Friday, March 25, 2011


Last week I wrote about the full moon and an expectation of spring. By then I had grilled outside over wood and charcoal (beef, mushrooms, smoked pork chops), a sure sign of milder weather and rising hopes. But now six days later we're back in the deep-freeze, truly. It began with heaps of wet snow that cooled into lighter drier snow and blanketed the city, every telephone wire, fence-top, sidewalk, tree branch. The cat wouldn't set foot outsdie, and nor, it seemed would the city crews, who were NOT ploughing streets at all.

(We have a new and horrible mayor, anti-bicycle, anti-public transit etc; my theory is that he's going to point with pride to the money he's saved. Meantime we've had three days of clogged, then icy-with-sun-melt-and-refreeze sidewalks. I've seen several falls and lots more near-misses.)

SInce I was away for a chunk of the snow-season, it was kind of lovely to find myself yesterday afternoon walking across the great white snowy circle at the University of Toronto, the sun reflecting glaringly into my eyes off the pristine white. I was hurrying to meet a friend for coffee, and thinking, as I rushed across the circle on the student-created packed snow path, that the glare on my skin reminded me of long ago when people would sit outside in the spring with reflectors, tanning, in breaks from spring skiing. That feels so long ago. DO people still tan like that?

I had made an appointment last week in the warm weather to take my bicycle in for its spring tune-up, and cold and snowy yesterday was the day. The street was so icy I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Feeling rather pathetic! I walked my bike to Urbane Cycle rather than risking a fall. And today I was able to ride it home, whizzing along on almost-dry roads (the sun, even with freezing air temperatures, is evaporating the snow and ice off the streets beautifully). The air was cold on my ears (no room for a hat under my helmet) but with a new rear derailer, new fromt tire, newly regreased front end, everything felt so smooth and easy; what a difference good maintenance makes!

That's a truth worth remembering in lots of contexts, not just bicycles.

On the night of the big snow day, Wednesday, I made a huge pot of beef stew, flavoured at the start, just before I put in the shallots/onions, with mustard seed, nigella seed, and some turmeric (into olive oil). (I find I use mustard seed and turmeric, a light dash, almost every time I use hot oil, except when stir-frying distinctly Thai or Chinese dishes.) I had potatoes from Marcus, brought to the house last week by Dawn and Ed of Evelyn's Crackers and still remarkably good, and some carrots from Quebec, as well as stewing beef from Grey County, bought at Sanagan's in Kensington Market.

A satisfyingly hungry crowd of young people (five in all) made short work of it. For greens there were very non-local wing beans ("tua plu" in Thai), bought at the Viet Grocery store on Spadina. They're long with frilled edges, and are best cooked in a little water quickly, like asparagus. I do them in a cast-iron skillet in an inch of water. When they're just cooked (about 5 minutes), I drain them and cut them into 1-inch lengths, then dress them in a light vinaigrette. Delish, and also beautiful.

This morning, with the temperature still freezing (wind chill of minus 15 at eight), I went for an early run. WInd pants, long underwear, three layers on top as well as hat and mittens: not my idea of springtime running gear! I needed it all, though was able to take off my mittens to cool down on the second half of the run. It felt so good to be out in the sun, breathing and moving freely. What a great thing that morning run is, a tonic that lasts all day.

Tomorrow I'm heading north for an afternoon of cross-country skiing and supper with a group of friends. I'd thought my one ski in December was all I'd get this year. So I suppose I'm ending this part of the post with the reflection that I've a lot to be grateful for, including this late snow...

Meanwhile in the wider world, there was an earthquake late Thursday, followed by many aftershocks, in the far eastern part of Burma's Shan State, just along the road from Mae Sai/Tachilek to Kengtung. I travelled that road last month, going up in a car and back south in a crowded bus. It passes through steep hills, and when it's in valleys, the hills on either side are beautiful and sweepingly massive, rather like the Jura or mountains in Tuscany. People in that region who live in villages have wooden houses, mostly, on stilts. In towns there are some brick and stone houses, often covered with plaster. The early reports talk of landslide danger, because of the steepness of the terrain and also, I imagine, because there has been a fair amount of rain in the region this March, very unusual.

Now we wonder whether the Burmese government will accept any help with this disaster, or not. The region is very cut off from central Burma, almost a different country, it seems. There are huge army camps (for the Chinese border, southern Yunnan, is not far away), and maybe that's who will end up doing the work of rescue and rebuilding.

And in Japan, two weeks since the earthquakes and tsunami, there is no relief from unfolding pain and fear, or so it seems. We can only hope that those who were stranded in the north have mostly been reached and given some form of shelter and support, so at least they are warm and fed. But who can tell what the end result of this kind of trauma is, for individuals who lost so much, and for the country as a whole? It seems reasonable to anticipate that emotionally and politically there will be aftershocks and tsunamis, in the public sphere as well as in the private.

Meantime Japanese fortitude and focussed attention to helping neighbours and getting life moving again are an example to us all. I don't mean just because of the astonishing stamina and "suck-it-up" determination involved, but also because it's an ongoing reminder not to take for granted our good fortune at being alive, whatever immediate pain or unhappiness we may be feeling from time to time.

I haven't even mentioned the other hot places, all painful and complicated, that feel my mind's eye: Cote d'Ivoire, where there's civil war and ethnic cleansing happening; Libya, say no more; Yemen and Syria and Bahrein and Morocco and... where change and hope and repression and fear are all blooming and struggling with each other. It's a humbling world out there.

All I can say is, bring on some peaceful resolutions, please, to these struggles.

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