Friday, April 30, 2010


Marie-Claire Cover Girl 1940ish.

Well, I saved the movie Cover Girl on Turner Classic Movies, and although Rita Hayworth is not a favorite of mine, and this movie isn't the wittiest musical, it sure sparkles on the HD screen. This movie is all about fashion. And it has Eve Arden, whom I do like a lot. And those delicious 40's hats, like the one above. All the models look alike, which is, I guess, the point.

With all the talk about 3 d and special effects.. I wonder if these old movies are going to make a comeback because of how the HD screens make them look even better than when they first ran on the big screen. Here's Hayworth in a turquoise off the shoulder chiffony thing with a big pink rose corsage.

She looks like a giant wedding cake.

Yes, men like my husband wanted the big screens in the room, but now we women can enjoy them for all it's worth

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Montreal 1888 Health

My Aunt Alice

Hmm. I was Googling Jules Crepeau, my grandfather again and found a new document: the report of the sanitary departement of Montreal for 1888, Dr. Louis Laberge, Head Medical Officer, Jules Crepeau Message Boy. My grandfather started out as message boy here and rose to be Director of Services.

This document is most interesting with respect to Flo in the City, my novel in progress based on the letters of

If you believed this report, the Montreal Sanitation situation was well in hand in 1888, but not really. And it only got worse with the mass immigration around 1910.

In 1888, according to this wonderful document, there were 200,000 people in Montreal. Major diseases were diphtheria and typhoid. Pneumonia caught up in 1910, for some reason. There are some diseases I never heard of. What is dentition. (Bad teeth?)

Contaminated milk and water was a major issue in 1910, but in 1888 ICE was the problem. Bad water was being used for ice.

Privies, too. Those holes in the ground for toilets. Water Closets were being encouraged, but not all streets had sewage pipes.

Ethnic groups were Italians, Germans, apparently. French Canadians had twice the fertility rate of English Montrealers, but a much higher infant mortality as well.

Anyway, I just scanned the document. It will be interesting for my next book... Water and Milk. My grandfather had a terrific memory so he probably did not waste his time at the Sanitation Department.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More Proof for my Central Thesis.

Montreal 1901 Edison Film. Fire people

Hmm. I decided to start reading this giant biography of J.W. McConnell, by William Fong. McConnell was a famous Canadian financier and philantropist.

His story relates to my Flo in the City novel, based on the letters of in many ways, but mostly because this man hit the big time in those pivotal years I write about, 1908-1912 on the stock market.

This bio is big, but very well written. I just scanned the first chapters and must go back to read them in detail. Something struck me as a little odd. McConnell was in Toronto before he moved to Montreal in 1904 and Fong describes Toronto as a bustling metropolis and Montreal (it seems to me ) as a backwater of sorts, a small provincial town with a smattering of Anglos. Typical. I always thought Toronto was the back water back then. Yes, Montreal grew in population later in the decade, but, for instance, it had the stock exchange.

Anyway, just more proof that 1908-1913 years were pivotal. Ford, D.W. Griffith, Coco Chanel, and now McConnell.

So, I'm reading how this man from poorish rural roots, started out as a bookkeeper and then hit the big time, by dressing well, working hard and associating with bigwigs, including the Forgets, my ancestors. He was tall and good looking, which probably helped.

He is a fine contrast to Herb. In my story, I have Herb say he feels he is misssing out on something big. Well, he was. Herb also started out as a book keeper in a bank. But, well...

I might have caught a mistake. Fong says that Hays, who went down with the Titanic, was the former President of the Grand Trunk. If so, why does that train ticket I have, punched a month before the sinking, still have Charles Hays signed. (Maybe they used old ones.)

Fong writes a lot about Montreal Light and Power. Well, that is the company that got my grandfather, Jules Crepeau into trouble in the late twenties. My grandfather was Director of City Services and a cousin to the Forgets. One of the Forgets was President of the Montreal Stock Exchange in 1910.

A la Francaise

an early nichelodeon
I haven't been working on my first draft edit of Flo in the City, my novel in progress about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era based on the letters of http://www.tighsolas/. But I did take the hard copy out from under the coffee table and smooth it down a bit with my hand.
I have been listening to French audio books free online at For a while I have tried to find the equivalent of BBC Radio Four readings online in French and I just found this large library of books - recently posted - and believe it or not - I am listening to Sense and Sensibility in French only because I stumbled upon it first and I have just heard a dramatization on BBC Radio 7. I should be listening to Zola..which I will.
I'm trying to upgrade my French. I have classic anglo Quebec French, very strong in some areas, poor in others. Classic for my age group, who learned French in the classroom mostly. Almost all of my classmates moved to Ontario or beyond, largely for lack of French. (As I wrote elsewhere, the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal was the second highest performing school board in North American in the 60's. My classmates went to to career success for the most part.) My kids attended 50 50 immersion and aren't totally bilingual. You don't learn French in a classroom. (I actually found document form the late 1800's, Quebec Education Ministry, where this was stated and underlined for emphasis. They knew it back then.
(My mother was a very well educated French Canadian, but that's another story.) I am also listening to Curb Your Enthusiasm in French. It has snappy dialogue so is good to listen to.) I don't like French TV anymore than I like English daytime TV. I am watching Musee Eden on Societe Radio Canada, and have been blogging about it.
Improving your language skills is much easier in the age of DVDs and the Internet. Although I do not like listening to Colin Firth doublé as the actor who voices his characters does not that that rich theatre voice, which is one of CF's many charms.
I have also been reading essays for the Heritage Course I will be taking online starting next month. Very interesting and very well written essays on an area I am now convinced is right for me. Museums are all about MEDIA. And I have worked in the non-profit sector and I have an understanding of early education issues like learning styles.
My favorite and most influential read back in college, where I studied Film and Communications, was WAYS Of SEEING, which was a small book based on a BBC Television Program.
I've taken 30 years to find out what I really want to do, sort of. Because I haven't changed much from what I wanted to do in my twenties. There are just so many more options now. I also taped Young Victoria off the satellite. Well, I bought it. So I have lots to do - and nothing at the same time.
Anyway, I've been practicing my French at the hospital, talking to nurses as my father in law, 90, is ill. Most doctors can speak English, but few nurses from what I see. One nurse, according to my aged father in law, actually told him "You're 90. You should speak French by now." It's an awful statement, especially since it's the old folk in Quebec who don't know French. But I won't complain: I don't want to rock the boat. If I get people mad, he could get worse treatment (and they are fairly nice)or worse, be kicked out of the system, like my mother, last year, and left to fend for himself. Hey, it's sleeting outside. Gee. We've had such a warm dry spring so far, and now it sort of snows.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rant a Rant Rant over Social Inequality.

A still from Flickr Creative Commons: Library of Congress, Bain Collection Mrs. Belmont's Farm for Girls.There was a sense in 1910 that working the earth was wholesome.

I have just been listening to BBC Radio Four Daniel Dorling, Professor of Geography at Sheffield University, who wrote Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists. I had clicked on for a discussion of 'nakedness' but this preceeded it.

How much have things changed in 100 years, since the 1910 era when the Nicholson girls dreamed of a better life for themselves through hard work, education and good fashion sense?

Not much. From what I could glean from the short interview, this scholar believes inequality exists because we believe in inequality, or it's inevitability: we actually believe some people have the right to, say, 40,000 dollars for getting out of bed in the morning and others should have their 10 dollars a day welfare taken away, because that princely sum will make them too lazy and they won't get up and work. (His metaphor.)

It reminds me of what a man said on air a few months ago, on BBC's Today, that the Bond Street men making bazillions earn every penny because they 'give up everything for their work': they never see their wives or kids. Hmm, I thought at the time, "If you are a disfunctional human you deserve a lot of money. Funny, that."(Hmm. These Wall Street or Bond Street guys don't wear flowing wigs and silly shoes with giant buckles and purple tights, and they are busy beavers, but they are today's French aristocracy, no doubt. (And when they commit crimes,they do it big time, stealing bazillions and not thousands, so they don't get punished.)

Apparently we accept the fact that greed is good today (which is why we allow credit card companies to charge 19 percent when the lending rate is otherwise so low. Indeed, this easy credit is a way to maintain inequality for some people spend all their extra cash on interest and IT IS ENCOURAGED. ) Simple. (I remember reading a famous essay from decades ago that said, sadly, "Whatever is good for business is "good." (After dealing with THE BANK lately, with respect to my mother's estate, I can say that Greed is all that matters with them. Not humanity, not common sense, not logic. Well, one bank, the Royal Bank of Canada, was very good to deal with. A real person took care of my file. The 'other bank' seems to employ only telephone drones, who open your file, repeat the same jargon, send you to another drone, and the advice contradicts itself all over the place and the agents get confused or snooty when caught in their contradictions. Or they blame in on 'the system' as in "the system automatically bills you." "The System sends out nasty, treatening letters." And still the banks make bazillions. Indeed, this is all that matters to them, oops, I mean IT.

Anyway, this scholar also admitted that while medicine has advanced considerably over the decades (and the letters reveal this well) that our idea of mental illness has not. We actually believe it is OK for a huge proportion of the population to be mentally ill, if the sales of anti-depressants are any indication. Why has the rate of mental illness become so much worse, these days? (Could those endless telephone menus at government, banks, corporations,etc)have something to do with it? I suspect so.) Why do we accept it? My son is reading Foucoult, I think that's his name. We often discuss this issue.

I must get back to editing Flo in the City, my work in progress about a young woman growing up in the pivotal 1910 era in Quebec based on the letters of

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Audio Daze

This is a Montreal Gramophone company. The picture is from the McCord Museum Collection on Flickr creative commons.

This is an appropriate picture as I am still procrastinating on editing my first chapter of Flo in the City, about a girl in the pivotal 1910 era, based on the the letters of

I was going through our DVD collection, to find movies dubbed (our double , as they say in French) in French. I noticed Miss Potter was missing from its case. Mamma Mia was in it instead.

I then noticed something, that many of my FAVORITE movies are missing. No surprise. I can't find either Bridget Jones. No surprise. I don't put movies back in their case. Maybe they are in (or around) the DVD player downstairs, but I think I have lost them. Must buy them again. I feel insecure without my favorite movies to watch at a pinch.

We have come so far from the 60's or 70's, when I'd watch a movie on TV (and if it was a dreamy one, say with Robert Redford, I could only dream of watching it again one day.) Now I can watch a movie on a big HD screen or on my little but very clear computer screen and if I want, I can 'capture' a picture of say, a favorite actor in a particularly endearing pose and even close up on the shot. I guess directors today have to rethink shots, with this in mind!!

I love Miss Potter. It takes place in the Tighsolas era and is about Beatrix Potter. I've seen it many many times. It has Ewen McGregor and Rene Zellwegger teaming up again. Oh, I just realized, I have lost my Down with Love as well. Where can these movies be??? (Maybe my husband secretly disposed of them, so he doesn't have to hear them playing in the background.) He resents the fact he can't play his movies, except with earphones, because they are all LOUD boy style movies. They give me a headache. But I think my movies give him a headache too, for different reasons. (Altough he tends to tolerate my Colin Firth Porn as he calls it. He knows where his bread is buttered.)

Oh gosh, I got to get back to Flo in the City. In a few weeks I start my online course at Athabasca College, Introduction to Heritage Studies. My new career as a museum person. Of course, by the time I finish this diploma course, I will be a museum piece. I have six months to finish each 3 credit course, and I must take 8 of them and a 'stage' as they call them in Quebec.. I feel like a kid (with a sore back and creaky knees). I had to take this course because I have to get rid of that repeating dream where I am enrolled in some course and I have an exam and I haven't studied at all PLUS I can't find the examination room. It's annoying. Very annoying. Sometimes I am in university, sometimes high school and occasionally elementary school. I say to myself, But I've been to school.

Come to think of it, it doesn't auger well that I am studying to be a curator when I can't keep track of my DVD's.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stream of Unconsciousness

Boys riding an automobile in 1910 era.

I am watching the fourth installment of Musee Eden and can say the plot is quickening... I can see where it is going and it is interesting and that cute Colin Firth lookalike actor, Eric Bruneau, is getting beaten up, which is hard to take, although I'm sure it will all end up well in the end.

I went through Google News today to see what women are in the news: not many and mostly actresses or minor celebrities. Hilary Duff etc. I think I will do this everyday. You can see what people look up, the zeitgeist, so to speak and it is tabloid, even in the legitimate news.

Oh well.

I really have to get going on my editing of the first chapter of Flo in the City, my story about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era, based on, but I can't focus right now, with things to do related to parents and in-laws.

I did take up reading again (something I haven't really done lately (I do listent to BBC Radio's 4 and 7 for literary joys) I have three books on the go, Book of Negroes, Juliet Naked by Hornby and Andrea Levy's first book. (I just loved Small Island.) The problem is my glasses, I need to buy new reading glasses and make sure they are full lensed, just for reading. I get dizzy adjusting my gaze.

My son came home and was writing a difficult philosophy paper and he read me the beginning, but I couldn't help him. Didn't understand a thing. Sign and signifier stuff which I remember not understanding when I went to school. Barthes and all that. Why Freud is wrong, so to speak. He's big on why Freud is wrong. But I grew up with Freud, so I choose to invest in his theories.

But, yes, I did do something brash. I enrolled in a diploma program at Athabaska Online University, Heritage Studies. Museums and such. Since I'm so into Heritage, and I hope to upgrade my website, I might learn something. This 3 credit course is more expensive than one year of tuition at McGill in 1974, when I went to school. I answered an online questionnaire that is supposed to determine if a person is cut out for self-study. A great deal of importance is placed on essay writing skills. Well, I can write essays, that's my profession, but I wonder if I have the discipline and stamina to take such a complicated course.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ugly Betty and Beautiful Kate Hudson - Women in the News

Christmas Shoppers 1910. From Bain News in 1910 Collection on Creative Commons Flickr.
How can I make this blog about my book, Flo in the City, about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era, based on the letters of relevant to today. REALLY relevant. Well, I went on Google news and went through the alphabet to see what topics were the most popular today on Google Canada and to see if I could relate any to my middle school novel in progress being written on this blog.
A for Adam Lambert, B for Blue Jays, C Canucks, D Dale Begg-Smith, elin nordegren,F for facebook, G for Google, H for Horizon's Restaurant, I for Icelandic Volcano, J for Joannie Rochette,K for Kate Hudson, L for Larry King, M for Montreal Canadiens (But of course, they beat the Capitals last night, even I knew that!)Peter Steele, Raptors, Sydney Crosby, Tiger Woods, Ugly Betty, Volcano, Winter Olympics, X-Box, YouTube and Zach Parise. Hmm. The fact I had have never heard of many of these topics means that I'm a little out of the loop, which is not surprising for someone who has immersed herself in the 1910 era for 5 years.
Let's look at the women on the list as Flo in the City is about a girl coming of age in 1910. And see if we can compare.
So, we have Elin Nordegren, who I had to look up, believe it or not. Tiger's wife. I hate the whole Tiger Woods business. I used to work in radio and tv, for a station that was the city's sports station and I know all about athletes. In fact, one day, in the lobby of said TV station, one of the most famous local athletes came on to me and he had this reputation for being a family man. (I was flattered a bit. Handsome guy!) And besides, if anyone came on to me at all in those days, when I was young, it was married men. (And few of these were handsome, rich, or famous. Just guys.) The single men I wanted to pay attention to me were too shy to talk to me usually. OK. So, enough about that subject.
Kate Hudson. Adorable isn't she? But she hasn't been in anything worth her while lately, has she. Too adorable I guess. Ugly Betty, I wonder why that show is in the news. Wait, while I check it out. Oh, that show is 'hitting the big screen." I've only seen it a few times. I only watch a few TV shows at at time. 30 Rock, How I Met your Mother and the Big Bang Theory are the three my husband and I really like. Maybe Beautiful Kate Hudson can star in the Ugly Betty Movie. Joannie Rochette, well, talented girl who had a bitter sweet year. Our Canadian skaters are just wonderful? Aren't they?
Compare. Well, I don't know. Tiger's wife: well, in 1910, rich men had mistresses and women put up with it, if they cared at all. The middle class, that was a different story. In one of the Tighsolas letters, Margaret gossips about a man seeing another woman and says, "He should throw himself in the river." She'd fit in nicely now.
The short of it is, when it comes down to it, with respect to what's in the NEWS, things haven't changed much in 100 years. Not at all. Beautiful women, scandal, always popular. Singers, actors, always popular. Society people and Royalty and romance. That's what they liked back then and that's what they like now.
The Icelandic Volcano, they liked that stuff back then too. Lots of stories about earthquakes in the papers. Of course, they only had newspapers back then in 1910. Radio didn't exist.
Kate Hudson. Well, there were beautiful actresses to admire back then, stage actresses mostly. A little fatter than Kate. But she isn't far different from Mary Pickford, silent film star. The camera likes young and the camera likes thin. It always has. D. W. Griffith new it. (Oh, I just looked up why she's topical: apparently, she may have gotten breast implants. Seems like gilding the lily, but who really cares? Lots of people evidently.
THIS I CAN RELATE to Flo in the City. Even if you are one of the prettiest girls on the planet, you still don't feel good enough, especially as you age.
I've blogged recently about women as 'product' in a consumer society, that most women are prostitutes to some degree, well, that is especially true of actresses (and even actors). They literally sell their bodies, unless they are character actors.
Hockey, obviously, is popular in Canada from Google News most keyworded. (Is that a word?) (I used to knew everything about the 6 team NHL but I only recently learned, via the Olympics, who Sydney Crosby was. I stopped following hockey when the players started looking like babies to me. This Crosby is the age of my youngest son and looks even younger. I feel old. Maybe I should get some breast implants. Ah, a bottle of wine is cheaper.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Brideshead Revisited Reunion -My Thoughts

My ancestors, 'between the wars' - on the steps of 72 Sherbrooke West (Montreal) in, say, 1929. My mom at bottom. In my story, Flo in the City, about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era, based on the letters of, I have Edith Nicholson staying here in 1909, teaching my Aunt Alice English.Come to think of it, I will have Edith compare this four storey greystone to Tighsolas, a brick encased Queen Anne style. Fun.

I'm sitting here in my living room at 7 am staring at my husband's big screen TV with the dvd's lined up underneath and I can clearly see Brideshead Revisited, since it's in a fatter case than the others. That mini series is long. I watched it again recently, all, what is it? 11 hours in a row.

This week, BBC Radio Four's Reunion Program has a group interview with the main cast - and I listened, of course. Watching Brideshead was one of the most moving 'cinematical' events in my life, although I've only watched it once or twice since the original viewing. (Not like the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice, which I watch at least yearly and often more than that when winters are long and I am depressed.) But still, I love it.

I first saw Brideshead Revisited in 1982, I believe, when it played in Canada. I was working as a copywriter at a radio station (a burn out neurotic kind of job) and I was living at my mother's (not the happiest arrangement.) So I was sitting in my bed, which was the couch in the living room, reading, I clearly remember, Iris Murdoch's The Sea the Sea and enjoying it immensely. (Reading must have been a welcome diversion from writing adverts for Greek restaurants. "Step into the sunshine at the Caverna Grecque...whatever.." Then I stumbled on the first episode of Brideshead and was enraptured. Blown away. (I don't recall whether I had read the novel, although I had read Scoop and a few other books by Waugh.) Anyway, I remember waxing ecstatic about the show at work the next day.

Then, a few weeks later, I took the train to Kingston to visit a friend who was a graduate student at Queen's in the English Department. I found her new office, but she wasn't there. A young man, thin, blond, a fellow grad student named Rupert, was seated at his desk so I sat at hers and noticed that a copy of Brideshead Revisited was lying open on the desk. So I told the young man, "Brideshead Revisited was the best thing I'd ever seen on TV." As it happens, this guy was a Rhodes Scholar from Oxford and he had been an extra in the bar scene at Oxford. (Still is, from what I see :)

To this day, Brideshead is one of my favorite books, and the first chapter of Brideshead my favorite chapter of any book. It's the beautiful prose. (Although I come from Roman Catholics. My grandmother in the picture above, being French Canadian, was a devout Catholic who would sprinkle holy water on her kids when they were fighting. That house, apparently, was always filled with priests, and my aunt wanted to become a nun.) My other favorite first chapter is in Dead Souls by Gogol. I also like the chapter with Queehog (or whatever) in Moby Dick.

Anyway, I write this blog as I work on the second draft of the first chapter of Flo in the City, a middle school novel about Canada in 1910, and about women and their outsized dreams and genuine prospects in life. I have completed two installments, (a couple of blogs back and, today, I'll try to work on another.)

This novel is taking a long time, but then Brideshead Revisited took two years to produce, it was mentioned on the BBC Four Program!

My next novel, Milk and Water, will be set in 'between the wars'1927 and be about my grandfather Jules Crepeau, who was Director of City Services of Montreal and my husband's grandfather, Thomas G. Wells, President of Laurentian Spring Water. It will be a 'two solitudes' style political thriller with a social welfare theme, and center on a typhoid epidemic, a bit like Musee Eden, but based on two real families. Aren't I ambitious? (It will be fun to compare my uber zaftig French Canadian grandmother, the daughter of a master butcher, to my husband's very tall, pencil thin southern belle of a grandmother, who was General Douglas MacArthur's first cousin, from Norfolk Virginia. Their genes have commingled in my sons.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Breakfast at Tiffany's

A still from Edison's Stenographer's friend. Stenography was just starting up as a profession in 1910 and was one of the best paid. Edith Nicholson attended secretarial school.

I watched Breakfast at Tiffany's on Turner Classic movies and then watched it in French on my DVD player as I realized I owned the Audrey Hepburn collection.

I had heard the book serialized on BBC Radio 7, and remembered what a superb work it was, the perfect prose, the edgy story all gilded in a girly girl aura but with dark undertones. And that perfect name, Holly Golightly. I think, the next cat I get I will call Holly Golightly for irony.

The movie is wonderful, as everyone knows, although those Blake Edwards' slapstick touches were unnecessary, as everyone has said.

You know, it would be logical to equate Holly with the Julia Roberts character in Pretty Woman, (both girlish charming prostitutes) but I find myself wanting to compare her to Bridget Jones's, which to many will make no sense, as they appear (except for the excessive drinking) to be diametric opposites.

But they are both free spirits, I find, caught in a world that isn't quite right for them. In a sense EVERYWOMAN. No woman is allowed to be who she really is.

I think that EVERYWOMAN is a play, or is it EVERYMAN? Flora goes to see it in Montreal in 1912. She also goes to see Polly of the Circus.

But I digress, because I can't figure out where to go with this essay... With respect to Flo in the City, my novel in progress about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era, based on the letters of, let me say that in Montreal, Flora, Marion and Edith had Birks not Tiffany to represent the ideal life.

Maybe I should have a chapter Breakfast at Birks. I think I will!!!

Ps. In a Single Man, the Colin Firth movie this past year, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award there's a scene where his boyfriend is reading Breakfast at Tiffany's - to show how classy he was I guess.

Oh, that reminds me of another point: gay writers are very good at deconstructing the male/female relationship (being on the outside looking in)but maybe too close to the subject to deconstruct their own relationships. Something was missing in A Single Man, for me, with respect to insight into the relationship. Although, like Breakfast at Tiffany's the movie was pretty in the extreme. But I haven't read the book A Single Man, admittedly.

Flo in the City Chapter 1 Draft 2 (episode 2)

Any other day, Flora would have had her mother right there at her side at homework time to help keep her on task. She'd be working at the kitchen table and her mother would be busy nearby with some end of day chore, sweeping out the ashes from the stove or wiping down the icebox. Mother Margaret had a sharp memory and even sharper opinions on a slate of popular topics, from eugenics to church union to suffrage, with the latter being her very favourite, that would woman suffrage, or universal suffrage - women's right to vote - an interest that got her in hot water with many of the other church ladies and just about all the church men.

Margaret, a pleasing looking woman of 54, was famous in her birth family for being 'the one who knows things.' She had worked, in her youth, as the Eastern Townships' first female telegraph operator.

But today, no homework help was forthcoming. No sewing help either. "It will have to wait," Margaret shot back from her sewing room off the kitchen, "I hardly have time enough to sew this pocket into my corset for tomorrow's train trip. To protect my cash. Father's orders...And come in from the verandah, Flora dear, the wind is picking up and you'll catch a chill."

That was not like Margaret, refusing to make a quick repair on a frock or stocking, especially on a school night. Mother must be very nervous about her trip, Flora figured. She was heading off to Three Rivers to visit her oldest daughter, Edith, who was teaching in a company school at Radnor Forges, near that place. There, she would meet father Norman and then accompany him back to his railway camp near La Tuque.

By the determined sound of her sewing, the steady tap tap tap on the pedal, and chug a chug a chug of the needle, Flora sensed there was some anxiety associated with this trip.

Just a change of colour. There it was again. That silly sentence, popping into her head, right out of nowhere. And if she didn't do well on her exam, or if she failed, heaven forbid, she was in for it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Flo in the City: Chapter One, Draft Two, Episode 1

I decided to edit my first draft of Flo in the City, the story of a young girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era in Canada, right here. Well, I printed out a copy and edited on the page.

Flo in the City: Chapter One

Just a change of colour: why couldn't she get that silly line out of her head, wondered Flora Nicholson, as she balanced her small birdlike body in the reed rocker on the verandah of her smart Queen Anne style home.

After all, she had matters to attend to. Important matters like the take home exam fluttering in the breeze on her boney knees. The mimeographed foolscap sheet with its list of impossible questions. A composition test of all things. Her very worst subject.

"Women in the Thirties" Ick.

"Read the excerpt below and answer two of the three questions." Double Ick.

"In the 30's the women in the family found their hands full. Besides the daily round of housewifely cares, every season brought its special duties. There were wild strawberries to be picked and prepared for daily consumption. There was milking and the making of both butter and cheeses. There was no nurse to take care of the children, no cook to prepare the dinner. Country life in Canada in the thirties was plodding. There was no varied outlook. The girls' training for future life was mainly at the hands of the mothers."

Flora scrunched the exam between her knees while flatlining her lips and crossing her eyes in a look of mock contempt.

She was so tired of hearing how hard women had it in the old days. Cook? Who had a cook? Few families she knew. And she lived on a comfortable street, Dufferin, in a fine town, Richmond, in Quebec, in Canada, the best country in the world. Flora lifted her gaze onto the street, where the setting sun, reflecting off the brick facades of her neighbour's homes, had conjured up a warmish haze in bronze and golden hues that mingled playfully with the mellow greens of the maples and chestnuts and weeping willows decorating the front lawns. If this short street wasn't the picture of middle class comfort, nothing was.

The fifteen year old unlocked her knees, stroked the creases out of the examination paper and continued reading: "The girls in those days, (that would be 10, 20, almost 80 years ago, Flora quickly calculated) were more at home in a kitchen than in a drawing room. They did better execution at a tub than at a spinet and could handle a rolling pin more satisfactorily than a sketch book."

"What is wrong with sketching?"Flora thought. She loved to draw.

She stared back at the page: "At a pinch, they could even use a rake or fork to good purpose in a field or barn. Their finishing education was received at the county school along with their brothers. Of fashion books and milliners , few of them had any experiences."

Who goes to finishing school, thought Flora. Certainly no one of her acquaintance. Yes, Margaret, her mother, was certainly a masterful baker, and Flora wasn't very good, although she could play piano and her mother could not. But mother could sew better than anyone in the house. Flora adjusted the hem on her blue serge jumper and pulled at a thread until part of the hem fell away from the skirt.

"Mother," she called into the house. "I need you to mend my school uniform. The seam is splitting."

She poked her pinky finger into the hole in her hem. She noticed the colour in her jumper had faded somewhat. The underside of the material was a deeper robin's egg blue, the original colour when her cousin, Mae, had first worn it. Wouldn't it be nice to wear a brand new jumper to school for once: well, she could dream.

"Just a change of colour," there it was again. Why couldn't she get that pesky phrase out of her head for once and for all? So that she could get on with her Composition exam and be done with it?

Street Scenes in Movies

Very busy London, in 1900 era. A still.
My husband and I watched Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes last night and after watching Coco Before Chanel a couple of times, this popular film was a bit of a shock. This is a guy movie, or a younger person movie, Sherlock Holmes as action hero, with two male leads with woman appeal, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Robert Downey Jr. has to be my favourite actor after Colin Firth, but this movie was a bit 'busy' for me. I found myself thinking, afterwards, not about the plot of Sherlock Holmes, but about the cutaway crowd scenes. In this film they were very elaborate, overhead shots of an entire square and such.

They were beautifully done, although I can't tell where the reality ends and the digitalization starts.
There were women in their dresses with the enormous skirts walking in the scenes, I believe, and I wonder if that is correct.

From the images of 1900 London that exist the streets were chaotic, and few women seem to be in them. There are plenty of men and boys, darting in between the trams and carriages and later in the decade motorcars, but few women.
I imagine this was much the same in London, although there probably were 'promenades' where women went with consorts to be seen, married women mostly.
Marketplaces of that era might have had woman servants around them. There's a photograph of Bonsecours Market in the 1860's at McCord. I should take a closer look.
I wonder if any paintings exist of Covent Garden or Picadilly. Or the Crystal Palace Exposition in 1950 something or other. Then again, it wasn't until the impressionists emerged that painters started using ordinary scenes and average people as subjects, am I right.
I do recall back in University persuing some microfilms of 1850's London newspapers and being amazed at all the 'accident's and traffic deaths reported. Chaotic, indeed!
Must investigate. I'll think I'll start by reading about Jack the Ripper. His victims were prostitutes, and, yes, they were out and about.
This all ties well into my story Flo in the City, based on the letters of because it's about women's freedom and urbanization.
Coco Chanel caught the wave, and then created the wave, by making simpler clothing for the new woman out there, the young working woman of the middle class.
Now I've been watching a lot of old movies on Turner and many famous movies have cut aways of bustling city streets in New York. The scenes from the 40's and 50's movies are expecially fun. That Touch of Mink comes to mind.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Female Product

My aunt Alice. I've put her in Flo in the City, my novel in progress based on the letters of as a student for Edith Nicholson in 1910. Why not? Alice had green eyes, Titian hair and buttermilk skin. I inherited the eyes and brows, 100 percent. But I have hazel eyes.

Women had nicer hair in the old days. As I may have already written on this blog, it was recommended that women wash their hair no more than once every three weeks. And they brushed it 100 times a night.

Consumerism is about creating new needs where none existed. The other day I was listening to a BBC Radio 4 Women's Hour piece on the Female Eunuch. A guest was mentioned how women today are more 'objectified'than ever. I suspect this has to do with our hyper-consumerism. In a consumer society, women's bodies are just another product. They have always been such, to some degree, but it only gets worse it a hyper consumer society, for obvious reasons that would take ten blogs to deconstruct.

You almost have to go back to early consumer days to figure out what happens. To the beginning of 'now' which is 1910. Maybe I'll try to do that.

My Aunt Alice was beautiful but it didn't make her life a good one, not by any measure.

Now, I have to get to editing that first draft. I am watching Lost in Austen now, because it calms me down. (I'm going through a stressful period in my life.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Coco Before Chanel

From the Bain Collection on Library of Congress, Creative Commons, Flickr, so I can reprint it with attribution. A Helen Gould, philanthropist of New York is in a hat shop.

I posted that picture because I am now watching Coco Before Chanel on my TV. I bought it off the satellite. I saw it in the theatre. It's in French and they speak very very fast. I recently read a bio about her: it's all very interesting in relation to Tighsolas. In fact, the woman is emblematic of all that went on with respect to women in the era. But she is also an BIG EXCEPTION. Beautiful, ambitious and smart, she made her way, with the help of a man's money, and then she paid him back every cent.

Coco Chanel is a character or should I say, ghostly presence in my story, Flo in the City about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era in Canada based on the letters of

Before I stumbled on the Nicholson letters I knew little about the 1910 era in Canada, well, next to nothing. All that mattered to me was La Belle Epoque. The era was born in Paris, where the first motor car was born, where they had the 1900 exposition.

So in my first chapter of Flo in the City, available in first rough draft form on this blog, I have Flo joke about moving to France and starting a hat shop.

Marion jokes that she would need to improve her French.

You know, in 1912, Marion was invited to go to Europe with family friends, but she did not have the money. These friends bring her back a present, a real Parisienne blouse.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Time out of Place..

A still from a film of Moscow in 1908 off Youtube. It was hard to catch this horse as it went by in a second. Amazing stuff now available for all to see. Imagine had there been film in 1800 or 1700 or earlier. Well, if there had been film, it the course of history would be changed, as 'technology' changes us.

Still, while Flo, perhaps, was sitting on the Tighsolas porch in 1908 this horse, I want to call in a troika, but it's just one animal, was trotting through Moscow.

So, I'm going to get on this editing business, for by first rough draft of Chapter One of Flo in the City, my novel about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era, based on the real life letters of, but frankly, I'm tired. More than that, my eyes are tired. I've had a hectic week (life!) dealing with banks and government in the age of endless telephone menus and departments that call themselves "Customer Care" but should be called "Customer We Don't Care.. Not a whit except about getting our money." The conversations are always monitored, but I suspect it's to make sure the agents don't exhibit any human feeling or plain common sense. It's as if they have been absorbed by the Borg Collective.

I watched the 3rd installment of Musee Eden on Radio Canada, on the TV, and it was quite gruesome, and graphic nakedness too that is soooo Radio Canada. And that Eric Bruneau is looking more and more like Colin Firth, each episode. (Nice!) But I was watching to see if the two sisters, installed in rooms over the wax museum they inherited in old Montreal, had a maid. It seems not. The episode had a couple of scenes in their home.

You see, in 1910, women weren't allowed to live alone (well, it was considered unseemly) but they also couldn't live alone because it was impossible to run a house back then and have a life. It's not like they had microwavable meals and permanent press clothing!

I know for a FACT because the Nicholson sisters in 1913 took the bold step of taking a flat, with two other teachers, and it turned out badly. One, they had to promise that their mother was coming to live with them to get the place, and two, they had to give up the apartment because it was too much of a mess. Terrific story, really!

I mean this was VERY bold of them. I remember, in the sixties, a group of nurses lived in a duplex near us and how people, well, my father, assumed they were wild women.

I do like the costumes in the show: they look exactly like home-made clothes, the kind the Nicholson's wore.

Again, the prostitutes are a little over the top, cliche.

Prostitutes were often very young and often just working girls, in the real sense. They worked in factories, or shops, but couldn't make enough to live on. Maybe that's why they decided to give teachers decent salaries!!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What was Edith Doing in 1909?

My grandmother in riding outfit with gun: from a negative...

This has only a little to do with Flo in the City, my novel for middleschoolers based on the letters of being written and edited on this blog.

My grandmother, so far, is a minor character. I use her family to fill in the blanks about what Edith was doing in Montreal in 1909. She is tutoring my aunt.

It fits in well, because the very next year Edith gets a job at Ecole Methodiste in Westmount. That institution supposedly rehabiliated Catholics, to to speak.

Principal Villard,in a 1907 book Preparing the Way, says that although evangelicals are looking to the West as a place to preach, 'we must not forget French Canadians' who are seeking the light and looking for liberty, as never before.

Oddly, or should I say, coincidentally, an American woman is writing a blog about her Italian grandfather, who was one of the schools converts and he admired Edith, specifically, as a teacher.

Maybe I should check if she was teaching there in 1909. Then there goes my story.

No, I double-checked and the boy talks of Miss Nicholson in October 1909. He says she is most convincing in Bible Class, as he is still a Roman Catholic at heart. Wonderful stuff.

The truth is, none of the Nicholsons discuss their faith in the letters. Edith, maybe a bit, when she talks about sermons. I have a tape of Edith, to her great niece, in the early 70's, where she jokes that her niece, my mother in law, and her kids are 'all heathens.' Well, they were.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Still Procrastinating...

My grandmother, Maria Roy Crepeau. I managed to 'develop' this photo from a negative using Corel. It wasn't easy, I had to scan it at 24,000 dpi with the lid open and then transform it 'from negative' and then downsize it to a reasonable size. Very cumbersome. But it worked. There must be an easier way!

I have not started to edit my first rough draft of Flo in the City, based on the letters of it being Easter Weekend. I did scope some beautiful photos on Flickr, a French collector with photos form the 1910 era in France. Awesome. I will see if I can post some. I think I can.

I listened to The Now Show, a comedy show on BBC Radio Four where they made fun of Canadian History. It seems the history magazine the Beaver has to change its name, as it is filtered out of schools. The Now Show Gang made the usual jokes. I don't think Britons think Canada has a history. Neither do most Canadians, either.

The show also featured a comedic rant against a UK politician (Peter Mandelson)who wants to make it illegal to download any song, etc. He wants severe penalties for transgressors. He decided this after a talk with David Geffen, supposedly. The comedian/commentator said that would be like the horse lobby back in 1900 insisting that automobiles wear horseshoes...

His point: When you have made and still make money from the way things were done in the past, you try to make sure no one makes money from the way things will be done in the future, except you. An excellent point. The fact is, the horse lobby, or livery lobby in the UK did try to stop the auto revolution by having the powers that be pass a law to make it illegal for cars to go over 5 miles an hour.

Paris Exposition

nf842 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

This should go to a beautiful picture of the 1900 Paris Expo.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Motion Picture Crowd - That would be everyone.

A still from an Edison film showing the crowd leaving The Claremont Theatre in New York where his motion pictures were being played.

The stuffier magazines and certain ministers may have been railing against the evil of the Nickelodeon, but this 1913 Edison video shows why the motion picture industry was there to stay.

Who's leaving this motion picture house? Couples, mostly older, Grandparents and their grandchildren, fathers and their sons and daughters, older sisters and their younger brothers and vice versa, boys, mostly in pairs and sometimes alone, even a couple of moms with babies in large prams. I didn't see too many young people in their twenties at this show, I'm guessing it was during working hours.


A street scene 1905 San Francisco, stilled of an Edison film on YouTube.
If you think city streets are chaotic today, they appear to have been much worse in 1910 era.

Coco Chanel claimed her fashions allowed working women to run for the street car. Just add snow in Montreal!

So, if Marion had to take three streetcars to get to work when she first moved to the city in 1909, well, imagine how tiring it was.

In my book Flo in the City: A work in Progress being written on this blog and based on the letters of I have Marion fall into a snowbank as February 1909 saw a lot of snow.

The only Edison film that exists of Montreal is a short of a fire. That means the Edison crew came to Montreal, so there was have been other scenes that were shot. They are not extant if they still exist somewhere.

Lots of New York scenes exist. The McCord Museum has a lot of photos of early Montreal, some published online. The Bibliotheque Nationale has pictures in their archives.

In 1910, Thomas Edison's crew was hired by the government to go out West with American Director Earle Dawley to film scenes to attract Americans to the Canadian West. You see, the government was keen on getting American immigrants, over Europeans, a part of history that everyone would rather forget.

On the McCord Museum website they provide audio for some pictures, depicting the sounds of the street back then. trams, car horns. It was noisy. Apparently, the pervading odor was still horse manure.

Now in winter, the sleighs had bells to warn people away. Yes, those lovely sleighbells were very necessary and sleighs moved fast and silently over the snow. So the city in winter was even more dangerous to negotiate. And then just add those boots, long skirts and corsets women had to wear, and those ridiculous hats. Something had to give.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Making History Relevant- and it always is.

What's in a Name? A whole lot, it seems. This photo is of the Guaranteed Pure Milk Company of Montreal delivery truck. From the McCord Museum set on Flickr creative commons.

Hmm. I've long known of this company, I think they had a giant milk bottle erection of sorts in southwest Montreal. Maybe they still do. But I never thought of why a company had to have such a clumsy name. They chose the name because at the beginning of the 1900's milk was contaminated, and so was water. In the city, especially. And it was a huge problem, especially with respect to Infant Mortality.

In Richmond, a Dr. Boast had one of the milk concessions. In 1909, there was a typhoid epidemic in Montreal, and from what I can see, it was first blamed on milk and then on the water.

Now, it's Easter weekend and it's going to be hot, 25 or more, July weather at the beginning of April. I don't really feel like editing my first chapter of Flo in the City: A work in progress about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era based on the letters of

Indeed, yesterday, I forgot all about it and watched Duck Soup. Funny stuff, as everyone knows.

Today, I took a look at some pictures on Flickr creative commons about News in the 1910's from the Library of Congress collection. They have posted over 5,000 pics from the Bain Collection and I went through a few hundred. What did I learn? That in the 1910's the news was much like today, focusing on certain types of stories and leaving out the rest: I guess that's why the suffragists had to become suffragettes, or they could not have been noticed.

I see lots of coverage of baseball, boxing, and society and royalty. A few feel good stories about the problems of the day, orphans being brought for a day out at Coney Island, girls behing rehabilitated on a Mrs. Belmont's farm.
Just like today, people didn't want to know about the social problems of the day, I found one picture of a beggar women on the New York Streets.

That makes the underlining theme of Tighsolas, women's lives in 1910, all the more interesting.

That Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire may have taken place in New Jersey, but I like it as a focal point for my Flo in the City story. It ties into today, and that's key to my novel, that what I talk has relevance to modern women.

The Nicholsons made their own shirtwaits (blouses)but cheap blouses were being made available to the middle class, and they were cheap because cheap underaged labour was used to make them. Today, we have cheap clothing too, have you noticed. Piles of it. Who is making these clothes? No doubt some young women who are just as badly off as the women in 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. La plus ca change, really and truly. And not only that, these piles of cheap clothes take a toll on the environment.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Musee Eden Episode 2: Looking Backward on 1910

A Valentine's and Son postcard of 1910 Montreal. My favorite of them all. This picture evokes 1910 to me. It's Park and Prince Arthur.

I didn't watch an old movie last night, but I did see the second episode of Musee Eden from Radio Canada on their website, so now I am caught up and I have the third episode tapes for later viewing.

I spent the first little while mesmerized by how much one of the lead actors, Eric Bruneau looks like Colin Firth, so I had to rewind and start watching the episode all over.

The story is moving now, but it really does mix the genres, or tries to cover all the bases with respect to what people like. It is a crime thriller, forensic thingy (a genre I do not like at all) as well a a period piece, women's social history piece (which I like very much)courtroom drama (which I like but only when well done)and political thriller (which I like). There's a journalism angle, that I always like, although, so far, no deep insight into how newspapers worked in that era. Usually, shows which juggle too many genres fall apart, but this one seems to work.

The problem is the show is very dark. I keep hoping for a scene in the sunshine on the mountain. And it could use some levity. This episode had a scene with a maid and that could have been played up for laughs. Servants make good comedy. It was shot in Old Montreal, and that helps evoke a Victorian quality, which is what they are looking for, but it doesn't show what huge changes were going on 100 years ago. So, in short, this story is not so much about 1910, or it is about 1910 but looks backward, and Flo in the City, my novel in progress about a woman coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era, based on the letters of will look forward. Very much so.

Oh, there was a scene with a prostitute and, boy, was she a caricature. There were two prostitutes in the episode, both older women. The sad fact was prostitutes back then were mostly young. Girls left school at 12, after all.

Musee Eden, so far, doesn't show that 1910 was actually, as the BBC put it, The Birth of NOW. It was the beginning of the modern age. Many Montreal streets hardly look different today from what they looked like in 1910, take away the trams and add satellite dishes.

I read that the production cost about a million to make (not a lot at all)and had 70 sets and 400 costumes. It's not really a costume drama, in that it has middle class and poor characters, and, true to as it was, middle class women rotated only a few outfits.

In a review I read the writer complained that the women comport themselves liked modern women. As an 'expert' in middle class women of the era, I am not so upset about this. First, as I wrote before, most historical dramas are more about "now" than "then." I Claudius isn't about Rome, it's about Britain. And from my Nicholson letters, it is clear that young women back then were really no different than us...and they had huge dreams of independence and emancipation back then too, although not with respect to sexuality.