Why, you might wonder, have I named this latest blog ‘baby winter’. In fact, my daughter in law, Lara, who lives in Quebec, said that I hadn’t seen anything of winter as December had been unusually mild, not much snow, and to just wait until January and February arrive. Well as it turns out, Charles and I won’t see the rest of winter as we are now in Florida at our home, and as I write this I am nursing a broken wrist, but more about all that in my next blog, as I do want to recap here the wonderful times we had in Toronto before we left.
It has been 19 years since we spent a winter season in Canada, and I was well armed with North Face Parka, boots that had Yaktrax to stop the slipping and sliding, ski gloves from many years of doing that sport, long underwear, and a little jacket for Oscar. Woollen socks, neck warmer and headband completed my outfit. It took about 10 minutes every day to get us dressed for our morning walk because I also had to put paw protector on Oscar’s feet, a waxy substance to protect his paws from the salt on our route. But it was worth it as I loved the fresh cold air on my nose, and the beautiful houses that we passed on our long walk, all decked out in Christmas decor, made all the prettier with a dusting of snow. And I felt quite virtuous on my return home. Certainly the walk was a highlight of the day along with planning our meals in.
Our first Hanukah in Toronto also was on the menu, even though we did it on Zoom with our two sets of neighbours. I made the dinner and they picked it up and we all ate the same meal together virtually. My potato pancakes were not nearly as good as the ones I make in Florida, although the smoked salmon, smoked in house at Islington Golf Club, accompanying them was excellent. The half game hens in orange sauce, and wild mushroom risotto were simply delicious. The apple crisp was also terrific, especially since Charles had purchased an apple peeler and slicer for me. I was a bit afraid to use it because I was certain I would cut myself on the blades, but he confidently did the work and I finished up the crisp with cinnamon, lemon juice, and a topping made of flour, brown sugar and butter blended together. I lent a menorah to Liz and Wouter, Evan and Christine had their own. Candles lit, prayers said, we had a Covid Hanukah dinner.
There were many arts events on Zoom, but one in particular stood out for its innovative approach, artistry and entertainment qualities, The Messiah Complex by Against The Grain Theatre and The Toronto Symphony Orchestra. This was presented with a limited run on utube. Over the years I have sung in close to 50 Messiahs and heard quite a few as well, but I was enthralled with this unique performance. Johannes Debus conducted the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and singers from coast to coast in Canada performed the familiar arias of the oratorio. The work was sung in six languages, with 12 soloists and 4 choirs from across this vast and magnificent country.The visuals accompanying the singing were incredible and spectacular with incomparable scenes of beauty in various regions of Canada as background. Singers sang in languages native to them, all of it worked seamlessly. I wish I could see it again, but alas it is not available. However, the trailer still is and it can give you a peak at what occurred. Hopefully it will return again next year. It was perhaps the most spiritually uplifting Messiah I have ever witnessed or been part of.
Then came Christmas and more lockdowns, although stupidly our Ontario Government closed all the small businesses and left the big box stores open, and they wondered at the increase in Covid. I could go on about this, and our lack of true leadership, but I won’t. It was our first Christmas in Toronto for many years, and I searched in the basement for any decorations that I had years before. I found my beautiful old sleigh for the dining room table, but alas I had given away most everything. The front outdoor pots got decorated and looked gorgeous, thanks to Landscape Plus, and I put a few large ornaments on a little tree near my front door. A garland decorated our bannister and I did find the old sleigh bells that I flung over our wooden horse in the front hall. I decorated a hibiscus tree near our dining room and still had silk, wine coloured placemats and napkins for the dining table. The fireplace that sits between our living room and dining room was lit almost every night with fresh logs, provided not only warmth but beauty and entertainment, and a wintery atmosphere. Nothing like just sitting in front of a fire and watching the embers dance and glow and change while listening to music. Our player piano was working again and I found quite a few piano rolls of Christmas music.
We invited our dear friends, Wouter and Liz for Christmas dinner and they got Covid tests so that they could relax knowing they were protecting us, and their parents who they would also be visiting during the holiday season. Our Hepa filter was turned on high, the fireplace took out aerosols, and we left our back door open so we were quite confident of our safety. Traditional dinner included stuffed turkey, mashed squash, and all the usual additions. We even sang carols around the piano with our champagne in hand, and of course we exchanged gifts. This was Oscar’s first Christmas in Toronto and he enjoyed opening his gifts too.
I watched a wonderful concert from The Metropolitan Opera that celebrated New Years with four stars of the Met that included Angel Blue, Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena, and Matthew Polenzani. The entire series has been a welcome addition to my online concert watching. I have enjoyed artists live in performance in locales in Europe, mixed with footage from the Met in Hd series. Our highlights have included Bryn Terfel in Wales and Sondra Radvanovsky and Piotr Beczala in Wuppertal, singing their hearts out with great artistry and joy. I put my headphones on and just luxuriate in the sound. I also purchased a long cord with HDMI capability and have watched on the large Tv in our bedroom and blasted the sound over the speakers there. Heaven!
Then came New Years and we decided to do a black tie event at home again with our friends, Liz and Wouter, who are always ready for anything, even dressing up for just the four of us. I sent out invites and planned a seafood meal with help from Azarias restaurant who delivered, fresh oysters, shrimp, lobster tails and scallops, and I got a wonderful pudding from my golf club that had fruits in it and a brandy caramel sauce. Our friends brought a magnum of Veuve champagne and I set an elegant table, and because I didn’t have to cook, was able to enjoy myself fully. We even danced. One dance floor in the little room off our dining area and another near the piano. Alexa took us through all the different periods we requested and a very jolly time was had by all..sparklers in the garden and a welcome into 2021. I set up our table the same way I did at Christmas with each couple at opposite ends, perfect social distancing.
There was a fascinating master class at the Faculty of Music that featured young singers and the accomplished opera singer, Denyce Graves. These classes are not easy to do when the piano part is recorded due to Covid constraints, because you just can’t re-start at a certain place in the music when you are searching through the tape, but Ms. Graves worked well with the singers, although she may have talked too much, but there was a certain amount of pleasure when a singer develops and changes after the positive criticism from the Master.
Another musical event streamed online was The Rubies Awards show and it was a delightful surprise. Hosted by the charming singer, Joyce El-Khoury the show moved along efficiently and was entertaining. The Rubies, named after the founder of Opera Canada magazine, Ruby Mercer is normally a live presentation awards show for people in the opera industry. There is a reception, a dinner, and the presentations with performances chosen by the recipients. Frankly, I much preferred the online version which was kept at an hour and used some interesting footage. The sound was excellent and visually it was stunning.
Our Howey in the Hills book club was held on Zoom and a great way to see all the girls scattered around the USA and Canada, and to discuss the book. This past one was Dear Edward, by Ann Napolitano, a rather movie like plane crash scenario, with one survivor who was a young boy, and the changes in his life that followed. An easy read and a very good discussion led by Cathy. French conversation through Discuto, also on Zoom every week with different folks from Toronto, Mexico, Brazil, California, all striving to converse in French at various levels. My brain usually has had it after an hour or so and we always order dinner delivered. The doorbell with Oscar barking to alert us, turns out to be a saviour, and a chance to leave the class about 15 minutes early, but certainly Charles and I feel very righteous afterwards. Thank goodness for Zoom and Face Time as I am still singing every week with Neil while he plays the piano. We enjoy these meetings and it is also good to keep the old chops working, both mine and his. And my Face Times with our three grand daughters are our family gatherings. How we miss our girls.
Perhaps the hardest thing for many about the shut in is being with your partner 24/7. In our case all works well. We have our own interests, come together for afternoon naps, and our life revolves around the evening meal, both planning it and enjoying it. If one of us gets a bit too shirty about things and starts a discussion/argument, the other knows how to back off. Not worth it. We have been together over 35 years and know how to handle disagreements now, but I also know that many couples are discovering that being together all the time is just not working for them. You can only walk the dog so much, and imagine having children around all the time doing school online at a distance. The Covid divorce rate is rising.
We have been enjoying regular meals with our good friends on Zoom every Saturday night, and this has become a ‘look forward to’ event, and although not in person, we sit at our respective tables eat, drink and catch up. These dinners will often last over two hours, and when they end we start looking forward to the next one the following week.
When I return to write my next blog post, I will tell you about our sudden dash out of Toronto, our Carpe Diem moment.
Take care. Be safe. And let me know how you are managing during Covid times.