November 25, 2010

The Small Bachelor

The more stressed I get the more likely I am to have to read either Sophie Kinsella (Shopaholic) or P.G. Wodehouse. I skulk up to the counter at the used book store ("Psst, do you wanna buy an "A"?) and ask sotto voce if they have any P.G. Wodehouse, and of course they always do as I'm not the only one with this embarrassing addiction. Like Kinsella, Wodehouse makes me giggle and that's worth a lot sometimes.

The Small Bachelor differs from some of the others in Wodehouse's long list of publications in that it's set in New York instead of in England, but the rest of the elements are familiar. There's romance, everyone of interest is really wealthy, the hero is awkward but extremely nice and the heroine is smart and sweet. To keep them apart there are any number of ridiculous obstacles all solved at the end. The beauty of Wodehouse is in the wry commentary (" A lover..will see sweetness and light in almost everything, but George Finch, despite his most earnest endeavours, had been compelled to draw the line at Mrs. Waddington") and hilariously exaggerated description ("Mr. Waddington's eyes were now protruding to such a dangerous extent that a sharp jerk would have caused them to drop off.") Sometimes I cannot believe the time Wodehouse takes to describe the tiniest detail but the cumulative effect is very funny to me, and being the incorrigible Anglophile I am just adds to the fun.

Wodehouse is not for everyone, but sometime when you need a laugh, pick up one of his books and give it a try.

November 22, 2010

National Broadcast Orchestra

We attended the second in our Community Concert series last Thursday, featuring the National Broadcast Orchestra (formerly the CBC Orchestra) and violinist Jonathan Crow. Both were fantastic. Crow grew up in Prince George, had a music degree from McGill by 19, and now teaches music at McGill and performs around the world.

The orchestra played a Haydn symphony and then Crow joined them for some Mozart and Beethoven. The second half of the program was modern Canadian music, with the world premieres of two Galaxy prize-winning compositions. The Galaxy prize is for young Canadian composers and the Grand Prize Work was very complex and beautiful while the second prize was just way out there in left field, a piece without rhythm or melody but just a series of "sound structures" which then disintegrated for the next structure to be built up. I was pretty tired, so the conductor's careful explanation of what to listen for didn't help me much, but Gerald said he could follow.

The highlight of the program for me was Cameron Wilson's "Canadian Seasons for Violin and Orchestra." It was also a premiere, and an amazing showcase for Crow's talents. The composer was a young violinist in the orchestra who spoke briefly before the music was played, saying he really liked this piece and felt it was one of the first times his musical "voice" had really been heard. Knowing a little of what Jeremy went through this summer composing his "Summerland Suite" made this young composer's journey feel very personal to me.

November 21, 2010

Poems and Readings for Funerals

Of all the books I would have never thought I'd buy, this one might head the list. But in the last two sad weeks since Marj died, I've done a lot of thinking about what one says at a time like this. Among the things that were said, I could relate best to the poem Daryl read at the wake - a version of W.H. Auden's "Funeral Blues" (Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone/Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone/Silence the pianos and with muffled drum/Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead/ Scribbling on the sky the message She Is Dead.) This last not dissimilar to Ezra's comment: "Marj is dead, dead, dead."

"Funeral Blues" is one of the poems in Poems and Readings for Funerals edited by Julia Watson, and there are some other good ones in this collection too. One of them, called "Gone from my Sight," describes a sailboat disappearing over the horizon as we watch from the shore. For us she is gone, but the poet says she is "just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side/ and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port. Her diminished size is in me, not in her." Marj always seemed larger than life, and I like to think that she still is.

I also liked "Live your Life" by Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee Nation (1768 - 1813.) One of the best of all is also the oldest in the book, by a Chinese poet of the 6th century B.C., called "All things pass." The first two lines are "All things pass/A sunrise does not last all morning." It's a philosophy of life I've been trying to grasp for years. As a child and young adult, I had the idea that life was all about building things to get to a point of satisfaction and success, but now I see more that each life has its arc, like the apparent arc of the sun each day. It rises and sets and meanwhile shines on what it may.

Anyway, I'm glad I bought the book. It illustrates the wide spectrum of people's reactions to death and it may give me some words with which to commemorate someone else's passing some day.

November 20, 2010

Okanagan Odyssey

I just finished reading this beautiful book by Don Gayton, an ecologist and writer who lives in Summerland. Okanagan Odyssey, subtitled "Journeys through Terrain, Terroir and Culture," takes us on a tour of the Okanagan from south to north. Gayton reflects knowledgeably about the terrain and takes wine pairing a step further by positing wine triplings for the various Okanagan ecologies he explores.

In fact, I would say he does wine quadrupling, putting together a simple wine grown in the territory he's discussing with local foods and some suitable reading for his often solitary dinners. For instance, his exploration of Lake Okanagan's Rattlesnake Island leads him to writings about the Lebanese entrepreneur Eddy Haymour who tried to develop it. He makes some lamb kebabs and adds a Muscat wine from Naramata (muscat being a grape with Near Eastern origins) to celebrate this quirky corner of the Okanagan.

One of the best ideas I've taken away from the book is the concept of placemaking - that in order for a place truly to be home, you need to understand the geography around it. Gayton says he feels uncomfortable when people say, "Oh, you're so lucky to be living in the Okanagan." He says he doesn't like putting one bioregion above another, and that merely because we move somewhere doesn't mean any of its cachet becomes ours. "Mere association with a place does not transform our lives," he says. "The Okanagan is not a trophy wife." The better we understand where we live, the more likely we are to live wisely and honour our surroundings.

Gayton is engaging and natural both in person and in his writing - the serious covers of his books belie the funniness within. Previously I'd read his Interwoven Wild, which is mostly about the ecology of his own yard. I learned a lot from it, especially not to plant tulips starkly in the middle of nowhere but to give them a home near a shrub, around or under something, an idea that has made a lovely difference in my spring garden. Gayton (and my children) also inspired me to compost food waste, a venture which, after just seven months, has been really successful. We've got some nice compost happening. I think everyone who has a yard should compost their own food waste - a normal little thing we can do to preserve, sustain and even enhance our environment.

November 3, 2010

Wherever You Go There You Are

This book by Jon Kabat-Zinn is subtitled "Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life." Ryan recommended it to me this summer. One of the best ideas I got from reading it is that your thoughts aren't reality- they're just thoughts. This idea really puts things in perspective for me and gives me a good reason not to take myself (at least my thoughts) too seriously.

The author explains a lot about mindfulness - being in the present. He says remaining in the present (which is his definition of meditation) frees your thoughts from the "tyranny of the past and the future." I could really relate to that - I judge things a lot by how they were before or worry about what might happen next. He points out that while of course the past is real and has consequences, all we really have to work with is the present, so we may as well focus on it.

He gives some good pointers on how to do that. One of them is not to multi-task. For a while I tried not to read while having lunch. I looked around, enjoyed the day, and paid more attention to my food. To keep your mind from racing around, Kabat-Zinn advises focusing on the sights and sounds around you, or just on your breath going in and out of your body. I've tried this at night when I'm lying awake and sometimes it actually puts me to sleep. I also have heard some cool things, like pinecones falling.

Considering I'm remembering all this from having read the book a few months ago, it surprises me that I didn't finish reading it. It's not a light or entertaining read, but it has some ideas that are really sticking with me and that give a whole new meaning to the word "practice." My brain falls easily into old habits.