Monday, October 10, 2011

Life and times so bright I’ve got to wear shades! Part 1

Life is certainly in flux these days, which has left me with a great deal to catch up on. In something resembling chronological order I’ll give it my best shot.

The Homestead is coming along fabulously. Our microwave has been installed. We are not so hopeless as to require someone to come over and plug it in for us, the microwave actually seconds as a range hood so some handyman stuff was required.
All stainless steel, chrome and flat panel buttons it is a veritable chef in a computer chip that can be programmed to undertake an extraordinarily complex array of cooking assignments. I’m just happy that we can at last make popcorn in the country, and, not of minor importance, reheat coffee - all for less than a thousand dollars.

The more- than-ample deck had been coming together nicely in the later weeks of August. In the absence of reason and forethought we have decided to go ahead with an outdoor shower that will serve no particular purpose except to ensure that we have mosquito bites everywhere.
Of tangential interest we can’t seem to get Hydro Quebec to send us a bill or even acknowledge our existence. I attempted to contact them twice before leaving Canada but their customer service website has baffled me. From what I can tell you need to be a customer already to use the site. I did send a message to the general mailbox (because that is all that is provided) pleading with them to let us pay for the electricity that we have used to which they responded a few days later with an email instructing me how to go onto the website and went on to inform me that once I entered my customer information I would get all the assistance that I needed. I sent a second note thanking Hydro Quebec for their prompt, if not utterly useless (I didn’t use those words...exactly), response and reiterated that unfortunately I am not a customer and therefore cannot enter my customer information. There has been no response thus far. The catch-22 clearly eludes them.

If anyone reading this works for Hydro Quebec, or knows the mystic incantation we need to make to get our electricity bill – please help us. In the meantime we look forward to having our power shut off and being sent to collection.
Within a few days of each other, Robert and I went off to New York City – primarily to celebrate Robert’s birthday over the Labour Day weekend. We did so in style at F.A.O. Schwarz, the giant toy store that was featured in the 1988 Tom Hanks film, “Big”. Guests, royalty among them, initially gathered in the courtyard of the Metropolitan Club. Then the toy soldier, which serves as the doorman for F.A.O Schwarz, appeared and trumpeted as a prelude to his announcement that we were changing location.
All the birthday guests were given a musical instrument and played them like no one was listening as we marched down 5th Avenue. Though the instruments were a clue many were still guessing at our final destination when F.A.O. Schwarz came into sight. Of note - yours truly picked the venue. Do I know my guy or what!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A little NYC just outside of Poltimore, Quebec

In the picture is Robert and Kevin. Kevin will be building our deck.
Less as a matter of compromise than of default, Robert and I finally came to an agreement over the name of our new country home. It turns out that the scope of the veranda we had originally planned would have brought the outer reaches too close to the river to meet local building codes.  It was simply a case of way too much deck.
We bought two Adironack (Muskoka) chairs at the fair

The reworked plans, while still fabulous, aren’t quite as grand and “Good-sized Deck”, or “More Than Ample Deck” just doesn’t have the same cache as “Big Deck”. So, I let it go only to rally temporarily yesterday while at the local Poltimore County Fair where I came across a rather large rooster for that we could take home with us... but alas, “Big Cock” would have been a little too obvious. As a result I have begrudgingly acquiesced and the agreed name of our homestead down in the gulch is...”The Homestead”. Yawn.

In keeping with the rustic vein to which “The Homestead” alludes to, Robert has decided to build a giant glass studio up on the thickly forested ridge that overlooks our home (think of the Apple Store at the corner of 5th Avenue and 59th Street in New York City but in a woodland setting).
Robert's original models
Robert's final model

He purchased a few roles of neon pink surveyor’s tape from the local hardware store and after breakfast Sunday morning we staked-off the acreage of what amounts to be our backyard. 
Initially he debated whether or not to engage the services of an architect but assuaging my concerns of the Apple Store sliding over the precipice and pile-driving into our More Than Ample Deck, he has assented to the use of professional guidance. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Showdown at Big Deck

It turned out that the armoire which launched the great citywide shopping spree for furniture did not actually fit up the stairs. I wasn’t there at the time of delivery but Robert assures me that the turning radius on the first landing was only a hair to narrow. At the time he had discussed disassembling the piece but was thankfully talked out of it.

The logical solution would be, of course, to exchange the armoire for a smaller one. But that’s not how we roll up at Big Deck. No siree, Bob. Not by a long shot. The only clear and rational course of action is to take out part of the stairwell. Yep, ‘cause exchanging the thing doesn’t make a lick of sense. The plan is that the contractor who built the home will be there on the day of the re-delivery and he will remove, in a controlled demolition, whatever section of wall that gets in the way. We do have three empty bedroom closets upstairs by the way. But since the dresser that we have yet to purchase and likely would make it up to the second floor is destined to be inside the large closet of the master bedroom, the master bedroom will have no closet space. So, of course, the room needs an armoire; and a big one at that. See how that works.
Another little snag occurred with our brand new furnishings, Robert doesn’t like the color of the dining room table and chairs that we purchased from the Emporium. The set was actually made to order, but there was some mix-up and antique cream white intended for the base and legs was understood to be blond. The store has graciously offered to refinish everything. And here, again, one might be tempted to think that the course of action is pretty straightforward. Have them pick it up, refinish it and bring it back, right? Again, that’s just not how we roll out at Big Deck. We’re homesteaders after all. Robert wants to do the work and has ingratiated himself upon the store’s owner to teach him how to do so. They’ve agreed.
Initially I was not as supportive as I could have been, “Hell, no!”, but I soon gave way to the gleam in Robert’s eye as he ignored me entirely and talked excitedly at the prospect of being a craftsman. My reaction can be traced to childhood memories of my parent’s own failed attempts at FIY. There was the perfectly good kitchen table that my mother decided to re-varnish only to have the clear coat at the centre of the tabletop pit and bubble. For my sister and me, picking at it and peeling flecks up with our finger nails became as addictive as popping bubble wrap. Risking the ire of our mother we stealthily chipped away at every opportunity. Then there was the time my father had decided to oil all the moving parts of the faucet in the main bathroom of our brand new home. Free of any resistance the pressure of the flowing water was all that was needed to open the taps up wider and wider. To compound this self-inflicted problem the hot and cold taps didn’t unscrew at an equal pace. Hot lead the charge. Once initialized, say to wash your face, the process rapidly drove itself to an angry jet of scalding water gushing out of the faucet and burrowing down the drain. I had not known that my father had oiled the taps and therefore this new and seemingly unexplainable phenomenon had spooked the crap out of me. It had been quite a while before I had asked anyone in the family if they had been having a similar experience. I had been afraid they would say no.

But then what then what is the purpose of Big Deck if not for Robert to express his creative side… far, far, away from our home in the city. He has my blessing.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ménage à trois and the chunky brass doorknocker.

A few decisions have been made about our place in the country. First, Robert would like to give it a name. Second, he fully galvanized into action on the decorating style of our home; French Provincial meets eighteenth century Americana meets ‘homestead’. This ménage à trois motif was arrived at thanks to an armoire, the single piece that Robert had set out to purchase one day for the bedroom. His search took him to a few Ottawa shops and had inspired a frenzied spree to fill our home.

When the dust settled arrangements had been made for the delivery truck. Its first pick up would be from Yardley’s Antiques on Bank Street, and the final pick up would be from the Emporium on Main Street. Stuffed, the truck would then waddle off to our little casa in the Gatineau Hills by Rivière Blanche.
Among the more interesting pieces were a neon Labatt’s Blue Beer sign with an accompanying Canadian Maple Leaf that says, “GO ORANGE” (which I assume is rooting for a sports team as opposed to the fruit), and a beat up New York Mets pennant, both of which have found a home in our main floor powder room. Being unfortunately oversized, it has become a sort of in catch-all that, but for the sink and toilet, might be otherwise referred to as shed.
Also within the confines of this room is a rather substantial Moroccan door knocker, which was given to Robert during our recent trip to New York. It is a dividend payment of sorts for Robert’s investment years ago in “Rick’s Cafe” in Casablanca, which an old friend of his who was living in Tokyo at the same time in the 70’s/80’s created, when she was with the U.S. Department of Commerce drumming up trade for America. She loved it and decided to build the one thing Casablanca didn’t have ... Rick’s Cafe.  Somehow a chunky brass doorknocker seems to work alongside the Labatt’s Blue Beer sign, and until we find a more suitable place there it shall remain.

Robert has also decided that he would like a huge wrap-around porch, so he took the logs of the three dead birch trees we had to get cut down and made an enormous outline on the lawn, which framed the house. This was done last Thursday while waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting ...... for the delivery truck to arrive down the steep hill of our dirt road, with the armoire, beer sign, two American/Provençal wing chairs, a Pennsylvania Dutch hutch to be used as a wine rack, six 19th century ‘Arkansas-hills/Quaker-inspired’ fan-back chairs and an accompanying round, hand-hewn, pine dining table.  
After spending Canada Day in the city to watch the fireworks from the 22nd floor of the Westin Hotel, we packed up the Jeep and headed off to the country. When we arrived, Robert first gave me a tour of the new furnishings, ironically, minus the armoire as it had been too big to get up the stairs, and then took me outside to show me his log template.
Then  we sat on the front veranda in our new grey/powder green rocking chairs, made with twisted and turned twigs – you know the kind, but these are curiously attractive -  and marvelled at how nicely things had come together. It was during this discussion that I became inspired and offered my suggestion for the name of our homestead, Big Deck. To my surprise this was not met with a warm reception. Hey, it’s not bragging if it’s true.

Robert’s thinking more in the line of Tara...(the main house in ‘Gone with the Wind’)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Russian Embassy, Burgers and Pneumonia

Robert returned to Ottawa from Venice a few weeks ago after taking a somewhat circuitous route by flying first to Paris and then, a day later, on to Montreal. For those of you who are not familiar, flying within Europe is ridiculously cheap, whereas flying to Canada from Europe is not. Therefore, in order to get the carrier you want and the seating class you want at a price that you are willing pay it does make sense to see who is leaving out of which city and plan accordingly

To give you an idea of the cost of flying within Europe, I once had a hamburger and fries at one of Venice’s most expensive hotels, The Hotel Cipriani. It was a dining experience that was memorable only for the price. Later that same month Robert and I flew Easy Jet from Venice to Pairs to attend an award ceremony at the Russian Embassy of John Kapstein, the husband of one of Robert’s oldest friends the Baronessa Luciana Leto. The award was for his culture contribution to the Soviet-American relationship during the Cold War.
During one of our strolls through the city we happened upon a pub where I had my second European hamburger. The cost of that Parisian hamburger, inclusive of the airfare from Venice, was competitive to the cost of a lesser burger at The Hotel Cipriani.

It was also while in Paris that we discovered The Great Canadian Pub along the left bank of the Seine, near St. Michel. The establishment was serving one of Canada’s (mostly Quebec’s) most infamous confections – Poutine! French fries, squeaky cheese curds and gravy! Yum! Incidentally, the cost of an overflowing serving of this gooey goodness, again inclusive of airfare from Venice, was also competitive to the cost of the burger at The Hotel Cipriani.
The photo is of Liu Fang
performing in Pairs where
we were honored with a
private concert along with
the concert pianist, Noel Lee
You get the picture; flying within Europe is very inexpensive. So it made sense for Robert to fly to Paris in order to get a great value, non-stop flight to Canada. Of nearly equal importance to Robert was that the flight from Paris flew into Montreal and not Ottawa. Arriving in Montreal gives us an excuse to have a little getaway together plus has the added bonus of Robert avoiding Ottawa Immigration. Ottawa is the only city in the world where Robert has been detained by immigration officials for a major grilling  – twice. The second time an immigration official came all the way out to the waiting area to interview me ... where I lived, a number I could be reached at and finally my relationship with Robert.


"He’s my partner.”
Blank stare.  
“Life,” I elaborated. 

“Oh,” she said to me and then a second time at me and a third and final time aloud to herself as she was walking away. Robert was released a minute or two later. (This incident, by the way, has given us great impetus for Robert to get his Canadian Residency.) 
When his flight was booked to Montreal Robert had then proceeded to plan a dinner party with some dear friends we have in the city - Ted, a retired airline executive, Mark, a composer,  Liu Fang a world renowned pipa soloist  (a Chinese instrument reminiscent of a lute) and her husband and manager, Risheng Wang.  It was planned that after dinner there would be a mini-recital where Liu Fang could play some compositions that Mark arranged specifically for her.

Robert’s flight arrived in Montreal mid-afternoon on a Friday, and I met up with him after work at the Hotel Nelligan in Old Montreal. I could tell immediately that he wasn’t feeling well. He sounded congested and looked tired, but, truthfully, it was the other clues that were more telling of his state of health. Yes, he had adorned our room with flowers, but he hadn’t rearranged the furniture. Yes, he purchased tickets to the ballet for the following afternoon, trying to shoehorn it in before the dinner party that would be taking place later that very evening. But that was it, only the one thing planned. No additional plays, or museum tours, or recitals to speak of. This was not the man who had once insisted that I join him at the Royal Ballet in London after I had been awake for over twenty hours. This was not the man who would come home to our Palazzo in Venice and announce that a few people were coming over for drinks and dinner and when I, blindsided and slightly flustered, asked at what time would give a chipper response that would be something like ‘They’re coming up the garden right now.’
It turned out that I had reason to be concerned. As the evening progressed Robert kept getting worse, and although we attempted dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Verse, he ordered very little (his favorite rhubarb pie), drank only water and excused himself to retire to our room shortly after our food arrived.  That night he had difficulty finding a comfortable position that wouldn’t lead to a coughing fit. His wheezing was loud enough to wake him up when he did happen to drift off.
In the morning Robert decided that he wanted to skip the ballet, which again, spoke volumes to me about how awful he was feeling. By mid-morning we concluded that he might have something serious, and I called Ted to see if he could recommend a clinic. Robert was by now shuffling when he walked. During our cab ride to the Westmount Medical Clinic I was both doting and reprimanding as he kept on insisting that we should go to the dinner party. While we sat in the waiting room both his illness and my stubbornness had taken its toll and bobbing in and out of sleep in the waiting room, he relented on the dinner but felt that we should at least try to make the recital.

He did in fact have pneumonia, and we were given a fistful of prescriptions and were told that if things got any worse, we should head immediately to the hospital. We got his medication and during our return cab ride I suggested, strongly, that we stay in for the evening to which Robert  expressed concern over disappointing his friends.

“Robert, in life-or-death situations, people understand when you don’t attend a dinner party.”

I won him over, but just barely.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Houseboy & The Mystery of the Vacuum

Robert is rather pleased with having a new cleaning person for our home. I am rather indifferent about it. This divergence of enthusiasm is likely due to our very different perspectives on the matter. I would expect to come home after the cleaner has been through the house and see a marked improvement. This was not the case. Except for ironing napkins and misplacing my cleaning products, I have no idea what else he did on his first visit. 

Robert, on the other hand, now has "staff" in Canada.  In principle alone this has him very excited. The role this staff person has taken on, unwittingly, is that of “houseboy”. And that is actually all I know this man as – “the houseboy”.  

I fear to ask Robert houseboy's name as it might somehow take away a little of the magic of it all for him. While I will likely never see this man, I will be shopping for him. He has given Robert a list of cleaning products, for which he thoughtfully emailed photos, put in a request a specific brand of mop and has asked that we purchase a vacuum.

Robert had phoned me at work on that initial day to ask if we owned a vacuum. We do not. We don’t own one in Ottawa, as we have hardwood floors throughout, and we don’t own one in Venice, as we have marble floors throughout.  This came as a bit of surprise to Robert – the lack of a vacuum, not the respective flooring materials. As an aside, if vacuums cost ten thousand dollars apiece and served merely an aesthetic function, he’d own five - with three still in their crates.
Wanting to keep the new staff happy, Robert has tasked me with purchasing the vacuum. His reasoning was that he felt it to be more in my area of expertise. I, however, suspect that it is because he doesn’t know what one looks like.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More dating tips for women and the man chore that can be seen from space

Now let’s suppose you have a man currently in your life who is not a pseudo-boyfriend (see definitions), and you are interested in trying to move the relationship toward something a little more intimate but you don’t want to seem too obvious, so you invite him over for dinner. However, to blur the possibility of the dinner being clearly and correctly construed as an overture by said man you incorporate a man chore (see definitions) favour into the evening. If this is your tactic of choice, your handling of “the favour” makes all the difference.
My experience whether with a female friend, a girlfriend or with some type of relationship in between, has been that women get it wrong every single time. Yet it is so simple to get right. Ask “the favour” at the time that arrangements are being made for the date not, I repeat not, at the time of arrival. If “the favour” is asked at the time of arrival it can be a little deflating. And I assume, perhaps presumptuously, that your first choice for a date would not be a deflated man. If it is, then I say: to each her own sister. And you are soooo reading the wrong blog.
Free, Public Domain Image: Man Using a Grinder at WorkThere is nothing that makes me cringe more, to this very day, than when I enter a woman’s home as her guest, and she speaks those dreadful words which go something like: “While I am preparing dinner, I was wondering if you could do me a favour.” “The favour” more often than not frequently required tools which she did not posses and therefore must have assumed that I, as man, carry around at all times. This is akin to my asking a female friend to knit me a sweater the moment she walks into my house. After all, don’t all women innately know how to do this? Are they not ever vigilant with assorted yarns at the ready and needles, like Japanese Chokuto blades, sheathed across their back?
During the single episodes of some of the women in my life I have unwittingly slipped into the role of their pseudo-boyfriend and “the favour” became my nemesis. Oddly I continually fell for it. There was never a free meal. One would assume that once a woman has a man in her life that “the favour” would no longer be a concern but this, I learned, is a dangerous fallacy. The scope of “the favour” may actually grow exponentially in this situation. “While I am basting the chicken can you put a shelf up for me?” can explode into “While I am basting the chicken can you help Jack put up a retaining wall?” I did eventually catch on and required that certain of my women friends explicitly state that I would not be ambushed by a chore of any sort upon arrival. They have respected my wishes, though admittedly through avoidance.
Comparatively, on the rare occasion when a gay man required help with some type of luger work, not only would he ask while extending the invitation but also take part. Imagine. I still get misty when it happens.
From my experience I can guarantee that it is a misnomer to think that some emperor or other had decreed that the Great Wall of China be built. I know differently. It is the only man chore that you can see from space. “While I am basting the chicken can you help my husband and brothers put up a retaining wall?”

Great Wall of China

Monday, March 21, 2011

Linen napkins and dire circumstances

Robert recently decided that it was time to hire a housekeeper and, thanks to Craigslist he has found his man. Strangely, this event was presented to me as being my "early Christmas present".
It wasn’t our home’s state of cleanliness which prompted his decision but rather the state of our ironing - specifically, our napkins. He is able to rectify a less than pristinely clean home by simply removing his glasses. But napkins are another matter entirely.
Robert claims that he was brought up so poor that they didn’t even have paper napkins. When he eventually discovered linen, he swore never to endure less. His collection is vast and can be traced to the four corners of the globe. Robert is very tactile and therefore texture is quite important to him. As far as he is concerned, it is a much overlooked part of gracious living.
To his credit, Robert has taken to doing the laundry periodically, up to the point of folding the clothes and putting them away.  This is his line in the sand. Once dried, the clothing is no longer of concern until he goes to dress, whereupon he discovers that everything is neatly awaiting him. I’m not sure if he gives much thought about how the clothing gets from the dryer to his closet. Magic perhaps, with ironing being the most mystical, post-drying, wonder of all.
He has either convinced himself or is trying to convince me that I love to iron. I do not. I like the outcome, but I do not like the act. The difference is significant. Early in our relationship he had tried to persuade me to do all the ironing at once - thus resulting in all of our shirts being pressed for the whole week. This mindset had resulted, just prior to departing for a month, in his leaving a ball of shirts in a shopping bag with a note saying, “You are too, too angelic”. And there they remained until his return. I believe he quietly sends his shirts out now.
Although I don’t mind ironing a shirt for him, on an as required basis, in the absence of an impending dinner party, I don’t plan to spend any of my time ironing napkins. Through use the crisply ironed stacks that he brought from Venice have been slowly whittled away one-by-one. This has left Robert in quite a conundrum. I won’t iron napkins, he won’t iron period, sending them out is a little excessive, and he refuses to use a “tactilely unacceptable” wrinkle free poly-blend. Under these dire circumstances the only rational solution was, of course, to hire a housekeeper. He starts this week.
Stay tuned….

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Eat, drink, laugh and sit in the coolest, most Euro- suave ways possible

Not too long after arriving in Venice, Robert and I were invited to lunch by an acquaintance of his. It was a societal gesture suggesting that we should make an effort to move from the “cocktail party” circle to the more intimate “dinner party” circle in each other’s lives. She is an American, who owns a place in Paris but prefers Venice and so rents a palazzo that fronts onto the Grand Canal. (The most lavish facades of palazzos are always on the canal side.) And if you are not familiar with the terrain, renting a palazzo on the Grand Canal is akin to renting a condo on Madison Avenue.

Robert and I arrived by the garden entrance to find the table set, with mimosa chilling, on the patio. However it was not long before we came to the general consensus that, even under the awning, the sun was making it far too hot. So the luncheon was moved to the shade at the front of the palazzo.

Throughout Venice the canals are flanked by fondamenta, which represent a dry land hybrid of street and sidewalk. However, as is the case along the entire Grand Canal, there was no fondamenta in front of her palazzo merely a large concrete platform that is only accessible by boat and therefore would only ever be used by visitors. It is in effect a large porch.
The Grand Canal is a busy place being plied by gondolas, private boats, and tourist laden vaporetti (the public transit water buses). While watching the ebb and flow of traffic I soon noticed the cameras and camcorders. The number of lens pointed in our direction defied chance, we were clearly a photo-op! I won’t even attempt to suggest that I felt scandalized or that the entire scenario was horribly invasive for I’d risk being struck by lightning. Self-conscious doesn’t even apply, but I did try to eat, drink, laugh and sit in the coolest, most Euro- suave ways possible. After all, I didn’t want to let my public down! I sincerely love each and everyone one of them. Kisses, kisses....

Saturday, February 26, 2011

QM2 and extremely expensive pens

Thanks to Robert I have a small, and growing, collection of extremely expensive pens. The pens were actually free. It is just the places that he took them from that were costly. I have pens from two of London’s most prestigious hotels, The Connaught and Claridges, another from one of London’s most elite private clubs, The Tory Party’s Carleton Club, yet another from one of New York’s most historic hotels, the home of the famous (and infamous) New Yorker roundtable, The Algonquian, and my favourite, due to its sleek design, from Virgin Atlantic’s upper class. And now, thanks to our voyage from New York to South Hampton England aboard the QM2 on route to Venice, I have a pen from the Cunard line, with which I originally diarized the notes which have become this blog post.

If you are not aware, the QM2 is an ocean liner (the only one of her kind left, as two of the ships Officers had independently shared over dinner), not to be confused with a cruise liner. The distinction is a matter of which comes first, the ship or the hotel. A cruise liner is a hotel that just happens to have a hull, whereas an ocean liner is a double platted hull that just happens to be shipping a hotel from port to port.
The resulting difference can be summarized as follows. I have been on a cruise liner previously, the Caribbean Princess to be specific (fitting on so many levels). The suite had been large and chock-a-block with amenities including a full four piece bathroom. Comparatively, on the QM2, Robert and I were in one of the more upscale top deck staterooms. While equivalent in creature comforts to a four or five star hotel, it was not nearly as spacious as what I had experienced on the Caribbean Princes and, additionally, the bathroom was missing the tub. On the other hand, to put things in perspective, the QM2 is built to weather an ocean crossing with maelstrom seas of 90 foot waves (roughly nine stories). The Caribbean Princes, well, not so much. I didn’t miss the bathtub. I should design the Cunard brochures. “You want a tub? I’ve got your tub! It’s in your cruise liner Jacuzzi crypt on the muddy seabed of the Atlantic! There’s your tub!”
Being a British liner, the QM2 had few North American electrical sockets outside of the stateroom. Knowing that I was in the process of writing my third manuscript Robert offered to loan me a converter for my laptop so that I could have full range of the ship. Frequently traveling between England, Italy and the United States Robert has an inventory of plug converters in various permutations. On our trip he had wisely brought along one (and only one) which took the relatively delicate and innocuous North American prongs and capped them with the British, “electricity is a damn bit of serious business, and we’ll have no tomfoolery about it”, industrial strength claw-like trident.

However, it was a boomerang loan, and in short order the converter found its way back to him, for he too wanted to use his laptop beyond the confines of our room. Fair enough. It was on my first afternoon of socket scouting which found me, on day 3 at 4:00 pm, in the Golden Lion Pub on the end of a long red- leather banquette beside a tiny bandstand, where the prized North American outlet was discovered. In a Jungian case of bizarre synchronicity (the meaning of which eludes me) it was at that day and time when the QM2 passed over the wreckage of the Titanic. The sea was suddenly the calmest it had been since we had embarked and fog, seemingly from nowhere, had closed around the ship; the kind of silver-gray soup that an iceberg could hide in. Less than an hour earlier people had been sunning on the top decks. Make of it what you will. I personally had made it a double. (As an aside, the QM2 can go from top speed to a full stop in six minutes, during which it will have traveled three thousand meters. Jarring, but awesome, yet with visibility looking to be no more than five hundred meters there was a whole lot of techno-trust going on that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. )

Whenever possible, the pub became my literary haunt of choice. With six nights at sea, and no ports of call, there is a lot of free-time to people watch should you be so inclined, which I was. And where better to do so than at a pub in the middle of the Atlantic.

As it generally was, the establishment was relatively empty one mid-afternoon when I had once again returned; just enough patrons to keep it interesting, but not enough to be distracting. No sooner had I setup my laptop when a middle-aged man, appearing somewhat worn thin, plopped himself at the table directly beside me. In retrospect I doubt that I was even noticed. With a notable British accent, he ordered a rum and coke in a tall class with a straw and lemon wedge (In hindsight I think he was attempting to camouflage it as purely a soda).

 He had managed a couple of sips before his exasperated wife, with her mother in tow, arrived (both assumptions about the relationships involved are fairly safe bets, I assure you). As the two sat down at the gentleman’s table his spine went a little rigged. His wife sniffed the drink and then looked straight at him as a prelude to her scolding.  She at once asked a question and in no uncertain terms provided the answer. “It’s a little early don’t you think?” People are the best show in town.

Neither here-nor-there I suppose, but to be accurate it was 3:30 in the afternoon. “Since I’ve been married to you there is no such thing,” would have been my answer. But then I’m not the best council in such situations.  

Of related interest, the QM2 has a theatre for live performance which seconds as a non-denominational chapel for private weddings. Conversely, the ship also has a huge expanse of railing from which to sightsee, sections of which could second as a rather secluded place for a witness free divorce.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dating, sexism and fabulous lemonade

Before getting back to the matter of your gay-man-approach to the first meeting, let’s review. You select a man primarily based on his looks and to a lesser extent on his personality. His current job and his career potential are not part of the equation. You pepper conversation ever so lightly with flattery, as you work your way toward complimenting his body parts. 
At this point any man would be lucky to have you, but one small refining matter remains before moving on to that all important first meeting, sexism. I have never seen this topic mentioned in any other dating advice column/blog, mock or not. And I don’t understand why that would be the case. Sexist comments happen. They can be a mood killer and therefore merit discussion.
To be clear, in this post I’m not referring to your date’s stereotypes inadvertently directed at women but rather potentially your stereotypes naively directed at men.  When I started to date men I have to admit that I was not at first consciously aware of the complete absence of sexist comments but I think that it did immediately contributed very positively to the overall enjoyment of the experience.    
To simplify for the sake of this particular blog post, and by simplify I mean pigeon-hole, I will divide the women I have dated into two distinct camps. The first are the women who while attracted to the male body and male sexuality have strong issues with ‘men’ as a gender. They are complicated, tirade prone and seemingly unhappy ladies. The other category I will simply label as – fans of men. These are the women that would join in, if only in spirit, with the Weather Girls as they belt out their 70’s disco classic ‘It’s Raining Men’. It is to the latter group that I write.

So that we have a shared understanding of what I am talking about with regard to sexism let me give you a hypothetical scenario. You park your sexy sports car and as you are getting out, a young man who is passing by comments, sincerely: “Nice car! Your husband must have a great job.”

Some examples of equivalent female slip-ups which have actually been said to me by women (though not necessarily about me) include:
1)      “A cashier is no job for a man.”
2)      “When the woman of the house is happy, then the house is happy.”
3)      “I’m just not used to a man who can’t do home repair. My father was so handy.”

Should you not see an issue with one or more of the above - you’ve got your work cut out for you. I can help. If nothing else, avoid generalized statements. It sounds simple enough but it is not. And you will, as will your future dates, screw this up. My point it is that sexist remarks will happen from time to time. Don’t become obsessively on guard but it is something to keep in mind. It is also perhaps a suggestion for some tolerance when the shoe is on the other foot. Taking my above car scenario, if you are single and the young man is attractive you could respond with: “Actually I’m not married. Would you like to take a closer look at my car?” Make fabulous lemonade from lemons my dear, it’s the gay man way.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Our Stay in Truro

In May 2009, while winding our way to Venice, Robert and I took the ferry from Boston to Cape Cod to visit a couple of his dear friends. The boat docks in Provincetown which, if you haven’t been, is on every gay man’s bucket-list but shouldn’t be. Once quaint I am sure, the town is now a caricatured amusement park of its bygone offbeat self. Our final destination was to be Truro, a lesser known, lesser gay, still quaint, town further up the Cape.

After disembarking, Robert and I were met by Mitch and his wife Judy. Not entirely recovered from the two hours of being on a seafaring tilt-a-whirl, I sat in the back of the SUV and listened quietly while these longstanding friends caught up. Interspersed amongst the gossip were sprinklings of Cape Cod trivia provided by Mitch, one particularly interesting fact being that the Pilgrims did not first go ashore in Plymouth, as is the popular lore even amongst Americans, but rather had first gone to Truro. Curious, I later researched this titbit and stumbled upon an historical irony surrounding the arrival of the Mayflower that I positively relish. These religious puritans (similar in beliefs and practices to today’s Baptists, Congregationalists, and Methodists) first dropped anchor on November 21, 1620 in Provincetown Harbour; the future site of the gayest place on earth, right after San Francisco’s Castro District and the Vatican. After which they proceeded to explore Truro as a possible place for settlement--and promptly left. No reflection on the place in its current state.

In a short time the drive brought us to the hillside enclave of four homes (the combined plot of land could have fit a small subdivision) where Mitch and Judy had built their beautiful abode which had been designed by their architect son and his architect wife. It is modern in its lines, including a flat roof, but kept with regional tradition in its exterior finishes such as the clapboard siding.  The property, a few acres of it, had for the most part been left to the indigenous coastal flora. Tall poverty grass, subtle wild flowers and wind pruned trees like pitch pine were made part of the home’s decor through large windows.

Bright and engaging, Mitch and Judy were gracious hosts. Mitch is a wonderfully pragmatic man who once took a silver-set to the public dump simply because they never used it - a treasured find that was quickly snatched up by others. (It would seem from the description that the site was actually somewhat of a free-market open-air exchange for locals.)  Subsequently, on a different run, Mitch picked up a rusted grate which he refurbished and repurposed as a tabletop, because he needed a tabletop. After recently having purged myself of most of my worldly possessions (it’s just stuff after all), his pragmatism had a very rational charm to it.

Judy is an extremely sweet woman whose self-proclaimed type-A tendencies with regard to tidiness are endearing, almost beautiful, to watch. She was as delicate, unobtrusive and welcome as a humming bird as she cleaned alongside me while I worked in the kitchen. Directly alongside me, as if I had two additional autonomous arms rushing to diligently conceal my trail.
During our outings Mitch would not only share his knowledge about the Cape, its ecology and history, but also would provide quick insights of his neighbours (aka gossip).  The three neighbours which shared the vast hillside reserve consisted of; a couple who were both judges (from western Massachusetts who got together on the Cape to live in sin supposedly unbeknownst to their hometown friends—scandalous), and a couple who were both architects (gay and impossibly bitchy, they didn’t abide by the environmental protection codes) and a couple who were both psychiatrists (No juicy scoop on them, but they’re psychiatrists so you know they’re definitely not normal--my generalization not Mitch’s.) It would appear to me that in Truro there are some very strict, two-by-two, cohabitation laws. I can only assume, but didn’t confirm, that Mitch and Judy had a type of zoning waiver since he, formerly being in real estate, was a painter and she is a retired school principal. Who cohabitates with someone outside their own profession?

Further down the hill was a woman who lived in a lovely yellow saltbox house whose garden we raided for the ingredients to a salad as we were taking a shortcut through her yard. (Both acts Mitch assured us were perfectly acceptable amongst congenial neighbours.) This particular neighbour loves to travel, Nepal being her destination of choice. Periodically, we were told, she brings back a Sherpa or two. Yes, a Sherpa--or two. I’m not sure what one goes for these days, but apparently they are very conscientious, hard working men who put in a six month tour and then go back to Nepal.

In addition to providing general labour, they are skilled builders who construct delightful, but durable structures, such as little cages of woven branches for the roses and charming little huts without the use of nails. It is a remarkably generous act on her part, but who does that? Seriously, if you want to ensure that your money is getting to the people who need it most, hire them directly. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hooray for Prime Timers!

Robert and I began the celebration of my birth-month, February, with an extra long weekend in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. While we were down there we meet up with a couple of friends of Robert’s to whom he had sent a copy of my book, “Pairs”. It turns out that they liked it so much that they bought a few copies (five) as gifts for friends. And, when they return to their home in Boston, they would love for me to come and speak at the next get together of Prime Timers. What is Prime Timers, you ask? well according to their website:
“PRIME TIMERS WORLD WIDE has thousands of members and more than 70 chapters from Australia, to North America and Europe. PRIME TIMERS is a brotherhood of mature gay and bisexual men and their friends who join together for social, educational, and cultural activities.  Our diverse membership, some retired, some still working, are involved and focused on improving the image and quality of gay life through activities like volunteerism, politics, gay issues, arts, sports, and entertainment.”
Cool, eh. My editor and I had thought that I had written a work in the genre of “women’s literature” but it turns out that I may have actually written a work of “mature gay and bisexual men and their friends” literature. Time will tell....

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The ‘SS Dramamine’

In May 2009, I made the decision to move to Venice to be with my love, Robert, on a permanent basis.  Robert joined me in Ottawa in June to help in preparations that lasted two full months.  As July wound down, I went through the motions of day-to-day living, but my mind was already in Venice.  Actually getting there was a bit more of an adventure.

The first stop on our journey from Ottawa, Canada to Venice, Italy was Boston. Robert has cherished friends there that he had wished us to visit. By Boston, Robert actually meant the greater Boston area. And by the greater Boston area he actually meant the American eastern seaboard. So, it was in following his encompassing line of thought that we had found ourselves, one Friday afternoon, taking the fast ferryboat out to Cape Cod.
The weather in Boston for the late July week leading up to our departure to the Cape had been unpredictable. Waking up in the morning I never knew which unseasonable it would be. Unseasonably cold, unseasonably wet or unseasonably like the gloomy depths of autumn. The day of our departure it was unseasonably gloomy. I had been a little disappointed that restricted visibility, due to the fog, had spoiled my chances of getting to see the great oceanic vistas I had heard about. This disappointment was immediately usurped and cast aside when I was greeted by a sunglass clad young gentleman (I guess he didn’t want to get his eyes wet from the rain) passing out seasick bags while offhandedly providing what I soon discovered was a very understated explanation. “It’s a little rough out there today.”

The fast ferryboat from Boston to Provincetown meets neither my standard of fast or of ferryboat.  I’ve been around ferryboats. If they cross anything wider than a river, they are rather large car carrying water-pit-bulls that stubbornly plod along with single-minded disinterest in anything that is not the pier looming on the approaching shore. Crashing waves are but delicate crystal upon those mighty hulls.
However, the ‘SS Dramamine’ that shuttles from Boston to Provincetown, is not a pit bull. It is a jaunty excursion craft that weathers rough water like a cork. Alright, that is a bit of an exaggeration. The boat is slightly more substantial than a cork, but not by nearly enough.

The fun began in fairly short order once we were away from the dock. Swish up, swoop down, list this way, then that way, burrow under the crest, spray windows into a translucent melting smear, pop back out, and then turn yourself about! Repeat, but this time with feeling. Wheee!

Maybe I’m showing my age but for some reason in my mind Jacques Cousteau’s soothing but authoritative Parisian accent was providing the voice over. “Cape Cod, she is a giant sandbar of immense destructive power. During the 18th and 19th centuries, hundreds and hundreds of ships ran aground and were smashed to kindling by the merciless waters of the Atlantic. Un temps terrible pour les marins.

There were two related phenomena that didn’t quite fit into my passage of the Calypso scenario. First there were the three televisions suspended above the forward windows.  All were on the same channel, the sports network, and therefore showing the same round of golf. Keep in mind that the pervasive backdrop behind the onscreen stately and peaceful emerald greens was the pitching grey brine of the sea and a murky, landless, horizon. The sound was down but the games were helpfully closed captioned in teeny-tiny letters to encourage further nausea for those wishing to enhance their experience.

The only passenger who seemed to take note of, and offense to (to no avail), the programming was an inebriated fifty-something year old dude-want-to-be wearing a black wool and leather varsity take on a biker jacket. His voice was scratchy and etched. As he wobbled and teetered in front of me kvetching to the previously mentioned sunglass clad seasickness bag greeter, I had time to judge him harshly while sipping my wine.

Across the back of his jacket were fat, richly piled, cloth letters in a pub inspired ‘days-of-yore’ font which spelled out ‘Harley Davidson’-- correctly. I’m not sure if he had stitched the letters on himself or if the jacket came from Walmart that way, but in either case they offered a glimpse into the man’s glory-days psyche. Finishing off this summer ensemble, from the ‘You’ve got to be joking’ collection, was a matching baseball-cap, bill to the rear. Twines of blond rinsed hair, which might have been included with the cap, I don’t know, squeezed out from under the rim like frayed wet straw. There were many stories onboard the vessel, his was the stupidest.

The wine that Robert and I had been sharing was a bottle of Ciros de Susana Balbo. It is a charming, but not spectacular, Malbec, that was perfect accompaniment to an open sea crossing peppered with bouts of white-knuckled bracing, should you ever find yourself in the market for such a thing. The woman sitting across from us applauded our tenacious perseverance to civility in the face of “this is the worse I’ve seen them go out in” commentary from the more experienced passengers. We decided it was time to finish up when the changes in elevation became so rapid that the wine in our glass failed to keep pace and spent fleeting moments airborne.

Sometimes, when there was a particularly steep and rapid fall (just love that particular combination by-the-by) from a high swell, I’d get that funny feeling I used to get when I was on the top end of the teeter-totter and the kid on the bottom hoped off. Great playground times when there was a brief mid-air test in physics where my testicles traveled to the ground at a slightly slower rate than the rest of my body and would pass through me until catching up to speed. There were a few such gloriously nostalgic moments. Again, wheeee!

Not to get too graphic, but as you can imagine there are those for whom a weaving horizon and agitated sea might cause queasiness and perhaps projectile vomiting. As one might guess the thoughtfully provided bags were indeed used, en masse. Of interest, people really do go green and the blood really does drain from their face when seasick. As Robert napped, yes napped, I made a game of predicting who was about to blow while watching helpful attendants, all of whom wore surgical gloves, run around to provide fresh baggies. Now that is service.

Also of interest, the bar was opened the entire time. Those who had the foresight to have taken Dramamine prior to the trip were getting laced, for although Dramamine does quell a queasy stomach it does not quell the fear of a cold and watery grave. Did I mention wheeee?

Sure this went on for a relentless two hours, but I don’t want to scare off any potential visitors, so for the sake of somewhat balanced reporting rest assured that it was not as if we were off of the
Tierra del Fuego archipelago rounding the “Horn” in the icy grip of winter  (I’m certain then that you’d need to drink the wine directly from the bottle to prevent spillage). Our return trip two days later was very beautiful.