Sunday, April 12, 2020

Can't stop thinking about Jane Eyre

I love theatre, and I love going to the movie theatre.  I had not really anticipated how much I would miss the opportunity to head to the theatre for the EVENTS cinema (Theatre, Arts and Opera).  What a gift to have Opera, Broadway and the Westend sending us their offerings through the Internet!

What I have been enjoying this week is the NT Live version of Jane Eyre, directed by Sally Cookson. I don't know how long the link will stay live, but for what it is worth, here is the link that is currently up and running.

I did see this one when it screened in the cinema (Steve and Duncan came with me to that one).  The production took my breath away, and I was so excited to see it again.  Again, wow.  I have watched it twice this week, and think I am going to watch it again tonight.   I have also been calling siblings and friends to tell them to watch it.   I think I am feeling the need for a community of people who can TALK with me about it.    I know that at least I can rely on Arta to be talking about it too.   Here is her post on the show.

As I said to Arta, I just can't seem to stop thinking about this one.  I have been thinking about pieces that made the piece so powerful to me.  So... with no pressure at full organization, here are some of those things i have been thinking about.

One is Music!

This production has an incredibly rich sensorium!  :-).  There are musicians right in the middle of the stage through the entire production.  If felt like they were rarely 'silent'.  In some ways it was like being in a movie, so there was a soundscape accompanying the dialogue.  This meant that the emotional life of the play was carried not only by words but also by sound.  

Singer Melanie Marshall as Bertha
At the centre of the musical soundscape is this amazing singer (Melanie Marshall), who appears in a (period appropriate) rich red dress.  She has this haunting voice.   Without doing spoiler alert warnings, it becomes clear over time that she is 'Bertha Rochester' (aka 'The Madwoman in the Attic').  It is almost like, by doing this, Cookson pulls in the novel The Wide Sargasso Sea (which is an imagined retelling of Jane Eyre, but through the eyes of Rochester's first wife).  With Bertha singing on the stage throughout, we have her character given voice (or at least, the kind of voice that comes through the choice of songs sung throughout).

Two particular moments that stood out for me was her singing of "Mad About the Boy", and "Crazy ".  If you don't know these songs, "Mad About the Boy" is a Noel Coward song from 1932, made popular again in the 60s.  Here are two versions:

"Mad About the Boy" is sung in the play at the moment when Jane is (at least according to the musical background we are hearing) beginning to have feelings for Rochester.   But there is also this lovely linking to Bertha's story as well, which again draws the two women's stories into some kind of parallel or intersection.  There is of course also the "madness" in the lyrics themselves.  I felt myself reflecting on this particular kind of language of love so tied to madness, and sadness, and love that is unrequited, or imbalanced in some way.  But I love how this linkage is made through music and song, through the world of aural experience.

Jane and Bertha on parallel tracks and 'stools/pedestals'
On second viewing (and third viewing) I found myself watching and listening for other moments where Jane's story and Bertha's stories might show parallels.  There is a scene where Jane (as a young girl) is being punished by being made to stand on a stool, excluded by others.   While she stands there, we again have Bertha singing, but singing from above, in a way that shows us each of the two women standing alone on stools, made visible and separate.  

Bertha and Jane shared pain
And then there was Bertha's singing of the song "Crazy".  This happens right after the previous marriage is revealed, where Jane leaves, and Bertha burns down Rochester's house and kills herself.  Celo Green's "Crazy".   Here is the original.   [Celo himself has a version where he slows it down too... check it out]. 

This song is on my "Kareoke" list (favourite songs to sing along to).   In the play, the forward driving pop-version of this is drained out, amplifying the power of the lyrics, making the song fit in ways that i just didn't imagine.  In the context of the play, Jane and Bertha are on the stage together while this song is being sung, separate and apart in ways that draw their two life-tracks in alignment with each other.   It ends up being such a haunting and beautiful meditation on emotion and madness.   Beautiful!  The song becomes a crucial part of the storytelling.

Layers and Transformations

I found myself thinking about layers and resonances and transformations over time, since all of the characters (other than Jane?) play mulitple characters throughout.  The result is that each new character seems to carry echos of other characters they have played.   For example, the actor who plays Rochester also plays Jane's abusive cousin John.   He also plays one of the young girls at the Lowood Institution (for poor and abandoned girls!).   But since our first experience is with him as violent and abusive towards Jane, it is hard not to have an echo carried into our experience with him as Rochester.  This creates space to also reflect (in the interstices of thought?) about the relationships between 'good' and 'bad' behaviour, and about the parts of ourselves carried from the past into the future, and the possibilities of change and acting otherwise (indeed, this is something Rochester says explicitly in the play, where he reflects on what it would be to become good, to be something other than the total of his wrong choices and decisions).

Craig Edwards as Mr. Brocklehurst
And then I really loved it that the abusive head of Lowood Institution (Craig Edwards) also plays "Pilot the dog".  Wow to his ability to capture the spirit of dog in that performance.   At one point he flipped himself out on the ground exactly as our dog Penny does, inviting one to scratch him on the belly!   The echos there were also powerful between the overwhelming judgemental character of the headmaster, and the absolute space of non-judgementalness at the centre of Pilot (and every other dog I have had the pleasure to meet)

Jane transitioning from governess to wife?
The play also pulled all of Jane's past experiences into her mind in ways a bit like a greek chorus.   When she was struggling with her own range of emotions while making decisions, she would be surrounded by other actors (male and female), voicing elements of her internal thoughts, but through the voices of her past relationships.  Sometimes those inner characters didn't 'voice' thoughts, but performed them in solidarity or company.   This had the effect of amplifying the swirl of complex emotions involved.  I really noticed this in the scene where Jane is taking off her "governess dress", to dress in a "wedding dress" (just before we learn that Rochester is already married, and thus Jane cannot marry him).  This was of course amplified by the music at the same time.  It also had the feeling of a dance performance.  Again, the power of the scene was carried not only by words, but by sound and sight.  

There was so much in this play about dressing and undressing and re-dressing.  Jane starts in a bare white shift (as a baby), and then is dressed in the clothes of childhood, and then there is the addition of a corset, and then the dress of a governess... and then finally the move towards a dress to be wed in.   It is was visually arresting to have the carrying away of the dress on a hanger... there was so much in there are about spaces between inside and outside, the robes/roles that are placed on us, that we take off, or that are taken off, that we seek, that we are denied.   It was powerful.  And painful.  And beautiful. 

Throughout the play there were so many moments that felt like dance:  running around, taking on and off the dress, dresses hanging from the roof, one to be replace by the other dress.  The transformation from the baby to a little girl, the layering on of the clothes, the corset, the dress, the coach rides and more.  Often, things move into slowmotion, or the motion is arrested in ways that grab your attention, and force (invite?) you to stop and think more deeply about what is before you... or maybe 'feel' more about what is before you?  You get invited to see how a person picks up the rage or pain or sorrow they have and then either moves forward with it, or doesn't. 

There is just so much more to say.  But I think i will just save it, and go watch again. 

I will say this... it is 'not' really a love story.  It feels more like a story about colonialism, about empire, about trauma, about poverty, cruetlty, and disconnection, about the lost and abandoned, and about the attempts to find spaces of connection and maybe of justice.  Such a complicated story.

So worth a watch.

Marianka Swain has a lovely review of it here:

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Home Made Peppermints

Water is the theme of cooking this week.

Again, a recipe that is perfect for the dairy allergy folks out there: water-based soft peppermints.

How many trays of these homemade peppermints have I made in my life?! 

But not recently. 

And then Duncan, in these times of home isolation, put in the request for this childhood classic.   

In a moment of weakness, I headed to the kitchen and put these together at the speed of light.

So easy!

Just a bit of water...
...and gelatin...
...and peppermint flavouring...
...and food colouring (isn't food colouring one of the 4 food groups?!)

Here is the recipe I grew up with.  I love seeing Mabel Hull's name here on the recipe.  It brings back lots of memories of interacting with all the old women at church.  Hmmm...... It cracks me up to say "old woman" outloud, and realize that they were all younger then than I am now!  :-)

My comments on the recipe?

  • You don't need a double boiler.  Just through 1/3 cup of H2O and one envelope of gelatine into a small saucepan on the stove, and turn on the heat.  
  • As the water warms, the gelatine will dissolve (the water will turn from cloudy to clear....nice 'science moment' if working with kids). 
  • You are good to go!  Add as much or as little peppermint extract (or oil of peppermint) as you want.  Experiment! (i probably use 1/4 tsp).  And colour is all!   I always let the kids experiment with mixing the colours.
  • Pour into a largish bowl, and start adding icing sugar.  It is easy to stir at the beginning, but you will eventually have to get your hands in and knead it.  Expect to use maybe 3/4 of a bag of sugar.  Keep adding til the dough is nice and plastic.
  • And then, the fun! (perfect activity for kids). Roll into snake shapes, and use scissors to cut the rolls (snakes) into bite-sized pieces. 

Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

There is a little magic in the technique, but anyone can do it!  See the video for a demonstration of my Martha Stewart like skills and extreme photogenic comfort before the camera (or, for proof of the wisdom of my decision to pursue a life in the law instead).  And thanks Alex Carter-Johnson for your exceptional videography skills!   

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Just add water....

gathering the ingredients
I think it has been about 3-4 weeks now of this new COVID influenced time of social distancing.
And a time of significant increase in the desire to cook!

But the challenge has been trying to make use of what is in the house so as to minimize shopping. 

preparing to beat eggs and sugar
Desperate times call for desperate measures! 

And so... we have experimented with some products that have long been hiding out deep in the cupboards:
  • lupini beans, and 
  • tapioca pearls. 
So.    Tapioco Pudding.

The colour comes from eggs?!  who knew?!
What a throwback to the past!  

This week, we have done tapioca pudding three different times! 

[I will return to the lupini beans later... lets start with Tapioca!]

The first time we tried it was with a jar of tapioca pearls that might have been in the cupboard since before the last sabbatical.  

As I said, desperate times.... 

Surprisingly, it worked!

And thus, tapioca pearls (a less aged bag) were added to the last shopping list, and we tried the recipe on the back of the bag. 

Or rather, DUNCAN tried his hand at making a custard based dessert. 
The 'tempered' eggs successfully added to hot milk!

Huh?  Cooking includes the cleaning up?!  Note, Duncan's hair was too tall to capture both the pudding and his hair in the frame

A second photo featuring less of the Tapioca pudding, but more of his hair.

Three different flavours:  one 'regular'; one with Almond flavouring; one with Mango

Highlights included:

  • soaking the tapioca for an hour
  • beating eggs and sugar together
  • deciding NOT to use a double boiler
  • learning how to ‘temper’ the eggs before adding to hot mixture
  • adding the chopped mango
  • deciding to skip the dried coconut altogether. 

NEXT POST?   Lupini Beans!

OK.  so maybe Tapioco and Lupini beans don't have much in common, but they both start off dry, and both do need water.  

Reconstitution is key! 

[Yes, I agree that there are many metaphors and messages possible here, particularly in these COVID times, but I will just let that idea sit for now, and focus on the family cooking adventure] 

oops... nearly forgot the recipe we used [obviously from the Western Family Tapioco bag... note all the product placements here! hahaha]

  Here it is!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


I'm the only straight hair person!
In our family, the gene for "hair" has been distributed in interesting ways. 

This photo kind of captures it.

Relatively straight hair for me, but the men have got some serious curly going on.  

Steve of course is the one who provided the curly gene to the boys (he says the hair has now migrated to other parts of his body, primarily nose and ears!)

But Duncan has it on top of his head, and Alex has it on the bottom of his head (in terms of the beard). Between the two boys, they have the head fully covered

Duncan has, it seems, taken his hair to the next level.  Here is the photo from last night, when he combed it out.  Duncan points out that the best part of this hairdo, it that he cleans dust off the top of the door jams when he walks through.   His head is now a very efficient 'feather duster'. 

To get the full 3-D impact, here is Duncan doing a turn-around.

Can't help but think of this post and picture I saw on facebook:

This sheep escaped a farm and spent 6 years in the mountains, during which time he grew 60 pounds of wool. Wolves tried to eat him, but their teeth could not penetrate the floof. Moral of the story: you don't have to turn hard to survive the wolves, just be really, really soft and fluffy.
Am I wrong to see a resemblance?   Instead of telling Duncan it is time for a haircut, I should be honouring the work he is doing to protect his mind from the metaphorical wolves of the world?

Monday, March 16, 2020

Social Distancing and Sunsets

Garry Oaks nearly ready for leaves to emerge
This week, we had the gift of a visit from our friend Andrée Boisselle.   

Who knew it would coincide with the outbreak of COVID-19 (i do not hold her responsible!) 

Small clusters of daffodils popping up in grassy spots between the rocks 

There is much to say about all the adventures of the week.  

Fun moments included the last night of the Jerry Cans Tour, (indeed, it was the last such event before gatherings of 250 or more were prohibited).  

We also had the chance to be present at the JD/JID Indigenous Law/Common Law Moot in the Mungo Martin House.

Mount Baker in the distance to the east...
More on that later (I am still processing was wonderful), but at the forefront of my mind is the sunset tonight.   

It is her Andrée's last night here, so we decided to take a quick jaunt over to Mount Tolmie to watch the sun set (which was to happen, according to Google, at 7:21). 

Pre-sunset Selfie! (not socially distant yet, but we will practice)
It is close enough that we really 'could' walk there, but.... I didn't have quite THAT much energy.  

I did have enough in me to park at the lower parking lot, and then take the path to the top.  

Clearly, we were not the only people to have the idea to go watch the sunset.

The setting sun caught in the branches
Parents out with children, small groups of children, many people in parked in their cars.   

Small groupings of people were out with music, blankets, and maybe beverages.   

With classes cancelled, it seemed that the hill was a magnet for people looking for some connection without being too closely clustered.

The ball of fire on its way down
A perfect example of social distancing along with proximity to nature.  

I was left wondering why I wait for visitors to head for hills. 
What a lovely way to spend those last hours of daylight.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Thanksgiving Weekend 2019

It was another weekend of Sabbatical pleasure!  My Saturday started with Opera, then raced to the Clipper to travel on the ocean to Seattle.   Sunday involved a trip to the Seattle Science Centre, then the Children's Theatre for a production of "Black Beauty" (with puppets!), then off to see Indecent.   Then late night on the rooftop, and an early morning ferry back to Victoria.   Now that was a whirlwind 36 hours!

1.   Opera
Arta and I joined my colleague Bob Howell at our local cinema for a showing of Turnandot.  It was every bit a lush as expected, and I don't care if the plot is thin, it is always glorious to hear Nessun Dorma!

2.  The Rooftop Patio at the Meditteranean Inn in Seattle

The hotel in Seattle could not have been more centrally located, and the rooftop patio had the post perfect views of the city!

View from the rooftop on our first night in Seattle
hanging out with Jess and Stacy

The second night had a wonderful dance between moon and clouds

3.   The Science Museum!
The space needle by morning

The banners directed us to "Be Curious".  We were!

The live snake show was entertaining

how can you not love the hairless mole rats?!

Stacy picks up a visitor in the butterfly room...

Miles checking out Stacy's visitor (on her knee)

It was exciting watching butterflies emerging from their transformational homes!

4.  Black Beauty
The Stables... Black Beauty soon to appear!

Getting ready for the show to start

Teaching kids what to expect for theatre etiquette?

Stacy and Miles about to head into the fountain!

Hey!   Flashback to doing this poem in the Kiwanis Festival as a teen!

5.  Indecent

6.  Coming Home on the Clipper

We saw Orcas!

It was a beautiful trip home... and here are a few more photos.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Our trip to Avatar Grove (and Ditidaht and Pacheedaht Territory)

Today, Glen and Janet were visiting.  When asked what adventure he might like to have for the day, he said he wanted to go see "Avatar Grove". 

Rebecca, Janet, Arta and Glen enjoying the beauty of the Sea near diitiida
I knew of the movie, but not the Grove.  Glen told us it was a protected area of old growth forest up by Port Renfrew.  A bit of google searching told us to plan on 2.5 hours of driving, followed by beauty. 

We decided that, if we hit the road early, we could take the trip, and then be back in time for Glen and Janet to head off to their "previously scheduled celebratory evening"  :-)  

So that is what we did!  We followed the #14 highway towards Sooke and then past: French Beach, China Beach, Point No was just an amazing drive.   Our first stop (aka the moment where I say "Stop!   This is too beautiful... lets just get a selfie!") was near Diitiida (or, 'Rio Jordan' according to the erstwhile colonial Spanish explorers of 1790, spreading their own names across their maps).  

It was lovely to see the waves slowly rolling in, a group of sea birds hanging out, and a sign indicating appropriate surfing behaviour!

The waves slowly rolling in

A bird party?

No way anyone is getting ME on a surfboard..  But IS nice to be 'au current'  (pun intended) on the etiquette!

Back in the car, we kept travelling.   

What a fun trip to with Glen, and to have all his years of Forestry knowledge being brought to bear as we drove, with him filling in details about forest literacy as we went.  The big question was how to learn to listen to what a forest has to tell!

Arta and I soaking in the unexpected warmth and beauty
I had to stop again for a selfie with Arta as we passed the Pacheedaht Camp Ground.   

I don't know what to say other than, Glorious!

The water on the small lake was absolutely still, like a mirror for the universe.  

Birds were congregating on an old log lying on its side in the middle.  The relations between water, land, and sky were stunning.  It was almost like there was a world above and a world below...

The land seemed to be floating in the space between water and sky

And then, it was back in the car for the final leg of the trip. 

As we drove, Glen told  us that he was looking for Marbled Murrelet habitat.   The Murrelet is an endangered species, a flagship species for the forest protection movement. They are a smallish seabird (like an Auk), who only lay their eggs in the moss that hangs from branches high up in the canopy in old growth forests.   This is the kind of moss and tree that Glen was pointing out to us.

Pre-Avatar Grove, Glen crawls into a ravine to look more closely at habitat.  We had to restrain Arta, who tried to scramble in after him.  We told her we would need a helicopter airlift to get her back out!

moss covered branches providing space for other things to grow, and for birds to nest

ferns growing out of the moss on a tree
 In the last part of the drive, we left paved roads behind.   
The water capturing the clouds

We drove across a narrow bride, left the pavement, and traveled the rest of the way on a gravel logging road.  I don't know that to say "gravel logging road" quite captures it.   haha.   I would say 7 km, driving at perhaps walking speed, taking great care to neither fall into a pot hole, nor take out the undercarriage of the car.   What an adventure!

It was a wild ride, but so worth it.

We finally arrived.

Upper or Lower?   Which path for the 78 year-old explorer?

I loved the "warning signs" (watch out for shattering trees?!)

We chose the lower grove walk (it was easy to medium, according to the sign).  On a longer trip (we only had an hour to spend, since Janet and Glen had to be back in Victoria for a big event at Government House --- his 25 years of govt service evening!)
Starting our descent to the forest floor (photo credit: Glen)
Wow.    There is so much to say, but it is almost impossible to capture the beauty, sound, or scale, let alone the joyful conversations!   

So... here are some photos.   

Janet and I trying to capture the greens

I love the roots crawling like fingers on the forest floor

Even standing right against the tree, you can't capture their size

Each tree has its own character and soul.  We loved coming for the visit.

Glen standing there to give me a marker for scale for the huge cedar behind him!

It doesn't matter if you look up, down, left or right, there is something amazing to see.

here, you can see young trees growing out of the side of older (still standing) trees

So much to enjoy in all the textures spread out around us, as we try to identify the trillium 

You can see the Nurse Log on which this huge cedar grew... can you imagine it picking up its roots and walking off?

a broken branch that looks to be a "forest guardian" (like the Green Goblin?)

Perfect nesting tree for Murrelet, says Glen!

Moss covering all the branches below the canopy way up above

The group of us spending time on the forest floor

Can you see the Candelabra and new growth at top where the bole had broken?

young and old trees living aside and amongst each other

Another nurse log sustaining the tree above.  This one looks to me almost like a sea creature grasping a log/rock.

Janet along side this amazing tree

The bottom of the tree seems like a mass of ruffles on a skirt

such beauty in the burls, a face seemingly hiding in one

The tree dressed in a swath of mossy green fabric
We decided that if there is a heaven, its colour palette will not be white, but will be the lush greens and browns we saw in the forest.   

Truly, heaven.