Thursday, February 25, 2010
Yesterday, the press carried a story about how the U.K. government is set to apologize to the Home Children, those children of the slums, orphans and such, sent out of England in the 19th and 20th centuries to, mostly, work on farms. Of course, child labour, was common in those days.
This fits nicely into my next installment of Flo in the City, my novel in progress based on the letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/ because I will have Marion talk about the children she is teaching in her inner city school.
It is unlikely that any of these children were Home Children (although some may have been). Her students were empoverished students of immigrants, whose parents worked in the factories along the canal, in the "City Below the Hill."
As I have written before, Montreal, in 1910, had the highest infant mortality rate of any place in the world outside of Calcutta. This was also an era of incredible immigration.
The reason Flo got a job in the city, (when she was given a free education specifically so that she would return to her rural roots and teach) was because teachers were needed in the city to accomodate this huge tide of immigration.
Flo, wrapped into her warm lambskin coat, which had seen two previous incarnations in the Watters household, tossed snowballs to Floss as the two proceeded along College Street. Mother was at church, or more precisely, at a Missionary Society meeting where they were tabulating the receipts from their Christmas Bazaar.
Mother's feud with the ladies of the Missionary Society had been all the talk at Christmas. "Mrs. Leaman told me about St. Paul's admonition and I said, "We don't live in St. Paul's time, or we'd all be out in the fields shepherding cows and sheep. Well, that sent her sulking."
And then Edith had livened things up with stories about the French Canadian family she was living with. How they ate a large meal after Mass on Christmas eve called a Reveillon and how they gave gifts at New Years, which was a bigger celebration than Christmas. "The Crepeaus are like the Hills," Edith had said."The house is always filled with visitors." She purposely did not mention the priests who were a fixture in the four storey greystone on Sherbrooke, near St. Laurent, where East met West in Montreal.
Alice, Edith's student, was 8, a high strung but beautiful girl, with emerald green eyes and Titian hair and a soft, creamy complexion.
The family's attention had been riveted by Marion's description of her city school. When in the mood to talk about her life, which was not that often, had a knack for finding the funny side of any story, however sad.
"My first day at school, I had 50 students and each parent came up to me with some advice about her child and after they were gone, I didn't remember one piece of advice from the other," she said, with a loud chuckle.
I guess parents are the same everywhere, Flora thought. But then Marion told her a story about a sad little girl to came to class each day with her face and hands absolutely filthy.
"I am supposed to send such children home, to be washed," Marion said, but that makes no sense to me. Chances are the only one at home is an older sister, charged with taking care of her younger siblings, for the mother is at work. I see no point in humilating the child by sending her out of the room to wash, either. So I just march all the children to the bathroom and make them all clean up. I build an arthmetic lesson around hand-washing and hygiene."
It was just like sister Marion to make the best of any situation. She was turning out to be a fine teacher. Flo wondered what she would have done, likely she would have just followed the rules and sent the girl home and felt terrible about it. What hard lives these children lived, she thought.
Why was the missionary society raising money to help children in other lands, she had wondered, when there was so much suffering right here in Canada, in Montreal.
And truth be told, her family's money problems (always looming large in the background) seemed somewhat trivial at the moment.
Flo found herself standing still on the corner of Main street, looking out at the Salmon River which was frozen over, with a half formed snowball in her mittened hands. Floss barked to get her to throw the ball.
Well, Richmond, at least, had few very poor people. Or was that true?
She patted the snow into a nice round shape and flung it towards Floss, who leapt into the air and caught it in her mouth, obliterating it with her sharp white teeth.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Are girls overdoing athletics? asks the headline. ..."although exercise is good for both sexes,muscular efforts emulating a male athlete's can injure a woman beyond repair. Both physically and mentally, as women have a different mental make-up from men."
Imagine what the editorial writer would have thought watching these Olympics. Of course, women had to be freed from their corsets and long dresses before they could flex their muscles. But I wonder if we've reached the limit of this daring-do. The downhill had nine crashes, one of them serious.
So I will write my next chapter of Flo in the City, about a young woman coming of age in the pivotal 1908-1913 era based on the letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/.
A cold sunny day in early January 1909. The Montreal Witness newspaper on the secretary in the sitting room caught Edith Nicholson's eye. She picked up the paper, which had a large rectangular hole cut out of one of the pages, read the caption under a cartoon and frowned.
In the sketch, a man was carrying his bride over the threshold, but with great difficulty as the bride’s giant hat was getting caught in the door frame. Women and their clothes obsession, read the caption, making modern marriage a rather difficult proposition. An article followed, and Edith's scowl grew deeper and denser with each word she read.
How maddening! This cartoon and accompanying article was just of many slurs against fashion-loving ladies lately in the paper. A woman couldn't win. She tossed the newspaper aside.
I know. I am going to write a letter to the Editor, she said to sister Flora, who, ironically, was busy at the dining room table, creating a hat from scratch with the help of the book A Course in Millinery.
May had given the book to her for Christmas, and Marion and Edith had purchased materials for her, the wire, the crinoline,and braid.
Flora smiled, fooling with a piece of crinoline, which she was about to use to cover a wire frame she had shaped the day before. She read the next instruction:
We will now take our two-piece wire frame and cover it with mull or crinoline for a foundation upon which to sew the braid. If the braid to be used covers well, crinoline is the better of the two, as it is a little stififer than* mull, but if the interlining will show through, mull will look better than the crinoline. Some of the fancy straws and hair braids have such wide interstices that it is often best to cover the frame with a cheap mercerized lining fabric that looks like silk, and has as much body to it. This generally matches the straw in color, and is usually used on the upper side of the brim and the outside of the crown. Transparent hats of chiffon, lace and maline are made differently and will be considered later. Whatever interlining is chosen, place the front of the brim in a bias corner of the goods and let it lie smoothly over the upper side of the brim. Secure by turning the goods over the brim edge and pinning it there.
Done. This wasn't so hard. She could easily work in a millinery shop!
May had given Flo this gift because she knew she was thinking about going into the millinery business. Mother Margaret thought the book was just a random choice of Mae's - and for that Flora was relieved. She didn't want her Mother asking any questions. Not about school.
"What should I write for a first line? Edith asked. Poor Edie, she was in need of something to do to keep her mind occupied. Marion had returned to Montreal to go skating at the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association in Westmount, but Edith had no beau, so she did not accompany her. Unlike the rinks in the E.T. the MAAA frowned upon women skating unescorted.
"I know," said Edith, and she dipped her pen in ink and wrote 'Having noticed several skits in your paper recently with reference to women's love of dress, I would like to ask the man who feels aggrieved that he must go through life alone because he cannot afford to dress a woman as she would like to be dressed, that while he can dress himself for $200 a year, she would require $2,000; if such were facts (?)whom should he blame? Do women dress to please men? I think he will admit that they dress primarily to attract the attention of men in general before they are married and to please their husbands afterwards.'
"Now, how do you like that Flora? she asked. Flora had fitted the frame to her head and was looking quite ridiculous as she answered, "When I have my own hat shop in Paris, I will not need to marry." She tilted her head.
"You will have to improve your French, though" Edith joked, although Flora did not think it funny.
No matter how hard she tried to escape her reality, with fancy ideas, and big dreams, someone was sure to say somthing that brought her back to earth.
French, yet another of her weak subjects. Composition, Latin. Algebra. How would she ever get through this year, let alone next?
Edith picked up the newspaper again to find a particular line in the irksome article.
"Why does the newspaper have a hole in it?" Flora asked.
"Because Mother cut out an article on England's new Old Age Pension Scheme," Edith answered. "I think she wishes our Parliament would follow suit and pass such a law."
Oh, and now Edith was reminding Flora of the family's money problems. Flora removed the hat shape and put it aside, and decided to go for a walk before the sun went down.
She'd take Floss. Dogs don't talk, so she'd be safe.
Monday, February 15, 2010
I finally got around to seeing James Cameron's Avatar yesterday, Sunday, noon showing, and the theatre was almost full.
It was Valentine's Day and I wanted to see Crazy Heart (after seeing Jeff Bridges on Sunday Morning - and I will next week) but my husband wanted to see Avatar and I thought I'd give him a Valentine's Day present for a change. (He saw Mamma Mia four times with me last year. What a husband!)
This past week I have been watching a series of classic movies on Turner (I had just watched Sydney Lumet's Network and gained a new appreciation of its brilliant, prescient screenplay) and I wasn't feeling in the mood for a populist effects-driven movie, and I had heard Avatar had a simplistic plot.)
But two minutes into the film, I realized something that many millions of people around the world have already realized, that the film medium has just taken a Neil Armstrong leap forward and will never be the same again. (Maybe that's a bad analogy as the moonwalk was kind of a dead-end, or was it?)
Sure Avatar's plot is a patchwork of past movie cliches (and a somewhat violence-filled anti-war movie ) and there is something of a video game feel to the movie (and I'm no 20 year old boy who enjoys such things) but, still, I totally succumbed to Avatar the Experience.
If Pirates of the Caribbean was a movie made after a ride at Disney world, Avatar IS a ride at Disneyworld, combined with the best of National Geographic travelogues and so many other things from the technical and artistic cannons, it's hard to chronicle.
It's the closest I have gotten to being 'immersed' in an artificial experience and reminded me, once again that traditional movies are 2-D and that is not real-life, we just fill in the blanks.
(The sad part, my husband has vision in one eye and he couldn't see the 3-D. He still loved the movie, but he has no idea what he missed. And he's a digital editor in a news room. After the movie, when I described to him what I liked about Avatar and joked that it is lucky he is retiring soon, for he won't be able to work in the medium in the future.)
In Flo in the City, my novel about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1908-1913 era, the Titanic era, the years D.W. Griffith made his silent short films and the years the motion picture industry was getting rolling, I am trying to get across one key idea above all the others: that the 1910 era is much like our own and we should pay heed because history repeats itself.
Avatar, this unabashed anti-war movie and technological break through is not likely to the change whatever course our planet is on, which is sad, but it will change a lot of things, and those things are very difficult to predict.
D.W. Griffith's movies, with their doe-eyed waifs and haughty society women, changed the way the poor in the world were looked upon in the US as Dickens; serials and novels did in the UK, paving the way for Steinbeck, etc. Motion pictures gave young people a place to go a courtin' outside of church and away from the prying eyes of parents and neighborhood busybodies.
Now, I must get down to writing the next chapter of Flo in the City, based on the letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
In my last blog I wrote that I felt the Vancouver Olympics opening ceremony was a bit too brash on the part of Canadians. Too "Ra Ra We're Great." Too chauvinistic. Too American-style. I wasn't sure why I felt that, perhaps because of the death of the Georgian luger earlier in the day and the fact the shocking manner of his death had etched itself into my memory. (Or perhaps because I am a mother and my son is 21.) It seemed to me that if you invite the world to a big party you don't go on and on about how great you are.
Well, our cocky "Own the Podium" slogan seems to be backfired a bit with this luge tragedy. The Guardian in the UK wrote a nasty front page article, suggesting Canada's desire to 'own the podium' was not becoming a host nation at the Olympics, impolite and, perhaps, even the cause of this death. Canada Under Fire for Luge Death
I believe that putting the blame for the death directly on the luger was a big mistake made by our officials - as well as a cop out, designed for short term gain (by lawyers) but destined to bring long term pain and perhaps a nasty legacy for these Olympics.
Why else do we watch the Olympics, but to see, on occasion, the little guy. from, say, a former Soviet territory, win? In the past, our team was made up of 'little guys' and underdogs. The Soviets and the US had all the robo-gladiators. And we loved when they failed, didn't we, just because they were so damned cocky.
Anyway, here is a bit out ice-skating from a 1909 magazine. The Nicholson women did their winter dating on the ice rink. Skating is, indeed, a very Canadian pastime. Read Marion's 1908 dating diary, from Sherbrooke, Quebec. www.tighsolas.ca/page706.html.
Excerpt from The New Skating, Youth's Companion Magazine, November 1909.
"Skating includes speed skating and hockey, thoroughly commendable ice sports, skilful, lung-filling eye hand and leg training sports, absorbingly attractive to young America, who loves a game, loves competition, that can be tangibly and fairly measured, loves to 'get there' before somebody else. But you do not dance 'to get there' and dancing too has its attractions for some. Few girls can play hockey; all boys do not wish to; and no boy or girl can both play hockey and skate gracefully on the same flat hockey skates. Besides, exclusive or preponderant indulgence in hockey tends to dull the sense for good form and incapacitates graceful movements. Finally, many skating clubs do not allow for hockey playing at all."
Saturday, February 13, 2010
My husband and I watched the opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics last night and we both thought the overall tone a little too RA RA(we're Canada, we're great) was out of place and atypical for our country. American style. Most people wouldn't agree, though.
Yes, the Cirque de Soleil aspects were beautiful, lyrical even breathtaking on occasion (I especially liked the visual of the Polar Ice Caps breaking up)and k.d. Lang's performance of Hallelujah was simply superb, although Nicky Yanofsky's jazzy O Canada reminded me of Jose Feliciano's Star Spangled Banner, years back, wonderful but inappropriate for an anthem.
And Canadians all know that we have many international superstar singers, nice to see some of them. (Not that the rest of the world knows; a few years ago I was in England and people I met thought Leonard Cohen was from New York.) But do these already very famous people need more exposure?
I was dreading the fact the Vancouver Olympic organizers would be dragging out First Nations People to show how important they are to us, and they did do so in spades.
And yet, I'll watch the Olympics, even if the absolutely shocking death of the Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, just 21, reminds us that Better, Higher, Faster, or whatever the slogan is, can't go on forever, despite exponential advances in technology, at least as long as athletes remain flesh-and-blood human beings, products of Nature, and not robots.
The reason I like watching the Olympic Games, in general, is because they celebrate Human Excellence as well as youthful exuberance.
Over the years, because of a more Soviet-style way of training (remember how we Westerners used to mock the Soviet athletes, especially their man-like and unattractive female athletes, for being robotic?)and because of galloping advances in technology, which have led to calmer faster swimming pools and slicker luge tracks and better equipment and science-based training, all athletes have become more like robots, in that three skiers can complete a rigorous downhill skiing course and end up virtually tied for first, finishing perhaps just a couple of hundreds of a seconds apart.
To me that's not competition. To me that's not even exciting. Maybe that's why they've added so many razzle-dazzle events in the Olympics, over the past couple of decades.
I even noticed last night that everyone interviewed on the television seemed to talk in PR generated sound-bites, all very predictable, talking about how wonderful it is that Canadians are getting behind the games, and what an inspiration these games are, especially to children. It all feels a little canned. No, A LOT canned. Rehearsed. So there goes something else we all like in Olympics, those spontaneous oh so human moments when we couch potatoes can recognize ourselves in these sleek super athletes when they say or do something unpredictable. Too much money at stake, I guess, when a young athlete gets the wrong kind of publicity for saying or doing something 'dumb' he or she loses his sponsors.
It's all a bit Brave New Worldish (or Bread and Circuses)to me, especially the irony of seeing these fine youths, in the pink of health, pitch junk food to all the overweight fans, young and old, in the ads that pay for the coverage.
Because I don`t want to feel like a Roman citizen at the Gladiator Games, even if I know that my husband speaks the truth when he says `The crashes, or at least the danger of crashing, are what the viewers like. Remember that "agony of defeat" sequence in Wide World of Sports."
I just don't think athletes should die for our entertainment.
In my book Flo in the City being written on this blog based on the letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/ a character, Margaret Nicholson, visits the Quebec Tercentenary in 1908.
The event was HUGE but is now forgotten, written out of the history books, primarily because it was a military show of force by England and France before WWI.
My first chapter of my play Looking for Mrs. Peel, http://www.lookingformrspeel.blogspot.com/ is about Expo67 year. It contains a link to archival footage of opening ceremonies.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Sennett is from Richmond, Quebec, or thereabouts, depending on who tells the story.
He changed his name from Sinnott and I have documents showing that Norman Nicholson of Threshold Girl did business with Sennett's father.
I also have a document from 1900 that shows that Sinnott was a voted for the Conservatives!
The Sinnott family moved away from Quebec in 1902.
In 1909, Marion Nicholson, my husband's grandmother, was working as a teacher in the city of Montreal.
She delighted in going to the theatre, but that year she went to see Man in the Box at the Nickle, a movie house in Montreal that promoted itself as respectable and worthy of middle-class patronage.
It is possible she went with Edith, her older sister, also a teacher. (Read Furies Cross the Mersey on Amazon Kindle.)
They didn't use the term 'movie' back then in 1910.
In fact, I have a 1917 letter where Flora's sister Edith writes that she went to the 'movies' and she puts the word in parentheses, which seems to indicate it is a new term.
By 1917 there is a movie house in their town of Richmond, Quebec. The Casino. The better to watch WWI newsreels. (Read Not Bonne Over Here: The Nicholson letters from WWI)
Man in the Box, according to IMDB, was a silent short that happened to star local boy Mack Sennett.
Whether Marion (or Edith) recognized Sennett as a boy she had seen around town (he would have been a contemporary) I don't know.
I did read somewhere that it wasn't until the 1960's that Richmondites realized the famous Mack Sennett was 'that Sinnott boy.'
Sennett, who was the King of Comedy in Hollywood, wrote an autobiography in 1954 and he talks about his early life in Richmond, about how he spent most of his time going to funerals and how he felt closer to French Quebeckers than English Quebeckers, because they were Catholic like he was.
There were hundreds of Nickelodeons in Canada in the 1910 era. They were considered rather seedy places, if not downright dangerous.
That didn't stop most middle class citizens, including the very proper Nicholson women, from attending shows, should-to-shoulder with immigrants and the working class.
The Nicholsons read the Ladies' Home Journal, although I got the one above off e-Bay.
Remember, this was a day and age when many -if not most- children around the ages of 10 to 16 worked, sometimes in factories, so this argument, below, seems especially lame.
I imagine parents sent their kids to the the motion pictures to get them both out of the house and 'off the street'.
Are some parents asleep that they allow their children to go to the prevalent five-cent moving-picture shows in our cities or 'nickelodeons' as they are called? Have they any conception of what their children see at these places? Immoral pictures? someone asks. No, not immoral in the sense we generally mean it, but just as bad, if not worse.
Here is the program of one show: a beautiful lady, with dress of lace, bedecked with jewels, comes in an opening picture, then men with swords and long, waving plumes in their hats, swords flash out, a duel ensues, the hero kills his rival! So we have murder for a beginning. Next comes a haunted house with beds sliding down inclined floors.
This is followed by the Devil jumping out of the moon! Next is a series of pictures of the plates, pots, the oven, the bread and pies and the stove, all of which was so exhilarating on one occasion recently a little girl in the audience went into hysterics and ever since cannot be persuaded by her mother to go into the kitchen.
The next treat was a huge frog in a fountain, which suddenly stuck out a large red tongue at the audience, frightening almost out of their senses no fewer than a dozen little girls present. So reposeful for delicate nervous systems of children, is it not? Then came the final prize series: a man-monkey steals a woman out of a house and keeps her a year: the succeeding pictures show their love and affection for each other, and when in the last picture the husband finds his wife, she refuses to go back because she has fallen in love with the monkey! Hundreds of parents actually furnish their children with money to go to these pictures...."They should be illegal" some say. But why the law? Isn't it more to the point that we should not furnish our children with the money to go to these places. They would close soon enough."
A while ago, I heard a BBC 4 interview with screenwriter Nora Ephron, who was publicizing her movie Julie and Julia (which I really enjoyed), a movie based on a blog, of all things, which still managed to be meaty, in more ways than one.
Anyway, Ephron, the daughter of movie screenwriters herself, said something quite remarkable, I think... She claimed that the movie medium wasn't useful to promote social change, that it was 'a visual medium' and that all it persuaded people to do was (I think she said) purchase one brand of sunglasses over another.
It's not that I am disagreeing with her, although, I'm sure many filmmakers would. In fact, I tend to agree with her. She supported her statement by asking (not an exact quote) How many anti-war films have there been made, and yet wars still happen.
This is certainly a topic for debate, hot debate. Does literature promote social change? Most people believe so, and they could point to Charles Dickens and any number of iconic authors. Yet, the point could be argued against as well. I mean, Brave New World, 1984, Kafka's novels and Fahrenheit 451 are some seminal works predicting an ominous future for mankind (books we all read in school) and yet we continue to slide down the slippery slope they warned us about. (Actually, most books warn us about one fact: that history repeats itself. No writers see into the future, they just extrapolate.)
I watched the movie Network last night and was amazed at how prescient that movie was (is?). It's about the corporatization (and de-fanging) of Network News and the rise of (cheap but compelling) Reality T.V. Forty years later, we are here, folks. Paddy Chayefsky, take a bow!
I tend to believe that it is technology that changes us the most; that the medium is the message, that what I am writing on this blog is less significant than the blog itself.
The fact that I was able to 'capture' an image from a D.W. Griffith film and post it at the top of the page is more significant than the fact that A Corner in Wheat is highly relevant with respect to the Nicholson Family experience, because it was the Wheat Boom era in Canada and because wheat was still very expensive, even for a middle class family, at $5.00 a barrel. And this supports my thesis: that the middle class is just the working class with more stuff and pretensions toward being upper class.
My story, Flo in the City (being written on this blog) about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1908-1913 era, is based on the real life letters of www.tighsolas.ca. Here is the opening essay of that website, posted on the homepage. Tomorrow, hopefully, I will write the first installment of the second chapter.
Between 1908 and 1913, Henry Ford perfected the manufacturing of his Model T, revolutionizing the way 'things' were made and sold and ushering in the age of mass production.Between 1908-1913, D. W. Griffith produced hundreds of his Biograph silent film shorts, effectively giving birth to the American Film Industry.Between 1908-1913, Coco Chanel launched her fashion house in Paris, just as the fight for women's suffrage reached its apex. She eventually redefined women's clothing, liberating female limbs and lungs with soft fabrics and shorter hemlines, but too late to soften the image of the militant suffragettes.And between 1908-1913, bark salesman turned railroader Norman Nicholson of Richmond, Quebec, his feisty wife Margaret, their spirited daughters, Edith, Marion and Flora and lost soul of a son, Herb, were a proud family in crisis, teetering on the brink of financial ruin.The family left behind a vivid written record of their day-to-day trials, thoughts and feelings, in letter-form. Fittingly, talk of fashion, entertainment and long dusty trips in automobiles pervades these letters.For those of you who thought feminism was invented in the 1960's, these letters will be a real eye-opener. For those of you who love Canadian history and marvel at the way technology changes us, these letters, penned at such a pivotal time in history, will be something of a revelation.
Women in 1910 in Canada shrouded themselves head to toe in cloth, regardless of the temperature, although, from the 'real life' Nicholson photos on this blog, Marion, Edith and Flo didn't wear dresses like this on casual outings. This is a bit of a fantasy shot. Can you imagine Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears or Jennifer Aniston (the most googled celebrity women from what I can see) becoming big stars without having exposed their skin to public scrutiny? No diets, no workouts for them or for us.
My 1909 chapter of Flo in the City, my story about a girl coming of age in the exciting 1908-1913 era based on the real life letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/ will be focused on fashion, and the politics of fashion.
Flo will explore the idea of going to work as a shopgirl in millinery, on the sly, as her middle class parents would never have approved.
Fashion affects women's lives in more ways than the obvious one. It can present a Catch 22 of a sort to women, damning them if they do and damning them if they don't. Here's a clipping Margaret cut out from 1913, the Montreal Witness, a letter to the editor. I think I will have Edith write this letter! Remember, the Witness was an evangelical newspaper, once again revealing that 'radical' feminism was supported by a number of religious institutions.
Is she foolish trying to make herself look pretty that she may catch a husband? Has not the decree gone forth that woman's place is in the home over which she presides as mistress and her husband as master? Then, if this be the case, inasmuch as it is the pretty butterfly of fashion who attracts the average society man rather than the one who follows in St. Paul's admonition, it would seem that she has no choice but to meet the demand as far as possible. And if a man thinks he can't afford to dress her as she has been accustomed to dress, let him pay less homage to the outward adorning and pay more to the hidden graces of head and heart.
I asked a man the other day, who was complaining about the extravagance of women in dress, saying "A man of average salary cannot afford to marry these days" if he did not think it was selfish for a man to spend his money on tobacco and liquor. He said, "If the husband earned it, the woman had to cause to complain."
The old idea that a man supports his wife is largely to blame for this selfishness. Because he supports her the earnings are his; because he supports her she should obey him just as though she were a child. It is no isolated case that I have in mind. I meet it at every turn and the sad part it is that they quote the Bible as authority.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Hats (and status) are going to be a central theme of this chapter for 1909. Marion and Edith go hat shopping at Ogilvy and spend way too much money on fashionable hats, money they can ill-afford to spend. Fashion can be a way for women to express themselves (and get ahead socially) but it is also a way to keep them poor.
I read somewhere that single women today aren't like the spinsters in the old days, who saved every penny, as they had no kids to take care of them in old age. Single women today,unlike in the 1910 era, can make a lot of money, but they are keen to spend it and many have huge credit card debt and no security for old age. So consumerism undermines the aims and goals of feminism. To protect women.
So I continue my research on the era and I found this 1910 medical book on archive.org and excerpted the bit on influenza, or 'la grippe' as it was called. The Nicholon letters of the era are full of talk of colds and 'la grippe' although I sincerely doubt that when Edith says she has "La grippe" that she had influenza. Just a cold.
In 1912, however, there appears to be a kind of outbreak, because many more people than usual are dying in Richmond (healthy people,too) and two otherwise healthy young women die suddenly at Macdonald College, where Flo is studying.
Influenza, consumption and typhoid are talked about in the letters openly. Scarlet fever and diptheria too. Mental illness is hinted at. Depression is called 'the blues' but in one letter a young man dies locally and it sounds like a suicide. Edith says, "He was such a queer boy." A local man goes missing and is found 'in the river' and that too sounds either like Alzheimer's or depression.
Here's the excerpt from 1910 Medicine book.
INFLUENZA; LA GRIPPE— Influenza is an acute, highly contagious disease due to a special germ, and tending to spread with amazing rapidity over vast areas. It has occurred as a world-wide epidemic at various times in history, and during four periods in the last century, A pandemic of influenza began in the winter of 1889-90, and continued in the form
of local epidemics till 1904, the disease suddenly appearing in a community and, after a prevalence of about six weeks, disappearing again. One attack, it is, perhaps, unnecessary to state, does not protect against another. The mortality is about 1 death to 400 cases. The feeble and aged are those who are apt to succumb. Fatalities usually result from complications or sequels, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis; neurasthenia or insanity may follow.
Symptoms. — There are commonly four important symptoms characteristic of grippe: fever; pain, catarrh ; and depression, mental and physical. Grippe attacks the patient with great suddenness. While in perfect health and engaged in ordinary work, one is often seized with a severe chill followed by general depression, pain in the head, back, and limbs, soreness of the muscles, and fever. The temperature varies from ioo° to 104° F. The catarrh attacks the eyes, nose, throat, and larger tubes in the lungs. The eyes become reddened and sensitive to light, and movements of the eyeballs cause pain. Sneezing comes on early, and, after a day or two, is followed by discharge from the nose. The throat is often sore and reddened. There may be a feeling of weight and tightness in the chest accompanied by a harsh, dry cough, which, after a few days, becomes looser and expectoration occurs.
Bodily weakness and depression of spirits are usually prominent and form often the most persistent and distressing symptoms.
After three or four days the pains decrease, the temperature falls, and the cough and oppression in the chest lessen, and recovery usually takes place within a week, or ten days, in serious cases. The patient should go to bed at once, and should not leave it until the temperature is normal (98^° F.)for some time. Afterwards general weakness, associated with heart weakness, causes the patient to sweat easily, and to get out of breath and have a rapid pulse on slight exertion.
Such is the picture of a typical case, but it often happens that some of the symptoms are absent, while others are exaggerated so that different types of grippe are often described. Thus the pain in the back and head may be so intense as to resemble that of meningitis. Occasionally the stomach and bowels are attacked so that violent vomiting and diarrhea occur, while other members of the same family present the ordinary form of influenza. There is a form that attacks principally the nervous system, the nasal and bronchial tracts escaping altogether. Continual fever is the only symptom in some cases. Grippe may last for weeks. Whenever doubt exists as to the nature of the disorder, a microscopic examination of the expectoration or of the mucus from the throat by a competent physician will definitely determine the existence of influenza, if the special germs of that disease are
found. It is the prevailing and erroneous fashion for a person to call any cold in the head the grippe; and there are, indeed, many cases in which it becomes difficult for a physician to distinguish between grippe and a severe cold with muscular soreness and fever, except by the microscopic test. Influenza becomes dangerous chiefly through its complications, as pneumonia, inflammation of the middle ear, of the eyes, or of the nose or kidneys, and through its depressing effect upon the heart.
These complications can often be prevented by avoiding the slightest imprudence or exposure during convalescence. Elderly and feeble persons should be protected from contact with the disease in every way. Whole prisons have been exempt from grippe during epidemics, owing to the enforced seclusion of the inmates. The one absolutely essential feature in treatment is that the patient stay in bed while the fever lasts and in the house afterwards, except as his strength will permit him to go out of doors for a time each sunny day until recovery is fully established.
Treatment. — The medicinal treatment consists at first in combating the toxin of the disease and assuaging pain, and later in promoting strength. Hot lemonade and whisky may be given during the chilly period and a single six- to ten-grain dose of quinine.
Pain is combated by phenacetin,* three grains repeated every three hours till relieved. At night a most useful medicine to afford comfort when pain and sleeplessness are troublesome, is Dover's powder, ten grains (or codeine, one grain), with thirty grains of sodium bromide dissolved in water. After the first day it is usually advisable to give a two-grain quinine pill to gether with a tablet containing one-thirtieth of a grain of strychnine three times a day after meals for a week or two as a tonic (adult). A powerful medicine suitable to keep the bowels regular as a Seidlitz powder in the morning before breakfast. The diet should be liquid while the fever lasts — as milk, cocoa, soups, eggnog, one of these each two hours. A tablespoonful of whisky, rum, or brandy may be added to the milk three times daily if there is much weakness.
The germ causing grippe lives only two days, but successive crops of spores are raised in a proper medium. Neglected mucus in nose or throat affords an inviting field for the germ. Therefore it is essential to keep the nostrils free and open by means of spraying with the Seiler's tablet solution , and then always breathing through the nostrils.
Monday, February 8, 2010
First, I don't see why they are calling this Firth's 'breakout' role. This is pretty much the same Colin, the perfect gentleman, grieving for a loss, that we've met many times before.
In fact, A Single Man is practically another And When Did you Last See your Father and I think that movie dealt with grieving in a more realistic way, well, a totally realistic way.
OK. A Single Man is a day in a life, so it's the proverbial 'slice' -but still.
The movie is nicely-crafted, but more style than substance, even too stylized.
I wish it had been more political and 'piggy' instead of just hinting at the politics and leaving out all explicit sex, with a few good scenes, where Firth ogles a young man playing tennis as someone talks about nuclear war and bomb shelters and where Firth gives a speech about 'fear' in the classroom, the best speech in the film. A Single Man reminded me of those 40s musicals, where every time the couple should have sex, they dance. Here they swim.
The grieving main character, George, himself is not political, and that's fine, but the film should be -or it is just a rather one-dimensional character study - and, like I said, Firth has played this character before, many times, regardless of sexual orientation. (He looks just like my Dad, which is freaky but predictable as my dad was of that era.)
I've heard a lot about what it meant to be gay in the 60's - it was dangerous. To be a gay couple, in a suburb, must have been very very risky. And a college prof and an architect, they risked their careers, I imagine.
I was just reading about Gielgud, and how he almost blew his brilliant career for one public incident in the 50's.
May-September romances or flirtations are icky whoever is in them, old men, young women, Old women, young men. So, that subplot with the young student gave me the creeps, despite the fact it was not what it appeared. (Actually, it was ambiguous.)
Still, Colin's performance, in my humble opinion, was better than Clooney's in Up in the Air, although not the one he gave in Michael Clayton.
Now, how can I relate all this to Tighsolas? Well, Tighsolas is a woman's story. I like women's stories. As a woman, I find it hard to relate to this movie, A Single Man, as women play no part in it, they are merely decoration or 'anima' of the male psyche, all eye-make-up and party dresses. Just like in the fashion industry, I guess.
(The characters identify with little girls but not little boys.) And ogling the human form in a movie can get uncomfortable, whether it's female or male.
So I much prefer An Education, which was as well crafted and more true to my experience and was about the sixties, as well. Also far better written.
Oh, yea, and the couple in A Single Man had a sixteen year relationship and yet that relationship is portrayed as perfect (in George, the main character's memory.)Matthew Goode is very very good, actually.
My favorite couple (or the one I feel is most realistic) is in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Enough said. As for Firth's gal pal, well, I've been there and done that and I couldn't relate to the way they related, either. The gay couple has been together for 16 years, so the 'intimate' gal pal has listened for almost two decades to intricate details of the relationship (that would be her function) and then she comes out with a stupid statement claiming their relationship wasn't a real one.. Nutsy. So there you go.
So, I enjoyed A Single Man while watching it, quite a lot, (my companion didn't, she found it boring) and now, upon thinking out it, I find it has many flaws. And I love the 60's. And I love Colin Firth.
A Single Man is based on a story by a Christopher Isherwood, a gay guy and directed by a gay guy, Tom Ford, but I found Brokeback Mountain more realistic, if love is love is love and lust is lust is lust and couples are couples are couples, which is the main message of A Single Man.
But, then, the movie isn't exactly for me, even though they cast Mr. Darcy in it. In one scene, where he's supposed to be 16 years younger, he wears a white shirt and he looks great, as usual. (See, even here they snuck that in.) Give Firth marks for daring, he put himself up close and personal with gorgeous young men, in fact he is the least good looking man in the film by a mile.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
What did happen in 1911, and I will find a way to weave it into the story, was that the men of the Royal Commission on Industrial Training and Technical Education passed through Montreal and asked the Montreal Council of Women for a report on the state of women's work in the era -and got an earful. The Commission didn't hear about women lawyers and doctors, and the 'limitless' career opportunities for women; they heard about young girls working long hours in shops and poor women slaving away, in unhealthy conditions, in factories, forcing their eldest children, of 8 or 10, out of school to care for the youngest.
What was the Commission's solution: to create "a new profession" of homemaking for women, by adding domestic science courses in the schools. Women destined to marry would become better homemakers, and solve all the crushing social problems of the day, one good, clean home at a time, and women who had to work could work as domestics, and solve 'the servant problem' for the wealthy. Good help was becoming hard to come by.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
As I edit my first rough draft of the first year, 1908, of Flo in the City, based on the letters of www.tighsolas.ca, I thought I would enter here a synopsis of the entire book. This is the outline for the story, which comes from real life.
Norm goes away to work on the railway in La Tuque Quebec; Edith gets a job in tiny Radnor Forges, teaching 10 kids; Marion gets a job teaching in the Montreal in impoverished St. Henri teaching 50 kids; Edith returns to the city and gets a job at a private school, French Methodist, in elegant Westmount; Marion and Edith shop for hats at Ogilvy. Herb is caught stealing at the bank where he works; Edith loses her fiance in a fire; Norman goes awol from work and is fired; Norman pays Herb's way out West, staking him to -yikes- 500 dollars, half a year's salary, were he working; Norman asks local MP Tobin to get his job with the railway back; Tobin obliges. Norman goes to Ontario. Herb drifts from job to job out West, eventually working for Massey Harris in collection. Flora is accepted at Macdonald College, 'new teachers with new methods'; the family 'sews her up' for school; Flora boards in beautiful Ste Anne de Bellevue, attends classes, masquerades and gets 'fat' on soda and cake. Marion gets a raise and reaches for the top. Edith has a falling out with the Methodist principal at her school perhaps over Church Union debate. Margaret worries about getting enough wood to warm the house and to cook with; she attends political rallies and is all for free trade. Laurier loses the free trade election, the family is devastated. (Will Norman lose his job again?) Margaret worries about the bugs eating her potatoes; she tends a relative with typhoid, another with consumption; she feuds with her rich brother-in-law. Her brother dies, her mom dies (so many people dying). After the funerals, she takes a few trips around the Eastern Townships, sometimes by automobile, and joins the Order of the Eastern Star. "Nothing frivolous about it," she writes. Marion is introduced to a nice man, Mr. Blair. Edith and Marion visit a rich doctor relative, Henry Watters, in Boston in the summer. He must be doing well for he has a Stanley Steamer ! Henry is everything Herb isn't, successful and devoted to kin.Mr. Blair blows off his old girlfriend "We were never engaged and as for me there was no understanding either" and takes Marion to see Harry Lauder, the Scottish comedian.. Norman is transferred from Cochrane to Hearst and is impressed by the Indian Squaws he sees near his camp, how they can paddle a canoe and wield an axe with a baby on their back. The Titanic sinks. Herb's debts build, he ignores all responsibility for them. The family almost loses the house. Marion saves the day with the extra money from her raise. (She doesn't need it, she writes, ironically, because she isn't going to get married 'and that's what girls save for, isn't it, a trousseau?')Marion is promised the 7th grade to teach and is sickened when a mere boy out of school is promoted over her and given a much higher salary. Laurier visits the Roundhouse at Cochrane to give a speech, Norm remarks upon it in his diary. Flora gets a class in school in the city (Griffintown) "not a good area of town" says Margaret, and is paid a much lower salary than the male graduate of Macdonald. Edith quits her Academy and goes to live in Richmond with her mom. She attends a local wedding and describes the fashions there. Marion looks - and looks and looks - for an apartment of her own to share with friends, for she hates the way the landlady in her rooming house lords it over her. She lands one on Hutchison with the daughter of an MNA (promising the landlady that her mother is coming to live with her) but she won't let her obliging beau, Mr. Blair, or "Romeo" help her stoke the furnace. Marion loses the apartment (or choooses to give it up as it is impossible for the four tenants (all teachers) to work AND keep the home running well; she gets engaged to Mr. Blair, despite the fact his parents won't have any part of it. She writes her dad asking if he can pay for a wedding or dowry. Her dad doesn't know what to say, he is dead broke. For the first and only time, he questions son Herb's integrity in a letter. "I hope he hasn't got any bad habits." BURN THIS LETTER he writes at the end. Marion and Hugh Blair marry in October, 1913. Hugh's well off parents do not attend the wedding. Norman spends 30.00 on wedding clothes. 6.65 on a cake
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Well, the Academy Award nominations came in this morning, and I was glad to see my favourite Colin Firth nominated for best actor (although like most of his fans, who are being cautious, methinks, I have yet to see his performance.) But I also love Jeff Bridges and as a good Canadian I want Up in the Air to do well. I saw it and enjoyed it. I also saw the Blind Side (enjoyable but I don't think Bullock's performance holds a candle to Streep's in Julia and Julia) and An Education which is too arty and restrained for most people. I loved it, though. District Nine was so unHollywood I am freaked that it was even nominated.)
And then there's James Cameron's Avatar, which I haven't yet seen because I can't get into the theatre on Saturday nights.
Speaking of James Cameron, I'd like to slide into my topic here, on this blog entry, Hats and Big Hats and the Millinery Profession of Yore.
As I've written before on this blog, hats will never come back into fashion, because 'hair' is the new 'hats.' When those fashion-role models to us all, the resplendently bony actresses attending Oscar, parade the red carpet, stopping once in a while to spout nonsense to those obnoxious, obsequious (but necessary and rather parasitical or is it symbiotical) Infotainment hosts or hostesses, they will NOT be wearing hats. Even that actress who played Coco, in Coca before Chanel (if she attends) won't be wearing a hat, despite the fact Coco Chanel started her career making hats (smaller) for her rich friends.
(If Princess Diana and Kate Winslet's character in Titanic couldn't bring hats back, no one ever will.)
Besides, hats cover hair and hair is a HUGE industry. Hats get caught on the top of car doors, too.
But the 1912 era was the era of the BIG HATS and in my next chapter of Flo in the City, my novel in progress about a young girl coming of age in the 1910 era, based on the letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/ , I will have Flora visit town Milliner Miss Eugenie Hudon to ask if she can work as an apprentice. And Miss Eugenie Hudon will burst her bubble. I have no idea if Hudon was a sweet and kind woman or a bitter business woman, or anything in between, but (as I wrote in an earlier blog) I will pattern her after this awful woman who once interviewed me for an advertising job.
I know Miss Hudon is a savvy business woman from the invoices for her business: "all accounts must be settled 30th of each month" and because of the famous hat incident involving Flo's mother, Margaret, who, in 1909, was tricked into buying a big hat she didn't want.
I have two interesting archival documents to draw from: one that discusses millinery as a career for women (in 1908) and says, basically, that the field is overcrowded, underpaid, 'parasitical' in that it employs girls who still live at home, for no one can live on 6 dollars a week outside the home.
But it is also the 'glam' job of the era. (Few women then (none, maybe)considered the movies (well, motion pictures) a glamourous profession, as they were very low rent and tarty.)
Millinery was GLAM because it was creative work, and clean work, as opposed to factory work, and a very few very lucky individuals (working for big department stores) made it BIG TIME, and earned up to 1,000 a year and travelled to New York and Paris.
Millinery, back then, was just like the acting profession today, one might say. Or the music profession, or pro sports, or the lottery -or, ahem, writing: BIG DREAMS sustained industry workers, who slogged on for little recognition and less pay.