Archive for February, 2008

Anyu at 77…

February 24, 2008

Anyu at 77

 This is a drawing I made of Anyu one late spring day when she was 77 years old. I had just turned the corner from the main road into our driveway when I spotted her sitting on the front porch steps, basking in the sun with closed eyes, her large canvas sack beside her. Seemingly lost in reverie, she hadn’t seemed to notice my truck pull up.

I parked the truck at the back porch, skirted around the hedges surrounding the house, and walked up to her, unannounced. Her hearing couldn’t have been very acute, or maybe the nap of the lawn had quieted down my footsteps, for she had her eyes closed as I approached and then stood to look at her in silence. No wonder she was unaware of my presence; she was after all 77 years old and her senses had begun to falter. The look of unvarnished pleasure in sitting under the sun suffused her face. This love of the sun was and had been a constant in her life and had not altered in her advanced years.

 I sat down in the grass near her and waited for her to notice my presence. The sun warmed my back and heated up the backpack with my calculus stuff inside. I had just driven back twenty miles from doing the final exam in my university calculus course. It felt luxurious to sit soaking the heat up and not have to calculate how and where to fit in studying to a busy day of wifely doings.

Anyu opened her eyes and gazed about in a daze. Her glance passed over me and returned in surprise.

“Where have you been?” she asked. “When did you come back? I rang and rang the doorbell and you didn’t answer.” The querulous tone in her voice projected her displeasure.

“I was at SFU writing my final exam. I wasn’t expecting you today.”

Anyu stretched her arms and popped upright on the step. “Well, I was bored. It was such a nice day, a little bus-ride was in order. I figured I might as well come out here to see you.” Then she added, “What’s for lunch?”

“I have some left-over lentil soup from yesterday.” I said, getting up off the grass and hauling my back-pack toward the stairs. “You can have that, and I’ll also make you a sandwich. Egg salad, I think.”

“I have to watch my cholestrol. Does the lentil soup have much fat in it?” Anyu asked grabbing her sack. “And, I can’t eat eggs – too high in cholestrol. Make it a tuna sandwich.”

“Come in then. I’ll see what I can rustle up for you.”

We entered the house and dropped our bags on the coffee-table. While Anyu hunted around inside her sack I went to the kitchen to prepare her food. She followed me and sat at the kitchen table watching me hop about, making the preparations.

I worked quetly, without talking. Reheated the soup, opened and drained a can of tuna, chopped onions and pickles, buttered bread and assembled the sandwich. I mused about Anyu’s penchant for flitting about the countryside by bus in all kinds of weather and without letting anyone know about her eventual destinations. Often, she groused about arriving at some far-flung friend’s place, unexpected, and finding herself not welcome. This day she had travelled, by bus, through 4 adjacent municipalities to reach our place. This had to have taken her at least two and a half hours. Of course, because she had not let me in on her plans to visit, she was ill-informed about my doings and whereabouts. So, if she was irritated with me, I figured that a product of her bad planning.

“Let me see that tuna can.” she demanded. “I need to read the label and see the counts for cholestrol. If it is too high, I will not eat that sandwich.”

I handed her the can. She fished out her reading glasses and perused the label at length. I placed a bowl of soup in front of her and went off to plug in the kettle for tea.

“Where did you learn to make soup like this?” She said between spoonsful of the lentil soup.

“Well, not from you, Anyu,” I chortled. “you never let me touch anything in your kitchen. But I love reading recipes and anything about cooking.” Then I added,” it is the meal one does not cook for oneself that is delicious. Enjoy”

Anyu ate with gusto and polished off two bowls of soup and a whole sandwich. For a woman who prided herself on eating like a sparrow, this day’s demonstration of feasting indicated an uncharacteristic  vulture-like appetite.

I made up a pot of tea for us and took the fixings into the living-room. “Come sit in the big green chair and put up your feet. While you rest and digest, I’ll do a drawing of you.” I placed her tea-cup on the table by the chair for her. “If you want you can close your eyes while I am drawing.”

“I don’t want to look dead. Pictures of people with their eyes closed makes them look dead.” She settled herself, took a sip of tea, then patted her hair. She marshalled her energies, drew herself up stiffly and presented a dignified self for my study.

I went into instant drawing mode and drew like mad for half an hour. Anyu was silent throughout, and her facial expression registered an array of emotions, but not ones which showed any pleasure at all. The primary affect was pride overlaying dissatisfaction. Or so it seems to me that my drawing emphasized.

Whe the drawing was at a point I felt comfortable leaving off, I nudged her out of a funk by turning the drawing to face her. She studied it at length, took sips of her tea and finally commented wistfully. “What ever happened to my pretty face? I used to be so beautiful.”

“You still are beautiful, Anyu.” I reassured her. “Just different in beauty, more complex and tempered by experience.”

“Well, you can take me home now.” she said. ” I paid for my lunch by sitting for you. Let’s get going.” She finished off the last of her tea, grabbed her satchel and stood up, ready to leave.

I put aside my drawing board and charcoals, grabbed my purse and keys and led her out the back door to the truck.

On the hour-long drive to her apartment in Burnaby, she fell asleep. Once we arrived, I walked her to her door, used her keys to let her in. She yawned and reclined onto her couch. “I am so tired,” she said. “Please cover me with the afghan and let yourself out.”

I covered her, kissed her cheek and left. Driving back home in rush-hour traffic, I thought about how my day unexpectedly turned out. Anyu arriving out of the blue was surprising, but provided a break from my obsession with thoughts about calculus. This is the drawing of Anyu at 77. She may no longer drop in on me as she used to, but I have this drawing in memory of our time together.

The changing fabric

February 13, 2008

Up, ahead

the winds have raked the sky

 with whistling, fine, teeth.

Sooty, combed,

loose weft strands undulate,

and twine distant in soft rows

toward the horizon.


the teased moisture tendrils

against blue zenith transparency,

the new pattern portends

a change

on the warp of the firmament.

GM – on a glorious sunny day, February 13, 2008, that looks about to change; a front is approaching.

a loose wft

Ash Wednesday…

February 5, 2008

 A “lapsed Catholic”. yearly I make note of Ash Wednesday, and think back on an annual ritual from my childhood, being anointed with ash on that day. I may no longer kneel to have my forehead marked with ash, but I do remember well how it felt to kneel in church, where the priest, passing along a row of genuflecting believers, murmured Latin words, dipped his finger in a little silver bowl and gently pressed the grey ash to foreheads. As I solemnly filed back to my pew I witnessed how parishioners bore expressions of a meditative calm on their faces.

From the time I was five years old and she six, Ildiko and I went to church on our own, without our parents. Anyu was embarrassed by our energetic tactics in church which included: dancing in the aisle during high mass; taking a forint from the offertory plate for every filler we were handed to put in; lying on the floor under the pews throwing and rolling our ill-gotten coin loot about on the marble floor; and singing in high-pitched Latin along with the priest during the Mass. Whenever our behavior degenerated to any of these low levels, Anyu projected a glare at Apu. This was the signal for him to remove us from the church and entertain us in the outer precincts. He didn’t seem to mind getting out from the Mass, either. He was Greek Orthodox and made disparaging comments about the “mysterioso lingua” used during the Roman Catholic services at that time. He was positivey jolly as he lit a cigarette outside the heavy wooden doors and watched us skipping up and down the basalt steps as we burned off excess energy.

It was when I was seven years old and Ildiko, eight, that I conceived an idea of where the priest obtained the ashes for Ash Wednesday. The previous summer we had gone for an outing with the family maid and had explored the precincts of the hill where the church, rectory and other ecclesiastical buildings were situated. Through one open doorway we observed nuns making the communion wafers on little pocked griddles over a fire. We lingered and watched, and as we did so, I began to have serious doubts that the Eucharist was really Christ’s body. I never managed to get past this doubt about communion and taking wafers made by nuns which were supposed to be somehow sanctified.

Then, a short while later, as we walked about on Bishop’s Hill we came upon a sight of several priests taking their leisure out-doors, lounging on chairs, drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. The maid hurried us from this scene with a promise to show us the well many townfolk had been thrown into by the triumphant Turks as a form of punishment. However, as she pulled me by hand from the sight of the drinking, smoking priests, I craned my head back for one more good, indelible, look.

The following year, on Ash Wednesday, Ildiko and I attended church service and were marked by ash. As I was receiving my spot of cinder, I lowered my eyes, craned my neck and through my eyelashes, took a good look at the ash in the silver bowl carried by the priest. It looked remarkably like a fancy version of Apu’s ashtray, minus the cigarette butts. My memory flashed to the sight of priests smoking and drinking in the rectory yard, and I was suddenly convinced that the priest obtained the ashes by collecting them from a year’s worth of ashtray contents. Suddenly, I felt cheated. It was not holy ash, sanctified residue, that marked me as a believer; it was only cigarette ash. Were all these churchgoers fooled into thinking this was a sacred ritual, special, laden with meaning, when it was ash-tray contents that were used to single us out as penitents? I thought I was onto something that needed discussion with Apu and Anyu, once we were home from church.

On the walk home I internally debated telling Ildiko about my conclusion. I decided not to reveal my idea to her, for certain she’s lecture me all the way home about having evil thoughts, ones unworthy of a good Catholic girl,  and which thoughts surely well-paved my way to Hell where I would be justifiably and amply punished. I picked up a bit of the ash from my forehead with a saliva-wetted finger and surreptitiously tasted it to see if it tasted like cigarette ash. Ildiko sent me disgusted side-long glances and chastised me for wiping off my ash spot.

As we entered the vestibule of our apartment building, Mr. Weiss, our neighbour, was just going out for his constitutional. He smiled at us and noted that only Ildiko was marked. “Did you not get an ash mark, Gabi?” he asked.

I smiled at him and shrugged. Ildiko announced to him, “Like you, Mr. Weiss, Gabi is an unbeliever. She will pay for that later.” She ran ahead upstairs to tattle on me to Anyu. Mr. Weiss patted me on the shoulder and went out the door.

Upstairs, at home, I could hear Ildiko telling Anyu what a bad Catholic I was being in smearing and licking off my ash mark. I didn’t linger to hear Anyu’s reply to her; instead I sought out Apu in the salon . He was lounging by the radio, listening to Radio Free Europe and taking long drags from a lit cigarette. He waved me over and ruffled my hair when I came near. I leaned against the arm of the green chair where he sat, looked about for his ashtray. I put my fore-finger into the ashes, leaned over and put a spot of ash on Apu’s forehead.

“See, Apu, you really didn’t need to come to church today. I put the ash mark on you. It’s just as good as the ones Ildiko and I got this morning, because the priest probably got his ashes from his ashtray in the rectory.” I said with complete seriousness. ” Like you, he smokes cigarettes.”

Apu opened his eyes wide and looked at me; shook his head in disbelief and took a drag off his cigarette. He rose from the chair, went to the salon door, opened it and yelled to Anyu. “Rozsa, come here quick and listen to what Gabi has to say about Ash Wednesday!”

Killing time…

February 4, 2008

A rosy mackerel dawn sky, fractured between the spaces of the winter-bare apple tree, beckoned me outside this morning. I drew my housecoat around me, ran my fingers through sleep tousled hair and stepped out to stand beneath the tree. The dawn silence, so precious, was interrupted by the jet drone of a large passenger plane headed south-west to land at Lulu Island.

How strange the world looks from up there. If, indeed, passengers are not busying themselves with stashing books and magazines in their bags, pushing their folding-tables back into place on the seat-back in front of them, steeling themselves for the change in engine sounds as the plane descends or as the plane’s wheels thunk down from the wheel-wells and brace for the landing impact.

I took bracing breaths of the chill morning air, lingered briefly in the slowly changing light, then went back inside to read the paper with the first coffee of the morning. This is not a copy of our regular newspaper, but of the other daily which has today a section of the Weekend Thriller Contest, to which both Martha and By-line Woman sent in  a second chapter installment. Had to have a look-see at what second chapter was chosen to continue the plot. Otherwise this paper I refer to, disparagingly, as a “rag”. There is of course no news of what our neighbours to the South are undergoing in their selection of Presidential Candidates. There was a heart-rending write-up of a family dog who gave her life to a cougar in exchange for her master’s. I browsed through the various sections until I reached the travel section. At this season of the year people who travel by plane often encounter long lay-overs, flight cancellations and rerouting – all due to winter weather conditions. The article that caught my eye and attention was:

“Tips on ways to kill some time at YVR

TRAVEL B.C.: There is a plethora of creative activities awaiting you at the airport”

by Rebecca Stevenson, CANWEST NEWS SERVICE

It’s like a sudden loss of altitude in the pit of your stomach: that sinking feeling when you hear your flight is delayed indefinitely.

In the blink of an eye, you’re reduced from a peppy jet-setter to an aimless loiterer.

Stranded travellers, don’t despair. Beneathe the surface of any airport lies a plethora of creative activities to while away the hours.

Here, we discover the secret world of Vancouver International Airport, or YVR.

*The sound of music: Instantly nix about 225 minutes in the domestic terminal by getting thyself to Virgin Books and Music’s CD listening station, where you can sample three full-length CDs.

*The medical/dental plan: Proceed downstairs to the dental clinic, where you can get a one-hour tooth bleaching session for only $375. next door, at the medical clinic, travel vaccines and flu shots are on order.

*Massage or a manicure: The next best thing just might be a treatment at Absolute Spa, which provides hair, make-up, massage, facials, manicures and the rest. There are three specialty “flight-delay” packages ranging from $75 – $95.

*The next level: And once you’re reduced to molten flesh, there is no telling what you might do next. Potential inductees to the famous “mile-high club” might want to pick up some condoms or lubrication at Pharmasave.

*Looking Good: Don’t forget to beautify at the Body Shop’s make-up testing counter.

*Food and drink: Gorging on calories and boredom often go hand-in-hand. But instead of defaulting to a personal dozen at Tim Hortons, why not add some flare to your consumption? Saunter down to the 7-Eleven in the Domestic Terminal and relive childhood by making your own root-beer float, or sipping a slurpee.

Treat yourself to a swanky meal at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport’s Globe @YVR or jetside Lounge restaurants, where you can sink your posh derriere into stuffed armchairs and take in the executive view of the runways.

*Drag your bloated body back to the Fairmont and use the Health Club ($10 for just the shower and sauna, $15 for the gym and pool). You can even drop into yoga and pilates classes.

*Shhh. had your fill of these sushi-eating, downward-dogging West Coast health maniacs? The Fairmont’s Quiet Zone Day Room ($99 for four hours) is literally the stuff lazy dreams are made of.

*Culture Vultures: Refreshed travellers can flit about the airport and soak up a bit of culture. First Nations art installations – including a massive Haida jade sculpture – are scattered throughout both terminals.”

(Sunday, February 3, 2008   THE PROVINCE)

After reading this article I realized once again why I hate reading newspaper Travel Sections (among other sections) where what purports to be an article is really nothing more than editorial advertising with copy-writing of the most breathless order.  Even the headline’s “ways to kill time” phrase panders to the most unthinking among us. Oh, sure, I know it’s just a figure of speech, but what a profoundly mindless one it is. But to couple it with the phrase”plethora of creative activities” and then to follow that up with a list of “consumer” services which cost a small fortune really insults a reader’s intelligence.

Nita at  posted on February 2, 2008 her writing about a truly creative act related to travel and flying, by a former Indian Airlines flight engineer, Bahadur Chand Gupta who created an opportunity to experience what it is to be inside a plane for people who would otherwise never set foot in an airport, enter and sit in a plane or rise above the surface of the earth. Nita’s piece, titled “A dream come true for those who will never fly.” is one which throws into painful contrast the attitudes we in developed countries have toward travel, particularly of the resource-consuming sort we take for granted such as air travel, against the realities of limited access to creature comforts, let alone opportunities for travel experienced by people living in  other parts of the world.

Here, where I live, to buy into so much sybaritic comfort made possible so that I and others can while away or “kill time” in superficial pleasures  requires a suspension of disbelief. The modern airport is an extension of the modern shopping mall, if I interpret The Province article correctly. Waiting, in transit between one place and the next, I must be entertained, pampered, pandered to in order to be lulled into acceptance of the “urge” to keep in constant motion around the world, otherwise I may have a spot or two of time where I may begin to think for myself and realize that travel is not what I would rather want or need to do.