Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Heart, Mind, Body, and Concrete

All too often, respiratory flu knows how to hit my weak point. It probably doesn’t help that I was born two months early – apparently arriving on the scene looking something like a scalded, plucked chicken. Later in life, I had a childhood bout with TB which also didn’t help much. Then, I spent much of my teens living in the then heavily polluted Saar Ruhr Valley. I only mention these events because I arrived home a week ago from Ireland via Boston, and a day later started shivering with the dreaded winter flu.

Hearing of this, my third cousin Eilie, told me: Well dear, I haven’t experienced colds since I was child. I had one once when I was I was 50, and I was staying at a hotel in London. I complained to the hotel. For those of you who have yet to meet the life-force that is Eilie, this would have been more than 40 years ago at a time when she worked as a nurse. I have to confess to experiencing a wee bout of envy over the efficiency of her immune system. Would that mine worked like that.

Not that I want to snivel and whine too much about my own latest bout – just enough to enjoy the pleasure of complaining. I did, after all, spend the first week home with my husband at the Granville Island Hotel where absolutely nothing was required of me, except to get better, and to enjoy a couple of events a day at the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival. Not too shabby.

It wasn’t just the Granville Island Hotel that it was so special –  one of three hotels that I mentioned in a piece about a year ago  – it was also that the surrounding amenities fit so perfectly with both the Writers' Festival and our time there. All the events – and there were more than a dozen a day to choose from - were within a block or two of the hotel, as was anything else I might desire.

Most mornings, I shopped at the nearby Granville Island Market for bakery treats, fresh fruit, juice and such for breakfast. For lunch and supper, there was an embarrassment of riches. On the first day, I didn’t feel like venturing too far afield. No problem, the restaurant in the hotel is the kind of space where you don’t have to holler to carry on a conversation, and you can actually hear yourself think, if you are thinking. On the other hand, if thinking is too daunting, then you can simply stare out at the inlet, check out the boats and follow the shifting light, or else note how well the various dog walkers are matched to their dogs.  

On our first day, as part of my get well program, we dined at the hotel’s Dockside Restaurant, and I ordered their Chorizo, peppers and goat cheese pasta. Perfection. Since they make their own beer on site, I washed it down with a Cartwright Pale Ale – a perfect pairing. Too bad for old hubby though. His favourite beer has always been the Jamaican Lager – a light fruit beer made with hints of Hibiscus. Here’s hoping the waitress was misinformed about it not being made anymore. For non-beer drinkers such as him, it is perfection in a glass.
Dockside Restaurant Chorizo pasta
 On our second day, we finally got organized enough to make a reservation at Bistro 101. It is run by the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, and all the food and service is done by the students. $18.00 buys a three course meal that has no hint of student about it – it is perfectly professional. The Chipolte Yam soup that I started with was exactly what my phlegmish body needed as a restorative. My spice-averse husband started his meal with a beautifully constructed salad with layers of greens interspersed with a thin pastry-breaddish something – I am no expert on such things - surrounded with local prawns. From there, it was nowhere but up, although goodness knows we had already started on a high enough note.
The mousse in the dessert was a perfect balance of tart and creamy.
A couple of days later, I trotted out to Liberty Wines to see if they had any wine made by M. Chapoutier – they did - and came upon the weekly Farmer’s Market held in the Triangle Square just in front of the Public Market. Amongst the dozens of stalls, there was certified organic bread made by The Bread Affair; premium handmade-artisan cheeses done by Farm House Cheeses, as well as locally grown veggies and fruit from a number of vendors. There was also a stand with home-made pasta pearls. They are a cross between couscous and orso and are made by Lilikoi Specialty Foods. I would have bought one of their ten pound packs, were it not for the fact I knew that we would be backpacking everything home at the end of the week – and as always, I had already added a book or three to our luggage. Next year, I may have to hold back on the books, just to make room.

I titled this piece Heart, Mind, Body, and Concrete because Granville Island attends to the usual first three elements as well as the fourth. Not only is there a phenomenal range of available foods at the various markets and restaurants, but the Island is also where a significant amount of fabrication of all kinds of crafts as well as serious manufacturing takes place. There is everything from pottery studios, silkscreen shops to – yes – concrete, the very kind that builds houses, bridges, and sidewalks.

If I hadn’t misplaced or maybe even lost a bunch of photos from a year ago, I could share my own version of my favourite concrete truck, but thankfully the one above is shared through Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/onthetower/4400217149/

I am now home and all is tickety-boo. My Heart and Mind have been thoroughly energized by The Vancouver International Writers’ Festival; my Body has been healed with rest and good food; and as for the Concrete, well, just seeing it being pumped into the waiting trucks each day as I sauntered on to the market or the next literary event always made me feel more grounded. Silly, but true.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Quasimodo Then and Now

A little over a couple of decades ago, my eldest daughter Sabrina and I did a three week tromp around England together. She needed to be sprung from school, which was being pretty toxic for her at the time. We stayed with family and at hostels, and she entertained all and sundry with impromptu violin concerts – a thrill for the other hostel patrons who hailed from all over the world. She also collected rocks.

She was ten years old at the time, and we had a deal that she would carry all her own stuff, including these rocks. As the days passed, her rock collection grew. After all, the rocks from the lanes of Smugglers Close in Norfolk were so very different from the rocks of the Isle of Man, which differed again from the rocks found in the mucky dunes of Lytham St. Annes.

At the end of our trip, when we checked in at Heathrow Airport, I took her rock pile – by now a good twenty pounds worth – and lashed it into the top section of my own 60 pound pack. Back then, the weight restrictions were generous, so a pack that now weighed about 80 pounds was no problem, outside of hernias for the handlers.

After touching down in Vancouver, we waited our turn at the baggage carousel. Bags tumbled down and were retrieved, until finally there were no more bags to be seen. The lady at the service desk was extremely concerned for us. She understood the irreplaceable nature of a rock collection, but said that it may be that they were gone for good. She got me to fill out the forms relating to our insurance policy. As I read the fine print, I could hardly contain my glee. The remuneration for our loss would be based on total poundage, and I had a stamped record of the heft of what we had checked in.

A few days passed, and I was getting more and more convinced that I was about to see dollar signs in my future. The clothes that I would have to replace were like all my clothes – not worth much. The rocks, well, I hoped that their loss would not be too traumatic. We would after all, have a story. And money.

The following week, I was sitting in Council Chambers in Mission City where I served as an Alderman, when the Municipal Clerk Don West entered the room. He whispered something in my ear that I didn’t immediately catch. I followed him out into the hallway, where he once again said: Quasimodo. He then pointed to a poor courier bent double under the combined weight of my pack and Sabrina’s rocks.

Two decades and change later, I have once again returned from an overseas trip, this time to Ireland and Boston. No rocks were in my belongings this time, but as is often the case, I more than made up for it in books – as well as with the weight of the things that my husband had asked me to pick up en route because they were such good deals: Binoculars; Motorcycle raingear; Water filters. You have to know him to understand this mix. It does make sense.

When I got home, I decided to weigh all the various bits that I had been carting around. The checked wheelie bag came to 50.5 lbs. That was close to reasonable, but I am abashed to confess that the two carry-on bags vastly exceeded their ten pound maximum. In truth, the sum total of everything that I had been carting around from pillar to post came to close to 90 pounds. Without intending to, I had become my own Quasimodo. This actually left me feeling a wee bit proud that at age 65, I could still pull this off.

Most of the weight that I brought home in my various bags included maps, documents, and books. Always, books. I doubt that I will ever wise up on this score, although there is method in my madness. In the next few weeks, my plan is to assemble what I have learned from my most recent foray to Ireland, and then I will share the results either in this blog or on my web site.

In time, all this baggage – which in this case is non-metaphoric - will be transformed into story, truth and reflection.  Unlike Quasimodo, I don’t plan to swing down the bell rope of Notre Dame. At least, not just yet.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Strongbow & Deeds

Until now, I had only known of Strongbow as two things: firstly as a cider – must get some in if Tara is visiting – and secondly, as a Norman conqueror. I had no idea of his other role until I found a 1718 deed that read:

John JACKSON of Athy, Co. Kildare, Gent … lands of Currageen cont 630 acres, Barony of Kilkea and Moon, Co. Kildare… lives of said John JACKSON & Sarah his wife &  George DEACON of Athy, Gent… rent of 283 pounds 10 shillings to be paid at Strongbows tomb in Christ Church Dublin….

Why would rents need to be paid in the presence of Strongbow? Naturally, enquiring minds and all that, I hoofed it off to Christ Church Cathedral to see what I could suss out about all this.

Apparently, back in the 1180s, Strongbow and his Norman sidekicks kicked in funds to help pay for a complete rebuilding of Christ Church. Before then, it was nothing more than a wooden building. This time, it was built to last, in stone, and contained the whole nine yards:  room for a choir, transepts, the crypt, and chapels to St. Edmond - an East Anglia king who had died in 869; a chapel honouring  St. Mary aka Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus; and a chapel to Saint Lô, a saint who was known for healing blindness. All three seem good bets to have on board.

Strongbow's Tomb
Strongbow’s tomb is supposedly in the cathedral. I say supposedly because the original tomb was destroyed centuries ago when the south wall and roof collapsed in 1562. The tomb that currently honours him is actually an unrelated medieval tomb. It was probably that of some other Norman knight and had been moved from Drogheda and installed as a substitute for the tomb that had been turned into rubble. Window dressing, as it were. The presence of this ersatz tomb  is significant because Strongbow’s arrival marked the beginning of the ongoing English presence in Ireland.

Of course, business dealings are often one part smoke and mirrors, so it is perhaps appropriate that a fake tomb would become the place to show up at to sign legal documents. This practice was carried on from at least the sixteenth to the 18th centuries. I gather that the Cathedral back then was a hive of activity, much of it having nothing to do with religion.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Christ Church’s crypt was used as a market, a meeting place for business, and at one stage even a pub as a letter of 1633 shows: the vaults from one end of the minster to the other are made into tippling houses for beer, wine and tobacco.

If anyone reading this piece knows why deeds were signed in the presence of the fake tomb of Strongbow, I am all ears. Of course, what is not to like about a cathedral that has a silver corkscrew and silver wine sieves, and also a mummified cat that was found in an organ pipe along with a mummified rat that was found just out of reach of the cat.

The market activity has now moved outside the cathedral, but I can recommend the duck confit pie - the medium size is big enough for The Moi.
One of the food choices in the open space in front of the Cathedral