You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2008.

On Sunday, I drove to Longueil to pick up a former classmate, JF, then travelled onwards to Rougement, Quebec — a mecca for apples. His extended family there, Maurice and Lorraine, awaited us, a Quebec flag flying proudly in the yard. They own an orchard that extends a good hundred metres before giving way to a field of maize. We picked apples, primarily Cortlands, which will later be sold in Montreal. The not-so-pretty apples are sold to restaurants that turn them into apple pies. The pretty ones, “les belles,” are sold to be eaten as is.

After a break at noon for some asparagus soup, we returned to the orchard, and a local family joined our team. The children did more eating than picking, and also tormented the dog, Jeudi, but nevertheless, by about half past three, the full extent of Maurice’s ambitions for that day had been accomplished. JF and I filled up a basket each to take home — mine was a mix of Cortlands, Redcourts, and Spartans — then we returned to Montreal.

Now I have a large quantity of delicious apples and only a limited amount of time to eat them before they go bad. Any suggestions of recipes that will make use of my excess apples are greatly appreciated.

***

Meanwhile, work continues apace on an article I’m writing about Littly Burgundy, a neighbourhood tucked away down the hill from downtown. Yesterday, I interviewed a proprietor of a local business — the Burgundy Lion, a high-end pub — as well as a communications officer from Atwater Market. As the article concept starts to take form, it looks as though food will play a prominent part. The resurgence of this neighbourhood has been fuelled largely by the renaissance of the market and the establishment of local restaurants that draw in numerous local residents, as well as Montrealers from further afield.

My interviewee at Atwater said something that stuck with me. She said markets are like “the new churches.” They are centrepieces of neighbourhoods; the life of the community revolves around them. Proximity to a major market is a big advantage for people selling condos or renting out apartments. I know, speaking personally, that my own short walk to Jean Talon Market has greatly improved the quality of my life.

One thing I won’t need to buy at the market any time soon?

Apples.

For almost two decades, Canada was led by an intelligent and principled leader, who faced national crises bigger than any than those we’ve seen since, and who left behind institutions that will far outlive him. Although enormously popular in his day, he did not pander to the public to win his popularity. He had the strength of mind to make unpopular decisions, preferring to do what was best for the country rather than what was best for his party or for him personally.Watch this short clip of Pierre Elliott Trudeau debating reporters – actually engaging in a debate, mind you, not delivering sound bites or recycling messages – and weep at the lamentable choices before us among the current generation of politicians in Canada and the United States.

Salon.com recently wrote a scathing article about the popularity of Sarah Palin, decrying the current culture of reality show politics.

“…more and more Americans seem to see politics as just another reality TV show. You vote for Palin the same way you vote for a designer on ‘Project Runway.’ As Katharine Mieszkowski reported for Salon, Palin’s rapturous supporters embrace her because ‘she represents me.’ It’s the politics of sheer narcissism. This crudely personalized and debased approach to civic life has always been present, but it’s getting stronger, and the Republicans are recklessly exacerbating it. Never mind that if they succeed in dumbing down the electorate and turning politics into the most superficial popularity contest, the country will suffer irreparable harm. Hey, we gotta win this election!”

The economic and environmental crises, of which I’m guessing we’ve seen only the first storm winds of the hurricane that’s coming, cannot be resolved by reality show politics or unadulterated populism. It’s a sign of a malfunctioning system when a party such as the Republican Party roars “drill, drill, drill!”in Congress, calling out for more offshore exploitation, and actually considers this a potential vote winner. You know we’ve reached the syrupy crud at the bottom of the barrel when appealing purely to the pocketbooks of gas-guzzling drivers is the sum total of an energy policy. Likewise, Stephen Harper, refusing to halt the catastrophe in Alberta’s oil sands because it will supposedly “slow” economic growth, is an exemplar of the kind of populism that, in the long-term, will sink an entire civilization.

We don’t elect these people to sing our praises and talk about the wisdom of the average American or Canadian. The very definition of the average Canadian or American is somebody would be unable to make decisions on behalf of millions of citizens. We elect people to be better than us, to be brighter than us, to be better informed then us. I am convinced there are still such people around; they’ve probably all chosen careers outside of politics because politics has become a reality show.

If Pierre Trudeau were alive to combat the collapse of our economic system and environment, I have a feeling he’d have the courage to make the unpopular decisions necessary to get us through the storm. He wouldn’t behave as if Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth were just a piece of middle-brow entertainment from yesteryear; he’d enact the call to arms that is so sorely needed. He’d have the strength of mind to know that no matter how unpopular he might have to make himself in the short-term, he’d be proven right in the long term and the public would be grateful to him for it.

My washing machine sounds like the artillery brigade of a small army, hammering away at the enemy lines. The floor vibrates, the bullet sounds reverberate off the walls; for twenty minutes, it sounds like a war zone in here. This is my office. This is now where I do all my work. It is a strange new form of life. I go from answering work emails to doing the dishes, from answering work phone calls to folding T-shirts and boxer shorts. I’m writing to any Montreal contacts who might have even a tenuous connection to opportunities for me. I’m working on edits to Blind Spot, because that’s got to arrive in my agent’s hands in the next week or so. All these weirdly unconnected things have happened between the hours of nine and twelve. For now, I still have only one freelance client, but nevertheless, I feel A-OK. When I compare this to the time when I last had neither a job or school to go to (in mid-2005) this feels ten times better. I’m just a hustler, for now, but there is nothing else I’d rather do. There is a big difference between going on unemployment and deliberately seeking to make your own destiny.

By the way, if anyone is thinking of buying Altec Lansing speakers for their computer, the model that Future Shop is currently selling for $100, strongly reconsider. Sure, the speakers belt it out like nobody’s business — music sounds good. But what doesn’t sound so good is the incessant hum emanating from the sub woofer whenever there is a moment’s silence. There is no way of eliminating the hum. I tried everything, and then I researched the product online. Everybody has this problem, apparently. So I’m going to be returning my speakers and finding something better.

And no, I am not seeking a career in writing consumer reports. Although I’d be open to doing restaurant reviews.

How happy are you allowed to be after a death in the family? Sure, I wasn’t related to Mina the cat, but it nevertheless felt like the loss of a presence very close to me. The other night, after too many beers, I became very disconsolate indeed, and boo-hooed by my lonely self, and wished she were alive again, so that we could hang out while I attempt to embark on a freelance career. We would keep each other company during these long days at home.

As much as being blue is difficult, it does also feel necessary. To simply be full of laughter and optimism in the wake of what happened… well, it feels wrong sometimes. It seems to dishonour her.

But today, there’s no doubt, I’m full of gladness again. Monika and I wandered out this morning in search of croissants. At the nearby patisserie — which has never let us down — we found exactly what we wanted, moreover, the delightful old woman behind the counter gave us two free slices of raspberry cake. Later in the day, we walked to Parc Jarry and then the Jean Talon Market, and everybody was enjoying the gentle Autumn warmth, and good spirits presided everywhere. We passed by Rona on the way home, and the small gentleman who knows everything about everything handy gave us great advice and mixed up the paint with aplomb and cheeriness. Then we stopped by a depanneur, and the proprietor looked at the pail of paint in Monika’s hands and said, “Oh no, that’s trouble. That’s dangerous.”  And I said, “Why is it dangerous?” He replied, “That’s work,” and laughed merrily. I said, “Oh, it’s her that’s doing the work. Me, I’m going to drink beer.” Thereupon I bought myself a six-pack of Griffon Extra Blonde. The proprietor seemed highly amused. Of course, I hadn’t explained that I’m not actually sitting around watching Monika painting the place and drinking beer. Monika’s painting her own place while I’m back at my own place, drinking the beer. Misleading wisecracks aside, what a wonderful neighbourhood stroll.

I now have an agent for my writing — well, at least for my novel, Blind Spot. I was contacted by Bliss Literary Agency last week. After a follow up phone call to Los Angeles, where the agency is located, business was discussed and terms were clarified, and a contract is now winging its way to me here in Montreal. This is exciting. I was told months ago that I needed proper representation to get anywhere with fiction, and now, praise be, I have it. Three cheers for that!

The last few days have gone by awfully speedily, and this, my first official day of being a freelancer, has gone by speediest of them all. There are so many things I have to do, and moreover, I’m helping Monika move into her new apartment. I am in and out of stores, buying things, wondering how much longer I can simply spend money before the reality of having to earn money crashes in. Thanks for that loan, Dad!

Today I spent just over a thousand dollars on a computer. Gulp. I have never purchased a computer before. I’ve generally made do with my 2001 IBM ThinkPad (graduation gift, thanks Dad, again) and for the Internet and whatnot, I have used friends computers or computer labs. But now I’m becoming self sufficent. As of Wednesday evening, everything I need to conduct business will be operational (barring mishaps…  which seem likely) and I plan to devote several weeks to hustling for new clients, as well as working on my business “brand” — i.e. a website, logo, a company name, etc.

I thought I’d be a little more nervewracked than this… but so far I’ve been calm. No trembling hands. No palpitating heart. I say give it until November.

When we returned from Ontario, Mina – my little SPCA kitten – was sick. She was vomiting, lethargic, not herself. We took her to the vet. Two days later, she was diagnosed with panleukopenia . This virus is one of the worst things a kitten can get. It does horrible things to the intestines, makes the cat throw up constantly and gives it diarrhea. There is no direct cure. Mina had to be hooked up to an IV and force fed, day after day. This ordeal lasted almost a week. Monika would go visit Mina during the day, then we’d both go visit after my work was done in the evening. Mina recognized us both and responded well to our company. She would crawl up my T-shirt and onto my shoulder and sit there purring.

On Friday, it seemed that Mina was well enough to come home. We didn’t want to leave her at the vet’s anyway – they wouldn’t permit us to visit during Sunday and Monday of the long weekend. So we liberated her from the cage for the final time; Monika watched the little black ball of fur crawl awkwardly around the pavement outside for a while. Under the afternoon sun, Mina became quite a little celebrity – people stopping to pet her, one girl even taking a photo.

We took Mina home and adminstered drug after drug, forced water and food down her mouth with a syringe. She started fighting these doses harder and harder. I thought maybe it was a good sign. The cat with the fight in it is a strong cat. A survivor.

But on Saturday, Mina started behaving very strangely. She was yewling in as if in horrible agony. She lost her motor control and staggered around. She would take a few steps and then fall over. Then try again. She started twitching on my living room floor. Finally, she died.

We have good reason to believe that the virus had spread to her brain. At that point, the situation is beyond hope. And indeed, for both of us, the feeling afterwards was one of utter hopelessness. I’ve never been affected by a pet so much. She was such a bright and affectionate little cat. I miss her so much.

I had been increasingly gloomy even before Mina succumbed to illness – disatisfied with having to be in an office nine hours a day, unhappy with my writing going nowhere. So on Tuesday, I went into my company headquarters and announced my resignation.

To my surprise, the company took it all very well, and suggested that I work on a freelance basis for them. I have accepted this offer. I couldn’t be happier. It will mean working mostly from home, and it will free up a lot of time for other opportunities. Meanwhile, there is apparent new progress on the fiction front. I hope to have more news to report on that later this week.

It’s a blistering hot day in Montreal, and I have renewed faith that this is still the best place for me to be. Despite my first genuine misfortune here, things might be turning around.

It has been a horrible week. I have not been able to muster the energy for this blog, but I hope to return to it very soon. Meanwhile, it’s sunny and hot in Montreal — which at the very least is a bit of a salve to my battered spirits. Today Monika and I walked up Mont Royal and had ice creams at the top. Two children, in turn, came by and had to test out the wobbly paving stone in front of us. One kid was so engrossed in this activity that he reached out to steady himself and put his hand on my knee. He had no clue — it could have been a wall for all he cared.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers