Martinis and Massenet

March 7th, 2014  Posted at   Writing

Martinis and Massenet

by Leslie Bamford

As I sit down to write on the last day of January 2014, I recall that it has been a month of bitter cold, howling wind, ice and snow, and I have begun to feel like I live in an igloo in the frozen north, with no way out.  If I didn’t have a dog, I would have stayed indoors the whole month, lying on the couch eating potato chips, or cherry blossoms if my mother had a say in my choice of junk food. Which means it is a damn good thing that I have a dog.  Not that I appreciate that when I have to pull on my long johns, bundle up in my puffy, non-flattering coat, stuff hand warmers in my down-filled mitts, wrap my face in a scarf to keep my nose from freezing, pull on my hat-head producing tuque and head for the dog park in a gale force wind.

There must be other ways to keep fit in January – oh yes, there’s the gym – how could I forget?  I joined Good Life again in December, full of good intentions. It is January 31st now, and I haven’t been yet. My stubborn side is refusing to let my good intentions be constellated.  And I’m proud of it.  Why be a gym rat when you can walk your dog under swaying old trees in a death-defying attempt to commune with nature on the Bechtel Park trails. I figure if I tree falls on me, who cares at this point? Oh yes, Bob and Merlin would care. I walk for awhile lost in the thought of their grief at losing wonderful me, and for a moment I feel better about myself and then I feel terrible for wishing that upon them.  So I shake off these maudlin thoughts and walk along faster now, listening to the groaning trees and watching Merlin sniffing along the trail. The park is littered with fallen limbs.  It is minefield of branches lying helter-skelter, both on the trail and off, any one of them large enough to do us in. I send my request to the gods of wind to not send a big gust our way and when we make it back to the car, I breathe a sigh of relief. Only then do I realize that my thumbs have frozen in my expensive mitts, one more time (where are those damn hand warmers?). Operating the car with thumbs that feel like they are made of heavy-duty cardboard is difficult but the real trick is seeing through my glasses, which fog up as soon as I get into my little Nissan, every time.  So I take them off as I drive, hoping that nothing smaller than a grizzly bear walks out in front of me because I might not see it otherwise.

Speaking of grizzly bears, I was wondering the other day, as I was chilled to the bone one more time, whatever happened to fur coats? Of course I am against trapping, but a person can still yearn for the days when no one thought about how the fur was harvested, we just wore fur coats because they were the warmest thing on the planet. Back in the day, when I was young living in sub-zero Montreal, I had several real fur coats which my mother bought for me second hand – a raccoon coat which was incredibly warm, a mouton coat (sheared lamb) which was super warm, and a ¾ length Persian lamb coat which was also fairly warm, and we all wore fur hoods back then, usually made of bunny or raccoon fur, to manage the hours standing at bus stops on our way to McGill every day from the west end of the city.  No longer politically correct I know, but nothing was as warm as a long fur coat. Thankfully my North Face coat is down-filled and fairly cozy, being wind-proof, and it comes down below my hips which is crucial – there’s nothing that makes me cold sooner than a freezing butt.  The coat is not stylish.  It is stained with dog drool and road salt, and one size too big for me (it was on a sale rack, only came in size Large) but I am really glad I bought it when I did.  Before Merlin – I must have been psychic.  And it’s washable, which puts it in a category above fur, now that I think about it. Of course I would never wear fur again, under any circumstances.  But you can’t blame me for dreaming of being warm in this freezing winter of ours.

Getting back to igloo fever, I wonder if any of the Inuit still live that way and if so, do they get chippy with their partners and argue about little things in the dead of the Arctic winter when they are cooped up?  Bob and I have been finding each other quite annoying lately. I don’t know what he is talking about in terms of my behavior but I can tell you, he is really driving me nuts! Maybe it has something to do with the house being so damn cold, despite the furnace purring its little heart out in the basement about 90% of the time and keeping me awake in the night since it lives directly below our bed (whoever designed the house this way deserves a good smack). What’s with this polar vortex thing anyway? I moved here from Montreal to get away from Arctic air. Looking back, I see that we were more equipped to handle the great chill of winter when I lived in Quebec, with block heaters for our cars, chains on our tires, blankets on the chairlifts and all the Gitanes we could smoke. Ah those were the days.

The house we live in today is not made for wind chills of minus 35.  The laundry room is chilly.  The inside of the kitchen cupboards could double as a fridge. The sunroom is a deep freeze despite the heated tiles and heating vents. The bathroom is drafty, particularly around the toilet region (remember what I said about cold butts?) making it a challenge to get out of the shower and face that skin-shriveling time between being warm and wet and being cold and wet which, I can say from personal experience, is very short indeed. My towel can’t move fast enough.

After barely surviving the first vortex and with the second one being predicted the other day, Bob and I said “enough already” and bought two ceramic heaters (silent ones – Merlin is suspicious of things with fans in them).  We got the last baseboard heater in town for the sunroom, and a room heater for the kitchen.  We plugged them in and life got better.  Thermostats allow us to use them without watching them all the time – amazing what you can buy for under a hundred dollars these days.  Speaking of dollars, I can hardly wait to see the hydro and gas bills for January. I will have to sell shares to pay them, I expect.  But for now, it’s worth it to be warm again. The heaters and the heated mattress pad have been god-sends this month. That and sleeping with a warm dog helps. I knew Merlin would come in handy eventually.

So how did I get through January, I ask myself as I prepare to flip the calendars in the house gleefully to February.  Other than dog activities, errands and making meals, I played the piano. Finally, my wrist has healed enough from my July fracture (courtesy of Merlin) to allow me to return to the keyboard. For some reason, not playing for nearly six months seems to have rejuvenated me. What seemed too difficult for these old fingers to manage is now much easier, and I can actually play better than before.  I started piano lessons again this month, and now the music of Chopin, Beethoven, Debussy and Rubenstein fills the house. My favorite is Massenet’s gorgeous piece called Méditation.  Massenet was a French composer born in the mid-eighteen hundreds, famous for his operas. I haven’t mastered some of the difficult fingering in his runs entirely, but I just love trying. I first heard this piece played at Centre in the Square by a brilliant Canadian violinist called James Ehnes and it brought tears to my eyes.  While my piano version will never compete with what Méditation should sound like, it still gives me goose bumps when I get it almost right.

My other January strategy has been tanka poetry.  Tanka is a form of Japanese poetry that dates back thousands of years and lends itself well to being written in English.  I never knew that writing a five-line poem could consume so much mental energy, but when I signed up for a tanka poetry course on-line from Great Britain, I found out that it can. What better way to get through another polar vortex than to sit in the sunroom with a hot pack on my lap and the ceramic heater on, writing tanka with Merlin lying beside me on the loveseat.  Given that my creative juices are pretty well frozen over by the weather, working on short pieces of poetry is the perfect way to keep those juices flowing without having to face the writer’s block that would have come up if I had tried to force myself into a big project.  In the end, I suspect I have spent more time on the tanka homework than I would have on a piece of a big project, but that’s the beauty of it, it doesn’t feel big.  The illusion that it is easy (which it isn’t) gets me past those threshold guardians waiting to prevent me from doing anything except lying on the proverbial couch.

Oh yes, one other thing helped this month.  Martinis.  Lately I have been having one a day – at suppertime.  Dad would be pleased.  Martinis were his drink – traditional martinis, gin and vermouth, shaken not stirred, with olives – just like Bond. I enjoyed drinking a martini with him in his later years and was proud of my status as the only family member who liked martinis enough to drink one with him. I wish he were here to have one tonight.  And Mum could join us – we’d pour her a Scotch – she could drink it with Bob, who has been known to enjoy a bit of the old peat moss himself.

With January in my rear-view mirror, I was looking forward to February until I checked out the Weather Network tonight and read about a Missouri low that is heading our way on February 1st, bringing with it 20 to 25 more centimetres of snow.  At least the temperatures will be moderate, but all that shoveling courtesy of Missouri, a state whose capital I don’t even know, is quite baffling.  Then I looked further into the first week of the new month and heard about a Texas Low coming our way mid-week.  More snow.  Really?  I may be forced to get my snowshoes down from the attic if this keeps up, and break out my snow pants, which I have resisted wearing until now, keeping them back for when it gets really wintry around here.

Meanwhile, I have found a remedy for hat-head which I have permanently these days – don’t try this unless you have naturally curly hair, though (or a perm maybe).  Wet your fingers, run your fingers through your hair, fluff and puff as much as you can and if necessary, add a little mousse and repeat.  Presto, hair that looks like it hasn’t been in a hat for a month straight. It just looks messy. A definite improvement.

It will be Ground Hog day in two days.  Another chance for several rodents to take over the prognosticating spotlight and lie to us again about when spring can be expected.  I hear they have a ‘Wiarton Willie parade’ in Wiarton on February 1st.  I also hear that it only lasts for three minutes.  Just about as long as Willie’s fame will last on February 2nd.   Whatever the little varmints say, spring is 7 weeks away, and we all might as well smile and keep on shoveling, like the hardy Canucks that we are.

And so, farewell January 2014.  It’s been a slice.  Please pass the cherry blossoms.  I am going to lie on the couch now.

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