I really don’t know where the time goes. But I know it’s been a year since my last Book Club post. What the?!?!?! I’ve read a tonne, and these are my faves over the last little while.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This is an absolutely stunning novel spanning generations and continents. It starts in 18th century Ghana, with two half-sisters whose lives and descendants will forever be unknowingly connected. One sister is stolen and sent to America as a slave. The other is married off to a white British soldier and remains in Africa. The rest, as they say, is history. Like Roots before it, this is brilliant historical fiction – especially when you consider that this is a first novel!! And what a debut it is – a multi-generational family saga that is authentic, devastating and incredible.
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offil
I absolutely loved this poetic portrait of a woman coming to terms with her life as a mother, a wife and an artist. So much has been written about how to maintain artistic integrity – or even find the time to pursue your art/passion once you’ve become a parent. Especially for women. In this spare and eloquent book, Man meets Woman. They get married. Have a baby. Shit goes down. They need to work out their shit and she needs to work out her shit. The whole thing feels intensely personal and private, exhilarating and heartbreaking. It’s super short – literally and stylistically – and feels slight, but with the turning of each page, you become ever more immersed. Written in short vignettes, it’s nearly impossible to put down.
The Nest By Cynthia Sweeney
This novel hooked me from the very first page. If you think your family has problems…. This is a study of what money can – and can’t do. The time is drawing near for the four adult Plumb siblings to finally “redeem” their inheritance – only to find out it is gone. A story about a bunch of entitled adult babies may not be a draw but once you’re in, if the dysfunctional characters don’t intrigue you, the sense of schadenfreude certainly will. There has been a lot of talk about this book. Some call it praise, others call it hype. Ignore it all – and enjoy this compelling read right to the last page!
Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff
This was one of the most talked about books of 2015. Maybe because Obama named it the book of the year. It is a very dark book about a marriage, told from the points of view of the husband and the wife. Needless to say, it’s two books in one, with phenomenal twists and turns. Just when you think you know these characters…..BAM! It’s quite a ride. If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love this! Genius.
A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison
A mom writes a letter to her son, trying to explain her “small indiscretion”. Flashing back to her reckless youth in London, and back again to the seemingly idyll life as a married mom of three, this is a captivating story of a woman trying to come to terms with her past in order to save her future. Forgiveness, perfection and expectations all wrapped up in a spellbinding and sensitive novel… Loved, loved, loved.
Fifteen dogs by Andre Alexis
Two Greek gods walk into a downtown Toronto bar…Sounds like the start of a (lame) joke. But the premise of this book is a bet: would animals die happier if they possessed human consciousness? Endowing a pack of 15 dogs with human intelligence and language, the gods watch as the pack navigates life – and death. Heart-breaking, philosophical, and more than a little Animal Farm-ish, this Giller-winner is a quick and gripping read. And one that ensures you’ll never look at your dog – or anyone else’s – in quite the same way again….
The Expatriates: A novel by Janice Y.K. Lee
This is the compelling story of a group of Americans in Hong Kong. By turns juicy and heartbreaking, moving and cringey, this novel explores relationships and privilege among the expats. Three different women, their stories as interconnected as the community itself. One is devastated by loss, one is afraid of losing what she has, and one IS lost and trying to figure it all out. Total page-turner. A great read for summer – or any time!
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi
Young lovers in Nigeria. One stays. One leaves. This is (mostly) the story of an African woman in America. And it is awesome. A fabulous study of race and culture, leaving home and coming home, romance and love. And hair. This multi-prize winner is a truly exquisite book, soon to be made into a flick starring and produced by Lupita Nyong’o.
This is Happy by Camilla Gibb
This is impressive. Gibb’s memoir explores how we become who we are and what, if anything, can make us “happy”. In fact, there is a lot of misery… Childhood, adolescence, adulthood, relationships, parenthood – Camilla Gibb covers it all. This is one of those books that you want to copy and quote and remember. Poignant, sometimes brutal, always beautifully-written. Just gorgeous.
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
I’m a sucker for anything written by Isabel Allende. Always have been. So I felt like I had no choice but to read and enjoy The Japanese Lover. Was it my favourite of her books? No. But she is such a magnificent storyteller and this book is no exception. What begins as a story of an elderly woman and her caregiver soon takes us through the woman’s life: from escaping Nazis in Europe, and re-settling into a well-off San Fran family. From her secret relationship with her Japanese gardener to being torn apart, and reunited throughout their lives. This is a sweeping epic, tackling the juicy themes of loss, love and fate.
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
This one’s a total summer read. Former bandmates and BFF’s in college grow up, buy homes and become married neighbours in Brooklyn. When their kids get together they need to reflect on what their lives have become, what’s changed and what hasn’t. Hipsters having mid-life crises. A lot of people LOVED this book. Which is intriguing to watch but eventually becomes annoying. And yet….
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
I wanted to adore this book. A woman in her early-20’s moves to the Big Apple and lands a crappy job at a fabulous 5-star restaurant. The restaurant becomes her new home, its workers her new friends and family. As a fan of food and fiction I figured this would be the perfect marriage of both. But it wasn’t. The gossipy tone, and examination of the hierarchies within the restaurant world was compelling at first, but ultimately I found Tess, the protagonist, way too provincial. I kept waiting for her to grow up and become someone I cared about. But I’m still waiting….
The Girls by Emma Cline
I was scared to read this book. I thought it would be too Helter Skelter. And it might just be. I only started it the other day but I’m seduced. So far, it’s a coming of age story. Teen girls, suburbia, summer boredom. I’m riveted. But I know what’s coming so I’m hanging on and plowing right through!!!
July 7, 2016 1 Comment
We have a new rule in our house – if you’re not ready to leave when it’s time to go, you take the bus. Unless you’re 7 years old. Then you just get to school late. But for the 10.5 and 12 year old? Hop on the bus, Gus.
So far, we haven’t had to put said plan into action for the older boys. But that all changed last week when my middle guy could. not. get. out. of. bed. Just couldn’t. So I left him behind. When he called me at 8:28AM and told me he was ready to take the bus, I tried my best to be casual – and find him another lift to school. But no, he was ready, he said. He knew the way, he said. He’d be taking the bus.
So we went thought the route, step-by-step.
- Right at the end of our street to the bus stop.
- Ask driver for the stop by name.
- Look out the window for the school building.
- Call from the office when you get to school.
Simple, right? And, just in case, I emailed the school asking them to let me know when he arrived.
About 45 minutes of radio silence later I called my husband to see if he’d been home and seen our kid. He hadn’t. I was getting a bit worried. He wasn’t. I called the school. They too weren’t worried and presumed B had called me on his own. I explained that he didn’t have a cel phone. Ummmm….I was getting a little clammy… They reassured me that he must be at school since he hadn’t been marked absent. I asked them for visual confirmation and to call me back.
I was now sweating.
My phone rang from an unknown number a few minutes later. Sure enough, it was my boy, sobbing hysterically.
“Mommy!!! I’m lost” he wailed.
“Lost?? Where are you? Whose phone is this?” I demanded.
“I’m at a Starbucks. At Yonge and Lawrence”.
“Mommy’s coming!”I yelled, turning into Wonder Woman in my mind and hopping into my invisible plane/visible SUV.
For those local, let me explain:he was supposed to go a handful of stops down Bathurst. But was calling me from Yonge and Lawrence. This was not on the route. Not even close.
I sped over to pick him up, heart racing nearly as fast as my wheels. I parked illegally and ran into Starbucks. There he was, drinking a glass of water. He told me the baristas had been so nice – offering him cake pops and hot chocolate. When I went over to thank them, however, they glared at me as though I was the worst parent on the planet. “Guess that experiment didn’t work?” I joked, lamely. They were having none of it. Just judgey McJudging me and my parenting. I grabbed my child and slunk away under their icy stares.
As we drove back to school, B explained that he did, indeed get on the bus. And when he asked the driver for his stop, the man told him he’d “never heard of it”. And it all went south – and east – from there. You see, we’d forgotten that there was more than one bus! And the driver didn’t think to mention that to this 10 year old either. So as the bus turned left unexpectedly (for him), my son figured they were on a detour. And when they passed a local hockey arena, he figured he wasn’t that far off. But as it continued to chug along (down Chaplin, locals), he knew something was very, very wrong.
The bus pulled into the final stop: Davisville subway station. B piled off with the rest of the passengers. Most headed into the depths of the subway. Luckily, B did not. He spotted the Yonge Street sign and started started walking. And walking. And walking. Walking north, on the longest street in the world.
Rather than ask a stranger to use their phone (“they all looked like robbers”), he figured he’d find a safe place. Like a bank. And when he couldn’t find our bank, he went for second best: Starbucks. Not noticing the handful of Starbucks on the opposite side of the street, my boy walked from 2.1km. From Yonge and Davisville to Yonge and Craighurst. That’s the one across from Sporting Life, friends. A long, long walk away.
Every time I retell the story I get a little sweaty, share a bit of nervous laughter. But mostly I am grateful for what we all learned:
- No, he didn’t need a cel phone (or cash) because he figured it out.
- He’ll never be late again.
- He was way more resilient and street smart than we had pegged him.
- My guy really found himself by getting lost….
April 4, 2016 6 Comments
Remember the MOAM Book Club? It’s back! Get out your must-read lists, ‘cuz these books really should be on ’em….
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr
I read this Pulitzer-prize winning book pre-prize last summer. In one sitting. I couldn’t put it down, and neither will you. Set in the years leading up to WWII, it’s two stories which ultimately converge into one. A young blind girl who has learned to find her way via intricately carved cityscapes created by her father, ends up with one of France’s national treasures. A German orphan obsessed with building radios is forced to join the Hitler Youth where he reluctantly rises through the ranks. This is storytelling at its finest.
THE ORENDA by Joseph Boyden
And speaking of finest, this book is truly one of the greatest books I’ve read in years. Don’t let the subject matter (Iroquois vs Hurons, Jesuits, Canadiana) or size (512 pages) scare you off. Even if you’re not a historical fiction fan – and especially if you are – you will love love love this deep and haunting and devastating book…
MY BRILLIANT FRIEND / THE STORY OF A NEW NAME / THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY – by Elana Ferrante
Collectively known as The Neopolitan Novels, this trilogy has been gripping Italy for the past few years. Written under a pseudonymn, they tell the story of 2 friends growing up in the Sicily of the 1950’s. Through times turbulent and peaceful, rich and poor, what appear to be “women’s novels” are so much more than that. Capturing the periods in which the stories are set beautifully, Ferrante, whoever she – or he – may be, draws fantastic characters who you won’t soon forget. Best of all? The fourth (and final) book is being released in September. If you start now, you can pre-order it (I already did)
IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT – by Judy Blume
Growing up devouring the writing of Judy Blume was de rigeur for any of us growing up in the 70’s. Sure, we figured we outgrew her – but did we ever, really? With this latest novel, written for adults, she demonstrates that you can’t actually outgrow great writing. The woman really knows how to spin a yarn. Set in the New Jersey of the 50’s, 3 plane crashes proufoundly affect the lives of those living under the flight path. First loves, growing up, moving on….Judy Blume covers it all – and so damn well. She’s still got it. Always has, always will.
THE CHILDREN ACT – Ian McEwan
I adore Ian McEwan. Just love him. So it goes without saying that if you’re a fan of his, you’ll read this book!A judge must determine what is best for a child suffering from Leukemia – who also happens to be a Jehovah’s Witness. As she debates what is “right”, her own personal life is falling apart. Stunning. Gripping. Thought-provoking. Ian McEwan at his best.
ALL MY PUNY SORROWS by Miriam Toews
Heartbreaking, yet funny, and gorgeously written, the story of two sisters: one a brilliant but suicidal pianist, the other a hot mess trying to take care of those around her. Life and death, families and lovers, Toews gets into all of it. Loosely based on the author’s own experiences, the writing delves straight into the darkness yet somehow finds the light. A brave and beautiful award-winner.
WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas
This sprawling, ambitious saga marks the author’s debut. And what a grand entrance to the literary scene it is! Clocking it at 641 pages, it’s a big and meaty story of a family. Eileen is the daughter of Irish immigrants, and we follow her life as she grows up, gets married and has a family of her own. Mirroring life in America in the second half of the 20th century this is a poignant and stunningly observed piece of writing. There exists in the middle of this book a letter from a father to his son that had me bawling. If I read it on paper it would have been earmarked, underlined, highlighted or, possibly ripped out. Epic.
WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES by Karen Joy Fowler
I mention this book for those who confuse it with the one above. It’s another great read – though not on the same level as the Thomas novel. The family in this book is what some would call unconventional: Mother, father and three children. Except the youngest is a baby chimpanzee. Yes, you read that right. This is an intriguing and interesting take on a typical family that is anything but normal. Domestic terrorism, animal rights, family dynamics – this has it all. Super smart and very different. Well worth picking up.
BIG LITTLE LIES – Liane Moriarty
Set in the ‘burbs of Sydney, Australia, this is another domestic page-turner by the author of The Husband’s Secret. Characters and their stories are interwoven as the new single mom in town finds herself both ostracized and exalted after her son is accused of being a bully. This is the perfect summer read for those who enjoyed The Slap. Addictive!
DIRTY LOVE by Andre Dubus III
What does happily ever after mean? Does it exist? Or, like an elusive brass ring is it always moving a little further away, slightly out of reach? In this group of interlocking novellas, Dubus explores it all from the points of view of a cuckholded husband, a philandering bartender/poet, a young girl trying to escape a social media mistake, and a lonely overweight woman who wonders whether she’s failed to launch. Simple, smart and raw.
I DON’T HAVE A HAPPY PLACE by Kim Korson
I couldn’t leave this memoir/book of essays off my list. It’s biting and smart, filled with fab 70’s and 80’s references and I happen to enjoy anything evocative of my own childhood/adolescence/coming of age/adulthood. The fact that it was written by an old friend whose observations and crankiness always cracked me up? Well that’s just a bonus.
July 23, 2015 No Comments
More like….Previously Recorded in the Green Room…
But better late than never, right? RIGHT?
First up: The Judge.
Opening night movie. Starring the awesomely talented Robert Downey Jr. Guess what? Robert Downey Jr. was fabulous. Because he always is. Because he’s Robert Downey Jr. And he’s kind of perfect. Ladies of a certain age (OK, mine) go nuts for this guy. And who wouldn’t?!?
The movie? Not as nuts for that…There were some moments, to be sure, but it tried to be too many things to too many folks. I could’ve done without the courtroom action. Because taken as a family drama, The Judge was tender and touching and all those good things. But, alas, it’s billed as a courtroom drama. And while the performances were terrific the movie itself, sadly, was not.
Kristin Bell was there, supporting her man Dax Shepard. He was friendly, she was funny, they’re fantastic.
Friday night: Boychoir.
Prepubescent boys. Singing in a choir. Ree ree ree!!!
Some of you may know that I find the voices of soprano children singers to be amongst the world’s creepiest things. There’s something very Nazi-ish for me. Or Exorcist-y. The thought of those high voices singing in Latin or German or even in English…In a church……yikes!! However, Boychoir was about an 11-yr old boy, and I’m the mom of an 11-year-old boy, so….
What a thrill!
Movie-wise, the idea that these young singers are given the gift of a stunning classical voice that one day disappears is an intriguing one. Too bad that wasn’t the main crux of the plot. We’ve seen this story before. Duelling voices. Raw talent vs polished. Nothing groundbreaking. But the voices!!! Stunning! Forget about the movie, it’s the extraordinary voices. Astonishing. Mesmerizing. Not even remotely creepy.
(But hearing them without seeing their faces? Still gives me the wrong kind of chills.)
My mother, meanwhile, was thrilled too. Not just because her grandson was with her. But because of this:
Next up was Ruth & Alex, starring Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman. We gave it a miss. But not before THIS happened:
I had no clue that my kid was such a colossal Morgan Freeman fan. Oh, but he is! He spotted MF before anyone else. Pointed him out. Knew his flicks. And proceeded to chat it up with his new-found friend. Big time. While Mr Freeman was somewhat glacial to the gen pop in the green room, with my kid he was a total super star!
That really was the peak of my short-lived TIFF time. We bailed on Saturday night, returning for Sunday night’s World Premiere, This is Where I leave you.
I was disappointed. People loved it, I know, I know. Words were exchanged, on Facebook and off. In the streets and on the phone. It’s hard to adapt a beloved book from page to screen. And kudos to Jonathan Tropper for trying his best with his own brilliant book. Yeah, there were laughs. And the performances were terrific, but overall it kinda left me cold. Seeing it at TIFF, cast in tow, tends to lower the bar. I held this one up to high high standards so was bound to be disappointed. Cute. Not great.
BUT the ladies!!! Oh, the ladies in this flick. Tina Fey? Trying to figure out how to close a bag of candies into her tiny clutch made me love her even more.
Connie Britton? Wow wow and wow! She is spec-tac-u-lar. And not just because I love Nashville (it’s true! I do!). She was completely charming. And look at her! She’s 47. Forty-f&cking-seven!!!!
And then there’s Jane Fonda. A dame who works it. Works it well. She looked unreal. Ummmm… She probably is but it doesn’t matter because she totally pulls it off and looks gorgeous. When she walked in, she gave my mother the most magnificent bear hug! And then proceeded to walk right past her. So strange, yet so amusing…
The last film of the night was The Equalizer. Yeah – THAT Equalizer! I was a huge fan of the ’80’s TV series. I may have been too tired to stick around for the flick version but I was awake enough to check him out:
Aaaaad, this is where I leave you (I couldn’t resist). Too many kids + too many sports + Back-to-school = logistical nightmare. So this year’s TIFF green room goss is short. But hopefully sweet.
Happy tiff to all.
All but me.
Go team go!
September 9, 2014 No Comments
Summer! At last!
It feels like ages: since it’s been glorious, since I’ve written here, and since I’ve put up a Book Club post. I’ve been reading a lot. Have you? Anything I should add to my list? I’m always looking for a good read. And apparently, you are too. So,without further ado, I present the 2014 MOAM Summer Book Club. Enjoy!
THE GOOD LORD BIRD by James McBride
This award-winning novel tells the story of abolitionist John Brown through the eyes of a rescued slave. A rescued boy who, after being mistaken for a girl, maintains the charade. There’s a bit of a Twain-esque feeling to this book and if you like that sort of thing, you’ll love this. Even if you don’t, it’s a great read. Beautifully written, sometimes horrific and always engaging, this historical novel is no frothy beach read, but it’s well worth a look.
THE PARIS WIFE – Paula McCain
And speaking of Gatsby….F. Scott Fitzgerald makes an appearance in this book, one of many about Ernest Hemingway’s handful of wives. This novel is based on the life of wife #1, Hadley. She was the one in it at the very beginning of Hem’s literary life. The first wife. The romantic. The one who thought she could make it work with the hard-drinking, fast-living writer. She was wrong, of course. A bit of a train-wreck of a relationship, but of course you can’t look away…
AN INDISCRETION by Charles Dubow
A golden couple. NYC. The Hamptons. A young woman who infiltrates the family and their circle in every way. Gatsby-ish vibe, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a film in the works. One bad – really, really bad – choice sends the family reeling. And sent me reeling too. Talk about fall-out! This is a morality tail that both frustrated and saddened me, and stayed with me long after I finished it.
TRAINS & LOVERS by Alexander McCall Smith
I love a good traveler tale. This one’s set on a train, on the journey from Edinburgh to London. Four strangers get to chatting and next thing you know, they’re telling their life – and love – stories. Always easiest to do with strangers, right? Like four little novels in one, this is short and sweet and perfect for summer. Check your cynicism at the door and enjoy.
THE GROUP by Mary McCarthy
Set in the ’30’s, it follows a group of women – The Group – after they graduate from Vassar. It explores their lives, families, and jobs. Their marriages, affairs, and divorces. It’s sex, love and analysis – which would be de rigueur except for the fact that it was published in ’63 and was considered pretty rad at the time. And – escandalo! – it was even banned. Kind of like a smarty pants version of Rona Jaffe’s 70’s classic “Class Reunion”!
A FEW SECONDS OF RADIANT FILMSTRIP: A MEMOIR OF 7TH GRADE by Kevin Brockmeier
I couldn’t not read a book with this title. This first year of middle school aka Junior High is huge. Coming of age, evolution of friendships, I love this stuff! Great references, funny and sweet, anyone who has ever been 12 will relate, even in some very small way. Charming and lovely.
BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME by Jancee Dunn
The subtitle to this is “A Jersey Girl’s Unlikely Adventures Among the Absurdly Famous”. And that’s exactly what this is! Dunn is an unlikely candidate but somehow lands a dream job at Rolling Stone. With stints as a VJ, celebrity profiler and writer, she never thought she’d be rubbing shoulders with rock stars and film gods. But she does, and tells us all about it in a self-deprecating and hilarious memoir. I want more of her. And I want to be her friend!
THE HUSBAND’S SECRET – by Liane Moriarty
What if you found a letter addressed to you but only to be opened upon the death of your partner (who is very much alive)? And what if you opened it and found a terrible, horrible, very bad confession? Then what? That’s the premise of this seemingly cheesy yet riveting book. Perfect for summer, it’s a domestic drama set in Australia. Another possible movie-in-the-making I couldn’t put it down. And neither will you.
THE GOLDFINCH – by Donna Tartt
If you’re one of the 27 people who haven’t read this enormous Pulitzer Prize winner yet, what are you waiting for? Yes, it’s massive. But it’s infinitely readable. It’s also sparked a major debate amongst the literati of whether or not it is “Great Literature” or a glorified Young Adult fiction. Check it out and judge for yourself. I’m a fan.
July 11, 2014 No Comments
As many of you loyal readers know, I have just returned from Poland, where I participated in the March of the Living (MOL) from Auschwitz to Birkenau. The trip itself is a 2-part educational journey, from Poland to Israel. Originally designed for 17-year old students, there was so much interest that there is now an adult trip, as well as a young adult trip. For more information, click here.
A bit of background: I went to Prague for my 30th birthday, 16 long years ago. It was a magnificent city. And I hated it. For me, it was like the Epcot Center for dead Jews. We went to Terezin (Theresienstadt), a concentration camp masquerading as Jewish settlement, complete with gas chamber and crematorium. Thousands of people were murdered there and, after visiting the town/camp, I had no interest in seeing any others.
Until January 2014 when I attended an exhibit at the UN in NYC. Entitled “When you listen to a witness, you become a witness”, the event showcased photos from previous Marches, as well as testimony from survivors. As the survivors spoke it was impossible not to be moved to tears. I decided I wanted to join my parents on the March of Living, to travel to Poland and visit these places with people who survived the horrors. I wanted to bear witness, and hear the stories first-hand, before those who had survived were no longer alive to tell their stories.
As the departure date neared, I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth I was thinking. Why was I choosing a trip of tears? Why hadn’t I just booked a beach vacay? Friends and family were wishing me bon voyage with some trepidation – no one wanted to say “have fun” or, “enjoy”. It simply wasn’t that kind of trip. Was it?
The night before I left, my Man and I spent some time on-line, googling Poland and Warsaw and checking out what else there was to see, aside from death camps and cemeteries. Admittedly, I was nervous to go to a place where, in my mind, they hate Jews. First thing I learned was that, among all the Nazi-occupied countries in Europe, Poland was the least collaborative. In fact, of all of the “Righteous among the Nations”, the highest number came from Poland.
LOT Polish airways was phenomenal. The flight attendants were lovely and helpful and friendly. Was this a taste of the Poland to come? Turns out, it was. When my bag disappeared and I arrived in Warsaw without a change of clothes, I hit the local mall where the people I dealt with were nothing but nice. And normal. It was like being at Yorkdale, just a lot whiter. A lot. Being used to multi-culti Toronto, that was the one thing that stood out in Poland.
With the arrival of 3 busloads of Toronto-based Adults, our trip began in earnest. First stop were cemeteries in Lodz and Warsaw, with a visit to the Radegast train station memorial, the sight were thousands of Jews were deported from the Lodz ghetto to certain death.
It was a long day with tired, jet-lagged people and an overwhelming amount of gravestones.
With each stone, a story: LL Zamenhof, an opthamologist who created the international language of Esperanto; Marek Edelman, a commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising who survived, participated in the Warsaw Uprising and eventually died in Lodz in 2009, age 90; Janusz Korcak, the Dr Seuss/Dr Spock of the day, a famous educator and pediatrician, who ran an orphanage in the ghetto. When offered shelter on the Aryan side, as well as special treatment, he refused, sticking with “his” children – all the way to Treblinka where they were all murdered. The list goes on….At the Lodz cemetery, thousands of markers have been placed by Israeli soldiers to commemorate those who were killed. Each year, more are added to the growing field of memory.
Our brilliant tour guide, Mike Hollander, reminded us at every turn: for the Poles, the Holocaust was a Polish tragedy in which 6 million Poles died, half of them Jewish. This can be seen at the Treblinka memorial.
Treblinka, a death camp in which over 800,000 human beings were murdered was destroyed by the Nazis as they retreated. It is now a contemplative, beautiful memorial built by the Polish government as “a tragic monument of martyrdom”. Over 130 stones have been placed, each to commemorate the name of a town from which Jews were deported and killed.
One such town was Tykochin where, in the summer of 1941, 2000 Jewish men, women and children – half of the town’s population – were taken from their homes. Marched into the nearby Lupohowa Forest, they were forced to dig ditches before being shot. An entire town, obliterated in a matter of hours, buried in a handful of mass graves.
The synagogue still stands in Tykochin, a memorial to the town’s once thriving Jewish community. One of our accompanying survivors, Irving Eisner, led our group in a rousing sing-song in which it was impossible not to partake.
We spent a day wandering the rainy streets of Warsaw: the gorgeous and interactive Chopin museum; the Historic Centre of Warsaw, completely rebuilt after being destroyed by the Germans and now a UNESCO-heritage site; the New Museum of Jewish Life; memorials to the Ghetto uprising; Mila 18 – the bunker the heroes of the Warsaw ghetto uprising used as their headquarters. For those who’ve read the Leon Uris novel, it was a bit of a pilgrimage!
Next stop: Krakow. We visited the old Jewish quarter, the ghetto, and the pharmacy belonging to Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Catholic Pole who rescued many Jews and who bore witness to the abuse, deportation and death of many more. We did a drive by past Schindler’s factory and walked around the market square. Pope John Paul II was canonized that day, so the streets were packed with worshippers, revellers, and fans of the near-local priest who made it to the big time.
And then there was the day of the March. Max Eisen, the phenomenally wise and well-spoken survivor who accompanied our bus, walked us through Auschwitz, the camp where he survived while the remainder of his family was murdered.
Clothing of all sizes. Suitcases with the names of adults and children still chalked on them. Prosthetic limbs, canes and crutches. Eyeglasses and shoes. Several tonnes of human hair. All stolen from humans before and after their death, and now on display. Personally, I found it repulsive. I couldn’t bring myself to take photos of such things. Seeing the display cases filled with children’s items – from bonnets to toys to dolls – I lost it.
Outside, in between the barracks, were the holding areas for the Marchers. Placards representing over 10,000 people from 40 countries were lined up: Canada, US, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Panama, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Hungary, Austria, Germany, England, France, Israel and, of course, Poland were just some of the countries from which I saw people. Everyone wore matching blue windbreakers.
We began our march, from Auschwitz to Birkenau.
As far as the eye could see there were marchers in blue jackets. There was no beginning, no end. Poles lined the streets to watch and, contrary to rumours I’ve heard, there were absolutely no people throwing stones or yelling insults. Au contraire. There was nothing but love and humanity along the 3Km route.
Traditionally, the march is silent but where we were it was anything but. Israelis sang songs and survivors shared stories. School children from all over, Jews and non-Jews, all marched together in remembrance.
As we entered the gates of Birkenau, we walked along the train tracks. People placed markers in honour of those who had perished. I was walking on behalf of my friend Sue’s mom, Lynn Mumford, nee Lisl Lichtenstein. At age 7 she was sent to live in England. Her brother, Erich, was 12 or 13, too old to be a part of the UK-bound Kindertransport. He perished, along with the rest of the family.
Over a loudspeaker, a list of children who had been killed was being read. As people filled into the area, some took seats, some sat on grass, and some simply stood. There were performances, songs and speeches. Among the more memorable speakers were the President of Hungary, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the destruction of Hungarian Jewry; the grand-niece of Raoul Wallenberg who, using his diplomatic office, saved over 100,000 Jewish people before disappearing into the Soviet Gulag at the war’s end; the Head Sephardic Rabbi in NY who ran through a list of Sephardi communities that were decimated. Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, the former Head Rabbi in Israel, and Chilean philanthropist Leonardo Farkas also spoke. Finally, 6 survivors helped complete a Torah scroll that would be accompanying all future marches of the Living.
After such an emotional day, I was ready to go home. I wanted – needed – to be with my people. But we had a couple more stops to make.
First was Kielce, famous for the pogrom which killed 42 Jewish survivors after the war was over. There was also a beautifully touching memorial to the 45 Jewish children of Kielce who were marched into the cemetery and then executed by Nazis. Vile. The next day we joined many other groups in Lublin, an ancient site of Jewish learning in Poland. We visited the Yeshiva and then we made our way back to Warsaw via Madjanek.
This concentration camp, almost fully intact, is mere minutes from the city of Lublin. It was here where particularly sadistic and chilling stories were set. Barracks still stand, some filled with shoes, others with other remnants of Jewish life. And death. The camp is enormous. At its end, a mammoth stone monument representing the weight of memory covers a mountain of ashes of the victims collected by local civilians and preserved in an open-air mausoleum.
What an intensely moving and incredible week it was. That there could be so much humanity where one of history’s darkest moments took place is difficult to fathom. So many tears shed, yet many uplifting moments as well. I’ve brought home more hope and faith than I left with. For those thinking about making this difficult journey, I can’t urge you strongly enough to do it NOW, while there are still survivors left to share their stories. While the physical structures hold their own meanings, it’s the words and memories of the brave and incredible survivors who accompanied us and allowed us to bear witness that had the most impact. As Mike, our guide, reminded us countless times: it’s the presence of absence, and the absence of presence that leaves us with more questions than answers.
May 4, 2014 No Comments
New York City has made an appearance on this site before: and why not? Each visit brings its own tales of fun and excitement, with new places to go, new things to do and new things to eat… My last visit was built around a wedding in NJ and an exhibit at the UN. Making it a super-long weekend was a no-brainer.
First half was ladies’ night: all night. And all day from Friday-Monday. Then first-born son arrived Monday in time to hang out with the grandparents, uncle and extendo-clan. Getting there was super-cheap. Porter offered up a load of flights at $220 return. Including tax.
We traipsed through Soho, bee-lining it to my favourite shops Olive & Bette’s and Scoop. Both had badass sales, including $20 tables and The 50%-off-the-lowest-sale-price Sales. I blew my load within two hours.
But wait! There was more…. Despite warnings of “frigid” temperatures, walking through Nolita kept us warm. (Disclaimer: not only were we moving, we were popping into just about every cute spot with a remotely well-dressed window) Novelty shops were everywhere in the East Village. Cool cards, foldable hipster reading glasses, moustache lip balms and rock star cutout dolls a-plenty. All kinds of dollars spent on novelty gifts – for ourselves and our people. Head shops on Broadway, assorted West Village boutiques and even a quick shlep up to Bloomies and we’d exhausted our retail adventures. My son, however, didn’t exhaust his until a visit to Dylan’s Candy Bar a (where they had NONE of my childhood sweeties. I’m talking those uber-junkie day-glo marshmallow-ish bananas and strawberries) with a final stop at FAO Schwartz where we bought practically all the toys being demo’d…
Wandering the streetscapes was fun, but it was “Broadway Week” while we were there, complete with 2-for-1 tickets! Who knew? Erm….Not us. We kept seeing ads in cabs, but the only show we caught was Buyer & Cellar, set in the underground mall underneath Barbra Streisand’s house. That’s right. Funny one-man comedy (but funnier concept) . Off-b’way matinee’d, caught a flick, saw some friends. Hit the UN, the New Museum and the New Jersey Turnpike.
And then there was The Tenement Museum. This place was so cool I had to go twice – and I am not a museum person. But, alas, this is no regular museum. Home to thousands until it was boarded up in the 30’s, the building was opened up in the 80’s and essentially a time capsule was discovered. Since then, using years of research and census data, apartments have been restored and homes recreated. Tours through the building share the stories of the families who lived there. Interactive, personal, emotional: amazing.
Best thing about the weekend (company aside)? The food! We did our research so you don’t have to:
SnackSoho: Lovely little lunch spot. Room is tiny but portions are massive. Greek-ish and delish.
Café Gitane: get there by 10:30 because this joint is packed! At least the one on Mott St…. French with Morroccan flavours, fabulous coffee, great vibes, and awesome avocado on toast. Baked eggs are AOK too!
Dominique Ansel Bakery –Once I discovered this place, I didn’t bother going anywhere else. Home of the original Cronut, the lines are out the door. But if you skip the Cronut, you miss the queue too. Go for the pastries, stay for the coffee. And the homemade granola parfait. And do not miss the DKA – some sort of caramelized pastry thing. Addictive.
Empellon Cucina: Modern Mexican that’s still authentic. Their guacamole with 7 salsas (and some snazzy crisps) was incredible. Ditto the ceviche taco. And pineapple margaritas. (And the resto is way hipper than its website)
Red Farm: YUM!! I constantly crave this type of food. Yes, I still love the Pan Asian places. And seeing how packed this place is, I’m not alone. No reservations, but worth the wait. Crispy beef was insane. So was the pastrami egg roll. And the chicken dumplings.
Balaboosta: Hummous & pakoras & swiss chard spaghetti oh my! We wanted everything on this menu. Everything!!!! The “Israeli Street Fair” was just that: a full-on party on a plate. And the mortar ‘n pestle hummous kind of speaks for itself.
Also went to some classic spots with my 10-year old: Katz’s Deli, Smith & Wollensky, and Serendipity. He likes meat and fruit, chocolate and cookies. So these spots were good for a young, non-gourmando palate. They were about the experiences, not the food.
Only losers head to NYC mid-winter? Perhaps! But with cheap flights, reservations a-plenty, semi-private tours (and, apparently, 2-for-one shows) maybe it’s time to rethink your winter weekend getaway**.
**Or not. But despite the cold/snow/slush it wasn’t as bad as Toronto!
February 5, 2014 No Comments
“Sleighbells ring, are you listening….On the shelves, books are glistening.
Beaches or ski, Paper or “e”,
Reading in a Winter Wonderland……”
Road Ends – Mary Lawson
The third (unrelated) book by this author set in Ontario’s North, this one revolves around the supreme dysfunction of the Cartwright family. Set in the ’60’s, each chapter alternates between the eldest son, whose ambition and potential were thwarted after a local tragedy; the only daughter who “quits” being the caretaker of her ever-growing brood of siblings and heads to London; and their father, a victim of his own history who holes himself up in his office rather than dealing with his wife and children. Bleak and harsh like the landscape in which it’s set, it’s a perfect winter read.
The Rosie Project – Graeme Stinson
Socially awkward and statistically-inclined Professor Don Tillman has decided he is going to find a wife. And so, using a complicated list of criteria, he sets out to find the perfect woman. In the course of his project, he meets Rosie who is, of course, everything he is not looking for. This is a happy, feel-good and hilarious story. A movie in the making, if the rights haven’t been snapped up yet, it’s only a matter of time before they will be.
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
Devastating. Didion’s husband suffers a heart attack and dies as their daughter lies in a coma. It can’t get much worse than that, but Didion chronicles the days before and after in such a moving, tender and beautifully written way. Life changes in an instant. Reading this memoir and sharing someone else’s tragedy reinforces how lucky we are. We really are.
The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
Two brothers. Best friends in childhood who grow apart as they grow up. One becomes a revolutionary, the other an academic. Eventually, ideology and geography separate them. Their futures could not be more different and yet, are ultimately intertwined forever. Sounds dramatic, because it is. No spoilers here. Just read it and weep….
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra
This overwhelming and beautiful page-turner is, quite frankly, one of the best books I’ve read in years. Set in a broken Chechnya town, unforgettable characters take the readers on a poignant journey through a dark and brutal moment in history. Once you figure out who’s who – and please, stick with it until you do – you will be awed by this epic, magnificent novel. You may even want to read it again. I know I do.
The Woman Upstairs – Claire Messud
At 42 and single, third-grade teacher and amateur artist Nora feels like an invisible woman. I’m not single (or 42) but I could relate. At first. But when Nora meets a sophisticated, completely out-of-her world family, she becomes entrenched in their lives to an unhealthy extent. Obsession, betrayal, love, art: it all swirls together in this infinitely readable novel about an angry young woman and the choices she makes. Or doesn’t.
The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin
This one is completely out of character for me. I had to read it as part of a work assignment, but found myself turning back to it, quoting it and generally being unable to get it out of my head. Author Gretchen Rubin seemingly has it all. So why isn’t she happy….enough? Is anyone? So much about this book resonated with me – and still does, long after I’ve put it away. Part self-help guide, part pop-culture philosophy, I found it intriguing and have already pre-ordered the next book, “Happiness at Home”. If happiness is a choice that we’ve got to work for, I’m willing to give it a whirl!
Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – Sheila Weller
The title says it all. (Almost all. Could be subtitled: Plus James Taylor). This one’s love-or-loath. I read bits of this as an excerpt in Vanity fair years ago and was intrigued. With a movie version looming, I figured I’d better get to it before Taylor Swift (as Joni Mitchell!!) wrecks it for me. These 3 ladies had a profound effect on me throughout my adolescence (and beyond… but don’t tell anyone). I’m still mid-way though the book and, while it may not be the best-written of the lot, it’s compelling for this used-to-be-guitar-strumming, has-been-piano-playing campfire singer.
December 11, 2013 No Comments
I recently had the pleasure of taking a Delicious Dish cooking class with Occupational Therapist-turned-self-taught-chef, Carolyn Cohen. I’d heard about her classes for years and was intrigued, mostly because the menus were hoarded secrets. Sharing recipes was considered to be horribly bad form. Verboten? Forbidden fruit? I wanted in! After managing to coax a few tidbits from some willing rule-benders, I tried a couple of recipes.
And they were, indeed, delicious dishes.
It wasn’t long before I was on Carolyn’s email list. Schedules were listed, but menus were not. And while I debated whether to sign up, the classes would fill up and sell out within hours of being posted. Who was this Carolyn Cohen? And what was she serving?? Finally, a friend asked if I wanted to join a private group she was organizing and I jumped at the chance.
The class was designed to be healthy, family-friendly, good for entertaining, and gluten-free optional. I’m not so healthy, tho’ I try to start the week that way. My family rarely eats the masterpieces I cook, and I am nothing if not a glutton for gluten.
I was in.
A week before the event, the original organizer had to drop out, along with half the class. After a mad scramble to collect a minimum of ten bodies – ten $95 pre-paid bodies – we ended up with 13 and were rarin’ to go!
Carolyn called me to plan the menu. At her suggestion we swapped some of the original planned mains, and we agreed to go completely gluten-free. We had a celiac among us, as well as the founder of the Gluten-Free Garage. In fact, I’m honoured to have posted this piece as a guest-blogger on the GFG web-site. Click here to check it out. You’ll find loads of gluten-free ideas and information. And no, you don’t have to be gluten-free to check it out.
But I digress….
The night of our class, we descended upon Carolyn’s kitchen, where she commandeered 13 of the chattiest ladies in town. Pouring glasses of red, to go with the quinoa pizza bites she’d provided as a starter, Carolyn got right down to business.
She was a mountain of information both healthy and practical. Onion goggles to stop the waterworks. Kevlar gloves to prevent slicing off fingers. A list of suppliers and shops – and salts. Kitchen scales. Dough scoopers. Slicers. Pine nuts. Olive oil. She had it all covered.
We all laughed, learned and ate. A lot.
First up was quinoa with beets, radish and…wait for it….crispy Brussels sprouts. Anything with crispy Brussels sprouts and I’m in. But look how gorgeous this golden quinoa is with its beautiful Brussels sprout collar. Divine.
Kale is the roughage du jour. The king of green. It’s everywhere. Healthy and tasty as it may be, I’ve always preferred mine wilted and tossed into a stir fry or sauce (or ratatouille! Yum!). But this Southern Italian Kale Salad, a cousin of the one at Toronto eatery Gusto, was crazy good. Made with black kale and Parmesan, it was totally addictive. I easily could’ve downed the entire platter….
Chipotle Chicken burgers with Guacamame. These sliders were smoky goodness on a gluten-free bun. Spicy and beyond tasty and – get this – cooked under the broiler! Who knew? And that stunning bright green topper? It’s a dip! It’s a sauce! It’s NOT guacamole, but guacaMAME. Avocado + Edamame = one tasty topping. On anything. Or nothing!
My fave of the night was the Seared Tuna with Smoked Sea Salt, Sesame and Pepper crust. On a soy-maple glaze. This ain’t your gourmando’s ahi. It’s albacore! And it’s better, believe it or not. None of the gristle, all of the taste. And the glaze? Sublime! Instead of finishing it off on top, the seared tuna is sliced and sandwiched with a sliver of jalapeno before resting on a bed of glaze. Brilliant!!
And then there were the cookies: Granola cookies. Family-friendly, no doubt – if there are any left. Our crowd inhaled them, some of us even sneaking in extras. And by extras I mean thirds. OK, fourths. They taste neither gluten-free nor healthy, in the best possible way.
Carolyn has generously allowed me to break with protocol and publish a recipe! Allow me to present The Granola Cookie, by Delicious Dish. Resistance is futile.
From DELICIOUSDISH: THE GRANOLA COOKIE
“These are cookies that you can bake and not feel guilty about eating them
afterwards! Make them and enjoy them; delicious cookies just don’t get any
healthier!” Carolyn Cohen.
2 cups (8oz/225g) rolled oats, I like the large flake or old fashioned for these
1 cup (4½ oz/130 g) of brown rice flour (or any flour of your choice)
¾ cup (2 oz/55g) shredded unsweetened coconut
1 Tbs. cinnamon
¼ tsp. sea salt
¾ cup maple syrup
½ cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
½ cup small raisins or chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350°F or 325°F convection. Line several cookie sheets with parchment.
2. In a large bowl, combine, oats, flour, coconut, cinnamon and salt.
3. On a smaller bowl or measuring cup, stir together the maple syrup, oil and vanilla.
4. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until evenly combined.
5. Fold in walnuts, raisins or chocolate chips.
6. Using a soup spoon, scoop batter into mounds onto the prepared cookie sheet. You may need to form them into mounds with you fingers. They may appear as if they are not coming together, but they bake up great! Don’t worry about crowding the pan a little, they do not spread.
7. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Makes 3-4 dozen
Copyright 2013. May not be reproduced or used for commercial purposes without
permission of Delicious Dish/Carolyn Cohen.
For more info, contact Carolyn Cohen 416.200.3522 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Carolyn offers classes all year round, day or evening. Private or GenPop. Your kitchen or hers. Be warned – if you head to her place I might be the one loitering outside, looking for scraps…..
September 23, 2013 No Comments
Full confession: I’ve been more of a loiterer this year than a film-goer. I’m not sure what happened with the Gala screenings for 2013… Where was this year’s “Argo”? Or “King’s Speech”? How about the wonderfully random foreign film that may not get distributed but should? I think they hit up The Princess of Wales theatre. Or TIFF Bell Lightbox. Wherever they were, I’ll be seeing ’em in the regular theatres with the regular people.
Still, there is something to be said for ogling, right? Here are some shameless photo-ops!
I met Michael C Hall a couple of years ago, when no one else in the green room bothered chatting with him. He didn’t remember, but was still lovely.
He wasn’t here to discuss Dexter (sadly. Rita in the bathtub??!! The best!). He was here with Daniel Radcliffe for Kill Your Darlings. We were too hot ‘n bothered to stay for the flick but wee Mr Radcliffe’s fans were out in full force. They hung around the perimeter of Roy Thompson Hall in the crazy heat, waiting for a glimpse of Harry. Potter.
Look! Here he is!!
And then there’s Kurt Russell. Looking somewhat…erm..different but handsome. And very accommodating. Why, in my old age, am I getting him mixed up with Jeff Bridges? Weird, right? BTW – still love “Overboard”….
Despite skipping out on the movie, I had to acknowledge Jay Baruchel. “This is the End” was bloody brilliant!! We went opening night. I was probably the only person in the theatre who wasn’t stoned but was still laughing so hard I nearly peed. OK, I may have. Genius!! So I had to tell him. We stopped short of holding hands and jumping up and down with glee, but he was almost as excited about the acknowledgement as I was. Almost.
And then there were the back-to-back-to-back rom coms.
One was from India: A Random Desi Romance. Super long, full-on Bollywood, total cheese and lots of fun! We were late so no pics. But lots of gorgeous people in gorgeous outfits. Nuff said.
Next up: Canadian flick The Right Kind of Wrong. I was sort of dreading it – that title? Jason Stackhouse as the big star? Um…..But we watched and we laughed. You probably won’t, nor should you race out, but if you find yourself flipping channels or on an airplane, it’s cute. Or I have TIFF fever and can no longer tell good from bad. That’s very possible.
And for my personal final flick: The Love Punch. A Brit caper starring the beyond charming Peirce Brosnan and the spectacularly divine Emma Thompson, this one was sweet, clever and – at times – laugh out loud funny. Premise – retired divorced couple lose their pension to a business shark and plot a diamond heist to get it back – isn’t as good as the movie itself. The stars brought their A-game, bantering with fans, posing barefoot, being self-deprecating and witty and fun – maybe that’s why the audience went back shit for the film. It’s so much easier to enjoy a movie when its stars make you want to like it – because you like them, right?!
September 13, 2013 No Comments