Tuesday, 26 February 2013

343: Films and Frocks

As I watched the Academy Awards on Sunday night, I had the weirdest sensation at about 11:15 during one of the ads:  Must make tomorrow's lunch.  

Huh?  Some habits die hard.

Since I completely missed last year's program because I was otherwise occupied (hiking in New Zealand), I must have been channeling the 2011 Oscars which I watched just a few months before I retired.  I remember that program because I had seen a lot of the movies (and was rooting for The King's Speech) and because I knew that everyone at work would be talking about them.  I would have prepared my lunch in preparation for a staff room deconstruction of films and frocks. And I would have watched the whole darn program. How can you miss the best bits just for the sake of an hour's sleep?

Last Sunday evening, however, I was glad to stick it out for the entire four hours knowing that I could sleep in Monday morning if I felt the need -- because I was not working. Not working?  Oh no!  I would not be able to hold forth with my colleagues about:
  • Seth MacFarlane's nasty jibes (and was I awful thinking that the sock skit was funny?)
  • Frock fumbles: Ann Hathaway's strange, pale apron-dress; Jane Fonda's fierce frock (nicely styled but in an unfortunate hue that really only flatters buses); Melissa McCarthy's sad sack-dress.
  • Canadian content, including Mychael Danna's articulate acceptance speech .

Then, as I put aside lunch-preparation, I realized that I did have a Monday morning group that might share Oscar observations: my Qi Gong Gang.    And these retirees did not let me down.  In our short break, we managed to cover all the basics quickly. (Pi's success? Yeah! Jennifer's tumble? She's young; she can get away with it.)    I even discovered that one of the retired nurses in our group had seen Ted, hated it, and was not surprised by Seth's crudeness.

But she did like the sock skit.  Yeah!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

#342: Euthanasia, Mon Amour

Films about old age are all the rage right now, so it is a good time to be an older actor.   Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtney and Billy Connolly make us smile and sigh, and smile again in Quartet, while Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Emmanuelle Riva bring real star-power to Amour, a film nominated for several Academy Awards.

But when my 83 year-old friend Jean leaned across the table at lunch on Wednesday to tell me she had just seen the most wonderful film about old people, I was pretty sure which of the two movies she had in mind.   It was Quartet, of course. We proceeded to enumerate all that we loved about the film --- from to the setting, to the music, to the cast.

I did not ask her about Amour.  I did not say "Did you see the other movie -- about the devoted husband and his dying wife?   Where the daughter is distraught because her elderly, declining parents are determined to age in place?  The film that ends in euthanasia?"

Nope.  Didn't go there.   For that matter, I haven't yet gone to Amour, either.  And why not?  In spite of its dark themes,  Amour won the Palm D' Or at Cannes.  It is nominated for Best Foreign Language Oscar and Best Picture. Emmanuelle Riva, at 85, is a Best Actress hopeful.  Surely, these accolades are sufficiently convincing?   But I can't help remembering Riva in her youth when she won acclaim for Hiroshima Mon Amour, and I loved Jean-Louis Trintignant in A Man and a Woman.  Now they are old, and their characters are ill and dying.  This is all too sad.

Amour, I fear, is a bit too much like real life. Younger viewers may view it more dispassionately.  They will moved by the devotion of the aged lovers, but they will probably not imagine failing (and possibly suicidal) parents and grandparents.  I am very much afraid that I will see this film and be compelled to think of my friends, myself and my husband.

But tonight, as we drove some friends to the symphony, Linda (who is my age) gushed from the back seat, "I have just seen the most sublimely perfect movie -- Amour.  Lovingly crafted. Superb acting.  Those Oscar nominations are well deserved!"

Oh dear.  I may have to see this film, after all.

But preparation would be required. And realistically, for me, this is not a challenge. I could simply pay more attention to the older couples at the retirement/nursing home where I volunteer. I could watch the husbands and wives in wheelchairs and walkers, and try very hard to see only a Lifetime of Love in the abstract, and not the specifics of Bruce and Nancy 15 years from now.  I could have another conversation with "Hetty" whose husband no longer knows her and lives upstairs in the dementia unit. Thus inured, I could perhaps watch Amour without crying my eyes out in the back row of the theatre or resorting to several fingers of Bruce's whisky when I got home.

And if my ploy is unsuccessful, at least I know an antidote: a couple of hours spent watching Quartet again. There is nothing as cheering as a good dose of optimistic fantasy. 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

#341: Late Life Romance

Before the spirit of Valentine's Day evaporates completely, I feel I should point out that the plot of Quartet (the subject of my Silver Screen post), though unrealistic in many respects, does hinge on a late life romance that is entirely plausible.  When the two older opera stars (one half of the quartet) meet again, make up, and fall in love once more, we are completely convinced.  We know this can happen. 

The New York Times recently featured just such a story in their Modern Love column. Contributor Eve Pell writes about her relationship with Sam whom she first spotted at her San Francisco running club (I love that detail).  She was 68 and he was 10 years older.  She contrived to meet him, they hit it off, and soon they were more than running partners. This is such a sweet story, both happy and sad, and it reminded me of my mother and the man she met when I wasn't looking.

In 1982, I encouraged my widowed, 69 year-old-mother to move from Edmonton to Guelph.  She had been here one year when we announced our sabbatical plans.  We chose to spend the year in Edmonton (where our in laws lived), and my mother was left to her own devices. I felt as if we had abandoned her.

I should not have worried. I returned at the end of our time away to discover that she had met someone special.  Bill Butler was a widowed, retired, 80-year old manufacturer who was looking for a housekeeper, and my mother applied for the job.  Those who knew Sally are floored by this detail.  (Eve Pell, at least, was a runner, but my mother was no housekeeper.)  But she was cute and smart, and read the Business section of the Globe and Mail every day. Bill was smitten.

I was barely back in Ontario when I got a call from my mother.  "Bill and I want to go away for a weekend up north, but I don't think he should pick me up at my apartment.  I have neighbours who would gossip."  So I picked up Mum for her illicit weekend, and she and Bill left from my house. I doubt our neighbours noticed anything at all, but if they did, I hope they were thinking, as I was: "Go Sally, Go!"

Sally and Bill were married in our living room, and they moved down the road to Cambridge where Bill had lived previously.  They bought a condo, furnished it, and hired a cleaning lady.  My 70 year-old mother learned to drive. She and Bill spent two happy winters in Florida, and that is where he had his first heart attack. They were together for only three years, but it was a happy time for both. You can't hope for much more when Cupid pays a final visit.

Another chance for romance?  Just give thanks.

Monday, 11 February 2013

#340: The Silver Screen

Movie-going seniors seem to have an insatiable appetite for other old folks on film. 

Take Quartet, the new film by Dustin Hoffman about an English retirement home full of geriatric musicians. It has been screened recently in Guelph, and everyone I know over 65 has seen it or has tried to see it.  They have lined up for the movie, have been turned away, and have come back the following night.  This has been happening every day, unabated, for two weeks. I suspect that word of mouth has propelled interest in this movie.  We are rushing to get tickets, much the way we all stampeded to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel because of our friends' enthusiasm.

The appeal of Marigold Hotel and Quartet is not just their veteran star-power, however. (It must surely be a coincidence that Maggie Smith and her arthritic hips are a plot point in each.) These films both understand the importance of positive outcomes, and older viewers like uplifting.  They like happy -- not over-the-top happy -- but happy-within-reason.  And why not? At 65+ we know that our options are dwindling.  If, like Forrest Gump,  we are still choosing from life's chocolate box, we'd prefer to believe that there still a few Belgian truffles waiting for us. Or hard centres. Or something good.  And therein lies the appeal of Quartet.

It is inconceivable that this film will end badly.  Will the annual Verdi gala save Beauchamp House for Retired Musicians from financial ruin?  Will the four delightful (and slightly dotty) retired opera greats pull off a decent performance of the quartet from Rigoletto? Will they remember the words?  And do the elderly, disaffected lovers finally make up?  Of course.  Of course!

Yes, there are inconsistencies -- that afternoon of music isn't going to pay for lawn service let alone pay down the mortgage-- but niggles that flit at the edge of our consciousnesses are easily dismissed.  We are so seduced by the charm and wit of this film that we believe, absolutely, that everything will turn out well.  That we do not actually hear the quartet from Rigoletto, matters not one bit.  We believe that the performance is successful.  We imagine it, and that is enough. And we tell our friends "You must see Quartet!  It is such fun. It will make you feel good!"

But the best aspect of Quartet has nothing to do with the triumph of imagination over logic.  What  really sends viewers out of the theatre smiling is as concrete as the final credits. All those elderly musicians populating the Beauchamp in minor roles are the real deal.  They lend the picture credibility as one after the other is pictured in their Beauchamp persona (the pianist, the clarinet player, the opera singer...) and as they appeared at the start of their actual music careers. It is is a large cast, too--the musical seniors outnumber everyone else 30 to one.  It warms one's heart to see all those older faces scrolling by.

Quartet delivers genuine sweetness and uplift.  The box of chocolates still holds promise.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

#339: 100 Year Old Librarian?

Although retired,  I still occasionally work for my previous employer as an "emergency librarian", so  I was drawn to the tiny item in today's Globe and Mail about a 100-year-old temp.  Jim Clements was a bored retiree who got back in the game 34 years ago when he found a part-time position at a security firm.

It was the "security" aspect of the job that sent me in search of more information.  I imagined him guarding something, but what could it be?  The canteen at an Essex nursing home?

The story is all over the English media.  It turns out that Jim works in his company's office a couple of days a week, and video clips show him going about his job--filing, answering the phone, shredding and making tea for the rest of the staff--with remarkable energy.  His colleagues, women young enough to be his daughters and grand-daughters, all obviously adore him.

Good on you, Jim!  And hurray for the office that finds this arrangement mutually beneficial.

But my library colleagues can relax.  I want them to know that I have no intention of becoming Ontario's oldest library temp.  I will eventually really retire.  Mind you, I might be lured back if there were ever an opening for a tea lady.


Sunday, 3 February 2013

#338: Heart (and Stroke) Attack

It is February, Heart Month.  Let the canvassing begin!

Last year, newly retired and with time to devote to Good Causes, I was sure that soliciting on a neighbouring street for Heart and Stroke would be a breeze.  I have great success in April when I visit the people on my own street for the Canadian Cancer Society, so I blithely assumed that I would do modestly well one street over, even though its residents are strangers to me.


My 2012 assault for Heart and Stroke was a spectacular failure. Not at all what I had anticipated.

My biggest strength as a canvasser is my determination.  No-one at home?  No problem.  I just keep coming back until I find someone willing to open the door.  But I did not reckon on February and the unique challenges this month presents to the hapless canvasser. How can one calendar page be so uncooperative?

I can see why the Heart and Stroke Foundation picked February, what with Valentines' Day and all.  But surely, the holiday tie-in is the only advantage. Otherwise, February is a winter month with all of winter's unpleasantness. It is snowy, icy, cold and dark.  Really dark (and I don't just mean depressing.)  The sun sets at 5:30 and if there are no porch lights it is impossible to see addresses, not to mention steps, doors and bells.  And after dark, people do not want to answer their doors or put on their porch lights.  Or perhaps they are simply on holidays (and not just crouching behind the curtains.)  I encountered so many apparently empty houses that I charitably concluded February was prime vacation time.

I discovered all this last year when, undeterred, I trudged up and down in pitch blackness, visiting 20 or so of the 30 houses on my route.  By the time I had knocked on all those doors and talked to only 9 or 10 people, I realized that I would have to make call backs.  But to which houses?  I hadn't really been paying attention.  I looked up and down the street with its vague, black house-shapes, and realized that I could only identify the 2 or 3 places where I had made out receipts. I had no idea how to distinguish the empty houses from the houses where I had been declined. In the dark I could not tell them apart.

As I re-traced my steps in a lame attempt to identify places I should re-visit, I encountered another women who was also out canvassing. She was coming down the sidewalk with her bundle of brochures for Doctors Without Borders. "I am having a bad night", I told her.  She said she wasn't doing that well either.  We did some mutual grumbling and eventually pitched our products to one another.  (Not everyone can say that they went out canvassing for one cause and returned having made a donation to another!)

We both concluded we would need to return in daylight.  There were still a few houses that I absolutely knew I had not canvassed.  As for the others, the ones I couldn't identify, .....I just couldn't go back and have someone say, "You were just here!  What part of NO don't you understand?"  I'd try again in 2013.

So this year, I am planning my attack with much more care. I can't do much about folks on holidays, but if I go prepared with a flashlight and a list of addresses that I can check off, I'll have a better chance visiting everyone else.

And if I happen upon a canvasser from Doctors Without Borders, at least I can truthfully tell her that I have given already.