Wednesday, January 24, 2018

THE McBINKEYS OF BONEHEAD: A CAT'S TALE

Lately I've been thinking about our cat, Pinky.  We found him as a tiny, feral kitten on the garage roof, a few years before we were married.  We'd heard a chirping sound and wondered if there was a bird's nest up there.  There wasn't.  There was a kitten. I guess all he'd heard were birds chirping, so he learned to chirp instead of meow.   We lured him down, over the course of several days, with saucers of milk positioned closer and closer to the back door of the house.  Within a week, Pinky moved in.

He was a tabby, and we thought he was a girl cat.  His nose and paws were very pink.  We named him Pinky in honour of Benazir Bhutto, who had just become the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, and whose childhood nickname was Pinky.  It was some time before we realized Pinky was a boy cat. By that time, he was already answering to his name and we didn't want to traumatize him, so we kept on calling him Pinky.  As he got bigger, the neighbours started to laugh every time we called him in, so we gave him the street name of Ned.  But at home, he was Pinky.  Or Mr. Pink.  Or Jean-Marie Le Pinq. Or Pinkerton. Or Pinsky, on Jewish holidays.  Or Pinky McBinkey, whose ancestral home was in Bonehead, Sussex.

Pinky loved Ivaan, and the feeling was mutual.  Ivaan trained him to do tricks, something not all cats willingly do.  I wanted to take him for walks on a leash, but every time we put a leash on him, Pinky would flatten himself on the floor, like a fur rug.  So that wasn't happening.

Pinky was the cat of legend.  One mystery at our place was where all the cat food disappeared to.  He only ate the deluxe kind, that comes in tiny cans.  Or else baby food.  Or else cooked broccoli.  Or ginger snaps.  We decided that while we were away at work during the day, Pinky was running a restaurant on our back deck.  It was called The Cat Cafe, and it served tiny little cans of cat food.  But it also had a specialty dish on the menu, Salmon Philippe.  This is because two of our nephews are named Sam and Philippe.  The dish was named after them.

In the legend, Pinky rode a motorcycle.  His helmet was carved out of a tennis ball.

Ivaan, in moments of great affection, called him Pinkooni Ma-Sa-Sa.  Our other nephews, Angus and Ivor, always wondered what Pinkooni Ma-Sa-Sa meant.  So one day I wrote a children's book to explain how he came to have the name Pinkooni Ma-Sa-Sa.  It's called:

THE McBINKEYS OF BONEHEAD:  A CAT'S TALE
 © 2018 Eya Donald Greenland


(I have deleted the text of the story, but I assure you, it's awesome.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

THE BATH LOTTERY

In about 2005, Ivaan was telling me about the Siege of Leningrad.  He loved history, and it really came alive though his retelling.  Honestly, I couldn't even have told you when the Siege of Leningrad was, never mind what it was all about.

Oh, you don't know either?  Well, in 1941 the Nazis surrounded the City of Leningrad in Russia (now called Petrograd, or St. Petersburg), blockading it so that no one could enter or leave.  They wanted to take control of the city and they didn't want to waste ammunition by killing the inhabitants, so they basically just starved the citizens of Leningrad.

The Siege lasted for two and a half years.  Millions died of starvation.  Food was rationed at 125 grams per day per person.  Eventually one winter it was so cold that the lake on the border of Leningrad froze over and supplies were able to be smuggled in, but the death toll was tremendous.

Stories about the Siege of Leningrad are always told from the point of view of men.  Films show tanks and guns, fighting men and barking dogs.  Little is said about the lonely, desperate lives of women during the Siege and how they coped.

After Ivaan had told me about the Siege, he asked, "If you had to give up everything, what would be the hardest for you to live without?"  I instantly answered, "A hot bath.  I would rather do without food than a hot bath".    So we started telling each other a story, back and forth, about women during the Siege and how they managed.  We called our story The Bath Lottery.  We had always envisioned writing it as a play.

Life got complicated and we never got our play written.  Part of the reason was that neither of us knew how to write a play, but another part is that we kept on adding to and subtracting from the story, so it was a pretty fluid project.

Last year, I was moaning to my friend Mary Ann about wanting to write this play, entitled The Bath Lottery, and explaining that the reason I hadn't done it was because I did not know the mechanism for writing a play.  I wondered if I should take a course in playwriting.  Mary Ann wisely suggested that I write it as a story,  adding that once I had a story on paper, I could easily see if it could become a play.

So I wrote the story.  In fact, it poured out of me surprisingly quickly.  I sent it to my sister, who often reads things I write.  She was generally encouraging, but found it hard to understand why the story was so bleak.  She was hoping for some laughter and some female bonding at the end.  Clearly, this woman has never lived through a siege!  I've been hearing stories about the Holodomor, the forced starvation imposed by Stalin on Ukraine in the early 1930s, all my adult life, and I've witnessed first hand the Soviet-induced paranoia that is bred in the bone of everyone who has ever lived in Ukraine.

I then sent it to my friend Norah, who is a writer and whose parents were of Ukrainian heritage, so she understands the culture.  Norah forced me to clarify and to simplify.  It was so helpful to me to see the story from her perspective and I was grateful for her skill and generosity.

Having finished editing the story, I had to decide what to do with it.  I didn't even know if I liked the story any more.  I subscribe to a literary quarterly, Prairie Fire, and as they had a literary competition in conjunction with the Banff Centre and McNally Robinson Booksellers, I decided to submit the The Bath Lottery.  After sending it in, I was cringing, thinking it would be so amateurish compared to the offerings of the professional writers who enter and win literary competitions.  Eventually, I forgot all about it.

Last Tuesday, coming home from university, I saw a flashing light on my answering machine and started listening to the message as I was doing household chores.  It wasn't until the message was nearly over that I realized it was from Prairie Fire Press.  They were asking for my email address.
I thought they probably just wanted to send me a list of the winners, but I replayed the message and was dumbfounded to learn that I had won Second Prize in the short fiction category.  I had to play the message one more time to be sure I'd heard correctly.  Then I phoned Mary Ann. I was slightly hysterical: crying and laughing at the same time.  When I awoke the next morning, I just assumed I had dreamed the whole episode, so I played the message again, and there it was.

Then came the fun of having to compose a short bio of myself:  "Eya lives in Toronto.  She enjoys ironing.  She has terrific friends."  Then I needed a photo of myself.  My good friend Crystal sprang into action and came right over with her camera.  She took a whole lot of very professional photos of me.  I'm so glad I didn't submit that 'selfie' I was planning on using.  She made me look like my best self.  She's an excellent  friend that way.

So this summer, The Bath Lottery will appear in Prairie Fire.  Then there's all the other things: the prize money, the publication money, the book tour (only joking about that bit) and sharing with all my friends the excitement of this total coup de foudre.   Here's my picture, as it appears on the Prairie Fire Press website.  I've realized that The Bath Lottery will never be a play.  Not enough dialogue, too many scene changes.  But it's done, and I imagine when summer comes I'll be feeling pretty chuffed.


Monday, October 23, 2017

IMAGINE PEACE

This year I decided I'd like to return to Iceland in October, to attend the annual lighting of the John Lennon "Imagine Peace" memorial on Viðey Island, very close to Reykjavik. The memorial was 10 years old, and John Lennon and Ivaan share a birthday, October 9th, so I felt this was a significant year to attend.

I've been to Iceland many times, but never this late in the season, and never twice in one year.  I'd also never been there alone, so I was looking forward to the adventure. I decided to stay in an expensive hotel instead of the bare-bones apartment I normally occupy in a very old house. Frankly, next time I'll stay in the bare-bones apartment, but that's another story!

Yoko Ono chose Iceland for the location of the Imagine Peace memorial because it is a country without an army, and because there is so little pollution that the blue light from the memorial shines straight up into the heavens. Every year, she attends for the lighting. As she's becoming frail,  and the weather was cool and rainy, this time she opted to stay at the Reykjavik Art Museum, on the mainland just across the harbour from Viðey Island, and to appear at the lighting by video link. At five-thirty p.m. on October 8th, public transportation is free of charge in Reykjavik, in honour of John Lennon's birthday.  This includes Gestúr, the ferry to Viðey Island.  Special buses took us right to the ferry docks.  We climbed aboard and headed for Viðey.






We wrote messages of peace on paper tags and hung them on the branches of trees that were collected in bunches for this purpose.

Food and hot drinks were available. We listened to music by John Lennon.  We attended the tiny Lutheran church on Viðey Island.

When nine o'clock came, we were all assembled around the Imagine Peace Memorial, a white marble cylinder bearing the inscription IMAGINE PEACE in 24 different languages.  A beautiful women's choir sang a gorgeous rendition of John Lennon's song Imagine, and you couldn't tell if we were crying or not because it had started to rain.  I had a good umbrella with me so I was protected, but  still it was very cold.

There were about a thousand people on hand from all over the world.  Babies.  Elderly people. Young people. Couples.  Families. Individuals.  We didn't all speak the same language, except the language of peace.  We all spoke that.

It was a great week for me.  The weather improved day by day, until the day I left when it was basically sunbathing weather.  Icelanders were thrilled.  Other highlights of the trip were visiting the Art Museum and Háskólann Í Reykjavík: Reykjavik University.  It is modelled on the Star Wars X Wing Fighter.



It's a small, brilliant university and I wish I'd had more time to explore it (and the geothermal beach next door). The various corridors are named after planets in our solar system:



This working Formula One car is a class project by the Mechanical Engineering students.

 I also slept a surprising amount, ate very well, and had plenty of time to think - something you can't always do when you're playing tour guide.

Each time I visit Iceland, I come away with a few new words and expressions in Icelandic, and I am amazed how many similarities there are between Icelandic and Russian, both in grammatical structure and in actual words.  Iceland is becoming increasingly expensive.  The locals tell me they can't afford the restaurants and clothing shops frequented by tourists.  One bus driver told me that it's cheaper for him to fly to Germany and buy clothes than it is to buy them on Laugavegur, the shopping street, or at Kringlán, the little shopping mall.

My purchases were simple this time:  Icelandic liquorice as gifts for liquorice-loving friends and relatives, an Art Museum t-shirt for my Reykjavik-loving nephew, and a brand new vintage suit for myself from Rauđi Kross, the Icelandic Red Cross thrift shop.

I came back feeling light and free, energized and happy.  And I felt that for one night, I had been among totally kindred souls.  I could, in fact, imagine peace.


"RING" AUDIO: THE STORY OF MY VINTAGE STEREO

About a year ago, I started to miss listening to my small but excellent vinyl record collection, so I decided to invest in a fully restored vintage stereo system.  Naturally, I went to Ring Audio. I'd worked part time at Ring Audio in the mid 1970s and I liked the equipment from that era. Ring Audio is no longer in the original location, nor is it owned by the original proprietors, but the current owners were part of the Ring Audio community back in the 1970s.  Ted Syperek and his son, Nick, now run it out of a warehouse at the foot of Carlaw Avenue.

I emailed Nick (honestly, I remember when that kid was born, and he's now a married man) and told him what I wanted.  He said he'd look after it, but it might take some time.  It did. It took so long that Nick went to Korea on his honeymoon before I had my stereo.  So I exchanged a few phone calls with his dad, Ted, and one fine day Ted called to say he had an admirable system put together for me.  It was exactly what I wanted: a Dual turntable, Boston speakers and a Luxman receiver...all at a substantially discounted price. I was so excited, I rented a car and drove right out to pick it up.

Luckily, I remembered how to hook those things up.  But it didn't feel quite complete so I looked on Kijiji and found a Harmon Kardon CD player for sale that would blend in well with the system.  I now have an awesome sound system. I was so thrilled with it, I invited Ted to let me return the favour by providing a piece of jewellery, as a thank you.

So Ted and his beloved, Victoria, came over.  It's a miracle that she and I hadn't met before.  She owns a vintage clothing and accessories shop called Gadabout, and we've been at many of the same vintage clothing shows. We know quite a few people in common.  So Victoria tried various things and finally selected a pendant for herself.  It looks terrific on her.  Then she mentioned that she has quite a few good gemstones and has always wanted to have them all set in a ring.  So she looked through the inventory of Ivaan's rings and was very drawn to one in particular.  Oddly, that ring and my stereo system are the same vintage exactly.  She brought me her gemstones and I made up the ring in white gold. It ended up looking spectacular, partly because her diamonds were absolutely terrific.

 Every time I turn on my stereo, I think of Ted and Victoria and her ring, and I do a little dance of joy, because I am so lucky.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED

This is what the City of Toronto installed yesterday.  Two of them, one at each end of Ivaan Kotulsky Lane.  Just in time for Yom Kippur and his birthday.    I like to think Ivaan would be a bit proud of himself today.


Friday, September 22, 2017

THE KEY TO HER HEART

If you've been reading the blog for a while, you may remember the story of Nik and Connie and the very unusual ring by Ivaan that  they bought  in an antique store in Cambridge, Ontario. Connie did a bit of research on the ring and managed to locate me. She emailed me to tell me about her find, and I arranged to have her send me the ring so that I could do some work on it and return it to its former  glory.

It was very exciting getting to meet them and their beautiful daughter, Lola. when they came to pick up the newly restored ring. Nik and Connie own a vintage clothing and accessories store in Hamilton, Ontario, called Vintage Soul Geek. I immediately liked all of them very much.

While they were visiting me, they had a chance to poke around in our display cases, and Connie was particularly taken with a sterling silver one-of-one bracelet by Ivaan. It's a remarkable bracelet.  And I confess it's a bracelet I often worry about, because it's so unusual I wouldn't want it to fall into the wrong hands. Here's a picture.



It requires a key to unlock the bracelet which, as you can see, is one side of a handcuff. If the wrong person wore the bracelet and lost the key, they might panic and be tempted to destroy the bracelet in an attempt to get out of it.

Recently I received a message from Nik asking me if I still had the bracelet and if there was any way I would consider parting with it. He said that Connie was so enamoured of the bracelet, she mentioned it probably once a week.  As it turned out, Connie's birthday falls at the end of September, and Nik was hoping to surprise her with the handcuff bracelet.

I suddenly realized that this is exactly where the handcufff bracelet was meant to be all along, but I explained to Nik that I would be anxious if they took it with only one key. I asked if he could wait long enough for me to make a duplicate key,  in order to ensure that there was one on standby just in case the original ever got lost. Luckily, that seemed eminently sensible to Nik as well, and last week I cast a spare key.

This evening  I polished the handcuff bracelet for the very last time, because Nik, Connie and Lola are coming to pick it up on Sunday. I'm thinking of putting the duplicate key on a leather cord that Nik can wear around his neck just in case of emergency.  He already knows he has the key to her heart, but an extra one, just for insurance, will never go amiss.





Friday, September 15, 2017

HARVEST HOME

This has been such a transitional year, both for me and for Atelier Ivaan. After five years on Dupont Street, I thought I'd pretty well learned everything I needed to know.  I love my Dupont neighbourhood, which is a perfect mix of commercial, residential and industrial.  I've got good neighbours and so many things that are now part of my life are virtually on my doorstep.

So the opportunity to undertake an intensive research term at the university during May and June felt risky.  I'd be away from the store during
wedding ring season, and I didn't know how long it would take for business to bounce back once my research ended. Yet I felt if I passed up the opportunity to do something entirely different, I'd regret it.  So I plunged in and applied to work on the research project. In fact, I enjoyed my research into vintage Italian films so much, I'd cheerfully do the term all over again if I had the chance.  All round, it was the best experience, and it was a breath of fresh air in my life.

I also rededicated myself to piano lessons.  I'd let it languish a bit since I moved to this location and I knew I was at a crossroads.  Either I recommitted to lessons and daily practice, or I knew I'd have to give it up for good.  And, if I gave it up, I would force myself to sell my beautiful piano, because it takes up a lot of space in the store. And, at the exact moment when I needed to make a decision, I met a musician who lives in my neighbourhood and who teaches piano.  Right away I liked him a lot, and as he lives literally a five-minute walk from me, there was no necessity to weigh the pros and cons.  So I'm a piano student again, and loving it as much as ever.

This month, I've completed two years of volunteering at a palliative care hospice.  At first, I was a bit anxious about taking on any role there, so I cycled through the training for different volunteer roles and now I'm perfectly comfortable doing pretty well anything there.  I've done some plumbing, I've sung, I've played the piano, I've cooked a thousand meals, fed residents, been present at the end of dozens of residents' lives,  comforted their families, done mountains of laundry, handled the reception desk, washed a million dishes, and made many friends among my volunteer colleagues.

Last month I reached another milestone, when I became older than Ivaan was at the end of his life.  The months leading up to it were surprisingly difficult. I had to accept that without Ivaan in my life, I have only myself to rely on, not just physically, but emotionally and in every other way.  I've always been the family 'fixer': the person other people look to when they need help, not someone who ever turns to other people when I need support.  The only person I could trust was myself.  I could no longer even bring myself to visit the cemetery, I was so unnerved.  And the cemetery is somewhere I normally go when I feel I need comfort.

Another huge milestone occurred earlier this year, in a roundabout fashion.  A couple of years ago,  I'd met a woman who, among many artistic talents, has been a solo farmer for decades.  We're not just talking about a little vegetable garden here.  We're talking about a 100 foot square vegetable garden, a front field of buckwheat, 50 acres of hay, a tractor, a forest, a lake. We're talking about 123 acres.  I'd hear her talking about seed catalogues and splitting firewood, as if these were everyday occurrences.  Some things she said really resonated with me. These included, "I live within my means", and "When I read seed catalogues, I'm actually grocery shopping for the next year".  Sometimes she'd come over with a box of organic vegetables she'd grown: the entire makings of a pot of vegetable soup, for example.  Squash. Garlic. Rhubarb.  Once she came over with a Welsh onion plant.  I'd been experimenting growing organic ginger in a pot in the shop window, but I actually have a black thumb and there is no plant I cannot kill.  She assured me Welsh onions would be quite hard to kill.
The ginger I haven't killed yet.
Now, my building is an odd building, in that it occupies the entire lot on which it is located.  There is no back yard, no front yard, no side yard, no balcony or deck.  And for five years that never bothered me at all.  But one day, I thought, it might be nice to have some outdoor space.  So I had a roof access hatch installed on my kitchen ceiling.  It comes with a folding staircase so I can open the hatch and go out onto my flat roof any time I want. Once I was on the flat roof, I thought I'd move the ginger and onions up there.
Onions are easy to grow, I'm told.
I added basil.  Then I bought pots and organic soil and I decided I'd plant some cloves of the spectacular garlic grown by this woman, and see what happened.  I added heirloom tomatoes, mint, parsley, and then I thought I'd like to grow potatoes.  I didn't think my chances were good, but I figured since it was on the roof, no one would know, and when I failed miserably, I wouldn't have to tell anyone.

I planted garlic cloves on July 6th.  By July 13th, the plants were already four inches high.  They were so healthy, it was astonishing. I bought small organic potatoes and they took so long to sprout, I eventually just stuck them into the pots of soil and expected them to rot or something.  It took weeks, but eventually green leaves appeared and then they took off so quickly I could hardly believe it.   I started photographing my tiny container garden to record my progress, still expecting crop failure any second.  But since it was on the roof, the normal creatures that attack gardens - raccoons, squirrels, potato beetles, etc.,  - were notably absent.  I bought a chaise longue so I could lie out on the roof and commune with nature.

One day last week I became curious, stuck my finger deep into the soil beside one of my garlic plants, and felt something round in the soil.  A week later, the round thing was bigger, so I dug it up and it was an actual head of garlic - not divided into cloves, just one giant round garlic clove.  I hung it upside down - like a bat - in the basement to cure.
Newly harvested garlic


Last evening, I stuck my finger into the soil beside the largest potato plant.  I could feel round things down there as well, so I pulled the entire plant up and was rewarded with 8 potatoes of varying sizes.  I'm embarrassed to say I'm from potato country in Scotland and I never even knew what a potato plant looked like.

Now I'm having a new roof and a railing installed around the perimeter, so I decided this morning was harvest time.  I could have waited another couple of weeks,  but I want my new roof to be in place in time for me to plant next year's garlic crop.  So I harvested dozens of potatoes, eight heads of garlic, several chunks of ginger root, the two ripe tomatoes, and some basil. I sorted the potatoes.  I cooked some of the larger ones for lunch and set aside 41 of the smallest potatoes for planting as seed potatoes in the spring.  That means I'll have 41 potato plants.  If I plant early and let them grow longer, I can perhaps expect 8 potatoes per plant - some for 'putting by' (that's farmer talk) for winter, some as seed potatoes for the following year's planting.

Next year I plan to add a beehive to my little farming operation. But today when lunch was a bowl of boiled potatoes that were in the ground yesterday, I just felt I had stretched and grown in unexpected directions this year.  Kind of like my vegetables.  My goal for next year is to be able to say to myself, without laughing, "I grow my own food."
Me, my potatoes and garlic.