Monday, May 02, 2005

Stuff and nonsense

Spring, I can say with full confidence, has arrived, even if it still bloody effing cold. There's little tangible proof of it, apart from slightly greener grass, but it seems the spirit, in a combination of wishful thinking and denial on the part of this city's inhabitants, has taken hold.

The tax forms are done and delivered. The burden of paying taxes remains, and I curse this freelance lifestyle and the delusion that the income I earn is actually mine to spend, but I have come to terms with it, at least for the timebeing, in the knowledge that what moneys I owe the governments comes back to me in daycare, decent health services, and relatively low rent in this province.

Kid stuff
Helena has developed a sudden and strong attraction to a bear. She's never paid this bear any attention. Two and a half years we've had this bear (longer even than we've had Helena). He sat in her crib for months, unloved. He's been sitting on the shelf with other overlooked toys. Suddenly, he is chosen. He's The Bear. He comes with us for walks in the rain, to do the groceries, to visit family. She excitedly introduced him to her grandmother, her grandmother's partner, her grandmother's partner's mother, the nice lady at the liquor store, the old woman on the park bench, and her great grandfather. I wonder how long this will last.

Going out in the rain is something I generally try to avoid, but it's much harder to avoid when one has a toddler telling you she wants to go outside. Hard to resist, and hard to argue with really, when the apartment is small and currently upside-down, play spaces overrun with boxes, and the toddler has a lot of energy she obviously needs to expend.

To the park, in the rain, in search of ducks.

Sadly, the lakes are not yet filled, with either water or ducks, but to Helena's great pleasure, many walkways and the parking lot are filled with lake-size puddles.

If you've never been puddle-jumping with a toddler, and even if you have, I recommend it. We rounded out the excursion with some seagull-chasing, and some vigorous crying which stopped just short of her lying down in a puddle to pound her fists because I refused her the opportunity to go down the water slide, by which I mean the regular playground slide in the rain.

The sun did break through yesterday, so off we went to investigate the slide situation. The playground was full. Helena was timid. I wasn't prepared for that. By the time last summer had wound down, she owned that park. The few times we trudged out in the snow, and even in recent weeks, she had the run of the place. Helena is comfortable and social in daycare, but at heart I think she may be a loner. Or, like her parents, she'll assert herself only when she's good and ready, meaning she has to know the people or situation pretty well. So with all those strange kids running around, she hung back, gripped my finger tightly, watched the other little bodies intently. We chased each other around in one corner of the park. She giggled, kept calling "Viens, Mama!" She did warm up to negotiating the slide, was willing to share space, wait her turn, but it reminds me that her socialization isn't over — it's barely begun.

Helena was stopped in her tracks on seeing another little girl wearing her raingear. (And I must say, she didn't wear it nearly so cutely as Helena.)

I continue to be amazed by the detail of imaginative play. We play "bus" and "metro" fairly regularly, Helena donning hat and shoes, gathering backpack and shopping bag, preparing to "go out." It was weeks ago already that she first combined the pretend bus and metro, assigning one particular doorframe the function of transfer dispenser. While we often transfer from one mode of transport to the other in real life, I'd never realized to what extent the details register. Of course, her whole life is made up of such detail (and ours is too, though we may not take notice). I am now scolded severely when I neglect to acquire a transfer from the doorframe or raise my knees sufficiently when climbing/descending the stairs of the bus.

Much of this last week Helena has been engaged in cleaning up "accidents." It seems both Elmo and one the Tubbies are exhibiting typical Helena behaviour in refusing to wear their diapers and then producing "messes" on the floor, which I am grateful she most diligently and promptly attends to — there's nothing like stepping in an imaginary puddle and dealing with frantic near unintelligible toddler exclamations about peepee and kaka to help blur reality.

Book stuff
Yesterday, waiting in the car while J-F popped out, Helena asleep in her seat, I caught the tail end of Carlos Fuentes reading from, I believe, his recent book of essays (excerpt), on Writers and Company, about a flourishing literal cross-border trade in literature, the currency of ideas. (He sounds like a much younger man.) It makes me more than a little sorry that I had to miss Blue Metropolis this year.

I've been rereading Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's trilogy (in five parts). We'd started before Christmas, reading aloud at bedtime, in anticipation of the movie. It didn't take long before we fell out of the habit, but I've been zipping through it over the last week whenever I find a few spare minutes, and this to some extent compensates for the fact that we won't be getting out to see a movie in a theatre any time soon. It turns out my memory of the radio play is much more vivid than that of the actual book. There are stretches I don't remember reading at all. Which makes it all very fresh and exciting.

Packing up books: Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold, puts a smile on my face. It's one of the more entertaining books I've read in recent memory. Magic! Murder! Romance! Traumatic childhood! Pirates! I mention it now only cuz I wish he'd write something else for me to read already.

Last call for free books. Some are spoken for, but many remain. I intend to have them shipped off to you by the end of the week.

Hilary Mantel's The Giant O'Brien is still up for grabs. Though maybe it shouldn't be — I'd received it as a gift and I notice now that there's an inscription. Plus, I did rather enjoy it. However, all the great press her new book is receiving notwithstanding (and it does sound intriguing), I had the misfortune of hearing her in interview a year or two ago, and I thought her sssoooo pretentious, so full of herself and her writerly life, "listen to me go on about my grand revelations" when in fact they are perfectly ordinary, please get over yourself, that I am loathe to read another word of hers.

(I remember hearing one young author talk about having lived in Greece. It turned out she spent a summer there. Three months. Sure, you set up a homebase, immerse yourself in the local culture, but that hardly qualifies as living there. A year maybe. Or if you had with you all your worldly possessions and were struggling to find work to support yourself the whole while. But mommy and daddy footing the bill and maintaining your apartment for your return doesn't count. That's a vacation, it's not "living abroad." I really hate when people exaggerate.)

The reports have swished about for some time, and the new library in town is there to drive the point home, but I have a hard time believing that Quebeckers (at least Montrealers) don't read. When I moved here three years ago one of the things I found most striking was that almost everyone who rode public transit had a book in their hands. This was in stark contrast to the blank-faced commuters in other cities I've spent any time in. Montreal drivers are dangerous, many of them so because they have newspapers open beside them. In summer, every park bench is occupied equally by people and books. No matter the age or language. They're reading international books and classics along with genre fiction (definitely more fiction than nonfiction). Maybe it's only those people who ride the same routes as I do, hang out in this particular park, sit in those caf├ęs that flank my path. But I can't reconcile the anecdotal evidence to the official reports. Maybe I will take on the project this summer to document "books seen being read in Montreal."

Other stuff
Reality TV finds religion. (via Mirabilis)
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