Wednesday, October 22, 2014

View from the third row...By C. Allyn Pierson

Karen Doornebos, C. Allyn Pierson, Diana Birchall - three members of the popular "Austen Variations" writing blog
A guest blogger!  I have a guest blogger on "Light, Bright, and Sparkling" for the very first time!  As a companion piece to my previous post, "A View from the Stage," C. Allyn Pierson (more familiarly known as Carey), has agreed to tell the story as she saw it from the other side of the footlights.  (Not that there were any actual footlights.)  Carey is a member of Austen Variations, the "Austenesque" writing blog I belong to, and we both write stories there regularly. She's also a physician living in Iowa, with many fascinating interests, which you can read about on   And now, here's Carey's tale of matters Montreal...

View from the third row…

By C. Allyn Pierson

My miniscule part in “A Dangerous Intimacy” began almost a year ago when I followed Diana’s Facebook posts and blog posts about the 2012 AGM and I discovered that she and Syrie would be writing a new play and presenting it for the 2014 AGM in Montreal. During her comments she lamented that her only Regency gown had been deemed DOA by her friends and that she would need to get a new gown, sighing that she would have to have someone make one, as she does not sew. I volunteered to sew her a new gown…but it took about 2 weeks to convince her that I really meant it! It would be a dangerous thing (not intimate, but clearly dangerous…) to volunteer such a thing if I didn’t mean it!

After some wasting of time, twiddling of thumbs and a couple of months, we finally came down to the cotton thread (sort of like the brass tacks a là sewing…) and I obtained royal blue satin and selected and altered my pattern. I used the wrong side of the satin, as Diana wanted a gown that could be used for daytime as well as for any Regency balls she might come upon, so she did not want it to be too glossy. I chose to make it a drawstring dress so that she could not only adjust it to fit perfectly, but she could actually get in and out of it on her own (those who have been to Jane Austen events have probably dealt with the “OMG! How do I get out of my dress here, alone in my hotel room? Is this included in room service?”).

After the gown was finished and as the AGM approached, I offered her a cap, fichu, etc. and then discovered that she would be costumed in green baize! When I finished laughing, I went on to work on my fleur-de-lis embroidered gown, hoping to finish it before I left for beautiful Montreal (I finally finished it 45 minutes before the Saturday evening banquet...whew!)

Another view of my couture gown from the House of Pierson
Carey wears her own elegant gown to work!

On Friday evening, the night of Diana and Syrie’s tour-de-force, I ran into Karen Doornebos, another Austen Variations friend, and found out that she was in the play too, but needed help getting into her gown (see above, paragraph 2…). She gave me the time she would be dressing, and I packed up needles, thread, hair doodads, flowers, hairpins, and jewelry and stepped into the elevator, generating much comment about the red and white striped bandbox I had all my accessories in…there was also considerable disappointment when I admitted that there was no bonnet in the bandbox.

I won’t go into details about the dressing experience…we dressers need to be discrete about our activities…let us just say that it involved one zipper, two safety pins (not Regency approved), bobby pins, a pearl hairclip and a pearl necklace (fake, but hopefully not colored with fish scales). You may imagine the details yourself.

I took my bandbox and retired to the auditorium, ready in case of theatrical emergencies, but everything was prepared so I found a seat on the third row aisle where I could see the entire show without getting a kink in my neck looking up at the stage. I prepared to be entertained.

While awaiting the curtain, I was a little confused by the piano tuner tuning the grand piano in the room…but later realized that it was for a concert later in the evening. The audience straggled in and a glance around just before curtain time revealed that there was standing room only. There was a buzz of conversation and a rustle of programs as spectators speculated about the props that were visible on the stage, and which actors were playing which parts. They did not have long to wait…

Reading Diana’s version of the writing and staging, I am even more impressed that she and Syrie were able to bring together people from three countries and, with two short rehearsals, pull off a comedy that called forth cheers and applause, boos and hisses. There is no question that Mrs. Norris stole the show (as we know she always tries to do) and Diana did an outstanding job being mean, nasty, dismissive, and patronizing. I have never seen an Austen-based entertainment that actually engendered hissing at the villain in the piece!

I have to say that Julia and Maria Bertram did far too good a job at cat fighting…I hope this was just for the stage ladies…ahem. The best part about the vignette was that the actors obviously enjoyed their parts! I do still wonder what Mrs. Norris did with that roll of green baize with which she absconded when Sir Thomas returned from Antigua earlier than expected…

The theater-goers trickled out after the play…far too busy laughing and talking about the play to hurry on to the next entertainment. They were still talking about it the next night at the banquet and ball, and I’m sure will continue to do so until the next AGM.

The ball on the following night was an excellent example of how difficult it is to put together a multinational production, when the Austen Variations gang tried to get together for a picture…we finally managed to get three of us in one place (unfortunately, we could not find Syrie when we had the inspiration for the photo, but you may look on Diana’s Facebook page and this blog for pictures of the cast)…Diana Birchall in her new royal blue gown and beautiful embroidered shawl, Karen Doornebos in my pearls and pearl hairclip (and her new ball gown), and me in my fleur-de-lis gown. I think we made a respectable showing! Somehow, even though Diana and Karen wore heels and I wore ballet slippers, I managed to tower over their delicate selves…but then being tall was one of the signs of Maria’s and Julia’s superiority…I will say no more than that.

Well, except to look forward to a reprise of Diana's earlier play, "You are Passionate, Jane," with herself and Syrie playing respectively Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, which may happen at the 2017 JASNA AGM in Huntington Bedach, California, with a "Jane Austen in Paradise" theme.  Oh, dear, how can I make a Regency gown look more…Brontë?

[From Diana] No worries, Carey, I found a pair of gorgeous blue feathered angel wings at the Salvation Army, which will look sublime with the blue gown!  A snood, and I'm a dead Bronte...

C. Allyn Pierson

Author of Mr. Darcy's Little Sister

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A View from the Stage

The cast of "A Dangerous Intimacy"
Peter Sabor (Mr. Rushworth), Natasha Duquette (maid), Patrick Stokes (Prince Regent), Karen Doornebos (Julia), Frederick Duquette (Tom), Syrie James (Maria), Diana Birchall (Mrs. Norris), Karen Fuller (Fanny), Edward Scheinman (Henry Crawford), Juliet McMaster (Edmund), Miriam Rheingold-Fuller (Mary Crawford), and Kimberly Brangwin (Lady Bertram).  Picture by Erna Arnesen.
After the success of our "Austen Assizes" play in Brooklyn (at the 2012 JASNA AGM) to our delight Syrie James and I were commissioned to write a "behind the scenes" play-within-the-play in Mansfield Park for the Montreal AGM. We knew this would be even trickier to bring off, as Mansfield Park is arguably the least comic, and most structurally complex, of Austen's novels. So we decided to begin with a series of brisk sketches, each a dialogue between two characters, and then move into the rehearsal scenes incorporating dialogue straight from Lovers' Vows. That would link  that play to the Mansfield Park "actors," and reveal what, exactly, they would have been rehearsing. We didn't think the interaction between the two had really been shown before, and it would be enlightening, and funny.
Fred, Miriam, Syrie, Edward, Peter, in rehearsal

Fred, Syrie and Edward, as Tom, Maria and Henry emoting in "Lovers' Vows"

Of course, the actual writing was mostly done in the last six months when time started to press in! ("We'd better get serious.") Our method was basically to take turns, each writing a scene, the other countering with rewriting and then adding new material, back and forth, with several in-person discussion meetings (fortunately we don't live far apart), until we had what looked like an hour-long play. The polishing we did by sitting together and reading the whole play aloud, in several sessions, to meticulously refine the dialogue and make it funnier. By the time it was done, as usual it was hard to remember who had invented what. We do know that Laurel Ann Nattress suggested the green baize and curtain rod a la the Carol Burnett "Went With the Wind" skit, and Syrie actually sewed the contraption!  For every scene that one of us conceived, the other had improvements, changes and inventions, but remarkably, we nearly always saw eye-to-eye, and when one improved something the other had done, reaction was rapturous! It was a true joint effort, done in workmanlike, waste-no-time fashion, an efficiency which never ceases to surprise me, since I never wrote anything in partnership before. The most fun was the reading aloud and making subtle changes; we would alternate speeches, and both Syrie and I "were" Tom, Henry, Mary, Julia, all the characters, at different times. It gave us a facility and intimacy with all the roles, and a good idea of how the speeches should be delivered.
Miriam and Peter at rehearsal
Syrie and Ellen
From early on, casting was always under discussion. Syrie knew from the start that she wanted to be Maria Bertram, and probably wrote the part with herself in mind; I never could see it, and wanted her to play Mary Crawford, for I think of her as having more of Mary's qualities than Maria's. But I would not interfere, trusting she knew best for herself and would bring it off in the end - which she most emphatically did! For myself, I never had an idea of what part I could play, if any. I have virtually no acting experience (though I've always read my stories aloud), and have no clear idea of myself as any kind of "type." As I have trouble projecting (the one thing Syrie keeps on at me about!), I imagined I might make a "creepmouse" Fanny Price. So I was startled when Syrie, Laurel Ann, and even my own son Paul, declared with one voice that I must be Mrs. Norris - and everyone who heard the suggestion said "Oh YES!" Not very flattering, and I couldn't understand it, until I remembered that I do always seem attracted to the nasty caricatures (like Mrs. Elton and Lady Catherine), and that my age suited me to Mrs. Norris far more than to Fanny. To prove everyone wrong, I tried reading Mrs. Norris's part out loud to myself, and what came out was this alarming carping caw that was undeniably - Mrs. Norris! 

 The incredible costume!
The inspiration!
That settled, we knew that we'd ask Juliet McMaster and Miriam Rheingold-Fuller to play parts, as they'd been in other plays of ours; if Syrie was Maria, Miriam would be Mary. Juliet plays en travestie amusingly, with a specialty in clergymen, so she would be Edmund. The difficulty was finding not only men, but men reasonably young and handsome, with real acting ability, and who would also be in Montreal for the AGM! We needed several of them, Tom, Henry and Mr. Rushworth. Not easy! Laurel Ann suggested the brilliant young scholar and writer Edward Scheinman for one of the parts, Elaine Bander suggested Natasha Duquette's Shakepearean actor husband Fred for another, and my son Paul would do Rushworth. Fred liked the idea of orating as Tom, Edward would be a perfect Henry - but Paul got a new librarian job and couldn't go to Montreal. The almost last-minute replacement was one of our best pieces of casting. I remembered seeing McGill professor Peter Sabor read in a Fanny Burney play once, I knew he was good, and I thought it would be funny having such a brainy man play a complete dolt!
Peter Sabor (far right) making "Rushworth-face" in performance!
Picture by Sarah Emsley

Syrie and I had always agreed that her husband Bill would be Sir Thomas (fortunately he agreed too), and we always wanted stylish Kimberly Brangwin of Seattle to be the perfect languid funny Lady Bertram. Pretty Austenesque author Karen Doornebos would be the petulant Julia, in the cat-fight with Syrie, and Miriam volunteered her lovely twenty year old actress daughter Ellen to be Fanny.

Bill's entrance as Sir Thomas Bertram fresh from Antigua

Natasha was to persuade her and Fred's pug dog Esmee to play herself, with Natasha as the maid to mind her. Unfortunately, two days before we were to fly to Montreal (Syrie was already on a cruise up the St. Lawrence) the hotel belatedly decided that poor Esmee must be caged, muzzled, heaven knows what restraints put on the poor little thing. So, scratch Pug (so to speak), and I had to immediately come up with dialogue to explain her absence, since we didn't want any stuffed Pugs! Natasha remained in the play, doing her Maid with a soft Irish accent, and actually "maiding" me in earnest, helping me into my unwieldy costume, which tended to slip down my back.
I think Patrick Stokes, as the Prince Regent, was the last written and cast. Having met him in England, I knew he would bring the house down as the prince, but my emails went wrong, and I was sending him ones that began "Say no, if it is to be said," when he replied with bafflement that he didn't know what I was writing about, he had received nothing! When it was all explained, he jumped in with full alacrity and played the part to the hilt. There was the problem of his costume, since his luggage would already be exceeded with the Admiral's uniform he was bringing for his own presentation; but Bill lent a brocade vest, Patrick brought a very effective white wig, and I found a jeweled crown in the Salvation Army! He looked magnificent.
Syrie and Patrick in performance as Maria Bertram and the Prince Regent
Picture by Erna Arnesen
As with Austen Assizes, we had two hour-long rehearsals, one the day before and the other the day of the performance. Owing to scheduling and commitments, not everybody could get to both, but everybody did get to at least one.  Syrie using her staging knowledge to efficiently wield microphones and effectively direct the troupers, particularly difficult for her as she had the most ghastly cold acquired on the chill Quebec rivers; she had to save her voice for her part, and it was touch and go as to whether she might not succumb to laryngitis. But she didn't, real trouper she. On the day of the play her voice merely had a sultry huskiness that was just right for her part!

I was quite nervous when the actors assembled for the first rehearsal, not sure if the play would work or be as funny as the Assizes; but in the very first minute, when Fred Duquette stood up and delaimed in his resonant booming flexible voice:

"At Mansfield Park, November comes
There's naught to do but twiddle thumbs..."

I knew everything would be absolutely all right! All the words we had written jumped to vivid new life when spoken by these speakers of talent. Everyone was super good, and when Peter Sabor contorted his face into that of the doltish dunce and spoke in tones that showed complete inside comprehension of Mr. Rushworth, the effect of the whole was fantastic! (A video will eventually be available so everyone can see.)


Seen on the screen - Karen, Fred, Syrie as Julia, Tom and Maria
Screen set-up. Karen, Syrie, Kimberly

The actors assembled on the stage in the big ballroom at 7:15 for the 8 PM performance, and sat in their row of chairs, all but me, Bill and Patrick, who were going to make "surprise appearances," and mustn't be seen by the audience. We sat in a little tented alcove on the stage, in a litter of crowns, green baize, scripts and curtain rods. As the audience came in, I asked Syrie, who was sitting on the stage (in a "stage whisper" of course), "How's the house?" "Every seat is full," she said with suppressed excitement. Patrick and I amused ourselves counting and lost track at 500.

We began. Elaine gracefully introduced us, Fred as Tom did his Prologue, and people started to laugh as Maria and Julia expressed their booooredom. The laughter didn't stop - everything rolled out with perfect timing. One actor skipped a couple of lines but they were unimportant, and Syrie covered with aplomb. Soon it was time for my entrance, which was anything but an easy one! I had to emerge from the tent, wearing this curtain rod contraption across my shoulders, swathed in green baize, and walked forward slowly to the microphones giving everyone a sight of the costume. Laughter began, and proceeded to build, so I took my time. Then at the microphone I read my lines, remembering to project as young Ellen Fuller had coached me. She must have done it well because I was LOUD, and in Mrs Norris's meanest moments, the audience hissed - a new sensation for me!
Syrie was particularly wonderful as a deliciously amoral Maria, and got a lot of laughs, but then, everyone did - each part was played to perfection, with the elan and enthusiasm of people who are having fun, heightened by the audience having fun too! Special bring-the-house down laughter greeted Sir Thomas, straight from Antigua in his Bermuda shorts, talking of Mai Tais; and the Prince Regent, sweeping Maria away to see the Cupids on his ceiling. Lots of applause, call for "Authors!" and then we left the stage for picture-taking, and rapturous happy mutual compliments. Oh, what a night! And for the rest of the conference I had the happiness of being recognized Mrs. Norris!

Now - does anyone have any more pictures of the performance to share with us?  We'd be grateful!
Cast photo session
Picture by Erna Arnesen
After the play - me, Patrick, Syrie, Bill

"A Dangerous Intimacy" in Montreal

Montreal from my 34th floor window

Wednesday October 8. Coming off a fraught court case (harassment, anxiety, stalker, good lawyer got rid of him/her (a transsexual coffeehouse person. Don't ask). Had to postpone flight a day because of that, and so had no turnaround time to catch my breath before flying to Toronto. Happily was on same flight as Los Angeles friends Carol Medine Moss and Lynda and Ken Hall, and it was great fun catching up with them. We shared a cab to the hotel (Le Centre Montreal Sheraton, where I  had a very comfortable quiet room on a high floor, nice view, super efficient elevators so no tiresome waiting; however hotel food wasn't great and we were at its mercy a little too often). Then we hurried out for dinner, to Reuben's a couple of blocks from the hotel, where we found Nancy Gallagher and other friends. Very good Montreal smoked meat sandwich (tastes like corned beef) on rye with frites and a tangy coleslaw. Shared a really excellent piece of rich chocolate cake. Then to bed though still too flurried and anxious to sleep well.

Montreal Bagel #1, at Dunn's

Thursday October 9. Beautiful morning, cool and crisp. Montreal's 58 F highly preferable to L.A.'s 85. Craving Montreal bagel, got directed by the hotel to another nearby deli, Dunn's, for a toasted one with cream cheese, and then set off a-wandering, solo. Headed onward, north and up, past McGill and all the pretty Belle Époque mansions (or whatever they are) into the bosky leafery of Mount Royal. When I was here researching my book, in around 2000, my cousin Elizabeth and I, with Ph.D candidate (now Professor) Jean Lee Cole and her husband, walked up Mount Royal to the cemetery where my great-grandparents Edward and Grace Eaton are buried, along with great-aunt Edith Eaton (Sui Sin Far, 1865-1914), known as the godmother of Asian American fiction. The Chinese community in Montreal erected a monument to her and in Chinese characters it reads "it is right and good we should remember China." It's a wonderful thing to see, but oddly Mount Royal has got steeper in 14 years and I didn't get to the top this time.  I saw a different part of the park instead, and it was lovely - a woodsy autumn walk, the trees turning red and gold.  Never realized the park was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed Central Park.

Grave of Edith Eaton (Sui Sin Far, 1865 - 1914) in Mount Royal Cemetery
Clockwise from left: Paul, Jean Lee Cole's husband Matt, my cousin Elizabeth, Jean, and me, @2000
In Mount Royal park

Walked back to hotel in time for Juliet McMaster's tea at the Atwater Club. The club was attractive but sadly the event was heavily overcrowded, people standing for ages in long, long lines for the buffet, with disappointing food.  By the time we got our egg sandwiches and half cups of tea we had waited an hour; the event was supposed to be 4 - 6, and we had our rehearsal at 6:30. So Syrie and Bill and I had to leave; she had an elaborate costume to put on plus wanting to be early to set up the rehearsal. There was no possibility of Juliet's talk beginning much less ending on time, so we sadly had to miss it and take a cab back.

Our first rehearsal! Syrie was getting over a bad cold and was in danger of losing her voice, but no fear the trouper wouldn't come through and she directed the proceedings with her usual aplomb. She and Bill, Karen Doornebus, Miriam Rheingold-Fuller and her daughter Ellen Fuller, Edward Scheinman, and Fred and Natasha Duquette were there; absent were Peter Sabor, Juliet McMaster and Patrick Stokes (the latter arrived at the end). Rehearsal went relievedly wonderfully well, and afterwards I had to go to the "Fanny Wars" presentation, as I was asked to introduce Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield.  It went fine, but when the session was over it was past 10, everyone was exhausted, and we ate indifferent food at the hotel bar.

Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield

Nora, Steffi and me - having bagels of course

Friday October 10. What a day! Too excited to sleep well. Met Nora Nachumi (family friend) and her friend Steffi at 9. Crisp cool but sunny day and we walked briskly to Old Town! The city was really not open yet, but we got to the central square and there was one sort of tourist restaurant with a covered patio and it was perfect for breakfast. We had particularly delicious cappuccinos and Montreal bagels, lox and cream cheese.  And sat and talked a mile a minute, improving friendship with delight, reflecting on life's trajectories, women's choices, and our own vitally interesting life stories. Nora and Steffi are putting together an Austen anthology I'll contribute to, and we talked a lot about that and publishing too. Great time! On the way back we went to the maple shop that was the end of all maple shops and I bought a lot of stuff...maple syrup with Grand Marnier, blocks of hard maple sugar, maple sugar fudge...

Yep, another one...but who's counting

Maple sugar pie

Got back at noon just in time for rehearsal, tried on my Carol Burnett curtain rod costume and we assigned microphones and did a run through. A late lunch of bagel and lox and maple sugar pie at the hotel, visiting sequentially with Marcia Folsom McClintock and Mary Margaret Benson; then saw "our" actor Edward Scheinman and his mom, introduced self and made friends with him! After lunch, I went to my first conference session, and what do you know, it was another play, the Mansfield Park characters on a psychiatrists couch, written by Juliet Wells, very smart and amusing, but fortunately  not much like our play, though there was, rather unnervingly, another Mrs. Norris! Then went to next door Italian restaurant with Alice Villesenor, JamesonYu  (who'd been in the play) and Viki Barie, scarfed some cold meats, but was almost late and had to hurry to dress.

Reached the stage at 7:15 and dithered - thought I'd left script in room, ran up, came down and found it under my costume! Put it on with Natasha's help, then sat behind a screen with Bill and Patrick and listened until my turn to appear. Everyone gave it their all, with full weight, skill and accents; pace was great, no problems with microphones or movements. I won't describe the play, as I'll do that (with pictures) in my next post, but it was fantastic!  Afterwards pictures were taken and we had such a good time basking in our success. We repaired to the hotel bar, I had more maple sugar pie, and chatted with Syrie and Patrick and Nora and Sarah Emsley and everyone to heart's content.

At the banquet with "our actresses," Miriam Rheingold-Fuller and Karen Doornebos
Bill and Syrie at the banquet
Me, Syrie and Juliet at the ball

Saturday October 11

Too excited to sleep well and I was to meet Natasha and Fred at 8:30 to go hunt for Montreal bagels. But they were anxious and had to do more work on their presentation (as one does) so we had a lovely breakfast at the hotel - Montreal bagels anyway! Then I went back to SLEEP. Divine.   Got up for Natasha's session, another dramatic one (Mansfield Park seems to inspire drama!), she and Fred did a dialogue, "Fanny Price among the Philosophers," Fred doing all the philosophers, and being especially good as Johnson. Then I went to Jocelyn Harris's talk. I was curious about her, not having heard a talk of hers before. Many people say she's wonderful but I've heard the opposite view too, so I thought I'd see. Well, she's obviously a great researcher or has a great staff, her head is stuffed full of Austen family minutiae, almost on a Deirdre LeFaye level; but she delivered it all so fast that I, who after all am tolerably familiar with the details of Austen's life and history, was totally lost among the welter of Cooks and Cassandras. I would very much like to have heard properly about the research connecting the Austen family to Fanny Burney via the Cooks, but it was absolutely impossible to follow it enough to even take notes. My head was spinning; and then the speaker started delivering fanciful spurious theories and talking as if they were fact, which Deirdre does NOT do. I could see why Arnie is a fan, since fanciful theories do stimulate him, but me - no, no, no! If you once state as fact that Fanny Burney's lowly captivity at Court is what inspired Jane Austen to create the lowly Fanny Price, well then, that is enough to raise distrust.
After these sessions I was to meet Stephanie Barron the mystery novelist; she had actually flatteringly asked to see me, she reads my blog and therefore knows my cats and me (oh! The goodness of having a blog!). But we had the most confusing kerfuffle, I sat in lobby but she didn't see me, and I left message that I was going to this French place for lunch, but when I got there it was CLOSED though concierge had said it would be open so I went to Dunn's next door and had chopped liver on a Montreal bagel, but Stephanie didn't come; she had lunch in the hotel and didn't think to look for me at Dunn's.
Chopped liver on Montreal bagel...yum

Emailed her and said let's meet AT the concierge and she would then come with me to buy Montreal bagels. Took cabs both ways and she paid as I had no more Canadian money; the cab waited and I went to get bagels but it was CASH ONLY so she scuttled round corner to get cash and then I saw they did take American dollars! Well! Back at hotel we went to the bar and she had a drink (surely much needed after an encounter with me!) and I cappuccino; then I got some Canadian dosh in the cash machine, and we agreed to share cab to airport at noon Sunday. We talked and talked and made friends despite the mishaps. :-). My usual theme, Choices in Life, and tried to cheer her as she was away from her kids and hadn't had an exciting Play to thrill her. We talked about publishing and so on and had a jolly time.

Me and Patrick Stokes
My gown, made by C. Allyn (Carey) Pierson
Me with Mary Guyatt, new Curator of Chawton House

 Arnie Perlstein, Ellen Moody and me

Then it was time to dress for the ball. Another kerfuffle was with Carey Bligard who'd offered to help me dress for the play or ball but I didn't get her messages and was never there. Very confusing to find anyone in a 700-person conference! Carey had made my gown, the most gorgeous Royal blue satin, and it did look nicer than I ever thought I could look in a Regenncy gown. So I dressed, and did find Carey, and we promenaded together. At the ball I didn't dance but talked to her and Ellen Moody and Freydis Welland and Sarah Emsley) and more, also watched a little of Kim Wilson's and Victoria Hinshaw' presentation, but was so tired I hobbled in my fancy heels, along to bed.

The dancing

Gail and Karen
Karen Doornebos, C. Allyn (Carey) Bligard, and me,
three members of the "Austen Variations" writers' blog

Sunday October 12. Got some sleep, checked out, stashed luggage downstairs, went to brunch banquet, sat with Kerri Spinnachia and Karen Doornebos, and listened to Patrick Stokes's superb lecture. He wore the same uniform of Admiral of the Red as his ancestor Charles Austen, and was extremely informative yet lively about the Navy in Austen's day, with some very funny jokes. Then I had to leave and joined Stephanie, and we shared the cab to the airport, happily chatting.  I was bound for Toronto!


Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Canadian Thanksgiving


The flight to Toronto from Montreal was actually wonderful! I found a Samsonite whirly polycarbonate suitcase at the Montreal airport, they're $450 in LA and I longed for one, but come on. Here they had them on sale for $120! So I bought one and put my carry-on luggage in it. The flight was only one hour on a perfect sunny crystal clear day and I got some super pictures leaving Montreal and descending onto Toronto Island. Short ferry to Toronto and there was dear Frank waiting! We drove to his spiffy new condo on the edge of High Park, Toronto looking really lovely and exciting in the fall sunshine, the pretty quirky old houses, colorful restaurants, lush green foliage and red trees.

Leaving Montreal in a small prop plane

Approaching Toronto

Getting closer!

About to land on Toronto Island

After a quick introduction to the lovely new condo, with its stunning panorama of the park and the city, we drove to pick up Tim, who is looking quite wonderful at 89. A bit hard of hearing, and like Peter he smokes and won't exercise, but as sharp as ever, with smile unchanged. We drove to a lovely Italian restaurant in Little Italy and Elizabeth joined us. So happy to see her! And the food...I had Gorgonzola crostini and some of Frank's calamari; then the special, osso bucco and risotto, followed by cappuccino and we all shared a tira misu. Delicious! Then back to the condo to catch up with my email and sleep...

With me cousins! Tim, Elizabeth and Frank

Me and Elizabeth

View de Frank

Monday October 13. Canadian Thanksgiving Day! OF COURSE what do you think happens if you have rich osso bucco and risotto and cappuccino and tira misu and strong tea before bed? Yup, indigestion and insomnia. Didn't sleep till maybe 5 AM, got up 8:30, was absolutely socially useless, on the very day there was all the family to see, much to my dismay. Still, at least I was OK in the morning and Frank made me cappuccino (very delicious, I'm sold on his machine (memo to self: it should have a pump, be Italian, and you should grind own coffee beans). We went to a famous deli, Caplansky's, for breakfast (bagels lox and cream cheese); and we talked and talked about the family's lives and trajectories and histories, as well as our own Choices and Decisions and Plans. Never got to know Frank so well before, as it was with Elizabeth I did all the research for my book years ago. It was just the best time - so wonderful to have such cousins and to improve our friendship! Then we walked in High Park for an hour, to Grenadier Pond. Lovely country-like wildness, and ducks and swans and a chipmunk, red trees and Black-eyed Susans. A delightful time!

Found my scene. Toronto coffeehouse.
Red Tree in High Park

Swan in Grenadier Pond.
Black-eyed Susans
Frank then dropped me at Tim's and we were joined by Elizabeth and went over family papers. They gave me Winnie's copy of John Whitcomb Riley that the author gave her, signed by them both, and as if that wasn't thrill enough, also a lovely decorated Chinese silk scarf that Winnie or more probably Doris owned in the 1950s, that I will frame. A lovely time with Tim and Elizabeth, and Frank picked us up at 5. Drove us to Katie's for the dinner.

At Tim's

Mementos of the past...

 And there were Jim and Katie and Ian and their boys, adorable charming Casey and Jamie,  Frank's brilliant son Patrick, his mom Shelley and friend Jan, and various other family friends. And the FOOD! Bruschetta and mackerel spread and cheese and salmon and shrimp - and then the TURKEY and stuffing and gravy and sweet potatoes and carrots with ginger and green beans and pie. Oh my! All excellent. That was a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner, indeed. Drove Tim home and then I collapsed to sleep by midnight.

At Katie's house for Thanksgiving:  Katie, Elizabeth, Tim, Jim

Jim, me and Elizabeth

Brothers: Jim and Frank

Patrick, me and Elizabeth

Jamie, bless him, has inherited the writerly "fairy germs" - our novelist grandmother Winnie's exact quote, in "Me: A Book of Remembrance," was this outrageously, characteristically narcissistic paragraph (but what do you expect from a woman who calls her book "Me"):

"Strip her of her glittering clothes, put her in rags over a wash-tub, and she would have been transformed into a common thing. But I? If you had put me over a wash-tub, I tell you I would have woven a romance, aye, from the very suds. God had planted in me the fairy germs, that I knew."

(Equally complacently and narcissistically) Jamie and I have both got 'em.

The feast

Thanksgiving, Canadian version!

Tuesday October 14.

Slept really well and Frank made me cappuccino and the very best lox eggs and onions I've ever had in my life, with a Montreal bagel of course! I packed, musician Frank practiced his bass, and then Elizabeth came at 10:30 and we went for a lovely stroll on Bloor, chatting like mad all the way, WHAT fun, as I rarely get enough Elizabeth. We had TWO cappuccinos, the first in a Second Cup garden, talking about my family and retirement dilemma and Elizabeth's life and love as well; we stopped in a shoe shop where I had a power nap, then a bookshop where I bought 2 books Elizabeth recommended (The Purchase by Linda Spalding and A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews), a pharmacy to score some aspirin with codeine; and I also plucked the most gorgeous ruffled jacket from a shop's outdoor sale rack - only $10 and see how pretty it is! Finally we rested in the last coffeeshop where we had cappi and a good cakelike nutty brownie each. Truly great fun. 

Frank's divine lox and eggs - and Montreal bagel

Walk with Elizabeth:  Perfect coffeehouse background for The Jacket
Then strolled back to Frank's, bid Elizabeth goodbye and Frank enormously kindly drove me to the airport. There I did internet, uploaded photos, bought an excellent Italian salami sandwich for the plane. And now we are descending into LA, I see the city lights, and we're a bit early so Paul and Pam may not be waiting for me yet, but oh how nice it will be to see them and dear Peter and the little Angel-cats! Oh there are so many wonderful things in the world. Hit plays! Friends! Food! Travels! Cousins! And now, my family and cats!
Back home with my dear Peter