Canlit– or some Canadian Women Writers

These are some books that I have read lately that have struck me. All of these writers write about women who are out of the normal lives that women were or are expected to lead. Two of them write about women who have left Canada to live in other countries. They resonated with me for that reason.

margaret atwood   the tent

Margaret Atwood is one of Canada’s most famous writers. I had to read her for a canlit class many years ago at university, which kind of made me not like to read her books. However, I was given a whole lot of them and so far have finished one called The Tent. In some of the stories, the girl is in another place and some of the stories are pretty fantastical. This collection was printed about ten years ago, when Atwood was older (and of course she is even older now!), so I could relate more to them now. The stories go in all directions, often starting with something rather mundane and going off in all directions at once, as Stephen Leacock once wrote. One thing she wrote that struck me was this:

–I only want to be like everyone else, I said.

–You’re not, though, was what he told me. You’re not like them.


mavis gallant     home truthMavis Gallant is another famous Canadian writer, though I don’t think I had read anything by her before. A collection of her short stories called Home Truths came my way recently. These stories were published from 1956 to 1981. Often the protagonist is a woman who is in another country. At the same time, like Atwood’s book, they refer back to ‘home’ in Canada, the nature and the mores of the time. Gallant was from Montreal, but lived most of her life in France. Her family was English-Canadian, which set them apart from the French Quebecois. And she grew up in my parents’ generation, when people were more socially separated. Many of her characters have come out of these social situations, but they take on their own character because they are in another place and time, struggling to be free but still tethered to where they came from.

isabel huggan     belongingBelonging    Home Away from Home is actually a memoir by Isabel Huggan. Surprisingly, I found it in Dallas Texas. She, like Atwood, is from Ontario. Unlike Atwood, she has spent most of her adult life in other countries, following her husband as he was posted to Kenya or the Philippines or France. They ended up retiring in France. She wrote about dealing with the language and the cultural ways there, as she had when she was living in other countries. She taught creative writing, so her writing is quite lyrical. I was struck by her returns ‘home’ to a small town called Elmira. It was home but not home. In France, she and her husband are obviously foreign, but they are also accepted by the locals in their village. I had experienced that in my ‘village’ of Galata in Istanbul as I too struggled with the language and the culture. Even though we foreigners were obviously not from there, we became one of the locals, different but accepted.

One thing that I noted was her attachment to little things– a shell, a stone, a small handmade article, for example– that she had carried with her to all these many places. I have done the same. Silly things that have no meaning to anyone else.

Any of these books on its own is interesting, but it was quite different to read them all in a row. It makes me feel a little more Canadian, though I will always be other.


Wordsmiths at Molly’s Cafe Theatre and Book Talks

Phew!  It’s a wordy day on my blog!  Here are more wordsmiths at Molly’s Cafe.

barbara nadel book talk

barbara nadel. she has written several mysteries set in istanbul


hugh pope wrote a fascinating book called Dining with Al Qaeda

ann mershon book talk

ann mershon and her audience. she wrote an excellent book about the back streets of the covered bazaar


hugh again


meghan wrote a young adult story about afghanistan


the tempest ladies did their tempest with cowboy wondering what the heck was going on. shirley verrette watching




eric wilcox’s play about oscar wilde in san francisco

Wordsmiths at Molly’s Cafe Part Two

So these are photos from the second cafe.

wild duff helpers

duff gets help from jeff kahrs, marita, ann mershon


adelaide bromfield reading





andy laraia 2nd

andy laraia from robert college

christopher sawyer laucanno

christopher sawyer laucanno from kadir has university. lia mccloskey listening

chris mel

christopher again with an attentive mel kenne


cliff endres — part of an appreciative audience

dapper jeff 2nd

jeff kahrs, a regular

derrick 2nd

derrick mattern, another regular

donny listeners

donny smith reading

donny smith adelaide listenrs

donny smith as part of a participatory reading. adelaide listening


donny again

duff 2nd

duff on a roll

jeff baykal rollins

jeff baykal rollins, another robert college reader

jennie toner

jennie toner

jihn jeff idil 2nd

listeners: john ash, jeff kahrs, idil

johanna hiding

marita, with helper johanna trying to hide

john ash apr 10 2010

john ash reading from one of his books. he particularly wrote about byzantine times

john eric kay mike gulen etc nov 09

another of john’s readings, with mike berg, mel kenne, kay and eric farber, gulen guler

julie 2nd apr 24

julie doxsee

kadir has

more kadir has readers– andrea

kadir has john trans

john was sort of a wild man, here with a turkish woman reading his work in turkish

lia 2nd

lia mccloskey reading from her graphic novel


lia and eric in the back room

linden horvath

linden horvath

maria goodbye

maria eliades, another regular. this was at her good-bye reading as she headed off to oxford

mc molly-s

i loved this poster! made by jeffrey baykal rollins

mel 2nd

mel kenne, a stalwart regular. patricia listening

mel john nov 6 10

mel and john read together several times

mel may 8 10

mel reading on his own from his new book

neil hav friend denmark

a danish poet whose wife is from greenland (the one and only person i have eve met from there). niels hav listening

neil hav friend

niels hav listening to his turkish poet friend

neils hav friend 2

another turkish poet. sorry i have lost the names


ozlem, from australia

patricia pruitt

patricia pruitt, from kadir has university

richard tillingast lia

richard tillinghast. he read a few times at the cafe

saliha paker books

saliha paker is a well known translator

richard julia tillinghast

richard and his daughter julia tillinghast reading together

sirin serin mel list

duff’s audience included serin, sirin, mel, jeff, marita, felicia

turkish rdrs mel

more turkish writiers

yasar johanna

ray rizzo

ray rizzo

Wordsmiths at Molly’s Cafe Part One

I was thinking about my own writing, which is nothing spectacular, and that got me to thinking about the many real wordsmiths who read at my cafe. This includes many poets, famous or not, some book authors, and some theatre performances. I want to thank them all for the inspiration and the honour of knowing them. Their photos follow in sort of chronological order. (I’m having trouble getting the photos inserted, so keep on reading the posts!)

At the first cafe

julieDEC 30 08 086

julie doxsee was the very first poet to read at my cafe.

cool man jeff 1st

jeff kahrs hamming it up


john ash

marita jeff jimmy

jeff introducing marita. she was one of many readers from robert college over the years

cliff trici 1st

trici venola explaining her pictures to cliff endres

duff 1st caf

duff’s poetry was very entertaining


edward foster is a very well known poet. photo by zafer

jake 1st

jake waiting his turn

Nedim the local drunk

cafe front

Nedim was intent on forgetting. Almost every day, if he had enough money, he got shit-faced blotto drunk and passed out. His nose was battered from having fallen on it many times. A few times he passed out on the street and the esnaf, business neighbours, joked about it but also helped him out. One day he was sitting on the stairs to my apartment building, which was across the street from the cafe. He passed out in a sitting position and the guys came out with their smart phones to take his photo. However, then he fell over and hit his head. First they picked him up by the legs in a sitting position and moved him beside the stairs where if he fell over again, he would not fall very far. Then one of the guys came along with a damp cloth to dab up the cut on his head. He was unconscious for all of this.

Another day he passed out on the stair to the door leading to the hotel rooms upstairs. At that time there were several people from Pakistan staying up there, in town to make a film. They were disgusted to see him there. I went to the hotel people to tell them they had to move him, but they just tried to wake him up, which was impossible. Finally a couple of men dragged him to in front of an unused door in the derelict building next door. As they dragged him, his jeans came down, showing his boxer shorts. I was alarmed, as I did not want to see any more, but they managed to get his jeans mostly pulled up. Again, he was unconscious for all of this.


When he was not drunk he helped the metal collector next door or the cafes on the other street. Often he would find things he thought I would buy– small carpets, bags of textiles, occasionally furniture. My favourite story about him is the evening that a group of women had gathered to visit with a foreign woman who had left Istanbul for Poland. I had seen Nedim carrying a big golden Ottoman-esque column with a curved tip. He went up the street and obviously was not able to sell it to anyone up there, so he came back to me, telling me it would look great beside the stairs. It was actually too big for that space, but I had him carry it down to the garden. The women thought it was very funny, laughing that I had just bought a huge penis. It certainly looked like it.IMG_0585

Some people criticized me for buying things from him because they said he would spend it on drink. They were right, but my not giving him money would not stop him from drinking.

When Nedim was not drunk, he was clean shaven and dressed in clean clothes. Since he got drunk every day, one would expect that he would be in a continual hangover, but it seemed the next day that he was ok until he started drinking and would start the cycle all over again.

At the same time, Nedim was one of the local men who protected me. One day, for example, a sort of dodgy man came into the cafe looking for work. Nedim had been next door at the metal collector’s and saw the man come in. He stood beside the door outside and kept an eye on the situation. Luckily I did not need him, as I had gotten pretty good at acting aggressively at these kinds of men, and sometimes women.

Sometimes when Nedim was drunk he would pick fights. Our street was narrow, so if a truck came down and did not move on, it literally stopped traffic. Occasionally this would annoy Nedim and he would yell at the driver. Other times I saw him strike out at men on the street that he had a beef with. In situations like this, again the esnaf would come out, try to calm things down, and drag Nedim away. One time he had passed out on the street and someone called an ambulance to take him away. When I asked them, they said they would take him away to dry out a bit and then let him go home.

I asked the metal collector where Nedim lived and he did not know. So I asked Nedim. It turned out that he lived with someone in a flat around the corner, conveniently close to the beer store. One day he told me that his sweetheart had died. I was surprised that he had a sweetheart. I imagine she drank a lot too, as she was run over.

Nedim was one of the most colourful of the people on my street. He was always polite to me and the others helped him by getting him to do some work or by taking care of him in his drunken stupors. I wonder what happened in his life to cause him to kill himself so slowly, but he was one of many I saw on a slow dance with death.

Snowbound in the snow belt


Actually, I am not really snowbound, but it sounds more exciting to say that. I have been house sitting for my sister and her husband while they escape to warm Mexico. Here I am, a few miles from the nearest store and unable to use the car because I do not have a drivers license. It makes me think about a lot of things related to being in the snow.  In fact, because I have been away from it so long, I look at it with different eyes than I would if I had lived my whole life in it.

It has been most of 40 years since I have lived in the snow belt. I grew up in snow but I grew unused to it. In my many years in Oregon, snow was unusual, as we usually had rain. In Istanbul, if the snow happened to hit the ground and stick, we knew it would be gone in a day or two. Here in the snow belt, we know it will be gone in a matter of months.

molly waving hello

lots of snow when i was a kid


still lots of snow








The other day I watched a couple of kids in the park. The boy was 10 or 12 years old and his little sister was about three. He would lie down in the snow and she would climb on him. Then he would pull her along in the snow. I remembered lying in the snow when I was a child, but then I was wearing snow pants and had a high tolerance for it. When I was a child, we were always told not to build snow tunnels because of the possibility of the tunnel collapsing and suffocating us. However, that did not prevent us from doing it. As I recall, our snow tunnels were fairly shallow and were more likely to fall in because of the thinness of the top, with little chance of suffocating us. We did get covered in cold snow, which at the time was exhilarating. We would also go skating almost every evening after dinner up at the park, just a few houses away. We girls would dazzle each other and later the boys with our gliding arabesques and little jumps. Sometimes we had to fight with the boys to make room on the ice for us as they were intent on taking over the rink to play hockey. I haven’t like hockey since… I remember the feel of ice skating, but it has been many many years since I last put on skates and I am unlikely to do it again.


skating at Toronto’s City Hall, probably one of the most famous rinks in Ontario

molly apr may 1951

molly in her pram– not in winter!









The conventional wisdom when I was a baby and toddler was that it was good for the infant to wrap her up well and put her in her pram outside the door for her nap. That way she would get fresh air. Now it would be considered negligence and the parents would be afraid that someone would steal the baby. I do see mothers and fathers taking their small children for walks on sleds or in strollers. Of course they are well bundled up and they are definitely getting fresh air.

I also remember going various places to go tobogganing or sledding. We did not like sleds so much because their narrow ridges would get caught in the snow and we would not go down the hill very well. Toboggans and then inner tubes were the way to go. As a kid, any hill would do. I was reminded of this as I watched kids of 6 to 8 years old shrieking with excitement as they slid down the hill in the park across the way. To an adult, the hill is not very high but to kids it is just right. They can slide down on their plastic toboggans without losing control, though I am sure it feels like they are going like the wind.

skiing - Copy

peggy and molly not skiing near montreal in the 60s


Ontario is not mountainous, but there are some places with high hills that over the years have been developed for skiing. However, that is one sport I never took up, though I tried a few times. It is too fast for me to go downhill and the first time I tried cross-country skiing I sprained my elbow, so that was off the list very quickly.


snow removal snow belt style


A few weeks ago my neighbours were outside shovelling the driveway just outside my livingroom window. They had just about finished when all of a sudden I heard a whoosh and realized that the snow from the roof of my building had let go of the roof and dumped onto the driveway, barely missing the 81 year old woman who had been working on the driveway with the younger neighbours. This was a mini avalanche, very common here. The neighbours all have cars, so they all have to prepare the cars well before they want to use them. They scrape the snow and ice off the windshield and turn the car on to warm up. Sometimes they scrape the windshield and make sure the wipers are turned up so they will function when they need them at the next use. Until recently I had forgotten that the defroster has to work very hard and often it is necessary to have a cloth to wipe off the inside of the windows.


This is the longest I have ever stayed in such a quiet space. There are no people around for most of the time. I did see one neighbour who had snowshoed to the island across the river. I can’t even see the homes of the other neighbours who live nearby. I hear the birds who are going after the sunflower seeds, the squirrels who sometimes chatter, and the river still running with icy shores. I also hear the highway traffic and trains, as well as the occasional small plane. But other than that, it is me and the cats– who have the good sense to mostly stay in.


it is unusual for the river to freeze all the way across


At my sister’s, when I walked out to get the mail, I realized how much snow has fallen or been blown onto the driveway since I got here. I also emptied the wood stove of ashes, dumped the kitchen compost, and took out the garbage and the recycling. These chores made me realize how much there is to do when there are more people here to create garbage and ashes. The path to the compost is precarious, so I stepped in the footprints that were already there. When I shovelled the snow off the deck and the front step, I discovered that there was ice under the snow, which was another warning to be careful where I step.

Today it is not snowing, but the wind blows the powdery snow from the trees, so sometimes it looks like there is a light blizzard. On snowy days there have been light fluffy snowflakes to hard driven snow. And it all piles up. When there is an accumulation of snow, sounds are muted. The snow seems to absorb sound. At the same time, when it is really cold, the sounds are different. As I walk, my footsteps squeak from the cold. Of course I can also hear the snow as it hits the branches of the trees, particularly when it is icy snow.

The other day I walked into the village. It is not very far, perhaps a mile or two. I had not walked it in the snow and was wondering how it would be. Just fine, though as I walked I was reminded of the brain freeze one gets from eating ice cream too fast. There was a bit of brain freeze when the wind blew right at me. The snow was cold enough to crunch and squeak, so I had that to keep me company. An occasional car would go by, with the driver often lifting a hand to wave at a neighbour.

As I walked, I thought about the far flung little pockets of homes that have existed here since Europeans first came. A few miles away there is a little dip in the road called Coopers Falls, where the Coopers built a mill and are still in the construction business. I have been through there a few times and have tried to imagine what it was like in the 1850s, when that little piece of home was started. The roads would have been difficult, corduroy roads of logs to cross the many parts of marshy wetland, to stony pieces crowning the bare Canadian Shield granite. In order to get supplies such as sugar and flour, the family would have had to take the wagon over these roads, assuming they were passable in those early times. The roads would have improved over time, but still it would have taken many hours to get as far as Orillia, for example, to stock up. Probably the trip was not made very often due to its difficulty. At the same time, the women would have canned, dried, and stored food for the winter. Now the roads are well maintained asphalt, but still these tiny settlements feel remote.

This month has been quite cold; as a result, there are many warnings to bundle up appropriately in order to avoid frostbite. Often when the weather is so cold, there are power outages, which, knock wood, I have not experienced. However, I look around here and see what I would do if that were to occur. There is a wood stove, though I would have to huddle near it to be warmed, as the fan that sends the heat into the living room works with electricity. The living room catches a good amount of sun, which warms up the room. Of course that sun is also bouncing off the vast expanses of white snow. There are a few candles around. If an outage were to occur at night, I have a comforter and a quilt on my bed, but I would probably grab as many quilts as I could find (and there are lots– my sister is a quilter) to huddle under. At night there would be no reading in bed and no television.

For now, I am lucky that I can sit in this lovely warm room, looking out at the beautiful river sparkling in the sun. Snow is beautiful, but I would rather contemplate it from inside.