Sunday, June 20, 2010


It’s been an eventful thirty-six hours, starting with stupid kitchen accidents and ending with serendipity. First the stupid accidents: I was trying to make myself useful to Dawn, who was preparing for a big catering job. She suggested I could shave fennel for her, for a salad, using a mandolin. Hers is a good one, and sharp. And believe it or not, but I had never used a mandolin before. You can guess the rest: I sliced my middle fingertip. Ouch! Yikes! Gauze and bandaid firmly on, I went back to my task, resolved to be careful. But I was still, in retrospect I now realise, using the wrong technique. You have to hold your hand flat, not grasp the vegetable you are slicing but instead just press it against the blade with your flattened palm. And so of course I managed to slice another fingertip, even more bloodily than the first (no, no blood on the food, don’t worry!!). More "ouch!" more "yikes!".

Since then, almost as if I had paid ahead for it, life has been wonderful in many ways. Dom and I drove to the airport and picked up Tashi and Duncan, hot off their charter flight from Rome, still bright-eyed, and very awake. Such a treat to see them and to hear them talk about their trip as we made and ate supper and hung around together.

And today, after a morning run and a long coffee with a friend, I did a market shop and then managed to get a recipe figured out on my first try, a yummy dish of chicken livers, cut into bite-size, and bathed in a thick rich “curry sauce”. I was trying to reproduce something I’d eaten in Hsipaw, in the Shan State, at a Burmese (rather than a Shan) restaurant. The chicken livers are tender and just cooked, the sauce has a depth of flavor that is surprising and inviting.

I hurried a little with the recipe because I’d promised to go help a chef here with a find-raising event tonight. When you’re feeding 300 people, you need a lot of hands just for plating/serving. And so, along with a crowd of others I carved beef and drizzled on sauce and put out slices of cheese etc, as the courses went out one after the other. The late afternoon and evening were clear and beautiful, the light sharp, so that everything glowed in a solstice celebratory kind of way. And the guests were happy and felt celebratory too, the food was so good, so beautiful.

My bicycle ride back, along paths in the forest, was peaceful, yes, but also a bit iffy, with only a flickering bike light in the dark. I was grateful that the moon, coming full, made small occasional patches of light through the forest canopy, so that I was able to pedal along tracks and finally up a steep path in the forest without incident and at last out into quiet residential streets.

But then the big city part of the trip was a huge contrast, Saturday night uptown, with lights and cars and revellers in summer frocks. From that scene in a few minutes I was in quiet again, as I pedalled through the University of Toronto, nearly home now. But then, and this is the serendipity, as I got to Queen’s Park, by the provincial legislature, at about ten o’clock, there was a big crowd, and live music. YES! Salif Keita and his band were playing in the warm summer night in the park. I propped my bike against a fence and started dancing, and they played and played...

So as I write, my feet are a little bruised from dancing barefoot for over an hour on rough ground, and I still have the music echoing in my ears, Salif Keita’s distinctive enticing voice and the drumming! How lovely.

Two sliced fingertips are nothing balanced against this fabulous twenty-four hours. And even without the serendipitous end to this day, the fact that I am free to ride my bicycle, to say yes to helping a friend, to poke around trying to figure out a recipe, to love my grown up kids and tell them so, these are the important things to celebrate. Today Aung San Suu Kyi turns sixty-five. There was a vigil in her honour, but also to remember all those who are not free, held a couple of evenings ago downtown. It was a sobering reminder of how precious daily freedoms are. We need to celebrate them and exercise them.

This coming week, as the men with guns descend even more intensely on this city (the G-20 are meeting here next weekend, so there are cement and metal security fences downtown and closures of institutions such as the university and galleries and banks etc, for four days to a week, and a general flight out of the city by all who can), is the time to assert our freedoms. For me that means NOT fleeing but staying, asserting normalcy in the face of the security hysteria and wild overspending that our conservative government is visiting upon us. I say NO to all that. I plan to bicycle around, to see friends, to refuse the powerful messages of fear.

Fear is the enemy of freedom, freedom of movement, of thought, of action, of creativity and imagination. In other words it’s the enemy of all that makes us human. So it’s a big NO to fear. That’s MY solstice resolution! Let the sun shine in!

As the buddhist monk who led us in a prayer at the vigil said, and we repeated after: “may we be free” - “may we be free”... “of enmity” - “of enmity”.

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