Do you remember the suburbs?


Wednesday, September 28th 2015

I snapped these shots from the waiting room at the osteopath’s this morning. They offer a North East view of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, a suburb in Montreal’s West Island, where you find a pretty standard mix of commercial buildings, bungalows, split-levels homes, cottages, town houses, condos, and some apartment buildings.

Almost none of them are visible from this height; the trees have swallowed them up.

It struck me that our dominion over nature is a matter of perspective.



“Do you remember the suburbs and the plaintive flock of landscapes

The cypress trees projected their shadows under the moon

That night when as summer waned I listened

To a languorous bird forever wroth

And the eternal noise of a river wide and dark

(The Voyager)”
Pierre Albert-Birot, The Cubist Poets in Paris: An Anthology





No, not that HEMA!


I just found a link to a movie about HEMA. That may be perfectly straightforward to you, but in Quebec, a few days before Halloween, it needs clarifying, because hema is the Greek root for blood, and the organisation known as Canadian Blood Services elsewhere in Canada is named Héma-Québec here in my home province.

It’s also a Dutch discount retail chain. But I don’t mean that either. This Google-driven century is at risk of finding itself lost in translation (!).

The HEMA that caught my attention stands for Historical European Martial Arts, and the link I found is to a documentary film titled Back to the Source—Historical European Martial Arts.


Though it might seem unlikely and even funny if you had just met me, the martial arts, LOTR and D&D* culture (*Lord of the Rings and Dungeons&Dragons ), and even lightsabers have been part of my life for a long time, and just this year, I was introduced to stage combat in the British tradition—which, to the initiated, simply means authentic combat.

And that’s why I noticed it. A year ago, this would have meant nothing to me, but now, in my post-LAMDA life, I have a broader frame of reference and a better understanding of the reasons why this is serious business to so many.

HEMA, as explained in the film, is the painstaking reconstruction of European martial arts through the source material and its application through sparring. Its a fascinating mixture of erudition and actual combat.

The historical European martial arts include such diverse and disparate skills as Ancient Greek boxing, jousting, Le Jeu de la Hache, stick fighting, mastery of the spada da lato, dagger, and many many more, all of which are connected through history and geography, allowing the scholars, students and practitioners of HEMA to trace the lineage of their art from Antiquity to the present.

In the film, many HEMA scholars, practitioners and instructors (often all three at once) speak directly to the camera. As I looked and listened, I tried to imagine who these men and women might be. Unlike other martial artists whose skills have been passed down from generation to generation, the gargantuan task of HEMA scholars and fighters is to reverse engineer the source material. In this case, the proof of the pudding is in the fighting.


The movie presents HEMA devotees from all over the world. It seems to me that dedicating one’s self to the arduous uphill battle of resurrecting the myriad forms of martial arts that border extinction requires complex motivation.

In a short sequence early on, one instructor, who speaks with a slight Scandinavian accent, explains:

“This is the reason that people are interested in HEMA to begin with, I think. It’s that we live in modern times, and in modern times, we change everything all the time. There’s always the latest thing that you need: the new Iphone, whatever it is, and we do that by discarding everything that is old, in a way.


So when we’ve discarded that, we tend to feel a bit rootless and I think that is part of the reason why so many people are interested in HEMA, because there’s a link that ties us together with our ancestors, through these sources. You can read these manuscripts and old texts and hear the voices of old fencing masters.

And it is also a manifestation of a different type of society, with other values where honour and courage and so on are very important aspects of everyone’s life.“

I don’t know that I agree with him; his is a romanticized vision of the past and of a practice most often centred on killing and inflicting damage to an opponent in the most efficient way possible. But his passion for HEMA is an eloquent example of the foundational value of cumulative knowledge and tradition in cultures through time.

It also speaks to the paradoxical beauty and ugliness of war. While most of us are satisfied with wielding virtual swords in artificial cyber-worlds, the men and women of HEMA seek to understand the stark, ancestral reality of bone-crushing, flesh-slicing combat, life and death.

The mysterious attraction of sabre and broadswords, of codified combat and exacting, rigorous training is undeniable. Though I’ll never fall completely under its spell, I’m drawn by the dangerous beauty and the pure drama of it.


Words for October

My front yard, October 26th, 2015
My front yard,
October 26th, 2015


“There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it.“

Gustave Flaubert

Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”
Joss Whedon

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.“—Simone Weil 

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
James Baldwin


All my life I’ve wanted to see London. […] I wanted to see London the way old people want to see home before they die.”
Helene Hanff,The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

London – beautiful, immortal London – has never been a ‘city’ in the simplest sense of the word. It was, and is, a living, breathing thing, a stone leviathan that harbours secrets underneath its scales. It guards them covetously, hiding them deep within its body; only the mad or the worthy can find them.”
Samantha Shannon, The Mime Order

“Nothing is certain in London but expense.” –William Shenstone

Final week in “Christian’s London” Part 3: PORTOBELLO ROAD !!


Do you know the lyrics to “Portobello Road” from the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks?

I remembered the tune straight off, and the first couple of lines, but I had to look the rest up.

They proved to be absolutely true:

Portobello road, Portobello road
Street where the riches of ages are stowed.
Anything and everything a chap can unload
Is sold off the barrow in Portobello road.
                                                You’ll find what you want in the Portobello road …

Christian actually took me to Portobello Road twice: once on a week day, on a kind of reconnaissance mission (and a night out at The Electric Diner that I’ll never forget), and then again on a Saturday afternoon, when it transforms itself into a legendary street bazaar that stretches as far as the eye can see, over the heads of  hundreds and hundreds of happy, jabbering visitors, shoppers and gawkers.

September 27th Facebook post:

Christian took me once again to Portobello Road,  a place that is the best of London in its energy, its openness, it’s eccentricity, and most especially in the way that Londoners and visitors from around the world intermingle there with ferocious energy and spirit.

We shopped with success! We tried to take in every sight and sound and smell (as well as a few tastes). We felt part of something great!



In fact, Christian steered me through the roiling multicolored human river as though from the prow of a ship. I don’t remember ever feeling as delighted and safe in a crowd.

It was the best of times.


Final week in “Christian’s London” Part 2: CROWDS !!

Montrealers are lucky, I think, to live in a vibrant and diverse city that hasn’t yet grown so much that it has lost its equilibrium. Living in my home town, even on its busiest days, always feels manageable (except maybe if you’re sitting in a traffic jam and/or trying to cross a bridge!) .

A friend who sold her cottage here and moved to Toronto many years ago commented not long after: “More isn’t always better”.

In the crush of life in many modern cities, these words often ring true. But not in London. At least I never felt it. Not at fantastic Borough Market at lunchtime; not at Harrods on a busy shopping day; not in the West End on a Saturday night (though crowds flowed like a river through the streets); and not even on Portobello Road during Saturday’s open street market.

What I felt was an incomparable energy and exhilaration.

September 21st Facebook post about Harrods:

We went to Harrods this afternoon!
The Posh Palace!

Not being aware of the photographic etiquette in the place, I immediately whipped out my camera in the jewelry section, which didn’t go over very well with the firm (but polite) security guard.
(I did, however, manage to get shots of the Egyptian Room and of the DeBeers boutique: I’m still seeing spots)

The Egyptian Room, Harrods, London
The Egyptian Room,
Harrods, London

The rules at Harrods are: you can photograph any of the merchandise but cannot take photos of entire rooms (you could be casing the joint, I guess).
From then on, I asked permission.

Christian and I were only truly happy for those few minutes when we were purchasing three Harrods donuts and giant slices of chocolate fudge cake and Russian honey cake. We will test the cakes this evening.

Otherwise, well…poshness really isn’t our thing, and neither is bling.


On the day we were to visit Borough Market, and maybe to prepare me for the bustle that would soon follow, Christian first took me to a sanctuary in the heart of London: St-Dunstan’s in the East.

September 25th Facebook post:

IMG_1661 (…) We went to the Thames this afternoon, and Christian  started our day in the urban oasis of St-Dunstan’s in the East, a medieval Catholic church that survived everything but the bombing of London in WW II. Rather than rebuild, the city transformed its ruins into a beautiful enclosed garden in which to sit, read, eat, chat or ponder.


It was a stunnning way to begin my day in the heart of London.”


IMG_1662 IMG_1668

After this, I couldn’t have been more receptive to the hustle and bustle of Borough Market, where the action unfolds mostly outdoors, sheltered by an old overpass. Borough Market is about the commingling of the tastes and smells of regions, nations and their cultures. It’s about the pleasures of a human hive.

It was fantastic!

IMG_1690 IMG_1693


(Photos of Borough Market taken on September 25th 2015 by me)


Final week in “Christian’s London” Part One: OPEN SPACES

September 20th to 27th

Near Borough Market
Near Borough Market

With Christian’s year at LAMDA having drawn to a close, London opened up to us both, because now he could give me a proper introduction to the city that he’d been living in for a whole year.

Not the touristy London that one approaches with a checklist of monuments, historical sites and choice selfie backgrounds to capture on a smart phone, but Christian’s London, a far more personal, excentric, joyful, human, culturally rich, fluid, kinetic, spontaneous, complex and slightly cheaper (!!) city: one meant to be experienced.

Thanks to a hyper-efficient transit system that comes close to bending spacetime, every district of London feels within easy reach. With Christian, I also discovered that each destination is just an excuse for a long and lovely walk.

I also realized that London’s rain shuts on and off like a deranged sprinkler system, so if, for instance, your destination is the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, then you’re best to jump on the first day that promises three consecutive hours of dry weather.

First September 21st Facebook post:

Exterior stone wall at Kew Gardens
Exterior stone wall at Kew Gardens

Even the old stone outer wall at Kew Gardens is beautiful.
If only we could all remain so solid as we age…

After tea with scones and clotted cream, we went directly to the Treetop Walkway, which swayed and shivered underfoot.

Second Facebook post: 

If given the time though, I would have written an ode to the trees, because they were my favourites at Kew Gardens.

I saw strangely bent trees and a carbuncled ash, beautiful towering cedars that seemed to have stepped out of three-dimensional paintings. And then, there was the Lucombe Oak.

The Lucombe Oak, Kew Gardens
Christian beneath the Lucombe Oak, Kew Gardens

In Quebec (and other parts of Canada), most of the old oaks were cut down and used up.

When I found Kew Gardens’ giant oak, I just ran to it. I’d never seen anything like the gnarled, twisted, arthritic, jagged and beautiful old giant.

So many of the trees would feel right at home in Tolkien’s deep woods, in the company of Ents.

IMG_1432       IMG_1436

(all photographs were taken by me)

Day 8: From The Love Walk to the West End

Saturday, September 19th 2015

Morning Facebook post:


I think Christian and I are experiencing the after effects of yesterday’s wonderful graduation.

What I’m feeling is empathy. What he’s feeling is, I think, the impact of the first wave of finality, of the slow, inevitable dismantling of everything he built here and also the cumulative fatigue of a year lived flat out.

So we had a slow morning. But since then, we took a stroll to Fulham and stopped at the Love Walk (isn’t that a sweet name for a café?). I had the Full English Breakfast and Christian had the American Breakfast.

The American Breakfast
The American Breakfast
The full English breakfast
The full English breakfast


Soon, we’ll head off to the West End to see The Play that Goes Wrong!!

The Love Walk in Fulham, London

Final Facebook post:

A day that began on shaky legs ended with laughter and joy and THEATRE !!
Christian took me to see The Play that Goes Wrong, at the Duchess, in the West End, and I was reminded yet again (!) how miraculous live performance really is, and how comedy elevates the spirit.

But we also detoured earlier to the Primrose Bakery and afterwards, to the Angus Steakhouse (slightly posher than it sounds, but kind of obsessed with red and black motifs), where, in a fit of pique caused by the decor, Christian chose pork ribs and I chose a lamb shank.


The Primrose Bakery, London
The Primrose Bakery, London