In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.
Notes below...you might prefer to watch the video in fullscreen mode.
The Lachine Rapids are a stretch of impassable water in the St. Lawrence River just upstream from the city of Montreal. Jacques Cartier was the first European to discover them, in 1535, and they stopped him in his search for the Northwest Passage.
Ships can now go around, via the St. Lawrence seaway, but the rapids are just as impressive and daunting as they must have seemed to the early explorers. Kayakers go down them, and tourists in inflatable boats...we saw both while we were there...but the risk of drowning seems very real. Fishermen are required to wear flotation vests, and visitors keep a close eye on their children.
There's a narrow path between the river and the still ponds on the opposite side, and a lot of native wild flowers augmented by natural plantings with species chosen to attract and support wildlife.
This park is a public area within a large migratory bird sanctuary that encompasses several islands in the middle of the river, and it's filled with bird life all year. Redwing blackbirds were very prominent while we were there, along with many ducks and geese, and of course many seagulls and other marine birds. We saw a dozen white egrets on the protected Isle aux Herons in the middle of the river.
We sat for a long while watching a flock of common terns feeding above this section of the rapids. They're one of my alltime favorite birds -- I love watching them fly.
It's pretty amazing to stand in the same spots where Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain must have stood -- you can almost hear them saying "Merde!" The rapids can't have changed much at all in the five centuries since then, and the power and magnificence of La Fleuve remain undiminished.
Last Friday was our 33rd anniversary, and as we usually do, we took the day off and went out for an outdoor adventure. This time we took our bikes to the path along the Lachine Canal, and rode up to the Parc des Rapides, where the inland river journeys of Jacques Cartier and Samuel Champlain ended many centuries ago. The rapids are extremely impressive, and I'm working on a little video to show you what we saw.
But we also took some photos of ourselves, and J. took a few of me, standing by these rocks on the path. To his complete surprise, when he looked at the pictures after getting home, something else had appeared in the frame, just at the right moment! I can't identify this hawk because I can't see the wing bars or tail bars. The compact body and general dusky tone of the feathers make me think it might be a marsh hawk, but I'm wondering if any of you can give a more positive I.D. In any case, it's one of those weird photos you couldn't take if you tried.
We took a quick trip across the border recently, for business, and drove through some of the small towns at the very top of New York State. In comparison to the well-kept Quebec farms, these areas look hard-hit by the economic downturn, just as it does in central New York where I grew up. The original downtown of Champlain, New York, is pretty much abandoned, the fine old brick and stone structures empty, boarded-up, windowless. Rouse's Point, on Lake Champlain itself, has a large marina and some restaurants on the main street, but all the shopping has moved to new little malls with a grocery store, post office, drugstore, liquor store and laundry on the outskirts. For bigger shopping trips, the residents probably drive down to Plattsburgh, 20 miles south.
We stopped for lunch at a diner, The Squirrel's Nest, in Rouse's Point. The diner was one half of two connected storefronts; the other was a bar with a few tables and a heavily-varnished massive wooden bar with curved ends made of glass blocks; it looked like it had been there a long time. We sat at a booth in the diner and ordered the soup and half-sandwich special. The soup was hamburg-macaroni -- what my mom used to call hamburg chowder - and it was just as delicious as hers. The turkey salad sandwich came as a piece of roast turkey in bread with mayonnaise - not exactly turkey salad, and without a tomato slice or lettuce leaf in sight -- but good anyway. The placemats and the walls were decorated with black and white historical photographs of the town: fine old homes and hotels, sleighs and snowstorms, factory workers, women in white shirtwaists, carriages, old signs. A few old artifacts and antiques also hung on the walls. As in central New York, a lot of people look to the past for their identity; why wouldn't they?
A stuffed squirrel presided over the restaurant's old soda fountain, with its stainless steel fixtures. "Wow," J. said, "I wonder if they can make a milk shake."
I shrugged. "Why don't you ask?"
But the waitress - a teenage girl -- looked confused at the term "milkshake" and said she'd "have to ask the kitchen."
"Don't worry," J. said. "I was just looking at the old soda fountain and wondered if everything was still working."
"Oh, no," she said, "that stuff is just there for show -- it's, like, from the fifties."
"Yep," I said to J. after she walked away. "And so are we!"
On a recent weekend we made our first foray to the Jean-Talon market with friends (she writes the blog Passage des Perles, he is one of the best and most knowledgeable cooks we've met in Montreal.) Thought you might like to see the colors and beauty too.
Enchanted mushroom forests.
Considering the wild asparagus.
Artisanal breads at Joe le Croute.
Foxglove plants, wanting to go home with me (they didn't.)
Radishes that did.
Are you starting to shop at farmers' markets or get deliveries of a CSA basket, or harvesting some produce and flowers of your own? I'm curious if the variety, freshness, and local availability of produce and local food products (honey, cheese, yogurt, etc.) have improved in your region in the last decade. It's a simple way we can all help the earth, support local agriculture and the local economy, as well as improve our own health and state of mind. What could be better than that? Bon été, bon appétit!
The leaves are still trying to come out on most of the trees here -- it's that magical time of year when all the branches have that greenish haze - but the flowers have decided it's actually spring. These two pictures are from my own garden, the one below, taken with my phone, was across from Eglise St-Stanislaus on Blvd. St-Joseph.
Yesterday was the final day of a large exhibition at the Montreal Musee des Beaux Arts of the works of Scottish painter Peter Doig, who grew up in Montreal and currently lives in Trinidad. I finally got myself there, in-between services at the cathedral. The show focusses primarily on his recent work, done after his return to Trinidad where he's lived since 2002. Doig is a highly successful contemporary painter; in 2007 the sale of one of his paintings for 11.3 million set a record, at the time, for a living European artist.
There was a lot to like in this show, though I admit that I spent a good deal of it feeling puzzled. There were a number of paintings I didn't like at all - or didn't get, perhaps -- and what I felt were his strongest works seemed either anomalous, or maybe had been de-emphasized by the curators.
Doig's best-known works seem to be huge canvases like this one, or the first painting above, set in Trinidad, where he now lives. The paintings incorporate staining techniques, drips, brushwork, and thick impasto, as well as neon or metallic paints on occasion, to create vibrant, interesting surfaces. He's a remarkable colorist, though some of his choices appeal more to me than others. The introductory notes to the exhibition put him in the tradition of Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse and Bonnard - a short list that includes three of my favorite painters. It would be a stretch for me to put him in that same class, but it was a show well worth seeing.
Rothko was also mentioned. There were two enormous paintings, far more abstract than the others, that I liked very much. This one in particular was far more mystical than the other works, and gorgeous in color and surface. I was intrigued that it consistently drew the largest crowd, and the most people sitting or standing in front of it for long periods.
Doig grew up in Montreal, and Canadian scenes feature in his earlier work. This painting, "Spearfishermen," is set in Trinidad, but it reminded me very much of some Inuit works I've seen - perhaps it's the hooded figure in yellow in the canoe, plus the spear. I wondered if there is a connection for Doig.
One of my favorite pieces was this etching, titled Corbeaux (Raven). It was stuck in the lower right corner of a wall of small works in the last room -- barely noticeable -- but it had an undeniable power for me, also akin to some Inuit prints.
I was surprised, later, to find a related painting in the museum's own permanent collection, as I walked through the building on my way out.
Along with the crows, my favorite work in the show was this portrait -- also small and relegated to a corner. It's so beautifully and freely painted, and the color palette he uses is subtle and phenomenal -- my photo (all these were taken with my phone) barely does it justice.
The show's title is "Nulle Terre Etrangere" (No Foreign Lands) and the accompanying text states that Doig, who has lived in many places, no longer considers that there are "strange places," merely that the traveler is the one who moves between places of equal weightiness and identity. Many of the works are Gauguin-inspired and dreamlike, showing a ghostly artist within a tropical scene, or figures in boats, far away from an island in the distance. The comparison between these artists is inevitable, and holds up, though in the paintings where Doig tries to distance himself - such as a geometric ping-pong scene without tropical reference - I think he's less successful. I haven't read anything yet about the artist's explanations of his work, and I stayed away from curatorial essays, wanting to experience the works without interpretation. What I found myself responding to the most seemed to be either simple, monumental images of people or animals, or the most abstract paintings -- probably not surprising, given my preferences in art.
After Montreal, the show will travel to the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, its only other destination. Do visit the museum's site to see more and better reproductions of the works.
That's me, on the left, photographed by Jonathan as we wait for a neighbor, who's been out riding a bicycle, to open the back door to the studio building. The drift was up above my knees, and the wind was howling. I think it was saying, "What the f*%# are you people doing here???"
A few more shots of the ride to choir rehearsal this morning at 9:00 am. Somebody remind me why I came back from Mexico?
Last night I came back from downtown on the bus and walked home through the park. There were very few people on the paths; I was alone with the snow and the dark trees. On the white lakes below me, skaters moved silently; small notes on a large page of music, while under the lights of the rinks, sticks and blades thwacked and sliced: wooden sticks and steel brushes beating rhythms on the city's stretched, white, oval skin.
-12 C. When I open the blinds: sunrise through a fine veil of snow. A neighbor, waiting for her dog, sees me standing at the open window, but she is never friendly and only scowls, turning back to pull the poor animal along the sidewalk. They disappear and I remain, unperturbed, enchanted by the whiteness and the soft filter of snowy air above the more brilliant ground and shiny, packed paths, the straight black trunks and complicated curving branches written across the white page like Persian script, and beyond it all, the golden disk of the sun rising over the river.
We're more than halfway through the Canadian winter. The days are longer now, and yesterday, outside the metro, the maple sugar kiosk had already been set up, even though there's hardly been a day above freezing and no sap could possibly be rising in the trees -- they must be selling last year's candy maple leaves and boiling last year's syrup to make tire d'érable, sugar-on-snow: a romantic treat in time for Valentine's Day. I know better than to get too optimistic. March is inevitably stormy, April tends to be a cold month here, and May is unpredictable. Still, I'll be back on my bike in April, and the city will begin to open up again. Between now and then, it's better to find ways to love it.
In the meditation sessions I lead twice a month, I've been talking about developing a non-dualistic mindset, and opposites are perhaps more on my mind than usual. Cold/warm; winter/summer; light/darkness: I notice the freight carried by each word in the pair, how the scales tip, and also how other pairs, like spring/fall, shift the balance less. Always it's the judgement that's extra, that pushes us into positive or negative territory and emotion: I hate winter, I can't wait for this to end. And yes, the season comes with its difficulties, but I rarely feel more alive than I do during these months, or more entranced by the stark beauty of nature asleep. I stand at the window and merge with the figure walking along the fence in the distance, bent forward against a bitter arctic wind; I watch the Olympians and remember being on skiis on the tops of mountains -- that high-elevation world of krummholtz and rime ice and absolute silence -- and then pushing off: the rush of adrenaline mixing with gravity; edges biting into the snow, now velvety soft, now crunchy with ice; knees and arms somehow knowing what to do.
The days lengthen; the downward slope. I slit open a small package and plant tiny black Greek basil seeds in pots of dry earth that swell when watered, and set them under a plastic cover to grow warm in the sunlight. At the bus-stop I scoop snow into my palms, fashion a ball, and throw it across the street. As it shatters I remember a boy who had a crush on me, and shot his frozen arrows accurately all one winter, right between my shoulder blades.