Paying it forward

So this is my paying it forward story.

I needed to get new lenses for my glasses, so I went to Hambly’s downtown. They have been in business in Orillia for 30 some years. Mr. (Dr.?) Hambly was very attentive so I would get the lenses I wanted. $275. Gulp. I am a retired lady with a very limited budget, so I told him I would come in the following week to pay half and then the following month I would pay the rest and pick up the glasses then. Accordingly, I went in with $150, leaving $125 balance.

One day recently I was in Apple Annie’s downtown, where they sell old-fashioned candy. I was buying some fudge (my treat) and the kids in front of me had pooled their money to get some candy but did not have enough. I gave them 50 cents and asked the young girl if she knew what paying it forward meant. I explained and we were all happy.

That afternoon the guy from the glasses shop called to tell me my glasses were ready. I said I would be in when I got the rest of the money. He informed me that the balance had been paid. What?! I asked if he could tell me who it was but he said the person didn’t want me to know. I was flabbergasted.

However, there is a dilemma. One good friend and I exchange baked goods and occasional coffees or lunch. Is she my $125 friend? This is not my sister’s modus operandi. Beyond that, I have a few acquaintances only. I can’t ask either friend or sis if they were the mysterious donor, because if, say, my sister were not the one, she might then feel guilty for not thinking of it. (Or not, knowing my sister) I have told them about it, but neither has admitted to it.

I was telling someone about this and she asked if Mr. Hambly were sweet on me. Ewww! He is even older than me and I am certainly not interested in anyone being sweet on me. Perhaps he was doing his human wish to help out a retired person. Or not.

This is a sweet mystery to me. People can be very kind, and I appreciate the kindness involved.

PS I did ask my sister (nope) and then I asked the friend. She just ignored my question, so what do you think?


Teaching again

I was an English (as in a second language– or third or fourth) teacher for 25 years, but I had not taught in several years. However, recently I was substituting for a teacher who was not around to start his class. I was teaching again at a local university campus.

Beforehand, several people commented that it would be like riding a bicycle, but even that has changed and most of those people were not teachers. When I was teaching full time, I always had lesson plans and activities floating around my brain for those times when great activities weren’t or we had time to fill. I wondered if they would come back.

Planning a lesson is basically planning some hours of mental activity to help students get this frustrating but necessary language. It is sort of like taking care of kids. What shall we do now? I was not sure if my estimates of time would work anymore or how much we would use the textbook that they actually did not have.

It has been interesting. I always love the students and over the years there have been few that I did not like (usually those who thought they knew English grammar better than me, a mere woman). In this class there were seven Mexican students on a special program and one Chinese student who was born in Canada but was almost immediately taken back to Hong Kong. I spent the most time with her because three afternoons out of four it was only me and her. We talked a lot and I tried to help her fix her pronunciation and give her strategies for dealing with the language.

The thing I had not remembered about teaching is how it is always in my head. I think about things we can do in class, the problems the students have with the language, how to organize the class, something challenging for them to do. The class does not stop at the appointed hour– I take it with me.

I enjoy teaching and I like the students. However, having been retired for a few years after a lifetime of working very hard, I can say that I don’t like working. I don’t like having to be up at a certain time and on the road at another one. I always have two bags with me, one for me and one for the class. I have to dress better than when I go downtown and certainly better than when I stay home. For more than twenty-five years I spent many hours in class and outside of class thinking about lessons and students. As program and school director, of course I spent times thinking about curriculum and assessment and how to direct teachers. I left that all behind when I had my cafe, and then I left the cafe behind (literally). This program is rather ethereal, to say the least, and I find myself thinking of all sorts of way to help improve it. But – nope nope nope.

Now I remember what teaching was all about. I am glad to dip my toe in it again, but I sure do not want to do it full time. I love seeing these young people ready to open their individual oysters of life, but I don’t have to be a large part of it. Teaching is a wonderful profession, but I am now a retired lady and am happy to have my time to myself.

Old Books: Louisa May Alcott, Prester John, Baron Munchausen


Here are three more quite old books that I have recently read. I will put them in my space at Carousel and I hope the next person will enjoy them. A lot of people pass by old books and don’t actually read them because they are old. They look interesting on shelves and some are cut up and made into arty décor. However, some of the books I have around were hits in the day and of course some become classics, often because they were used in school. For example, this copy of Prester John was No. 54 in the Teaching of English Series.

I had heard vaguely of Prester John and then after I had read it, I saw a reference to it in Baron Munchausen. It was the grand adventure of a young Scots boy who travelled to South Africa to run a store. While in Scotland he had seen an African man preach in the church but then that night he and his buddies saw the same preacher practicing what seemed to be a tribal rite on the seaside. He meets the same man in South Africa and in fact is caught up in the tribal revolt led by Laputa. This great big black man was trying to restore the various tribes under the aegis of Prester John, a sort of Christian king of Ethiopia in the 16th century. At any rate, our protagonist, David Crawfurd, got in and out of many physical and psychological scrapes in a thrilling tale. It was written in a very readable way and I appreciated that the author, John Buchan, Lord Tweedemuir, was not condescending to the various characters. This book was first published in this series in 1927 and this current edition was the 1944 one.

IMG_3356Recently I came across Recollections of my Childhood Days by Louisa M. Alcott. I happened to also come across a PBS film about Alcott, so watched it after I had finished this book. I had no idea she was so prolific and I hadn’t known much about her family life, truthfully. She was a very strong and interesting person. At any rate, this book is mostly childhood stories, but she starts off writing about her own real childhood. The stories have morals, of course, and are a little insipid, as was the style then, but I really enjoyed her prelude. This little book was published in 1890, so I hope lots of little children have read it.

Finally, the Baron Munchausen. I had heard of the Baron, in the context of him being a liar. I can’t imagine why. This book starts off with him being threatened on either side by a lion and a crocodile. As the lion is about to pounce and the crocodile, mouth open, is about to engulf him, the Baron falls to the ground in uncharacteristic fear, so the lion jumps into the crocodile’s mouth. The book is also illustrated with the heroic Baron’s deeds, such as jumping into an attacking wolf’s mouth and pulling him inside out. I am not sure when this volume was printed, but the introduction states that the original was published in 1793 or 96. The writer of the introduction identifies the ‘real’ writer and says that he got the stories from other cultures. Regardless, I found myself laughing out loud at some of the adventures because they were so unbelievable. In the second part of the book evidently there is some satire, but since I am not very familiar with the history of the time, I didn’t really get most of it, though what the elite and the governments were doing back them were probably not so different from what they do now in their ingrown ways. It was very nice to meet Baron Munchausen after all this time and I highly recommend the book.



My Galata tea garden

I am missing the good days of Istanbul.


Actually, it isn’t mine, but I am a regular there.  There is no other tea garden like it, for it is at the base of the 12th century Galata Tower.  I have been going there for more than eight years, since I started looking for and finding several places in the neighbourhood. Now I am part of the neighbourhood and often sit in the tea garden to watch the locals and the tourists.

The tea garden has been there for more than 50 years.  For many of those years it was a place for men to drink tea and play tavla (backgammon), okey (a game with tiles), or cards on green felt covered tables.  This is still a neighbourhood, so the men still do that.  However, more often than not, they are joined by newer regulars and tourists.  Sometimes in winter, I am the only woman in there, but they pretty much ignore me.  They know who I am.  Unfortunately, a few years ago, they took out the wood stove and put in natural gas heating, so the inside lost some of its character, though now even people in the corners will be warm.

Most of the year, however, the outside tea garden is where people sit.  The wooden tables and chairs (they used to be plastic, but were replaced a few years ago) are under a grape arbour and we can watch the greening, flowering, and fruiting of the vine.  Even the lights look like bunches of grapes, which would probably be tacky anywhere else.  There is a walled garden along one side, with an old marble sink on the ground for the cats to drink water from.  The rest of the tea garden opens up  to Galata Meydan, a bricked and tiled open square (actually it’s sort of lopsided round).  There are lots of places to sit, on the benches or on the seated planters.  I sit in the tea garden and look at the people in the square.  The tourists are obvious, with their open books or maps and the bewildered or determined look on their faces.  I try to guess where they are from.  The Arabs are obvious, as the women are usually wearing at least a black headscarf. For the others, I have to hear the language to guess their origin.

There are other newish local regulars besides me.  Ismet and Nuri are artists and have their studios in Galata, though neither of them live there.  John is a respected poet and travel writer.  Mel is a professor and a writer. There are several other artists, writers, photographers, and architects now in the area.

The tea garden  itself is open to the flow of people that come through the square.  The garson has mastered tea garden basics in several languages and exchanges at least pleasantries with the Turks.  He greets me by name whenever I come, though I forgot his and am embarrassed to ask again.  Other cayci (ch-eye-ji) have come and gone, but he has been there for several years.  It requires a lot of running and a lot of tea to make money there.

In fact, at the tea garden, you can’t get much to eat.  There is tea, nescafe, Turkish coffee, soda (bubbly water), or maybe fruit juice.  A few years ago they added tost (grilled cheese sandwiches) and hamburgers. They sell a lot of tea and coffee, so even though they are not expensive, the volume during the season is certainly high.

On nice Sundays, the square is full of people and the tea garden is busy.  Some people buy borek, a savoury pastry, or sweet pastries elsewhere and eat them with their tea.  They read the paper and probably smoke.  Others, like me, drink tea and smoke and watch the people.  Still others sit in pairs and groups, intent on their conversations.  On spring and fall days some places are in the sun and in the summer tea drinkers can take shade under the bower.

img615 - CopyIt is amazing to sit and know that the tower that I am just a few meters away from has been solidly standing there for centuries, since 1348.  It used to be a fire observation tower, among other things. Some years ago I met an old man who had been a firefighter and knew the tower well. Supposedly in 1632 Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi flew from the Galata Tower to Uskudar, 6 kilometers away on the Asian side. I found the inside of the tower disappointing, actually.  You walk up the marble stairs through the door, and find yourself in an elevator lobby that is also a gift shop. You have to take the elevator up, as people are not allowed to use the stairs.  Upstairs there is a sort of tacky entertainment restaurant that probably looks better in dimmed lights at night and full of tourists.  Upstairs from that is an uninteresting café.  However, then it is up to the outside walkway.  From there you have a fabulous view of the old city, including Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque, and across to the Asian side and the Princes Islands. It is well worth going up there for that, but I have to say that I particularly like to look down at my neighbourhood. Then it is back to the tea garden.

Travelling in the past

I brought home quite a few old books from Jean’s with the intention of using them to make a bookcase.  Most of them belonged to her first husband who actually did travel for a year or so back in the 40s and evidently liked to read about it.  Some of the books actually looked interesting and so I read them.   Read all about them here…


No Other Cono other countryuntry     Al Purdy

Al Purdy was a well-known poet who loved his country. This book was published in 1977, so it provides a look at not only Canada of almost 40 years ago, but also Canada of his youth as he travelled around the country in the 30s.

And indeed he did travel. He left home as a teenager and started to hop trains, the main mode of transportation for men (usually) without money at the time. After all, it was the depression and I think of it akin to how in the 70s it was hippies (including yours truly) who followed the transportation trend of the time.

Purdy did all sorts of what we would call menial work, but it is the people he describes that is most interesting. Even when he could live on his writing, he, often with his wife, travelled by ship, train, plane, or car all across this huge country. For example, one year he spent some time in a small Newfoundland fishing village, describing the people (and the food– breaded cod tongues, mmm), especially the old grizzled guys. He recognized, as did they, that the life of a fisherman would probably die with them, as the young people were leaving. This was often a theme in even more populous areas. The grizzled guys talked about the old life, not necessarily with nostalgia, as they understood what a hard life it was.

At one point, Purdy talked about how, seeing a particularly beautiful place in British Columbia, he exclaimed to his wife that they should buy a place there. Down the road, he again exclaimed that they should buy a place there. But he understood that travelling to a place already gives you a sense of ownership because you have it in your memories. Beyond that you cannot usually buy a place everywhere you see. That rang a chord with me, as I sort of owned my place in Istanbul, but ultimately I could not take it with me.

Purdy also writes about some of the other writers and poets he knew, some names I recall from that time– Irving Layton (a shocking ‘red’), Milton Acorn. He tells of their parties and their support (or not) of each other, their critiques and their flaws.

I know that the land has not changed that much from when he was covering this country from sea to sea to sea. He went to places that are so remote that they are probably much the same. It gives some insight into why Canadians are the way they are, because they are affected by the land they grow up in– the Canadian Shield, the prairies, the rugged coasts, the Arctic. It makes me want to see more of this country and it certainly makes me appreciate this land more after not being in it for several decades.

Because Purdy was a poet, this was written lyrically in down to earth (or sea) manner. I recommend it for Canadians but also for those who want to see the old days and the older days, still within memory on ancient land.


Travels in Tartary    Peter Fleming

This is actually two books in one, One’s Company, originally published in 1934, and News from Tartary, first published in 1936. This volume was published in 1948, which shows the continued popularity of these books.

I can understand why. This man travelled in many places that now exist only in imagination and he travelled like the people who lived in those places, by camel, horse, donkey, and even yak. He ate what they ate, for the most part (for example, tsamba, a kind of all purpose carb; rancid butter; sour milk) and drank what often sounded like incredibly nasty water. He dealt with bureaucrats, aristocracy, and servants in patched together Chinese, Russian, and Turki.

He wrote it all in a very matter-of-fact way, drily humourous at times. For example, on one stop he wrote about the guns carried by even the servants who were bringing them dinner (this was at a stop), but ended the chapter with “No one was assassinated.”

In the second book, he had a fellow traveller, Kini, a Swiss woman. They were obviously friends and he spoke of her with admiration and respect. He wrote about how they divided up jobs and about some of the silly conversations they would have to pass the time.

He complained some, but again, it was just part of the trip. At that time there were no roads and sometimes barely trails. Often the animals were weak and in fact occasionally they had to leave one on the side of the trail. The heat, the bugs, the river fordings, the walking, trodding, climbing. But through it all he both described the country and the people. What I appreciated most was that he was not condescending, as many people tended to be at that time.

He also commented on politics. This was the time when Communists were moving in China– Mao Tse Tung received only a passing comment, since I am sure Fleming had no idea this man would ever become leader of China. He was in Manchuria when the Japanese were there. He travelled in many areas of China that were under not so secret “guidance” of the newly Communist Soviets. And as he travelled with the Turkis, there were place names and people names that were in Turkish, since that is where the Turks came from.

Those areas and events have had their influence on today’s history. The travelling was incredibly basic but what an adventure! I really enjoyed this book and appreciate that Fleming could write in such a factual and occasionally self-deprecating way. When I googled, I found that Fleming had written quite a few books and that he was also the older brother of Ian Fleming of James Bond.  Such an interesting family!

passing bravePassing Brave     William R. Polk, William J. Mares

Almost fifty years later, this record of a camel journey across part of Saudi Arabia was published. I was actually a little disappointed in it, because it didn’t seem as wild. These two men wanted to experience the life of the Bedawi before it went away.

Although they were officially given the OK, it was actually rather difficult to convince the various bureaucrats that yes, they really did want to travel by camel across the desert, which was incredible to these Arabs who were embracing the modern world in all its glory and eschewing the past.

Polk had studied Arabic literature and was taken with the poetry, but it was not a big part of the tale. He did come to realize how much the fine details of the poems reflected the way of travel, with attention to the sparse landscape and the animals and the interactions of the people.  Mares was the photographer, so there were some black and white photos of the very interesting looking men and the seemingly drab desert landscape.

The writing was not clever or scintillating, but it was an interesting read.


And finally, a book by a woman, who also wrote sympathetically about the people and places in Libya. children of allah

Children of Allah Between the Sea and Sahara       Agnes Newton Keith

This was one of the books I was going to use to make a bookcase. I decided to read it first, as in any case the bookcase was not going to happen. Published in 1965, it consists of “sketches” of her life in Libya in the 1950s. She was there because her husband had been hired to work in forestry there.

Such an interesting time to be in Libya! Since it had not been long since WWII, there was still an Italian presence, if only from locals who had learned Italian. And since Libya is an ancient land, there were many Roman and other ruins to explore.

Mrs. Keith had a sympathetic view of the people and since she was a woman, she was able  to spend time with the women– who at that time were very unlikely to be able to leave thire homes, being sequestered as good Muslim women.

Although the writer did not delve deeply into politics, she made the occasional comment about the effect of Nasser’s Egyptians on their neighbouring country, and she certainly wrote about the struggle for women to leave their veils and move into society. She also wrote about King Idris and the tribalism he both represented and controlled.

Through her husband’s work, she travelled with him and a few others over the desert and onto the sea. She admitted some of the difficulties of travelling (bumpy rides, dust, lack of water and cleanliness), but she also wrote charming but not condescending descriptions of the people she met– Bedawi, Fezzani, “true” Libyans.

Libya is more in the news these past years, with the end of Khadafi and now the rise of IS. This gives a little background to why this is a troubled state but it also shows with some sympathy the character of the peoples there. An easy read, with drawings by the author.


Living without a car


For most of my adult life I had a car. My favourite was the 1956 camper bus. I also had a Volvo that drank oil, a reliable Subaru station wagon, and a Ford Escort station wagon that my kids learned to drive on. Then I moved to Turkey, where I learned to live without a car.

bus july 75

I haven’t owned a car since 2002 and that last car was in Istanbul. I had bought it from an Italian friend when I was living on the Koc University campus, way out at the end of the Bosporus where it meets the Black Sea. The campus was in the forest, a beautiful place, but it was much like a gated community and not much like actually living in Turkey. Most weekends I used the car to get into the city, usually the old city, which had been the old and new city for millenia or to explore the areas around the campus..

Buying the car was an adventure in itself. When all the bureaucracy had been stumbled through, with the help of an agent, I finally got to sit in the driver’s seat to take the agent back to his office. When I sat down, I thought, ‘oh my god, what have I done? I will be driving in Istanbul!’ But, like riding a bicycle, old habits clicked in and I paid attention to the somewhat different body language of people wanting to get into my lane or to cross the street (crosswalks in Istanbul? Ha!). It often involved direct eye contact – I sort of ‘I dare you.’. In addition, since I did not know my way around by car very well, I always kept the gas tank at least half filled so that if I got lost I would not also run out of gas. If I did get lost, my modus operandi was to head down to the water (usually the Bosporus) and then I would know where I was.

Also, the first week I had the car, I was barrelling back to campus and about half a kilometer away I hit a good-sized pot hole. As I went through the security gate, the guy called out, ‘Madame, you have a flat tire!’. ‘I know’, and drove to my flat. Not only did I have a flat tire, I had two flat tires on bent rims. So I got to know my new mechanic, who fixed the tires and took the car away to tune it up.

One summer a friend came to visit and we went on a road trip from Istanbul by overnight ferry to Izmir. Before we went, a male friend warned me about driving on country roads, but I responded that I did not drive a BMW (as he did) and I was not fuelled by testosterone to make me try to pass everyone on the road. On the ferry I hadn’t realized that we could not go to the car, as that part of the boat was locked up, so my friend and I told the steward that she needed to get into the car to get her eye medicine (actually contact lens fluid). We were taken to the captain’s bridge, as there was going to be a shift change shortly. The assistant captain (or whatever he was) delighted in showing us all the gadgets there, including radar screens that showed other boats and whether they were moving or moored. Finally we got into the car and got the medicine we really wanted, a bottle of vodka.

The next year I sold the car, again with much bureaucracy. Unfortunately the Tunisian man who bought it could not complete his side and although I was paid for it, he was not able to get it and it is probably mouldering away still in the customs yard.

Since then I have not owned a car. In Istanbul that is not a problem, as the transportation system has been moving people for millenia. There are ferries, private ferries, smaller ferries, motor boats, and fancy water taxis to move people by water. There are subways, light rails, busses, and metro busses to get people around on land. As well, there are dolmushes (private minivan busses) and thousands of taxis, legal and ‘sivil.’ One time I took a ‘sivil’ (private) taxi with my boyfriend of the time who was a traffic cop, and when the driver found that out, he gave us a very good price on our ride. Of course there are many cars in Istanbul and the traffic is always a joke, but there are freeways and toll roads in contrast to the small streets made before cars. So it was easy to get around if needed. However, after Koc, I moved to Galata, my neighbourhood at the foot of the Galata Tower and became localized, as almost everything I needed was right there.

Now I am back in Canada, living in a small town. I am in the process of getting my drivers license, which is the same process as for a 16 year old and has taken two years. I took a written test which allowed me to drive with another driver. Then I took a road test which allowed me to drive anywhere except freeways, and this summer I will take the final test which will allow me to drive absolutely anywhere.

Will I get a car then? Nope. I can’t afford it, mostly, but also I do not want to deal with the insurance and the maintenance.

That means that when I want to go somewhere I have to think about how to get there. I don’t just pop into my car that is not there. If I have to walk somewhere, I check the weather and decide on the route. If I have a big grocery shopping to do, I walk down to the supermarket and take a taxi back. Sometimes I ride my bike if the place I need to go to is a little far, though that means that I walk the last bit home, since it is uphill. If I am lucky, my sister or my friend will take me to where I need to go. My friend will sometimes let me know if she is going to the supermarket in case I need to go too. Otherwise, it is the downhill walk. I tried the supermarket run on my bike once, but you know how you go to the supermarket with your list and get extra stuff too– that does not work on a bike.

Sometimes I wish I could just pop into a car, particularly when I would like to go into the Big City– Toronto. Instead, I have to buy a bus ticket (luckily I get a senior discount) and then get around the city by public transportation. Once upon a time Toronto was admired for its public transportation, but that was decades in the past and now it is rather limited and inconvenient. However, when I lived there for a while a few years ago, I did enjoy taking the street car, one of the few left in North America (a sign of Toronto’s cautious conservatism about making changes).

Last year my sister and I went to Montreal by train, which was the first time I had been on a train in about 20 years. We got senior discounts and enjoyed the trip. It was much easier than driving. There was space for our legs and we could see the beautiful land we were going through.

When I fly in or out of Toronto, I can take the shuttle to and from my home. It costs about $80Cdn each way, but I meet interesting people on the shuttle, I don’t have to pay attention to the roads, and I don’t have to worry about parking.

When I was dealing with my father’s stuff I often drove his wife’s car, a zippy little thing that we later nick-named the lady truck, as it fit a lot of stuff with the seats folded down. I have driven on the freeway there (gasp!), but who will question a gray-haired lady? It was fun to drive, but I prefer to be the passenger and look around.

And related to that, I have become aware of how zipping past things in a car means you don’t get to see them very well. For example, recently on a road trip with a friend to Port Dover in SW Ontario, we drove past sheds that used to be used for drying tobacco. Now they are only picturesque relics. We also drove by lovely old homes that were gone in a flash. Walking or bicycling allows one to stop and smell the roses or at least to get out the iPhone to take a photo. That gets into the issue of “owning” things and places and people by taking photos, but I will not get into that here. The larger issue is that getting places often means not stopping to take in the land and buildings and everything else that you are zipping past.

Sometimes, I miss having a car, but mostly I am glad that I can get around fine without one. It takes more time and more thought, but I have a lighter carbon footprint and more money to spend on other things– as long as they are within walking distance.