"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Friday, August 31, 2007

Ten Years Ago Today

Labor Day Weekend. We were sitting in front of the television watching Local Hero. It was late evening here, and earliest morning in Europe. After the credits rolled, we tuned to CNN to catch up on news before heading off to bed. I was weary after a day of packing for a trip to London and the Isle of Man.

The news anchor announced Princess Diana's Paris automobile accident.

We watched, shocked into wakefulness, for several hours more, until after Reuters, then Buckingham Palace, confirmed her death.

For the rest of the weekend, it was All Diana, All the Time. One cable network ran the Royal Wedding in its entirety. I kept it on while I prepared my research itinerary, and was transported back to the July morning when I woke up very early to watch history. Despite extensive knowledge of aristocratic behaviour and marriages in history--and in person--I wanted to believe a fairytale.

As the couple took their places before the Archbishop, in my mind I could still hear one of my grad school roomates saying, "He doesn't love her." When Diana stumbled over his name, I remembered how my heart sank. A bad omen? Back then, in 1981, I tried not to think so. On the day Charles and Diana married, I was in a mood for romance--I was caught up in one of my own. The Chap and I had been seriously dating for about six weeks.

Not many days after the tragedy in Paris, my husband and I arrived at Heathrow Aiport. It was nearly 9:00 p.m. and his travels weren't over. Immediately after landing, we parted--he raced to another terminal, another gate to catch his Dublin flight.

I hadn't planned to go into London that night, but boarded a Hoppa bus that took me to a property managed by my least favourite hotel chain in the world, which I refer to as The Abyss. It was convenient, and I was prepared to bear a single night there. Along the route, in the darkness, I noted all the flags at other hotels at half-staff.

The next day, I entered a London altered beyond all recognition. I felt as though I'd been beamed onto an unfamiliar planet. Planet Pain.

I was there to see friends, to visit museums, to research a novel and found myself in a Ground Zero of grief. While I hadn't come to rubberneck at a nation (nay, a world) consumed by mourning rituals, it was impossible not to be affected.

I saw people walking along the pavements clutching flowers in cellophane and knew they were either headed for Kensington Palace or St. James's Palace, where the body lay in state in the Chapel. In a particularly posh Mayfair bookshop, I overhead two aristos superciliously commenting on the unseemly emotionalism of their fellow Britons.

I recorded their exchange in my journal.

"Why doesn't the Pope step in," said one, "and make Diana an official saint?"

"But she wasn't that religious, was she?"

"Oh, never mind reality."

It was expressed quite chauvinistically,
I wrote, but at the same time, I knew what he meant.

Because, you see, I'd followed Diana's travails via the British press. After the breakdown of her marriage, her passive-aggressive relationship with the media and her celebrityhood, my own feelings and perceptions about her were mixed.

One afternoon my research took me to St. James's Square.

Sat in the Square for a bit...working up the courage to go round to the palace. The first thing I noticed were the television satellite relay vans lined up before that historic edifice.

The crowds were very silent and sedate.

The banks of flowers with messages were incredibly moving.

As I walked up St. James's Street, I passed many a person bearing a large bouquet.

I was in London during all that messy speculation about the Queen, dramatised in the film of the same name. Why hasn't she come down from Scotland to comfort her people? Why doesn't she order the Royal Standard to rest at half-staff? Why won't she make a statement about Diana?

Eventually she did and she did and she did. While packing for my IOM jaunt, I watched her brief, stilted address on television.

I was still in London the morning of the funeral--"unique, for a unique person" as Buck Palace described it. The procession hadn't even begun when I departed for Heathrow, where I caught snippets on televisions stationed round the departure lounges.

Thousands of miles away, at the Lodge, my VCR was timed to record the broadcast, some six hours worth--procession, funeral, journey to Althorp.

Flying over Britain on that glorious early September day--clear and sunny--was truly memorable. Seated by the window, I examined every inch of the countryside spread out below. Pastures, agricultural fields, houses...motorways.

Something about the latter was decidedly odd. The moment I worked it out, I turned to my seatmate, a stranger and said, "There are no vehicles moving down there. The roads are deserted."

Proof, not that I needed it, that almost an entire nation was glued to the television set.

My friend on the Isle of Man was waiting at Douglas Aiport. I told her what I'd seen from the air, said I was sorry if I'd taken her away from the telly on such a significant day.

"Oh, I didn't want to watch it at all. Too sad, I couldn't bear it."

After several days on the island, I returned to London, where I waited for the Chap to hop over from Dublin. The St. James's area is one of our regular haunts. As we headed towards the Ritz one one afternoon, I asked tentatively, "Would you like to see what's happening outside St. James's Palace?" He did.

The removal of the coffin from the chapel had thinned the crowd. The floral tributes were still there, now dull and tired.

The bouquets were starting to go--some were long finished, making the display look even sadder than when fresh. Candles, soft toys, innumerable notes and child-drawn art, photos of Diana clipped from magazines--masses of stuff.

Our time together in London was as pleasant as always, but so strange, and eventually we returned home.

The videotape of Diana's funeral was waiting for me.

I've never watched it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mid-week mania

So much activity! My days are busy. My evenings are more relaxed: I've cooked international dinners (Lebanese lamb last night, veal Parmaginana tonight) and worked my way through a few of those September fashion magazines (Vogue, W, Harper's Bazaar) that weigh 50 lbs. apiece.

For the first time in my life, one of those perfume embedded inserts has persuaded me to purchase a new fragrance.

My place of temporary semi-employment is an educational organisation, and the Big Thing on this week's calendar was a Preview/Open House for the Fall course schedule. We spent yesterday preparing, the event was today. I was in the office all morning, ran a few errands in the Capital City, then headed down to Manchester (I'm a State Rep--wheeeeee, don't have to pay highway tolls on I-93!) to the site of the Open House.

I was in charge of delivering our organisation's mascot, a giant ceramic penguin called Olli:

Although this remains the only state out of all 50 that has no mandatory seat-belt law (not my fault: I voted "Yes" when the latest version of that bill came before the House), I feel it's important that ceramic penguins are safely strapped in when travelling at high speeds on our interstates.

It was a fun afternoon, the place was crammed. I was the official event photographer, as well as occasionally staffing the "Questions" table.

Amazingly, in most instances I was actually able to provide "Answers".

Came home to find a check from my literary agent with additional unexpected royalty monies from Russia--rubles transformed into Yankee dollahs. The Chap worked out how much my books cost there. Reminding me that my MEP International Edition Shelf in the bookcase is bare of any Russian titles, he advised me to order some from Amazon Russia. (Is there one?) I admit, I would enjoy seeing my deathless prose printed in that cool alphabet they use.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Parading by morning, cottaging in the afternoon

Saturday happened to be the hottest day of the summer--something above 95 degrees in most parts of the state. As luck would have it, I was scheduled to be outdoors for a big chunk of the day at the third of the three Old Home Day celebrations in my legislative district.

After my first shower of the day, I left the Lodge at an early hour (for a Saturday).

Unlike the other politicians, who were marching in the parade, poor souls--a very lengthy parade through parts of two towns--our district's reps were riding in the giant blue and white Cadillac Convertible, with the top down. There were a ton of people (and dogs) lined on the sidewalks, sitting in shaded front yards, waving at us. The car was, as always, very popular.

We were near the front of the procession, and couldn't see the parade. We passed this bagpipe band, waiting to fall in line somewhere behind us.

Our car was entered in the Antique and Classic Car Competition (Classic division), and we were the first to arrive at the judging area, located beneath a stand of trees by the river. In the shade! And there was a little bit of breeze! We unpacked the folding chairs and cooler of Snapple from the trunk and sat down to talk politics and await the judging.

Here's a view of the Merrimack River. And yes, some leaves are already turning yellow...a sign of things to come, and the approaching change of season.

I wandered over to admire the farm animal display.

And check out the competition.

Then I returned to my seat to watch the parade pass by, all the vehicles and floats that had been following us all morning. Here's the ever-popular town hearse.

After midday, we wandered onto the field in search of food. It felt about 10 or 15 degrees hotter there. There was even a sprinkler/misting system set up--a cooling station. We were glad to get back to our shaded sitting area under the trees. The judges departed but we never found out who won. We all had other places to be that afternoon, and drove off before the announcement. Having already won a trophy, at the last car show, we didn't need another.

After my second shower of the day (to alleviate heat stroke) the Chap and I went to the cottage on the Big Lake for a swimming party. He was the last one out of the water.

We had a cookout dinner with his brother and sister-in-law and two nieces and nephew. It was a wonderful meal of grilled salmon and steak, but the kids were more exited about the desserts they'd purchased earlier in the day: a chocolate frosted "gold" cake, a carrot cake, and a lemon meringue pie.

Those of us who couldn't make up our minds which to eat had a "sampler plate" with one of each!

Back at the Lodge I had my third shower of the day. I was afraid if I didn't cool myself down I'd never fall asleep.

Yesterday--not so hot, still humid--we did church and a big political barbecue and potluck at a state representative's house. The speakers were a candidate for U.S. Senate, supporters of two other such candidates, and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico (who of all the Presidential wannabes wins hands down in the "sense of humour" category....) Every other campaign had a table and we chatted with the staffers we've met at other events.

Today we're enjoying a serene Monday at the Lodge. The air is cool, sky is blue, and there may well be a canoe ride in our future.

I'm staring down an incredibly busy "last week of summer": three in-office days that won't be easy, one routine medical appointment (possibly two), the Saturday arrival of sisters-in-law. I simply won't let myself feel the pressure. Or bemoan the probable dearth of writing time.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Return to Dog Mountain

Our previous trip to Dog Mountain occurred a few weeks before I began this blog. On the edge of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, artist Stephen Huneck has his gallery and gift shop (recently expanded) and the Dog Chapel.

As soon as we arrived, we noticed the large addition to the gallery. As with most other buildings in the complex, there was a gilded labrador weathervane.

Inside the gallery, we found some dog-on-dog action.

How much do you suppose they pay that black lab to do that? Her name is Sally. In Huneck world, black labs are iconic, and always called Sally!

One happy customer. Her name was Mica.

It's more a shop for people who love dogs than for dogs, although there are doggie items available.

Among the many whimsical carvings was this rottweiler "trophy":

As a member of our legislature's Fish & Game Committee, I was particularly enamoured of this table and chair set.

I went to the washroom...just to play with the water faucet. When you tweak the lab's tail, the water comes out of his mouth!

Exiting the gallery/shop, we came upon this scene. How many dogs can you see in this photo?

And how much money does the real dog earn for sitting there, posed so perfectly?

Of course we visited the Dog Chapel, with its welcoming sign.

Atop the steeple, a gilded labrador angel.

Inside the chapel, tributes to dogs loved and lost.

On our last visit, only the vestibule walls were covered with cards, photos, and letters. Now they paper almost the entire interior.

I reflected on our happy years with Daisy and Killian, and especially Shadow, whom we've lost since our last visit there. And I thought about the joys we've known with Lola, Ruth, and Jewel.

On my way to the car, I pause to shoot the faux marble columns with dog busts.

If you're in the area, I definitely recommend a visit. It's a special place. Even if you're not a dog owner or dog lover, the setting is spectacularly picturesque.

There are additional photos (some similar) posted on my website. If you want to explore a bit more, go here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Friends Found, Friends Lost

Regular visitors know what a softie I am for sunsets. Here's the one I was admiring from the window of our suite on Tuesday evening.

Each day of our Montréal trip was one more perfect pearl added to a growing string...the last one was no different, but it had an even richer luster. The Chap and I were privileged to meet Beth and her husband J. We spent a morning together, starting with coffee and nibbles in a notorious park an easy walk from our hotel, and culminating in an amazing dim sum lunch, also nearby.

Because we have several special friends in common, we're writers with cameras, and I'm a devoted reader of her beautiful blog, it wasn't at all like being with strangers. There was already a connection. We'll always be grateful for their enthusiastic sharing of their city and look forward to our next encounter...on our turf as well, so we can return their lavish hospitality towards us.

As I was escorting them to the elevator, the doors opened and someone exited with a pair of fluffy white dogs on leashes. I didn't realise the hotel permitted canines. Not that we travel with ours, except to our other house, but it got me thinking about it.

Away we drove in the early afternoon, headed south. We stopped at a new-ish outlet mall near a ski mountain, and luckily it included a Tim Horton's--an opportunity to stock up on our favourite type of timbits, roussettes au miel.

My artistic homage to timbits:

Their advertising department needs to hire me, don't you agree?

I was equally admiring of a many-petaled rugosa rose at the edge of the car park.

We reached the border in good time and trawled the Duty Free for interesting items. The Chap came away with some Martinique rum. I found a nifty Montréal souvenir mug decorated with my favourite views. And a very spiffy handbag (oh, dear, that's two I bought in Quebec), plus a birthday gift for a longtime writer friend, who of late has become a fellow blogger (I won't say how old she's about to be, but most people consider it a milestone).

I snapped the inevitable photo of the sign outside the Duty Free Shop. Most people translate it to mean "No Dogs!" but we think it means "No Lola!" because it looks so much like her. Only she's got a nicer, longer tail.


There was no line for autos (only 18-wheelers) at the border (miracle!), and no one behind us, so we quizzed the nice Customs official about what documentation is required to travel back and forth across the border with dogs. Not that we're definitely planning to.

We broke our journey at St. Johnsbury, Vermont, with a return trip up to Dog Mountain--deserving of its own posting.

On reaching the Capital Region we left the interstate and passed very near the church of my priest friend who died. I cried a little bit. (His death was caused by a rare congenital heart defect that went undetected throughout his life, discovered only in the autopsy.)

At the supermarket, we ran into a friend and fellow parishioner from our own church.

Much closer to home, a wonderful meadow into which my friends the deer wander at dusk, and where I've seen groundhogs and mice (though not together) has been freshly carved up for a driveway and a future house. The old stone wall that the deer easily walk over has been breached to allow for the earth moving equipment, there's a deep, unsightly scar that will be the driveway, and hideous mounds of builders' fill piled up. It's a painful sight and I suppose it will continue to be. I've got used to seeing houses built in forest lots, but there's something about developing that wonderful broad, open space that tears at my heart.

On arrival our Lodge seemed so quiet and still (i.e. dogless), oh, so clean (doubtless a temporary condition), and the weather grey and cool. And roses are blooming.

This morning after the Chap headed off to work I collected the mail and the dogs from their kennel. Apparently they behaved very well. (Our friend the kennel-keeper always says that.) Jewel was happy to see me, as I expected, but wasn't freaked out by her first incarceration--she's so well-adjusted.

Soon as they got home, the fenced portion of the backyard was a blur of black and white as the three dogs raced around and around and around with dizzying speed. Lola was joining in the fun, and despite her fourteen and a half years managed to (almost) keep up with the two-year-olds. There was a lot of in-and-out at first--"We want to go outside and run! No, we want to be indoors with you! No--out! Now in!" Until eventually they collapsed here in my office--Ruth under the cavernous kneehole of my desk, Lola nearby, and Jewel crammed in between her and my chair, snoozing with a chew toy still clutched in her paws.

The expected news of a death came after all, I heard of it this morning. Nearly a month after his automobile accident, my friend's brother died yesterday. I wasn't acquainted with him but after all these weeks of praying for him and her and their family, it feels like another friend lost.

I have the very happy Montréal memories for comfort, and keeping busy is no problem--catching up on all that mail and return phone calls.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lundi et Mardi

Yesterday, George Bush followed us to Quebec. He's staying not that many kilometres from here, at Montebello, where's he's been summit-ing with the Canadian Premier and the President of Mexico--who must return to his country posthaste to assess hurricane damage.

On Monday the Chap walked me all round the downtown area, showing me a pleasant park with fountain and a view north to McGill University and a portion of Mont Royal.

He led me unerringly to Simons, my favourite department store, where I bought socks and tights (a tradition when at Simons) and got a start on my Christmas presents. (You hate me now, don't you?) I was hunting a pair of lunettes but couldn't find the perfect pair. After shopping aboveground, we descended to the underground malls--I found an adorable bag with a beaver applique--I shall be the envy of the Fish & Game Department and our Committee! Well, I would be if they weren't nearly all men....

For lunch, the Chap took me to a haunt of his, Dunn's, for a traditional Montreal smoked meat lunch.

This morning we caught up on telephone messages and emails before heading out to face the world. At the end of our block we encountered this infant school preparing to cross the street.

We watched the crossing, a most entertaining process.

Our first stop was the Chateau de Ramezay, home of the Royal Governor and various other dignitaries down the centuries, now a museum. The collection of 17th and 18th century artifacts was impressive, and though later centuries were of slightly less interest I covered every salle.

In the vaults on the lower level are the social history displays--furniture, household items, costume, etc.

This photo shows a dogspit for turning roasts in the fireplace--like a hamster in a wheel, the small dog rotated the cage which was attached by pulleys and cables to the roasting spit in the fireplace. (I've sometimes seen these in England, in country house kitchens and tavern kitchens.)

I can well imagine Ruth and Jewel running round in the spit, turning the meat so quickly it wouldn't ever cook!

In the costume area I was enchanted by these shoes, two pair are circa 1794 the other is early 19th century. The cards indicated specific events at which they were worn. The green pair are white leather, lightly painted with a green wash.

We couldn't resist another visit to the Jardin du Gouvernour, where I posed with roses and fountain.

Being so close to Place de Jacques Cartier, we decided to take advantage of the many dining choices for our late lunch. As often happens when travelling, I found myself on a film set.

The two gentlemen in the suits were clearly local celebrities because people were lining up to have their pictures taken with them while the techies were setting the shot near Nelson's Column.

We didn't stay to watch the filming. (I've already logged too many lifetime hours on set.) We were there for food! Our chosen restaurant appealed to us because its table d'hote featured moules et frites.

Our penultimuate stop was the IGA on Rene Levesque, for provisions (I love having a kitchen!). Afterwards I raided the nearby SAQ.

This shopping bag is filled with many bottles of Morte Subite, my beloved Belgian raspberry beer.

Since returning to our suite, I've watched The Simpsons. In French. Homer sounds marginally more intelligent in that language. Perhaps because he speaks French far better than I do.

Monday, August 20, 2007


This morning I wasn't surprised to find an email with the title "Sad News." A weeks-long vigil has been underway for the close relative of a friend of mine, comatose after an automobile accident a month ago. When I opened the email, I thought I knew what sad news it contained--a prayer for him and the loving ones he left behind was already forming in my mind.

I was mistaken.

It was news of a death, but not of the stranger for whom I've been praying. Our diocese lost a gifted priest, and suddenly, unexpectedly I'm bereft of a friend. The details are scant, and came via email throughout the day: he died last night at his home, the funeral is later this week, the proscribed attire for clergy has been announced.

I've only known him a year and a half, and during that brief time he became a treasured presence in my life. We served on committees together, and the council I chair holds its monthly meeting in his church.

My mind flashed back to the last time I saw him--he'd been riding his bike and looked the picture of health and vitality in his biking suit. As ever, he was all smiles and laughter. I'm glad to be able to remember him like that. But now I think about it, I can't remember him any other way.

When introducing him to others, after giving his name and church, I could never resist adding, "And he can fly!" In addition to his priestly calling, he was a pilot and a flight instructor.

I'm keenly, poignantly aware that the celebration of his new ministry--his status in his parish recently changed from priest-in-charge to vicar--would have taken place in a couple of weeks. I was very happy for him and looked forward to attending....

Now his spirit has flown, and the celebration of his ministry is transformed into the celebration of an earthly life that now has ended. I'm sure the outpouring of love and respect will be a comfort to his grieving family and members of his congregation.

The news naturally shadowed me throughout this bright and pleasant day. The record of our activities can wait for a future posting.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Around and About

A gorgeous day for walking the city streets of Vieux Montreal and newer bits. We did some grocery shopping and went inside the SAQ, just to make sure they had an ample supply of my favourite Belgian beer. (Somebody had warned them of my arrival, the shelf with Framboise was fully stocked.)

Thanks to Beth for telling me about the Jardin du Gouvernour, the exquisite garden almost directly across from the Hotel de Ville. In a small space one finds a formal garden with clipped hedges, a fountain embraced by climbing roses, an orchard, a potager, and mixed flower borders along the walls.

In the orchard, the pears were unbearably tempting!

Here's a view of the market, filled with boutiques and galleries.

The wind was doing nice things to the flags.

We were delighted by Victoria Square. It has a wonderfully Parisian entrance to the Metro (subway), yet in the background is a statue of that most British of females, Queen Victoria herself.

Beth also recommended a visit to Christ Church Cathedral (Anglican). On the way in we admired the decorative gargoyles. (One of them reminded me of Jewel.)

The children's chapel has a lovely woven piece behind the altar. At the bottom is a flock of woolly sheep.

The stained glass windows were beautifully lit by the sunshine outdoors. I always search the pictures for animals--found a sheep (not to scale!)

We attended the choral evensong. The JAO singers were amazing, the acoustics were breathtaking, and the organist was outstanding.

The Chap booked a table for us at Les Remparts. Our dinner was utterly splendid and so were the wines.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dashboard Photography

The Granite State

The Green Mountain State

Roadside Attraction

My cupholder nosegay

Sun glinting on slivers of Lake Champlain

Church in the Belle Province

Our destination