Monday, November 25, 2013

Book: From the Fifteenth District

Mavis Gallant's book From the Fifteenth District is a collection of nine wonderfully written short stories set Europe, in periods of time ranging from before, during, and after World War II.

The characters are vividly drawn and the settings are so artfully portrayed as to almost become additional characters in the story.

I was especially drawn into a story called 'The Moslem Wife' about a British woman who inherits the family hotel in the south of France. Like many of the stories in this collection, this one has several layers. It is about the protagonist's relationship with her lazy, philandering husband, but also about British expatriates during the period leading up the the Second World War, about the war, and about fractured communities.

Mavis Gallant, born in Montreal in 1922, was a journalist in Canada before moving to Paris in 1950 to write. Many of the stories in this collection are about people who inhabit a space without actually belonging to there - a British family who moves to the Riveria so the ailing patriarch can die there, a German former soldier who does not make it back to Berlin until many years after the war has ended, an aging Polish bachelor in Paris who falls for a flighty Canadian girl...

The tension of person and place has a strong role in each story, as much as any dynamic between characters. As someone who has spent many years of my life inhabiting but not belonging to a place, these stories resonated deeply with me. I was also impressed with Gallant's talent as a short story writer such that in with so few words, she is able to create such a rich and complex world of places and people.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Pumpkin Walk in Iona Park

They started coming in the morning. Yesterday's jack o'lanterns. Those pumpkins that had been carefully carved and proudly displayed on porches, front steps and window sills. Normally discarded the day after Hallowe'en, now given one last chance to shine.

Tonight was Ottawa's first pumpkin parade. Through word-of-mouth, social media, and flyers, we'd been inviting people in the Iona Park neighbourhood to bring their Hallowe'en handiwork to the park. At dusk we began putting candles inside them and the jack o'lanterns began to flicker and glow as night fell.

The idea for this parade came from my friend, Allegra Newman. She used to live in Toronto where the Sorauren Park Parade amasses around 2,000 pumpkins each year.
Iona Park's inaugural Pumpkin Walk was a more modest affair. By 8 p.m. there were close to 30 pumpkins lining the northern pathway into the park.

But it was a good beginning. Violet Lowe, who has lived beside the entrance to the park for 56 years, was thrilled to see the decorated pathway. "This is fantastic," she said.

Several young families and local residents braved the blustery winds to come to the park between 6 and 8 p.m. and admire the skill and creativity of carves in the neighbourhood. In addition to grinning pumpkin faces, there was a howling wolf, a man being chased by a dragon, and a lovely snowflake pattern.

The pumpkins will spend the rest of the weekend in the park, where they will be enjoyed by squirrels and admired by children, then picked up on Monday by city waste management.