Saturday, July 31, 2010

In the early morning write

Gordon Lightfoot has a song that begins "In the early morning rain ..."    Was up by 6:00 A.M. as usual.  No rain this morning, only clouds, and a bit of sun pushing through.  I stopped by some fellow bloggers' blogs and saw that a few more "morning people" had already posted the day's words.

Check out this haunting Armenian melody played on the duduk by Djivan Gasparyan over at Bob Arnold's July 31st Longhouse Birdhouse  (posted at 6:22 A.M.).   (Mornin', Bob!   :)

and Tom (The Middlewesterner)  Montag's latest "Three from the Old Poet",  posted at 4:37 A.M.   (An excerpt:

As if I've
worked my whole life
becoming someone

I can admire.

Or poet/writer/blogger Linh Dinh, whose political essays, astute comments and ongoing State of the Union photo documentation of America in decline; the homeless, disenfranchised, tent cities, urban blight, etc. telling you far more than you'll ever get from CNN. (He posted today at 1:57 A.M.     I'm guessing that's not when he got up and that he's really more a "night" person.)

Another morning person, up by 5 A.M. with a new poem, is William Michaelian, reminding me that thought-out poems that don't get writ remain just that: words in transit, not yet extracted, much less parked.

Today we have the annual family picnic, again this year out in St. Louis-de-France.  Last year, about 40 people came, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins, in-laws, significant others, and friends, and it lasted from early afternoon until nearly midnight, the evening spent on the patio to the sounds of guitar and keyboard, everyone singing along to old, familiar tunes.  It poured rain pretty much the entire day but nobody left, and when the downpour subsided, the mosquitoes came out. 

This year the weather promises to behave and allow a more pleasant time of it, the barbeque taking place outdoors (instead of in the garage) and dips in the pool.  Last time people brought about 8 different salads, and of course a big pot of Michel's famous baked beans and the usual grilled delights (even salmon burgers  for the semi-vegetarians).  (Our local supermarket last week carried imported frozen fish-kebobs from China--something I'd not seen there before.  Why this particular local market offers only imported Chinese garlic and not the fresher, more readily available and less-expensive-to-transport garlic from neighboring farms, is a mystery.)

Back to the writing thing again. This, of course, is no excuse--activities in general, social obligations, daily tasks, etc.--for not writing. It's perhaps cyclical, or so it seems at times--more time spent this summer on reading than writing, more hours internally absorbing, mentally archiving, "saving up", almost, for when the time is right, which for me is Fall and Winter. But this is absurd, the writer self argues. Sounds more like an excuse, chimes the neglected pen.

They may be right, and it's not a question of season, or intervening activities, or habitual proscrastinaton but something more baldly basic: simple discipline. I envy poets who can come up with a new poem every single day and offer it, in finished form. And then there're those naggy fictional characters nagging, nagging, nagging at you to finish their story, the one you've been working on for months--YEARS--and have put aside, like unfinished paintings waiting for the most conducive lighting, the right color mix, the optimal circumstance, the perfect conditions. This has got to change, scoldy self says to lazy self. I mean, really. Why are you blogging, instead of writing?!!!

My fingers have no answer. It's like being stuck in ... the Waiting Box--waiting. But for what?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Second Languages

A fellow immigrant here, unable to find employment in his field (engineering) locally, has asked me to teach him English so that he can expand his search elsewhere, in some of the English-speaking provinces. It has been some time since I've done language exchanges (English conversation for practice in French). Usually the respective level of competence in the "other" language was pretty much equal: somewhere in the middle-Intermediate range. This time, however, my student knows very little English and does what I do sometimes when I get stuck and can't find the appropriate word or remember the correct verb ending: i.e., revert to using the former known, familiar language.

This is detrimental to progress in the new language, and a very difficult habit to break. At the university here, when you take a French immersion course, you are not permitted to not-speak French. (I'm told for every non-French word you utter, you must fork over 25 cents. At least that is what a former student told me several years ago. Whether or not that's still true, I don't know, but it seems a compelling reason to try harder. (It could also be a good self-imposed incentive, not just for self control but to increase one's savings! Ten unguarded relapses could net you enough for a coffee and a croissant, au moins. :)

My student is a French-speaking Berber from Algeria. French is his second language and his French is vastly superior to mine. The accent and some words are different from the French spoken here (Quebeçois). (I find it easier, in general, to understand French speakers from Belgium, Paris, the Sudan or even Haiti than French-Canadians. Even after some years here, my own spoken French comes out sounding more "international" than local, with a slight accent not always immediately identifiable as Anglo-based. Strange.)

Accent acquisition is a curious phenomenon. For example, in Boston they swallow the "r" in some words and add an extra "r" on the end in others ("square" becomes "squay-uh", "yard becomes "yahd", "Barb" becomes "Bob" and "pizza" becomes "pizzer", etc.). Odd though that neither I, nor my children--who were born and raised there--ever acquired the accent.

Here's how native Bay-staters pronounce the names of certain of their towns and cities (in case you ever go there):

Peabody ("PEE-Bitty")
Medford ("MEHfid")
Gloucester ("GLOSS-tah")
Woburn ("WOO-bin")
Worcester ("WOOSE-tah")

Soft drinks are not called sodas in Boston; they're "tonics". What is a "hoagie" (submarine sandwich) in Pennsylvania is called a "grinder" in Boston. A "regular" coffee in one state might refer to plain black coffee; in another, it means with milk and sugar. Go figure. I add this last point because a former Pennsylvania colleague came back from a trip to Boston once complaining that "they don't know what a regular coffee means "out there"!! ("Out there", as in "Not-here" land, i.e.) Another friend's annoyingly repetitious but relevant saying immediately came to mind: "Never assume anything."

Sometimes how a person pronounces a single word can tell you where they're from. (For Boston, the word "third" usually nails it for me, ha ha; for Pittsburgh, it's the words "no" and "down". For Philly and Central Pennsylvania, a nasal tone; for Vermont, indescribable but immediately recognizable. I used to be able to differentiate between a Ukrainian speaking English from a Moscow native speaking English though I cannot myself speak either Russian or Ukrainian.

Sound threads weaving past that grab the attention, unconsciously, to later surface as recognition... or something like that. One could do that with observations of physical gestures as well, how one expresses (or doesn't express) a thing ... fascinating. What we absorb and unconsciously imitate in our respective cultures, what we alter or suppress or enhance to become what we already are, but more (or less) so. How we are all different, and yet the same...

Suppose you want to learn another language and don't have access to or cannot afford language classes or a private tutor. This is a good little starting point, for an interactive, sound-integrated introduction to English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Russian, Hindi or Vienamese, with titles in Polish, Greek, Turkish and Indonesian, etc. It might be interesting to at least learn numbers and colors and salutations in these respective tongues. You never know, it might come in handy some day. This is the easy part, it seems to me. It's the darn grammar that takes working on. And the idioms! And of course, practice.

I have a book somewhere in my library upstairs (in need of reorganization after some shuffling and switching of bookcases) that gives words in 26 languages. It's fascinating to see the similarities and differences among linguistic families. I sometimes read the dictionary as one might begin to read a novel. The words have stories, the descriptions conjure up imaginary others. One doesn't normally admit to this because, well, you get that Look. I once saw a video of the actor Richard Burton reading a telephone book; he made it "sound like Shakespeare."

Anyway, my student has invited me to learn how to make Algerian cuisine (his wife will show me) and in the meantime has sent me some recipes, in Arabic. Which I can't read, of course, but can follow the pictures.

Ah, language. Visual, spoken, unuttered. You would need two lifetimes to explore even the surface of them! Dabblers and masters, and how to graduate from the former to the latter: the apprentice's dream.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Different Journeys, Same Quest

                                                       hurrying along the road
                                                       I can't look back
~ ~  Taneda Santōka (1882-1940)

~ ~

 For all his walking
 no green mountains await -
 only fate

Monday, July 26, 2010

Three Downtowns

A side street down near the port.
Centre ville, Trois-Rivières.

Outside metro Atwater, Montréal.

Boston Financial District

Am back from a 10-day trip to the States. 

The top photo was taken one evening before my departure; the middle one, while waiting to connect with the rideshare to Boston; the bottom one, on the way to South Station for the bus back to Canada.
Three different cities, all close to my heart. From the familiar old wooden three-deckers in Massachusetts to the equally familiar brick facades with the winding metal staircases of T-R and Montréal, memories and nowness collide.

My daughter's computer crashed and died mid-week so the blog took a little hiatus. We did get to Mystic Lake one hot and humid afternoon (along with about 200 other people on the little sandy beach and surrounding woods). The water was brown, the bottom muddy and an occasional weed would wrap around your leg if you swam into certain areas. I remember it being cleaner, clearer and far more swimmable in the past. This, and other local beaches there are sometimes closed during especially hot days now because of a too-high bacteria count.  We lucked out, though, that this particular day was not one of them.

The highlight of the trip was, of course, being with the l'il bubs again--and, a stop at Trader Joe's. This is a discount grocery store where you can find the most amazing food products at extremely low prices. (I noted that the maple syrup imported from Quebec was half the price we pay for it here where it's actually produced.)   I came back with blue agave, Mesquite honey, Mexican vanilla, ghee and Dr. Bronner's Hemp Tea-Tree Pure Castile soap; and from the little Tibetan shop: prayer flags for outside the house and meditation incense. Oh and three books, the perfect traveling companions, reading 210 pages of one of them en route through Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

One afternoon we went, all six of us, to see the animated "Despicable Me" in 3D.  There's a scene in the movie where the characters ride down a roller coaster.  It was so realistic I had to put my head down, because I suddenly got dizzy. The kids loved the film. Worth seeing, with or without the 3D.

Anyway, it's good to be back. The compelling pull of one's accustomed routine ... or something like that.  The cherry tomatoes and chard have tripled in my absence, bugs have attacked and eaten into the kale, the basil thinks it's a tree, the lettuce are screaming to be picked and the raspberries have finally arrived. Several items in the fridge have escaped my mate's notice and quietly expired or turned moldy, and Lida the window plant was gasping for water.  But all's well. When I left, we were in the throes of a heat wave. Now the mornings and evenings are chilly, almost like Fall.  Refreshing ...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Heat Wave Relief

Some favorite music plus some appropriate images for cooling off.

Am off to the States again tomorrow in the Philippemobile out of Montreal. I am told there will be six of us and we're requested not to bring too much luggage. Five and a half hours with two stops at a third of the cost of going by bus--can't beat that. So looking forward to plunging into Mystic Lake again and seeing the l'il bubs, who are probably an inch taller, at least. V. just turned 3, and the newest one, Calix, will arrive "any day now", or so my son tells me, though I won't get to meet him probably until the Fall, that trip being a tad farther and a whole lot longer.

I don't like traveling in summer but the Philippemobile is air conditioned, fully stocked with music of all kinds, with large, comfortable (heated in winter) seats, and always engaging conversations with interesting people from all over the world. Thank goodness I made reservations last week--there's already a waiting list.

I hope they don't make us open our suitcases at the border. There is no way I will be able to close mine again! And still haven't found a place to put the chocolate egg/toys so they won't melt en route.

Adieu T-R, salut Boston!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Another mission

As of the first of July,  46 U.S. warships capable of carrying 200 helicopters and warplanes, plus 7,000 U.S. Marines ("who may circulate the country in uniform without any restrictions"), as well as submarines, are heading to the Costa Rican coast for "anti-narcotics operations and humanitarian missions'  until 31st December 2010.

They are going there to fight the "war on drugs." 

read more ...

Some Costa Ricans question the official reason given for the sudden encampment of troops and warships, feeling there is something more to it than that.  (A glance at a map might offer a clue to what they feel is a much more likely motive.)

There are other rumbles on the Internet suggesting that this has to do with something big about to go down in the Gulf of Mexico connected with the BP oil catastrophe, necessitating the possible massive evacuation of ships and people.  (BP drilled down miles into a geologically unstable region and may have set the stage for the eventual premature release of a methane mega-bubble.  According to some environmentalist experts, what's pouring into the land, sea and air from the seabed breach,  is "a chemical cocktail of poisons," threatening to make the Gulf a complete dead zone with chemically polluted air and poisonous rainfalls. This oil "spill" has everyone spooked.

But forty-six warships for a place the size of Rhode Island or Vermont ...? They haven't succeeded in stopping the drug flow coming into the US across the border from Mexico; maybe they can do something from the Costa Rica coastal side. Costa Rica is a small, neutral country with no army, no match for the sophisticated, well-funded and well-armed drug cartels. It's apparently been unable to secure its own coasts or stop the violence and flow of drugs, hence their calling in the U.S. Marines. 

The warships have been invited to stay in Costa Rica untill December. Guess we'll just have to wait and see what transpires in the next several months, how many drug lords they actually manage to put out of business. Let's hope another war or horrendous catastrophe doesn't erupt somewhere else in the meantime.  The US military is already stretched way thin, what with two other wars currently going on, in Iraq (7 years) and Afghanistan  (nearly 9 years). Weapons of mass destruction? (They didn't find any.)  Bin Laden? (Couldn't find him.  No one mentions him anymore.  He probably died years ago.  Hard to get dialysis treatment hiding out in a cave in the mountains.)  The enemy now:  Terrorism, and the drug cartels. 

As for the Gulf--there just are no words anymore, and fear seems to be replacing hope.   Meanwhile the anchortainment industry rumbles on:  "Which team do YOU think LeBron James will decide to sign up with?", CNN breathlessly asked of its viewers; Mel Gibson had another violent emotional meltdown;  the Clintons are buying an $11 million house in Westchester;  and, according to a chuckling newscaster, Americans spend $57 billion dollars a year on lottery tickets.   

Meanwhile;  they're planning to stone to death a 43-year old woman in Iran (99 lashes and imprisonment weren't enough) for alleged moral misconduct; an old friend has stopped talking and eating and won't come out of his bedroom, steeped in depression; another, whose insurance runs out in a few weeks, is battling her second cancer (different type this time), and yesterday,  while returning from grocery shopping, we passed members and friends of a local family standing out on the highway in the hot sun holding out tin cans soliciting donations for their child, whose treatment injections will cost over $40,000 a year.  The world turning, burning, churning, in a not-so-merry-go-round of dizzying disrupt, enough to suck the air out of you, if you let it.

On a lighter note:  they're auctioning off Roy Rogers's horse "Trigger"'s "remains" this week. Trigger died of old age and Roy had him taxidermied decades ago-- for posterity.[2]. Am trying to imagine why anyone would fork over up to $200,000, for a ... dead horse. "I thought his name was Silver," my mate said, when I told him about the horse. "Hi ho Silver a-WAYYYYYYYYYYYY" we both said at once, then cracked up laughing. Silver was the Lone Ranger's horse.   I forget Tonto's horse's name.

Gorgeous blue-sky day the other day. The heat wave passed, a cool breeze in the morning. Priceless.

Then it all came back. Leguminitis sets in again. Bring out the fan.


here we go

it's getting old.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Journeys of the Mind

"Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Ives's trumpet hauntingly echoes such cosmic query, only to be answered by ... silence.

Knowing as the endpoint.

Not all profound inquiries lead to understanding. Few actually get there, the seeker becoming mired down in the process--enamored of it, even--succumbing to distraction, settling for peace of mind instead.  It never occurs to some to consider setting out at all, on what might be a most perilous undertaking, the already-known being entirely sufficient.

Maybe the journey is the purpose; whether you eventually understand or not not the point.

Maybe there is no plan, no "end".  Just constant change ‘mid patterned sameness. And circular trails that take you right back to where you started.

Live and love ... if you can.
To that journey, stay or go, it's all the same, no one's judging.
Doing, having, trumped by being

Always the same yearning ... to Know.
What if at the end of life, you'd not yet figured it out?
And suddenly realized it no longer

(There’s more to this that you’re not telling me



*Painting given to me by a friend for helping her move on the 1st of July.  It was painted some 30 years ago on a village farm by a then neighbor, "Claire", a self-taught artist. A man pausing in the act of chopping wood, to look out at the sun, the land, the horizon of familiarity, and untapped possibility.

Friday, July 2, 2010


*Photo by awyn, taken out back near the tool shed.