Archive | November 2014

Good Grief, Gift-giving time…..

Gift-giving time

Gift-giving time

Holiday music is everywhere. The stores are full of gifts and sweets hoping you will buy them for friends and loved ones and as usual, I’m not out there much. A reluctant shopper at any time, I am even more so when the shops are busy. Just the idea of gift-giving fills me with unease and trepidation — and no wonder! My own home is filled with gifts I don’t need, but keep — from people I love.
Don't look for me in this picture, I'm not there if I can help it

Don’t look for me in this picture, I’m not there if I can help it

What was the most useless gift I ever received?? There are many, however it may have been the Portuguese bread bag which arrived by mail. Not that I recognized it as such when I opened the package. It was an off-white, 9”
Portuguese bread bag, but I didn't have any Portuguese bread

Portuguese bread bag, but I didn’t have any Portuguese bread

square, fabric bag with a pull-string at the top, and a bright red embroidered flower in one corner with the word “PAN” inscribed on it.
Pan, the god of Greek mythology and his reed pipe

Pan, the god of Greek mythology and his reed pipe

According to Greek mythology, Pan was that happy-go-lucky god of the woods, fields and fertility — the son of Hermes and a gofer for the other gods. He was a musical prodigy, but his body was totally confused, with horns, hoofs and goat ears, all of which didn’t seem to bother him. He had a grand time playing his pipe of reeds, which the clever guy, they say, invented all by himself. You have to admire Pan for not looking at his reflection in a pond and just giving up — that’s how ugly he was.
His persistence in the face of failure with the fair sex is inspiring. He continued to woo one beautiful wood nymph after another even though they kept rejecting him due to his yucky looks. It wasn’t very kind of them, but maybe they just couldn’t get past the thought of those scratchy hoofs in bed. They say the word “panic” is derived from the fears of travelers who heard the sound of Pan’s pipes at night in the wilderness. But, that wouldn’t scare me half as much as shopping for gifts. My family knows. They are kind. They shop for their own gifts from me and I am grateful.
Well, back to that bag. I studied it. Was it a tribute to the Greek Pan? For carrying a small pipe made of reeds? Do I have reed pipes sitting around hoping for a place to snuggle in — in such a bag? I couldn’t figure it out. I called to inquire. After patiently hearing my long tale about Pan and his hoofs and his lack of success with the ladies, my friend chuckled.
“You lived in L.A. for years and don’t know what pan is?” (It does means bread in Spanish.) I remained puzzled. How could any bread fit into such a bag and why would anyone want to put it in there?
I didn't know where to obtain Portuguese sweet bread, which might have fit in my bread bag

I didn’t know where to obtain Portuguese sweet bread, which might have fit in my bread bag

What to do? During past holidays we had fun with what we called a “Stupid Gift Exchange”. We would wrap gifts we’d been given and didn’t need. (If you do this, be sure the gift-giver isn’t at the party.) Friends are sometimes pleased to get something you may not have wanted, but apparently my Portuguese bread bag was not in demand. It was rejected two years in a row and I was required to take it back — twice.
Poor thing. Its red flower turned to an embarrassed scarlet and it sat alone feeling blue, rejected and unloved in my kitchen junk drawer for years. I’d see it now and then and be reminded of its sorrow. It made me sad. After years of this, I finally passed it on as a wedding gift, along with a cheque and a hand-written note revealing the long saga of the poor unwanted Portuguese bread bag.
The young couple who received it must have been moved. They called me long distance just to find out if the sad story was true. Would I make up something like that?
They assured me they knew someone they wanted to give it to. I wonder who it was. Did those people find a use for it and keep it? Did they pass it on again? I wonder who has it now or if it is still being passed from one to another? Did someone happen to give it to you?
Happy Holiday! Here’s to humour, health and happiness in the New Year! Holiday Greets


Tilting at Windmills

Mom Reading SMBook Club meets Tuesday. I’m looking forward to it. We’ve read close to 200 books together since I started it in 1998. At the time, friends asked how I did it. I had no special knowledge — had just belonged to one for years and enjoyed it thoroughly. When it disbanded, I decided to start my own. I put up notices on the bulletin board where our exercise class was held, invited friends, and voila. All these years later, we still meet.
One book selection often leads to another. The very

Lady Chatterley's Lover, banned in the Quebec of my youth

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, banned in the Quebec of my youth

first was “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, banned by the Catholic Church in the Quebec of my youth. Naturally as a result, I’d always wanted to read it and was delighted when our fledgling group agreed to do so. This book was not only banned in Quebec, but in both England and the U.S. as well until long after D. H. Lawrence’s death.
The young D. H. Lawrence 1906

The young D. H. Lawrence

(I think you’d find nothing much scandalous about it by today’s standards.)
Reading about the court case reminded us of “Madam Bovary”, Flaubert’s meticulous novel about another adulteress, which also lead to censure and charges of immorality. It was interesting to reread this book with more maturity, and discuss it on the heals of Lady Chatterley.
Joy Kogawa, born 1935, awarded the Order of Canada, 1986,

Joy Kogawa, born 1935, awarded the Order of Canada, 1986,

Then, deciding on a contemporary work, we chose Joy Kogawa’s “Obason”, about B.C.’s Japanese residents and their unfortunate plight during world war two. I already had a copy on my bookshelf. (I’m no big spender, but I do have a problem resisting books.) Kogawa’s prose is so beautifully crafted, I reread paragraphs over just for the joy of it.
The discussion of Obason triggered thoughts of the British and Africa, and it was suggested we next read Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. Conrad is considered one of the great modern English prose stylists, yet English was his (get this) fourth language. The book is tightly constructed, a short novel and you could read it in an evening. It is based on Conrad’s own experiences working on the Congo River in 1890. It gives an unsettling view of the time, place and people. And, knowing English was not his first language, I felt compelled to keep a dictionary at my side to look up words I didn’t know, although English IS my first.
Joseph Conrad, 1857-1924 wrote in English though it was not his first language

Joseph Conrad, 1857-1924 wrote in English though it was not his first language

In her forward to my copy of Madam Bovary, Mary McCarthy says: “When Flaubert made his famous statement — ‘Madam Bovary is me’ he was echoing one of his favorite authors, Cervantes. According to the story, Cervantes was asked on his deathbed whom he meant to depict in “Don Quixote”. “Myself,” he answered. “In Cervantes’ case this must have been true, quite simply and terribly, whether or not he said it. In Flaubert’s the answer was an evasion.”
Don Quixote had sat on my bookshelf for years. I’d started it more than a few times and given up, so when Joan suggested we attempt it as our next book, I was thrilled. It is somewhat intimidating size-wise, (my copy has over 800 pages) and none of us completed it in one month. Nonetheless, entranced and considering it a truly important work (it has entered our culture and our language) we were determined to finish it. I’ve been grateful ever since.
No authentic image exists of Miguel de Cervantes, but "Don Quixote" has been enjoyed for ages.

No authentic image exists of Miguel de Cervantes, but “Don Quixote” has been enjoyed for ages.

Here’s my favorite paragraph. Use it next time you’re really furious. Quixote is angry at his squire, Sancho.
“Thou villainous, ignorant, rash, unmannerly, blasphemous detractor. How darest thou entertain such base and dishonorable thoughts, much more utter thy rude and contemptible suspicions before me and this honorable presence? Away from my sight, thou monster of nature, magazine of lies, cupboard of deceits, granary of guile, publisher of follies, foe of all honour! Away, and never let me see thy face again, on pain of my most furious indignation.”
I love it!
Note: Tony, in Australia, is a treasured long-distance member of our book club. I email him what we are reading each month and often, both he and his wife Barbara read along with us. He emails back his thoughts on the current book, and I share them with the group because he’s clever and always astute and interesting.
You can be in our club too. Just let me know you are interested, and I’ll send you an email about what we are reading as well. And no, there are no rules….