May, the month of first ice cream cones, dandelions, and the re-emergence of June bugs: eek! May had several perks – my family got together for a Mothers Day meal, we went out for Rom’s birthday, and we had an extra day off for Victoria Day. The weather was mostly cool and rainy with a few good days. They were dedicated to gardening and getting the yard in shape. I am trying to decide on some new perennial flowers. As long as they aren’t yellow! Due to our short growing season, the garden shops are open from Victoria Day to Canada Day, about 6 weeks. I told one of my neighbours last Spring that starlings were getting into his attic. He didn’t deal with it and now they are back, chattering all day long. I have become rather fond of them – but you can bet I checked to make sure my attic is impenetrable! Speaking of which, we had the roof re-shingled. A crew was booked and they completed it in one day. The new shingles provide more insulation from street noise, although the street is quiet, anyway. So quiet we can hear the frogs singing every night! The roof was a planned expense, but between that and the new car, I had to wrangle my savings and will need to watch my cash flow carefully for the rest of the year.
I have just worked myself out of a sluggish phase in which I felt like lazing around snacking most evenings. I think I am over it! I’m not accomplishing anything new at the gym, just status quo, but I have improved my swimming speed and now do 1800 m in an hour. Next goal, 2 km! I swim twice a week. I have really toned arms for the first time in ages. After my recent eye exam, I got disposable contacts that I can wear for fitness activities like swimming (with goggles), skating, hiking, etc. So that is a nice change.
At work, I have a summer intern. She is studying to become a librarian so I am trying to assign meaningful duties and not grunt work. It gives a different perspective to explain what we do at the library and why, to someone without work experience in the field. We’ll see if she’s inspired to continue with public library work!
In civic engagement news, the results of our local school review were released. We had 17 schools in our district, but because of declining enrollment, they had to reduce it by 5. Obviously no one is happy when their kid has to travel further to school. The school board is trying to offer attractive programs in each group of schools. For example, tiny under-populated schools can’t always offer art, drama, band or sports teams, let alone French Immersion. Placing more programs in the remaining schools should reduce the sting. It’s been a difficult year for public education here. Teachers were in a position to strike and they rejected several contract offers, so one was eventually imposed on them by the government. We just had a provincial election and the same party was re-elected, which presumably means that the public supported the premier and not the teachers 😦 I certainly made a point of getting out to vote. Everyone will be happy when this school year is over at the end of the month.
I had another wonderful month for DVD-watching and saw a near-record-breaking 9 movies!
I had seen most of The Big Lebowski on a plane so I was eager to see the ending and its iconic quote, “The Dude abides.” I normally don’t like movies with a stoner vibe but this one had a compelling plot and was really funny. It was quite a shift to go from that to Babette’s Feast! I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a treat. In the movie, two ageing sisters have lived in their minister father’s house for all their lives, and their remote Danish village life is centred around maintaining his church work. A woman from France turns up seeking work, and she becomes their housekeeper and cook. She provides the feast mentioned in the title and gives them all a glimpse of the wider world. I loved it – but was shocked by some of the dishes served 😦
Ghost World featured the young Thora Birch and Scarlet Johansson as well as Steve Buscemi (who also had a role in The Big Lebowski). You want to cheer the two nonconformist young women, but they put their energy into negativity. After high school, it’s time to move on with their lives. Enid (Birch) opts out by drifting along with a socially awkward older man (Buscemi) while Rebecca (Johansson) appears to actually grow up. I love the way the story progressed. I found it very realistic. The ending, especially, really nailed that time of life.
What can I say about Breathless (1960), Jean-Luc Goddard’s classic French new wave film? Lead character Michel, a wheeler-dealer, freeloader and car thief, was not to be admired, but the film is all about style. I absolutely loved the look of the film – the cinematography, sets and decor, and costumes. A true Parisian experience! I watched it twice.
The Second Mother was a pleasant surprise. A woman works as a housekeeper and nanny in Sao Paolo, leaving behind her own child and sending money for her support. Her daughter comes to join her in the city, to attend university. But the daughter won’t play the game – she inhabits her mother’s world as a house guest and an equal to the employer family, and will not defer to them like her mother does, causing tremendous upset. This is a comedy of social manners, commenting on classism, and it made me incredibly uncomfortable – which is good! Great performance by the lead, Regina Case.
Cinema Paradiso, from Italy, was a big hit when it was released in the late 80s. It is a tribute to the power of movies. I liked it as a vehicle for the message. That kid! So adorable! For me, it crossed the line into sappy, but I’m probably alone in thinking that. My main problem with the movie was the supposed success of the main character. That was success?
Grey Gardens is a 1970s documentary about an aunt of Jackie Onassis who lived with her adult daughter in a tumble-down estate. By today’s standards, they were hoarders and had a codependent relationship. The mother would make casual caustic remarks to the daughter while pretending her own life had been grand. Yet they were both stylish, independent and had amazing joie-de-vivre. The whole thing had a southern Gothic feel though set in New York state. If anyone has seen it – the estate was up for sale recently and you can see photos online of its beautiful restoration. The documentary was remade as a movie with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange – it’s on my to-watch list.
The wondrous My Winnipeg isn’t just for Canadians. This is an artsy, surreal, experimental film, that combines the film maker’s childhood memories with the history of his city, and a number of fantasy motifs including “Mommy Dearest” scenes, homoerotic images and animal corpses. It is in turns funny, poignant, nostalgic and disturbing. Recommended for the brave!
I reserved The Dresser from the library and accidentally got the recent TV movie version. I hadn’t seen the 1983 original so now I must! The remake was delightful with Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellan. I loved the story, backstage at a theatre production of King Lear. If you don’t know the plot of the movie, a Shakespearean actor, on the decline, is managed in every aspect by his dresser. When the actor is incapacitated, the dresser decides the show must go on. The acting by the male leads was stellar.
I got in a fair share of reading, too:
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk was a cool story about an ad executive in NYC in the 1920s and the path she took in life through the 1980s. We meet her as an old, proud, independent woman with a big back-story. I loved the NYC setting – the streets, buildings, landmarks and local info. I’ve only visited once – long after the Times Square cleanup – but the author made me feel I was walking the streets with Lillian from one bar or party to another. The book made some good points about city living and about the important things in life.
The Taschen London photo book was a look at the décor of restaurants, hotels and shops, mostly but not entirely high-end. Lots of designers were featured and you got a feel for their signature styles. The whole point of the book was to show deluxe settings outside the public sphere. After looking at this, I realized I had no desire to stay in any of the hotels or even eat at the restaurants. That is not my London – I like the public spaces. I enjoyed the stores a little better – and agree that Liberty London is so cool looking – but again, I’ve never focused excessively on shopping while I was there. So maybe I learned something about myself.
Kelly Osbourne’s memoir There Is No F***cking Secret was very enjoyable. As the daughter of Ozzy and Sharon who grew up on tour with Black Sabbath and on a reality TV show, she has lots of stories. At 32, she took longer than most to adjust to adult life (several detoxes were required) but she seems quite genuine and grounded.
And now for something completely different. In You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready?, the author interviewed 40 seniors about how they could better have prepared for life as a senior – what worked for them and what didn’t. It wasn’t about finances at all – it was about where to live, how to spend your time, and what habits to put in place before age 65 so you are ready for what comes later. As a 50-something, I am at a good age to consider these things. It really made me think!
I have wanted to read The Unbearable Lightness of Being for ages. I enjoyed it, but I would have liked it so much better when I was in my 20s and had a more limited view of the roles of the sexes. Reading it now, I found the author’s views (as expressed through his characters) to be unpleasantly sexist. I am not sure younger adults now would appreciate it. No one would have any patience for the promiscuous man and the needy woman at the heart of the story if they knew them in real life. The book was unusual for its time because it contains a lot of philosophical debate, which I liked very much. At times I had to switch viewpoints and ask myself how the weighty questions applied to the female characters. Over all, I felt the book didn’t date well, but I liked pondering the meaning of life, as expressed within.
The Blue Tattoo is a novel about the Halifax Explosion, a disaster in 1917 caused by a ship full of TNT colliding with another ship in our harbor. It is still studied today because of the medical and emergency management responses and how they informed future catastrophes. The author has a passion for history and made it very accessible. It’s always fun to read a book set in one’s home town, in which you can recognize every building and street corner. The story had some oddities (too much detail about fist-fights, a few characters thrown in to set the tone who quickly disappear) and the author probably needs to transition more from being a nonfiction writer to a novelist (the factual sections were much better reading) but it was a good read and I learned stuff I didn’t know about my own town.
I hope you had a good month and spent less time indoors than I did! Hope you will share what you’ve been doing.