Archive for March, 2008

Spring’s a gas

March 31, 2008

Today was what, to my humble mind, is emblematic of a spring day: soft light, rising temperatures, enough cold that winter is more concrete than a memory. It’s not what most of the Maritimers I’ve met want spring to be, which seems to resemble a fantasy California. But for me, it’s a good fit–and I’ll have no trouble with another round or three of snow. That’s how spring, in my experience, works. There’s a kind of break from winter’s lock, but it’s not all free-wheeling beds of pansies, except at Disneyland.


Another break has come as well. The Olympic Confectionary, on Barrington Street, has had up signs that has had most passersby worried. The place has been closed for a week or so and the hand-lettered placards on the door have made it clear that the cause is a family emergency of a medical sort, unexpected and severe. This evening, on my way past from Henry House, however, I noticed that the “Lotto-Cold Pop-Full Breakfast” sign was back out on the sidewalk. The lights were on inside the shop and the “Open” sign was hung at a positively rakish angle.


Henry House is opening late tomorrow, according to a sign on their door. They are having natural gas installed. I couldn’t help but think of how antiquated the idiom “Now you’re cooking with gas,” sounded in my grade school teacher’s mouth (not that I can remember which teacher, so clearly not all my pilot lights are on at the moment). Turning to natural gas for cooking here, however, is a very modern, au courant rage.


Another gas-oriented divide in the popular histories of Canada and the US, I learned today, has to do with the petrol sort. During a lunchtime conversation, it became apparent that a generous handful of people present had never pumped gas into a car, or only had done so once or twice. As a non-driver, I have undertaken this task a goodly number of times (although not in recent years) so I was sore amazed. A little more poking revealed that the opportunity to do so–or the requirement–has a much smaller window than my own. While “full service” gas stations began to fade in the US 25 or 30 years ago, here it’s been only about three, I was told.

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Sing a song of whisky

March 30, 2008

After some inexplicable slumber during the winter, the second closest NSLC to my place has allowed its whisky (here called “scotch”) section to bloom delightfully. I count 12 shelves of options, with lots and lots of Islays among them. In addition to the never-heard-of-it-before Auld Reekie, there’s Lagavulin, which name for me conjures up sunny walks from Port Ellen to beyond Ardbeg. There are McCallums of all sorts and other Highland malts. I didn’t check which Speysides. I also didn’t get tossed out of the shop for jumping up and down and cheering “yippee!”


Meanwhile, back in Berkeley, Bob could either use some whisky or has been overindulging–this conflicted assessment based on his report on his most recent in-depth reading. A man who lives with thousands of books, he’s carefully reading the Customs booklet for household movers. He has learned some salient info that should help his project no end (?):


When moving a household to Canada, only one live turkey may be imported (I am not sure if this is per household or per person in the household). And, although the household may bring along a shed or garage that is not attached to a dwelling, one is restricted from pulling any shed or garage away from a dwelling into which it is built and then attempting to import it here. Clearly, his Customs booklet is more fun than my Nova Scotia driving rules book….

Queen of hangers

March 29, 2008

During my first week in Halifax, nearly five full months ago, I bought a pair of rain shoes. They have served me quite nicely in slush as well as on icy mornings. This morning, in search of hangers for the warm weather clothes I’ve brought back from Berkeley, I headed over to Scotia Square, having struck out at the dollar store in ParkLane. En route to what I hoped would be hanger heaven, I stopped in the little shoe store from whence my rain shoes had come, this time with half an eye out for a new carryall for workdays (the one I bought in this same shop in November has weathered nicely but is black nylon, not exactly screaming “spring!”).

The clerk who greeted me took a quick look at my feet–I suppose all shoe clerks do?–and chirped “Size 8 and half, right? How have those worked for you?” Now, the fact that I recognized her as the same person who had sold them to me months ago is no great feat (!), because I really haven’t bought that many shoes since and she has an Eastern European accent that reminds me of another place and time in my life. But this is a pretty busy shop and I have to assume she sees hundreds of 8 1/2’s in any given week.

I told her what I was in the market to find on this occasion and she chatted about a recent trip she’d made with black luggage, the hazards of airline transfers and having few identifying marks and so forth. I found a great bag–the spring version (ie, with a green zipper and lining) of my laptop bag–and she was ringing up the sale when she let out an aha:

“I remember you, I knew I did! Have you met my old roommate? You’ve dyed your hair!”

Wow! Here is a person who doesn’t need any of those metaphoric mental hangers any time soon! When we had chatted back in early November, she’d told me that her roommate works at my then brand new job, a detail that escaped me that very day, I’m sure, until today’s conversation.

My little shopping spree netted me a Canadian History for Dummies book as well, But no nonmetaphorical hangers….

Of cod fish cakes and…

March 28, 2008

The snow falls, turning the town into a fine example of an illustration for a Dickens’ story. Or, as the man I met along Tobin Street this evening remarked, “It’s like Christmas, eh?” This ongoing winter weather, as I have learned, tends to make the locals grumpy–and I feel somewhat guilty for being–still–enraptured by its white fluffiness. And today it’s not cold or windy; in fact, the temperature is just about a hair beneath freezing, so the sidewalk is grey mush and the streets are clear. It’s the rooftops and trees and lawns that are white and pillowy.


Some of the locals were cheered by the special at lunch today. Apparently everyone’s mother (including mine) made fish cakes in our once-upon-a-time youths, and so we happily ordered them almost all around. Ducky’s version leaned more toward the potato than the salt cod, and the side was salad, rather than beans, but it looked and tasted handmade.


For supper (at Henry House), I ordered the bruschetta and got a plate of bread and chopped tomatoes that reminded me again of my mother. Not that she ever made anything faintly Italian (and rarely made anything at all, except the aforesaid fish cakes and beans, and a noodly dish that involved canned roast beef of all things). But she had a phase, when I was about five, when she doted on a not-quite-dive called Palazzo’s Restaurant where the equivalent of bruschetta–but I no longer remember what it was called–was slung as a very early breakfast at a bar that seemed to serve only truckers and us.


A week ago, I was dining in high style, and the weather was warm and fine. But I think I’d be more homesick now if it weren’t snowing and there were neither fish cakes nor Henry House here.

Need more hangers

March 27, 2008

When my son was very young–under five–he averred that any limitation he had in the way of memory was related to the finite number of hangers he had in his mind on which to place specific concepts in need of remembering. Thus, forgetting to eat his lunch was to be blamed on the hangers being full; he could offer to shed needing to remember his sweater, in order to remember to eat lunch, for instance, but it was an either/or situation. (Unlike what my mother might have done, his did not stoop to bring Kierkegaard into the discussion).


I am feeling sympathetic to that once-upon-a-time-child’s situation. Today I have been faced with too much information–little of it monumental–for my limited brain to process efficiently. For me, the end result has been a trip to the grocery store that netted me absolutely nothing. In a Soviet supply temper, I was faced with free market choices and the only response I could muster was to flee.


The day began with learning that not only does my husband have what he thought was lost in the way of his citizenship, but so, apparently, does the son, who never was considered by either of us to have had it. While this may not sound like anything more concrete than words, there is something very emotionally powerful about affiliations granted–or denied–one by any state.


To go from the sublime to the ridiculous, I then came into a situation in which I both needed and received (with a nearly magical instantaneousness) knowledge about the sociology of various sports in Canada. Perhaps sports fans learn all this subtly, even about other places and peoples, but for me, athletically agnostic, it was all written on tabula rasa and in the space of an hour.


By the time I’d got to the grocery store, my brain was full up so I came home empty handed…to find that, according to the post office, I’ve reached another milestone: my first mail order catalog (catalogue) here.

Righteous weather

March 26, 2008

It’s not clear whether my coworkers were more pleased–in a smug kind of way–or if the pleasure champ were I when the snow started falling at midmorning. It started shortly after I freely admitted to the warm temps, blue skies, and abundance of flora marking my past few days. And yet, I was almost relieved to see the snow, as though my little advance on spring would be paid by nature with a cessation to winter before I tire of it.


Whether not tiring of winter is a sin might be a question I could research in the week’s worth of local papers I have missed: today was the last in a series–front page no less–on the seven deadly sins.


Thanks to Carole’s suggestion, I was able to make inroads toward resolving my ongoing bread problem. Her suggestion also has a Biblical angle. I stopped by the grocery store this evening and indeed found Ezekiel 4:9 in the freezer. I do not believe Carole would steer me toward bad bread, so there is hope (and hope is a virtue, not a sin).


So, cheerful from my walk to the store in the slush, and cossetted by having actual bread in the house, I miss my friends back in Berkeley, but feel pretty darn at home here.

My spell as a Boy Scout

March 25, 2008

Although the Scouting movement clearly has a textured history here in Canada, my American knowledge of it is limited to a few salient and unconnected facts:  there is, at the top of the list, the battle between Scouts Who Believe That All Scouts Must Believe, the battle between gay-positive and gay-unfriendly enclaves, the echo controversy between Berkeley’s Sea Scouts and COB’s antidiscrimination stance, and, of course, the motto–Be prepared. My trip home to Halifax was all about the latter, with me as the Scout.


My first preparation was to have a day of exercise and friendly faces and conversations to set me on a course for a good sleep aboard my coast to coast night flight. This part required a fair amount of cooperation from others, plus another dose of extraordinarily clear and warm weather on the left coast. After lunch at King Tsin with Elizabeth, I walked to Carole’s and got to meet the garden squirrel she’s been observing–and training through the judicious placement of walnuts–for several months.


Bob celebrated the recovery of his knee by driving me all the way to SFO, which takes about a hundred years (or 11 Buddy Holly songs, depending on the time keeping method one chooses). This round, my flights were not deviating from the published schedule, but I got to the gate in plenty of time to read one of the books I’d brought along, a completely disappointing E. Lynn Harris take on living the good life. The narrative’s workmanlike phrasings did, however, further prepare to unwind me for the big conk-out in the little seat aboard the jet.


When that remarkably childless and silent flight landed this morning in Boston, it truly felt as though only 10 minutes or so had passed. I never dug out any music or wanted to crack the next book, although my neck could have used a crack for the time spent unsupported while I was unconscious. It was almost pleasant to discover that the hike from our landing gate to Air Canada’s Logan gates takes a good 10 minutes and requires minor interrogations of airport employees along the way. The signage appears to be clear, but fails the blurry-morning test of traveller intelligence.


My next bit of proud preparedness was that I had managed to retain just enough American cash to purchase a cup of coffee and a bag of carrot sticks (selected as much for the oddity of the offering, which was in the company of the more typical breakfast fare of atomic muffins, squashed croissants, and yogurt cups, as any other motivation). I began a new book–a far more promising study of the sociology of sweet foods–glad that I had thought to double-pack in the reading matter department because this gate had no amenities beyond the foods listed here, so any last minute selection of eye candy was not an option.


The Halifax flight was packed, and seemed to be a combination of families on tour and American businessmen. When the customs cards were distributed, few in either group seemed to have considered bringing along any writing equipment, so I doled out pens to a variety of neighbors…whoops, that would once again be neighbours.


With the efficiency I have come to expect–but never to take for granted–of Customs at Stanfield Airport, we were duly processed and found checked luggage already delivered within less than a quarter hour of touchdown; I was home 55 minutes after landing.


Which brings me to my last bit of Scoutly planning: the songs on Elton John’s 1974 hits album proved to be in keeping with my variety of homecoming sentiments and, at some now distant-feeling point of the past weekend, I had managed to get it loaded onto my iPod.

Take away

March 24, 2008

Bob has been working methodically for months triaging 20 years of accumulated stuff as to what to keep, what to give to friends, and what to discuss with me before assigning its fate. With me here in Berkeley, he’s passed books, furniture, and even rocks by me for input. This morning, our son’s old turtle sandbox, a jester hat from a long ago birthday party, a huge orange wheelbarrow I’d never seen before, and a green painted wood chair that came into my possession what seems like 700 years ago when I was living in a basement studio on Washington Street, in Brookline, Massachusetts, went to the curb in Bob’s cycle of “up for grabs.” Within two hours, all are gone. I saw a man from across the street carting off the chair but the rest of the stuff went away during the walk Bob and I took up to Live Oak Park, past the picnic area where Kay had her 40th birthday party, along Berryman Path and the side of the newly completed synagogue on Oxford, and past the $3 million mansion for sale on Oxford. Stuff gone, but a last round of rememberies to take away.

California idyll

March 23, 2008

The Haligonians of my acquaintance to date would all be pleased with yesterday’s weather here: barely hazy in the morning, a slightly cool breeze underneath the warm air, bright sun in the afternoon. Add to that the scent of new mown grass–LOTS of new mown grass–at the Marina, incredibly still water in the Bay, which was picturesquely dotted with sail boats…


But for me, the day was beautiful for its company: breakfast plans with Kay turned into first a visit from her not-yet-six-year-old son, with his suitcase full of wind up train and chocolate bunny. After we took him back home to his other parent, we went to Bel Forno (oh those espresso raspberry muffins!) and sat in a sunny window for yonks and yonks. On to the Marina and a walk around the repurposed garbage dump, which is now rolling green hills regularly populated by kite flyers. Kay named the various waterfowl for me, although I could recognize (on land) the red-winged blackbirds for myself.


In the afternoon, Bob took his first hike (so to speak) in a year or so. We drove up to Tilden, via Strawberry Canyon, stopping at Mineral Springs. A group of twenty-somethings loosely sprinkled with a few older and a few younger members, were having a cookout. One young man obliged us by taking our picture in the little eucalyptus grove where we married 18 years ago.


On to Inspiration Point’s paved trail and Bob walked more than a mile along it before needing to turn back. And along the way, I came out with one of my rather frightening misperceptions. Through the arc of some dark green boughs, I could see the round blue of what appeared to me to be the dome of a large tent. I called his attention to it. “Yes,” he said mildly, “that would be the sky.” Oh, those trick angles.


In the evening, we saw two thirds of our Linnard friends and got to hear grandly delivered stories of another high school senior’s experiences with the college application-and-waiting game. In this case, there was the extra stress bonus of Dean having to audition no fewer than eight times, four of them in a single week when he also happened to be sick. Happily, he clearly has recovered, now anticipating how to decide among his multiple and growing number of acceptances.

Forbidden words

March 22, 2008

Bob and I spent Friday morning reading and signing preliminary papers for selling the house. Our agent has worked with us across many years, helping us to both buy and sell as we moved from house to house in our near-wander sort of way. She’s a former English teacher and enjoys the oddities of both language and character, to say nothing of setting, that residential real estate business serves up.


As we discussed some of the operative pluses and minuses our current place presents to us as sellers, she noted that its location is in its favor.


“But you can’t say walking distance anymore,” she noted. “It’s one of the forbidden words in the SF Chron real estate listings.


Whoa. I have to be all over this and of course asked for the list of forbidden terms (verboten in the cause of neutrality):


“Walking distance” is forbidden because not everyone walks and “walking and rolling distance” apparently doesn’t have sufficient flow to breech its lack of verbal economy.


“Family room” is out, as is “master bedroom.”


Given the location of our house, Bob asked about “Gourmet Ghetto.” The term has indeed been protested, she told us, but the protester did not prevail.


We had to sign one form that requires us to disclose if someone has died on the property less than three years ago, unless said death was caused by AIDS, in which case, no disclosure is required (as, presumably, no disclosure is required if the ax murder occurred more than 36 months ago).


Another affirmation required of us is that the house has not been identified by “the Government” as being contaminated by methamphetamine.


Much of the remainder of my day seemed to center around bread (Acme, Semifreddi, olive, batard, walnut louvain), and friends with plenty of enthusiasm for humor, storytelling, and politics, both correct and over the line of decorum. Making it a thoroughly delightful day!