Saturday, 15 March 2014

Homage to a teacher on the Ides of March.

March 15 1958. Latin class in grade 2 of the Lyceum, the first year we had the subject. Greek had to wait another year. The education we received, Gymnasium, was supposed to be the perfect preparation for the lofty halls of academe. In retrospect we were being trained to be perfect seventeenth century gentlemen.

The teacher gave everyone a chocolate bar to commemorate an assassination that had taken place some 2000 years ago. I remember that small incident every March 15. Not because of the candy, but because he was such a great teacher.

Kees de Keizer was only 24 at the time, still a graduate student. This meant nothing to us. He was a teacher and therefore on the other side of the dividing line between Us and Them. He was a grownup and that was that.

In spite of his youth and inexperience he was one of the best teachers I ever had. A tall, gangly young man, he had no problem dominating the classroom and keeping order. An orderly classroom is one of the prerequisites for a good learning experience. I don't think it is something one can learn. There may be some methods and tricks, but above all a teacher of teenagers needs a certain animal tamer quality, an inner stance of strength. It is a good thing I never tried to become one. I had a hard enough time getting my kids to pick up their toys.

Mr. de Keizer loved his subject. He brought the classics to life like no other teacher ever did. The memory of his lessons in Ovid still makes me smile. We had to learn reading hexameters, a tricky business since certain syllables can be either long or short, depending on the rest of the verse. Said he: "If you can learn to dance, you can learn to scan verse." 

Somehow my feet have never been able to connect to a beat in my ears. There is a block somewhere. Past lives in a monastery would explain much but that is of course pure speculation. Anyway, I loved Latin, hexameters and all. In spite of never learning to dance I excelled at scanning . It is sad that the brain has retained no more than a few fragments. 
One such fragment, from the story of the great flood, pops up every time I see a picture of a flooded landscape.

Terra ferax, dum terra fuit, sed tempore ab illo
pars maris et latus subitarum campus aquarum.

Fertile land, while land it was, but at that time
part of the sea and a wide field of sudden waters.

Once in a while I think it might be fun to take a refresher course, but let's get real. There are gardens to plant and too many kittens on Facebook.

Meanwhile, today I raise a glass (of carrot juice) to the memory of a beloved teacher.

Friday, 7 March 2014

A tunnel into Spain. I wish I had pictures.

I am knee deep in Maddaddam, borrowed as an e-book from the library. Love it! Margaret Atwood has this dry sly humor that makes the darkest tale entertaining. However, I could not continue until The Precious has been recharged so it was time to look for entertainment on Netflix. I picked The Way, a movie about 4 strangers on the Camino de Santiago.  

Never mind the plot, mainly I loved the landscapes. It was special because we were there. Once upon a time, in April 1966, we spent three days on the municipal camp ground in Saint Jean Pied de Port, the French starting point for the Camino. It was the last time Chris had to go to Spain for the practical part of his geology studies. We were waiting for parts for the three-coloured Citroen CV, AKA Ugly Duckling, or just Duck.

The Duck was the European equivalent of a VW bug. In Europe the bug was considered a middle class car, not the counter cultural icon we found it to be on this side of the Atlantic. Chris and some friends had cobbled this one together from 3 old cars. It sported a brown body, grey doors and a green hood. It was a big step up from the motor cycle that had taken us South the previous year.

Anyway, we spent three days in our tent on this field that I recall as green, speckled with dandelions, on the edge of a mountain stream with a rock wall behind it. And everywhere there were signs to the Chemin de Saint Jacques, which unfortunately meant nothing to me at the time. It was rather boring. We could not explore the countryside without a car and we had no money to enjoy local cuisine. Funny, I don't remember how we drove into Spain that time. I do know the transition was not as dramatic as the one the year before. 

That time, still with the WWII vintage DKW motor bike, we had started our crossing at a French place called Something de Luchon. Shortly after the border into Spain we came across a tunnel. The tunnel entrance had big green wooden doors that were opened for us and closed behind us. We found ourselves in a cavernous space, sparsely lit with a road in terrible condition. There were places with gravel so loose that I had to dismount and walk while Chris went to first gear and straddled the heavy bike, loaded with all our gear for months, with his feet on the ground, heroically keeping it upright. If there was other traffic I don't recall it. We were alone most of the time. It was surreal. It went on and on, but finally we saw the proverbial light (no doors at that end) and emerged into a different land.

While the Northern side had been lush, we were now in a craggy place of bare rocks and much sparser vegetation. The steep hair-pinned road down with the ravine on our side was dramatically beautiful but terrifying. There were villages perched high above us on top of crags, fortress-like. A scene from a fairy tale movie. I might have enjoyed it in a car. On a bike, not so much, especially with mutterings about the danger of burning out the brakes. Even in my twenties I was a chicken with no taste for physical risk taking. 

After the movie I stayed up well past midnight to see what Mighty Google had to say about this memory. My only clue was the word de Luchon and the fact we were in the middle of the Pyrenees. There was, indeed, a tunnel. It would be on the road between Bagneres de Luchon and Vielha. It is well over 5km long and was the world's longest road tunnel until 1964.
Bless you, wikipedia.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Those crazy sleeping brains

A dream about a family of ranchers. I was in turn one of two brothers and the old widowed father. Wives and children are vague background presences. The brothers are trying to run the ranch while caring for the father. There is love and exasperation in equal measure. Father is frail, angry, bitter, hard to live with. He used to be a powerful outdoors man, able to smell the rain coming. That phrase keeps popping up. The waking brain connects it to reading The Orenda. A plan emerges to take him out on a horse to the fields once more. An image of him sitting on a horse held by a son, smelling the coming rain, feeling alive for the first time in months.  Doctors fuss it might kill him. All involved including father wish it would. Images of splendid landscapes throughout, tawny rolling hills with mountains in the background. I often dream landscapes. 

I wake to a fragment of poetry in my head. Frederico Garcia Lorca.
Dejasnos cantando en la plazeta
dot dot dot claro, fuente serena.
Immense satisfaction when the missing word pops up: arroyo.
Arroyo claro, fuente serena. So beautiful, and so meaningful in a parched landscape.
Singing, you leave us in the village square
Clear stream, calm spring.

What are our sleeping brains up to?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The joy of ENOUGH. Back to saving loonies and other normal life.

For a delicious year I was rich. It was wonderful, and now it is over and that is OK too.

I have never understood why talking about money is a taboo, just like I don't understand the prohibition on discussing politics and religion. All are fascinating topics that we all deal with. We just have to agree to disagree, and remain polite in the face of another opinion or belief. Is that really so hard? 
I never understood hiding age either. 

Income level determines much of life. I feel no shame about my low level of cash income, which is the result of life choices, rather than lack of opportunity. I don't regret the choices and take full responsibility for their consequences. Well, almost. Back in the day it never occurred to me that the social safety net might disappear. I can quite happily live on the basic government allowance for old age. If it ever disappears, well, that would be such a different world anyway. Let's not go there right now.

In the past I have been rather Micawberish, often living in debt and in hope of "something turning up". Being self employed encourages that. One can always believe that next month will be better. From now on the focus is on living within the means of the fixed geezer income and earning "nega-bucks". Thanks to Erica Strauss  for that term. As Ben Franklin said:"A penny saved is a penny earned." Extra income will be pursued, but it will be just that, extra.

The year of being rich was 2013. I received an insurance settlement for the injury sustained in the car accident in 2012. Then there was an inheritance from my dear sister, whose home was close to being paid for when she died just short of 61. All those years of pinching pennies and eating margarine, for nothing. OK, she enjoyed the sport. But life is too short to not eat butter.

I was giddy with the sheer freedom of it, bubbling with excitement. The first thing I did was pay off all personal debt. In 2008, as soon as I started getting OAP, I had already torn up the credit card, which kept giving me a higher limit the more I used it. I turned the debt into a life-insured re-mortgage with my trusty local credit union. Peace of mind came from knowing that at least my family would not bear the burden of my sloppiness. We are free and clear again, and my monthly income is all mine.

It took a big chunk but what a good feeling! I gave some away, enjoyed hitting the donation button for umpty good causes online and introduced the local library to Dr. Who. We went to see the kids at the coast, an expensive outing these days what with bus tickets and hotel costs. I bought a new stove, a couch, a guest bed, some bedding, some small things, some clothes. I made happy a few times. I indulged in the entirely frivolous purchase of a tablet which I love, the less frivolous purchase of a new laptop which was a mistake. I hate Windows 8 and the old one keeps chugging along, I could have waited. By the way, buying the laptop gave me a total appreciation for the simplicity of not having choices.

Dreams of a winter vacation in Cuba were sacrificed to the shoring up of the dwelling. Sister Margreet would so approve. It is still an old trailer but it will last our time. Well, maybe not if we live to be 100. I went to the dentist. 

That's it. There is some money left in the bank, but it is reserved for real emergencies. Oh, and for some labor this summer to make the place more productive. Details will be on the garden blogOther than that starting 2014 it has been back to normal, which means saving loonies and getting seriously excited about an extra twenty bucks in my pocket. 
We may not have much, but what we have is paid for.  I still have ways of earning a bit extra with the farmers market and the odd Reflexology client. 
There is an element of sport in making do. Example: my friend M. grew fantastic savoy cabbages that kept well but need to be used up now. She also still has potatoes and carrots. I have a cupboard full of canned tomatoes I got on sale at $1 per can. M. needs to recuperate from exhaustion after years of care giving. I have plenty of energy this winter and have been using her produce to churn out near industrial quantities of fabulous borscht. Click on link for the recipe. Creating good food while listening to audio books is one of my favourite winter activities. We share the proceeds. Win win.

For the time being we live in a safe place with health care and social security. We are warm, well fed, and healthy. We have a garden and a library. Enough is all the abundance I need.