Yearly Archives: 2002

Oct – Nov 2002

Thanksgiving. The unmerciful lineup at the bus terminal to go home. The line for tickets snakes back and forth between red ribbons seven times before heading straight through the terminal toward the far windows. Of the ten wickets, only five are open. For twenty minutes I wait, shifting forward at irregular intervals, finally purchasing my ticket with two minutes to spare before departure. The lineup for the bus extends past the lineup area, across the bus lane, along the far wall and almost out of the terminal altogether.

It’s the first major holiday of the fall season, a long weekend, the first visit home for students away from home for the first time and the traffic is insane. The driver of this bus (the second put on the route) tries to make up for lost time by steering in and out and around slower traffic. I’ve chosen a seat next to a reader because I don’t feel like talking to a stranger today, pull out my own book and continue from where I left off, occasionally looking up to notice the leaves outside have begun to turn orange.

Before the bus pulls in, I see my Dad waiting for me, looking slightly confused that I haven’t been on any of the buses which have arrived so far, spewing passengers and diesel fumes. We return to Mum and Dad’s to find my sister and family have arrived now too. Not everyone could make it this year, but a good showing nevertheless.

Several of us continue out to the cottage to close it up for the season – a very southern Ontario thing to do. And as I’m looking across to the island, its trees in full autumn colours, my sister informs me that it’s been sold to developers. Other developers have tried to encroach on this quiet place before and none of their projects have actually come to fruition, but one of these days they will. Already this place is not the place it was when I was a child; the lake, the cottage, the trees, are not the same. People have died, cottages have changed hands and, inevitably, they will continue to do so.

Back in town, we watch a movie, a comedy we all enjoy (a pretty amazing feat considering a range in ages from eight to eighty-seven) – If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. My sister tries to get the kids to settle down for the night. She turns on the stern mother act to get their attention; funny how her words sound so familiar. Then she turns away, smiling at me, at the joke we both tacitly understand.

In the morning, we begin preparations for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a communal affair, several of us pitching in to make the meal. I was the one who suggested 2 p.m. for dinnertime. Why? Because that’s when Mum has always served holiday dinners. And now that the kids are passed hungry, I remember being passed hungry too and never understanding why 2 p.m. was imposed for these big family meals. The kids get a snack and dinner keeps roasting.

Mum, my sister and I go through tablecloths and china, the suggestion being that the history of each item should be documented on paper while there’s still someone to recall it. Dad suggests that Mum could give some of the items to the children now, my Mother reticent to part with them, my sister and I agreeing. Things happen in their own time.

With a final flurry of activity, the meal is served. The kids clean their plates before we’ve said grace (something I wouldn’t have been allowed to get away with). I’ve always considered us to be a pretty non-religious family (in the formal sense); consider myself strictly non-denominational. But it seems appropriate to say grace when we’re together, especially at Thanksgiving. It’s a “May the Circle Be Unbroken” moment.

Thanksgiving is one of the few (if not the only) holiday that I find myself drawn to, that I feel disappointed if I don’t acknowledge. Maybe it’s the pagan in me, but it seems so appropriate to acknowledge and celebrate the bounty of the growing season. I try to explain this to my niece, but she doesn’t get it; I didn’t at her age either.

Mum used to tell me to count my blessings and I always thought it was a daft thing to do. Despite a pretty privileged upbringing, I always had a knack for seeing the negatives (although for some reason many people seem to think I’m a very optimistic person

September 2002

There’s this thing I like to do in the summer and fall and I recognize that it’s increasingly regarded as esoteric behaviour. I can fruits, pickle vegetables, make jam, so that in February, when the only fruits and vegetables available are either past their best or transported from halfway around the world at exorbitant cost, I can still enjoy the flavour of the previous summer’s local, tree-ripened harvest.

Yes, yes, I know it all sounds rather quaint and people are often surprised to discover that someone who’s not particularly domestically inclined spends hours in the kitchen boiling down potent mixtures of berries, sterilizing jars, sealing bottles and admiring the rich colours of their contents. I sure ain’t no Martha Stewart, but I enjoy putting up jams and preserves and I certainly enjoy the results.

However, in the last few years, I’ve become increasingly aware that people just don’t do this anymore – or at least, not in large urban centres. Earlier in the summer I went in search of paraffin wax to seal some bottles of rhubarb-ginger jam. My first stop was the drug store because it’s the kind of thing drug stores used to sell. I looked around and couldn’t see any, so I asked one of the staff who informed me that she didn’t even know what paraffin wax was. As I tried to explain what I wanted it for, her puzzlement grew and I gave up.

The second stop was the grocery store because they sell supplies related to cooking. I looked around and couldn’t see any paraffin, so I asked one of the staff who knew what it was, correctly guessed why I wanted it, but informed me they didn’t sell it anymore.

The third stop was the hardware store, again because it’s the kind of thing hardware stores used to sell. I looked around and couldn’t see any paraffin so I asked one of the staff, who led me to the last package in stock, wiped the dust off the box and handed it to me. No doubt he was glad to finally have it off the shelf.

What concerns me is that if I’m having difficulty finding necessary supplies now, it’s only going to get worse five, ten or twenty years from now. Maybe I should begin hoarding paraffin wax and snap
lids while I can still find them!

A couple of years ago, a (younger) friend told me that he’d told some of his (younger) friends that I made my own jams and such. They thought it was charming – but weird. They didn’t understand
why I’d want to waste time and energy making something that I could buy ready-made off the shelf.

What? And miss the visceral enjoyment of raw mango flesh coursing over my fingers? The beet juice staining my skin? The satisfaction of feeling a raspberry go squirt? The clean, sweet smell of peaches boiling in sugar syrup? The fulfilling sound of a lid snapping into vacuum state? There’s a physical enjoyment in making food that can only be experienced. And when that food is preserved, the reminiscence of that enjoyment lasts too.

Although it’s been a disastrous year for some crops, it seems to have been a good year for others (’twas ever thus!). This year I had a plentiful supply of rhubarb from a friend’s garden and
the mangoes were cheap (although obviously not locally grown). I get an extra kick out of producing something pleasing out of ingredients that cost me little or nothing.

Each year I try a few new experiments, some of which fail, many of which are quite successful. Last year’s kiwi-plum jam never set properly and surprisingly doesn’t have much flavour other than sweet. This time I had the same troubles with sumac jelly, but at least it looks pretty on the shelf.

This year I’ve made strawberry-mango jam, mango butter, rhubarb-ginger jam, raspberry-peach jam, apricot jam (that I swear is better than sex!), garlic dill pickles, spiced pickled beets, canned rhubarb, canned yellow plums, canned apricots, canned pasta sauce and frozen peaches, blueberries and strawberries.

It’s comforting to have a full larder, especially as we head toward fall. It’s comforting to feel some small taste of self-sufficiency. Not that I keep all of it. A fair bit of what I make gets given away as presents. They’re not expensive presents. They’re homemade and well-loved and that makes them unique.

©Catherine Jenkins 2003

August 2002

In the course of my tour, I had to find my way around several cities, and (as a budget-conscious writer) that usually meant acquainting myself with the transit system. Toronto, New York and Chicago all have good systems, but each has its own idiosyncrasies and takes some understanding to navigate.

Toronto’s subway is one of the simplest in the world, having only two lines. Of course, it’s also the one I’m used to. My expectation is that other subway systems will make as much sense, be as easy to navigate as the TTC. But they aren’t.

While Toronto has one of the least complicated subways to navigate, New York’s MTA has to be one of the most complex. Over a dozen numbered and lettered trains take over half-a-dozen different coloured lines all over metropolitan New York. And perhaps the most difficult part of trying to understand this system is that you can’t necessarily transfer from one line to another where you think you can. Just because a train comes through a station, doesn’t necessarily mean it stops there and doesn’t mean there’s any way to transfer to it. Returning from Brooklyn on the brown line, I found I had to go a couple of stops south on the green line to transfer to a northbound green line train to get back to my hotel. I felt a little embarrassed, that I must be missing some obvious connection, until I noticed other people doing the same thing.

Chicago’s CTA has six coloured train lines that all intersect in the Loop (four elevated, two subway), but again, transfers between lines only occur at certain stations. As with the MTA, there’s the difficulty of different lines having stops with the same name. It never struck me as a potential problem in Manhattan, probably because the streets and avenues are generally numbered, so it’s easy to figure out where you are. In Chicago, where the streets are named, they don’t give you that clue. It wouldn’t be enough to know you had to get off at the Harlem stop; you’d also have to know the line. In Chicago, there’re three Harlem stops, two of them on the blue line, one almost four miles south of the other.

Adding to their already inherent complexities and character, it was kind of mysterious fun to discover that all three systems have abandoned stations and disused tunnels. Although I may have the spirit of an urban adventurer, I’m more of an armchair aficionado and admit to some hesitation about exploring any of these firsthand.

The MTA system has a vast network of abandoned subterranean transit tunnels, due in part to its age and the number of companies originally operating. The Abandoned Stations site lists ten stations, six levels and nine platforms which have been closed. This site is meticulously updated with current and historic text, photos, timetables and maps detailing each closed station or section.

Forty feet beneath the streets of Chicago lies a completely abandoned freight rail system; sixty-two miles of tunnels about six feet wide and seven feet high, equipped with two-foot gauge track. Originally dug to carry telephone and telegraph wires, the tunnels were expanded and operated from 1909-1959 transporting goods, food, coal and packages to and from stores, warehouses, offices, factories, railroads and post offices. The system ran 149 four-wheeled locomotives and had +3,000 pony cars – sort of an industrial version of something you’d find in a children’s amusement park. The Chicago Tunnel Company Railroad site gives a detailed history as well as historic photos.

Despite its relative youth, even the Toronto subway has two abandoned stations (Lower Bay and Lower Queen), as well as a few rarely used tunnels. Toronto-based urban adventurer Ninjalicious has a fascinating article on exploring TTC tunnels in Infiltration.

The MTA operates 8,231 rail and subway cars (along with 4,864 buses) and charges $1.50 (US) per ride, payable by MetroCard. In my limited experience, the system is very reliable, although one must take a Zen approach to the timetables. Although some lines still use older trains which have been re-painted countless times to cover graffiti, the well-used green line number 6 has the most modern trains I’ve ever ridden. They’re sleek silver bullets, with roomy open interiors, and recordings that announce train information at every station. LED signs at both the front and rear of the train repeat the information and maps above the seats have lights that indicate the next stop and direction of travel. It all makes it easier for the uninitiated to get where they’re going without mishap and I didn’t get lost once! (Those of you who know me well can now get off the floor.)

The MTA platforms reminded me of Roman baths, with clean white tile and porcelain crests emblazoned with the station name. However, the stations tend to have low ceilings, great depth (to accommodate four train lines) and a rather dark, cave-like atmosphere which on occasion made me a bit nervous.

The CTA has 1,100 rapid transit cars (and 1,900 buses) and operates the second largest transit system in the United States, charging $1.50 per ride using a Transit Card. The system is comprised mostly of elevated trains that run about level with the third storey of most of the buildings they snake through. Els certainly have some advantages over subways: there are no mice or rats to contend with (only pigeons), riders are never surprised by the weather and they can enjoy the architecture enroute. I also imagine passengers are occasionally surprised by a display through a carelessly opened bedroom blind.

The TTC operates 672 subway cars (along with 1,468 buses and 248 streetcars) and charges $2.25 (CDN) per ride (a little less if you buy tokens or tickets). It has an annoying tendency to break down when the pressure’s on and it’s most needed (rush hour, inclement weather). However, I’ve also taken a lot more rides on it so I’ve had more opportunity to see it at its worst. Generally speaking it works and works well and is still a lot cheaper and more environmentally friendly than owning a car.

©Catherine Jenkins 2003

July 2002

As promised, this month’s journal is an exploration of the polar opposites (figuratively, not geographically) of Picton and New York City. Why would I consider such an odd juxtaposition? Because those were the two places my reading tour took me in June (as well as home in Toronto, of course).

If you’re not familiar with Picton, it’s the largest settlement in Prince Edward County, an island community that rests against the north shore of Lake Ontario. The area was a stronghold of the United Empire Loyalists who started settling there in the late 1700s after a strong difference of opinion with the Americans.

The community’s pride in its heritage is apparent in its pristine old farmhouses, barns and fields. Downtown Picton is brief but lovely. As well as numerous B&Bs, there’s the Historic North American Hotel (founded circa 1835), with cream and antique red colouring and flower baskets hanging from its second-storey porch. Among Picton’s other buildings of note is the Regent Theatre, housed in a building also dating to the 1830s. After renovations, it reopened in 1922 as an Edwardian-style opera house with 900 seats. It still operates as a venue for both live theatre and movies, although the number of seats has (fortunately) been halved.

On my last day in the county, I took a quickie driving tour with my camera and journal. I started in Bloomfield (where I had the pleasure of staying with a former teacher of mine), drove east, took a detour to see the old army barracks (still sometimes used for film shoots), then took the road up to Lake on the Mountain (which is just odd), stopped at the Black River Cheese Factory (newly reopened from the fire last fall), made a failed attempt at finding the pebble beach at Little Bluff (and was very glad I’d paid for the extra chip and scratch insurance on the rental car), drove back through Picton (it really is very pretty), made a quick tour to the entrance of Sandbanks Provincial Park (but decided to wait until sometime when I have time to do it justice), came back through Bloomfield, continued on to Wellington for a brief stop (thanks for the cup of tea, Mac) and then headed north until I hit the old number 2 highway and came home.

On my trip through this pastoral landscape, I saw roadside signs for deer crossings, cattle crossings, and in one instance, a cat crossing (they’re very civilized here). And of course, the lilacs were in bloom and they were everywhere! Lilac bushes that must have been planted by early residents two-hundred years ago have spread, grown tall and (if such a thing is possible for a lilac) gone feral. They dwarf the walls of abandoned houses and the air is thick with their fragrance. I was given some blooms to bring home and I enjoyed their scent in the car all the way.

Less than a week later, I was on the (mostly empty) train heading to New York. The train runs down the Hudson River valley, crossing and uncrossing the river and running along its bank with the wild white and purple phlox. After sunset, after the long dark ride through the under-river tunnel, I emerged suddenly somehow in the city.

Although I’ve been to New York before, I’d never gone alone, with my own unadulterated agenda. First I took a walk up to 43rd to ogle at the glorious lustre of the Chrysler Building, continued along to see Grand Central Station (outside and in), the New York Public Library (closed on a Sunday; probably a good thing or I wouldn’t have seen anything else), through the lights and flash of Times Square, down Broadway to see the Flatiron Building at 23rd and then back to the hotel.

The following day I walked down Christopher Street, through the Village to West where I followed the coast of the Hudson south until I stumbled across Ground Zero. I hadn’t planned on visiting the site but 9/11 is such a part of New York consciousness, it’s hard to avoid. There’s only flat rubble-strewn ground there now but the impact of seeing it gave me that hoof to the stomach feeling. Makeshift memorials have sprung up in sometimes unexpected places all over lower Manhattan. Three subway stops remain closed and a surprisingly large number of blocks are still cordoned off nine months later. Even being right there, I found it difficult to comprehend the magnitude of this event; not much wonder New Yorkers are still struggling with it. I stopped for a rest by the Hudson and noticed I was the only one bothering to look up when the helicopters trailed by every few minutes, and wondered if I was the only one noticing, even now, the occasional waft of burnt in the air.

I continued walking south around the tip of the island into Battery Park. What was once the entry point for new immigrants, now seems a mass of statuary, hucksters and mimes. Hard to tell what Lady Liberty thinks of that. I started walking up along the East River and found the South Seaport and the Fulton Fish Market. The guide book said you could find it by following your nose and it was right! I then walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, enjoying the architecture and the view, walking back just as the sun was setting over Manhattan and the city was lighting up for the night.

The next day I treated myself to a browse through the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I walked through the Modern and Annenberg Impressionist collections, an overwhelming assortment of Degas, Cézanne, Sisley, Caillebotte, Chagall, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Seurat, Picasso, Lautrec and a few others. I noticed not all the Van Gogh’s had been hung in the same room; if they were, they’d probably spontaneously ignite from the sheer intensity of energy and vibrancy of colour. They hadn’t mounted all the Monet’s in the same room either; his work glows in such a fluid way that viewers would be lulled into a complete state of calm and they’d never leave.

When I’d galleried myself out, I stepped into Central Park and walked some more, enjoying watching kids play, the statues, the bridges and the trees. It really is an oasis but Manhattan has a large population on a limited piece of land and that’s very apparent, even in Central Park. With strains of Simon & Garfunkel running through my head, I went to the zoo, now the NatureConservancy.

And there’s so much more. I stopped by the Center for Book Arts and The Poets House. Went to the Upper West Side for brunch and a look around, wandered the Village and Central Park some more. With Marianne Faithful hoarse in my ear, I took a walk around Times Square at night. This city just doesn’t stop. The New York Central Library and the Met alone would take two lifetimes to explore. Manhattan has done a lot of things right and it was a real joy to be there.

Ultimately, do I find any commonalities between Picton and New York? Yes. With most places I visit, I leave feeling satiated, like I’ve done them and I don’t need to return. Both Picton and New York are places I want to go back to, but for very different reasons: Picton for its quiet light and New York for its culture.

©Catherine Jenkins 2003

June 2002

May was a month of travel as the Swimming in the Ocean tour began. My first reading from the new book was in Peterborough (my old hometown), then I read in Ottawa (where I lived for a couple of years), Montréal and Kingston. Travel tends to adjust my perspective in a unique way. New environments enable me to see things I wouldn’t notice otherwise.

Peterborough is a pleasant enough place, but it was frustrating to spend my youth there, especially because I’d already travelled in Europe and knew there was a lot more arts and culture in the world than Peterborough could offer. Nevertheless, it was fun to get my picture in the paper because of the new book and to have an enthusiastic hometown crowd at the reading.

Ottawa and Montréal kind of run together in my head as I was back and forth between them for a week. (Note to self: Don’t ever again agree to readings which entail this kind of travel!) I stayed for the week at my friend Péter’s house in Hull where we ate good food and I raided his rhubarb patch. I spent a whole day wandering around Ottawa, up and down Bank Street, the Sparks Street Mall and the Market. I love the smell of the Ottawa market. The outside stalls only have fresh flowers, fruits, vegetables and maple syrup (for half the price it is in Toronto). You can buy fish and meat and cheese, but you have to enter a store to do so. So as you walk through the outside stalls, you’re never overcome by the smell of protein.

I’m not as familiar with Montréal, having never lived there. I’ve explored the old city on previous trips but this time, because my time was limited, I stuck pretty much to the area close to the McGill campus. I was disappointed that avenue des Pins had no pines or trees of any sort and pleased that I could understand as much French as I did (although I’m a long way from considering myself bilingual). On the second trip, Péter and I drove in his car so we went to Fairmount Bagel and bought a couple dozen each. They really are the best bagels I’ve ever had; they’re not tough the way most bought bagels are.

So I came back from the Ottawa-Montréal leg of the tour with rhubarb (which I stewed and preserved), bagels (some of which I froze) and maple syrup (which is sealed until the next time I make waffles). I think the store of comfort food has helped make up for the mild exhaustion.

As with Peterborough, the moment I got off the train in Kingston, I found the air easier to breathe than the air in Toronto. I’d never had much of an opportunity to explore Kingston, but I had a sense of comfort, of familiarity once I started walking around downtown. Sometimes I can’t picture a place in my head, but once my feet are on the ground, the familiarity of it is somehow evoked. This trip I had more time to wander and found some interesting juxtapositions that revealed a lot about the town and its history.

As I walked up Princess Street, I found its intersection with Clergy Street dominated by St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. On the side lawn rested a cannon, one that anyone entering the church’s side door would have to pass in front of. The plaque revealed that this was Shannon’s Cannon which was used in Londonderry, Ireland to defend the (Protestant) faith between 1649 and 1688, was presented to one William Shannon of Kingston in 1865, was subsequently presented to St. Andrews Church in 1909 and then restored in 1990.

Continuing the walk along Clergy Street, I found it intersected with Ordnance Street and when I entered McBurney (locally known as “Skeleton”) Park, I was confronted by a cement-mouthed cannon with the word “Peace” graffitied to its side. To my right stood an ornate stone Celtic Cross placed in memory of the estimated 10,000 Scottish and Irish immigrants who were buried in this park between 1813 and 1865. To my left was a kiddie’s wading pool and extensive playground equipment. Kingston is a complicated little town.I’ve lived in Toronto for over five years and I’m still getting usedto it. One has to park one’s body somewhere and nowhere is ever perfect; every place has its pros and cons so there doesn’t seem much point in complaining too loudly. I’m looking forward to exploring the polar opposites of Picton and New York City next month.