afterglow

On Saturday, my publisher Mona Fertig from Mother Tongue Publishing and her husband Peter Haase travelled from Salt Spring Island to help me launch my new novella, Patrin. We met at a local restaurant and they gave me an unexpected gift: a bottle of sparkling Italian wine with a sweet card. (The plum gin was presented later, at our house, by the fire…) But why should I have been surprised? Everything about the process of publishing this particular book has been note-perfect. Mother Tongue may be a small company but Mona is also generous and thoughtful.

So the launch was wonderful. I’m still glowing. The beautiful Arts Centre in Sechelt filled with friends and well-wishers, the long tables laid out with food and drink, books, flowers, and of course a scattering of leaves in honour of Patrin Szkandery (whose name means “leaf” and who is told by a Roma woman in rural Moravia, “your name is your best prayer”).

Some lovely surprises at the launch: Jeffrey Renn, our actor friend, who came in the door with a huge smile. And Kathy Munro and Bill Mann from Whitehorse! (They should get a prize for coming the longest distance…) I’d love to post some photographs but John’s are blurry. I think Mona will send some photos later — the cake in particular was spectacular! But luckily my young friend Isabelle drew my portrait while I was reading and so I can show you what an author looks like, dressed for the celebration of her novella. (Isabelle must have thought my reliable black dress was too dull so she gave me some colour.)

me

P.S. Here’s Mona’s photo of the cake!

the cake!

feasts

Last night we had a great party to celebrate John’s birthday. There were 18 of us gathered to eat sockeye salmon (barbecued with preserved lemons), boeuf bourguignon, and hazelnut chocolate torte; after dinner we were treated to another kind of feast: a performance of our friend Jeffrey Renn’s Poetry Night in Canada. When I finally fell into my bed around 1 a.m., I was completely sated — poetry, fine wine, good food, and the warmth of friendship.

Earlier in the day, John, our lovely daughter Angelica, and I walked over to see the spawning coho salmon in Haskins Creek. Readers of this blog might think, “O no, here she goes again. The salmon…” But honestly it’s something I look forward to every year: the cycles of birth and death, darkness and light, the beautiful bodies of the fish in cold water and then dragged to the shore to feed the hungry appetites. The music is ravens klooking in the big trees and mergansers muttering in the quiet lake.

When I put the salmon on the white platter, I remembered the carcass on the banks of Haskins Creek, partially eaten.

salmonYesterday I watched a coyote trot past my study window and wondered if he’d come from the creek. We all long for the sweet flesh in winter — whether it’s eagles or ravens, coyotes or dinner guests hovering by the pine table. Jeffrey recited “St. Anne’s Crossing”, one of my favourite poems by the late Charles Lillard:

       …these beautiful fish

three lengths of silver on a flat boulder

bearing all the wilderness of cold fast

water my body can endure.

There was a collective sigh when Jeffrey finished reading and I said quietly, “He slept in this room.” And he did, years ago, the last time a few months before he died. Others were in the guest room and he bunked down on the long cedar couch, a quilt over him, the windows uncovered so he could see stars if he woke before morning. I remember his chuckle, his intense interest in the world, and poems like “St. Anne’s Crossing” summon him back, as the salmon are summoned back by the season, the urgency of life and death, and what Charles called the coastal sanctus: “…above this blue-edged water, a raven does a double wingover, calling, calling…”

the bench

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Do most households have a place like this bench? A place where things are set “temporarily” until they can be put back where they belong? (And then they linger there, gathering dust, and friends, until the whole thing is so precariously balanced that something has to be done?) This pretty bench, made of elm, was purchased for $25 at a farmer’s market in Princeton (B.C., not N.J.) in the summer of 2010. It’s become the place where books accumulate. On top you can see the Norton Facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare. On the weekend, our actor friend Jeffrey Renn was here for dinner and overnight and we — with friend Liz Young, also here — were discussing The Merchant of Venice. Jeffrey recalled something particular to the First Folio edition and (as it happened) I had the Facsimile so pulled it from my shelves.  “Let’s look it up,” I said! (My children once said that this will be my epitaph, having heard it so frequently during their childhoods. I know there’s probably an app for that now but I love the physicality of books…)  And the beautiful Golden Age of Botanical Art, a birthday gift from John, which had to removed (to the bench) from the coffee table on Saturday night so we could put out pre-dinner snacks for our guests.

Anyway, I’ve just put the Fascimile back on its shelf. And underneath it was a little book I’d forgotten about. The Bill: For Palma Vecchio at Venice, by László Krasznahorkai. My friend Anik sent it to me in the fall. I’d read it then, for the sheer pleasure of its presentation — a 14 page single sentence, addressed to the 16th c. Venetian painter Palma Vecchio (also known as Iacopo Negretti), asking him about his method, his fierce eye, his relationship to the women he painted so sensuously all those centuries ago and who gaze at the reader from the pages of this gorgeous monograph, sewn (!),  with French flaps. This essay is translated by George Szirtes and the book is beautifully designed, generously set in 16 pt. Berthold Walbaum, making it a pleasure to read. How wonderful that Sylph Editions in London care enough about essays and other works that might not find such congenial presentations elsewhere.

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I’ve taken it from the bench and will find a more appropriate home for it on my shelves. But not until I’ve read it again.

It takes Pender Harbour, in rain

On Saturday, we hosted a party near home to celebrate Forrest and Manon’s recent wedding. Our west coast friends and family weren’t able to travel to Ottawa and we wanted them to share some food, a glass of sparkling wine (Sumac Ridge’s lovely Stellers Jay brut), and to meet Manon and her parents. We invited around 60 people — almost all of them people who’ve known Forrest since he was a little boy, who attended Pender Harbour schools with him or else were classmates of his at Lester Pearson College of the Pacific where he did the International Baccalaureate programme in the late 1990s. 40 of them were able to come — some from Vancouver or Gibsons or Sechelt. Angie came from Victoria. And Manon’s parents Gerry and Nicole Labelle came all the way from Casselman, near Ottawa.

Our friends Jeffrey and Shana from Powell River prepared the most wonderful food for the event. (Jeffrey ran a small bistro there for a few years, Bemused, which was where we met him in the first place!) Here they are, putting out the appetizers (smoked sablefish on cucumbers, topped with borage flowers, prawns and aioli, heavenly wild mushroom terrine, and a delicious chanterelle cream for dipping), while Manon and I talk:

And here’s the room at the Pender Harbour School of Music, waiting for our guests:

There were a few speeches, all of them loving. Here are some friends listening while Forrest welcomes everyone and says he can’t imagine being married without a celebration in Pender Harbour, in rain:

Afterwards everyone feasted on brilliant little tourtieres topped with tiny potatoes, each holding a fresh cheese curd (homage to Manon’s Francophone roots), little paella cakes topped with prawns, salads of roasted squash and beets and micro-greens harvested by Jeffrey before dawn (he said he wore a headlight), platters of cheeses (applewood smoked cheddar and a beautiful Naramata Bench Blue from Poplar Grove), and glasses of wine (more of that Stellers Jay brut or else Okanagan merlot and Pinot blanc). For dessert, there were homemade truffles and macarons.

The young’uns have gone south, to San Francisco. Our fridge is still stuffed with leftovers and there’s an entire mushroom terrine in the freezer for a winter meal.