Archive for July, 2007

“I Taught Myself to Live Simply” – Anna Akhmatova

July 31, 2007

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,

to look at the sky and pray to God,

and to wander long before evening

to tire my superfluous worries.

When the burdocks rustle in the ravine

and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops

I compose happy verses

about life’s decay, decay and beauty.

I come back. The fluffy cat

licks my palm, purrs so sweetly

and the fire flares bright

on the saw-mill turret by the lake.

Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof

occasionally breaks the silence.

If you knock on my door

I may not even hear.

Written by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889 – 1966)

The First Birthday…

July 29, 2007

It was our grand-daughter Mousey’s first birthday earlier this week.  This afternoon was her party with the older members and friends of the family. As people arrived, she greeted them at the door dressed in her party frock and barefoot.  She hates wearing shoes herself, however she was inordinately fascinated with the pile of shoes left at the door.  I wonder if this means she has not inherited her mother and father’s fondness for shoes? Glasgow Girl must be related to Imelda Marcos: she is some distant shirt-tail Scottish relative of that Philipina politician. Renaissance Man loves shoes of the Fluevog kind – custom made and strangely fashionable looking. So far, their offspring, Mousey shows every indication of preferring to walk about unshod, while at the same time being squeamish about the sensation of different textures on the soles of her bare feet. The young parents express their dismay with this characteristic of their little daughter!

I was pleased to see the innocence with which Mousey considered her pile of gifts. She was most attentive to the varied patterned paper covering them. She paid close attention to the flouncy ribbons hanging from them and occupied herself pulling, stretching, crunching and tasting the multicoloured tendrils while the adults sipped wine and juice and sat chatting. Every so often she came over to me with her arms raised to be picked up, but after a few seconds of lap time she made her little body limp and slid back down to resume fiddling with the ribbons. I had wrapped her gift books in a highly coloured cat wrapping paper. Mousey studied the multi-coloured cat heads on the package, pointing to each and repeatedly uttering “kitty, kitty…”. She took this around with her to Rumpole and pointed out the kitties to him.  The old softie was completely charmed by this!

Came time to open cards and presents.  She wasn’t sure what to do, but once the cards were uncovered she took them one by one to her mother and dropped them in her lap. She opened the present of a soft, funny sheep with mirrors on the bottom of its feet and plopped herself down on it and rolled around in a completely undignified fashion.  Then she dragged it over to Rumpole and unceremoniously dumped it at his feet. Her aunt and cousin gave her horsey rain gear covered in galloping yellow ponies – a pink slicker with hood, pink rubber Wellies and umbrella. (This was a smart gift as it rains a great deal in our part of the world!) Mousey stood under the open umbrella, pointed to the ponies and repeatedly called out “Kitty, Kitty…”. Her aunt put the Wellies on her feet; she was having no part of footwear and kicked them off. (Come the winter rains, surely she will deign to wear them?)

She ignored the set of giant legos, but Rumpole and I busied ourselves constructing a tower that looked like a Jenga tower with blocks pulled out from it. “Cool!” said our niece, Mousey’s cousin. We decided that Jenga was going to be a good gift for Mousey later on, one we could all play together.

Mousey lost interest in the gifts and wandered off to the buffet, from where she snagged a piece of broccoli. She meandered around chewing on this, but didn’t make great headway in eating it with her five teeth. She followed her cousin about, fascinated by this other shorter person in the group.  They see each other so seldom, so she was completely taken with her.

As far as birthday parties go, this was a short one. After something to drink and a quick cruise around the buffet inhaling crudites, brie, crackers and fruit,  the adults decided, en mass, to leave.  We drove to our house to recuperate from the festivities with strong cups of coffee.  We sat, wilted, around the kitchen table and shared the fact that most of us may have only had one birthday party as children – and that these days children’s birthday parties are both ubiquitous and de rigeur. And excessive!

Personal colour…

July 26, 2007

Ten years ago Prissy German Tourist and I audited an experimental painting course at a nearby college. We loaded up his van three times a week with piles of gear and materials and drove the 30 or so kilometers for our afternoon studio sessions. I had the dubious honour of being the oldest person in the studio and the students gave me wide berth.

We always arrived about an hour early in order to be able to carve out our own working spaces, array our supplies and ready work surfaces. PGT always prepared his colours at home. He decanted colours from off-tints  he bought at paint stores and put them in squeeze bottles.  In a previous incarnation he had been a commercial illustrator/designer and had defined his personal colour palette from his close knowledge of the Pantone colour system. He favoured clear pastel colours, both warms and cools and juxtaposed them with greyed colours which I associated with persistent depression. All of his work demonstrated a frayed, slightly morbid colouration, but could he ever strike a strongly individual temperature and mood in his use of colours. At the end of studio sessions, while we all walked about looking at each other’s productions, his work would be striking for its amazing colour pallette.

My own work tended toward the highly saturated, with jarring contrasts. I rarely used blue, red or yellow, and my colour preference leaned toward the secondary and tertiary colour combinations. I like modifying colours with their complementaries. The grey scale held its particular attractions for me, as well.

The rest of the students in the studio also demonstrated truly individual colour preferences.  Some liked tinkering with colour mixing; others just squeezed colour directly from tubes or ladled from jars and rarely mixed.

Our instructor’s colour pallette preferences remained a mystery to me until I made a visit to his studio downtown, later in the academic year. He never discussed our use of colour in studio during critiques and individual advice sessions, and this I thought very peculiar, given that we all laboured away, individually trying to come to grips with colour as it related to expression of ideas. So visiting this fellows studio proved completely surprising, especially in his personal use of colour in his paintings.  He favoured what I considered mildly adventurous men’s shirt selection colours – the kind that would be arrayed for a spring sale in a men’s clothing store, whisper colours, not outright declarative ones. “You like candy colours, but washed out ones!” I said to him.  But then his paintings were of classical, nubile female nudes, vaguely erotic in a chaste sort of way, painted laboriously with little hint of gesture in the work. “You use a conflicted Catholic palette!” I tentatively ventured.  This comment led to a discussion about temperament, emotional colourings in expression, and how to discover a personally meaningful way of making art for oneself.

Colours to me have the capacity to evoke taste and sound – this may seem weird, but then I also consider sounds to have texture, colour, sheen and weight. There is a term for this tendency to perceive sensory input in an intertwined and not separate manner – synaesthesia.  PGT experiences like this, and so did our college instructor.  I have had many friends who experience colour in this manner.  Over the years, discussing colour with people with this capacity has yielded some poetic descriptions, unusual ways of describing colour sensations.

In the scheme of things, of living in a complex world of strange phenomena and happenings, paying attention to colour expression and potential may seem frivolous to some.  However, it pays to be attentive to how much information colours can reveal. Scientists and doctors glean important information from colours they perceive. Ordinary people do as well discriminate about the ranges of experience frome pleasant to unpleasant, desirable to undesirable, safe to unsafe, based on their association with a range of colours and tones.

Colour is important to me, in that it influences my moods so much and yields so many moments of amazement and surprise.  Life is rich, and even as my abilty to see acutely and with clarity has been so hampered lately, colours retain their powerful presence in my life.

You’ll be sorry…

July 25, 2007

A couple of summers ago while over for supper with us Martha  mentioned that she would like to go on a camping trip with me to Kaleden. Her brother kept his trailer parked in a trailer park that had been carved out of a retired apricot orchard.  Here he would bring his wife and two sons up to camp out a week or two at a time; they rented the camping spot for one month every summer. Martha had the campsite for five days this particular July.  Did I want to go, she asked?

“You’re out of your mind asking G to go camping with you” warned Rumpole as he attacked his steak.  “Martha, you have no idea at all how awful it is to share a sleeping space with her! Be warned -you’ll be sorry!”

With that he launched into a painful description of the last camping trip we had taken together at Cultus Lake, where he had to spend nights sleeping on the deck of the pickup, while I peacefully slept inside our little travel trailer, oblivious to his mounting irritation with my tendency to snore. “Unless we have separate rooms, I will no longer travel with G” he stated. “Even then, it’s like sleeping next door to a hibernating bear.  You cannot imagine how awful her snoring is.”

“So does this mean our romance is over?” I asked, sarcastically, tucking into the Greek salad with gusto.

Martha reassured Rumpole that her brother’s trailer was large and allowed for sleeping at long removes at either end. “Besides which, I sleep like the dead.” she added.

“Well, just be sure to fall asleep before G does.” warned Rumpole. “Anyway, don’t ever say I didn’t warn you, Martha!”

So, off Martha and I drove off on our “Thelma and Louise” road trip. We sang along with the car radio, gawked at unfamiliar terrain, felt the wind whip through our hair (Martha’s car had no airconditioning so open windows were necessary).

We arrived in the early afternoon at the campsite in Kaleden and found the trailer battened down under a couple of mature apricot trees.  They were full of ripe fruit! We unloaded the necessities from the car, checked out the swimming pool at the site, stocked the fridge with our groceries and decided to head to the beach at Kaleden to refresh ourselves.

At early evening, back at the trailer, we cooked dinner on the barbie, set up the lawn chairs to take in the view on the opposite shore and watched the skies darken.

We were quite pooped and decided to turn in relatively early. Martha reminded me to stay awake until I figured she had gone to sleep in the bedroom on the opposite end of the trailer.  No problemo!  I had a good book to read, and  read until quite late, to allow enough time to elapse for Martha to fall into a deep sleep.  I took my glasses off, perched them on the bedside table, shut the light off and drifted into a comfortable sleep.

Came morning, I woke up in a silent, bright and hot front bedroom. I puttered around getting a glass of water from the fridge while getting the coffee ready. Martha’s curtain was open and her bed unoccupied.  Boy, she is an early riser – I mused, as I stepped outside into a hot sunny morning bearing the coffepot and a couple of mugs. I figured she was off having a shower and would appreciate a cup of coffee on her return to the campsite.

The apricots looked ready for picking, so setting down the coffee stuff on the campsite table, I wafted about in my voluminous white cotton nightgown gathering apricots for breakfast. I came upon a blanket swaddled figure scrunched down in the lawnchair and said a cheery hello.  Martha emerged from her blanket cocoon, bleary eyed and looking decidedly displeased.

“Good morning!” I chirped, stretching. “boy, did I ever sleep well!”

“Well,” muttered Martha, “at least one of us slept! I’m sure none of our neighbours did!”

“Have a cup of coffee” I urged. “I promise to sleep outside tonight.”

“Nah, you won’t need to” she replied,”I’ll probably sleep like the dead tonight.”

Except for Martha’s inability to sleep, we managed to get along quite well and did have a lot of fun on our trip. However, on the way home, as we were speeding along the highway, Martha did say she would never admit to Rumpole that she got little sleep on this holiday. “He’ll just say ‘I warned you so!’ and I’ll never hear the end of it.”

I’m not at all surprised that Martha has never again asked me to go on a road/camping trip again. It is a good thing I am getting older with no more prospects for camping trips with anyone – husband, friends, children- for I fear solitary travel is now my lot!

Thinking bloggers? There are many…

July 25, 2007

thinkingbloggerStephen Danko of Steve’s Geneology Blog has tagged me with a Thinking Blogger Award, for which I am pleasantly surprised.

The rules for me to follow now are to nominate 5 blogs which cause me to pause at length and make me think.  Then to post the logo for Thinking Blogger Award, which is at left, due to Stephen’s kind efforts to take me through the method for doing so.  Please check out Steve’s blog, he has set himself a tremendous task in tracking family members.  He also has helped me post the Thinking Blogger Award Logo which you can append to your blog when you nominate five other bloggers.

There are many blogs which are thought provoking and demonstrate the writers do ruminate over things and share their thought processes with readers. My five picks are (order is unimportant!)

1. (Worst)writer – at www.worstwriter.wordpress.com  .  Tommi has a wonderful writing voice, loves manual and electric typewriters and obviously loves the process of writing.  An expatriate, he writes from Germany. He makes me think!

2. Galvanized – at www.galvanized.wordpress.com. This Texan matron, writer and observer thinks keenly about the culture she and her family inhabits. She is wise, socially and politically aware, insatiably curious about many things, spiritual and has a tremendous sense of humour. I look forward to all her posts, as she makes me take closer stock of situations surrounding me, here in Canada.

3.  Joe Felso (ruminations) at www.joefelso.wordpress.com .  This writer is a poet, teacher and artist with a marvellously complex view of the world he inhabits.  He writes thoughfully, with passion, self-deprecation and a marvellous creativity. If many teachers were like him, our children could be considered in wise hands! His poetry has both depth and breadth.

4. My writings : A wide angle view of India at  www.nitawriter.wordpress.com . Nita, a writer and middle aged woman from India provides a comprehensive view of life, manners, economy, education, politics and culture of India – always her writing makes me take stock of my life where I find myself and brings the realization of commonalities with people living geographically far away.  Nita does a tremendous job of situating her India as a globally important country.  i truly value what her writings bring to me.

5. Kay at www.lookingforbeauty.wordpress.com  writes amazing, perceptive and sensitive portrayals of the character and needs of the elderly in their relationship with younger persons.  She has, through her writings, processed her feelings and responses toward her aged mother’s care and decline toward death, and sharing these with us here in blog-land is a benediction.

I hope you enjoy and find useful what you find in the abovementioned blogs.  Please propel the meme forward by nominating your own Thinking Blogger Awards.

Examining a treasure…

July 25, 2007

It is black silk,

some Chinese lady’s old cheongsam fragment.

I run my fingers over a chartreuse pattern

of leaves punctuated by plum blossoms

and scattered golden showers.

The top of the box gives, spongy to the weight

of fingers. My hangnail snags

the cloth, pulls up a hair-like black loop.

An ornate false-gold snap clamps

shut the lid.

The cloth is worn along the bottom edge

near a gold and maroon pavilion, where

sitting lovers should be, but are not.

A scent memory of grandmother’s vitrine

rises when I press my nose to the bottom.

What is inside?

Pry open the clasp with an awkward thumb.

On the blood-red velvet interior snuggle

two blue balls with yellow Happy faces.

Goosey, Goosey, Gander…

July 23, 2007

On a sunny Easter Sunday, Ildiko and I took the long route home from Easter Mass, along the walkway lining the Raba River. From time to time we climbed off the path and worked our way through the sedges and reeds and peered through at the wet glisten of the slow-moving  waters. Our coats caught on the vegetation; our shoes picked up a layer of clayey mud.  We were in no hurry, happy to linger in the Spring sunshine.  Ildiko was ten years old; I was eight.

At the aparment building door we met up with old Mr. Weiss, our neighbour across the hall on the fourth floor. Dressed in a dark overcoat and formal hat, he was on his way to take his walk in the park across from our building, something he did every day, without fail. “Coming  from church, girls?” he asked, holding the heavy door open for us. ” I saw your father going out a few minutes ago. He said he had a surprise to bring home for you!”

“Apu probably had to visit a patient.  I know of no surprises for us.” replied Ildiko.

I also knew nothing to get excited about.  We were simply going to climb upstairs and have lunch waiting for us. We had eaten nothing since the night before, because if one was to take communion at Mass, one had to have an empty stomach. Mine was growling and I was quite ready for something to eat.

We walked up the four flights to our apartment and discussed how lucky old Mr. Weiss was to be a Jew; he probably had eaten a good breakfast this morning. Perhaps, kifli and jam, some sausage and a good cup of coffee.

We rang the door-bell, once at our apartment.  Anyu opened the door and glared at us in dismay.  “How did you two get so messy? You’ve only been to church!” she complained.

Ildiko didn’t look at all awful, except the bow in her hair had become undone and was hanging limp alongside her ear, and her shoes were just a little caked with mud.  I thought I looked pretty good, considering we had whiled away some time climbing through the rushes by the river and my dress was just a little mussed up.  Anyu had us take our shoes off in the entryway and herded us off to our room to get out of our Sunday best.

After changing clothes, Ildiko and I headed to the kitchen to see what we were going to eat for lunch, and maybe snatch a snack or two. “Where has Apu gone? I asked, “will he be eating lunch with us today?”

“He said he’d be back for lunch,” replied Anyu. “he had to run an errand first.”

On her way to set the lunch table Idiko called out, ” I know Apu has a surprise for us!”

Anyu said nothing, she merely continued slicing bread and sausage. I sneaked a sausage end while hanging about watching her.

The door-bell rang. “Go see who it is,” she urged.

I unlocked the door and Apu, looking quite pleased with himself, carrying a large woven basket, hurried inside the vestibule.  The basket was making little rustling sounds. “Go get your sister, Gabi” he said, ” I have something here for the two of you.”

Excited, I dashed through the waiting room, into the salon and yelled at Ildiko.  “Come on!  Apu has a surprise for us!”

She scurried after me and we milled around Apu, and tried to guess what was in the basket.  Anyu came out of the kitchen and watched us.  With a flourish Apu lifted the lid from the basket and placed the surprise on the ground.  Inside were two fuzzy yellowish birds making soft meeping sounds.

“Oh, baby ducks? Can I pick one up?” I cooed. “Which one is mine?”

“Silly!  Can’t you tell they are baby geese?” Ildiko corrected.  “Because I am older than you, the larger one is mine!”

“Bela? Where are these geese going to live?” demanded Anyu.  (This was a really good question, because geese didn’t normally live in apartments.)

“Oh, well, they will live in the waiting room.  The girls will feed and water them and clean up after them.” Apu stated, looking very satisfied with the reception with which his surprise had met. He had not factored in Anyu’s disapproval!

Ildiko and I promised that the geese would be no trouble at all.  And we were good to our word. I named my goose Lidia; Ildiko called hers Jolanta. We moved furniture around in the waiting room to give the geese a larger place to roam, and put down some papers for them to poop onto.  They each had personal dishes to eat and drink from, only they were not very good at knowing which bowl was whose.  We found out that geese are hard to train, had strong minds of their own and didn’t quiet down at night. The poor baby geese were most likely exhausted from our attentions.

Daily we would greet the geese in their room.  The room began to smell, and Anyu insisted we keep the poop cleaned up.  Geese poop a whole lot; all the time, practically. Patients who visited the surgery at home, and had to wait in the waiting room for their turn to see Apu, were not terribly keen to be sharing the room with baby geese.

Whenever we arrived home from school, we had to clean the waiting room floors, and Anyu would insist we take the geese out for walks around the park. (This was to help waiting patients be less irritated by the presence of these fast growing babies!) So we dressed the geese in baby clothes, tied a soft shoelace lightly around their necks for a leash and carried them down four flights of stairs. Outside we tried to walk them across the road to the park.  Baby geese don’t walk on a leash too well, so we strolled around in rather disorganized fashion.

Our friends were intensely jealous of our pets.  They negotiated to take their turns trying to walk the geese.  I decided to charge a filler for friends to walk Lidia. Ildiko was disgusted by this and tattled on me to Anyu, who also seemed to disapprove of my capitalist tendencies.

Ildiko was extremely proud of Jolanta.  She was larger, smarter and nicer than my Lidia. She also looked a lot better in baby clothes.  In my opinion, she pooped more and smelled worse than Lidia. Jolanta was allowed to ride in our baby buggy.  My poor Lidia had to walk everywhere!  “Older children are more important!” reminded smug Ildiko.

We did an awful lot of cleaning up after the geese.  And they rapidly grew and started to go through an awkward teen-age phase.  Anyu was beside herself with how smelly the waiting room became and ordered Apu to find a foster home for them. Lidia and Jolanta were readied to leave the apartment. After tolerating our teary goodbyes, Apu whisked them away, but not before explaining to us that we were to walk to the nearby village every day in the summertime, pick bagsful of thistles for our pets and take them to the fostering farm-wife.

So every day, Ildiko and I would cross the railway tracks, pick thistles to put into large bags and take them to the farm a couple of miles away.  There the farmwife would grab Jolanta, sit her between her knees and force feed her thistles by the handful until the bag was empty. Then it would be much smaller Lidia’s turn. I didn’t think this was such a fun way to eat, nor that thistles would be all that comfortable going down her gullet. The farmwife reassured me that it didn’t hurt the geese, and that they would grow very nice, plump livers.  Since I loved the taste of goose liver, this was fine by me.  Ildiko announced she was not going to eat Jolanta’s liver!

Soon the geese grew out their lovely white plumage. We discovered that large Jolanta was a gander; a particularly bossy one. Lidia became a plump bird who followed Jolanta around the farmyard. Our pets had grown up and didn’t tolerate our attentions any more.

Anyu mentioned, one day in September, that soon we would be eating Jolanta and Lidia.  Ildiko wept as she announced she could never eat “her baby”. I felt she was being too sentimental, was acting silly and would soon change her mind when Anyu brought out the goose liver and the delicious goose fat.  In fact, I was looking forward to a good feast!

PAPER CLIP

July 20, 2007

Is it possible

 that this short,

truncated coil of silver wire,

bent back upon itself,

once,

twice,

three times, was once

an endless extrusion and now

clasps meaning in a tidy pile?

Now, it holds together love-letters,

collected passionate exchanges,

recipes for soup clipped from the papers

and reminders of payments past due.

What workman, minding his machine,

stood by

waiting

for this endless metal hair

to cool,

to apportion it given lengths,

idling his thoughts

of papers to be compiled, at home,

into discrete piles of similar information?

One never has to buy this elegant inch

of triple-looped pinch.

It arrives daily in the mail

from the offices of bureaucrats.

It outlives ephemeral pages of importance

when carelessly

tossed

into a stoneware bowl.

GM, November 7, 2004

This is in response to a writing workshop prompt to write a poem about an object.  I like paper clips!

The Blockbuster Art Exhibition…

July 17, 2007

Installed currently at the Vancouver Art Gallery is this summer’s Blockbuster Art Exhibition, “From Degas to Dali”. On show are masterworks gathered together from the collection of an American art museum, touring while the home galleries are being renovated.

Typical of blockbuster gallery presentations, the price of admission is steep, though still less costly than a ticket to an opera performance.  Tickets must be booked in advance, as is admission time to the galleries.  Huge crowds are anticipated.  I am debating about going to this!

 My visit in 2000 to the Seattle Art Museum’s exhibition of John Singer Sargent’s paintings of the Wertheimer family soured me on attending highly touted art shows. The experience was similar to waiting for the Metro during a Paris rush hour. One was embraced by the crush of bodies and moved along automatically with the surges and stoppings of the crowd. Any desire to  closely study individual paintings at leisure is thwarted at every turn by the jostling throng.  Thoughts are difficult to spin out to their natural expanse, since distraction prevails in the gallery – stray comments, the tinny residue of taped commentary waxing and waning as visitors walk by and as huddled groups, gathered in front of paintings, interrupt sudden awareness of fresh perceptions.

Sure, it is possible to rent a tape recording to recieve a studied commentary and background on the paintings.  Also available are group tourings with docents.  At the end of the exhibition, there is a small section of the gallery devoted to publications about the exhibition and souvernir type items to buy. However my experiences with these types of show have yielded frustrated, irritated, exhausted and harried feelings.

If one visits a gallery blockbuster with companions, hushed, terse discussion is the best one can hope to partake in.  This is not a venue for serious prolonged study, for sharing personal observations with friends or debating about what is being experienced.  There is a linear sequential flow in the way an exhibition is constructed; it is difficult to go back against the flow to check out a sudden insight that crops up about an earlier section. Didactic panels function as traffic controls as well as information disseminators.

While moving along with the packed crowd at the Seattle Sargent show, I turned and faced the painting of Asher Wertheimer, the paterfamilias, and was struck by a sudden overall view of the painting and of how casual and strange effect the family dog, shown near his master’s feet seemed.  An idea formed for me that maybe Sargent did have a sense of humour or that perhaps he revealed an opinion not only about Mr Wertheimer as an individual, but also about himself, Sargent, as a sensualist.  There was something subversive in how he painted that dog, and I wanted badly to spend a long, uninterrupted time in front of that painting, study and consider it in light of my assumption.  Unfortunately, the masses swept me along.

The current state of my ability to see being not very good, I am reluctant to submit myself to the frustrations I know will be my lot if I do venture out with friends to see “Degas to Dali”. A good friend works at the VAG and could probably get me in to see the show before the doors open, so I could pace my looking in a manner more in keeping with my bad eyesight.

Should I ask her to arrange permission for outside public hours viewing?

Casting off… Lesson 1

July 15, 2007

My friend Carol laughed when she heard we had decided to take up sailing.  She said that we could probably duplicate the whole experience without paying out large sums of money or expending much time and effort. “Just put on your warmest clothes, your rubber boots and stand under a cold shower in the bathtub. While there, rip up a number of $100 dollar bills”, she directed in a sarcastic tone. There was some wisdom in her suggestion.

On a bitter March morning, rain poured. I assembled my foul-weather gear, loaded up the Datsun and drove to Granville Island for the first on-board lesson.  On the way there I kept my hopes up for a minor change in the weather, but the rain didn’t let up.  This was not exactly an auspicious start to sailing lessons.

On the island, it was unusually easy to find parking near the Market, a short walk to the docks. The weather kept shoppers at home. On the grey wooden walkways to the docks seagulls huddled, miserable, balanced on one webbed foot, their necks hunched down into their bodies.  They couldn’t be bothered to move as I squeaked by in my loud yellow slicker, bibbed overalls and flashy gumboots, trailing rivulets of water in my wake. Up ahead, my fellow students – the lady pathologist, turned out in a fashionable red outfit, and the gay couple, natty in blue one piece rain gear – were gathered, dripping, near a white fiberglass sailboat moored at the dock.  Somehow it was appropriate that the four of us were clothed in the Primary colours –  red, blue and yellow, for our lessons in mastering the basics of sailing.  We introduced ourselves and chatted in a low-key fashion , and getting even wetter while waiting for our instructor to show up.

Shortly, a young chap bounded down the dock toward us.  He seemed totally at home in the rain. ” Hi! I’m Bob!” he called out. “Let’s get going.”  He unshackled the lifeline near the cockpit and ushered us aboard the boat. (Good! I thought. He is going to take us down into the cabin and get us out of the rain.) He took a seat at the tiller and invited us to sit on the lazarettes. (What? He’s got to be kidding!) So he began to quiz us about the various parts of the boat, pointing here and there and asking how the designated part functioned.  (My glasses kept getting fogged up; rain was making steady inroads through my slicker and down my neck. I knew exactly how those wet seagulls felt – discouraged, miserable, soggy!)

After quiz time Bob unlocked the cabin, reached inside and hauled out four white fenders.  Handing one to each of us, he instructed us to check out how the fenders had been attached to the side of the boat next to the edge of the dock.  He then had us attach our fenders using the correct knot and obtaining the right height to keep the edge of the boat from chafing the dock. We squelched our way to our positions trying not to slip on the wet deck, grasping onto the lifeline. Bob was not satisfied that we could do this little chore adequately until we had repeated the task over and over numerous times.  The rain didn’t let up.  We might as well have jumped into the water because we were as wet abovedecks as we would have been were we fullly immersed in the ocean.  The fenders sure looked clean and glossy white, being as they were slick with rain! (My sweater under the slicker was getting wet near the armpit area – yuk! The lady pathologist looked quite comfortable and she didn’t squeak every time she moved, unlike me.  The gay couple looked quite snug.  They also didn’t squeak.  I wondered if their armpits were getting soggy yet.  Nah! But I didn’t dare complain!)

Next, we climbed back into the cockpit. Bob showed us how to start up the inboard motor and explained the mechanism of the tiller. ” Now go and pull in the fenders and we’ll practice leaving the dock,”  he announced as he stepped off the boat to unmoor.  We each had to take turns undoing the mooring lines on the dock and handing them in to boatmates, then step back onto the boat.  This looks easy, but to someone with balance issues this can be slightly problematic.  I absolutely hated to get on and off the boat, while my boat-mates seemed not at all tentative in doing so.  When it came to my turn to cast off and hop aboard, I did so very awkwardly and caught the red and blue sailors rolling their eyes.

Then Bob steered the boat out of the dock area and took us into False Creek where he had us practice turning the boat, steering, slowing down, stopping, backing up.  There were not many boats out on the water so we had ample room to manoeuvre and even got our chance to bring the boat into a dock on the other side of the inlet.  We practiced coming into dock at the correct angle and speed, took turns reattaching the fenders, stepping off and tying the mooring lines correctly.  I really liked to bring the boat in, using the tiller and feathering the engine, but the stepping off part continued to be problematic.  (In fact, standing up in the boat was a problem for me as I couldn’t manage to stay upright and would bash into the winches whenever not creeping about on deck like an octogenerian – a wet one!)

Our lesson for the day was soon over and we headed back to our berth.  Here we got opportunity to practice, yet again, proper docking procedure.  Bob bid us goodbye and bounded away from us into the misty reaches of the dock. My fellow students expessed a desire to repair to the Granville Island Pub to decompress, dry off and bond with each other.  My sweater, by this time had become wet right down to the waist at front and back, and the prospect of being sociable while sitting in soaked clothes was not particularly attractive, so, expressing my regrets and need to go home and dry off thoroughly I bid my companions in fun and misery goodbye. 

On the drive home it was difficult to keep the truck windows from misting up in spite of the heater going full blast.  My glasses also kept fogging up, but at least the rain was outside where it belonged. It occurred to me that learning sailing on a day like this dreary, unrelentingly wet one was a special form of Hell. But at least I didn’t rip up any $100 bills.