Sunday, June 24, 2012

Roseman Bridge of Madison County

This lovely photo is the Roseman Bridge in Iowa, and the picture was taken a few days ago by my friend Russell. The bridge is featured in a movie called “The Bridges of Madison County" starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Everyone who has read the book or seen the movie is familiar with the story. It is the story of Francesca Johnson, a well-educated Italian woman with a love of music and the arts, who is married to a farmer in Madison County, Iowa, in the 1960s. She has two children, and the main purpose of her life is to be wife and mother, but her husband and children do not see her. She is stuck in her kitchen, listening to country and western music, when she longs to listen to classical music. She is unfulfilled and has accepted her life.  She has shut down.

One weekend, Francesca’s husband and children go away to the Illinois State Fair, and Francesca by happenstance meets Robert Kincaid, a photographer for National Geographic Magazine, who is in Madison County on assignment to photograph the bridges. She leaves a note at the bridge, inviting him for dinner, and he and Francesca become friends and then lovers. Robert Kincaid sees Francesca as a beautiful sensuous woman, rather than a plain housewife, and he has brought her to life again. It is wonderful to see Francesca blossoming in her new-found love affair with Robert. She slowly unfolds from being an uptight housewife to being warm, affectionate, sexual woman.  Sadly, at their end of their four-day love affair they part and Francesca remains devoted to her family, but she and Robert remain spiritually connected forever. When she dies, she requests to be cremated and have her ashes sprinkled from the Roseman Bridge.

It’s a wonderful story, and I have always felt an affinity for Francesca. I think most women can. Women make compromises all the time, and often have to invent who they are in order to please the other people in their lives. Even now, in the 21st century, that still happens. For Francesca, those four days of being herself were enough to last a lifetime.

In a way I feel sort of a connection to the Roseman Bridge, and it holds a special meaning for me. Not only did my friend Russell take this lovely photograph of the bridge, he also at one time met the author of the book, Robert James Waller. And on the day I found out that my daughter was expecting Phinnaeus, I decided to celebrate by treating myself to a movie.  The movie I went to see was “The Bridges of Madison County”. It was a beautiful warm summer evening in 1995, and I was very happy. Phinnaeus was born a few months later in February 1996.

And now, to come full circle, I have started to do a little watercolour pencil drawing of the bridge. I am hoping to visit it one day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

All Summer in a Day

Sunset, Wheatfield Near Arles
Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

One of my favourite short stories by Ray Bradbury is "All Summer in a Day". It is the story about a little girl named Margot, who has recently moved to the planet Venus, where the sun is only visible for two hours, every seven years. She is the only one in her class to remember sunshine, and the other children don't believe her when she describes the sun as a "penny" or like a "fire in a stove". The other children call her a liar and lock her in a closet, just before the sun is due to come out. As the sun appears, the children all go outside to frolic in the sunshine, and they forget that Margot is locked in the closet. As the rain starts again, they remember Margot and run back inside to free Margot from her prison, and they are ashamed of what they had done.

The Wheat Field, Sunrise
Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Living where I do, I sometimes feel like Margot.  We have so much rain, clouds, mist, dampness, gloominess, I almost forget what the sun looks and feels like.  Until today, when it is shining in all its golden glory.  I, however, am locked inside an office, and my only access to the sunshine -- one little window off in the distance -- has been blocked by closed Venetian blinds.  Venus, Venetian -- how appropriate?  Today is the longest day of the year -- the summer solstice -- the point where the sun reaches the farthest distance from the equator.  For a moment, the sun will appear to stop.  And then it will begin to move south again.

For me, it will be all summer in a day...  Let me out of this closet...!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Happy Father's Day to ... Me

At The Beach
Edward Henry Potthast

The other day my daughter was lamenting the fact that her father died when she was four years-old, and she grew up without a father. And yes, that was an awful thing. It was unfortunate for her, because in a perfect world every child should have both a father and a mother. But it's not always a perfect world. Unforeseeable things happen. To be honest, when I was younger, I had not signed on to be a single parent, either. And here I was at the age of 24, and my mother-in-law, bless her heart, stole the insurance money that would have provided a better life for my daughter while she was growing up.  I had to land on my feet very quickly, and that was not easy to do, in a world that was not kind to single mothers.

Dancers in Pink
Edgar Degas

When my daughter was growing up, I made sure she had all the things I did not have when I was growing up -- ballet lessons, piano lessons, horseback riding lessons. I made sure she went to the best schools, and had the best academic foundation. She ultimately did go to university and earned a Master's degree.  My daughter also lamented that she did not have a father to teach her how to ride a bike.  I taught her how to ice skate, roller skate, and yes how to ride a bike.  The first time she ever rode a bike, she rode completely around the Stanley Park Seawall without once falling off the bicycle.  I also stressed the importance of an academic education along with knowledge of the arts, literature, culture - we went to all the children's concerts at the Orpheum Theatre, and she always received good books as gifts.  I was the person who helped her with her homework at night, and met with the teachers on parents' night at school.  I was the person who made sure she had good medical care and dental care.  I was born with a slight scoliosis of the spine, and every year I took my daughter to the scoliosis clinic at Vancouver General Hospital to make sure she wasn't developing  it as well.  I was the person who stayed home from work when she was too ill with measles or mumps to go to school.  And I was the person who stayed up late at night and worried when she first started dating as a teenager.

Young Woman and Child at the Well
Camille Pissaro

It's always easy to put someone on a pedestal when they're dead.  People do it all the time.  The dead become larger than life heroic figures that they were not really when they were alive.  When my daughter was born, I said to my husband, "Let's start an education fund so she can go to university."  His reply to me was, "What for?  I never went to university, and she doesn't have to go to university either."  I still feel angry when I think of it.  Years later, when my daughter was married and had her own children, she did inherit some money from her paternal grandmother, and her uncle proceeded to steal that from her as well, but I went to a lawyer and got it back for her.  Sometimes the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree.

As parents, we all do our best, whether we are single or married, wealthy or poor, we want the best for our children.  We want their lives to be upwardly mobile from ours, and we do everything we possibly can to make that happen.  We make sacrifices  so our children will have the ability to build a better foundation for themselves and for their children.  But that's all we can do.  We cannot wave a magic wand and change things.  "It is what it is" -- as they say...  If our children want to go through life bemoaning their circumstances, we have to just let it go.  Life was difficult for single parents and the children of single parents at one time.  Laws have changed now, and landlords and employers cannot treat single families unfairly anymore.  As of 2012, in Canada almost 33% of families are single parent families, and 20% of those are headed by men.  That is significant.  And like all parents, they love their children and do the best they can for them.

To all the Dads out there, whether you are in single-parent families, or two-parent families, I wish you a Happy Father's Day.

And Happy Father's Day to me.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Once Upon A Time...

Once upon a time people lived in cities, and everything they needed was at their fingertips -- the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.  Dwellings were built around the city square, and folks could walk everywhere.  The outlying districts were agricultural or industrial, and all goods and products were transported to the cities where people could purchase them.  Cities were beautiful places with user-friendly architecture, parks, playgrounds and access to rivers, lakes and ocean fronts.  Landscape architects were hired to design beautiful inner-city parks such as Hyde Park in London, and Central Park in New York City.  The parks contained bandstands, lakes for rowing, ice cream parlours, carousels and playgrounds for the children, and on weekends folks took picnic baskets to the park and spent the afternoon there.  In the winter they skated on the frozen ponds.  Living in the city was a lovely way of life.

And then, in the late 1940s after the Second World War, something happened. The first "suburb" was designed. It was called "Levittown" after it's developer William Jaird Levitt and it consisted of 17,544 Cape Cod and ranch houses. It was built to give post-World War II GIs the keys to their American Dream. It was "whites only", and in truth it was the beginning of the end of the American Dream. The amenities of the city were no longer in reach, and people needed cars for transportation. Inner cities began to be razed, and highways, freeways and unsightly parkades began springing up where there had once been shops, businesses and thriving communities. The inner cities were now only for minorities and folks who could not afford the "American Dream home" out there in the suburbs. And people began to rely on their automobiles. In fact, life without an automobile was practically unheard of.  People now lived where there once had been farmland, and they needed their automobiles to drive miles and miles in order to get to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.  Life began to evolve around the automobile, and people no longer owned cars, their cars owned them.  The automobile that had once been a luxury had now become a necessity and was the main focus of city development in every country of the world.  City planners developed cities around automobiles, not around people.

Fast forward to 2012. In 1900 there were somewhere between 4,142 and 8,000 passenger cars in the United States (the only country to manufacture cars at that time). It is estimated there are now somewhere around 1.015 billion vehicles in the world, and they burn over 400 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel yearly, and that is a conservative estimate. There are over 250 million vehicles in the United States alone.  And why?  Because development has made it more difficult to get from A to B, and folks need a car to do so.  If you were a visitor from another planet and you witnessed this, what would be your first impression?  Stupid humans to do this to their home?  Yes.  Stupid humans.  And it's going to take a disaster of major proportions to undo it, however, there probably will not be anything like that happening in the foreseeable future. We're stuck with what we have done to our beautiful, fragile, blue planet.  We have blighted our beautiful cities, and we have blighted our beautiful agricultural land.

I'm one of the few people I know who has never owned or driven a car, and I do not possess a driver's license.  I have always found public transit -- buses or trains/subways -- to be a perfectly acceptable means to get from A to B.  And it's cheap.  At one time most cities in the world had street cars, and when automobiles took over, street car lines were ripped up.  Transportation authorities are now realizing that was a mistake, and should never have happened.  Now, in the 21st Century when cars are destroying our planet, we need to find a way to look into the future and find cleaners ways of transportation, perhaps by looking to the past.  Once upon a time, the earth was not controlled by cars.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012