 4th Rhode Island Infantry at the outbreak of the American Civil War. He died a respected composer and conductor in 1891, from tubercular laryngitis, in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was buried until 1933, when his body was brought to Montreal for reburial.

More recent interments include Celine Dion‘s husband, René Angélil; journalist and politician, Nick Auf der Maur; Gratien Gelinas, actor; hockey players Doug Harvey and Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard; Pierre Laporte, politician, who was murdered by the FLQ in 1970; Robert Bourassa, 22nd premier of Quebec; and Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, who truly made the city world class, by organizing Expo 67, along with playing host to the 1976 Olympic Games, and giving it an amazing Metro service.

Small wonder the place is considered one of the most haunted spots in Montreal. Often described as a “City of the Dead overlooking a City of the Living“, ghostly spirits are believed to roam the grounds after sundown.

Not to be forgotten, other mortal remains lie outside the cemetery boundaries. Most famously, the tomb of Simon McTavish is located in the dark forest above Peel Street. The angry Scottish fur baron died unexpectedly in 1804 while overseeing the construction of a magnificent castle on the slopes. Stories of his ghost tobogganing down Mount Royal in his own coffin terrified Montrealers during the 1800s. To make people forget, city officials demolished his abandoned castle and used the rubble to literally bury his mausoleum. Archaeological work a few years ago disturbed his tomb and now rumour has it he is haunting Mount Royal again.”

The silhouette of a warrior woman with storm clouds in the background.But the most common ghost spotted on the mountain where First Nation peoples were also known to bury their dead is that of an Algonquin warrior.

I’ll keep an eye open for that lonely fellow when I’m there.

I always look forward to visiting Montreal, the city of my youth. These are the grounds I stomped, my neighbourhoods, my restaurants, my mountain, my Canada Life Weather Beacon, first lit up in 1956, that let the city know what weather was on the way. It is and ever will be the city of my heart, no matter where I roam.

I miss my city, but it is inevitably, my family ties that pull me back when I have been too long gone. You can’t stay away from Donovans for very long.

Oh, ‘céad mile fáilte’ they’ll greet you down at Donovan’s
As cheery as the springtime, as Irish as the conovan
The wish of my heart is if ever I had anyone
That ev’ry luck that lightens life …. may light upon the Donovans”

the uncles 001Growing up, I think I always took my family a little for granted. Maybe I just assumed that all families were graced with so much talent, in so many fields. We grew up with my uncle Dennis , co-creator and writer of The Beachcombers; my uncle Leo, whose majestic land and seascapes graced our homes; my uncle John, who was possessed not only of great writing skill, but also of a deep, radio friendly baritone speaking and singing voice; my aunt Pat, a writer, painter, and woman of enormous intelligence; and my own mother, who was a superb dancer, writer, and editor.

cousins 001With that sort of heritage, it is almost a forgone conclusion that the 15 children they brought into the world also possessed many talents, not only in the arts, but in social and computing skills. We just never thought that we wouldn’t be able to do whatever we wanted to do with our lives.

daisy circusMany of us write. I mentioned Michael, above, but there’s also Kieran, the poet and singer-songwriter; and Rita, who has won multiple awards for her nine books, short stories and essays.

Michael also wrote and produced a fine video series on the origin of Montreal street names, now available on youtube. (And yes, those are his kids getting in on the act as Ms Kayleigh and Complete Stranger. )

 

 

dianne donovan beat divasWe all sing. Dianne toured with a Harry James tribute for years before settling down in Austin, Texas with her husband, where she also hosts Classical Austin on KMFA radio, produces a weekly vocal jazz show, “Voices in Jazz” for CKUA Radio in Edmonton, and has a new CD release, “A Musing,” featuring mostly original compositions. She also teaches a cooking class with her jazz trio, The Beat Divas. (dianne donovan beat divas.jpg)

aileen paintingSome of us draw, sculpt and paint. My cousin Aileen took her dad’s painting skill and crafted it into a long career as a well known animal portraitist during her years living in the North West Territories with the Inuit peoples. She now focuses mainly on past life regressions for both pets and people.

I could literally go on and on, listing the accomplishments of this talented group. I’m extremely proud of my family, with good reason.

cousins 003And I’ll get to see some, though not all of them, this week. While the occasion is solemn, visits to my city and my family are never terribly formal for more than a few minutes. We are a group that cannot be repressed for long – laughter, good humour, and our love for each other guarantees a boisterous reunion.

The passing of the last of our parent’s generation seems so final, and yet there’s a part of me that can’t believe that my cousins and I – even as we develop deeper ‘laugh lines’ and grey hair – will ever really age enough to become the ‘grumps’ of the family.

cousins 002I’ll bring that up with the clan at the wake next week, and see if anyone’s pencilled in a date for when we can get to the ‘growing up‘ part of life. With any luck, we can keep putting it off forever.

So far, so good.

 

 

My City Was Gone


“Living just enough, just enough, for the city.”

The Big Cities of the past weren’t for everyone. In the hardscrabble days when I was growing up in Montreal or in Toronto, a city rat could always make ends meet, somehow, some way. There was always that neighbourhood where you could find a deal, that part of town where, while it might not be pretty, but, be it ever so humble, you could find a place to crash if you were short of dough. Or a place to score if you wanted to get high. You might not have a Rolex, but you could find a knockoff for a couple of bucks. k market 1976

When you’re really hungry, a bag of smelts tastes like caviar. And back then, the smaller, inner city groceries, run mostly by the children of immigrants, could always be counted on as somewhere to find something cheap and cheerful to feed the belly of the hungry.

 

 

But getting older often means learning the hard way that the city you once knew is gone forever, for good or for ill. Cities change, landmarks disappear, and the people’s needs change. Progress seeks to whitewash the reality of the poverty and the needy that always lurk in a big city’s depths. Your need to find a little corner of the metropolis to call your own won’t necessarily be fulfilled when you most need it, even if you’re willing to bend to nearly breaking point, just to stay where you’ve lived most of your life.

Life in the big city was never gonna be easy for everybody, but for those of us who came here chasing a dream, there was a time when it was easier to make it work. These days, the city rats have to give way to the up and coming high tech mice, who have the wherewithal to pay the big rents, the big mortgages, and who have enough of the ready to enjoy the best of the city that wants to be world class.

for sale signsWhen we sold our home in 2016, we didn’t worry about where we’d land up next. Surely we’d come up roses on a nice, new place to rent, someplace where we could keep our ‘stuff’ and exist comfortably for the foreseeable future.

But our search was far more difficult that we’d thought, and we didn’t find a cubby hole to curl up in straight away – there were a lot of twists and turns on the journey. And once here, the drawbacks of this particular rental surfaced, meaning that this isn’t where we’ll be staying long-term either.

But where we were lucky was in having a good credit rating, reasonably good health, and a couple of bucks in the bank. Not that any of that guarantees you’ll find a decent living space, but when you put them all together, it will help make the search just a little less frustrating.

There are several reasons why living in the bigger cities of North America has become harder for the lower to middle class. We’ve lived through decades of foolish governments who hung on to power by failing to increase taxes enough to keep the city running. Our infrastructure has been strained to it’s limits without the injections of cash needed to keep the trains going, or the hospitals able to handle an aging society.

Those same governments, as a rule, also tended to side with commercial leasing entities over renters, allowing businesses to take huge tax write offs on over priced properties that could stand vacant for months and even years, until a lessee with big dollars took occupation.

Real estate prices have soared in the last decade, until even the tiniest, most rundown, residential property in the city starts at a million dollars, and goes up into the stratosphere from there. Real estate agents are becoming the nouveau riche. Who can afford to buy those properties?

And yet the ‘for sale’ signs go up, and in days, come down, with the replacement sign reading, ‘sold over asking.’ How many of these buyers are house poor, I wonder? And how will they pay the overblown mortgage should one half of a couple lose their jobs or become ill?

straight outta scarboroughGentrification has been excising the more interesting parts of the city for at least the last thirty years. Within another three to five years, Yonge Street south of Bloor will be as nondescript as a Scarborough mall, packed with chain stores, fast food franchises, Starbucks, and a Shopper’s Drug Mart on every corner.

If I wanted Scarborough drab .. I’d go to Scarborough. “Cleaning up” Yonge street really means erasing our sense of history and place, and of sanding down the grit of People City, leaving behind the sort of bland, generic playground that is fit only for the children of the very wealthy.

dying from exposureI know that this is no longer the city that I came to conquer back in 1976; there are new generations coming up behind me, young and hungry, and eager to prove themselves in their fields.

But how are they to survive, when those with the ability to raise them up, choose instead to shackle these young spirits with internships and exposure? Where exactly are they to find the bootstraps these strugglers are supposed to pull up?

And most importantly… where are these young tyros supposed to live? And how are they to eat? When living is reduced to just surviving, there’s little time or will to create.

Once upon a time, those who yearned to enjoy and participate in Canada’s culture flocked to Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver, and took their chances, clawing their way to success, or falling by the wayside. But international big money has taken that option out of the equation.

If you didn’t buy real estate twenty years ago, you’re going to have to be in rarefied company to be able to afford to buy today. Even your ability to rent in a ‘better area’ of the metropolises is an iffy proposition.

Globalization, gentrification … we’re moving from the end of the industrial age into the fullness of the digital, high tech world. And our cities reflect that change, just as at one point they reflected the scions who traveled in horse and buggy.

The cities have begun to depend upon video, cellular communications, artificial intelligence, and eventually, a robotics industry that will force countries to accept a basic income that will keep the lower and middle class in just enough financial stability to stay alive … though that life may not be what many would have considered livable even a decade or two ago. The digital elite will own the residences; the rest of us will vie for the privilege of renting.

tent cities 2018And those who fall between the cracks will live in the tent cities that are now springing up to house the homeless.

The cities, as we knew them, are changing. Some cities, like San Francisco and New York, are already gone. and it could be argued that Vancouver is next, with Toronto not far behind.

As much as we may yearn to keep this from happening, globalization is inevitable, and as unstoppable as a tidal wave.

And, for many, that wave is washing away the possibility of aging in place in the Big City.

 

Mid August


Mid August, and most days I feel like, this year, summer never really got started. Maybe it’s the weather, or the political climate, but something feels off-kilter. My potted veg and herbs are in shock; it’s been either torrential rain or temps in the 90s – sometimes in the same 24 hours – every day since they were planted. Sodden pots sit cheek by jowl with containers so arid they threaten to burst into flame. There won’t be much of a harvest this year.

Mid August, and the back to school sales have started. Being an eternal student at heart, I always get really excited about 3 ring binders, coloured pencils, pencil cases, and the like. Which is probably why I have about ten boxes in storage of said items. I’m a victim of stationery covetousness.

The kids playing on the block look like they’re done with summer. Perhaps they are apprehensive about returning to the restrictions of another year of school, of seeing if their old friends have changed, and of having to meet new people who may be friend or foe. Or maybe they’re just caught their parents’ malaise. Either way, the little girl that pushes the doll stroller up and down the street while wearing her mother’s high heels just doesn’t seem to have as much enthusiasm for the task these days.

Mid August, when we postpone the reality of the coming chill with a two week, overheated, ExTravaganza! Yes, the CNE began on Friday, with Burton Cummings and the boys kicking it off with their usual flair.

CNE midwayThe Ex holds less appeal for me every year. I’m still mourning the loss of the Alpine Way, and my ears still keen to hear the dulcet tones of the barker demanding that we come to see the “Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla GURL!”

It’s all downhill after the Gorilla Girl leaves. I can’t even be motivated by fried chicken feet.

Mid August, and news that the legendary recording studio, Le Studio, in Morin Heights (about 90 kilometres north-west of Montreal,) has been destroyed by fire, possibly arson. This, coming just a week or two after news that a successful GoFundMe project had enabled musician Richard Baxter to begin renovating the old girl with a team of volunteers.

Founded in 1974 by Quebec record producer Andre Perry, the studio and residence was once the ‘go to’ spot for Canadian and international artists, including Rush, the Police, the Bee Gees, Sting, Roberta Flack, Cat Stevens, David Bowie, April Wine, Keith Richards and the Ramones.

But not me. I never even had the pleasure of visiting the place, which was a pity, because I spent some pretty formative years in the area as a teen. I’ve always liked to tell myself that Le Studio was built on the site of the old Alpino Lodge. I neither know nor care if that is true.

In the 60’s, my friend Marianne and I would camp by the little lake that wound it’s path around and about the Alpino, babysitting her younger brother, fishing for our food, and generally waiting for the weekend to arrive and the party to start. Those were the days when it was not only possible for a couple of 14 year old girls to be abandoned in the woods for a week at a time, near a lodge that catered to the wealthy and the jaded, with only an eight year old boy as companion and protector, but for said kiddies to not only survive, but thrive, and indeed have a very merry time.

true romance magWhat did we do all day, I asked myself recently. How did we fill all of the hours when we weren’t minding the brat, fishing, picking berries, tending the smoky fire, or reading soggy comic books and True Romance magazines? Mostly we talked, for hours at a time, about our dreams, hopes, and fears. Some days, I’d make Marianne laugh so hard that she’d pee her pants. If I was in a mood, I’d keep it up until her week’s worth of undies were all strung up on nearby branches.

And we’d wait for Friday night. On Friday night, Marianne’s mother and boyfriend would arrive from Montreal, bringing supplies, and freeing us from babysitting duties. On Friday night, we’d clean ourselves up as best we could, and present our under aged selves to the Lodge, where the full spectrum of Morin Heightians, converged for an evening of dancing and drinking. No one frowned on a young woman or man dancing with an older woman or man, or even a man dancing with another man. The point was the dance, the movement sparked by the music of a local combo giving it all they’d got. And no one asked for i.d.

When the night’s entertainment packed up, the teens that had been slouching on the lodge’s porch, smoking home rolleds and doobies that they would light with a wooden match struck on a boot sole or a pant zipper, would all pile into the back of some sixteen year old guy’s pickup truck. We didn’t need no steenback of pickupking seat belts! And off we’d go, the gang of us, with maybe a dog, and a musical instrument or two for company, headlong down the steep road, high as kites, heading for the dam so that we could continue the revelry, at least until the purple micro dots wore off and/or the sun came up.

(My daughter told me recently that she’ll not allow her eight year old daughter to walk the two blocks to school by herself until Kay’s about twelve. Or maybe thirteen. And then, only if there’s a friend nearby who’ll walk with her. In the daytime. Two blocks away. Different times.)

Mid August, and many of my friends are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love. I remember schoolmates who got caught up in the hoopla and abandoned the city for hippie dreams, disappearing in a puff of smoke and patchouli, heading for communal farms that put the lie to the middle class dream of suburbia and two car garages. hippies 60s communeI wonder what ever happened to Donna, the dreamy blue eyed beauty that loved the Monkees as much as I did, but chose a hardscrabble life mucking out barns instead, determined to stand by her longhaired, drug dealing, man. Is she still living in rural Canada or America, amidst macrame pot holders and peace symbols? Or did she wake up one morning and realize in a horror stricken panic that she could have been and done anything she wanted to, had she chosen differently?

Mid August, and my flabber is still ghasted when I contemplate the summer madness that allows some, in the U.S., and sadly, even in Canada, to agree with Trump that the removal of these ‘beautiful’ statues erected to honour Confederate generals would be a hardship upon those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to see such ‘works of art.’

Can you hear the dog whistle in that observation?

ugly confed statueBecause, it is implied, even if the art is not Louvre-worthy, that people of colour, and the inner city poor, should at least have the opportunity to feast their eyes upon such statuary. That the monument honours a man in support of slavery and a slave trade that treated the park’s attendees ancestors as human cattle, is a mere peccadillo in their eyes.

A year ago, Zyahna, a young, African-American resident of the city of Charlottesville, petitioned for the removal of one such statue, and to have the park she and her friends frequented re-named from Robert E. Lee Park to Lee Park, saying, “I am often exposed to different forms of racism that are embedded in the history of the south and particularly this city. It makes us feel uncomfortable and it is very offensive.

When I think of Robert E. Lee I instantly think of someone fighting in favor of slavery. Thoughts of physical harm, cruelty, and disenfranchisement flood my mind. … I am offended every time I pass it. I am reminded over and over again of the pain of my ancestors and all of the fighting that they had to go through for us to be where we are now. Quite frankly I am disgusted with the selective display of history in this city. There is more to Charlottesville than just the memories of Confederate fighters. There is more to this city that makes it great.

Let’s not forget that Robert E. Lee fought for perpetual bondage of slaves and the bigotry of the South that kept most black citizens as slaves and servants for the entirety of their lives. As a result, legislatures of the south chose to ignore and turn a blind eye to the injustices of African Americans from Jim Crow and anti-black terrorism to integrated education. These are all some things that this statue stands for. It is about more than just an individual, but rather what that individual believes in and the things that he stands for.”

In 2016, the petition fell just 270 supporters short of it’s goal of 1000 in concurrence with her appeal. A year later, the city council did indeed agree with young Zyahna, putting into motion a series of events that would ultimately lead to the death of one young woman, and two police officers.

bread and circusesMake no mistake; the decision to remove the statue was a democratic decision. The reasoning behind the removal was sound, fiscally conservative, and sensitive to ALL of the residents of the city, not just those who wanted it to remain.

The only ones incensed by the decision were those who continue to believe that the emotions and history of white Americans are innately superior to those of other colours. Even the sidestep, that defends the artistry of the statues while denying the inherent racism implied, revolves around the right of white Americans to continue fawning over defeated, racist and bigoted leaders over the sensibility of those who were physically, emotionally, and financially damaged by those same leaders.

“Two things only the people anxiously desire — bread and circuses.”

Will this cataclysmic rift in ideology tear the country in half, ending in a Civil War Part Deux? And, more importantly for we in the North, as we read the words of many Canadians on social media agreeing with this cockeyed rationale for racist ‘art’, is Canada moving relentlessly towards a similar, more openly racist and bigoted point of view?

Mid August, and it’s never felt so much like that black day in July, 50 years ago …

 

The Luck of the Irish


If you didn’t get your chance to get your Irish on on Friday, March 17th, Torontonians will get another chance to do so today, when the annual St Patrick’s Day Parade starts at noon. The route begins on the corner of Bloor and St George, heads east on Bloor, south on Yonge, and west on Queen St, before finishing up at the parade reviewing stand at Nathan Phillips Square.

The parade is still a big deal for many of Irish descent .. and there are a lot of us! As of 2006’s census, the Irish were the 4th largest ethnic group in Canada, with 4,354,000 Canadians (or 15% of us all,) have full or partial Irish descent. And more than two million Irish Canadians are in Ontario!

st patricks day queenI haven’t been to the parade in years, though I did get to be one of the rabbit stole wearing girls waving from the back seat of a convertible many years ago as the “Miss Irish St Augustines,’ in Montreal.

When I was a teen growing up in Montreal, St Paddy’s was always a big day. My grandfather, whom I’d never met as he’d died before I was born, was literally “a man without a country.” His own parents had fled Ireland’s economic woes, and he was born, mid Atlantic, before they docked in New York‘s harbour. They stayed briefly in the United States, before moving to Montreal.

My family loved their Irish heritage. A musical lot, they were the sort to gather ’round the piano to play and sing the songs of the ‘ould country.’ I was brought up listening to a mix of classic Irish tenors, as well as the rebel songs, and of course, the  lighter ‘stage Irish’ fun songs peddled in theatre and film.

There were two sides to the Irish connection, in my world. On the one hand, I loved the singalongs, the funny accents, and the camaraderie, especially on the holiday itself, when I could be guaranteed a fine old time. On the other hand, and always present, were the realities of a divided Ireland and ‘the Troubles.’

My mother’s family were not prone to arguing over politics, which was a good thing, considering that my grandmother was British, and my uncle Dennis had married a Dubliner.  Hard-line rebel songs were strongly discouraged, but we’d always be in for a‘cead mile failte.’

There are some that look down upon the ‘stage Irish’ of the Irish Rovers, or even der Bingle’s portrayals of kindly Irish priests, but it must be remembered that the Irish faced a great deal of discrimination on their first arrival in North America.  Early Irish entertainers and newcomers could rely on getting a rise from a hostile audience by sending up their own people as friendly, ginger, alcoholics, quick with a joke and a laugh.

“Irish men and women both had a hard time finding skilled work in the U.S. due to the stigmas of being both IrishNo Irish need apply sign as well as Catholic. Prejudices ran deep in the north and could be seen in newspaper cartoons depicting Irish men as drunkards and Irish women as prostitutes. Many businesses hung signs out front of their shops that read “No Irish Need Apply“, or “NINA” for short. The initial backlash the Irish received in America lead to their self-imposed seclusion, making assimilation into society a long and painful process.”  

But the Irish played a significant role in American society, especially in teaching and policing occupations. Eight of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Irish descent. Irish Catholics have served in all layers of American government, in every capacity, from mayors to Presidents.

Ontario is rife with towns named after the places and last names of Ireland, including Donnybrook, Dundalk and Dublin, Enniskillen and Galway. and Tara and Waterford.

Canada has had our share of notable Irish-Canadians, in every field, from the arts, to sports, and politics. Writers like Morley Callaghan and W.P. Kinsella have explored the many facets of Canadian lives, as have my cousins Rita Donovan and Michael Donovan, while Stompin’ Tom Connors and Denny Doherty have shaped how we sound. Add to that list my husband, musician Shawn O’Shea, also of Irish descent, who’s even born on March 17th! (In a bizarre coincidence, two other members of the heymacs, Kid Carson and Carlyle Walpola, were also born on March 17th.)

I can’t picture Canadian comedy without the stylings of Mary Walsh, our Amazon Warrior. And what would the world of show biz be without Mack Sennett,  producer, director, writer, actor and founder of Keystone Studios?

Politically, Irish Canadians have been integral to the country since the days of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, one of the Fathers of Confederation, while Louis St. Laurent, Sir John Thompson, Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney have all served as Prime Ministers.

In world entertainment, the Irish have always had a strong presence, and there’s no shortage of musical talent exported from the Emerald Isle, with memorable stylings and poetic imagery flowing from U2, Enya, Gilbert O`Sullivan, Sinead O`Connor, the Cranberries, Van Morrison  and Thin Lizzy.

The Irish in North America have come a long way from the days when thirish_blessing_cottageey stumbled off the boats, fleeing famine and political strife. Many of those marching in St Patrick`s Day Parades today have no interest or stake in the politics of modern day Ireland, but the urge to celebrate their heritage remains strong.

And the rest of us, in our green wigs, and drinking green beer, just wish we could have a little of that fabled Irish luck and good humour, if just for one day.

 

Christmas and Snowbound in the Treasured Past


My mum embodied the Spirit of Christmas. She loved everything about the holiday, and she made every one of my childhood Christmas’ as merry and bright as she could.

She’d grown up in the depression – she knew Christmas wasn’t about money. When times were tough, she’d tell us it would be a “Hoodoo McFiggin” year – that meant the only presents would be things she had to buy us anyway, just to keep us clothed and fed – underwear, socks, boots. Presents were lGrinch xmas means a little moreovely, but some years, presents could wait. Christmas was about gathering with family, and sharing what we did have, and what we had to spare was love.

She just had so damn much joy and childlike belief in the season that it all came naturally through her to us … the breathless lead up that began months before, when she’d start asking my sister and I what we were going to ask to receive from Santa, and the admonition that we must be very sure of what we’d tell the Big Man when the day came … this was serious business! We were to name only one important item we really, really wanted. If there were other gifts, they would be of Santa’s choosing. We’d spend hours arguing over what toys were best, what we really wanted, and we’d change our minds a zillion times before our visit to Santa’s Kingdom.

cindy lou whoNor were the needs of others to be forgotten. We’d be given a small amount of money, and a list of those we needed to delight with thoughtful gifts. It’s extraordinary how far $5.00 could go back in the sixties. We would have been mortified to not have a gift to give to any of the family who had brought a gift for us. Some years would find us digging through our own stash of precious things, in order to find something we could wrap quickly and present to an unexpected guest.

In the run up to the Day itself, we’d drag out the boxes of carefully packaged ornaments that Mum had collected through the years. She’d linger over the battered aluminum stars made from pie plates, reminding me that she and I had made those together, one year when I was very young, and recovering from the mumps. She’d carefully unwrap the fragile glass ornaments she’d had since she and dad first married, each colourful globe a warm memory. soap bubble ornamentAnd she’d always linger over a set of orbs, some round, some tear-shaped, so transparent they reflected rainbows, so precious and delicate, “they’re like soap bubbles , Roxanne! Aren’t they beautiful?!”   

We had to have a real tree. She felt there was no point in having a tree if it didn’t come with that delicious smell, and the scratchy feel of pine needles under foot. The tree would find a place of honour in the dining room, and strict instructions about its care and watering were delivered. After the tree was set into the metal holder, she’d draw a bright red and sparkly cloth gently around the base, and then add puffs of ‘angel hair’ to make the tree look like it was floating on a cloud.

xmas tree old timeyShe’d drape the tree’s branches with long strands of tiny glass beads, the beads a little more worn every year, but shining nonetheless. The box of tinsel was precious too; after Christmas we’d gather as many of the used strands as we could and save them for the following year. We had two special toppers for the tree – one, a paper plate collage of an angel adorned with cotton batting that I’d made in first grade, the other , a plastic doll dressed as an angel, it’s halo tipped jauntily to the left, a scratch of pen ink faintly visible on it’s cheek.

Christmas songs would be playing on the little record player, and we’d all sing along as we decorated. Jodi and I liked to make up new and naughty words to some of the classics, just to make mum laugh, before she’d chide us to “Behave! Santa hears and sees everything you do!”

Once the tree was up and decorated, we went into a two week hiatus, where the other 50 weeks of naughtiness were replaced by determined niceness. We’d wait brearankin bass productionsthlessly for the Christmas specials to appear on the TV; without video or DVD, you had to be home to see “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” or one of the other animated delights, most of which seemed to be Rankin Bass productions.

As my sister and I got older, we began to appreciate more adult offerings; Jodi loved “It’s A Wonderful Life.” My favorite was “Holiday Inn,” with the moment I waited for being when the heroine posed in silhouette against a giant red paper heart, before dancing through it … and breaking poor old Bing Crosby’s heart.

 

 

And of course no Christmas was complete without the scary, but ultimately uplifting, black and white classic … Alastair Sim in “A Christmas Carol.” God bless us, everyone!christmas-carol-1951

There was also one special box that contained nothing but photos, recipes, newspaper clippings, song lyrics, and a few very treasured books. Our favourite to read and to have read to us was Erwin L. Hess’ Christmas and Snowbound in the Treasured Past,” a large full coloured collection of holiday poems, stories, artwork and photos, from 1961.

xmas and snowbound n the treasured past

We remember our best Christmas.  A flashback appears and this favourite Christmas plays on a very special screen in a picture of color, and we see the scenes we remember so well.  Immediately our story we’ll begin to tell…It snowed early that year.  In those days the holiday spirit was in the air with the first fall of snow.  Sleigh bells jingled and that meant Christmas was near!” 

We loved that book; it epitomized an ideal Christmas, one that we’d never had, nor likely ever would. But it held a promise, so much so that the phrase, “Christmas and snowbound in the treasured past” became our family code for how we imagined paradise to be.

First_Snow Jay MaiselWere winters colder then? Not always … one memorable Montreal Christmas Eve, the family toddled off to church in summer dresses and sandals, only to emerge into a starlit night made brighter by soft, fat flakes of snow gently falling onto the sidewalks. But that was an aberration; most Christmas Eves were ‘see your breath’ cold, brightened by our new knit hats and mittens that Gram had made to keep us warm.

Cold, colder and coldest was more often the weather on Christmas day. During my teen years, the habit was to gather at one of the uncles’ house to carve the roast beast. The best parties were at Uncle John’s big house in Chambly, as there was plenty of room for the kids to play, and even a special room where we could have our own holiday meal, manners and decorum cast aside, while the adults ate, smoked, clinked glasses and laughed about adult matters. We felt a little sorry for them – they didn’t even get to watch TV while they ate!  50s kids watcing tv

No matter where the party was held, in time the celebrations would wind down, and we’d gather our outdoor clothing, say goodbye to the umpteen cousins, and kiss all the ‘grumps,’ (grown ups) before piling into the car for the long ride home, across snowy roads and an ice-laced Pont Cartier, and then along Sherbrooke Street for miles, our bellies full and heads nodding, and inevitably slipping into sleep just before the car drew into the driveway. If we were small enough, we’d even get carried to our beds, where our new pjs and slippers awaited us.

It was a very different time, and, as with every generation that comes along, we were creating our own version of what Christmas should look and feel like. My mother’s memories were precious, but no more precious than the one’s she created for my sister and me.

Times change, and families are usually smaller than they used to be, and often times, a great deal more complicated. The name we give to that wonderful time of year when we get together to eat and sing and laugh and pray may be Christmas, or Hanukkah, Kwanza, Ramadan, or even Festivus. Heck, call it “Christmahanakwanzika“ if you want to.

What we call the holiday doesn’t matter – what matters is that we take the time to find that small, still place in our hearts, where peace and goodwill live. We gather with our families and friends to join our hearts and hands, to share what we have, and to give thanks that we … together … made it through another year, and are ready to enter another year, whatever it may bring … together.

coexist xmas

 

 

Hoodoo McFiggin’s Christmas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZm0WoTl1wU

 

(first published Dec, 2015: bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/roxanne-tellier-christmas-and-snowbound-in-the-treasured-past/)

 

Canadian ThanksGiving 2015


Canadian thanksgivingI love that our Canadian Thanksgiving is in October, a cold, clear breathing space before the run up to winter and it’s festivities.

I hate that companies like Sears try to ramp up their sales by aping America, calling upon a “Canadian Black Friday” to stimulate shoppers, and oh, by the way … Christmas is coming! Start spending now!

My stars … I haven’t even ignored Halloween yet!

Speaking of scary stuff, this holiday weekend marks the beginning of advanced voting for our October 19th election. The turnout has been fantastic; Friday’s advanced polls were up 26% over normal. It took a lot for Canadians to get off their duffs and care about who will steer Canada through the next four years. But it’s happened, and no matter which party is chosen, it’s great to see our nation galvanized.

I’m grateful for a lot of things, including those people who have raised their voices, be it in song or print, to help everyone understand the issues our country is facing. Not all voices or writers are equal in talent, but everyone who’s spoken their mind speaks from the heart.

(I also find it a little odd that no songs seem to have emerged savaging Trudeau or Mulcair. Hmmmm …)

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/nsfw-more-anti-harper-songs-from-canadian-musicians

i want a CanadaI hate that I’ve seen and heard, on Facebook and in person, some of the most vicious and racist rhetoric I’ve ever encountered, during discussions on the niqab, and its apparent potential to obliterate Canadian democracy. I’m not gonna insult anyone by pretending that we’re afraid of that little bit of cloth. Of course, it’s the fear that, under that cloth, there is an ISIS warrior with a gun or a bomb, or some way to hurt our fragile flesh. But it’s never happened here. And it sure as hell is happening over there, which is why the refugees are running to safety. Making it all about the niqab has given the government license to sweep our compassion under the rug, and made it permissible for us to cast aside that image of 3 year old Alan, the little boy whose crumpled body washed up on a beach, in favour of demonizing those fleeing bombs and torture.

family reunion aug 2015I’m grateful for my family, all of ‘em, even the crazy ones (and we have our share, thank heavens!) I like that we encourage each other, touch base for no reason, and somehow manage to stay connected, despite the miles that separate us. I’m grateful for the many ways we can keep in touch, be it by phone, post, or internet.

I hate that miles separate us. Growing up in Montreal, my extended family would gather each week at one of the family’s homes, and we’d share a meal and good times together. Today, we’re all scattered across this great land, and seem to only physically reconvene in times of stress. But our loyalty, formed by years of forced conviviality … I’m kidding! I love you all!

crazy minion friendsI’m grateful for my friends, all of ‘em, even the crazy ones … maybe especially the crazy ones. Some I’ve known for decades, some I’ve met only recently, but with each encounter, my capacity to know and love the goodness that lies within people grows.

I hate that I’ve lost family and friends along the way, some to death, but many more to differing views on life. I’ve always believed that we don’t really change as we age – we just become more adamant about our beliefs. What we’ve lived through shapes us, for good or ill. Some maintain the child in their heart, others let her die.

its okay to change your opinionI am grateful that I’m still able to appreciate art, both new and old. I hope I never close my mind to ‘what the kids are up to,’ in any sphere, be it artistic, technical or social. Getting older causes some people to fear youth … something about their energy and vigor can feel threatening and dangerous. But the kids are our future.

I hate that so many in business, politics, and yes, the arts, cling to out-dated, outmoded, and obsolete business practices and theories, despite advances made and being made in every field. I’m not saying, “jump on every bandwagon,” but I am saying that continuing to sell buggy whips long after the horse is gone says more about you than your customers/voters.

I am grateful for the growing number of commercial, big buck comedy/news shows available. There are those who say, “I’d never get my news from a comedy show.” But you are, dear .. it’s called FOX News. Meanwhile, the Daily Show continues with new host Trevor Noah, I’m becoming increasingly respectful of Larry Wilmore’s work on The Nightly, and the best reason to watch the Tonight Show is the rapier wit of Stephen Colbert. And if you are not watching the incredibly well researched and up to the minute investigative journalism cut fine by humour of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which is available free of charge every Monday on YouTube … shame on you.

I hate that the conservative mind seems unable to understand humour, or at least seems unable to express humour in a way that lacks pomposity. There’s no self-awareness. Oh, you’ve got your Larry the Cable Guy, and Jeff Foxworthy, but guys like that tend to poke fun at people like themselves, not social issues or politics. Their humour begins and ends in easy targets. Maybe the answer lies in the reality that choosing any artistic pursuit puts you squarely against the principles most conservatives hold dear; you’ll probably work harder and yet make less money than your friends who chose a more conventional life course. Who knows? I just know that a preponderance of fart, racist, and sexist jokes, with an emphasis on crudeness and personal entitlement, doesn’t turn my or most liberal’s crank.

free speech conditions applyI am grateful that I can speak my mind, in person or on social media, and, at least for now, do so freely.

I hate that our world grows ever more fearful, causing those who DO know what’s going on, to be silenced by commercial interests.

(please note: the clip below is definitely not safe for work (NSFW.)

http://anonhq.com/british-reporter-absolutely-loses-his-temper-and-tells-us-the-real-news/

stupid famous peopleBut most of all, I am so grateful I’m not a Kardasian, even an honorary one, despite my long, black hair.

And I hate that we’ve put a lot of unworthy people on social pedestals for very little reason.

Get your turkey on, fellow babies! Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian peeps!

canadian-thanksgiving-meme-2

first published Oct 11/2015: https://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/10/11/roxanne-tellier-love-ithate-it-thanks-giving-2015/

Toronto Gets It’s Summer On. Hilarity Ensues


weird-al-yankovic-mandatory-funI know that Weird Al Yankovic is on tour, which presumably means he’s kind of busy, but hopefully someone’s been keeping him updated on the wacky goings on in Toronto this week. Hard to believe he wouldn’t want to opine on recent events during his July 18th Casino Rama gig.

In one day, the hashtag #DeadRaccoonTO had nearly three times the number of tweets compared to #TO2015, the official hashtag for the 2015 Pan Am Games.

Image by Steve Kearns

tumblr_Pan Am Toronto RaccoonOh, Toronto. You never cease to amaze and amuse me. On a hot Thursday morning, Jason Wagar spotted a dead raccoon lying on the curb at Yonge and Church. He immediately notified #311Toronto to report the poor creature, and with that customary diligence and alacrity we’ve come to expect from our public servants, they sprang into action … 14 hours later.

Within a few hours of Wagar’s tweet, local residents had created a makeshift memorial around Conrad the Raccoon’s body, complete with flowers, a framed photo of a raccoon, and written tributes to a life well lived. Someone even inserted a cigarette into the stilled paw.

deadraccooonTOCity Councillor Norm Kelly, perhaps hip to the negative scrutiny being given to the City’s employees, on this the day before the official opening of the Pan Am games, added his Twitter voice, requesting that there be an immediate pickup of the corpse, which had by now been lying on a major city intersection in the unrelenting heat for at least six hours.

But Kelly, an old hand on Twitter, having done his job, now began contributing to the fun, at one point even asking that residents leave their recycling bins open overnight, to honour the phenom.

normKelly raccoon tweet

The city finally responded at 11 p.m., with a blasé city employee noting, “geeze .. it’s just a dead raccoon.”

And Norm’s final word on the matter? “Damn … life’s so short.”

newscut Toronto RacoonThe story went viral, of course, with varying voices weighing in. One commentator mentioned how good Toronto had it … in Edmonton, he said, “when a corroded lamp post succumbs to age and collapses dead on the street; the city has a standard practice of at least a three day viewing which I think is a bit much given the number of lamp post deaths; really how much grief and remorse can one handle.”   

Of course, there were some who wanted to take the opportunity to rant on governance and the traditionally lackadaisical attitude of many public servants. But summer fun will out, and as the story travelled around the globe, even wilder speculating began. Who killed Conrad Raccoon?

A makeshift crime scene is set up on Church Street, where a dead raccoon was found and left for over 13 hours before being picked up by a city worker in Toronto on Friday, July 10, 2015. width=

“Is no-one going to investigate this? I mean how did he die? I feel like this should have been a mission in L.A. Noire.“ Followed by the assurance that “Investigations are ongoing.”

Really, we needed something to take the attention off the Pan Am Games, and the ridiculousness caused by bureaucrats who take themselves and their duties far too seriously.

Everyone’s weighing in on the HOV lanes, and the insanity of overtaxing an already past-capacity highway system, where the GTA’s rush hour is now all day, every day. (HOV (high occupancy vehicles) lanes are the new express lanes meant to speed athletes and officials to competitions on time, but are also open to vehicles having three or more occupants.)

peeling HOVThe lanes didn’t get off to a good start, when torrential rains in June actually began to peel away chunks of the recently placed diamond-shaped lane markers, and had to be replaced.

Although the lanes were supposed to be limited to the actual Games period, from July 10 to 26th, the city threw commuters a fast one when the new rules of the HOV road went into effect on June 29th.

HOV lanes emptyToronto police are heavily enforcing the rules for temporary (HOV) lanes, with fines of $110 for illegal HOV use on provincial highways (plus 3 demerit points,) and of $85 fines on city highways (Gardiner and Don Valley.)

Toronto police reported that “We didn’t start off on a great note. There were higher than normal collisions and we didn’t have the compliance numbers we were hoping.”

Indeed.

Some fuming commuters are saying the lanes are doubling and tripling their travel times. Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford admitted to driving alone in the lanes, breaking the law as he moves in and out of the lanes.

Rob Ford HOV“Go in and out, obviously,” Ford said. “You gotta watch the cops over your shoulder… I have to get to where I have to go.” He added that he sees a lot of other people doing the same thing, so that must make it alright, right?

But Toronto … you’ll never be as wacky as Montreal. Here’s how they handle their summer commuting difficulties … MontrealSuperSlide

http://www.mtlblog.com/2015/07/its-official-montreal-will-be-transformed-into-a-1000-foot-slip-n-slide-this-summer/#

And then there’s our official Pan Am Games internet site, toronto2015.org, which seems to have failed to understood exactly how the Internet works, stating ,

“Links to this Site are not permitted except with the written consent of TO2015™. If you wish to link to the Site, you must submit a written request to TO2015™ to do so. Requests for written consent can be sent to branduse@toronto2015.org. TO2015™ reserves the right to withhold its consent to link, such right to be exercised in its sole and unfettered discretion.”

Pan Am pachiticketsThe website’s terms of use, written in incomprehensible gibberish by the Pan Am Games lawyers, has not used any technical method to stop search engines from indexing and linking to the site, so they are effectively forcing search engines such as Google to break their rules.

The Register (theregister.co.uk) sent the following message to the site.

We would like to seek permission to link to your website for a story we are writing about how ludicrous it is that you are requesting people to ask permission to link to your site. It is only fair that we warn you the article is likely to be critical of yourselves and contain a good degree of mockery.

We should also note that we will link to your site regardless of your response. But all the same, it’s nice to have permission. And before you ask: there’s no need to ask us for permission to link to the story when it’s up. It happens all the time.

The response to their email perfectly summed up the situation:

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently: branduse@toronto2015.org. Technical details of permanent failure…

And we haven’t even hit the dog days of summer yet … I can’t wait to see what happens next!

pug swimming

(first published at Bob Segarini’s Don’t Believe A Word I Say, July 12/2015)