Friday, July 26, 2013

a list.

There has only been one word to describe this summer, and that word is BUSY. And the days seem to be flying by. In no particular order... here's what I've been up to.
  • I cut off about 75% of my hair. And I love it.
  • Went camping at Nopoming with Chris and my pal, Holly.
  • Went out on the Red River in my inlaw's new boat (and got to drive it!)
  • Got a few Provincial Park passport stamps with Chris.
  • In the last 9 days, I've been to 2 movies and nine shows at the Winnipeg Fringe Fest. We'll be attending five more this weekend. I absolutely LOVE Fringe Fest here. It's the highlight of the summer for me (and Chris too!) Growing up, I had the privilege of going to a lot more theatre than the average kid, and I miss that part of my life... and have been supplementing that by OD'ing on awesome stuff from all over the globe in July.
  • I've been moseying my way through George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice... and surprisingly I love it. LOVE it. I do not, generally, like fantasy. I could not make it through Lord of the Rings, and my only forays after that were for Harry Potter and His Dark Materials. But after I made it through the Prologue in the first book (and it was tough...), I started to fly with it. I also just rented the first season of Game of Thrones, and Peter Dinklage is basically kicking some ass.
  • Finally watched all available episodes of The Walking Dead... and re-watched Trailer Park Boys. And the new Arrested Development. And Top of the Lake. And Mad Men. And now, in addition to watching Game of Thrones, we're keeping up with the final season of Dexter and the new season of The Killing. Why is everything on TV so good? There is simply not enough time! GAH and Breaking Bad is finishing up soon!
  •  I've accepted a spot in the online MLIS program at the University of Alberta. And I start in September. I am excited and nervous and... strangely comfortable with it all at once.
  • I've been working a lot and enjoying it. Summer at the Park makes things a bit crazy but it really brings out the city's love for it, and makes me proud to be a part of the changes taking place there.
  • I got a nasty sinus infection and bronchitis at the same time and have been fighting it all of July (it's finally gone after a round of antibiotics.
  • My Mom is coming to visit in less than a week! I could not be more thrilled. I am taking a bit of time off. Hopefully, we can take in some of Folklorama, maybe go to Grand Beach (she's never been outside of Winnipeg, so it may be fun for her to see a bit more of Manitoba). And I want to show her the Park! Last time she saw it, it was December. And freezing.
  • I've been knitting, but slowly. I did two pairs of socks and am still slooooowly going through a shawl I started in May. And a sweater I started last year. Trying not to pick up anything new until I finish some things.
  • I made an active choice not to garden after last year's completely epic, hilarious failure. I spent who knows how much on all sorts of plants, seeds, soil and planters just to have EVERYTHING (even the succulents that I usually do well with) die.
  • I bought a new bundt pan.
Okay, so maybe that last one wasn't even worth sharing but... it's a really nice bundt pan. But this is where I'm at right now. It keeps my days more than full even if it is terribly dull to spell out in detail.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: The Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

Most people don't re-read books, but I am not most people. I read this book when it came out, and I've recently read it again as my pick for book club.

This review is biased. I love Richard Russo. He's a hometown boy to me, and this is a hometown story. It's not from my generation, but in so many ways, this story is timeless to me.

I have read, and am a fan of, Russo's novel Empire Falls, which was made into a HBO TV miniseries. I've heard this novel called the last great novel of the twentieth century, and yes, it's very, very good. Another small-town tale, timely, expansively and emotionally written.

The Bridge of Sighs isn't everyone's favorite Russo book, but it is mine. Point out its flaws, point out Russo's misogyny, racism, narcissism - all could be, and have been, pointed out - but I don't even care. If you look on Goodreads, the user reviews for this novel are... all over the place, really. I try to avoid reviews, and let my reading choices be informed by interest and intrigue and let the writer's efforts either win me over or wear me down. I like to read reviews after the fact to see what others have thought... and try not to let them sway me down from my lofty opinions... haha. Anyway.

This story is the story of Thomaston, New York, a fictional decaying town, situated about an hour north of where I grew up. It is the story of Louis "Lucy" Lynch, his wife, Sarah Berg Lynch, and Bobby Marconi/Robert Noonan - his "best friend," which I put in quotation marks very purposefully. In the present - which we are to perhaps assume is in the early-2000's, they are all 60 years old.

Lucy Lynch is given the reign as the primary character of the novel purely by the fact that he is the only character that narrates in the first person voice in the present and past. His memories and stories are colored by this fact, and by absolute fact that whatever we remember is not a universal truth. We are all fallible in our own memories, and perhaps Lucy more than others. Sarah and Noonan (Marconi as an adult, he assumes his mother's maiden name), all get the third person omniscient treatment, so they are the more trustworthy narrators in this tale.

In so many ways, this isn't a unique story. It's not about anything life changing for the world, it doesn't span any great time in history and its relatively unaffected by any major events. It's just the story of three lives and the story of a town, and in so many ways, there is a bit of all of us in everything presented here.

I grew up in a rural area in Upstate New York, not in a town like Thomaston, but I know towns exactly like it. I know Albany, Schenectady, Canajoharie, Saratoga and when Lucy mentions the State teacher's college in Albany? Well that's the State University, where I took both my degrees. I know the seasons, the geography, the people, the history. The Dutch settlers? The Irish-German and Italian mixed marriages? See my grandparents... my dad could be Lucy Lynch.

My bias runs deep, and I'm admitting it freely. The first time I read this story, about 7 years ago, I ached for Sarah. My name is Sarah too, which, stupidly enough, made it even more real to me because yes, I am a sap. But really, Sarah Berg: makes a connection with Lucy Lynch and his entire family and is absorbed into their comfortable, simple life. She is an artist, sharp with her wit and open, in a way that takes Lucy, his family, and later Noonan, by surprise.

When I re-read this book, I ached for Lucy Lynch - who initially disturbed me with his unwillingness to change. As an adult, Lucy admits that he owns every house he ever lived in. This fact in particular stuck with me this time. The beauty of that. To be in possession of every place that ever was a part of you - it's a strange compulsion... but oddly enough, I get it. And there's some beauty to it... and some sickness as well.

Russo writes the types of novels that are so real and engrossing, beautiful and sad in a way that we can all understand. They're a fine example of modern American literature - not a title I bandy about loosely. His novels capture an essence and an age of Americana, they are cross generational and capture the disillusionment of the baby-boomer generation. They also capture the small-town world that many of us found our origins in in such a way that it is striking, heartbreaking and familiar all at once.

I made American literature my area of study in school (I actively chose it in high school, pursued it in undergrad and made it my passion in grad school)... and to me, there is more to it than where the author's passport is issued from. Follow the trail throughout history: from the earliest days, with Anne Bradstreet and Cotton Mather... Charles Brockden Brown... through Emerson and Thoreau, Hawthorne, to Melville, Twain, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald and Hemingway... to the late-greats like Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy (god, I wish there were more women on this list!)... these writers were situational, timely - they embraced and expounded the burgeoning, complicated, epic, displaced, blood-soaked, troubled, haunted, beautiful, tacky paradox that is America, and explored its identity to the core. I think Russo carries this torch proudly, and he carries it well.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Nopiming Provincial Park, Tulabi Falls, Old Pinawa Dam

We've been keeping busy these past few weeks (me with work, especially), but summer is officially here. I cut off all my hair. My mom is coming to visit in August. And we've been trying to have some inexpensive adventures.

A good friend of ours offered to let us tag along on her camping trip she had already planned. So we hopped in her car and joined her for a trek to Nopiming Provincial Park, and we camped at the Tulabi Falls Campground.

The falls were quite pretty, though mainly rapids in my opinion.

We also hiked the Ancient Mountain Trail... which was really pretty and beautiful.

I enjoyed spending some time outdoors, as well. One thing I don't enjoy about Manitoba is the bugs. I grew up in the country so it's not like I'm a city girl or anything. But in Manitoba it's flies during the day and mosquitoes by the bucketload at night.... not to mention ticks. UGH. I poured on the Deet filled bug spray and I am still covered in bites.

We did escape the rain, however. So I can't complain. We also visited the Old Pinawa Damn ruins on the way home. Which I loved.

They turned this ridiculous, strange, industrial, bombed-out ruin into a park! And it's all pretty, and you can lunch among the water and ruins. It's really neat. Manitoba tends to work with what its got, and I appreciate that.

We got home, showered and napped, and I contemplated how much I had found myself missing the all the lovely little conveniences of modern life. I was only gone for 36 hours... that's pretty pathetic. Is this one of those signs that I'm "getting old" at 27? I didn't miss the internet or anything... it was mostly being dirty and not having a toilet. Other than that I think I did pretty good.

Chris and I have been enjoying getting stamps in our Manitoba Provincial Parks Passports... so after this weekend we sat down and realized how many of the Parks are fairly close to Winnipeg. So, we've made a resolution to put our Parks pass to use and we're going to take day trips to many of the accessible ones: St. Malo, St. Ambroise, River Road, Camp Morton... etc. I'm really looking forward to that.

Monday, May 13, 2013

St. Andrews on-the-Red; Lower Fort Garry

We took a trip with the photography group to the St. Andrews on-the-Red church and cemetery, as well as Lower Fort Garry. Unfortunately none of the interpretive was open, but it was neat to roam the nearly-deserted grounds. It was cold and windy but the light was bright and the sky was Prairie-epic, so it ended up being a really nice day. I'm still getting the hang of my camera and re-learning some composition... I also discovered the Selective Color feature, which was neat with the sky. I also liked shooting in the high contrast monochrome setting, which lent to some really nice black and white photos. Chris joined the photography group as well, so it was nice to have an outing to share together. Plus, I got to hang out with some "old" friends like Holly and Val and meet a few new ones.

We took a brief interlude for lunch at Skinner's, which is a road-side dive of fabulous proportions, World Famous Hot Dogs indeed. It had an arcade that made Chris swoon. And homemade french fries. I took no photos, because I was busy stuffing my face.

And now to Lower Fort Garry, right nearby... which is also on the mighty Red River. I wish I knew more about the history but I don't... it's a Canadian National Historic Site, though, and really interesting... I'm sure I'd know lots about it if the interpretive components were open. The grounds and Fort are open though, so we took a wander around.

There were two resident cats, Wiggles and Rupert (feature above). That is a cat bliss face.

Overall, a great day. We went home tired but fulfilled, I think. I've really taken care to try to experience everything Manitoba while I live here. I don't know how long I'll live here, and I really want to drink it all in and learn everything. There's nothing I haven't enjoyed so far. Except maybe experience -40 degree weather. I probably could've gone without that.