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December cold

It’s cold. November was a dream, but now here’s the real thing: a few snowflakes yesterday, and today, frost in bristly patches on the ground. You can feel the city, literally, turning inward, huddling, hunkering – it’s here, will be here for months, all we can do is put our heads down and get through. I made sure my bird feeder was filled, and dug the next level of warmth in coats, boots and gloves out of storage. I have my own cold, too; December has settled, coughing, in my chest.

Was at one of my favourite annual events tonight – each year, Continuing Studies at U of T has a night honouring five teachers who’ve been nominated by their students for a teaching award. The wine and food flow, and the five receive plaques and make short speeches. As usual, but even more so tonight, the individuals honoured – a teacher of grammar, of Dutch, of poetry – were warm, funny, fascinating, especially the little woman in a short red velvet dress and high heels, a history teacher who’d brought a tiara for herself and her boss. It’s easy to see why their students love them. I’m proud to be part of this team, proud and happy to be a teacher. The food’s good too.
A Hard Day’s Night was on TV tonight, and I watched it yet again – not for pleasure of course, no no no, merely for research, because I’m trying to understand the power of those four men. How unique they were, cheeky and yet safe, and what a marvellous balance they had. You can see how necessary it was for the survival of the group that George and Ringo be quiet and easy-going, allowing the huge talents and egos of John and Paul to bloom. They sang “If I fell,” which has the most perfect harmonic arrangement between the dark steadiness of John’s voice and the sweet balladeer lightness of Paul’s, and I swooned all over again.
I saw, this time, why in 1964 I didn’t fall in love with John but with Paul – Paul was a boy, still, a baby-faced cherub with long curly eyelashes. John was a man. He had a warm, lively manner and smile, but there’s something menacing about him too, as he stands planted at the mike, as he surveys the idiots around him and grins. At fourteen, I was not ready for a man.
And they, young young men in their early twenties, bursting with talent and energy, going along for the ride with great good humour, thinking it all might end tomorrow. My favourite line from the movie: a supercilious journalist asks George, “And what do you call that hairstyle?”
“Arthur,” replies George.
I’ve just read an article in the New Yorker about “The Milkmaid” in New York. Vermeer was about 25 when he painted it – just a little older than the Beatles are in the film, the age my son is now. 25. I look again at the reproduction of the painting in the magazine – she stands beneath the window to her right, as so many of Vermeer’s subjects do, carefully pouring milk from a pitcher into a pot. How much more humdrum can an activity be? And yet she’s so beautiful, so true, so perfectly there in her white cap, yellow bodice with green sleeves and blue overskirt with red below, that countless admirers have stood still to watch her. The Dutch milkmaid is composed of little dabs of paint put on canvas in 1657, yet she breathes so nearly like us that she brings tears to the eyes. What a marvel.
The prize-winning Dutch teacher, in her speech tonight, reminded us that it was the Dutch who bought the island of New Amsterdam from the native peoples. If their colony had not been overthrown by the British, she mused, perhaps Dutch would be as common a language as English or French. Of course then, no one would need to learn Dutch at the U of T, she said, and I’d be out of a job.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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