postcards from the hanging

I’ve been at the trial every day.  Professor Jila Ghomeshi has also been there every day.  A steady and stable presence throughout.  She is Jian Ghomeshi’s sister. There was this powerful and sad moment today when I saw a confounded look on Professor Jila Ghomeshi’s face as she took an honest look askance at the occupants of the two benches reserved for the witnesses and their supporters.  As if she were asking herself:  “Why?”

jila

Witness one was with her lawyer.  Lucy Decoutere was accompanied by two women, possibly friends. And the third witness was accompanied by two women and a man. Presumably her musician brother.  They were all seemingly white except for a lone black woman seated at the end of the bench often seen fiddling with her phone. She was the staff member from Victim Witness Assistance Program (VWAP).  Everyone else in the witness team were white.

And up at the counsel table running the whole show was Marie Henein like a sea captain sailing a great big ship with a controlled passion and certain aplomb. Brown. Arab. Canadian. Female.  It was quite the thing to see on this last day of the trial.

May be the three witnesses can call Henein an “Arab Princess” now.  No harm in that. Eh?

henein

Renuka Mendis

Toronto, February 11, 2016

fugue

the sweetest sleep
is found
in winter’s den
as the heart slows
to near death
on icy morphine
numbing
day’s tooth ache

as blood chills
to chrysalis
and snow’s counterpane
cuddles soft lies
in its sad song
lulling to death
uprooted longings
to forget for now
under snow’s
fugue state.

Renuka Mendis, Toronto, January 14, 2015

the christmas wind

 

do you hear what i hear

in this eve’s afternoon sun?

the wind from the breakwater

where he went to catch

a fish for us

for christmas lunch

for mother to cook wrapped

in coconut and this and that

a banana leaf borrowed from aachi’s dowry bunch

do you hear the perfume

of it?

its score written in reams

an epic symphony ink sodden.

 

he caught a thora

a noble and lovely fish

just like the one i strive to be

of sweet and tender flesh

fabulous silver skin;

and brought a present from

the anglers club christmas party

that little puppy with floppy ears?

 

do you see?

with button eyes

adored by the little one the youngest

who  got hurt the mostest but didn’t knowet

puppy eyes just like yours

those eyes

toy puppy from anglers club christmas party

so far so far away but right here

in my heart always

buried

just like you.

 

Renuka Mendis

Toronto, December 24, 2015

the magi moon

 

just before it left

like a camel on pilgrimage

to hide behind the tall building

across from here

the moon told me

there’ll be.

 

mass at midnight

just like then

in that warm december night music

rustle of  brocade saris and lace

under araliya branches

and slow dance of shiny new shoes

a pitter patter

as their pace hastens at staccato closer to XII

on dining room clocks.

 

everyone dressed to the nines

from days when days were longer

than mini skirts

and looser than tight dress shirts

they put on their christmas best

on kotahena street

to see or to be unseen

for mass at midnight at st. lucia’s

there’ll be.

 

except it’s cold here

with no reward of snow

a bargain broken

on the other side of christmas

in december

where araliya doesn’t stand a chance

but there’ll still be mass.

 

here.

just like at st. lucia’s.

at some other cathedral.

and smell the kotahena night

when snow was unseen

except on cards drawn

and in a song

a mystery exotic unsnow.

 

no snow here

but araliya

on pleasant kotahena christmas nights

when it was cooler and there were fewer fights

and the moon gallivants tonight

a camel across the sky.

 

having forgotten

gifts

love,

unlove left behind

hiding hiding behind

tall buildings

casting shadows

over christmas

and leafless twigs scrape at dusty panes

keeping time with the muddy wind

the lost rider, the magi moon

the street lamps, sentries

lining the wobbly street

with their imagined guns.

 

Renuka Mendis

Toronto, December 24, 2015

Soap Opera – Brahmanawatta

DSCF4506

My father is dead. For a few years now his body parts have been educating someone in some medical faculty somewhere.

From time to time when I go to the Tamil shop I buy a certain soap. Not that I make a list and go looking for it. I just see it and my hand reaches out and it follows me home.

Then I forget about it and leave it somewhere. In a cupboard. A medicine cabinet, whatever. And on days when the day to day soap runs out I remember and I open its crisp cardboard box and it falls willingly into my palm. And its size is the perfect fit for my hand. Always been. Not too big and not too small. Like some kind of play thing. Manageable. Friendly.

I then put it to my nose and sniff it like a dog sniffs a disgustingly stinky bone. And it takes me right to my father. To Balapitiya. To the well in Balapitiya. Where he used to give us a well bath and the soap was this. Rani’s sandalwood soap. They loved it, the ancestral home crowd in Balapitiya. Rani’s sandalwood soap. Now starring at my kitchen sink. And next time I go to Ambal Trading I’ll just stock up on a few more. This time I’ll put it on my list and may be put it inside my pillow in shards wrapped in cheese cloth as if it were lavender.

DSCF4503

A cheap ticket to that Balapitiya well and to my father’s love. It was always there. Often it lay hidden. But it was always there. Still is. The soap’s the proof of it.

He knows. So do I. What a soapy mess. I’d better go lie down in the sun with the soap box now … and dream of Balapitiya wells. This is it. I found him. In sandalwood soap. A true story. I swear.

Renu – October 27, 2015

Armide’s Arabic calligraphy; after the hustings

armide.calligraphy

It rained a lot yesterday in Toronto. I encountered a man on the Spadina street car. He was carrying home a large boxed toy for his son cheering up the gloomy day. I’d just picked up a stack of books including Pamuk’s new one. The books and the toy. They felt like treasures as the deluge seemingly continued unabated. A good time to strike up a street car conversation. In seconds I could tell my fellow traveler was Egyptian and a question popped up because something has been bubbling away in my mind since Tuesday evening.

“You must be greatly relieved with the election results?”

He beamed with joy and said: “I am very happy with the result!”

His response was genuine and effervescent. We talked about our pre-results fears that Harper’s racist narrative might have easily won. Personally it is still not entirely clear if it did or not but that is for another day. Consider the race-baiting political football that is Bill C-51 and its convoluted trajectory during the election campaign; which remains conspicuously unresolved.

armide.with.knife

All that stubborn hatred of the other that was spewing out of Harper’s campaign. The petulant absurdity of going to court because two Muslim women covered their faces moored in their religious beliefs (or not). And my fellow traveler today was not the first person I’d talked to about how deeply uncomfortable and even fearful it has been to be Muslim in Canada during this election campaign especially. It is in this yet not quite unresolved climate that I found myself inside the beautiful Elgin Theatre on Yonge Street on Tuesday night. Based on two good reviews; one by Robert Harris (see: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance/theatre-reviews/armide-shows-opera-ateliers-lovingly-restored-baroque-opera-at-its-best/article26952457/) and the other by Richard Ouzounian (see: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/music/2015/10/23/an-armide-fit-for-toronto-and-versailles-review.html) I thought I’d throw my lot in and judge Opera Atelier’s Armide for myself.

It’s cathartic to discover that while Stephen Harper was out in the hustings preaching Islamophobia to the rafters, Toronto’s Opera Atelier had been busily hived away in their workshop creating Arabic calligraphy on their set for Armide. It’ll take a little more reading and study for me to expertly write or critique opera but I know a good story and a song and dance just as well as any other person. Misplaced and misused strengths. The tension between Islam and Christianity, the crusades, duty and discipline at the cost of sacrificing all our humanity and any semblance of vulnerability. Prudery or puritanism versus sensual pleasures. Fear versus freedom; and yes, the most feared – love. Subjects that were callously bandied about during the election campaign; all that is there reframed for us and packaged in silks and brocades of jewel hues that feed the eye and the bittered heart. Not like magazine or TV eye candy but at a deeper and better ordered sensibility that is only possible on the live stage.

I remember one of the earlier Opera Atelier productions tailored for children and adults from probably Mozart’s Magic Flute when Opera Atelier and even Tafelmusik were still quite green. I recall feeling it was all a bit overwrought and bordering on frivolous however delightful and superbly crafted. How far they have come since those early days. The set and costumes in Armide are just another thread by which the whole tale magically enchants your heart, head and soul. A sorely needed enchantment. The intricate patterns of Islamic art and calligraphy with their orderliness and the spare beauty of its curves and scrolls are unique and carry a spiritual depth and a clarity. Clarity to me was what this production was about. Everything becomes crystal clear. What is important and what is not in exquisite visuals and music and voice. I believe the set and the costumes and the Islamic influence played a part in the magic in that the Islamic art aspects were carefully embroidered into the production instead of being placed in opposition.

What thrilled me most was finding out that the set designer Gerard Gauci had worked with an unnamed Persian master calligrapher which work appears on the set in the form of graphic Arabic script. The house curtain which greets you as you enter the theatre are the names of Armide, Lully and Quinault written in Persian in the traditional Arabic script which at first comes as a shock because you don’t expect something so literal in an Islamic sense to be placed smack dab in the middle of a Toronto establishment institution which is a far cry from anything Islamic. Talk about throwing the book in your face but written in calligraphy so beautifully and in the Persian tradition. The work, effort, love and thought that gave life to these art forms and Armide’s tale in her encounter with the crusaders is what had been happening at the atelier unbeknownst to most of us while we were suffering through the horror of a racist election campaign.

And Tuesday night was even more relevant because Armide is a beautifully wrought and lovingly and skilfully crafted rejection of the entirely unexamined base banality that we had to endure as a nation; and Opera Atelier brings it to you with such profound powerful and heart stopping yet accessible beauty accompanied by the wonderful period music of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir. Perhaps the production got even more exquisite to counter the political hell we had been put through.

armide.costumes

The rich silk costumes are jewels on their own making one want to reach out and touch its fabric with your fingertips; everything on the stage at each turn a poetic feast to the eyes and the heart in emerald, sapphire and flame. Jade, black and chartreuse. A closely woven and filigreed enchantment to banish the horrors of the past few months. And banish them it did. I am so utterly smitten that I will be returning Saturday for the last performance and in a seat even closer to the stage to drink in the fabric of the costumes and the calligraphy even more. And most of all to be once again utterly enchanted and transformed by this tale that is far far more than just a love story.

Opera Atelier and Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra are not just Canadian treasures but they are world treasures that we Canadians should be proud of and nurture. And Armide is an exquisitely crafted jewel to wear and feel against your own skin.

Opera Atelier’s Armide runs until October 31, 2015 at the Winter Garden Theatre. Then it moves to the Palace of Versailles.

Renuka Mendis, Toronto, October 29, 2015

Images are not mine.

A music update:A beautiful recording of the entire opera here. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9Kfr1H5-6H21Vhr694RzviFa2CFDG0yy