Archive for February, 2009

Publishing gets precarious

February 28, 2009

About a week ago, I wrote about the shrinking and shriveling of the local newspaper. That brought an anonymous missive to my email box that noted how local broadcasting news relies on print journalism here.  I had noticed that when I listen to a local radio station (not CBC) early in the morning, the newscaster seems to be reading the very same articles I am reading simultaneously at my kitchen table. Not exactly independent reporting.

On another front, my daily updates from Publisher’s Weekly are carrying, and have been for about two months now, daily updates of how to contact the most recently laid off book publishing personnel. The lists range from two or three on one day to five and six on another, with most providing private, free email addresses to those who might want to contact them after their departures from big conglomerate as well as independent publishing houses.

Borders has announced its plan to close its Chicago flagship store. While book Expo America has decided to keep its annual show in New York City (it used to move among New York, DC, LA and Chicago) for the next several years, Canadian Book Expo has been cancelled as of this year.

To my mind, diversity–of format, production, delivery–breeds access. Access breeds intellectual health and rigor. Never mind political awareness, informed decision making and the opportunity to dream.


from old classmate to new library

February 27, 2009

A few days ago, I wrote of coming into contact with an old high school classmate, rather out of the blue. Today, with equal lack of planning or warning, I discovered that a new library opened–just last week–on a corner I knew about the time I was 9 or 10. It looks like a pretty good project, too, with an early literacy area and plenty of glass walls. It’s about a block away from a movie house where I went to see “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World“, a movie I didn’t much like (then), and a place where the concession stand was automated so you could buy a (bad) milkshake from a vending machine.

The new library looks more engaging than the old Newport Theater stands in memory. It appears that Handel’s Frozen Custard has disappeared from across the street, but the library has a cafe so maybe there’s hope for a summer ice cream there.  My most abiding memory of the corner on which the new branch stands is how burningly hot it was in summer (when I’d cut across the asphalt en route to the air conditioned movie house).

On reading Charlise Lyles

February 26, 2009

Last week I read Charlise Lyles’  revised and expanded memoir, Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? Her expertise and sensibilities as a poet shine on the pages but impressive, too, is the straight arrow manner in which she reports both the personal and political lives she led as a preteen and in early adolescence. This is a rare find:  a writer who neither exploits nor belittles the furnishings of her life and times but includes them in order to provide the reader with a you-are-there authenticity.

Then yesterday, I stumbled–yes, most of my research is achieved at a stumble rather than a brisk and tidy dig–upon this new report that abets home ec credos of the 1950’s by aligning childhood literacy with households that are neat and orderly…and oh yes, it helps if the mother is, whether highly educated or not, a confirmed reader.

There’s a wonderful passage in Lyles’ book in which her mother harks back to her high school Latin and lectures her teenaged children on its relevance to a then unfolding school segregation case that directly affects them. Chaotic setting or no, reading is an escape from being lost amid other people’s knowledge.


February 25, 2009

For the first time in what feels like donkey’s years, the half-foot thick ice slabs that have accumulated on every bit of lawn area downtown has softened on top.  The sidewalks are almost standard width again and the slush puddles at the corners are either liquid or semi-solid, with no shear frozen surfaces lurking beneath the surface.

I don’t have much expectation that this is winter’s final fling, but we had sun all day and more forecast for tomorrow so at least there seems to be a recovery of general public spirit.

A day for old friends

February 24, 2009

Yesterday was an amazing one: three communications from old friends.  Okay, the communication from Carole wasn’t startling, but of course it was quite welcome.  The handwritten note from Connie was a relief.  And the email from Susi left me with a dropped jaw.

My home office has become a kind of living room extension for Carole and me because this is where the web cam is and consequently where we have our wonderfully frequent cocktail hours together. It’s the same thing on Carole’s side: what I can see behind her as we sip and talk I recognize as the front room on Parker Street.  All of this is to say that in spite of the 3800 miles, Carole doesn’t seem that far away.

Connie, on the other hand, who lives about a mile and half northwest of Carole, has become a rare bird in my days.  A wonderfully gifted musician and ear friend, she sat next to me at work for years and years.  Just after I moved to halifax, she became ill.  Her letter that arrived yesterday, however, is as full of spark and sparkle as Connie ever was and carries news of her son’s matriculation to graduate school where–lifelong animal lover he’s been–he’ll be studying zoology.  That would be the son who preceded mine to Berkwood Hedge and Camp Winnarainbow and whose experiences in those places paved the way for Fred to follow. Getting this letter is like getting a new book when you thought the author had packed up her storytelling.

And then there was Susi….About a year ago, I wrote here of a college friend who became a Carmelite nun and whose old high school friend then read my blog posting and contacted me, having lost track of our mutual friend just at the point when I was meeting Sr. B all those years ago.  Now I seem to have effected the same sort of rediscovery of the deep past in my own life.

Some time ago, I posted this picture here taub1971band noted its origin, which is to say I mentioned an old high school classmate. Weeks later, said former classmate stumbled across it online…okay, maybe stumble is the wrong word, but in any event she came across it by happenstance and left me a message asking who the heck I was.  So I emailed her back, not sure she was the same Susi (although I checked the inquirer’s website and this one did indeed grow up to be an artist).  And yesterday I got back a two-line email, along the lines of OMG and I don’t know what to say.  And that makes two of us.

So there you have it, a friendly kind of day, with certainty, surprise and the totally unexpected.

The change in my pocket

February 23, 2009

I’ve always used my pocket change, carefully sorting out the four pennies to add to the quarter when the total sale ends in 29 cents and so forth. I seem to be a dying breed in this regard.

My spending habit means that I rarely accumulate the sort of weighty pile that won’t fit into my pocket, but this morning I found a new treasure:  the five coins I had–thrown onto the shelf where I collect my “loose parts” every morning–totalled $10.  Wow!  With just five coins!  (In the US, the most common way to reach that amount would have involved 40 coins, although one could do it with 20 rare 50-cent pieces).

More miraculously, I managed to break only one throughout the day–okay, it was a thrifty sort of schedule I lived today and did that by getting a loonie back to go with the twonies–or is it toonies?

Welcome scents

February 22, 2009

Fortunately for my sense of well-being, there are good Japanese restaurants aplenty in the neighbourhood–good here being a measure of comfortable and authentic, not well-linened and/or expensive–and even the big grocery stores seem (somewhat oddly) to stock such small niceties of life as bamboo chopsticks, wasabi and wakame. But hunting down anywhere that had real genmai cha has been impossible and finding a shop taht smells clean and vinegary while offering up mochi…well, I wasn’t trying for that.

And then, yesterday, it appeared in my frame of awareness: a little place on Barrington, across from Tim’s just before the road curves into Inglis.  If I still lived in that neighbourhood, I probably would have found it three months ago (which is what the shopkeeper told me was their opening date). But never mind, I have it now, which is also to say that this morning I have real brown rice tea that smells just right, and for dessert this evening, there will be chestnut flavoured mochi along with the apples.

Taking stock

February 21, 2009

For the past six months or so, I’ve been corresponding on a weekly basis with the former Nita Prelog.  Last week’s email from her carried the reminder that this weekend marks her youngest sibling’s 60th birthday, a concept that makes complete rational sense and is ungraspable emotionally.  Nita herself is a grandmother, with teenaged grandkids, and not through the circumstances of  anyone having been a teen parent along the way.  That’s a bit different, primarily because our orbits of life–Nita’s and mine–have spun toward each other as often as they’ve spun away, and, more importantly, because she has always ranked as old and wise in my experience so grandparenthood makes all sorts of sense as a station in life for her.

Thinking about all this led me to formulate an amazing catalog of what I’ve learned from Nita over the years since we met when I was toddler.  Here it is in approximate chronological order:

how to draw a map

how to colour within the lines

how to measure flour and, differently, how to measure butter and milk

how to tie my shoes

how to tie a necktie

how to swim

when to pluck a pear from its tree

how to dive

that vinegar is an excellent condiment with french fries

that creamed corn on cracked wheat toast will fill you for supper if there’s no other food on hand

about El Cid (which she translated into English aloud to me while reading it from her Spanish textbook)

that trigonometry exists (but failed in attempts to teach me any related concepts)

that Mark Twain was critiquing the institution of slavery in Huck Finn

how to play baseball

that some people, sometimes, have their dress shoes dyed to match their dresses

how to hang wallpaper

By contrast, Rosy, Nita’s younger sister (363 days younger to be exact), introduced me to:

stock car racing

the value of nicknames

how to sew on a real sewing machine and hem neatly by hand

that different branches of the same library system have different collections and also different “feels”

what “valedictorian” means

that some parents actively assist their children with homework

Their older sister, Margie, taught me how to fold an American flag (parallel to the time period in which the learning to dive and judge the ripeness of pears was taking place at Nita’s hand).

Undoubtedly the oldest Prelog girl, Cookie, taught me something at some time but she is a blur to me except for the occasion on which she allowed me to hold her 10-day-old baby.  That was probably about parallel to the sewing lessons I received from Rosy. The baby was Cookie’s third or fourth and Cookie herself was a settled married woman who lived far away and it took all morning to drive to her home.

The Prelog boys were all three younger than their four sisters.  The oldest was so quiet that I cannot say I learned anything very directly from him, although his interest in pole vaulting did introduce me to a sport I had not ever seen otherwise.  The middle male Prelog was a true student and I should have learned the value of study from him but cannot say that I actually did.  He also taught me how to rollerskate.

The youngest boy, he now at his 60th year, did teach me a thing or two, including:

how to maneuver a sled down a lengthy and curving slope

excellent hiding places behind the fruit cellar during games of hide and seek

how to make really fantastic mashed potatoes

where to look for Easter candy hidden by his older sisters

how to look cool while smoking a cigarette

All in all, I can safely say that without the Prelogs I would be a more ignorant and unskilled person in many ways.  In fact, I would not be me.

Turns out it’s rather like swimming

February 19, 2009

Today is the first blizzardesque event–with that combination of temp, wind and precipitation that separates the storms from the gales from the whatevers–through which I’ve walked in almost 30 years.  And yes, it turns out that, like swimming and (I’m told) riding a bicycle, once you’ve learned how to do it, even a lapse of decades doesn’t impede muscle memory. Now, since it hasn’t been “on” for four or more hours and the wind chill is well above the specified minuses of either Environment Canada or the US Weather Bureau, this is more properly a storm, but the snow and th wind are abundant and the walking is interesting.

I have walked for a bit in quite a few all out blizzards in my life…per force to find shelter, of course.  I have never seen other folks caught outside who acted with the unanimous two behviours I witnessed during my efforts today:  most of them were screaming (even though none of them were 14-year-old girls) and almost all of them were running.  And this time they were not in running costumes and running for exercise or sport.  They seemed, these Nova Scotians, to propel themselves in this particular weather, by running–or trying to run–full tilt in spite of high heels, suits and other unrunnerly accoutrements. 

When I have been out in a Boston blizzard (full, not this demi), people seem to be hell bent on eating ice cream cones.  Here they run and scream.  Neither response seems particularly well suited to the prevailing conditions.

But what the heck do I know?  i just walk.

When the news is the news

February 18, 2009

The local paper, which drives Bob to distraction with its editing oddities, continues to shrink physically, not in girth alone but in page width, type size and staff. This isn’t a resource with a robust web presence; pretty much what you see is what you get whether in ink or virtually.

In the past 10 days, its staff has become increasingly blatant about their concerns for a future, with one columnist actually taking his musings about his and the paper’s joint future to the readership.

It’s as though the news has been replaced by metajournalism. The weather forecast that’s in the print edition has no bearing on what’s unfolding by the time anyone unfolds the paper version at 6 am.  The link to the weather in the online version is just the long way to Environment Canada.  Get Fuzzy is reduced so much in size in the paper version that the text bleeds into illegibleness so I go to to see it.

I appreciate independent news, really, really I do.  But if I can’t get at it, I’m not independent.