Tonight we were standing on Cherry Beach, talking about that movie from the 70's, Summer of '42. The thing I love best about this beach is that it still looks like it could be 1942.
The day was changeable – there was warm sun and blue skies, then clouds would move in quick and let fly a little rain, and then the gusty breeze would chase those clouds away again.
It's August and the atmosphere has changed in general, as if by turn of the calendar's page. They're suble at first, this particular month's changes; maybe imperceptible if you're going about your life with your mind on other things.
My mind is always on August. I think August is more beautiful with each passing of it through my life. (Or with each passing of me through it.)
Maybe I just dread winter more and more each year, and August represents the tipping of the scales in winter's direction. As a friend and I discussed this morning, August is that month that invites you outside, and if you don't get out enough you start to get panicky about that; that summer will up and disappear on you even quicker than you'd imagined.
And August, softer, slower, more generous than the other summer months, rewards you for going out. Foods with deep colours and more luscious than ever - corn, cantaloupe, beans, peppers, tomatoes – are piled the farmer's market. Other rich colours begin to line the ditches and fields. Night time is cooler and time stands quieter while vacations and road trips are carried out before the preparations for back to school and back to full time responsibilities in, dare I say, autumn.
August seduces me, leading me outside often. And for that I love her – maybe more than all the other months.
It was August at the end of Summer of '42. Subtle changes in the air – bigger changes in that boy. Are there changes in me this season? I don't know – get back to me in September, my mind is on the gorgeousness of the waning summer. (Beautiful thing number 54)
I bought a copy of Brideshead Revisited years ago after studying, and enjoying, Evelyn Waugh in a literature class. And I really enjoyed that miniseries based on the story back in the 80s with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. As always, I’m charmed by Waugh’s language and humour. One particular passage particularly struck me, wherein Charles is walking out on a Sunday morning heading to a cafe for breakfast:
I walked down the empty Broad to breakfast, as I often did on Sundays, at a tea-shop opposite Balliol. The air was full of bells from the surrounding spires and the sun, casting long shadows across the open spaces, dispelled the fears of the night.
The passage reminded me of a radio documentary local CBC talk guy Kevin Sylvester did recently about church bells, and how they are starting to become a thing of the past here in North America. Church bells have never been as fixed in our culture as they have been in Europe, mainly because such things as cathedrals – and as such their place within a community – are relatively rare. And in today’s world, even the smaller churches, with their reduced populations and increased money problems, don’t end up repairing those bells that become damaged or deemed unsafe to use.
One part of Sylvester’s story that really astounded me was that here in Toronto, in the area where there are several large and historic churches with beautiful bells, the churches are not ringing them on Sunday mornings because of threats from the neighbourhood people that they would sue the church for disturbing the peace.
On reading Waugh’s passage, I was filled with grief, for yet another tearing away at beauty because it’s not seen to fit in with modern day needs. I understand that beauty is something us immigrant North Americans might never have really valued as a people – those early settlers had to first conquer the landscape and just survive. And then it was all about the worship of modernity and all things new; all things came to reflect that focus, including our values.
I was filled with grief because the sound of churches all sounding bells together was once experienced as a weekly ethereal escape from the drudgery of weekday life, and is now, in Toronto at least, considered a disturbance of the peace. I was filled with grief for us at losing, bit by bit, the value of beauty as an important and defining endeavour. I worry what this is doing to our psyches. And what have we replaced it with?
Copyright © Jennifer Morrison 2009
What is it that invisible thread of connection that binds you to a stranger? What is it about that person that stands out in the sea of intentionally bland, internalized faces in a busy transit commute in a busy city? What makes your attention rest on a particular person; makes you wonder about a stranger’s life?
Say you see something in a pair of bright blue eyes. Brighter and clearer than you might expect to see in a body even decades younger than the seventy odd year old one that houses these ones. Something in the way they stop on you only for a split second and move away just as you notice them. You know in that instant those eyes are present; they are living in their surroundings, not glazing over them. And you somehow know those eyes didn’t glaze over you.
Then you notice the way he lingers back casually away from the rest of the people at the bus stop, not needing to stake a place just where the driver will stop to ensure a seat. The peaceful way he sits in the crowded bus, holding various bags and an awkward plastic box without fumbling or struggling or intruding on anyone else. You notice something that is somehow lucid and purposeful in way he pulls on his gloves while still holding on to those bags and the box.
That mouth drawn up in a way that elongates his chin makes him look something like Ray Bolger – an expression that could make him look simple or comical like The Scarecrow, but doesn’t. It’s a mouth housed in a face that is alive to its surroundings. A face and a body alive to a moment.
Today I encounter a stranger. After he exits the bus I imagine what his kitchen is like, and him making breakfast and coffee, planning a day that will include an early bus ride.
Copyright © Jennifer Morrison 2008
On a night like a lot of Mondays, I pop into The Lion after work for a quiet dinner. They do comfort food well, and I usually get the soup and sandwich special and a glass of wine and stick myself in a corner to read my book. It’s the kind of place where lots of people do that.
As I approach the door a voice booms down the sidewalk asking me to hold it open, and through it traipses a an attractive woman with a bubbly demeanour bellowing “thanks” in a voice that belies her small stature. After I’ve ordered, a couple of girlfriends walk in and sit down near me to have beer, nachos and a gab. A couple of lone blokes are at the bar with newspapers, keeping half an eye on the sports TV channel and chatting idly with the bartender. A group of five or six are finishing dinner at one table and a married couple is over in another corner. It’s the kind of patronage you’d expect in a neighbourhood pub on a Monday night.
“Are you ready for karaoke night?” the bartender asks me with not a little wariness as he cleans off a nearby table.
Perplexed, I look around at the other Monday nighters who surely haven’t come here expecting that either. Annoyance washes over me. My plans for the next hour included hot chicken pot pie and my book. I was ENJOYING the seventies songs playing low over the sound system. The two girlfriends sitting near me are annoyed too, more vocally than I am. And it’s understandable. If you’re a Monday nighter, you don’t generally go into your local looking for karaoke night.
So the bubbly woman with the table is Karaoke Girl. Having hooked up her gear, her gravelly rock chick voice booms across the pub through a microphone set at a level to be heard over rousing, drinking crowds of karaoke-ers. She busts into her first rock chick song and walks through the pub so she can work the crowd of eleven.
I look over the top of my book and see she’s standing up on the level where the two girlfriends and I are sitting. It’s painful. She’s facing back out into the rest of the pub, but I can read into her back that she’s realised she doesn’t have a happy audience up here. After she hits an extended husky rock chick high note, I wince involuntarily and the girlfriends at the next table complain to the bartender again.
Karaoke Girl has brought a fan contingency. It seems she and the table of five are visiting our little Toronto Beaches pub all the way from the Niagara Peninsula. With the group is a middle aged man with Down syndrome, who is excited to do karaoke. The fans whoop and whistle enthusiastically for Karaoke Girl, while looking sort of apologetically at us Monday nighters. While she’s belting out a rock chick spin on a Tragically Hip song, a new couple walks in, and she says into the mic: “Hey, a couple of new karaoke singers have joined us everyone!” The couple looks confused and embarrassed and defensive. “Ohhh no” says the woman and gives her the ‘talk to the hand’ wave. And the murdering of the perfectly good Hip song is carried through to completion.
So the man with Down syndrome takes the stage, and he does a rendition of “You Belong to Me.” His squeaky, thin voice and tentative delivery is strangely beautiful, and I think I’d rather listen to him than Karaoke Girl. He gets my applause. The bartender is looking at us Monday nighters nervously. Karaoke Girl offers to pick up the tab of the complaining girlfriends. (I really should be more vocal sometimes.) The girlfriends are getting on their coats, unable to tolerate one more rock chick high note.
But then the couple who had nervously sat down a few minutes ago has a change of heart. He’s going to sing, but can’t find a particular Elvis song. So she gets up and does a duet with Karaoke Girl. The girlfriends take off their coats. The bartender pours one of the blokes a fresh pint.
As I ready myself to go home, I’m thinking things are looking up for karaoke night at The Lion.
Copyright © Jennifer Morrison 2008