Saturday, 8 August 2020

Saturday Photo: Closest I Get to Religion...

Had an interesting conversation this week with one of my Hassidic neighbours about life, death, and Covid 19.  She lost a brother, 62, to the disease early on in the epidemic, and since then she and her family have been very careful.

Once again I extended my condolences and our conversation drifted toward doing good, etc.  At the end I quoted my paternal grandfather who used to say "the Lord helps those who help themselves."

She nodded, and then asked me if we go to church.  She knows we don't I'm pretty sure but I had to say that, no, we didn't but that I think it's important to know what religion is and what religions teach.  Told her the story about how our son was the last person baptized at a nearby church before it was deconsecrated: he was 11 and the church was 90 something.

Then later on  I came upon this graffiti.  It's about as close I get to any kind of religious thought.  Don't know if I completely agree, even then.  Worth thinking about on this fine summer morning, though.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Saturday Photo: Wake-up Call?

In this difficult time I've been on the look out for things that make one smile. That's whey I was delighted when a friend brought over sunflowers last weekend: everytime I saw them I found myself cheering up. 

Also I've been taking photos of bits of whimsy, and came across this one just across from Parc Molson in Montreal's Petite Patrie district.  The mattress may have been put out to be taken away by the garbage men, but someone had a better idea....

Maybe it's time for all of us to Wake up, to the bad things that we might be able to fix, and to the good things we should appreciate.

End of positive message for today....

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Satruday Photo: Not a Trojan Horse, but More Whimsy

Because we all need a little whimsy these days, here's what I found in an alley not far from me. 

Couldn't do much carpentry on this saw horse, but kudos to whomever put it together.  Creativity can blossom when times are tough...

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Saturday Photo: Concrete, Not the Rock of Ages...Nor Is the US

The photo was taken last summer in front of a house that was being renovated.  Probably built in the early 1900s, it obviously had a lot of details that were high-end at the time.  This bench--from the backyard, the front garden?--hasn't passed the test of time, however.

I'm posting it today because yesterday I got the publicity package for my next book, Concrete: From Ancient Origins to a Problematic Future.  The task for the weekend will be to look it over to see what the publicists are proposing.

But there's another reason: the terrible suspicion that things we formerly though solid as a rock--like democracy in the US--are rapidly being eroded.  The Covid-19 case numbers just keep spiraling upward, and 45 seems hell-bent to use any means possible to use it as a way to get re-elected.  Just as troubling is the use of Federal forces to "bring order" to Portland OR.  According to the New York Times:

"The arrival of a more aggressive federal presence came after President Trump, who at one point called on states to “dominate” protesters, directed federal agencies to increase their presence to protect federal properties, including statues and monuments that have at times been the target of protesters. Mr. Trump said last week that he had sent personnel to Portland because “the locals couldn’t handle it.”

What's going to happen when he loses the November election?

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Saturday Photo: Whimsy and Covid 19

Everybody was getting a little squirrely this spring, as we tried to out dance Covid 19 by staying at home.  It helped some that March, April and the first of May were cold and pretty wet here.  But then finer weather arrived.

Kids were still at home, supposedly learning remotely, but the outdoors beckoned.  Playgrounds were still closed, and it took a bit of imagination to find things to do. 

Some children on my granddaughter's street took things into their own hands, and built a little scene that they could control.  Love this bit of whimsy in a world that isn't whimsical at all.

The construction/installation is now obscured by grasses and perennials, but it's a good memory from a season where there weren't many.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Saturday Photo: The Up-side of Drought...

It must be the sun, and maybe the cool, wet spring, but even though it rained very little in May and June the roses here have been spectacular.  The ones in our yard have done better than most years, although not enough to rate a blog-post photo...

These which I found on a neighbouring street however, are not at all the exception.  An abundance of blossoms that have lasted at least a week despite some pretty hot days and a semi-drought.  Does the heart good in this time when we can use ever bit of encouragement we can get.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Saturday Photo: Fleur de lys or Iris...

We are half way through the week of  summer's first holidays around here. Quebec's Fête nationale was last Wednesday and next Wednesday will be Canada Day.  Such a strange time!  No big celebrations, just small gatherings and some lovely flowers in bloom.

The fleur de lys, the iris, is Quebec's flower, and, conveniently it blooms right now.  The ones in my front yard aren't nearly as nice, but these in a neighbor's are lovely.

Enjoy what good times you might have....

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Saturday Photo: Water Games and Rainbows...

The kids around here early in this crazy pandemic time began making rainbows to put in windows with the legend Ça va bien aller" which means It's going to be all right.  Quite a nice sentiment, and one which I suspect encouraged a lot of young ones who may have been frightened by their parents' anxiety if nothing else.

Well, it hasn't been all right for a lot of people, but things are looking up.  The parks are open and with them the splash pads/jeux d'eau that lots of kids love.  The other morning when it already was stifling I came upon a young family playing in the water even though it was before 9 a.m.  Lots of fun, but also the sun hit the spray of water at just the right angle to make this lovely rainbow.  Enough to make you smile, if not enough to convince you that everything will be all right.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Saturday Photo: April in Paris, June in Montreal...

The song says that the chestnuts bloom in April in Paris, and usually they bloom in Montreal in May.  But this eyar, when the temperature has gone up and down, up and down, they're blooming in June.

Another example of weather craziness.  Doesn't so far make a difference, but theses days one never knows what is going to happen...

Always thought it was crazy the way some people try to predict the future.  Aside from nothing being certain but death and taxes, it's all a crapshoot.

The flowers are pretty though.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Saturday Photo: Just What the Doctor Ordered...

I think I've used this photo before, but it deserves another look.  Dandelions are supposed to be weeds, and I must admit that I try to keep them out of my little backyard plot of grass.  But they are a sign that somebody isn't trying to mess with nature by using pesticides and testimony to the resilience of green things.

Dandelions are invasive and were introduced into North America a long time ago, possibly for their medicinal properties and possibly, says one source, because they reminded Europeans of their homelands.  The greens can be eaten--I cooked up the ones I pulled up last week with some butter and garlic after washing them several times and steaming for five minutes.  They were pretty good, but then what isn't with butter and garlic?

But what really is lovely is the display they give in the grass for the short period before they turn into fluff balls of seeds. Just what the doctor ordered to lift the spirits, and to underscore how what we do to nature can have such unexpected results.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Saturday Photo: The Flowers of the Week...and Thoughts on the Circle of Time

Hot weather arrived with a vengeance this week, and the tulips faded rapidly.  But on the other hand some of the other late spring flowers burst into loveliness.

Among them is Bridal Veil  spirea.  Doesn't last long here, but for a week or so it is spectacular.  That's honey suckle on the right side of my neighbour's steps, which is also a lovely plant right now.

This fleeting progression of flowering plants is one of the joys of this climate.  When things bloom, they really bloom, as if throwing their whole being into a display on which their lives depended.  Of course, that's in effect what is happening, as the seeds from the flowers are what would spread the plants in the wild, at least in theory.

In this year of catastrophe, the rhythms of flowering plants is are solace.  Yes, our lives have been turned upside down, but things continue.  Not necessarily unfolding as they should, and definitely not for the best in this "best of all possible worlds," but continuing...

And that is the lesson for today. 


Saturday, 23 May 2020

Saturday Photo: The Fountain across the Street...

Early in the morning when I go out I hear two things: the wind in the leaves, and water burbling in our neighbor's fountain across the street.

The leaves on the  have been out only a few days, so the lowly rustle of the wind running through them is still a novelty.  But the fountain is there all year around, even though from October to April it just sits there, looking nice and resting.

We had a warm day yesterday, when the sound of the running water was particularly pleasant.  So nice of neighbors to introduce such loveliness into this sometimes-dismal world.

                                                         

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Saturday Photo: The Gift of Tulips

Last year about this time our neighbour, the horticulturalist, brought home several hundred tulip bulbs that he'd saved from being thrown out.

They'd been used to decorate the hall for a special Mother's Day brunch in a Montreal hotel.  Now the hotel had no use for them, and they were headed from the trash.

But Denis spread them out on a tarp in the lane behind our houses and offered them to anyone who wanted them.  "No guarantees that they'll bloom next year," he cautioned.  "Their leaves haven't had a chance to make enough chlorophyll to stoke up the bulbs."

So I didn't have much hope, although I planted them at the end of August in hopes that a little more time in the ground might make a difference.

It would seem it has!

I can't remember how many I planted but five clumps are now in fine bloom, making this sorry world a brighter place.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Saturday Photo: The Great Influenza Should Be Required Reading...

Like everyone else I've been trying to make sense of what is happening and has been happening these last few months.  Far too much time spent reading headlines from all over the world, hours spent fretting about what I can and can not do to help.  I'll write about the last item some other time, but today I want to encourage everyone to read a truly informative book, The Great Influenza by John M. Barry.

Despite some criticism saying that Covid-19 isn't the Spanish Flu, the book is amazingly relevant today.  Few of us had any idea of what was going on when the great corona virus wave hit us, but, had we paid attention to the past, we might have had a better idea.

Physical distancing, hand washing, face masks: they all are standard advice now, but their usefulness--no, necessity--were first recognized during that great pandemic.

Barry tells a great story, as well as doing some impressive research in records, memoirs, and scientific publications.  Get it and read it, and stop talking about how we'll be out the woods in a few weeks.  We won't be and we are going to have to learn to live with this new virus until a vaccine is perfected. 


Saturday, 2 May 2020

Saturday Photo: Forsythia, and Rushing It

Forsythia in bloom in several places this morning!  Nice and cheery to see!

The other photo is obviously the project of someone who couldn't wait for spring.  I took a detour from my walk this morning because I was curious about a bush that appeared to have two different kinds of flowers, and then when I approached I realized that the flowers were plastic.

Seems to me there is a parallel to make with our existence these days.  We want the real thing, but we are forced to make do with a virtual versions.  Unless, that is, we come face to face with the dreaded disease, and we'd like to put a screen between us and it.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Saturday Photo: Sculpture in the Spring

An example of making something grand out of nothing:  Glenn LeMesurier's sculptures.  For a couple of decades he's been creating fascinating objects from discarded machine parts.

This photo was taken last spring in the disused field in the Mile End district of Montreal where a number of his works were on display.

And what have you been doing with your free time lately? 

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Saturday Photo: Lots of These Around

The robins have been back for a couple of weeks, and are singing away early in the morning.

Glad some things are happy.  There is such a lot of sadness at the moment. 

Of course, maybe it's good for us to realize that we are not the centre of the world.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Saturday Photo: Geese Flying North, A Sign of Progress?

The sky has been full of geese this last week as Canada geese head north along the great St. Lawrence fly way. 

They pass over Montreal every spring and fall, usually  in the morning.  I guess they must have spent the night somewhere along the river and then fly over the island as they head out for the next leg of their pilgrimage.

Not many other pilgrims this year, though. 

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Saturday Photo: Rainbows and « Ça va bien aller »

Kids here have been drawing and painting rainbows as a sign of hope in these troubled times.  Posted in windows, they also are something to look for when the young ones are out enjoying the limited amount of outside activity that they can get these days.

These are the ones my grandsons painted last week.  Their mother took photos of them, sent them by email, and I printed them out.  I didn't add the slogan which many are adding: « Ça va bien aller » which translates, more or less, as "It's going to be all right."

For a lot of people it won't be, of course, but if we hang in there, possibly the worst will not happen.

Keep safe, everyone.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Saturday Photo: Saving Lives in the Spanish Flu Pandemic

Because life right now can be pretty scary, I wrote the following for my grandkids this week.  You might find it interesting too.

A Story about How Your Great-Great Grandfather Saved Lives in the Great Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918

Once upon a time there were two little girls named Ella and Norma who lived with their mother and father in a little house on the prairie.

This is the house, and that's their mother--and your great-great grandmother Mary--leaning against the fence. Notice the sleigh: in the winter it must have been hard to get around.


Later a brother named Jack joined the girls, but in the fall of 1918--that's more than 100 years ago--there were just the two of them.




Their farm was near a town called Opheim in Montana, not far from the border with Canada. (You can see it up in the right corner of the state, just below Saskatchewan.)



Ella, who was 8, was starting her second year of school. She hadn't started school when she was six because they'd lived too far in the country for her to go to school every day. Norma, who was 4, stayed home with their mother who was named Mary. Their father, who was named John but whom everyone called Mac because his last name was MacDonald, was trying to farm the plot of land they had. But it was hard, dry country, and the farm wasn't doing well

He'd worked on the railroad until they came to Montana a year or so before.
That's him the middle next to the locomotive


But by 1918 Mac had acquired an Overland touring car and was operating a delivery and transport service all over Valley County. It was a very useful service because very few people had automobiles back then. (That's him driving it with his your great-great grandmother Mary sitting next to him, with Ella and Norma in back with a family friend.)






During the summer he carried people coming to settle in this corner of Montana from the railroad to their new homes. He also delivered supplies and building materials, and sometimes acted as a driver for doctors and people who were enforcing the law. It was hard work, and he often was away from the girls and their mother. He was always glad to come back to little house, and they were very, very glad to see him.

It wasn't an easy life for any of them, but they'd made it through the summer of 1918 and there was a certain optimism in the air. World War I had been raging in Europe, but signs pointed to a victory for the Allies.

Yet with the cooler weather came another threat: a very, very bad influenza. It had briefly sickened people in Montana the previous spring, but suddenly it was back and much more dangerous than ever. Schools were closed, people were told to stay at home, travel was restricted, businesses shut down. The two girls and Mary were more or less confined to their little house and the land surrounding it.

Mac, however, saw that many of their neighbors were very isolated, with no way to get supplies or medical help because they were living so far in the country. So he stepped up, and offered his automobile to check up on people and bring food to those who were running out. He also ferried doctors to many sick families (back in those days people were usually treated in their homes, not in hospitals). And for several weeks during the worst of the epidemic he did not get back very often to the little house on the prairie, both because he was so busy and because he didn't want to bring disease back to Norma, Ella and Mary.

By Christmas time the worst was over, Mac's girls were healthy and he was too despite the risks he took. When he was an old man he sometimes told a story or two about that time, but he played down the important role he played in keeping his neighbors going.

As for Ella and Norma, and Jack when he came along, they lived long and prospered. Here they are in the 1990s when Ella and Norma were in their 80s, and Jack was in his late 60s.








Saturday, 21 March 2020

Saturday Photo: The Winter of Our Discontent...

The photo was taken 10 days ago when we were enjoying our escapade in Quebec City, on Wednesday, March 11 just after the sun came out to shine splendidly after a freezing rain storm.

I liked it a lot when I looked at it on Thursday, March 12, but I had no idea then how prescient it might be. 

Schools closed in Quebec the next day, and ever since things have been becoming more and more restrictive--thank goodness.

When out this morning for a walk (okay if you stay 2 metres from anyone, and at 8 a.m. there were few people out), I saw notices on every place of worship I passed, announcing closures until further notice.  That was only most recent of the measures that have been put into effect.  Physical distance and social solidarity is the order of the day.

Perhaps a few months from now we'll look back and sigh: yes, it was necessary, and yes, we have a lot of work to do to bring things  back to life.  But, hopefully, we will still be here...

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Saturday Photo: Ice, Snow and Coronavirus

We spent a wonderful few days in Quebec City this week.  The trip had been planned some time in advance, but I think we lucked out since Covid-19 was weighing much more heavily by the time we got home.

Our plan had been to go see the Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera show at the Musée de beaux arts du Québec. 
(For the moment it's open as usual, although the principle show has too much Frido and not enough Diego for our taste.  The  museum itself is really terrific though: definitely worth a trip.)

Tuesday there was freezing rain all day: at the end of the day I had icicles hanging from the brim of my hat by the time we walked from to the museum to our B&B.  But on Wednesday, the sun was out and the landscape was absolutely transformed.  A real winter wonderland...

Of course, viruses in principle don't die in the cold, but apparently being outside isn't forbidden during this difficult time.  An epidemiologist noted yesterday that when you're outside skiiing, skating or just playing in the snow you're well covered and should present no danger  to yourself or others--only just stay out of ski chalets etc...

Given that the schools and daycares around here are closed for at least the next two weeks, I expect we'll be lending a hand with the grandkids, including doing some outside activities: the idea of spending two weeks inside with them is a little daunting!


Saturday, 7 March 2020

Saturday Photo: Heading for a Little Escapade Closer to Home

This photo was taken a couple of years ago when we made a quick trip to Quebec City.  The tourists were having a great time posing in the snow.

We're thinking of doing something similar.  Even though you don't get to some place warmer, it's a pleasure to see some new scenery. 

So we're not going to let the coronavirus business scare us.  Will wash our hands a lot and, besides, we won't be going anywhere that has seen new cases yet!

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Saturday Photo: The Cover...

So this is the cover for my next book.  Pretty nifty, I think.

And also here's a cartoon from the March 2, 2020 New Yorker.   The caption is: "You might have time left for one more book, but only if it doesn't require a lot of research.

 It's more or less the story of my life... and, yes, I've got  an idea for another book!

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Saturday Photo: Concrete Getting Nearer

Next week I should get suggested revisions to my next book Concrete: From Ancient Origins to a Problematic Future. The University of Regina Press has set the publication date  for October 10, 2020, and now it seems that the book will actually soon be concrete (a sort of a bad pun.)

Concrete is an amazing material that has built the world as we know it.  Things built with  concrete vary from the Gothic-inspired church of Notre Dame de Raincy in France to freeways like the one pictured below in Montreal that had to be torn down after 60 years because it was falling apart.

Working on this book has been a pleasure, and now, as I continue to talk about Frenemy Nations: Love and Hate between Neighbo(u)ring States, I'm looking forward to switching gears next fall and talking about this amazing stuff.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Saturday Photo: Valentine a Little Late

Busy, complicated week, so I'm offering this Valentine a day late.  It was made a couple of years ago when I was looking for something clever to send to my Sweeties.  Don't know if it's clever but it lifted my spirits when I came across it this week.

Remember: the flowers will come, sooner or later1

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Saturday Photo: A Walk in the Snow

Well, actually the photo was taken some time ago, after another winter storm, but today when I was out I forgot my camera, so it will have to suffice.

Lots of snow, and now the glorious, cold sunshine that often follows is upon us.  Makes everything lovely, particularly if you go out only because you want to...

Enjoy yourself today.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Saturday Photo: January Morning...

The stark beauty of winter, with, thank goodness, the promise of lengthening days.

The sun is coming up about 7:15 these days, which means that there's a hint of light in the sky when I get up an hour earlier.  That seems so hopeful in this winter of our discontent.

Got to keep an eye on the sunny side, or it would be so easy to go under in the sea of political and social bad news.


Saturday, 25 January 2020

Saturday Photo: Getting Itchy Feet...Need to Start Travel Plans

Last Monday was supposedly Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year.  Well, my mother always said that January was the longest month of the year, and perhaps its third Monday is indeed a down day for a lot of people.

It turns out, of course, that the whole idea of Blue Monday was dreamed up by a travel agency.

But nevertheless the gray weather we're having now (a lot of snow would be much more fun!) has got me thinking about travel.

The photo was taken nearly 20 years ago when I began my travels.  It's of Canada geese in the Royal Gardens at Kew, and I was working on my first non-fiction book Recreating Eden: A Natural History of Botanical Gardens.     Now I'm thinking of going on the road for another non-fiction book--my eighth--which will be about how people have coped with fluctuating sea level over time.  The place I'm headed is Indonesia, where the government is planning to move the capital from Jakarta to another island to remove the low-lying city from being drowned.

I had hoped to go sometime this spring, but for various reasons it looks like I won't go before September.  But it's going to be fun to plan as this winter rolls on.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Saturday Photo: Okay, It's Cold

...and it may be colder in the Prairies and, good heavens, what about the snow in Newfoundland, but it's pretty frosty here too.

Just came in.  Think I'll stay in for a while....

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Saturday Photo: Oldness, Beauty and Keeping Busy

John McPhee, one of my favourite writers, has a lovely piece in The New Yorker this week. 

In it he writes about a meeting with the novelist Thornton Wilder when he was a young man, at a time when Wilder's reputation was near its height.

McPhee was astounded to learn that Wilder, then 66,  was spending his days cataloguing the plays of Lope de Vega who wrote some eighteen hundred full-length plays of which 431 survive. He writes: Callowly, I asked him, “Why would anyone want to do that?”

McPhee's question infuriated Wilder, and their meeting thereafter was not a cordial one.  Nevertheless, the young McPhee thought "the question deserved an answer. And I couldn’t imagine what it might be."

But, he continues, "I can now. I am eighty-eight years old at this writing, and I know that those four hundred and thirty-one plays were serving to extend Thornton Wil­der’s life. Reading them and cataloguing them was something to do, and do, and do. It beat dying. It was a project meant not to end."

 And I understand that now.  Keeping busy, being curious, doing those interesting  and perhaps necessary things are what keeps some of us going.

But, you may ask, do these two photos have to do with that.  The sleek and sensuous one is one by Edward Weston, taken in the fullness of his genius.  The other is of two red peppers I baked not long ago in order to have roasted pimento for some dish I intended to cook.  Both photos, I think, are quite lovely, but one represents youthful talent and joy and the other, what happens as we age. 

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Saturday Photo: Against War in Iraq 17 Years Ago, at -26 C (-14.8 F)

Must credit Jacques Sabourin for this photo taken February 15, 2003 when something like 200,000 people turned out in Montreal to protest again a war in Iraq.

We were there, and I've never been prouder to be Canadian, because this march probably tipped the scales against Canadian involvement in that stupid affair.  The march last September against climate change was bigger, but, let's face it, it's a lot harder to protest when your breath is freezing on your face.

Unfortunately we may be back where we started.  I've spent far too much of my life protesting war, yet if something is organized soon, count me in.  The US strike that killed Qassem Soleimani was ill advised, making things a whole lot worse.  Furthermore, reaction to it is going to sap energy that might be better expended in getting a Democrat elected to succeed Donald Trump as president of the US.

Of course, that's part of the strategy you may be sure.  Thanks to John Deering of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for the telling cartoon.