Monday, October 13, 2008
Letters from Temagami
I write to you from Toronto. Didn't sleep at all last night - had a script to finish, and was too tense. Had to do so much packing, four heavy suitcases and four carry-ons, because Peter's going to be in Canada for 7 weeks and needs a ton of books (one suitcase) and pills (another), and his sleep apnea machine takes most of another suitcase! Yet we had to cram in winter clothes and boots too.
The flight was smooth, 4 1/2 hours to Toronto, and we ate Godmother Italian sandwiches I'd brought along from our local Italian deli for lunch on the plane. I couldn't read or write or do anything useful; just dozed. We got in about 8 PM and by the time we cleared Customs and got our luggage and our rental car (a little Toyota), and followed the complicated directions in a new car on dicey speedy strange highways, we didn't get to my cousins' house until 9:30 PM. But what a warm, delightful welcome it was. My first cousin Tim and his wife Mary, now in their 80s, came to see us at their son Frank's house where we're staying. Frank, a negotiator with the city, and his wife, Jane, who works at the University of Toronto, have a wonderful Victorian house with eight bedrooms, three storeys, full of her lovely paintings of their own cabin in the Muskoka woods. Frank has found a treasure in Jane, who is warm and bright and wonderful. They spread out lovely Toronto bagels and bread, cold cuts and plumcake brought by Mary, and we talked until midnight. Now Peter and I are in our own "suite" on the first floor, two bedrooms and bath and broadband! I daresay we won't be in such luxury in Temagami! But first thing next morning, we set out and hit the high road for adventure, driving 300 miles north. The leaves are said to be at their flaming peak, and we should see Lake Temagami and "our" cabin by late afternoon!
Jane, Frank, and me
We're loving our visit so far but Peter and I have observed that we don't feel "grown up" compared to other people. Frank and Jane really know how to do things; in Peter's words we are butterfly or grasshopper people. We're just not serious somehow, except about reading or writing; I suppose we're like the dotty old bohemian auntie and uncle of times past. Our cousins don't, however, seem to think us a bit odd at all for having this Temagami adventure. It seems bizarrely off the wall to people at home, but here, so many people have "cottage country" cabins. Yet I can't deny that it *is* strange to go for nearly two months to a cabin, unseen, belonging to somebody only vaguely known from the internet!
To the Dove Grey Books online list:
It's beautiful here at Lake Temagami, Northern Ontario. A golden autumnal day, the thermometer out the kitchen window says 68, the lake is shining blue, and the fat Maine coon cat is sleeping on the sun porch. Richard, our host, has gone back to Toronto to his work (he's a lovely Englishman exactly Peter's age, a theater designer), after telling us all we need to know about the house. And now we have the lovely place all to ourselves.
You'll wonder how we wound up here. I know Richard's wife Claire from the Girls Own online list; she lives up here year round. Richard lives mostly at their house in Toronto, where he's based while doing his theater design work. Claire is on the town council up here and she and Richard have the contract to remodel and operate the train station, which has been restored to look as it might have done originally, in 1906: http://www.mytemagami.ca/station.asp
Claire, in her 50s, was accepted at the University of Edinburgh to do her Ph.D. (I'll get this wrong, but it's in something like "Canadian Wilderness in Victorian Children's Literature). She and I had noticed each other's posts on the list and found we had wilderness interests in common, so when she was heading for Edinburgh, she wrote and asked if I'd like to come stay in her cabin during the semester, as I have the kind of job that can be done anywhere? I couldn't, but Peter, who is politically obsessed to the point where this year's madness was sending him off into frightful depression, was talking about leaving the country. He wanted to go to Singapore or Thailand for a couple of months to get away from the election, but I didn't think his health is really up to that, not to mention finances, and so it struck me: why not put him in this beautiful cabin in Northern Ontario? A bold move, but it might be just the thing. And now, we've only been here overnight, but he is so happy reading in the enclosed porch with the lovely lake view, he already says he thinks this was an inspired idea and is so glad I've arranged it!
This morning I made bacon-and-eggs, Lord Peter style (for some reason it sounds even more delicious with the hyphens). Then I drove to The Bookshop on the Highway, about thirty miles north, a wonderful old labyrinthine secondhand bookshop in a barnlike building, rather resembling the late Acres of Books in Los Angeles. It's weird to see such a really huge old bookstore out in the middle of nowhere. The very elderly owners have run it for over 50 years, and they sit there all day till 10 PM seven days a week with their black cat. The books are mostly Canadiana, but there's lots of stuff from all eras; the prices aren't that low, so I only bought Christian's Mistake by Miss Mulock. Claire advised me to introduce myself to the owners, and when I did, the old man insisted on showing me something, and hobbled way to the back of the store. There was a connecting passage to a warehouse, and I was absolutely staggered to find myself in a mammoth barn that was three times the size of the already enormous store! Like a "young cathedral," as Lord Peter (again) put it. Bizarrely, the warehouse books are totally unsorted - they've only been scanned in for internet sale, and each has a number, that's it. They're not even minimally sorted by subject or alphabet. Too big a job, a nightmare! It sort of took my breath away.
Bookshop on the Highway
Then I drove back to the glorious cabin, windows looking out on the gleaming lake. Last night Richard made a fire in the stone circle right outside by the lake, and we ate dinner by the fire, looking at the dark lake and the stars. Peter is mellowing out, forgetting about the horrible election, and bonding gingerly with the bereaved cat, Touquet or Tookie (Richard had to take its very sick fellow, Bear, to the vet to be put to sleep today).
Peter's poem on Twocat:
In all her grandeur, Twocat, cat of cats,
Surveys her realm -- this from a feline eyrie;
Then, like an empress, stately, makes her way
From matchless view to her prosaic dish.
News Bulletin: There is no outhouse! That was a most elaborate leg pull. When just before we left, Claire wrote, "Did I mention there is an outhouse?" I thought she meant ONLY an outhouse, and the Girls Own list took up the joke, informing me that I'd have to use leaves, etc. In truth, there IS an old outhouse on the property, but also two shining new modern bathrooms!
Before leaving Toronto, we had a nice leisurely breakfast with my cousins Frank and Jane in their lovely Victorian house (excellent Toronto bagels), and set out at 11 AM, driving the 300 miles north. The first half of the day it rained steadily, but it's a major highway all the way up, with brilliant red trees on both sides. We stopped at Huntsville for lunch - this is a pretty, twee sort of town in the middle of "cottage country" where many Torontonians have old family cabins on the many lakes, in the Muskoka region. Once past there, the area thins out and becomes more and more like Alaska - rough and wild. The rain stopped, sun came out and lit up the red trees. We drove through North Bay, a city of 50,000 on the bay, the biggest town in the region, about 50 miles from Temagami. Then it was a narrower laned road to Temagami and we reached the cabin at about 5 PM. It is ten times more beautiful than we expected, or than the pictures showed. Built in the 1920s, remodeled about 10 years ago, it's all spruce wood paneling inside, a real showcase. It's right on its own private lake (well, there's one other house a few hundred yards away, down another road, where Mary, a nurse, and Bud her husband live, but that's it), and is the most magically serene place. We were instantly enchanted. Richard welcomed us; it was his birthday and his lovely sister Jane came over, she's helping run the train station while Claire is in Edinburgh. We had dinner in the Chinese restaurant (not bad, but overpriced; we won't do that again), and then shopped for food at the excellent supermarket. There are dozens of decent frozen dinners Peter can stock up on.
The town of Temagami, pop. 700
Peter won't be able to walk to town, or get food on his own. It's too far, must be nearly 2 miles, and it's along the highway with the giant trucks - not good. But Richard will be here next weekend and from time to time, and there are several neighbors (Mary, and Shelley, the librarian) who've said they'd be willing to give Peter lifts to the store now and then. It's not a social place, there's no coffeeshop or social center, so Peter's not likely to spend any time in town. From what Richard says, there are some eccentric residents (so we won't be out of place) and they keep to their own privacy. However, being a small town, they do help each other out, doing pharmacy runs to North Bay and so on. Fortunately, the house is far more comfortable and luxurious than we expected, and very self-sufficient, so Peter will be happy to spend nearly all his time here. He's going to love it!
We're looking forward to exploring the area tomorrow, starting with a mining town called Cobalt, and I'm going to show Peter "the bookstore on the highway." The weather is WARM, low 70s during the day, I'm wearing a T-shirt and am sorry I brought so many sweaters! The beautiful lake is utterly fresh and clear with colors and reflections; the golden trees and green pines all around, are stunning and smell so nice.
"Some are born to cabins, some achieve cabins and some have cabins thrust upon 'em." I was amused by your saying that I "have friends equipped with cabins." Maybe it's that I tend to make friends because they have cabins? Perhaps that's not very nice, but it is just as easy to like somebody with a cabin as somebody without one. Last time I pursued somebody with a cabin, I was attracted by the address of a Jane Austen Society member who lived in Lone Pine near Mt. Whitney. I wrote to her (this was before email), we corresponded, and Trudy became a most beloved friend. Her husband Alex Saxton was a history professor emeritus from UCLA and they'd retired to the mountains. They loved hiking and Peter and I visited them often - they had a glorious house in the foothills. Trudy died at 80, several years ago, and I haven't heard from Alex in a long time, so he may be gone now too. It was a lovely friendship, they were my role model for getting old, and I only sought her out in the first place because I thought she lived in a nice place to visit! But it turned into much more than that.
Oddly, in this instance, it really wasn't "my" networking; I didn't pursue Claire's cabin, she was actually the seeker. We weren't close friends and have never met - we've exchanged maybe 20 emails. But it's a fact that she wanted somebody to occupy the cabin and we wanted to occupy it! Claire tells me that she thought, reading about my writing and Peter's poetry and our hiking pictures, that we were "harmless"!
To the Piffle online list:
Here Peter and I sit on a beautiful golden autumn day at Lake Temagami, Northern Ontario. The thermometer out the kitchen window says 68, the lake is blue, and the cat is sleeping on the sun porch. Richard, our host, has gone back to Toronto to his work - he works hard, driving the 300 miles between Toronto and Temagami often, between his theater jobs and managing the railroad station up here. This morning he had to drive his sick cat to the vet, and called later to sadly say that Bear had had to be put down, though they'd been expecting it. Only Tookie, the Maine Coon cat is left, but he is old and fat and is coping comfortably, seeming to have little affection for anybody or any other cat.
This afternoon we'll go to the library, to meet the lady who may be going to give Peter lifts into town after I leave. The library is only open three hours in the afternoon! (Temagami's population is only 700.) And we'll have another drive to The Bookshop on the Highway. (Later) We drove through Cobalt, the picturesque little mining town, and went as far as New Liskeard, the larger town (pop. 15,000) forty miles north of Temagami, where, in a little cafe called Euphoria, Peter was pleased to find the best iced latte smoothie he's ever tasted.
It's raining today and the house is cozier than ever. We're still "at" the lake even though indoors; the sun porch at the front of the cabin is *all* windows, and our two desks face on the lake. You look up from your laptop and book, and there is the shining sheet of water, changing every minute. It's just us and the cat. Peter considers her bereaved, and makes efforts to console her.
Peter does not want to hear one single thing about what is going on in the world, lest it set off his obsession and depression again. So I have not told him how the bailout was voted down, or about the huge crash. I'm not used to knowing things I can't talk to him about. It's one thing "not to talk" about politics or world events when nothing much is going on, but it's really weird to have HUGE events going on and not mention them!
I'm working on writing a guest blog for the Jane Austen "Austenprose" website; I'm going to "review" the two versions of Northanger Abbey in the voice of Isabella Thorpe. I'm watching the 2007 version on YouTube in the wilderness (isn't technology amazing?), to refresh my memory of it, and I watched the 1986 before leaving home. So I can dream up something to say as Isabella - so far I have no opinion on the darn things whatsoever. I so dislike the films, the pretty images mean nothing to me. I'm re-reading the book, which is much more likely to spark ideas and help me imitate her style. I think I'll treat both the movies as "horrid novels," that's what. Gothically garbagey.
Just wanted to tell you that we are settling in nicely and are very comfortable. Peter loves it here, it's heavenly, and your house is really his dream house! Yesterday was golden autumn sunshine, today it mostly rained, but then it was cozy in the house. We're reading and internetting and watching the cat. We're very sorry about Bear - it's very sad for you and Richard to lose such an old friend. We'd only just met, but she was a most gentle cat. The other one is doing fine. The first day we thought she looked a little lost, but today she has advanced to boldly come right out and sit in the middle of the living room floor, and when we were cooking dinner she sat in the kitchen purring loudly. Purring is good. Peter perceives her as bereaved and lonely, and is making extra efforts at cooing to her and patting her head. She's eating and drinking well, and as Richard truly said, she likes mushrooms.
I've been to the library and met Shelley, who's lovely and will be helpful in giving Peter lifts home; the walk is definitely too far for him especially as it gets cold, so we'll call Romeo the taxi driver tomorrow to see what the deal is with him. [He wanted $20 for a four minute, one-way drive: never mind.] Peter will only need to go to the supermarket once a week or so. Otherwise, he's very contented here with his books. It's all a long way from your cosmopolitan life in Edinburgh! Now I know what you mean about being used to having a whole house, lake, and the bush to yourself. It's getting chilly and I don't think we'll be doing any boating, but I can see that the great glory of Temagami must be canoeing...
It's a cool grey day at Lake Temagami - I'm sitting with my laptop on the enclosed sun porch, which runs across the whole front of the cabin, a long narrow wood-paneled room with nine windows looking out at the lake, which is about twenty feet away. Temp. is 48 by the thermometer outside the window, I've just got up and think I'll make myself some bacon-and-eggs. Maybe drive into town and climb the fire tower today, and perhaps another little journey to the Bookshop on the Highway this evening...I do love these lazy days and wish I could stay here the whole six remaining weeks of Peter's stay!
(Later) We drove out to the Temagami Fire Tower, the grand Eiffel Tower of this burg. It was our hosts who renovated it (along with the railroad station), and we've been urged to climb the thing. I probably will, but it's a loooong way up. I think Piffle is in serious need of a Virtual Tour of the Lake Temagami Fire Tower, which is on this website. There are also more pictures of the Temagami Tower than you might imagine. The leaves of course are much yellower now than in these pictures: http://www.temagamivacation.com/firetwr.htm
There really are not a lot of sightseeing attractions in this area. We went for a drive on some tiny little winding dirt roads through the White Bear forest (or whatever it's called), signs indicate they're ski trails, but they were driveable, and it was like hiking through the woods, though in a very little car.
To the Armchair Travelling online list:
I'm surprised to see so many flowers still in your gardens, Britt-Arnhild [in Norway] and Roz [in England]. I wonder if I'm farther north even than Britt-Arnhild is. Here in Northern Ontario where I'm sojourning, there's only a clump of yellow flowers sort of like black-eyed Susans in the garden, and a few dying marigolds and snapdragons, and one last pansy clinging to life. There was a little sleet last night, the temperature got down to 38. This afternoon it's been raining a bit and is still barely 40 degrees.
I wonder if you can imagine the delighted feeling I have in sharing my "garden conditions" with you! Normally, you know, I live in a city apartment, by the beach it's true, but with no garden, and virtually no weather change. (Though they've been having a heat wave in Santa Monica, it's been 90 degrees there, I hear.) I really think the greatest pleasure of my whole trip here is watching the weather change, from rain to gleams of sunshine over the lake, the temperature dropping, and noticing which flowers are still hanging on. I can't have it year round, but it makes the loveliest of vacations, quite different from staying at a hotel.
Got up around 11 - stepped outside on the cool grass. Today it was sometimes raining, sometimes silvery shafts of sunshine, much cooler than before: never got much over 40. Had scrambled eggs and toasted bagel, delicious Canadian eggs and butter. Did email, read, relaxed...Peter didn't want to go anywhere so I went out, went to the supermarket to get pasta and a sausage sauce for dinner; stopped at the gift shop and got a magenta Temagami T-shirt; and visited Richard's sister Jane who was manning the railroad station. There's an excursion train called Dream Catcher Express that does trips for four fall weekends where people from Toronto and North Bay come up to see the leaves, and this makes a lot of work for Richard and his staff; there can be 150 visitors at a time. Jane is lovely, and has had an interesting career - worked for the BBC in England and was a house mistress at Harrow, but she married a Canadian and emigrated. Richard evidently followed her and fell in love with the canoeing! Though he actually met Claire in London where they were doing theatre work. Been married almost as long as me and Peter.
Temagami Railroad Station
When I got home I called Betty the station accountant, and she explained that, when mail comes for Peter, the postmistress will bring it to the railroad station, and the librarian will let him know it's there! Later Peter and I went to the supermarket and bought staples for while I'm away. When we got back the cat acted up. Pooped on the floor, then when we were cleaning it up, she snarled and leaped at Peter, like a monster out of The Exorcist! Guess she's not so calm and bonded after all, but she soon quieted down. I called next door neighbor Mary, who seems very kind and will look out for Peter. As I was cooking the pasta, Richard arrived for the weekend and his marathon train station work.
The weather has turned just in the week I've been here; from golden Indian summer, it's now chilly. Before, the lake twenty feet from the door summoned me out irresistibly; now it's just too cold to want to sit by it. So this morning I put the kettle on and made a monstrous breakfast - lovely Canadian scrambled eggs with buttered toast and a kipper! And lots and lots of tea. Then I settled down to read Miss Read's Village School. Somehow I've never managed to get into her before, thought it too nothing-happening, but this one is a delight. Perhaps it's simply that my life has slowed down enough here, at Lake Temagami, rather than racing around Los Angeles like a furious ferret in a cage, that I can appreciate a quiet sort of book.
To Laurel Ann of Austenprose:
Here is my Northanger Abbey piece, Laurel Ann, only it is too LONG, I know, more like 2000 words. If you want me to cut it, let me know.
I never want to leave Temagami. This is the way to live, in a beautiful luxurious cabin with windows looking out onto the lake, and nothing to do. Pure heaven! But I do leave Sunday, and will spend a couple of days in Toronto with friends and family. Peter gets 6 weeks more here. He doesn't drive, but we've met the neighbors and the librarian, lovely folks. Honestly? I now see how I'd like to live when/if I ever retire. A cabin on a lake, nothing to do but read.
This morning I got up late, fed the cat, made myself bacon and scrambled eggs and wheat toast with Canadian butter, and tea. Then I drove to the Temagami Fire Tower. Of course rain started again, and I'd been trying to find a moment when it *wasn't* raining, to climb it, but never mind: it's my last full day here, so now was the hour. A few tourists from the Dreamcatchers Express were there too, so it was safer than being alone. Tower is 100 feet high, though on a 400-foot hill called Caribou Mountain, that's the highest point on Highway 11, so you do get a great view all around. Climbing the winding narrow metal stairs while the tower swayed was definitely quite frightening and vertiginous. The last bit was a stepladder: pulling myself up that while swaying high above the ground was the worst! But I did it, and stood on the viewing platform taking pictures and chatting to a man from some small town near Waterloo where he's an auto mechanic; his young wife was too scared to make the climb. We talked about trees and he actually said "Eh?" a lot, which I hadn't heard before. Then back home to wake up Peter and make him iced coffee, scrambled eggs and toast, as he won't have the luxury of someone to make anything for him for another five weeks!
Temagami Fire Tower
I realized how far I've become Temagamized. When I first saw the website pictures of the fire tower, I thought, "oh right, that town is so nothing, they make a big deal about a *fire tower*? Yes, well." But now, after only a week, climbing the fire tower has become major important drama and truly a high point of the journey! So I've quieted down into a proper Temagamic state of mind. I forgot that Richard designed it, though, when I told him it was scary to climb because it swayed ("It's supposed to sway!" he exclaimed), and how hard it was to get up the stepladder at the top. "But I *had* to make it that way, you can't have winding metal stairs that narrow at the top!" he protested, very truly. But I am as much a Temagamist and fire tower denizen as any one of them, now.
Lake Temagami from top of Fire Tower
Yes, I'm really sad to leave Temagami. I've been to more beautiful places - it's not as smashingly spectacular as the Canadian Rockies for instance - but it has a quiet beauty, and I've never felt more at home anywhere in the world than in this wonderful cabin. Perhaps it's partly because when we travel to glorious places, we usually stay at lodges or inns or hotels. I always thought I preferred that because you don't have to cook or fuss, but the amount of "work" involved in making scrambled eggs for breakfast and grilling a steak at dinnertime is nothing. And we have this unbelievably comfortable peaceful feeling of *living* here that I've hardly ever felt before. I'll hope to come back.
I'm still at Lake Temagami, and I've never been sorrier to leave a place. It feels more like home than home! So peaceful and just the way to live. To quietly sit and play on the internet (broadband makes all the difference in living in a remote place) or read a leisurely kind of book, while glancing at the lake every few minutes...and fix myself a leisurely breakfast...and to step out to breathe the sweet smelling cool air and new mown grass, and stand by the lake some more...and maybe take a little drive to explore...oh it's so peaceful! Such a lovely way of life, just beautiful, I seem to need it on some primal level. I hate the idea of being back in LA again with the traffic and crowds and ugliness. But leave I must, driving down to Toronto tomorrow to stay with my cousins for two nights. It's also awfully sad to leave Peter, though I know he'll be very comfortable here, and it's the best thing for him. We've stocked the house with food, he knows how to work everything, he's had microwave instruction and knows how to put the garbage in plastic bags. He's been introduced to the neighbors and a librarian, he knows where the clinic is, and Richard will be back in two weeks. Peter likes to be alone, and will concentrate on his work and can completely ignore the ghastly election rigamarole here. All he has to do is sit at his desk reading and writing and looking out over the water. He won't watch TV; the local papers, even if he sees the outside of one, are about nothing but local events. The people don't talk about the American elections at all, we might be on another planet. I even changed his AOL "Welcome" screen to SPANISH so he won't see any disturbing headlines! How's that!
I'll be home late Tuesday night.
Had a lovely solo drive down from Temagami, stopped at a maple sugar shack and bought maple sugar, then had a nice lunch in Huntsville, and got to my cousins' place around 4. Then Figments picked me up and drove me to her wonderful house, which I have always loved so, for its bookish academic Victorian world-traveler atmosphere. Her lovely husband Marty and sweet son Moses were there. Shayna arrived bearing lovely food: a delicious tuna fish, raddicchio, little-corn first course, and salmon latkes; Jane arrived breathing kindness and humor, fresh off the plane from Japan. We ate at Figments' beautiful table, finishing with fresh organic strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, and cookies, and we discussed the American Presidential Election in all its gruesomeness; Peter's escape from it to Temagami; Jane's trip to Japan and upcoming trip to Bouchercon; her funny daughters who played a CD of cats singing for a bemused Shayna; Shayna's and Figments' Torah studies; comparison of provisions for the homeless in Toronto (bad) and Santa Monica (worse); and assorted travel anecdotes.
Dear Vicar of Piffle comments: "Enjoy the Duke [of York pub]! It was my 'local' when I was at Trinity (just behind the ROM) and the site of my 50th birthday bash.
We had a wonderful time at the Duke of York, one of the most delightful pifflefests I've ever enjoyed. The Duke happens to be literally around the corner from the condo where my cousins live, so convenient, and the pifflefest was total bubbly fun! Lynne and I screeched and burbled with excitement on meeting each other in person after having been piffle friends for quite a few years now. Each exclaimed that the other was exactly as she expected (we have seen many pictures of each other) and we knew each other instantly; it did NOT feel like meeting a new person, as meeting online friends sometimes does. Only the accents were new; Lynne sounded a touch English, and she thought I was identifiable as New York but softened by years of California and English influences. A lovely Tasmanian friend, Fran, that Lynne knows from another list, the Moldies, was there, and Colin, Lynne's delightful husband, came too, and her two daughters, Eryl and Bryn, whose puckish and witty sense of humor reminded me of no one on earth so much as Just Jane's unforgettably delightful daughters. Oh dear, we did laugh and scream and drank cider and ate pub food - the pifflefest was, as Jane Austen says, "perfect, in being only too short." We took some funny pictures of us all, Lynne and Eryl clowning around with some Venetian beadolini, but who could catch the stream of pifflechatter enough to put it in a letter?
Sun. Oct. 5
Didn't sleep much - anxious - up by 8:30 and went out to look at misty lake with Richard who asked if Peter knew about calling 911 for emergency, which was not reassuring in his opinion of how Peter looks! He showed me a beaver streak in the water and you could just see the little brown head. Had scrambled eggs and toasted bagel, said goodbye to the lake...and left, hitting Highway 11 at 10:15 AM. Nice day, some sunshine, some rain as usual. 5 degrees in Temagami, 15 by the time I got to Toronto. (That's a variation from 41F to 59F.) Nice easy driving except for some insane Canadian tailgaters. I say insane because they tailgate when there is absolutely nothing you can *do* to go faster, you're right behind some other car, and their being on your bumper can't possibly make you speed up any! This is the only negative characteristic of Canadian drivers I've seen. Otherwise, they're very speed-and-law abiding, and the radar system means hardly anyone goes over 120 (80), unlike on US freeways; but this tailgating habit is harrowing, stupid and dangerous.
Stopped at the Maple Sugar Shack on the highway and bought some really superior maple sugar, looked around at the pioneer buildings and lovely red leaves, for a break. I reached Huntsville by 1 PM, which is pretty much the halfway point, parked, gassed up, and had lunch at the same place Peter and I did on the way in, little Italian restaurant on the twee main street called The Little Place (twee: the bathrooms are called The Little Place for Men and The Little Place for Women). Had a nice tuna melt on focaccia and a cappuccino the size of a soup bowl which gave me energy for the rest of the trip. I was in the outskirts of Toronto before I even expected to be there, and Cousin Mary's meticulous instructions for getting into town and finding their house were excellent. I reached their condo on Prince Arthur Avenue at 4:15, and that's with taking an hour out for Maple Sugar and lunch, five hours' drive for 310 miles. Since Richard typically takes 4 and a half hours and he goes back and forth constantly, I knew that was pretty good.
I relaxed and visited with my dear cousins in their lovely condo, and then had the Pifflefest with Figments, Shayna and Jane. I truly love all three of these piffle-ladies, and the fest couldn't have been warmer and lovelier, but there was some anti-American and political talk that rather got me down. Everyone in Canada is for Obama, as far as I can tell, if he was running here he'd get 100% of the vote. But it was depressing hearing about arrogant American Pifflers, how America's economy is finished, how it's too bad Canada can't detach from America and join the EU, how Obama's people are doing wonderful work in Florida convincing the people that he loves the Jews...well, I kept quiet. But it made me suspect that I might not really be altogether happy living in Toronto...
Jane, me and Figments
At 8:30 Jane kindly drove me and Shayna home; Tim and Mary were waiting for me, and their daughter my dear cousin Elizabeth came over to see me. I was feeling shattered and exhausted but had a warm and wonderful conversation with Elizabeth, whom I love and haven't seen in some years, since we worked together on our Winnie books.
Mon. Oct. 6. Got some good sleep, but still tired. Tim and Mary suggested I return the rental car today, and it could be dropped off at the Eaton Centre. So Mary and I did that, and then went by subway to the Textile Museum. This was surprisingly rather disappointing; I'd anticipated seeing interesting textiles, but this was a political harangue in disguise as a museum. There was an exhibit of somebody's drawings of people dying in Afghanistan, an exhibit of war medals, and another exhibit of Afghani hangings which incorporated helicopters, bombs and other modern weapons. I got the message, but didn't really *want* to be hit over the head with a message, so I let off steam by writing pointed critical comments in the comments box! Mary and I took the subway back to Prince Arthur, and my next engagement was a mini-Piffle-fest just around the corner at the Duke of York pub, with a long time piffle friend, Lynne, whom I'd never seen in person before.
Eryl, me, and Lynne at the Duke of York
Lynne and Bryn
After a very jolly time with lots of laughs, cider, and pub eats, I rejoined Tim and Mary at 6:30 and they took me to a really lovely Japanese restaurant where we met their daughter Katie, her husband Ian, and son Casey, 17. I'd not spent much time with them before, but was able to talk with Katie and enjoyed the Japanese food very much, a sushi appetizer and a scallop and fried rice dish that they grilled spectacularly at the table.
Japanese Restaurant: Mary, Katie, me, Tim, Casey, Ian
Back at the condo, Mary showed me her wonderful old photos of Peace River, where she was born in 1923; her mother was the first woman sheriff in Canada and these are wonderfully historic photos of another place and time. She also has a beautiful painting of the region. Just before I turned in, I checked email and got a letter from Peter's former neurologist asking if I really thought it was safe to leave him, in his depressed condition and with the financial markets tanking, alone in a remote Canadian cabin? Implication being that I was thoughtlessly abandoning him to possible death. As I was already 300 miles from him and flying back to California next morning, the timing could not have been worse. I don't suppose she meant it the way it sounded, but really...
I could barely sleep after that, but got up at 9, and then Mary and I drove (well, Mary drove, and wonderfully well too, considering she is actually 85, hard though that is to believe) to a meeting of her University of Toronto arts group, visiting the home of a woman who's a masterly weaver. The weaver lived in a pretty house in Mississauga, a Toronto suburb, which was full of her lovely hangings and table runners and place mats and blankets and looms. Only four other group members were there, and all were over 80, but very lively, lovely, cheerful, interesting women, a real inspiration and model for one's old age: that's the way to be! A good part of their lives have centered around cottages in lake country north of Toronto - Mary has belonged to a group of fellow women painters who've been meeting for half a century, with many visits to one another's woodsy cottages, to celebrate their lives and painting. It's deeply lovely to page through her beautiful albums of their meetings and their paintings, though rather sad, as only four of them are still left. The cottages are mostly in Muskoka, near Huntsville where I stopped for lunch, not far from Algonquin Park, but quite different from Temagami. The Muskoka region is much more populated, and extremely scenic, with vivid fall colors, astounding red maple trees. It's more accessible, being only around 2 hours north of Toronto. Temagami really isn't "cottage country" anymore, it's northern Ontario, and much more bleak and sparsely populated. I feel temperamentally rather more affiliated with that.
Jim and me
We had lovely little tea sandwiches and coffee and Mary's famous chocolate chip cookies (she got the recipe in 1944) with the ladies, and then Mary and I drove back to the condo. Their youngest son Jim, who's now 46 and charming (he calls himself the black sheep of the family, so we relate!), came by to visit me and to cook dinner for his parents. I was so delighted to spend time with him. Then Mary took me by taxi all the way to the airport, so very kind of her! (Though the taxi driver, a Jamaican Torontonian, did ask me, as a Californian, how I could stand living in a place where they're so stupid as to vote for Schwartzeneggar and Bush? I had to bite my tongue not to retort that I'd rather live in Santa Monica just the same.) Reached the airport, parted sadly from dear Mary, and then...flew home. Paul and Jennifer met me at the airport though it was 11 PM, apologizing for not bringing flowers! Too sweet. Good to be home, but Peter is so far away...I'm going right back to Temagami just as soon as possible. Find out for sure if I really do prefer small town life!
Posted by Diana Birchall at 12:25 AM 8 comments:
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