Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Memoir of Love and Grief: The Bereavement Phase of a Marriage

Photo courtesy of an interview for the VIUPoints feature in a recent issue of Vancouver Island University's online magazine 

I want to say a few words about a very special book I've just finished, and I've decided that rather than attempt to review it, I'll try to explain why it means so much to me -- and also suggest why you might find it meaningful as well. The book is called  Minerva's Owl: The Bereavement Phase of My Marriage, and you'll find more information about it by clicking that link to the publisher's website, but perhaps you'll hold off for a few minutes and let me tell you why it matters to me.

Last week, I made the ferry trip over to my old stomping grounds, and I was lucky enough to squeeze in visits with four good friends. One of those visits was with my neighbour of twenty-plus years, an inspiring woman with whom I shared many treading-water chats over the years as we'd wade into the chilly Salish Sea from our beachfront homes.  Carol and her husband Mike (whose colleague I eventually became when I joined the local university's English Department) were still in the quaint little hexagonal cabin they'd bought as a getaway from their home in town when we began visiting the cedar cabin we'd bought next door.

Their daughter was already finished university by the time we settled in on the island, but Mike and Carol got to know our older two as they moved through university: Carol helped our oldest craft her application for grad school; both of them taught our second oldest in one of their classes. They watched our younger two move from childhood through adolescence and were wonderful friends and mentors to them through those years and beyond into their adulthood. I'm not sure the "Open-Door Policy" was official nor entirely Mike and Carol's idea, but my kids (and our Golden Retriever at the time) seemed to think so. (And who else would have thought to give an eleven-year-old boy a book of Shakespeare's insults and then encouraged the lively exchange of same, modeled with dramatic flair)?

In fact, when my son and daughter-in-law announced their engagement six winters ago, with plans to marry on our beach that August, I wondered if Mike might consider picking up a marriage commissioner's license; he would have been such a perfect Officiant. Instead, and with shocking speed, Mike fell ill, was diagnosed with cancer, and two months after my son shared his happy news, he sat beside me at our little island's memorial service for Mike, wiping away tears.

And Carol. Carol got through that day remarkably well, considering. She managed a few words, but the "celebration of Mike" was her concession, I think, to an island community that needed to let her know how much her husband had meant to us, that needed a place to mourn his loss. Really, it was too early for Carol, whose grief was still very raw. She and Mike had been married for 47 years, and their relationship was an inspiring one in the interest they still brought to conversations with each other, their collaborative (and regularly--and entertainingly--quibbling) erudition a delight to see and to be included in. Their beachfront home (renovated by now, as had ours been) smelled wonderfully of good food and the faintest hint of Carol's perfume and then the books. Books collected over half a century, but never left to collect dust. One or the other of them would regularly pause, mid-conversation, to hunt for this or that volume, then begin paging urgently in search of a particular corroborating quote,  a poem that needed to be read aloud.

So.  Carol, alone. . . that was tough for all of us to see, a friend deep in sorrow, a marker of Mike's absence. She watched my son and daughter-in-law's wedding from her own front deck, and I never told her that I'd dreamed of having Mike say the words that would join them together. But sometimes over tea or a glass of wine on her deck or at my dining table, or travelling on the small passenger ferry that took us into town or back, we talked about her loss, her adjustment, about my memory of Mike saying this or that (he loved to grumble about students who "didn't know how to spell their own names," his mock-rants at newfangled spellings of classic monikers), about her latest dream of him being with her, disappearing as she opened her eyes.

And I'd ask her if she was thinking about writing her way through this loss, as she'd written, years earlier, on being diagnosed with, and treated for, breast cancer, in a book that marvellously and inspiringly, folded in the material, physical spirituality of the labyrinth (She returned to write again about labyrinths in Questions for Ariadne: The Labyrinth and the End of Times.)

For the first year, understandably, she wasn't ready, nor the second. At first, the practical tasks. Emptying closets. Sorting accounts. Writing painful letters.  Responding to comforting ones. Then the decision to sell, and with it, the huge and hugely emotional task of winnowing. Boxes of books and of correspondence and memorabilia. Finding a home for Mike's papers in an institutional archive that would know their value and keep them available. So many lists, so much work. . .

But Carol is a writer, as was Mike, and gradually, it seems, words began to form on pages, on a computer screen. Guided by C.S. Lewis' claim in A Grief Observed that "Bereavement is not the truncation of married love but one of its regular phases--like the honeymoon," she's written of love and of grief in a manner both intensely personal, concrete, and particular, but also relevant and illuminating to all who have faced the loss of a loved one or to those of us who wonder how we might weather such a loss to come. Even for those of you who didn't know Mike, didn't see how he and Carol were as a couple, this slim volume might invoke tears. But it's also surprisingly funny, heart-warming, and it's infused with Carol's wisdom, her fascination with etymology, her wide reading.

She meditates, for example, on the dual meaning of "cleave." That a husband may cleave to his wife (and vice versa) in marriage, but that death can cleave the couple as an axe cleaves a log.  She marvels, with some wistfulness but also some awe, that she can see Mike again the way she did in their honeymoon years, that the distance and the longing she experiences in bereavement mean that she appreciates him from a fresh, if often painful, perspective.

And all of this meditating and marvelling is done in a sort of epistolary form: she addresses Mike directly throughout. What becomes very clear through this intimacy is that while we, the eavesdropping reader, note that Carol recovers herself, that she "carries on" with life, Mike is still and always with her.  We watch her find strength in herself to take on tasks that Mike had always looked after, see her picking up her social life, becoming involved again with community volunteer work, even travelling solo to Montreal, making the trip they'd done so often together.

Carol writes this so much more eloquently than I do, but here's the nub of the book for me and for anyone who worries about how they might cope after the death of a partner: She carries on solo as well as she does because Mike is still with her. Bereaved, she is still his wife; he is still her husband. She cleaves to him even after they have been cleft apart. She draws her strength for moving in the world without him from knowing how he loved her, seeing herself through his eyes, remembering his advice and his wisdom and his humour.

I sense myself on the verge of maudlin here, so I'll stop and transcribe these few words from a card I sent Carol last week: The book is wonderful -- I'm alwaysalready halfway through now and you're right -- there is much in it to alleviate the tears. Most of all, a great big love story, and then the lashings of humour, your examination of words, the literary references, the various geographies. It's very rich for such a small book. I marvel most at how much work it must have taken to rein in emotions while giving your reader enough detail to make your wisdom on bereavement convincing. Platitudes wouldn't work, obviously, but neither would overwhelming your reader with the raw personal. Managing to keep that tone, the intimacy of a letter to Mike, knowing we're reading over your shoulder, that must have been tough, technically and emotionally.

Let me close, now, with a few words from Carol, her answer to a question posed during this interview

Tell us about your book and what motivated you to write it. What message do you hope people will take from it?
I started writing about my bereavement for myself, not for publication, as a way of sorting out my thoughts and feelings about the terrible grief I was experiencing. It was good for me to write it. At first I felt vulnerable about sharing what was a deeply personal experience, but I became persuaded that it could be meaningful to others experiencing loss. A friend told me she thought the book was important not just for bereaved people but also for those who have not yet lost a beloved life partner as a meditation on paying attention and making sure to live hard and well together. I would be very pleased if that is so. The message I hope people will take from it is to pay attention to the time we have with the people we love.

Minerva's Owl: The Bereavement Phase of a Marriage is published by Oolichan Press, a small (well-respected) literary press here in BC. Their website does not have an online shop yet, although they suggest that if you're unable to find the book elsewhere, you can email and arrange to have them send you a copy. I've ordered a copy through Chapters/Indigo and I see it's available through Amazon as well.  My preference is always for an independent bookseller, who, if they haven't a title in stock, will often order it for you. . .

(This early post of mine features a number of Carol's earlier books.)

Monday, April 16, 2018

Bread-Making, Old-School, Artisan, and Beginner's Luck . . .

I asked my maternal grandmother once what her childhood Christmasses were like, whether, on the farm in a deep Manitoba cold just into the 20th century, she had received many, or any, gifts. Sometimes an orange, she said, a few walnuts, and one Christmas a child's baking set, the first time she remembered anything like a toy. She was twelve though, she scoffed, and she'd been taking her turn baking the family's bread for a few years by then.
 My mother used to bake bread as well, often mashing a boiled potato or two into the dough. She didn't try to supply all our bread, however,"store-bought" being more accessible than it had been for Grandma (although both mother and daughter raised large families who gobbled loaves at a tough-to-keep-up-with pace). And day-old almost affordable.
 My mother-in-law rarely bought a loaf. In fact, one of the conditions my father-in-law set on her resuming her teaching career (once their youngest was in school) was that he wouldn't have to eat "store-bought bread." Besides making sure that dinner was on the table when he got home from work each day, he also insisted that the family's bread all be made by his wife. I can almost understand why -- her bread was excellent. My husband misses it still. . .
So when I was home with small kids, I directed some domestic energy toward bread-baking (better that than vacuuming!). I followed a few recipes (in the 70s and 80s Laurel's Kitchen was big, and I also used a Mennonite cookbook More with Less; Anna Thomas's The Vegetarian Epicure books; Joy of Cooking), all similar enough in method to my mother's, my mother-in-law's, and my grandmother's. I remember the advice in Laurel's Kitchen to beat the water, yeast, and initial dump of flour mixture "until it sheets," so that the gluten was developed by mechanical action. And then the kneading. Not so bad if I was only making two loaves, but if I was working enough dough for four, I didn't need much more exercise for the day!!
Besides which, it was important to be attentive to how quickly the dough was rising, to allow it to gain enough volume before punching it down, but not at the risk of it over-proofing, of the yeast getting too exhausted to raise the dough for its final proof.
Although there was also the wryly sage advice I took from Laurel's Kitchen: if the bread didn't rise, I could always "slice it very thin and call it pumpernickel." I'm not going to claim we never ate a slice of faux pumpernickel back in the day. . . .

Still, I turned out a few hundred decent loaves over the years. Then life got busier and busier, and bread-making became a part of my history, yeast only used rarely to make up a batch of pizza dough, occasionally the brunch treat of cinnamon rolls warm and gooey from the oven. A Christmas gift of a bread-making machine brought that comforting scent of fresh bread back to our home a decade after the hand-kneading was merely a distant memory, and we enjoyed that novelty for a few years. But then even that practice lapsed.

Then I started noticing signs of a bread-making revival, even as the words "Gluten-Free" began to be heard. A few younger friends were tending new gardens and learning to knit . . . and making something called "artisan bread." Books were being published. Loaves proudly produced alongside soups. Techniques and temperatures and baking products being debated. And my husband, newly retired, decided to experiment.

He was impatient, at first, gradually learning that baking demanded slightly more precision than cooking. At first, I'd step in with suggestions, but I was quickly apprised of how irrelevant was the experience carried through the women of our families. This artisan bread-baking relied on a long, slow rise to develop the gluten -- there were no agonizing ten-to-twelve minutes of kneading, but rather a few, simple folds: bottom to top, side to side. . .  A few loaves in, and his were getting better and better-looking; more importantly, they tasted great and their texture was splendid!

And I was at least a little bit miffed.

But too busy to do much about it, certainly not ready to go back to my old bread-making ways simply to assert something about tradition and gender and domestic roles -- when, after all, I should be pleased my guy was happy to work and play in the kitchen.

By the time I retired and had more time for the kitchen myself, his artisan bread was reliably good although he wasn't especially reliable about making it with any predictably. Sometimes wishing for freshly baked bread to make a more solid meal out of a batch of soup, I came across a recipe for "Peasant Bread in a Bowl" which yields bread from the oven a mere 2 1/2 hours from start to finish. I've written about this bread before at least once -- it makes a guest-worthy, if simple, meal out of seafood chowder, and I know some of you have enjoyed making it in your own kitchens.

Meanwhile, as you know, besides bread-baking since my retirement, we've also moved and traveled and babysat, and somehow during all that time, Pater's abandoned his role as artisan baker. My son-in-law, however, has not only taken up the mantle (the apron, rather, I suppose), but has gone one better and cultivated his own sourdough starter, turning out beautifully formed loaves of fermented bread. At first, enviously and lazily, I tried to nudge Pater in that direction, but he doesn't love the idea of baby-sitting that jar of bubbling sludge. So I hemmed and hummed and hawed for a few months and then began hinting to Adam that I might want to try starting my own wild yeast,  and several weeks ago, he brought me two jars of the stuff, each a different specimen.

On his recommendation, I've been using this recipe so far, and I've just before writing this post pulled my fourth batch out of the oven. I've added a second brotform to the one our daughter gave Pater several years ago, that he never got round to using -- I love the rings of flour these decorate the loaves with, and the gently modified organic form they lend. (Those are my loaves in the photos above -- Pater did the pre-bake slashing that forms that petal-like design on the top, where the crust splits apart as the loaf expands, as steam escapes).

For this latest batch, still warm on the counter behind me, I folded in chopped walnuts, and I'm looking forward to experimenting more with different flours (so far I'm using 2 parts whole wheat to 8 parts unbleached white) and additions.  For the moment, I'm content with enjoying the tang of the sourdough -- and knowing that the tang signals easier digestion which results from the prolonged fermentation effected by the wild yeast.

Interesting to think back over a hundred years and think what a boon commercial yeast would have been to my grandmother's family. I wonder if they'd tried to maintain a starter yeast of their own before that, whether it was her mother or her grandmother who'd first heard of the new product and learned the new method of bread-baking that required kneading but assured a lighter bread, more quickly made. . .

I also wonder what the family's bakers of past generations, when baking bread was done out of necessity (by men and women -- my grandfather "batched" for years in his homestead; my mother-in-law's father, widowed early, baked and knit for his children, gender roles be damned) would have thought about the notion of bread-baking as a hobby. Artisan bread baking at that.

I'd love to know about your bread-baking history, or your family's. Have you baked bread yourself or did your parents or grandparents? If you have, what method and where or how did you learn it? Is it part of your regular domestic routine now or an occasional treat? Does your partner bake? Any thoughts on the gender roles that have kept men front and centre in commercial baking, women in the home kitchens? And that's probably enough questions to get this conversation going, don't you think? I'll look forward to your comments, comme d'hab. . . 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday Five: On Today's "To Do" List

On today's agenda:

1. Make two loaves of sourdough fermented bread -- make, not bake, as this recipe requires another 24-36 hours in the fridge after the loaves have been formed into their brotfrom baskets and before they go into an exceptionally hot Dutch oven in the oven.  We won't be slathering butter on fresh bread until mid-morning tomorrow. . .

2. A doctor's appointment. . . just crossing my fingers the waiting-room won't be full, and I can be back home quickly to "fold" my bread dough on schedule (don't worry: Pater will be baby-sitting it while I'm away).

3. A short run. I haven't managed a gym workout this week, which is unusual for me, but I've logged a fair number of kilometres walking. And last week, at my son's, I started back at the beginning of a simple program my physio made up over a year ago, for me to build up my running fitness again. I had to dial that right back, and then abandon it for several months, but I'm really missing something running gives me that so far nothing else does. I won't force it if it doesn't work, but I'm going to see what happens if I build back up with more rest days in between (more than a week, for example, since I ran at my son's).

4. Reading -- and perhaps working on a post for my reading blog. I've just finished a very moving and surprisingly entertaining memoir by my good friend and longtime neighbour Carol Matthews, Minerva's Owl: The Bereavement Phase of My Marriage. Carol's husband, Mike, died six years ago -- they'd been married 47 years, and she's been learning since to live with him and without him at once. More on this later. For now, I'm trying to decide which book to follow it with. The choice is between Edward St. Aubyn's At Last, the final volume in his Patrick Melrose series (I posted about the series here); Roz Chast's graphic memoir about the final years of her parents, Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant;  and the considerably lighter fare of Elly Griffiths' A Room Full of Bones, a Ruth Galloway mystery. Which would you choose?

5. Painting -- I started my watercolour classes yesterday, and brought home a sketch that needs much work. Foregrounds, backgrounds, wet-on-wet, wet-on-dry, mixing colours, choosing brushes, drawing in shapes to leave light, adding detail after this section dries, going back in after the next section dries to paint the negative space. . . so much to think about, but I also remind myself that I don't need to learn it all at once, that much of the knowledge, and any craft or skill I might acquire will arrive through the doing.

So I got this far, and then realized that if I didn't get out for that run, it wouldn't happen before my doctor's appointment, and if it didn't happen before my doctor's appointment, it wouldn't happen at all today.

By the time I got back from my run, I only had time enough to look after my bread dough before running out the door. Which means that as I write, I've already finished Items #1,#2, and #3, save shaping the dough into boules and letting it rest before popping those boules into the fridge until tomorrow morning. I've just brewed myself a cup of tea, and it's time to attack Task Number Four on today's list of Things To Do, and I'm leaning heavily toward indulging in a mystery novel this rainy day. Comfort is needed. . . 

Now, before I do anything else, even before I pour that tea, I'm going to ask you what's on your list today, and how you're tackling that? Have you built some comfort into your day, or is there no room at all? (Perhaps your blog-reading is comforting, and I hope you might find that here if you need it.) 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Colour in the City

 I've just had two wonderful days in the small city that was home for thirty years; I even went over to the little island where we lived, on a waterfront property, for over twenty years. I might tell you more about the excursion later, but for now I'll just say I had truly meaningful, fun visits with four good friends in two days, and I'm both replenished and exhausted at once. I feel I shouldn't be the latter, but I am, and I'm learning to accept that this can often be the case and accommodation must be made.

The exhaustion was probably a predictable outcome of following last week's baby-sitting gig so quickly with another jaunt, but I'd been feeling some considerable heaviness lately, really missing some aspects of my old life on the island even while I know this move was the right one.  To leaven the heaviness, I thought a dose of Visiting Good Friends might work. Compared calendars and took speedy advantage of a rapidly closing window of possible dates, and I can already tell that the remedy was an efficacious one. . .

But that wasn't the only prescription I wrote myself to leaven the heaviness.
I also assigned myself some increasing attention to the charms my new home offers. They can, it's true, get lost in the urban concrete, and they can be easier to find on a sunny day than on a grey one (and we've had so many of those lately, day after day after day. After day).
The charms occasionally mean adjusting the dials, especially if the eyes previously had the regular opportunity, each spring, to feast on a swarm of wild white fawn lilies spread under a canopy of trees a three-minute walk from my back door.

 But a scarlet jeep juxtaposed against a bright yellow and green building, the whole shouting out under a cloud-studded blue sky. . . and then moving past the jeep, seeing its scarlet accent replaced by a parade of pink cherry blossoms. Well! (the eye has to learn to frame differently, to perform little imaginary PhotoShop actions on grimy concrete walls, on chain link fencing). . .  well, that's not nothing. . .
Once I start paying attention, it gets easier and easier to find the mood-lifters, although I will admit that there are some days I still struggle (hence visits with friends as alternative therapy).  And besides lifting my mood, turns out I have a slew of photos accrued.  Not all involve riotous colour, but Vancouver needs this today, believe me. . .
And I do, as I prepare for an afternoon of crown preparation at the dentist.
There now. If that's not enough colour for you, Sue's posted on adding Yellow and Red to her wardrobe (yep, she's impatient for Spring as well). You might want to pop over there for a look. As for me, I'll be working on my calming deep breathing as I head for that big chair in the dental office. .

Sunday, April 8, 2018

What I Wore, Suddenly too Sombre For the Not-Yet-Spring. . .

Thanks so much for all the lovely comments congratulating us on our new grandson and welcoming him into the world.

It's been a while since I've pressed "Publish" on a What I Wore post, so I thought I might begin the week with a recap of March outfits as we wait for Spring to bring some sunshine and warmth.
I've been quite pleased with a comfortable, classic, and just ever-so-slightly, dare-I-hope, teeny-tiny-bit-edgy-or-street-or-something wardrobe that I've been rotating over the past few months. I'm wearing a smaller core of pieces I really like. Keeping it focussed, not worrying as much about variety as about consistently enjoying what I'm wearing.

And every once in a while, I think to take a few photos in a nearby mirror -- as in the one above, taken in our hotel room in Portland last month.

We had one delightfully sunny, almost warm day, but generally, this charming crosswalk captured the Pacific Northwest climate that Portland shares with Vancouver, BC, albeit generally several degrees warmer below the Oregon-Washington border. . .

I snapped another photo, delighted with this mirror in a charming shop where I bought a deadstock/vintage orange leather tote for $70. I've wondered at the purchase ever since -- the orange I'd read as Hermès orange in the shop seemed a bit too yellow once unpacked at home. But perhaps you can see why I succumbed. It appears that the wardrobe I've been relatively content with all winter is suddenly far too sombre, too stark, despite the addition of a printed scarf.

And yes, you're right, those Vince jeans with their wider, ankle-cropped legs are an uncompromising pant. But I can't help it. Despite their refusal to flatter, they please me, even when worn with the far too sensible sneakers. That hip-length cotton gabardine coat is years and years old, a Gap spring purchase once upon a time, and I love its shape, but can see here that it needs a slimmer silhouette below. Nor does wearing the bag at my hip make me look svelte.

Still, something to be said for an outfit in which each piece captures and expresses something of one's attitude, and in which each piece has a provenance that includes some time in one's own closet.

And really, each of the three outfits on this page is very well suited for the weather we've been having and seem fated to have for at least the next week or two. The photo below was taken at home a week or so ago, and although I probably wouldn't need to double up on sweater dress and wool coat this week (we're moving into the low teens, Celsius), I'd still feel comfortable in either (The wool coat was new this past winter, as was the sweater dress, but those low-heeled ankle boots were bought in Paris seven years ago. The M0851 bag was a Fall 2016 purchase. All of these pieces have been in heavy rotation this winter, and now into spring).

Spoiler alert, for those who might begin to sense where this post is heading: Yes, I bought a few lighter pieces in Portland. Unfortunately, there hasn't been any reason to take them out of their tissue-paper wrapping yet, but someday, surely, the sun will come out again, and the weather will warm enough to wear a navy-with-white-stars cotton button-front shirt; an olive-green linen popover with wonderfully ruffly sleeves; and a lighter olive-green linen dress, perfect for wearing poolside in Hvar or for lunch in Paris this summer or for grocery-shopping back home on Main Street. . . .

I probably should have unpacked one of those pieces and brought it along on our baby-sitting gig last week. Yesterday morning, as we were getting ready to leave my son and daughter-in-law's, our sweet Three looked at my very cool (at least, I thought so! ;-)) Tiger of Sweden, olive-gold velour top, and said, "Nana, are you wearing that again?" (okay, sure, it was the second wearing of the week, but it had been a few days. . . ), followed by, "Could you change into something different?" This from a girl who'd insisted on wearing her "jammy pants" to daycare one morning. (You pick your battles, as a baby-sitting Nana, just as much as you did as a Mom, and she promised that the next day she'd wear her "reg'lar pants.) . . .

So I'm thinking about injecting a bit of colour in deference to the spring, although it's not yet warm enough for lightweight cotton or linen.

And meanwhile, there's whimsy under the rain clouds. . . (excuse that bit of thumb in the left-hand corner. I was so annoyed when I noticed this, too late to go back for a retake).

What about you? Are you getting a bit restless with a wardrobe that seemed just right until one day it just wasn't? (Considerably chicer bloggers than I --my two favourite Susans! -- have recently written great posts on a related topic, that of elevating their off-duty wardrobes).  Or are you sensible enough to suspect that before too long we'll be wearying of the heat, worried about drought, fretting about exposing upper arms in constant heat. . . Ah, we're a fickle crew indeed.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Introducing. . .

 Our waiting is over. Sorry to have been coy in my earlier post the; story wasn't primarily mine to tell.  But Tuesday morning we had the privilege of bringing this Little Girl to the hospital to meet her baby brother, to see our son holding both of them, to reflect on how much he's changed since she was born, and to hug and congratulate our sweet daughter-in-law and listen to her birth story. (She's a hero, and her exclusion from the photos here is solely out of respect for her privacy.)
Little Brother, Mom, and Dad  are still in the hospital another couple of days, and we're loving our solo time with Big Sister (although I will admit that we're both glad she's in preschool daycare for a good chunk of each day -- she's a busy Girl!).

(And in case any of you ever read Russell and Lillian Hoban's A Baby Sister for Frances to an earlier generation and wonder if the antics of that little badger still hold a child's attention? I gave her the book on arrival Monday afternoon, and I've personally been asked to read it to her four times since then; once, I finished the last page and she asked me to read it again right then -- yes, I obliged. Her Granddad's read it to her at least three times, and her Mom read it to her once before heading to the hospital.)

So there's my news, and now I'd better go change the blog masthead -- six grandchildren now! 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

April Showers in Portland or Paris or Wherever You Want to Imagine Them . . .

 The Granddad (Pater) and I are doing some significant waiting today. Can't tell you more for the moment,  but I can share these photos I took in Portland last month (so yes, technically these were March showers, but that's not got the same connotations, and it's April now, so . . . )

 Something about that glaze of rainwater catching the intermittent flashes of sunshine, counterposed with the mustard-cheery lacework of those chairs. . .
 Something there, on the otherwise rather different-from-Paris sidewalks of Portland, whispered "Paris" to me. . . .

 Not that I don't already enjoy visiting Portland as Portland, but occasionally I like to inject a little Paris into wherever I am. . . .
 The changeable spring weather Portland was experiencing when we were there was Paris-congruous, and I could easily imagine that these sidewalk seats had been filled, moments earlier, by coffee drinkers and Gitane smokers and rosé sippers, all of whom had hurriedly called out their "l'addition, s'il vous plaît," left their Euros on the table and gone back to the shelter of their offices or opened their umbrellas for portable coverage as they window-shopped their way to les grands magasins or to the closest Métro station.

 We'll be dropping a lively Three off at her daycare in an hour or two, and then I might go looking for a little bit of Paris here, in an island city where I'm waiting.. .

I must say, though, that while the raindrops make for interesting photos, I'd just as soon do my Paris-fantasizing rain-free. . .
Seriously, though, I'm quite happy to be right where I am at the moment, and so was I in Portland not long ago. A little bit of playful Paris pretending never hurts, though, and if you're wanting a bit more, you might want to visit the latest Paris posting from a young woman who has followed her dream of an ex-pat life. The dream has become manifest, but with a twist (think of A Tale of Two Cities -- Erin's an ex-pat in London, not Paris, as she first planned). Lately, Erin's dedicated her energies to career, to the commuting required to maintain a long-distance marriage, and to some ferociously brave and thoughtful blogging about mental health, so the Paris postings have been terribly thin on the ground and I've missed them. But she posted one again the other day, and it's so well-written, so attentively and insightfully observed, and so honest about the gap between the expectations we have of a place and our experience when in it. . . Go visit, tell her I said "Hi!"

Back to my waiting now. Feel free to distract me, in the comments below. . . 
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