Saturday, August 27, 2011

We thought it'd never end ...

Olive et gourmando
Our last day is brief. I am anxious to leave before we should experience any residue of Hurricane Irene which is bombarding the Eastern seaboard and causing devastation. Only a few hours before we must leave for home. Where to go? What to do? We opt for wandering through Old Montreal searching for sustenance. A friendly hostess in another restaurant that does not serve breakfast points us towards Olive et gourmando, 551 Ste. Paul, O.

Ricotta with apricot jam and fresh bread - really unbelievable ...
Hard to explain this bright, chaotic, very cool restaurant environment. It was packed when we arrived with a long line-up of customers snaking their way to the back of the restaurant and out the door. We had to wait about fifteen minutes for a table. You sit very close to your neighbors at large or small tables. There are long floor to ceiling windows bringing in lots of light on to a pretty view of the quarter. The waitress took our order by verbally reciting the menu (nary a paper menu in sight which I would have preferred). We order egg sandwiches, coffees, lattes and chocolate brioches - all excellent - with some pastries to go! It's a crowd pleaser alright.

Choices choices
A passing tourist recommended going down to a farmers market further south. I believe it was the Bonsecours Market with colonialists, "Indians" in full head gear carrying spears, herds of sheep and goats, homemade goods, a stockade ... yeesh, we couldn't hightail it out of there fast enough. I have no nostalgia for the good old days of French colonialism. All those middle aged people dressed in 18th c. period costume. Not for me [insert emoticon for shudder here].

Cobourg's main street
We leave at noon, regretfully, as it's been a great deal of fun with TTK. But it ain't over yet ... Closer to home we stop at Daizies, 74 King St West, in Cobourg. The fresh and organic food is a welcome surprise as I imagined we'd be eating at a Wendy's on the way home: steamed edamame, quinoa salads, organic juices, avocado club sandwiches and Cobb salad. What a lovely surprise!
R and M
Forty minutes from home, we had just passed Bowmanville on the 401 and our right rear tire blows ... luckily R was at the wheel and guided us safely from the express lane where we were traveling 120 km/hour to a safe shoulder a ways down. We examined the tire - entirely shredded to pieces and looking like a heap of black crumbly residue now. When the CAA driver comes to our aid half an hour later he takes one look at it and says he can't change it ... he will radio for a flatbed truck to tow us to Toronto. Really?? A flatbed truck? The second CAA driver is a little more sensible (and questions why the first driver could not change it). He changes the tire to our spare, advises us to add more air pressure at the next gas station and we will safely make it home. He's right ... Two hours after the blow out and driving at a moderate pace we make it home.
Aaaah, the house is intact, the cats are alive ... and there's one more day to relax before we get back to our regular schedule. As my kid said upon her first taste of a very nice hotel: This is the life!

Friday, August 26, 2011

On the Tail of St. Urbain's Horseman ...

Through the Palais des congrès to reach the metro ...
Up early in search of Mile End on the plateau! Map in hand, we get off at the Laurier metro and promptly start walking east (we should have been walking west folks) but happily we end up at cute little restaurant called Le Toasteur, 1310, ave. Laurier E (at the corner of Chambord) for a very tasty brunch - eggs and crepes for all! Great service, friendly staff and reasonable prices.
Berry and ice cream crepe at Le Toasteur
We eventually make it to boul. Saint Laurent and begin to walk south away from the plateau rather than north towards Fairmount, our original destination. We encounter the Mix Art Festival on Saint Laurent. The vendors all had tables on the street and there were some good bargains to be had although I am unsure where the "art" part comes in. We stop for some black skinny jeans for J at Soho, 3715, boul Saint-Laurent, and frozen yogurt at yeh!, 3804 boul Saint-Laurent which rivals Menchies in Toronto. R also buys some black T-shirts because neither of us has enough black in our wardrobe.

R on St. Urbain
Having exhausted the shopping area somewhat we cab it north to Mile End and I encounter some familiar places as my sister also lived in this area (at the corner of Rue Bernard and boul Saint-Laurent) during her university years.

We buy bagels at Fairmount Bagel, 74 Fairmount O., visit The Japanese Paper Place, 21 Fairmount O., stroll along the fabled St. Urbain where Mordecai Richler grew up and which reminded me a great deal of a certain north end part of Hamilton. That makes sense if you know Richler's book. We stop for coffee and biscotti on St. Viateur at a sports bar. The area is so pretty and vibrant, filled with people.

Bagels from Fairmount Bagel
It's been a long morning and afternoon in our wanderings so the pool is looking very attractive at this point. We get on at Rosemount metro and head home for a short rest before dinner.

After a quick swim we decide to head out to a restaurant that was recommended to me called Ghandi, 230 Rue Saint Paul Ouest, in old Montreal. This Indian restaurant is lovely and was completely filled with patrons. You can see horse drawn carriages pass along Rue Saint Paul outside your window but ... the service was very slow and not particularly attentive (there was a large birthday party in the room next door which might have contributed to this). Some of the food was lukewarm when it finally arrived although beautifully served; some of us were disappointed with the dishes we chose. I liked mine a great deal and thought it was very fairly priced (Poulet Bhuna, basmati rice and vegetables, creamy rice pudding for dessert and coffee for a fixe prix of $25). My fellow guests were less impressed.
Little Miss K avec famille
J at rest
 A stroll back to our hotel, very full and tired ... we leave for home tomorrow.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

De la rue aux etoiles

The view from our window in Old Montreal
Montreal has many pleasures not the least of which is the architecture and cuisine of Old Montreal. When I was invited to read as part of the Yellow Door Reading Series I jumped at the chance to return to la belle provence. My sister-in-law T, my brother-in-law T and our niece K (known collectively as TTK) also expressed interest in the trip so we decided to travel together by car.

We stayed at Le Westin in Old Montreal - a lovely, spacious room, a pool for the kids and a great central location. Once we arrived, we had an uninspiring meal at a pizza joint down the street (slow if friendly service, undercooked pizza, not inexpensive too unfortunately) on Wednesday night. We had gotten to that point where you wander around enough and are hungry enough to settle for something that's not that great. A shame since there are so many great places to eat here. But we won't belabor the point, it could have been an off night for the restaurant and the waiting staff was very friendly, very hospitable.

Brunch at Le Cartet
Thursday morning we walked north to a place that was getting wonderful reviews and had a great breakfast at Le Cartet, 106 McGill Ave. Very fresh fruit with baguettes and jam, croissants, bagels, smoothies and poached eggs. Friendly, efficient service. It also has a great little groceteria in the front part of the restaurant.

In the rain we cabbed it up to the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, 1379 Sherbrooke O. While waiting for the rain to subside we slipped into The Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, 3415 Redpath, a Presbyterian church built in 1931-32, to admire the stained glass (the piece below is above the altar). Pressed to "donate" towards a CD of the choir we pagans demurred and continued on to the Musée. My interest in churches in purely aesthetic.

The Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul
My girls J, K and T in portico of the Church sheltering from rain
We wanted to see Le Planete Mode de Jean Paul Gaultier, De la rue aux etoiles (from the street to the stars) exhibit which was beautiful, truly beautiful. When you enter the exhibit you climb a long elegant staircase at the top of which is his name in neon. When you reach the top, in a semi-circle in front of you, are a row of twelve or fifteen mannequins wearing iconic Gaultier fashion creations. The mannequins' blank faces are superimposed with filmed images of faces with mouths that move and eyes that blink and close and widen in surprise. They appear as if they are looking at you or singing or laughing. It's a bit unnerving ... there is even a mannequin of Gaultier speaking to the audience as you enter. The clothes are an intriguing combination of punk, high fashion, S&M imagery and fin de siècle opulence. It's difficult to categorize but amazing to see up close. Exquisite detail, wonderful colours and fabrics.

There are dozens and dozens of articles of his clothing of course but also snippets of films that feature his clothing and an endless loop of a French film that inspired him to be a designer. Very beautiful, very inspiring. Our in-laws stayed on and we went back to the hotel mid afternoon.

Back in our room to rest. R and J went swimming in the pool as I prepared for the reading that night. I was to read a small section of the first chapter of Made Up of Arias. There were several other readers and a singer featured.

We decided to walk to the The Yellow Door Poetry & Prose Reading Series at 3625 Aylmer en famille. I remembered that my sister used to live on Aylmer near McGill University back in the day. I was the second reader and despite my support system I felt that I faltered. My reading was shaky and uninspiring. Of course the family was very kind, very complimentary. They said, "You always read well!" but that wasn't really so. Little things really throw me off - a new venue, if I get a sense the crowd is not "with me", etc ...

A la Porte-Jeune
The best part of the evening was Tom Fox, a classical singer, who sang some old standards. Initially I thought it was a corny selection but it was actually quite moving. He sang "Those were the days" in Russian and "Old Man River" in this tremendous voice. A skillful entertainer, he had us all singing along at one point.
Green Tea ice cream at Tatami
We walked home, casting about for a quick and inexpensive place to eat. My s-i-l had taken the little one home. Tatami Sushi, 140 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, came to mind which is right around the corner from Le Westin.

Hmm, not a good choice perhaps. The gyoza, which I prefer soft and lightly fried, were crispy hard and brown. The sushi was presented in an odd way with fresh fruit (blueberries and strawberries) and fresh flowers in a haphazardly designed manner. They couldn't serve any cocktails because they had no bartender that night. How weird! The place had such an odd vibe to it and the service was a tad lackadaisical. It seemed to have deteriorated from the last time we ate there two or three years ago. How frustrating as I came armed with a long list of good restaurants recommended by friends!

But it's great to be here with TTK regardless of what we do ...
My beloved: R, J & K

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The curious case of Sammy Wong

The impressive Sammy Wong as photographed by J
When did I get so soft ... I used to be so brazen faced and tough. Now I am reduced to tears during an obvious tear-jerker like The Help and get misty-eyed when I think of my daughter leaving home for university (this is at least four years away people). I can't watch movies about children in jeopardy or dying parents, the thought of something happening to R, my husband, or J, my child, leaves me weepy and distraught. I dread the thought of Ma becoming ill as she ages.

I am turning into a certifiable bowl of mush.

A case in point: two or three weekends ago we were accosted by a beautiful smoky-coated, green-eyed young cat outside our house (he is shown above). S/he (I couldn't tell if it was a girl or a boy, let's just say he's a male) was meowing piteously and seemed to need something as he skulked outside our home. He eagerly lapped up some feline crunchies and a great deal of water that J had placed outside for him. We dubbed her/him Sammy Wong (the origin of the name is a long story which does not do us credit but ask me sometime and I will tell you).

We thought that Sammy was just passing through but it appears that he has taken up residence in a neighbor's garage and regularly tries to enter their house. He is friendly with people but has no collar or means of identification. My fear is that someone dumped him on our street to get rid of him. I found this very disturbing. Cooler weather is approaching - what about the winter I wondered? The thought made me ineffably sad.

I was thinking about taking Sammy in but that would be problematic. We have two cats - one a middle-aged but spirited tabby of 8 years named Lolly who is not the friendliest gal you ever met and has a crush on my husband. She is constantly swatting the younger one in the head to keep him away but only after he has meticulously groomed her (nice).

The other is a skittish half-Siamese, half -Tabby five year old cat named Sugar with blue eyes who also has crush on my husband (seriously you should see the way these two stare at R, I should be so lucky to have anyone in love with me the way these two are with the husband). This little one, who was the runt of the litter, is adorable and very sweet tempered. But he also who runs upstairs when the doorbell rings because he has learned that if the bell rings it's not immediate family and it must be a stranger. He makes a bee-line for the same place each time: under the bed in the middle bedroom and won't move until he hears the door shut and knows that the stranger has left.

If you raise your voice to Sugar and shake you finger at him in reprimand he cringes and slinks away in fear. If you do that to Lolly she tries to swat you with both of her paws, ready to take you on ... she's very feisty.


To bring a third cat into this environment? Do I officially become a "cat lady" if I do that? I don't know. Three cats? But I broached it with Rob anyway. We were driving somewhere together and I said casually, "What if we let Sammy Wong live with us?"

"No, no, absolutely not. I DO NOT want a third cat."

"But winter is coming ... "

"He'll survive."

"Will he?" I felt tears start to gather in the corners of my eyes ... what if he doesn't? Where will he live?

"Yes. He will survive."


Long pause.

"We'd have to spay him - he has claws, the other two cats don't. Sammy is already tearing up our neighbors' house when he is able to sneak in. No ... no ... no."

Loooong silence ... I turn my face away, now the tears are gathering and threatening to spill out. Still I say nothing.

A bit later R says: "We can't have three cats, that's crazy!"

Long pause. Very long pause.

(Very aggressively): "Okay! Fine, bring in a third cat! Okay, alright! It's not a good idea but FINE!"

It's a dilemma - he's a beautiful, friendly cat and I would love to find a suitable home for him. I can't bear the idea that he is friendless and alone. But it's a cat, R reminds me. Yeah, I know. Still.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Yellow Door Poetry & Prose Reading Series

3625 Aylmer, Montreal (between Pine & Prince Arthur)
Tel: 514-845-2600
Doors 7:00 pm Reading 7:30 pm - $5
        Michelle Alfano
Co-organizer of the (Not So) Nice Italian Girls &Friends Reading Series; Co-Editor with Descant. Bressani Prize winner for Made Up of Arias (Blaurock Press, 2008).

Ehab Lotayef
Author of the poetry book, To Love a Palestinian Woman, TSAR 2010. He writes in English & Arabic.

Niki Paquin
QWF Mentorship participant for non-fiction, 2008. She is working on a first book, So Close to the Sky: Journey with a Tibetan Family.
Jack Hannan
His most recent book of poetry, Some Frames, was published in April 2011 by Cormorant Books.

Catherine Chandler
Author of Lines of Flight & winner of the 2010 Howard Nemerov Award, employs form to investigate & communicate reality.

Ken Kalman
Poet, playwright & novelist. Author of Jesus Loves Me, a novel (Xlibris 2003); Short stories & poetry published in Canada and U.S.

Tom Fox  
A classical singer with a rich bass voice. His repertoire includes operatic duets and solos in English, Italian, French, and Russian.
Ilona Martonfi, Founder, Producer/host

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Tale of the Maids

Emma Stone (Skeeter Phelan), aspiring 
journalist/chronicler of the maids' stories
The Help (U.S., 2011) directed by Tate Taylor, ‎2 hr. 17 min.‎

I don't think you could have found a more reluctant moviegoer than myself when my husband suggested seeing this film with our daughter. My reaction was a mixture of distaste and uneasiness. Yet another pious tome about a doe-eyed innocent white person transformed by the wisdom/piety of an oppressed black character (i.e. a "Magical Negro")? No thank you. I was immediately ready to write the film off.

Likely this opinion was hastened by Lynn Crosbie's acerbic August 6th review of the ubiquitous book in the Globe and Mail. Crosbie, an astute, if sharp-tongued, observer of popular culture had witheringly deplored the 2009 book written by Kathryn Stockett which formed the basis of this film. At the risk of comparing apples to oranges - Crosbie examines the book while I am looking at the film - I want to explore some of the issues that Crosbie raises which I think are pertinent in a discussion of the appropriation of voice.

Here is Crosbie's assessment of whether Stockett was even capable of telling this story:
"Stockett, a white Mississippi native, seems, incredibly, unaware of her competition – her novel is not only devoid of any deep insight into black women’s lives, it exists in a cultural vacuum, seemingly oblivious to the impact of black artists and activists of the era she writes about."

Why assume that Stockett is oblivious to the impact of black artists and activists of that era - because she does not explicitly reference them? That's a huge leap of logic.

Crosbie also states that Stockett's dialogue for the black characters in the book "while not racist" demonstrates "stylistic ineptitude". I am unsure if this is true based on the meager sample she provides to us, the readers, in her article. Does Stockett fail miserably or is it that she has no right to try because she is white and Southern?

If you were to postulate that the white writer has no right to make a creative attempt to speak in a black dialect then what are we to make of those who have transgressed the rigid boundaries of gender and racial identity and succeeded brilliantly? Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Flaubert's Madame Bovary, William Faulkner's depictions of former slaves, Henry James' character Isabel Archer in A Portrait of the Lady, the many characters of Mark Twain's novels, not to mention the many female writers who wrote under the pseudonyms assuming male personas in their writing?

True, significant black pioneers are but briefly mentioned in the film and the book (Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers - both assassinated with Evers murdered in Stockett's home town Jackson, Mississippi where the novel is set); however, this is not their story. It is a fruitless argument to suggest to a writer that the story they have written should have been about this rather than that.

The Maids: Octavia Spencer (Minnie) and Viola Davis (Abilene)

Crosbie makes much of the need for an "authentic" voice - does she mean believable to her? The black female characters demonstrate a convincing terror in the film version. So much may be construed by the look on Abilene Clark's (Viola Davis) face upon hearing that a black man has been shot. They are harshly told by a bus driver that they must vacate the bus and walk home (it is indeed the civil rights activist Medgar Evers who has been shot). Abilene simulates calm as she walks with her black male companion, urging him to go home likely because she fears for him as well. Once they part - they both run like frightened rabbits. It's a terrifying scene.

Or even the simply acted scene where Abilene initially demurs giving Skeeter (Emma Stone) an interview about her work as a nanny and maid for white families. She knows only too well that white people don't truly want to to hear the truth about the black maids' employment.The polite wariness on her face speaks volumes.

And the most affecting scene for me was not that saccharine interaction between Abilene and her small charge, the daughter of her employer Elizabeth, whom she is forced to give up, and which is very consciously trying to pull at our heart strings, but the scene where the maids gather in Abilene's living room (all 31 of them) after steadfastly refusing to cooperate with Skeeter but then embracing the opportunity to speak after a final indignity against one of their own. I found a number of things manipulative in the film but this scene struck at the core of the issue for me.

I was so affected by this that I burst into tears and a kindly woman beside me handed me a much need wad of tissues. The courage an act of this type must have necessitated ... it knocked me out. My resistance to the film completely crumbled away.

When we see the humble living conditions that the maids live in. When we see them take off their straight-haired wigs at night to reveal the corn rows beneath. This speaks volumes about the way black women are viewed, about how blackness is viewed by both white and black society.

Crosbie wants to know "why are blacks always depicted in crisis, almost always punctuated with slapstick"? I sense a larger truth here which I tend to agree with; however, the novelist, the screenwriter, the director, are trying to construct a dramatic story here regarding a tumultuous period which necessitates a certain level of drama, of pathos and of emotion.

I wonder how exciting a story about my middle class black friends would be if we were to mirror the "authentic" nature of their lives: trying to raise a family, working in mundane jobs, church-going, caring for elderly and ill parents, living their day to day lives. True, I am sure there is some Chekovian drama underneath this middle class veneer but the not so distant history of black people in North America, particularly in the Southern U.S., is one of turmoil, of oppression, of difficult choices made. It ain't no party ...

What seems to irk Crosbie the most is the film's tag line: "Change begins with a whisper." She ends her article thus: "And the great American civil rights movement, shouted, not whispered about, at its height, should not be open for revision."

My response to this is that not every piece of fiction based on historical events, even one as horrifying and violent as this one, requires volume or blood to be effective as a piece of art. The film, if not the book, is not a "great" piece of art but it does achieve what many films aspire to: it makes people feel connected to an era that some may have forgotten or minimized merely as a relic of the past. It elicits not only grief for the tragedies of our past but compassion. It touches both the heart and the mind. And that ain't so bad.

For some additional thoughts please see Mary Elizabeth Williams' article on with whom I commiserate!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Part Boxcar, Part Fairyland ...

Robert and Patti
"Who can know the heart of youth but youth itself?" 
Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti Smith (Harper Collins, 2010) 307 pages

This book is magical, special - as magical and special as Patti Smith herself. I have never read much of Smith's writing and only have cursory knowledge of her music but she intrigues me nonetheless. I imagined her as tough and determined but what amazes me here is her vulnerability and innocence throughout the book. Physically beautiful in a strange and androgynous way, she is also brave and ruthlessly honest. And I liked her definition of androgynous here (as she is often described): both beautiful and ugly at the same time.

In this memoir she focuses on her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 –1989), future photographer and artist. They do appear to be kindred spirits when they meet up in Brooklyn in the mid 60s. Smith was searching for a place to crash with friends, having recently moved from New Jersey to seek her fortunes in NYC. Robert had arrived from Queens, NY. He likely appeared to her then as he appears to us in these photographs: arresting, feral, otherworldly beautiful.

Patti reveres Bob Dylan, the poet Rimbaud and other artists, reads poetry and philosophy, dreams of a fuller, more fulfilling life as an artist and ventures to NYC in pursuit of it. Robert Mapplethorpe and many other adventures await her.
They meet, they couple, separate temporarily then come together again. Robert is sometimes fragile physically and often it is Patti who must work to provide enough money for them to live usually as a bookstore clerk or a modest reviewer of records for a small magazine. Whatever space they inhabit, and some are truly harrowing, she paints a picture of magic and beauty: "My room reflected the bright mess of my interior world, part boxcar, part fairyland."

They have met at a crucial time and place - New York city in the 1960s and 70s - and everyone, but everyone, crosses their paths when they take up residence in the notorious Chelsea Hotel in 1970 and start hanging around Max's Kansas City nightclub.

The cavalcade of literary and musical stars and wannabes people the pages of this book: poet Gregory Corso takes Patti to poetry readings. Allen Ginsberg tries to pick her up, buying her lunch, thinking that she is a boy. Bob Dylan-cohort Bob Neuwirth challenges her to turn her poetry into music lyrics. She consoles Janis Joplin when she is blue and listens to Jimi Hendrix's musings about bringing together musicians in Woodstock. She dances with YSL model Loulou de la Falaise at Max's. She hangs/sleeps with the poet Jim Carroll. She acts in plays at La Mama Experimental Theatre. She listens to the Velvet Underground live.

The playwright Sam Shepherd courts the initially clueless Patti who thinks he is a drummer in an indie band she has just seen him play with. She recounts an enchanting first encounter with Shepherd (Smith has no idea who the multiple Obie winning playwright is and has to be told this by an incredulous drag queen at Max's).

Habitués from Warhol's The Factory drift in and out of her world ... usually screaming or strutting or competing for the attention of the now mostly absent Andy Warhol who once reigned over all of them. Throughout, the ghosts of Andy Warhol - the post-Valerie Solanas assassination attempt Warhol - and the soon to be departed from this earth Edie Sedgwick who served as Warhol's muse - flutter at the perimeters of Patti's life. Robert sees himself as an artist who might be the equal of Warhol given the chance. Patti venerates Edie whom she remembers as a faun-like figure hovering on a page torn from Vogue and placed on her bedroom wall.

As Mapplethorpe begins to find himself as an artist, he also discovers his more complex sexuality - attraction to men, attraction to S&M, engaging in hustling to pay the bills. These burgeoning interests begin to inform his art and his photography. It also causes him to break away from Patti:
Paradoxically, he seemed to want to draw me closer. Perhaps it was the closeness before the end, like a gentleman buying his mistress jewels before telling her it's over.
She refers to him as "my artist" the way other women say "my lover".  

Robert finds a male lover; Patti reluctantly moves on to the poet Jim Carroll and then Sam Shepherd - both are committed to other passions - Jim to his drug addiction and Sam to his wife and child. But it is her affiliation with these artistic people that helps prod her into her first creative forays. Patti and Robert remain tied to each other as lovers float in and out of their lives sometimes sharing accommodations, and always sharing artistic work and dreams.

She gives a much anticipated reading peopled by Warhol and the denizens of the rock and art worlds in New York. She co-writes Cowboy Mouth with Sam Shepherd in 1971 but it is not until 1975 that Patti produces her first album Horses. We read, with fascination, about her slow, sometimes timid, evolution, into a singer/poet of extraordinary talent while Robert becomes an internationally recognized photographer of sometimes graphic and controversial material.

As many know, Mapplethorpe died of AIDS related ailments in 1989. The bond continued to the end. Many have come and gone and I'm glad Smith was there to document it all.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What We Carry

Years ago, a short time after I met R, my then boyfriend later my husband, I decided to try and lose some weight. Not a huge amount - perhaps 10-20 pounds. It seemed a reasonable goal. It was and I was successful over several months of effort. Although I was a bit shy of my ultimate goal I was able to lose the weight.

At around that same time I also ran into an old "boyfriend". I use the term very loosely here - it was more an unsuccessful romantic entanglement than an actual romance. He gave me an appraising look and said, "Oh, you lost weight?' "Yes," I said eagerly, anticipating a compliment. "You look [slight pause] ... better," was his response.

Um, better? Not great, not good. Better?

I remember being crushed, absolutely crushed. I thought I looked good. I was proud of my achievement. Then I realized that what he seemed to be attracted to (besides my much thinner roommate when I had been seeing him) was a waif-like thinness that was impossible for me to achieve.

Never underestimate that no matter how good you may feel about yourself that there is someone around the corner who will tell you that you need to feel inferior because of how you look. 

I realize now that, at that weight, I was the same weight then as my daughter J is now. And I think she looks terrific, really terrific. It's the same weight, roughly same body shape, stretched over a slightly longer frame (she is two inches taller).

I continuously hear, with some sadness, the note of dissatisfaction in my daughter's voice about her own body. She is too this, too that ... she dislikes this, she dislikes that about herself. It doesn't matter what it is. I hear it from her friends as well. This is basically the lament of every female in the Western world. We have the most absurd complaints - from the shape of our feet to the quality of our hair to the inadequacy of our "too" plump thighs and stomachs.

I still remember, with horror, the results of a 2008 survey that indicated that a certain percentage of women (56%) would rather have cancer than be fat. Cancer. That is very messed up and extremely disturbing. This attitude still prevails most recently in a 2010 survey conducted with French women smokers (who are much acclaimed for their thinness) and who stated that they'd rather be dead than fat (“plutôt mourir qu'être grosse”) ...

I would love to hear someone (preferably female) say, "I am at my ideal weight. I love my shape." It never happens. The self-loathing is palpable.

Even when my loving spouse says something complimentary about my body I immediately start to downplay what he says. How annoying to listen to this sort of self-effacement and how insulting it is to the person who has lavished a kind and sincere compliment on you.

When, oh when, will we let this go? Does this self-denigration ever go away? Let's not blame it on those familiar culprits: the media, the fashion industry and fashion magazines, pressure from family. Let's all grow a spine, make intelligent decisions and realize how destructive this obsession is.

Please, let's give it up ... so we don't look like Gisele Bündchen or Tyra Banks. Every woman has attractive qualities - pretty hair, nice legs, a toned body, lovely eyes, a great smile - something that is unique to us and makes us feel good about ourselves.

Take a more proactive approach:
  • Challenge attitudes which castigate the not-so-thin. 
  • Vote with your pocket book. Stop subscribing to magazines that foster unrealistic and dangerous images or write letters to fashion editors about your concerns.
  • Stop unrealistically pressuring your kids to be thinner under the guise of worrying about their health when your real fear may be having a fat kid. 
  • Stop telling everyone how fat you look! We are so brainwashed that even the women that weigh a scant 105 pounds have bought into this and constantly complain about themselves and their physical appearance.
Next time someone compliments me I'd like respond in an appreciative manner and not reinforce my own insecurities (and the insecurity that many women feel) by denying that it is so.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The NSNIG&F get hot and steamy ...

Celebrate our second anniversary by bringing a poem to share at the open mike to be held after the readings.

Elisabeth de Mariaffi's work has been widely published in Canadian magazines, including The New Quarterly, The FIddlehead, This Magazine, Prairie Fire, and The Puritan, and is taught as part of the short story curriculum at the University of Waterloo. She is one of the wild minds behind Toronto Poetry Vendors, a new press that sells poetry broadsides from refurbished vending machines in the downtown area. Her poetry chapbook, Letter on St. Valentine's Day, was published last year by The Emergency Response Unit. Currently at work on a novel, Elisabeth lives in Little Portugal with two children and one maniac dog.

Catherine Graham is the author of four critically acclaimed poetry collections: The Watch (Abbey Press) and the poetry trilogy Pupa, The Red Element and Winterkill (Insomniac Press). She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from Lancaster University (UK) and teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. Visit:

Koom Kankesan is a writer with a background in English Literature and Film Studies. He has written short stories and small anecdotal pieces for various journals, and has published film and book reviews with newspapers such as the Montreal Gazette. He is an unabashed fan of comic books and movies. The Panic Button is his first novella.

K.D. Miller, B.A, M.F.A., has published stories and essays in a variety of Canadian literary magazines. Her work has appeared in Best Canadian Stories – Oberon 2008 and 2009, in The Journey Prize Anthology, and has been broadcast by the CBC. She has published two collections of stories: A Litany in Time of Plague and Give Me Your Answer; an essay collection: Holy Writ; and a novel: Brown Dwarf.  K.D. Miller is a teacher of writing courses and workshops, and is both a founding member and Editor of Red Claw Press. She lives in Toronto. Her website is:

Giovanna Riccio was born in Calabria, Italy, immigrated to Canada when she was 6 years old and grew up in Toronto. She has a degree in philosophy from the University of Toronto. Over the years, her poems have appeared in newspapers, journals, magazines, and anthologies. She is the author of the chapbook Vittorio, published by Lyricalmyrical Press in July 2010. Her book of poems, Strong Bread, was published by Quattro Books in the spring of 2011 and launched in Montreal in April and in Toronto in May 2011.

Ayelet Tsabari is a two-time winner of Event’s Creative Non-Fiction Contest, and a first runner-up for Prism International Non-Fiction contest. Her fiction was published in Grain and Room, and her unpublished manuscript, You and What Army and Other True Stories was shortlisted to the First Book Competition by Anvil Press. She’s currently working on a collection of short fiction. She often dreams of warmer places.

And as emcee ...
Michelle Alfano is a co-organizer of the (Not So) Nice Italian Girls & Friends Reading Series and a Co-Editor with Descant. Her novella Made Up of Arias (Blaurock Press) won the 2010 Bressani Prize for Short Fiction. Her short story “Opera”, on which her novella Made Up Of Arias is based, was a finalist for a Journey Prize anthology. Her fiction and non-fiction work has been widely published in major literary publications. She will be featured in a forthcoming documentary on the passengers, and the children of the passengers, of the Saturnia that will be featured on OMNI-TV. She is currently at work at a new novel entitled Vita’s Prospects.