After…

6E42C0C4-869F-4462-9004-BA581358DD34Every day we go to Marc’s apartment and sift through the remains of his life, an odd assortment of the quirky, the beautiful and the banal. It is difficult but oddly helpful to have this physical task, one last thing we can do for him.

Most of this I am prepared for. There is the closet cramed to the ceiling with empty boxes, everything he ever bought can be traced here, even though much ot has long gone. Gary is working his way through this, methodically cutting every box up into manageable pieces for recycling. This is mostly what he does  for two hours. There is the linen cupboard with two shelves full of luxurious towels, the kind you find in 5 star spas: large serving dishes and a splendid wooden salad bowl fit for a party, though he never entertained; Calvin Klein sheets; an electric fireplace wirh a lovely mantel. Everything is covered with dust.

But it’s the little things that catch in my throat and brings on the tears. I find plastic  Halloween pumpkins with lights to make them glow in the dark. He would never open his door to strangers, so it was just for himself. There is an autumn wreath of maple leaves and red berries, Christmas ornaments and candles. Some Christmas gift bags saved from long ago that I recognize.

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This is the photo that hangs in our living room of Marc when he was in his twenties. Someone had suggested he could be a model, since he wore his clothes so well. Of course this would be imposdible, but he loved the idea and I tried not to be too negative. When I said he would need some  headshots, he agreed to pose in his apartment for a friend of Adrienne who was into photography. It was a difficult session, I gathered later. Marc was very jumpy and nervous since he did not know the guy, and they had to cut things off early. Of course nothing came of this idea, but I love the photo in spite of all its flaws. It is very revealing. I see the sadness and vulnerability. And I see the small scar above his chin from a childhood spill, witness to a happier time of carefree fun.

The removal van is coming on Wednesday and then the cleaners move in, erasing all signs of his life in that apartment. And he is really gone.

 

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A Death in the Family

467b0afa3836ac507b4344eeddb2b8dc--cemetery-angels-cemetery-statuesThese words bring to mind the loss of a dear parent or perhaps an ancient aunt or uncle, someone who will be missed but whose life was winding down.  But parents are not meant to outlive their children. This kind of death is such a shock to the system that there are no words to describe it, that hollowed out feeling, the shell-shocked numbness and confusion. The utter disbelief.

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I know that feeling because on Saturday afternoon June 2, my son Marc, age 45, died of a massive heart attack in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. I was in London, looking after my brother when I got the call.

Marc hated having his picture taken as he got older, so this is the best I can do, strange filter and all.

He was a happy, sociable outgoing boy whose life gradually moved into the shadows of mental illness. But in spite of all his battles with demons, he lived on his own terms, enjoyed shopping and dressing like a preppy fashion plate and  surrounded himself with items he considered luxurious, like crystal decanters, even though he did not drink, and a grandfather clock, although time meant little to him. No matter when I arrived  at his door, always unexpectedly because he could not tolerate a telephone in his apartment, he was up and impeccably dressed.

We used to go out for lunch in good restaurants, then less and less often as his tolerance for such places decreased. I wrote him little notes every week, often enclosing a treat of some sort. In lieu of lunches out, I began taking in prepared dinners we would share.

His death was sudden and quick, for which I am thankful. HIs absence is loud in my heart, his loss a hard, physical thing I had not experienced before. But I comfort myself knowing that at last he is at peace. The service on Wednesday was a private family affair. Donations in his memory can be made to CAMH.

Farewell, Punkerkins.

 

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Year of the Dog

75E3A5B2-BCEF-4865-9CEA-2278D228A1ECYou might think that a year named after the dog would be a great year for me. So far you would be wrong!  2018 is not bringing much joy. Reeling from losing a dear university friend in December, I staggered into January and fell afoul of the flu, which ebbed and flowed for weeks.

Then, just as I was rejoicing in renewed energy, I heard my oldest friend from junior school, who greeted me on my first day with the promise that we would be best friends, had died. I had been thinking of her often lately but had not seen her for years, since she had been lured off into a cult-like form of Christianity and was gradually isolated from everyone from her past. I had always hoped there would be a way to connect again. Alas, this is no longer possible.

Meanwhile down in London, Big Brother was rushed to the hospital with some kind of serious intestinal blockage. Then followed a week of tension while they figured out how to deal with this without operating, since he already has scaring from previous operations and radiation as well. He is slowly recuperating at home with nursing care and physio.

81875634-967F-49A3-9563-EB831D944598Back on the home front, Henry, the most beloved hound in the world, aka the Million dollar dog, was moaning and not himself. He ended up having a serious operation to remove a large tumor and his pancreas. Oy! By this time I have eaten my way into five pounds. Henry is doing quite well, however, though is not a good patient at all!

The glimmer of good things to come is that my new book, PEOPLE LIKE US, will be  coming out in the spring!  Cover reveal coming soon. Things may be looking up!

 

 

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Opera and Travel, the Perfect Mix

I have always loved the theatre. I love just going into the buildings, letting the atmosphere wrap around me! Even our quite new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, with it’s warm wood and airy light pouring in all those huge windows is exciting. But so much more are the old history-soaked theatres of Europe.

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My First Passport Photo

When I was young, many, many decades ago, I travelled with my mother for over a year, visiting England, France, and finally touring through Spain to come to rest in Barcelona, where a world- renowned ophthalmologist  was going to take a look at my eyes to see if I was a candidate for eye-surgery. That part is not really germane to the story, except as an explanation of sorts as to why we were doing this ‘Grand Tour’ sort of thing in the first place!

While in London, we went to Covent  Garden and I saw my first opera in that lovely theatre. It was La Traviata, and although I was familiar with the music, the performance lifted me right back to the 19th century. Luckily this was before the era of so much experimenting with1 modernization of productions. After that we went to theatres in the west end to see some plays– Sheridan comes to mind– and again the buildings themselves contributed to the experience. This was long before the building of the Globe, by the way. This was the fifties and there was still some rationing, and bomb sites were visible around every corner. But the theatres were flourishing in all their glory!

In France we made it several times to La Comédie Française, and bathed in the glories of the French Alexandrine, and though at the time I did not get more than about a third, Unknownlike the audience the plays were written for, I knew my classic mythology! We went to some ballet, too, at the incredible Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera and one of the grandest theatres I have ever been in, and that is saying something!

In Spain the theatre I remember from those days was the Liceo in Barcelona.  Have been back there since several times for opera, but this first time it was Spanish dancing, Antonio and Rosario as I recall, and they were amazing! Catalan was forbidden under Franco, of course, so there was not a speck of it around.

I have traveled in Europe many times since, visiting friends, doing research in the Comédie Française for my thesis, but I didn’t start seriously seeking out opera on my travels until my brother began organizing trips for opera-lovers in London and Toronto. I had never gone on any organized tours before, thinking it would be too much like being shuffled about like cattle, but going with this group, many of whom were familiar to me from the opera here, was different. We did not hop from place to place, with no real time to get to know the atmosphere of the cities and towns we visited. There was time to sit in cafes and people-watch, time to wander, time to get familiar with the byways, as well as the highways. And if you lost your ticket, my big brother would hope to it and fix it for you, pronto!

Best of all, there was the chance to see rarely performed opera, like the one we saw in Prague, The Tsar’s Bride by Rimsky-Korsakov; and the amazing experience of being in the elegant but small gem of a theatre where Mozart conducted the premiere of Don Giovanni, also in Prague. And Venice, in the wonderful Teatro La Fenice, for Traviata again, ironically the Toronto production in modern dress, with Violeta wandering around in her black satin slip in the last act, dragging her mink coat behind her.

And then there is the incomparable Saltzberg Festival!Unknown

 

It is very difficult to even get good tickets here so going with a group is the easiest way to do it. This is a formal event, which does much to lift the experience to a much higher level of opera-going! Imagine yourself in your long dress wandering through the elegant crowds of Austrians, dressed in silk and satin and velvet versions of their national consumes, carrying your
champagne out into the cobbled courtyard at intermission, as the moon rises over the battlements of a castle! Around you the polyglot crowd ebbs and flows, discussing the production. And these productions tend to be amazing! The singers are all superb, of course and the directors outdo themselves in their efforts to catch the bravos of the opera-lovers. It does not always work! Don Giovanni shooting up in the park comes to mind. But he could sing!

I could go on and on, waxing poetic about theatres, opera, and travel, but I think I have made my point! I love it all: the trips, the music, the old buildings with their wonderful IMG_0402atmosphere of bygone days, but I will spare you. I leave you with this photo of me at Saltzberg, about to head out for yet another wonderful evening.

 

(This article appeared first in a slightly different version as a guest blog post for the Mesdames of Mayhem travel series this summer. Caro)

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“Bring Your Book” Family Ties 2

IMG_3088“This book is really big!” my brother exclaims, looking at my new novel accusingly.

“It is longer then my usual,”I say. “I found writing a historical just took more words.”

We are sitting in the sunporch, overlooking the pool and garden in London. I am visiting for five days while Colin is away. “Don’t forget to bring your book,” he said yesterday, when he phoned to remind me of all the things he was sure I would forget. I am surprised and a bit concerned by this sudden interest in my literary career. When I began writing and then publishing all those years ago, he was quick to inform me he would never read anything of mine. “I don’t read fiction any more,” he said. But I suspect the real reason is he is afraid to see himself there, portrayed in some unpleasant way.

He looks over at me now, his eyes tracking to the book I had brought to read. “This is bigger then that book,” he says now, and I realize he means the size of the trade paperback, how long, how wide, not how many words.

“That’s up to the publisher,” I say. “He seems to like the bigger size.” Really, what does that matter?

He starts to read. “You must have done a lot of research!” he exclaims after a few pages.

So the more than fifteen years it took to write the book did not give that away, I mutter, and make a noise of agreement. I jump up and start setting the table.

“I never knew you were so interested in cars!” he says a few minutes later.

“I’m not. My main character is.”

“But you know all this stuff,” he goes on.

“Research.” My voice is a little louder then normal. I go into the kitchen and start pulling things out of the fridge for dinner. Slamming the fridge door does not really work but it makes me feel better.

For a while there is silence from the porch.

Then: “There’s a split infinitive at the bottom of this page,” he pipes up suddenly.

 

I grimace and start to chop veggies.

“Does anyone care about that these days?” he goes on, morosely.

“Obviously not my editor,” I say, and chop faster.

“Too bad,” he murmurs and goes back to reading.

I pour the wine.

 

 

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The next morning he says he has read another

chapter. “It’s more interesting now that the boring automobile part is over.”

“Some people say they enjoyed that part,” I say defensively and then wish I hadn’t.

As I drive home, I tell myself he will never finish the novel. He really doesn’t read much fiction. And that’s just fine, I tell myself. It’s almost a relief.

But several weeks later, when I am preparing for another visit, a weekend this time, I get a phone call from him.

“I finished your book,” he said. “I have a few things to say about it.”

Oh God! I think things were better when he ignored my writing!

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Big Brother before I was around

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Which One is the Prince?

IMG_3215Today it was Swan Lake at the ballet. I had the feeling early on there were a lot of people there who do not usually go to the ballet. There were quite a few little girls in party dresses and fancy shoes. One wore gold flip flop things which somehow seemed to work for her, but that us not si unusual for the story ballets.

I wondered why there were so many empty seats, then found out this crowd was very slow to come in and sit down. They were still coming in as the lights went down, muttering, squinting at seat numbers, obviously new to all this. It happened at intermission as well, in spite of the five minute call. Why are they letting them in? I wondered, and gave my best scowl, but it was probably lost on them in the dimness.

Then a cell phone went off as Act 2 was getting underway.  This time I urned around and frowned. My neigubour muttered ominously.

After that, it occurred to me they might need a few pointers about what was good ng on onstage. For example: How do you tell who is the Prince?

1- He us not onstage when the curtain goes up. He needs to make a grand entrance.

2- He’s the only guy wearing white tights.

3- He never recognizes his one true love if she changes her costume or loses her shoe.

4- True love does not end well. (For future reference, this is true of opera as well.)

Maybe that will help. However I would also recommend reading the program notes.

Oh, how was ballet, you ask? Well, I still long for the Nureyev version, stag and all, but this one (Kudelka) will do nicely. Beautiful colorful costumes and lovely effects n the storm. However, poor Odile fell at the end of her big series of pirouettes  in Act three. Everyone knew that is not supposed to happen. Poor thing.

 

 

 

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Family Ties & My Big Brother

“Are you ready to go out?” My brother looks at me dubiously. I am in my new strawberry colored, linen tunic from my favourite designer and the usual black leggings.

“As ready as I am going to be,” I reply. I arrived yesterday in a long linen dress. Perhaps he thinks I should put it on again.

“I never know with women’s dress these days,” he says.

It is odd not hearing a strong opinion, pro or con. I remember him saying once on

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At a Garden Party last year.

some opera trip in Europe, as he looked over the bevy of women in their tasteful black dresses and gold jewelry or pearls; “I hope you never join the Black Brigade. It’s depressing.”

“Never!” So far I have kept my promise. I love colour. It’s an easy promise to keep.

That was years ago, of course. He can’t travel any more, though he still manages to lead a fairly social life; having people to tea, going out to dinner, always with someone along to help. He still gives his opera talks twice a week in the well-appointed viewing room with the large TV screen, used only to watch opera DVDs.

Today we are going to the grocery store. I help him into my low-slung car, quite a feat for both of us, and back cautiously out of the driveway.

“Go that way,” he says, pointing north.

I turn the other way, still that urge to assert my independence.

“You’ll have to make a left turn this way,” he says. He waves his hand as we cruise up to the light. “Turn here.”

It used to really bother me, all these directives. This time I just turn here. He is my Big Brother, and we are both getting on. Really, what does it matter?

“The traffic is so bad,” he says.

I look down the street. There are lots of cars but they are moving. What is the problem? “I am used to driving in Toronto,” I point out.

I am here on this visit in London because Colin, his constant companion and best friend, is away at a conference. I come every year now and this time note that he is much better able to totter around, though he cannot stand for long and is still very weak. I do the cooking. We eat, drink some of the good wine from the wine cellar, talk about opera, ballet and theatre, and sometimes reminisce. He says he never really got to know me growing up. Ten years is a big difference. As we talk, it is as if we are doing that now. “I never knew you loved ballet!” He says. “When did that start?” “How did you get to know all these interesting people?” (This as I mention the arthritis specialist, a doctor at a big downtown hospital whom I knew first as a well known leather guy in the gay leather scene.)

“Well, I was a judge once, at the Mr. Leather Toronto competition.”

His grey eyes widen behind his glasses. “Really,” he says.

That evening we watch a strange combo opera/ballet of The Portraoit of Dorian Grey. Act two was quite exciting as Dorian slithered and smoked his way into sin after sin, quite explicitly. For some reason Dorian is a counter-tenor.

“I thought you might like it,” my brother says. He smiles.

I am not sure if it’s because he knows I like counter-tenors or slithering through dens of iniquity. I don’t ask.

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