My friend Kat and I walked our two-year-olds past the Pleasant Rest Home today. It appears to be abandoned now -- unless absolutely everyone in the place was resting pleasantly. Either that's a ghost in front of the door or my camera lens was dirty. You decide. A few years ago the residents of this home rode on a float done up on a graveyard theme in the Exhibition Parade. And it wasn't remotely close to Halloween. Perhaps that is why the place is no longer in business.
This image is almost enough for the cover of a Stephen King novel. Except maybe we need some blood splattered up in the top lefthand corner or something.
Yesterday morning on the way to school Luke, dressed in red at the school's behest for Remembrance Day activities, announced "Today is going to be a lot of fun!" in a tone of great excitement. I considered explaining how the day wasn't meant to be fun, really, but I hadn't yet taken in enough caffeine to face the complicated explanation of what the day was actually meant to be about.
Luke was less enthusiastic when I picked him up. "I thought we were going to see real soldiers," he said.
"Weren't there any there?" I asked, kind of surprised. We used to have vets from WWII at our ceremonies -- and surely and sadly today there are plenty of younger vets available from all the recent skirmishes.
"Nope," he said. "At least I don't think so. There were some in the video, though."
He coloured a poppy wreath at school -- pictured in the center of his display. And then spent last evening drawing scenes of warfare to hang around it. "Red is a good colour to use to draw soldiers," he said. "It is the colour of blood." He informed me that the picture to the left of the wreath shows a soldier, a "good guy" mind you, shooting a bird while he waits for the bad guys to show up. The picture below that one (bottom left) shows an extremely large good guy shooting a bad guy (with a perfect bad guy expression). The picture next to that one and directly below the wreath shows a bad guy riding on the back of an elephant, a somewhat unusual form of transportation in modern warfare. The one next to that shows the bad guy and the elephant, now deceased. Death came so suddenly that the elephant didn't even have time to wipe the smile from its face. The picture above that one and to the right of the wreath, done in purple, shows a soldier fighting an alien with many eyes. Perhaps aliens have purple blood.
The Guardian has an absolutely heartrending and fascinating article about the scraps of material left with abandoned babies at London's Foundling Hospital:
In the mid-18th century thousands of poor women, similarly at the end of their tethers, deposited their newborn babies at the hospital. A sign instructed them to leave some kind of identifying token pinned to the child in the event they were one day in a position to take it home. Neither the name of the mother nor the baby would be recorded, so this token needed to be memorable and distinctive.
The hospital's thinking was not as punitive as it sounds. To give the child the best shot at a new life, the governors thought it best to erase its old identity. In that single liminal moment, one history would be wiped out and another begun – a new name, some basic schooling and, in time, apprenticeship to a useful trade. Just in case the mother's circumstances changed, though, she was advised to leave some piece of material evidence to prove the child was hers. The hospital promised that "great care will be taken for the preservation" of the item. In years to come the mother's description of that token would be her only way of proving she was the mother of the baby she had given up all those years ago.
Edmund Dulac's The Real Princess (or the Princes and the Pea).
Sylvie's nickname is "Button." I think I should change it to "Pea."
I would like a copy of this illustration, I think, to hang on my bedroom wall. Artsy Craftsy has one for sale.
This particular illustration is mentioned in Patricia Morrisroe's Wide Awake, which I prattled on about in the previous post. Morrisroe and her husband spent a Christmas at the Ice Hotel in Swedish Lapland, where he presented her with a copy of Stories from Hans Christian Andersen. (I'm not sure if he presented her with the reproduction I linked to -- what a beautiful book at a good price -- or a first edition.)
I realize I've been relying heavily on photos instead of words here on the blog lately -- that's because I've been having a lot of trouble stringing them together when speaking, let alone writing. I am just. so. tired. At about four or five months of age Sylvie started to pretty much sleep through the night. Regular readers of this blog could probably go back and check for the exact date -- I'm too tired to bother. Because ever since Sylvie started to crawl, about two months or so ago, she's been waking up pretty much every two or three hours at night. At first I thought she was excited by her new ability and simply wanted to get moving; then I chalked it up to teething. She had an ear infection in B.C., which certainly didn't help, and now, as a result of the antibiotics, she has thrush. So it's probably been all of those things, in sequence or in combination. I don't consider it sleep deprivation on par with that caused by a newborn -- those wakenings, at least for me and my babies, always lasted an hour or more at a time. These wakenings are usually mercifully brief, except for an early morning one that generally lasts forty-five minutes to an hour, around four a.m.
I'm a big sleeper -- love to sleep! Loved it before I had children. Love it even more now. And I need a lot of it. I've always needed more than the average eight hours a night. I need about nine to feel normal. And I'll happily steal ten if I can. I also like to read in bed, so those ten hours are, ideally, book-ended by a couple of hours lying there reading. Of course, this does not happen nearly often enough for my liking, not with two small children, and probably too often for David's. (The man is a saint. And he doesn't need very much sleep. And I haven't said a word about all the hockey lately. Isn't there some kind of playoff thingy going on?)
One of the subjects I like to read about in bed is, drum roll please: sleep. So this week, I absolutely devoured Patricia Morrisroe's new memoir of insomnia, Wide Awake. A magazine writer, Morrisroe, who is best known for her biography of Robert Mapplethorpe, has been an insomniac since childhood. She has no trouble falling asleep -- it takes her an enviable five minutes. It's staying asleep that's the problem. She generally wakes up for at least a couple of hours in the dead middle of the night. At least, she used to. Because during the writing of this book, which she decided to write in order to find a cure, she did indeed solve the problem of her insomnia. This is actually quite surprising, given how unyielding the problem tends to be. The book belongs as much in the popular science genre as it does in the memoir category-- it is science made light, personal and, whenever possible, amusing. In fact, even though I'm utterly sleep-deprived at the moment, it actually kept me up, reading into the night for way too long.
For a little taste of Morrisroe on sleep, check out this article about how her mother-in-law, who is 87, takes advantage of her insomnia to work her way through the classics.
I like sleep so much, I've often thought of writing a novel about it. (I wrote "dreamed" instead of "thought" first and then changed it. That was too much of a groaner, even for me.) A novel about sleep would be exciting, huh? Here's a tiny flash I once wrote on the subject.
Also, if you like the subject of sleep and you haven't read Steven Millhauser's novella Enchanted Night, you really should. There's a lot more activity in it than just sleeping but it's very ... sleepy. And it beautifully evokes a small-town summer night.
If you know of any more really good books on the subject of sleep -- or somehow related to it -- please do drop me a line or leave a comment.