new shoes

I am a graduate school academic administrator and for the past twenty years I have lived by the ebb and flow of the academic calendar.  Labour Day is my New Year’s Eve.  Granted, Times Square’s crystal-encrusted ball is impressive, but nothing sparkles like freshly laminated student ID cards.  They are an administrative thing of beauty.

Annually, the last two weeks of August are a blur of bureaucratic activity and faculty finagling as I set things in order for Orientation and Registration Week.  I have lists referring to lists of lists of pressing matters and looming deadlines.  The tyranny of the urgent in bullet-point. 

This year was no different.  …except for one thing.

I left work early on Friday.  One whole glorious hour early.

If I dared to admit it, and risk the wrath of Mr. Murphy and his dumb law, I was ready.  Everything was in order.  My work was done.  So I was outa there.

Now, one would think that I might be rather self-congratulatory as I commuted home on a sparsely populated subway in the pre-rush-hour mid-Friday afternoon of a Labour Day weekend.  But no.  I was too preoccupied with reviewing my mental list of lists of lists.  Madly, I might add.  Feeling neither pride nor happiness nor any particular sense of preparedness for the new academic year.  No, instead, I felt as though I had just slipped the chains of a working weekend.

And then I saw her.  Sitting opposite me.  Between her parents.  Swinging her legs up and down, gleefully admiring her squeaky-clean brand-spanking-new pink floral-printed sneakers.  …resplendent with iridescent sequins.  The look on her face was a fantastic mixture of big-girl pride and giddy delight to sport such sparkly shoes.   This girl was ready.  Bring on the new school year!  She had fancy footwear and glittery gumption.

I figure she must have been six.  Which means she is most likely starting Grade One today.  And that gave me pause.  Grade One.  No more half-day or partial-week kindergarten.  She’s joining the big kids.  Five full days each week.  Hopefully, for at least the next twelve years. 

And so it begins.  Again.

My mother tells a story of my second day of kindergarten.  Apparently she gently woke me, and told me that it was time to get ready for school.  To which, I am told, I said with utter innocence, “Oh no, Mommy.  I already went.  I liked it.”

That was forty years ago.  And I continue to go.  And I still like it. 

I simply need new shoes.


i am not harry perkins.

I so enjoy long weekends.  Especially when they include fine dining, bad dancing, and lots of laughter. 

(Another dispatch from Paris, a few years after the fact.  Names have been changed to protect the bad dancers.)

November 6, 2004

This time last week I was in Thionville (“Tee-own-veel”), France, a beautiful little north-eastern border town within a stone’s throw of Germany and Luxembourg.  Marito, Pazza and I had escaped the city for a weekend in the country at Pazza’s mothers home.  A weekend of rest and relaxation in the picturesque French countryside.  Or so I thought.

We left Paris along with the throngs of Parisians who make their weekly escape from the city via one of the four city-centre train stations.  Each station serves a different direction.  Literally, the trains come in from one direction, right into the terminal, and once they are loaded with passengers, they go back out the way they came in.  So, we went to Gare de L’Est and battled the crowds of passengers weaving through ticket lines and train platforms to get to their allotted car and seat. 

It was another one of those reality check moments for me…the sun setting behind us, dimming the colours as we zipped off for our weekend in the French countryside.  This was the stuff of novels and moody foreign films.  And now, apparently, the stuff of my life.

Three hours later, we arrived in darkness in Thionville.  Madremere (Pazza’s Mom) was there to greet us and quickly whisked us off to her home for a late evening meal of homemade soup, roasted chicken, and an array of cheeses.  You have to understand, Madremere had prepared the menu for our weekend two weeks ago when she first invited us to spend these three days with her.  It was her unabashed joy to prepare meals throughout the weekend.  But more about the food later.

Madremere’s home is the second storey flat of a converted manor home on the corner of the town square.  Eleven-foot ceilings, moulded cornices, heavy draperies, tapestries on the walls, chandeliers in each room, and enormously proportioned French antique furniture. I loved it immediately and settled in for a lazy weekend of strolling through town, reading in overstuffed chairs, and tipping back countless mugs of coffee.

Did I mention that Madremere is of Italian/French extraction?  Relentlessly passionate, active and stubborn.  This woman is a retired high school Principal who now fills her days with swimming, water aerobics, playing bridge, singing in a chorale, serving on a local historical association, and now, as a result of my influence, she is taking English lessons.  (Imagine my surprise to be greeted by Madremere saying in perfectly clear English, “Hello, I am Madremere.  I am an English student.  Are you Harry Perkins?”.  Apparently Harry Perkins is the French english student’s equivalent to the Canadian french student’s, "Pitou" the pup.)

Now, combine Madremere’s Italian “ying” with Pazza’s French “yang” and you’re bound to have a memorable time.  Simply crank up the volume on everything you do and all will be well.  Why talk quietly?  Surely you want to share your news and disagreements with the elderly widows who live above and below the flat?  (Pazza delivered flowers to the aged neighbours upon our departure as an apology for the increased activity and volume.)

…and then there’s my Marito, the son of Italian immigrants to Canada.  I’m not sure exactly what it is about Madremere, but Marito snaps-to like he’s dealing with his own mother when Madremere is in the vicinity.  I lazed in bed one morning, listening to Pazza belt out, “Poot your ‘ed on my shooooldure.  Whisper somezing to me…babeee!”  And over the volume of Pazza’s voice, I could hear Madremere bellowing directions to Marito.  Something about doing dishes or setting the table.  I’m not sure.  The only thing I could hear of Marito was his foot-fall, frantically dashing between kitchen and dining room.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love Madremere.  I met her when I first visited Paris prior to our move and she has been a constant presence even though she lives in Thionville.  I see her whenever she visits Pazza and I am told that she always asks for me and sends me “gros bisous” (big kisses).  But please, I am a third generation Canadian of British descent.  Though I may be the loud one in my family, I am most certainly the quietest in Madremere’s adopted family.

As a result, throughout the weekend, Madremere or Pazza or Marito would approach me individually, at regular intervals with whispered questions…”Tu est content?” (Madremere)…”You are relax-ed?”(Pazza)…”Are you okay?”(Marito)

With a sincere grin, I assured each of them that I was very content to sit and read in a chair in the dining room window turret.  In fact, it became known as my chair for the duration of the weekend.  Madremere would not allow anyone else to sit there but me.

Saturday morning Madremere insisted that the three of us join her for her regular weekend visit to the market across the square for the day’s fruit, vegetables, and cheese.  Marito dutifully trotted alongside of Madremere, carting her shopping basket, while Pazza and I ducked into a café for a quiet coffee. 

Upon our return to Madremere’s flat, and following a lunch over which we lingered long, Pazza hit the road for Nancy, a town an hour away where she attended university and had plans to connect with old friends.

That left Marito and I with Madremere.  I retreated to my chair with my book (Madame Bovary) and a bag of the most fantastic chocolate covered marshmallow (bought on the sly at the market).  Marito, intending to take a nap, was intercepted by Madremere and ended up spending the afternoon in a long and intense conversation. 

To liberate him from continued discourse on all things Franco-Italian, I invited Marito to join me for a walk through the centre of town, where old village streets have been cobbled-over and converted into a pedestrian concourse of shopping and cafés.

Originally a German border village, Thionville was designed to be the French traveller’s first impression of Germany, replete with what was then considered to be the best in Germanic architecture. The town and surrounding region was then annexed to France in the late 19th century, and has since become a fascinating hybrid of German and French architecture.

Dinner for three was served and savoured, before Madremere, Marito and I spent the rest of the evening, sitting around the table, laughing and talking and eating too much of everything.  Pazza returned later that evening and seemed quite content to have shared her mother with us for a day.

Before going to bed, Madremere had asked if I wanted to go to church with her in the morning.  I readily accepted, anticipating a quiet morning of contemplation and reflection.

Who was I kidding?

Since I was the last to crawl out of bed each morning…(it was a long weekend, remember)…I missed breakfast with Madremere, Marito and Pazza.  Even so, Madremere always left a place setting for me in her kitchen, with fresh baking, homemade jam, and a fat pot of tea.  So, each morning as I sat quietly munching away, Pazza flew around the flat, towelling her hair and belting out some unknown tune, Madremere bustled about preparing ingredients for lunch, and Marito buzzed between the two trying to be of assistance to Madremere and distraction to Pazza.

I repeat…each morning.  And Sunday morning was no different.  Sometime during the night, Madremere changed her mind about church and decided that I would not necessarily enjoy Catholic mass in French.  She thought I would prefer to doze in the guest room bed instead of the pew at the cathedral.

So there really wasn’t much of an opportunity for quiet contemplation on Sunday morning, until Pazza suggested that we go into the town square for coffee.  Reminding us to be back for lunch at 1pm, Madremere waved us off with a flick of her tea-towel.

I tell you truthfully, it was simply beautiful to sit in that square, wrapped in sweaters, warming my hands with a cup of coffee, across from an old german church whose bells began to peel at noon, sending the pigeons throughout the square into the air.

And so I experienced some quiet contemplation after all.

Then Marito’s cell phone rang.  It was Madremere…miffed that we had not yet returned.  It was 1:15pm.  She could have called Pazza’s cell, but Madremere played her cards well, knowing that Marito would take off like a shot and end up a block ahead of Pazza and I in his pace to placate Madremere.

As we tucked into yet another incredible meal, Madremere announced that she would be driving us into Germany and Luxembourg to see the sights.  Pazza rolled her eyes and protested.  Considering the number of times she has ridden shotgun on these trips with previous visitors, Pazza had no interest in joining us for our rambling roadtrip.  And so it was decided after much bally-hoo that Pazza would stay home and enjoy some time on her own while Madremere trucked Marito and I around the countryside…

…in her 1990 VW Golf…named, Peppermint.

It stalled out a couple of times, but we managed.

At one point in the trip, I asked Madremere to explain the difference of “belle” and “beau” to me because she was using them interchangeably.  In evenly enunciated French, Madremere explained that belle was feminine and beau was masculine.  “Par example, tu est beau et je suis belle”, she said with a sly grin in the rear view mirror.  And we laughed.  Needless to say, I told her that she was beautiful throughout the remainder of the weekend.

Three hours and three countries later, we returned home to Pazza.

And then the party began.

I had taken to my chair to read when Pazza came in and turned on Madremere’s stereo, bringing to life, a CD of Italian love songs.  Vacca  sacra!  Immediately Marito, Madremere, and Pazza began to belt out their unrequited love along with the crooner…who to me, sounded as though his foot was caught in a wine press, by the way he was howling.  The volume was cranked up, perhaps so that I would be able to hear the singer’s heart break on verse four.  It was Italian voodoo…I swear.  Madremere, Marito, and Pazza were taken over by some unseen force that compelled them to swoon and lament love lost.

And then they danced.

Madremere grabbed Marito and soon they were pivoting and swinging around the dining room table, backs held straight, heads tilted, far off looks in their eyes.  Ever seen Strictly Ballroom?  Well these two characters could have competed.  Pazza and I laughed our fool heads off.

The song ended and Pazza decided to change the CD.   Madremere went to the kitchen to gather dishes to set the table for dinner.  Marito waxed nostalgic for all things Italian…but then stopped mid-sentence as the first few beats of Pazza’s selection filled the room.

“Daddy Cool” by Boney M.

Before you could say “Nightflight To Venus”, Marito and Pazza were flailing about, hopped up on a retro groove.  Then they began to do the bump.  But given their general lack of coordination, it looked more like argumentative twins conjoined at the butt, wrestling to separate themselves.  I could hardly breathe I was laughing so hard.  But I managed to yell for Madremere to witness the madness.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear?...but a little Italian French lady cha-cha-cha-ing her way into the dining room bearing a load of plates.  Are you familiar with the Dance of the Seven Veils?  Well this turned out to be the Dance of the Eight Plates…as Madremere twirled and bopped her way around the table, depositing two plates at each setting as she went.

A week later, and I still chuckle to think about it.

After a phenomenal dinner that included homemade tortellini soup…(I simply took the tureen and put it in front of me, much to Madremere’s amusement and delight.)…we retired to the living room to talk, drink tea, and listen to Chevalier and Piaf and Dietrich croon quivering French love songs.

Bliss, I tell you.  Bliss.

Monday was a national holiday in France.  All Souls Day…a day when you go to your family graves and lay flowers in tribute.  Madremere was going to take us to the little village cemetery in Neufs Chefs to her parents’ graves, but sometime in the night, she changed her mind, let us sleep in, and instead,  invited three of her friends to join us for a traditional French fall afternoon meal (Pot au Feu) prior to our 5pm train.  Madremere asked me to pick the music for that meal.  I chose a bit of Bach, a dash of Vivaldi, and a soupcon of Copeland.  Pazza and Marito rolled their eyes and introduced me to the guests as the english foreigner.

Rested, full, and rather content, we crawled onto our train and glided towards Paris.  Pazza promptly fell asleep, Marito read his book, and I took stock of the weekend.

I visited two European countries, read one and a half books, added to my French vocabulary, and even managed to learn some Italian while I was at it.

Not bad for a three-day weekend.


Ella was right. It does sizzle.

I recently came upon some email dispatches I sent to friends and family while I was living in France.  Given the scorching weather forecast for the long weekend ahead, this particular piece seemed rather appropriate.

July 24, 2004

Having read Danté’s “The Inferno”, I have a much better understanding of the Paris Metro. 

You see, we’ve been “enjoying” a typical Parisian summer this past week.  16° in the morning and climbing to anywhere between 27° and 29° by the afternoon.  Likewise, once the sun sets, the temperature falls back down into the mid-teens for comfortable sleeping.  That’s all good, unless you have to trek clear across the city in mid-afternoon heat, in the bowels of the Metro system.

The Metro is a tangled web of tunnels and tracks for 13 subway routes and 4 rapid transit trains crisscrossing the city.  Needless to say, the tunnels are stacked deep underground and at some stations you spend the bulk of your time striding down wide staircases or catching your breath as you coast down escalators.

Now you’d think that the air would get cooler the further down you spiraled into the Metro system, but that’s not necessarily the case.  Sure the connecting corridors are breezy, but they simply funnel the warm air from one station to another as the trains shove their way through the tunnels.

During one particularly scorching Metro experience I stood watching a businessman, squashed in alongside of me, melt before my very eyes.  Holding flowers in one hand, and gripping a pole for balance with his other hand, he was unable to keep his glasses from slowly sliding down his nose.  His crisp navy suit began to droop on him like a rag.  His light blue shirt slowly turned a deeper sweaty hue.  And the beautiful bouquet of flowers in his hand appeared to wither as though it was the subject of some sort of freakish time-lapsed photography

Needless to say, last evening as I showered and prepared to attend une petite soirée at a friend’s apartment across town, I realized that it was an exercise in futility.  I would be a sweaty heap in the course of two, maybe three, Metro stations. 

And sure enough, not an hour later, I was dripping with sweat as I negotiated the maze of tunnels that connected my Metro line to the line on which my friend lives.  And as is often the case as one walks deeper into in the Parisian Metro, music began to travel on the warm air that blew past me.  Buskers.  A duo in fact.  An accordion and a tuba, playing a tango.  I couldn’t help it.  I laughed out loud and looked around me.  My fellow commuters and I looked as though we had been dancing the tango, if not the lambada, for hours, red-faced and glistening with sweat.

So, with a bit of a flourish, I yanked a flower out of the bouquet I had in hand for my friend, and clamped it between my teeth, strutting past the buskers in my best improvised solo tango, wiggling an eyebrow for effect. 

The tuba player couldn’t control his laughter and let out a little *BLAT*.  But the grinning accordion player kept the melody afloat and nodded deeply to me as I sailed by.



There is something to be said for the confidence-boosting power of wearing a pair of shoes that produce a confident clip or clomp as you walk in them.  A well-soled individual tends to walk a bit taller when their shoes sound strong against the sidewalk.

A week ago today, I was walking downtown, on my way to church, gussied up and trussed into a pair of shoes that make me feel good…from the feet up.  Pride does indeed goeth before a fall.  You see, if I goeth too long in these particular shoes, I tend to lose feeling in my feet, and losing feeling in one’s feet is not conducive to walking erect. 

In other words, if one were to film and replay at high-speed my progress through a day in which I wear this particular pair of shoes, I would appear somewhat like that diagram of the evolution of man …in reverse.  Needless to say, I only wear these shoes when I know I will be home before I transform into Neanderthal Man.  Though pumpkins and glass slippers are not involved, when it comes to wearing these shoes, I am somewhat of a Cinderfella.

All of that to say, I was lookin’ good and feelin’ good as I walked the block from the subway station to the church.  The sun was shining, a cool breeze was blowing, and the street was lined with provincial police officers, milling about in dress uniform.

We were a block away from the provincial legislature, and so I assumed that our province’s finest were in their finest for some sort of ceremonial function later that morning at the Legislature.

As I confidently clomped down the sidewalk, I was greeted with, “Good morning, sir” by every officer I passed.  Without fail, every officer acknowledged me and greeted me with unexpected respect.  I was startled the first time it happened, but I have to admit, I grew used to it, and eventually graduated my response from a simple nod to a reciprocal, “Good morning” as I completed the block.

By the time I stood at the intersection, waiting for the traffic light to change, I was feelin’ reeeally good.  My feet were screaming but I was deaf to their cries. 

I turned to my right to look towards the Legislature, grinning at my good fortune, when I saw him.  Standing just behind my right shoulder, clearly having walked the block behind me, decked out in gold braid and other decorative whatnots indicating his authority, stood one of the highest ranking police officials in the province.

I should have greeted him with an appropriate, “Good morning, sir”, but my feet were aching.    


product placement

Remember my friend, Thor?  My friend of twenty-five years who, a week ago, married the woman who makes him ridiculously happy?  Well, I failed to mention that Thor married the woman who is his equal and ideal in every way. 

It’s true.  She is.  Thor told me.  Well, truth be told, he described her fifteen years ago, long before he even met her. 

Their love is the undeniable proof of the power of advertising and the laws of attraction.

About fifteen years ago, Thor informed me that he had discovered the description of his ideal woman, that very morning, on a new canister of Edge Shave Gel.  So being the good and loyal friend that I am, I mentioned this in my toast to the bride last weekend. 

(Much laughter and blushing ensued.  I was thoroughly pleased.)

And then this past week, Thor unearthed the original email, sent in 1996, in which he enthusiastically shared his discovery and detailed the woman he had yet to meet.

…..Normal.  (“So far so good”, Thor said.)

…..Ultimate Closeness (“Getting better”, Thor said.)

…..Rustproof  Bottom  (“Never really considered it before, but I guess that’s a rather important feature”, Thor mused.)

…..May Explode When Heated  (I had forgotten the exploding bit, and had replaced it in my memory with “Non-Irritant”, which, by the way, also describes Thor’s lovely lady.)

And so, fifteen years after Thor discovered Edge Shave Gel, and a week after having married the woman so perfectly described thereupon, I raise my glass once again, to the woman who meets and exceeds the description of Thor’s ideal woman. 

P.S. I’m now a believer in the power of product placement. 


manners do matter

Earlier this week, I was walking from my office to a studio art class when a voice stopped me in my tracks.

If you are familiar with the brilliant television series, “The West Wing”, you have a sense of the way in which I flew out of my office not fifteen minutes earlier.  Rapid-fire dialogue with colleagues as I delegated responsibilities, confirmed priorities, and sorted schedules while tugging on my coat, slinging my supplies over my shoulder and heading for the door.  The energy did not subside as I hit the sidewalk.  With each stride I continued to organize the cluttered desk I had left behind and strategize a way to recover the time I would lose in the studio that afternoon.

I was impatient and completely preoccupied when a young voice interrupted my internal department meeting.

“Hey, Mister!”

I looked up to find a row of middle-school kids, clinging to their schoolyard fence ahead of me.  A blue dodge-ball bounced to a stop against the curb across the street from me.

“Hey, Mister!  Could you please get our ball for us?”

I pointed at the blue ball.

Heads nodded.

I gave a thumbs-up and crossed the street to retrieve the ball.

As I walked towards the schoolyard, ball in hand, a chorus of  “Throw it here!”  “Me! Throw it at me!” and “Over here!  Over here!” grew louder. 

I walked up to the fence, and reached over, handing the ball to the boy who had first called out to me.  “I think it should go to the polite kid who asked for my help”, I said.

The kid took the ball, thanked me, and then immediately turned to his buddies and said, “See!  Manners do matter!”

I walked on.  …at a more moderate pace.  In his eagerness to recover a dodge-ball, a kid remembered his manners.  In my frenetic dash out of the office, had I remembered mine?  



I knew Saturday was there, waiting for me, ready to pounce.  It read my Friday blog post, snickered, peered at me from under its bushy eyebrows, and grinned.  That unsettling, bratty, tickle-monster grin.  

Serves me right, I suppose, for lamenting my age and the passage of time.

This past Saturday, my friend of twenty-five years, married the woman who paints his face with a ridiculously contented grin.  A woman whose two beautiful toddling grandchildren call my friend, my school-daze chum, my contemporary, “Grandpa”.

Grandpa.  I ask you.

Okay, I knew that my my friend's bride had two bubbly grandchildren.  I had simply not considered how they might refer to my chum.   

I fully expected that if Thor (not his real name, though strangely, it suits him) and I ever raised families of our own, we would be Uncles to one another’s kids.  Y’know, the cool uncles who knew stuff and could get away with kidding and cajoling under smirking parental eyes.  But what am I supposed to do with this?  If my friend is a Grandpa, am I a Great-Uncle?  In which case, am I to let my eyebrows grow bushy and start carrying hard butterscotch candies in my pocket?

I shake my first at thee, Saturday.


that guy

I don’t want to be That Guy.  You know who I mean.  You’ve seen him around.  Deep-v t-shirts exposing chest-hair stubble.  Butt-ugly dark denim jeans with what appears to be white blanket-stitching on the back pockets.   Trucker caps spun too far to one side, appearing more idiotic than ironic.  Convinced that his style camouflages his age.  The human budgie, captivated by his own reflection, unaware he is staring into a carnival funhouse mirror.

But I also don’t want to be That Other Guy.  That Guy’s brother.  You’ve undoubtedly seem him around too.  Khakis.  Small-check or plaid collared shirt.  Sensible shoes.  Subtle fear of appearing too old and too young at the same time.  The Goldilocks of the GQ set.  He who craves ‘just right’.    

I don’t want to be That Guy or That Other Guy.  But here I am.  Wearing a golf-shirt, hoodie, khaki cargos, and Keens.  Next stop: trucker caps and bad ass jeans.

Okay, I admit it.  I turn 45 in six months.  And the very thought of turning 45 makes me feel as though I’m wearing a wool sweater…sickly warm and itchy. 

Its not that I have any regret or reservations about where I am in my life or the things I have accomplished or the things to which I have committed.  I like me.  We get along well.  It’s simply a matter of chronological dissonance.  

I am standing smack-dab between my experience as an undergrad living on student loans and my imaginings of life as a retired gent living on a fixed income.  And I don’t like it much.  It boggles my mind.  Or maybe that’s just the panic attack dizziness.  Either way, I’m not processing it well.

And so, in true extroverted introvert fashion, I will process my musings, meanderings and mental whatnots in the quiet of my interior world before posting them to this brand-spanking new blog for the world at large.  (I feel dizzy again.)

I have a loyal clutch of friends who have been encouraging me to write and publish for quite some time now.  And I have been resistant.  You see, I’m not interested in a vanity project.  I have no desire to document my culinary progression through a cook book.  I do not have a pet whose fascination with cardboard boxes requires daily photo-documentation. And I have no interest in cataloguing strangers’ street-wear style. 

Simply put, I turn 45 in six months and I don’t have a thing to wear. 


not much of anything

matter much is not much of anything right now.  but it will be.  its just a matter of time.  April 20, in fact.