Archive for April, 2007

Tutti Frutti…

April 30, 2007

Regular as clockwork, Herr Kropatschek arrived every week-day evening precisely at 7 o’clock. At the apartment door, he doffed his bowler, muffler and formal dark overcoat, handed them to Mother, bowed to her and then made his way to the waiting room cautiously measuring out his stride with the aid of his silver-headed cane. There would be Ildiko and I, carefully combed and cleaned up, waiting with our pencils and notebooks for our daily half-hour German lesson.

Herr Kropatschek always greeted us with a courtly bow, inquiring solicitously about our day and how it had progressed so far. This  he did so in German, wonderfully enunciated and precise, slowly stated so we would be able to keep up to what he was saying.  He then settled himself with great ceremony, placing a small cloth bag at his side and clasping his gnarled mobile hands in front of him. Everything about this man hinted at great restraint and patience; his dress was sober and clean, if a little too-well worn at the wrists and elbows; his hair, precisely parted on the left side, very thin and grey, was slicked down with care; his mustache was perfectly trimmed and it operated as an eyebrow above his lips, punctuating the expression and never, ever, twitchy or nervous; his kindly faded brown eyes fixed on us, interested, as if we were some curiously fascinating specimens.  I was completely mesmerized by this gentleman, so obviously of a disappeared old-school, by his lofty mannerisms and dignified bearing.  He was the closest Ildiko and I knew of a grandfather-figure, as both our Grandfathers had died either in World War I or World War II.

Herr Kropatschek pointed one wizened finger toward Ildiko and said, “Du bist eine blume!” She looked stunned for a moment, glanced aside at me, then back to Herr K., pointed to him, saying back, “Du bist eine blume!” I just shrugged and looked confusedly from one to the other, and waited for these utterances to be made clear. Herr K. wrote on a slip of paper “Du bist eine blume” and illustrated under the word “blume” with a scratchy drawing of what could be taken for a flower. Now this meaning became clear as we copied the sentence in our workbooks. “Du bist..” you are, “eine”.. one, a, and “blume”.. flower. We spent a considerable amount of time pointing at each other and announcing our mutual floral state. Then Herr K, satisfied with our pronounciation and spelling, pulled the cloth bag in front of himself, extracted two colour-waxed paper wrapped candies and offered them to us. Ildiko always took the orange flavoured one, leaving me with the lemon – these Tutti Frutti gummies were a delicious enticement for us to pay close attention to Herr K.

The rest of the lesson involved repeating the names different kinds of flowers, and things to do with flowers, which certainly must have been a bit boring for Herr K, as he wasn’t a particularly frivolous man.  But he did have an amazing quirky character!

He continued on this floral theme for this lesson. He stood straight up and with great flourish whipped his white handkerchief from his breast pocket. This he tucked down into one hand so the corners fanned out like flower petals, did an  swift about face toward Ildiko, clicked his heels together and bowing toward her offered her this flower, in his best ancient suitor imitation saying “Bitte, Fraulein Ildiko.” She simpered, in what to me looked to be excessively overcome fashion, batted her eyelashes, jumped up to curtsy and taking the “flower” in both her hands, replied. “Danke schon, Herr Kropatschek.  She sniffed dramatically at this bouquet, with a rather gratified air.

Next, Herr K. repeated this posy presentation with me in the same gentlemanly form.  I really like the klicking of heels together, then the bow, because none of the boys I knew had this move down so well, in fact they probably did not know of it as something which pleased young girls and women! “Danke schon, Herr Kropatschek”, I repeated dutifully, whereupon I proceeded to sniff away at the “flower”.  Unfortunately the handkerchief had a musty, moth-ball scent which made my nose itch, my throat clench together and I inadvertently let slip out a “pfuie”. Taken aback by this comment, Herr K grasped his gnarled hand to his breast  and slumped into his chair like an unstringed marionette. He placed his elbows on the table and lowered his head onto his forearms and piteously moaned out “Herr Kropatschek ist gestorben!”

“You killed Herr K.” accused Ildiko, ” now what will we do?”  I peered under his chin and noticed his nose hairs quivering, and this obviously meant that he was not quite dead and still breathing.  I touched his shoulder and offered the magic words “Linzertorte, Herr K? Coffee?” “Bitte, Fraulein Gabi” he breathed out.  I ran out to the kitchen and announced to Mother, “Herr Kropatschek ist gestorben!  But he will have some coffee and a slice of Linzertorte, he says.”

Mother was fond of Herr K, and much amused by the unexpected fun he injected into our German lessons.  She organized the coffee and cake slices and brought them in to revive Herr Kropatschek.  She found us sitting, waiting at the table as he handed around the cloth bag of Tutti Frutti for us to select several pieces for ourselves.  Ildiko and I loved the Tutti Frutti flavours, and Herr K really relished a good slice of Linzertorte, his favourite cake.

Back under the knife… again

April 28, 2007

This past Wednesday, I went for emergency surgery on the original surgery which was infected. But, so far, two days later, things are going all right. Lots of oral and topical anti-biotics administered frequently during the day. Visits back and forth to the hospital every other day. Friends and family have been remarkably patient through all the drivings to appointments, picking up meds and dropping off meals for “Rumpole” who is very exhausted by all the goings on. “Renaissance Man” and “Glasgow Girl” have been wonderful help to us.  “Mousey” is completely fascinated by my very large and apple-red left eye, and is being uncharacteristically gentle with me – leans her little head softly against my breast and doesn’t rough me up at all.

Thanks to all of you for the many encouraging messages – they help a great deal!  G

Surgery update…

April 23, 2007

Hi all…. am most grateful for your many well wishes for the recovery.  Surgeon thinks the operation went well, but won’t be able to tell for 8 more days. The eye is badly swollen, to be expected, and I am not operating at any good speed at all – can’t read for too long, can’t drive, no depth perception. it will take up to 6 weeks to get eye function back on operated eye, so audio books and music are the daily mainstays.  getting good loving care from friends and family.  but yay, i did manage to type this, and will keep reading all your blogs. 🙂  Cheers! G

Yech… green light for the operation!

April 19, 2007

Maria just called from the retinologist’s office – the operation is on for tomorrow morning at 9 am. (She tells me this at 5 o’clock in the afternoon today. This is most offputting as yesterday she called and set the date for coming Tuesday morning, so I rearranged teaching schedule for the next 5 days, and now that has to be re-arranged, yet again!)

I so dread this operation. The thought of having my eyeball cut into is most distressing and quite disgusting to even contemplate.  The surgeon is a tall man with really big hands – might he have  a dextrous and delicate touch?  But I must not obsess about this – what will happen will happen!

The good news is even though “Rumpole” cannot drive me to the hospital, as he has a court date in the valley, in the opposite direction from the big downtown hospital where the surgery is to be, my neighbour will drive me there.  He is a respiratory tech whose shift begins at 7 am at this hospital, a considerable drive from our neighbourhood. So, door to door service is nice, not to be sneered at!  This is certainly a better and more convenient way to travel to an operation than for someone who lives in a country where medical resources are scarce or may be difficult to access. I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a place rich in medical services, and in which these services are financially possible to receive due to universal health insurance!

At the end of his workday, “Renaissance Man” will commute with me back home tomorrow.  During the drive home, I can  practice being a piratical, jaunty older woman, with my temporary eye-patch, and get caught up with current happenings with “RM’s” life.

Ki kopog…(who is knocking)?

April 18, 2007

We are busying ourselves to not think about the possibility of bombing tonight.  By lamplight shining on to her hands, Mother is seated in the green velvet armchair knitting the back of a sweater for Father.  Her lips move, in silence, to keep count of her row; her practiced fingers dance as the yarn passes on to the needles.  Father hunches near the turntable, an open score spread out on his lap, and follows along Saint-Saens’ “Rondo capriccioso” with one finger moving along on the sheet while the other waves to keep to the tempo. This is his favourite violin piece, one which he has been working hard to master. He knows his record well, the melody – whenever he returns the needle to a part with which he has difficulty in playing, he has an uncanny ability to put the needle back near the correct spot on the record. Ildiko is engaged in taking out duplicates from her stamp collection’s album pages; she has plans to trade stamps with Karolyka the next day. I have spread out my treasured paper napkin collection on the dining-room table so I can order them in some sort of arrangement that might make sense when comparing them.  This is problematic for me. Do the napkins become ranked by colour, complexity of surface patterns or by the nature of the edges, whether simple or fanciful in design?

The music weaves around us all as we are engrossed in our private passions. No air raid sirens disturb our concentration, and yet, we expect them to sound at any time this night. Time passes.  We are not going to bed early this evening. Our routines have been thoroughly disrupted by recent events, though there are efforts to retain some semblance of normalcy,  to maintain calm.

Suddenly, frantic knocking, rapping and banging sounds impinge on our consciousness.  Distracted, we glance at each other with quizzical expressions. It is late in the evening and no visitors are expected.  Who could this be, why is our quiet disrupted tonight?

Father rises to his feet as Mother, suddenly fearful, jumps up and starts to run into the hallway. We hear her question, “Who is it?” and muffled tones of a man’s excited voice. She walks back into the front room and beckons to Father to come. “It is someone for you, Bela.” He leaves the record playing and walks out to the front door.  Ildiko and I trail after Mother to see who has arrived so unexpectedly.

We watch as Father shepherds an older grey-haired man in drab brown work-clothes and a very young man, dirty and disheveled into his surgery. The young man is limping and seems very pale.  Father calls Mother to also come inside the surgery.  The door closes on them, leaving Ildiko and me in the hallway. We wait, but while doing so we have our ears pressed up against the door to better hear the conversation we have been shut out from.  Fragments of the exchange filter through, enough so we learn that the young man was shot in the buttocks while engaged in a raid on the local AVO who had been armed and hiding out in the station on Stalin Utca, toward the edge of town.

Mother comes out of the surgery and shoos us into the living room while explaining that Father has to perform some surgery on the young man and once repaired, the young man would stay the night in the maid’s room off the kitchen. She bustles off to prepare the bed. I get this sinking feeling in my stomach, knowing full well that she will find the mattress and blankets missing. Ildiko is completely in the dark about this!  The mattress and blankets are in the basement where I had dragged them earlier in the day.

Mother returns in what seems like no time at all. She beards us with the question “What happened to the mattress and bedding in the room?”  I have no choice but offer an explanation as to why these missing items were essential to be moved to the basement, particularly on this day. “Come with me! You have to help bring them back upstairs” she ordered.

Mother marches me to the elevator. On the way down to the basement she says nothing to me, won’t look at me.  (I sense a scene brewing!) Once there, she flicks the light on and scans the empty spaces. In the far corner lie the two mattresses, made up into tidy beds. The coils of sausage, round of cheese and loaves of bread are piled on the brick pallet nearby. The water jugs stand like obese sentinels, one near each “bed”. “Who arranged all this?” she quizzes. Blubbering, I manage to get out the whole story.  Mother shakes her head and smooths my hair with her hands.

“I don’t think there will be an air raid tonight” she says softly. “Come on, help me drag these to the lift. We’ll take them upstairs and you can help me make up the bed for the young man.”

“What about the rest of this stuff?” I ask.

“They can stay down here tonight.  Tomorrow I will deal with it all” Mother suggests.

A while later, after we replace the mattress in our maid’s room and make up the bed with sheets, Mother leads the young man in and bids him goodnight. She sends Ildiko and me to prepare for bed.

We wash up, change into pajamas, creep into our beds and wait for father and Mother to tuck us in and say good night.  Mother sits beside me and strokes my hair.  She looks quite pleased. Father kisses me and tells me I was a kind and thoughtful girl, and that my friends were good kids.  We had done the right thing, he says. 

“Don’t worry and sleep well” they say as they flick off the light.

From the dark on the other side of the room issue Ildiko’s questions – “What was all that about? What did you do that pleased Mother and Father for once?” 


April 17, 2007

As I write, now, I was supposed to be travelling en route to Mt. St. Joseph’s Hospital where sometime this morning my left eye was to be operated upon. Cancelled yet again, this surgery was supposed to happen on two separate occasions during the past two weeks. “Rumpole”, “Renaissance Man”, “Glasgow Girl” and numerous friends are beginning to show signs of getting fed up with “Driving Stepford Wife”, me, about the neighbourhood to shop for groceries, run errands or go to the library.  Surely these people must be really annoyed at the constant questions from me about things which are very clear for them to see, but for me exist in a strange underwatery blur. But they are a much giving lot, loving and supportive!

This morning’s “The New York Times” online, has a small article about artists and failing vision – “A new look at Impressionists’ failing vision.”  Monet and Degas suffered from failing vision in later life; this has been documented and much discussed vis a vis the changes in their late paintings’ stylistic changes. A link to the American Journal of Opthalmology, where is a new study of the vision of these two painters, was impossible to access. Only people with a medical number have access to this article, which is too bad, as it would prove most interesting and instructive!

There are three reproductions of woman at her toilette, by Degas, accompanying the article today.  Most interesting to me is the middle and last illustration, which purports to show how Degas may have seen the image which he painted in loose style with pastels.  This is eeriely similar to how I see with my coke-bottle thick glasses. Only the colours are much more clear than those which I see, which are much greyed as if seen through an occluding filter.  I have retinal problems, like Degas had, with the added complication of cataracts – so fuzzy form and changed colour characterizes the world I move through.

This is not altogether bad. The compensation is an organic blurring of hard corners and edges during daytime, and  wonderful jewel-like auras around lights at night. An effect this has on physical movement through my world is to slow me down, to move as if labouring through  water’s resistance.  This is an eerie, beautiful experience, one to be savoured as long as it lasts.  For, who knows what will be the changes to be accommodated to, in the aftermath of my (I hope soon) surgery?

Caryatids with teeth…

April 15, 2007

Picture, if you will, a building like the Erechteion, where a decorous row of demure, gowned maidens bear the weight of the entablature at the tops of their heads.

The other evening, during our visit with “Mousey”, “Glasgow Girl” and “Renaissance Man”, “Rumpole” was much amused to observe “Mousey” standing at the edge of the coffee table, chewing her way along in gay abandon. Right now there is a strip of soft, foamy plastic around the table’s perimeter.  This is there to protect “Mousey” from bashing her head in, due to her numerous falls and mis-steps. This protective rim is something she loves to chew on, as she is teething.

“You should have seen how funny the four baby girls looked, yesterday, as they clung to different edges, each madly chewing away”, said “Glasgow Girl”. Her pre-natal  group has kept in touch after the birth of nine babies. The mothers and babies visit together every Thursday, the moms to discuss their adjustment to their new roles, and the babies to play together, after a fashion. Four of the baby girls are at the crawling and standing-up stage.  According to “Glasgow Girl” they clutched onto the table and chewed away at the edges in unison – a synchronised chewing team, she compared them to.

On the way home after our visit, ” Rumpole” and I had a good laugh together, after I jokingly mentioned that some contemporary sculptor should make a new model version of the Erechteion on which diapered baby girls hold up the entablature by their hands while chewing along the edges with their teeth and gums.  The new structure could be called “Caryatids with teeth”. A very post-modern riff this would be, I think!

Jupiter and Io…

April 15, 2007

We grew up eating breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks under a number of old paintings. If conversations tended to be limited during meals, due to Father’s insistence on quiet, one could be distracted and occupied by looking up at the paintings. So, often, my gaze would linger on a smallish picture of a naked, zaftig woman embracing and being embraced by a cloud, as she sat, looking languid, her head thrown back in pleasure.

“Who is she?” I asked during one miserable, tense dinner. “Io,” replied Father.

“What is she doing?” I persisted. “Being embraced by Jupiter.” said Father, after swallowing some nokkedli, sauced livid with paprika.

“And is Jupiter a cloud?” I pressed further.

“Eat now,” he cautioned, ” you can look in your book on Greek and Roman myths after supper and find out for yourself.”

So, after dinner, while Mother and Ildiko cleared the table and Father went off into the waiting room to practice his violin, I took the thick book from the bookshelf and searched out Jupiter, then Io, in the index at the end pages. I learned that Jupiter tended to like many different beautiful women, and took different forms to visit and seduce them.  But the Io on our dining room wall was not particularly beautiful to my mind.  She had a dead fish complexion, ripply naked body and ridiculously small feet which didn’t appear to be able to support her bulk if she stood up. Oh well….I thought….she looked a lot like Mrs. Toth, a fattish lady who lounged about naked on the lawn at the naturist camp we visited every summer, and Mrs. Toth, although a blonde, didn’t seem to get much attention from men, unlike Mother who was slimmer and more athletic in build.

Despite not being to my taste as a picture, the little painting was a beautiful object. It had an eerie greenish glow. The surface was covered in many fine hairlike cracks. Finally, one day when I was alone in the dining room, reading, I took it off the wall to get a good close look at it.  The paint surface looked like enamel, very smooth. Overall the colour reminded me of the springtime “nyarfa” tree foliage that could be seen outside our apartment window, tender, soft green. I did not dare run my finger over the front surface, so turned the picture over and gently tapped the back with my finger-nails. A complete surprise, the painting had been made on metal, copper to be precise, that had turned a mottled greenish orange with time.  I was delighted with this discovery, but fearing admonishment if found handling the painting, quickly hung it back up on the wall.

In November 1956, I carried “Jupiter and Io” carefully wrapped in newspapers and string, and a violin, while traversing the stubble field separating the Hungarian and Austrian border. These two objects had been entrusted to me to carry, and I took care not to stumble and fall during our long walk. They were my baggage, to carry to the fugitive laager in Vienna, onto the train that transported us to Genoa for our embarkment on the Ocean-going vessel that was to take us to Canada.  I carried them when we disembarked in Halifax, then on the train to Toronto. Father and Mother knew I loved these two objects and would care for them well.

After some time, our family settled in British Columbia, and “Jupiter and Io” was always hung in our dining room in the various places we moved to.  This wonderful painting was the thread of continuity binding my past to the present and I treasured its reassuring presence.

Many years later, I found out that it was a copy of Correggio’s “Jupiter and Io” on copper. Its provenance was murky, obscured by the chaos of World War II.  I never cared, that it was obscure and an orphan – it held a pervasive grip on my imagination, and still does, even though it and the violin I carried were gifted by Father to a budding young violinist, years later.

I own it in memory, and this gives me great pleasure!


April 14, 2007

Blink in the light, newborn,

follow the aspen shivers,

gaze at its reversal

distorted in a wind-ruffled puddle,

glance at impossible blues

variegated in the chinks between leaves.

Where the crown meets sky

glimpse a tender melting of edges,

note the tree exhale cloud,

cloud taste leaf.

* In 1970, when my son was a newborn, we stayed in a cabin on Pender Island, and I would sit outside under aspen trees and watch him, and the trees, willing him to see the beauty around us, to become a person who really “sees”. I try to remember to see daily with newborn eyes!

Anitra’s Dance…

April 13, 2007

An early overcast morning, at the beginning of November 1956.  Father has gone again, Mother is clearing out breakfast dishes, Ildiko opens up the piano and begins to do scales. I take up “War and Peace” and continue reading, lying on my stomach on the divan.  Eva our maid arrives to make beds, dust and sweep.  Quiet, subdued, she moves around with girlish grace doing her chores.  The light in the room is under-watery, low, peaceful.

Mother comes into the room and announces that Tibi is in the hall asking for me.  She spies the book I am reading, snatches it up, looks at the title. “You are too young to understand this book!” she announces, as she goes to replace it in the bookshelf.  “Go, play with Tibi!”

Tibi and I lie about the steps in the stairwell, exchanging news we have sussed out despite our parents best efforts to keep us in the dark about what is really going on.  That very morning, he had overheard his Father mention to his Mother that our town was most likely going to be bombed the coming evening. We decided to call out Marta and Karolyka to confer with us about what we could do ourselves about this. The four of us met in the main lobby to draw up our plans. We agreed that Ildiko should be kept out of our doings as she was known to rat us out whenever she thought we were doing something the adults would not approve. Marta  and Karolyka were delegated to scrounge up food from their family larders, water in empty wine jugs and sneak these into the basement. Tibi and I were to raid the maids’ rooms off our kitchens and remove matresses and blankets down to the basement via the elevator.  We dispersed to get on with our appointed tasks.

I ran back into our apartment.  Mother was in the kitchen preparing food. I needed to get her out of there. So I sat in the waiting room and deliberated at length as to how I was going to distract her. Through the doorway into the front room filtered the strains of piano music. Ildiko had warmed up and had moved on to playing “Anitra’s Dance”, and it seemed to be rough going for her – she got stuck at the same place over and over again, struggled with the fingering of melody. Aha!

The solution presented itself, rather naturally.  Mother was quite anxious that Ildiko be very competent playing the piano, and could be easily convinced to stand over her making multiple corrections.  So, I casually strolled into the kitchen and mentioned to Mother that Ildiko was having considerable trouble with some passages and needed immediate help. She bustled off to do the piano practice monitoring, and thus left the coast clear for me to move the mattress and blankets from the maid’s room to the lift. I hauled my treasures down to the basement and dragged them into a far corner.

Soon, Tibi arrived with his load of bedding.  We set to making separate family spaces, and made up the “beds”. The elevator disgorged Marta.  She was wearing several necklaces of sausage and had a round of cheese under one arm and a bundle of bread cradled in the other. We found a pile of bricks and made a little pallet to put all the food on. Karolyka descended next and dragged several big jugs of water to the corner.  We were most satisfied with the results of our efforts and lounged about on the mattresses discussing what it might be like to be bombed the coming evening. We imagined our parents being pleasantly surprised that we had the forethought to provide some little comfort for us all while we found ourselves hiding out in the basement. Tibi thought it might be a bit scary to be down there in pitch black, so suggested we go back and steal some candles from our pantries. Karolyka said he would be the music director and distract us all during the long night hours by organizing us kids as an entertainment troupe. We argued about what kinds of songs we could perform, and I  put forward that I knew some disgusting variations on folk-songs which might provide some humour and distraction.  So we practised these in the half-dark basement.

Soon, it was time to go to our apartments and have an afternoon snack, so we dispersed. I let myself quietly into our hallway, hoping to get by Mother without being noticed.  She heard me anyway, came out of the kitchen and scolded me for having misrepresented Ildiko’s difficulties with her practice.  She ordered me to go inside the front room and sit quietly listening to Ildiko practice.

Chastened, but privately pleased with myself, I climbed up on the divan and quietly sat.  Ildiko played “Anitra’s Dance” over and over again.  The sprightly tempo echoed my feelings of pleasure and excitement with having had a part of making a little haven of safety for my family and those of my friends.