Published: April 30th 2012April 17th 2012
Saturday, February 25th, 2012
Sometimes people say things and give me no time to rearrange my face.
Take last week, for example. I was at a literary event and a woman came up and asked me to sign her book. "Really?" I said. "You can do better than me." "Don't be silly, she insisted. "I'm thoroughly enjoying your story. It's a real page turner." "Oh," I replied, and just out of curiousity asked her, "what page are you on?" "Two," she said brightly, handing me her pen.
A similar thing happened at a neighbourhood get-together. A woman I had known for a long time confided that she and her husband were getting a divorce. This came as a surprise since, over the years, I had repeatedly heard her boast about having the "best damn marriage". "We have the best damn marriage in town," she would say to others less fortunate, who were bemoaning spousal neglect or infidelity or worse. She was a role model for our times, I figured. So, when I heard that the two of them were no longer a couple, my expression must have given away my astonishment. Without missing a beat, however,
she leaned over and squeezed my arm in a smug sort of manner. "Not to worry," she said. "We now have the best damn divorce."
In the days leading up to our departure for Mexico, we ran some last-minute errands, which included a trip to the Vancouver Currency Exchange. As we rounded the corner by Chapman's Ladies Wear, a distinguished establishment that matches its swanky South Granville address, I noticed a woman dressed in a plaid coat coming our way. She was tall and looked scowlingly fierce, at least that's how I remember her in hindsight. She bumped against Ron, knocking him on the shoulder. "Excuse me," he said, automatically, which is Canadian shorthand for anything that might or might not be your fault. Without a word, she veered sharply to the left, zeroed in on me, and with a powerful shove sent me plowing into the plate glass window of Chapman's Ladies Wear. It was one of those moments that takes the breath right out of you, so deliberately aggressive that you wonder if it's real or if you just imagined it. Several seniors stopped to stare. Ron helped me to my feet and dusted me off, but
by then all we could see was the hem of her coat disappearing in the distance. Shakily, I made my way to the Currency Exchange and joined the line of travellers who were there to change dollars into Euros and yens. "Now, where are you off to?" said a woman standing next to me in line. I told her Mexico and watched her face pucker in disapproval. "Dangerous," she hissed, turning away as if I was somehow putting the whole line-up at risk. I fingered my bruises and tried to think of something to say in Mexico's defense, but knew there was no point in it. The fact that I had just been assaulted on Granville Street, in broad daylight, for no other reason than mental illness and pure maliciousness, wouldn't stack up against all the bad press that Mexican tourism had been receiving. So, I stood quietly, suppressing conflicting feelings of amusement and rage.
I'm sure that there are more absurd things in life, but at that moment, standing in line and waiting for my pesos, I'd be damned if I could think of them. Monday, March 5th, 2012
The sign in the bathroom stall read, "Deposite su toella feminina aqui. Deposit your lady napkin here." And once again, I was reminded how good it was to be back in Mexico.
I happen to be a collector of sayings and signs. Lately, I sighted a bumper sticker that was perfect for my 6-year-old grandson, and I couldn't wait to try it out on him. It read: "Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons for you are crunchy and good with ketchup." It's just the thing for my little chum, who loves fantasy, french fries and has a cracking good sense of humour. And of course there's my favourite sign of all times, stuck to a car parked in an unofficial lot. "PAY OR BE TOAD!" it warned, which spoke volumes about its author's ability to differentiate between amphibians and the trucking services of the local automobile association.
I have a cache of these sayings and from time to time I take them out, like smooth, round stones, and polish them up. "Pray to God but row to shore." "Bark less. Wag more." "If it's not one thing... it's your mother." But here in Mexico, personal respect is a big deal and I think the term "lady napkin" has a nice, if somewhat lascivious, ring to it. Thursday, March 15th, 2012
I have never been one for celebrity sightings. It stems back to a day in first grade when the entire school was marched two miles in the rain to catch a glimpse of The Queen.
I remember quite a bit of it: trudging up to Blanca Street in my black patent mary janes, skinny legs pumping madly to keep up to the bigger kids, the nubbly wool coat that smelled like wet dog, Queen Elizabeth's white glove, pressed to the fogged window of a black limousine. I was soggy. I was indignant. I was six years old. Equally indignant, it turns out, was my grandmother. "What is your principal's name?" she demanded, as she plunged me into a hot bath. "Mr. Hazard," I told her, a bit fearful of what she would do with this treacherous piece of information. "That man IS a hazard," she said, without missing a beat.
I mark this as the day I fell deeply in love with words.
Fast forward fifty-five years into the future, to San Miguel and my date with Toller. Toller Shalitoe Montague Cranston, in case you're wondering. The most influential figure skater of this century, World and Olympic Bronze Medalist, professional artist, and (drum roll, please) full-time resident of San Miguel de Allende. All right, not exactly a date. Perhaps not even an introduction. But enough to send me into a lather of anticipation, imagining Toller Cranston seated across the room, his breathtakingly famous legs crossed casually at the ankle, engaging someone in rapt conversation about... what? Triple salchows? The merits of acrylics versus oils? I know nothing of these subjects and couldn't imagine what I would talk to him about, really. It would be difficult to find a patch of common ground.
Still, this was an occasion that called for a pair of support pantyhose and a trip to the beauty parlour. If I had know that I was about to have my hair washed with a wooden ladle over a bucket of lukewarm water, then patted into pin curls and sprayed to within an inch of its life, I would have called the whole thing off. Ditto, if I had realized that the term "support pantyhose" was simply a cruel euphemism for a long-legged girdle. Trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey and repelled by the image of myself as glimpsed in the front hall mirror, I clung to whatever shred of dignity remained and prepared to meet The Canadian Legend.
Toller, as it turned out, couldn't make it that night. Instead, I got to hang out with our hosts, Anita and Mel, with whom I do have a lot in common. Had it not been for the girdle, I could have been completely at ease; at one point I considered taking it off. But then I would have had to ask Anita for a pair of her underpants and I didn't think we were on such close terms. Yet.
There's a life lesson in this, don't you think? When it comes to the complicated language of art, or opera, or figure skating, even, I am out of my depth. But it's a kind of talent in itself to be an audience and that's where I come in. Not everyone can be a figure skater. There have to be those, up there in the stands, marvelling at the dizzying twirls and the gravity-defying splits, who can love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see. So if I can't be a shining example, I might as well be an excellent observer, a shameless eavesdropper, notepad in hand.
Best of all, I have always wanted to write the words "triple solchow". And now I have.