Friday, August 28, 2015

Memory beats reality

Perusing the book shelves in the hotel lobby, I snatched up a favorite I had read many years ago. This will be a delightful reread, I thought, with visions of snuggling under a warm blanket on the sofa and reading to the wee hours of the morning. I’d pretend I’d time traveled to my youth, but now I wouldn’t need to hide under the covers with a flashlight lest Mom notice and take the book away.

Alas, it was not to be. What I remembered as a delightful romantic romp was in fact a rather poorly written story “telling” rather than “showing.” I stopped reading before I got to the end of the first chapter preferring to live with the warm fun memories of the book than the reality that I faced now.

The disappointment with the book got me thinking. How many of our past experiences are better not relived?

For one, a visit back to my childhood home—shattering.  Our house and farmyard, diminished by adult eyes brought me to tears. Where was the enormous barn? It couldn’t be that little lopsided building over there could it? The house was worse—a tiny low ceiling three room structure rotting from disuse, the pattern on the wallpaper I so loved as a child faded to mere shadows.

Travelling is another. My first return trip to Mali was a delight. Three years after coming back to Canada, I revisited the house where I had lived, spent time with the students at the school where I had taught, browsed in the market, lunched with the nuns … All was well.

Another trip to Mali twenty years later brought heartache. Inundated with refugees from the drought, the city was unrecognizable. Wide boulevards now populated with rude shelters, reduced to narrow paths. The broad steps to the post office, now crowded with make-shift dwellings, had to be pointed out to me. And most of the people I had known were nowhere to be found.

Now, when I think of Mali and Bamako, my memories are tarnished by that later visit. I push them to the back of my mind and linger over the cherished ones from my years living there.

Visiting my school after retirement was another mistake. The start of a new year carries its own excitement unique to the people involved. I was no longer a player, and while I was welcomed warmly and showered with good wishes, all I felt after the visit was deep depression.

I’ve never been attracted to the idea of reunions and have never attended one. I think, now, that my instinctive rejection of reunions stems from this subconscious knowledge that memories are best left as they are—to be savored, and, over the years, to develop a hazy halo that we can bask in to our heart’s content.

Friday, August 21, 2015


I stood under the shower for much longer than I needed to this morning. I should know better.

I’ve lived in Mali where we dared not touch the water from the river for fear of disease, where children sold this same water tied in little scraps of plastic to bus passengers, where plants and people withered and died during the dry season.

I’ve traveled from Edmonton to Tombouctou via Toronto, New York, Casablanca and Bamako.  The most expensive stop? Tombouctou—and that was for the bottled water which cost more than the night’s stay in the hotel in New York.

On safari in Kenya we stayed in a tent camp. Water for the shower was heated in bags and hung outside the tents. My roommate and I showered M*A*S*H fashion. Turn the water on. Get wet. Turn the water off. Soap and shampoo. Turn the water on. Rinse. Turn the water off.

I’ve seen the scant water holes in the Serengeti. I’ve seen the murky water coming out of the taps in Mexico – the water that leaves your skin feeling dirtier after your shower than before you got in. I’ve seen the sharp demarcation between lush green and arid desert in the Nile valley.

Here in North America, we take water for granted, waste water shamefully. Not just any water, but clean water, drinkable from the tap water.

How lucky we are to have such luxury

Friday, August 14, 2015

Finding a good book

Finding something to read has become little more than hunting for that proverbial needle in the haystack.

In the “old days” we searched the shelves in the library for a title or cover that attracted our attention and then read the blurb. The hunt could take hours, followed by the trek home with an armload of books, only to cart several back unread as they just didn’t appeal.

Now, we receive emails from publishers and Amazon, from book groups like The Fussy Librarian and bloggers we follow, all of whom offer a multitude of suggestions for our reading pleasure.

With each book that captures our interest, we read the blurb, download the sample, and give it a try. Many of these too, will be deleted when the first bit doesn’t hold up to its initial promise.

In this entire time consuming search, it is perhaps the suggestions of fellow readers that hold the most promise for a good or great read.

With that in mind, here are a few books that I feel are worth your time.

The Iron Wire by Garry Kilworth who learned to receive and send Morse code at the age of 15.
Recommended by my aunt who lives in Australia, this recounting of the construction of the Adelaide to Darwin telegraph line is much more intriguing than it sounds. No dull list of facts here. Kilworth imbues the story with drama and a love of the harsh beauty of the land traversed in the stringing of the line.

The Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle. A modern murder mystery, set apart from most by the fact that it is entwined with characters from WWII. Set in Florence we are shown a different side of the ravages of war as a senior policeman agrees to supervise a murder investigation, after it emerges the victim was once a Partisan hero.

Because We Are: A novel of Haiti by Ted Oswald. Harsh, gritty, and heartbreaking, this look at Haiti today will bring tears, but you won’t be able to stop reading. When ten-year-old orphan Lib├Ęte discovers the bodies of a murdered mother and child, we are taken into the depths of the of Haiti’s most infamous slum.

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement. If you want to know what life is really like for the majority of Mexicans—that is, the poor—read this. It is the most accurate account I have come across.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Hotel Living

“We’re living in a hotel.” A statement sure to horrify friends and family. 

Yes, we are living in a hotel for a few months until our new place, currently under construction, is completed.

“Why didn’t you rent an apartment?”

Because that would entail a year’s lease and we only needed a place for six months. If we rented, not only would we be obligated to pay the rent for the full year, we’d also be responsible for the apartment for the time it sat empty. So living in a hotel seemed the perfect solution.

“But, a hotel? Isn’t that...?”

What it is, is wonderful. The hotel we are in staff, is old, but clean. It’s not fancy. We don’t need fancy. We have a suite—a living room with two sofas and flat screen TV, a tiny kitchen with a full fridge and stove (we even entertained friends and served a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving), and a three piece bathroom. Cable and Internet connections are included and parking right out our door is free. There’s a laundry room down the hall for our convenience. Maid service twice a week with fresh sheets and towels spoils us.  The suite is small which equals cozy, and we’re finding that we really don’t need more.

Best of all are the staff. From the manager, to the front desk personnel, to the maintenance man, to the maids, all are friendly and helpful and fun. We feel cocooned in a new family. Of course we’ll be thrilled to move to our new home, but we’ll miss everyone here too.