Saturday, April 19, 2014

Quatre Vents

A to Z challenge 

Day 17: Q is for Quatre Vents

Quatre Vents Garden is a bit of magic in Charlevoix Quebec. Located on a hill, two hours north of Quebec City in the small hamlet of La Malbaie, this garden seems improbable.

How can something this lush grow in the harsh northern climate with a short growing season? The small miracle here is the moderating influence of the St. Lawrence River creating a  micro-climate allowing plants to bloom at the same time.

Photo: Suzanne Rivard-Day
Charlevoix is a wondrous region in itself. It’s one of the few inhabited meteorites on the planet, created by a celestial accident 350 million years ago. On one side of the 56-km wide crater is the village of Baie-Saint-Paul and on the opposite side the village of La Malbaie.

This is where the legendary horticulturist Francis H. Cabot settled.

Photo: Suzanne Rivard-Day

He named his garden for the winds that seem to come in four directions at once. The entire garden is a combination of framed vistas, intimate spaces, whimsical follies, hidden nooks and woodland gardens.

Each of Cabot’s 24 gardens evokes a different emotion and sensory experience. Nothing has been left to chance with meticulous detail yet Cabot has not subdued nature. He has nurtured it, enhancing natural lines and shapes so his landscapes don’t feel artificial or stilted. The garden flows into the surroundings creating a profound serenity.

One of the original garden, first planted in 1928, the White Garden was inspired by the classic English garden. Only white flowers bloom here. Cranesbill, lupins, lamium, hostas, peonies and phlox are just a few of the flowers found here. Cabot has placed a shallow oval pond with water-inked jet black to reflect the foliage of the various shades of white.

The Goose Allée is a narrow corridor with two magnificent perennials beds on either side set within a majestic double herbaceous border. The hedges have a dual purpose: they frame the colours but also protect the plants from harsh winter winds. This is a passage of purple delphiniums several metres deep bordered by blue aconites and violet campanulas offset by fluffy white astible and ornate peonies.

Photo: Suzanne Rivard-Day

Photo: Suzanne Rivard-Day
The Thuja Rondel is a circular collection of white cedar. At the centre of this great hedge is a round garden where an ancient millstone has been fashioned into a sundial. A series of corridors lead off into smaller garden areas with either a panoramic view of the landscape beyond or an intriguing statue such as the Chinese goddess of flowers.

Photo by Suzanne Rivard-Day

Cabot created his Watercourse corridor as a passage between the other gardens. A series of rectangular fountains flow from one into the other with their trademark dark waters. In order to break up the monotony of texture created by the sculpted cedars, Cabot planted beds of massed rhubarb plants.

Quatre Vents is blessed with a river on the property. In 1961, Cabot’s mother put a dam across the stream at the end of the Tapis Vert, creating a small man made lake that was nicknamed Laq Libellule for the dragonflies that danced over its waters. The moon bridge that passes over the natural river on the property was inspired by a visit to China. The arch has been designed to form a perfect circle when reflected in the water below.

Photo by Suzanne Rivard-Day
 The medieval-styled Pigeonnier is the signature building at Quatre Vents. Tucked away at the back of the garden, it appears unexpectedly as if out of a dream. In front, there is a long rectangular pool with its still black water acting as a mirror. The reflection motif continues with mirrors placed at the end of an Italian-styled corridor lined with trees and flowers.

Gardens close to the family home are both practical and beautiful. Fragrant herbs are planted just steps from the kitchen and the baker has been given her own garden where the outdoor oven is flanked by cedars groomed into the shapes of loaves. Beside that garden is the quirky sitting room, one of the newest gardens created in the 1980s, where hedges and trees are sculpted into the shapes of couches, armchairs and lamps. 

Cabot believed humour and whimsy were important elements for gardeners. He placed his follies (unexpected elements in a garden) throughout the garden. His musical frogs are found behind the Pigeonnier at opposite ends of a corridor. When you approach them, they break into music. Look closely and you will find other follies in the most unlikely places. 

Photo: Suzanne Rivard-Say
A series of paths lead to the Woodland garden, where Cabot has planted seven species of meconopsis (Himalayan blue poppies) and over 100 species of primroses—one of his favourite flowers. The garden also includes one of the best collections of Canadian woodland perennials, reflecting Cabot’s ongoing work with the Garden Conservancy.

Cabot’s final masterpiece was transforming the entire ravine area into a Japanese garden. Created by the designer Hiroshi Sakaguchi, the area took seven years to complete. Traditional Japanese structures include a viewing pavilion that faces the mountains, a sheltered bench, middle gate and a traditional tearoom constructed directly on the water. A stone walkway leads through the garden to the gigantic ostrich ferns and the man made waterfall of great granite boulders.

Emotions and sensuality are what a garden is all about. We should be transported from our regular preoccupations. With an open heart and soul we can be receptive to the images, scents, sounds, spaces, and views that surround us, as well as to the touch of the wind and the rain, to the peace everlasting of the “genius of the place.”
Francis Cabot, A Greater Perfection

Quatre Vent is only open to the public four days a year during the summer. Put it on your bucket list.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Pyjamas in Public

A to Z challenge 

Day 16: P is for Pyjamas in Public. Busted!

Pyjamas are comfortable clothing. I have trouble taking mine off even when going out in public. Every time I get caught, I promise to stop wearing jammies in public. I keep breaking that promise.

I first got caught in my pyjamas on the 401 just outside of Toronto. We were on our way to Ottawa. I had not gotten all the Vaseline out of my hair, rubbed into my scalp by my toddler daughter while I lay snoring on the couch. We were late to hit the road. My crappy apartment-sized dryer had not done its job and my clothes were still wet. I threw them into a garbage bag and then into the trunk alongside my daughter’s small suitcase. We were going to drive straight through where a dryer and home cooked meal waited for us. The tow truck driver was very kind not to say anything about my fleecy knee sticking out from my coat while I borrowed his care to call the auto club and renew my membership. He was very kind about the vaseline I left on the headset.

The next time I got caught in my jammies I was out grocery shopping. I was working at home on a deadline project and had been up all night while my daughter had her first sleepover. There was absolutely nothing to eat in the house. Not even a can of beans in the cupboard or some questionable yogurt at the back of the fridge. I was heading right back to the computer so what was the point of changing? I zipped out to the local grocery store without my keys. The landlord was an hour away. I lived close enough to the out patient clinic that the coffee shop staff assumed I was one of the psych patients with a day pass. They even put my melting ice cream in their fridge.

You think I would have learned my lesson after getting arrested in my jimjams. It was supposed to be a trip to the video store to pick up my daughter at the end of her shift and then back to bed. I wasn’t expecting the bored rookie cops to run my license plate and come back with an arrest warrant. They were taken a back when I refused to go to the police station on the grounds I was a middle-aged woman wearing pyjamas and no bra. I was serious when I warned them they would have to shoot me first. The evening ended with the rookie cops inside my home playing with our pets while we waited for their captain to call them back with instructions on how to reboot their computer. It had crashed when they tried to re-enter  my license plate with the correct numbers.

My grandmother was onto to me by then. She knew I wasn’t going to reform. Each birthday and Christmas she started buying me sets of beautiful lounge wear. “Wear some lipstick and comb your hair. No one will notice the rest,” she said. I also took a page from my friend Barb's fashion tips. When she threw on her black mink coat no one noticed what was underneath that glossy fur. My fake fur almost worked as well.

Fashionistas complain about the pajamafication of the nation. Teens might be making a statement wearing theirs in public but for adults this is a sign of our deep weariness. We are unconsciously missing the days when feeling vaguely sick meant Mom kept us at home.  After a day lounging in front of the TV in our PJs, sipping flat ginger ale, we would be miraculously cured.

In a few years, wearing public pyjamas won’t matter at all. As I get older I notice all my clothes are slowly morphing into pajamas with their elasticized waist, loose fitting legs, roomy arms and loose necklines. I’ve already got my wardrobe for the nursing home.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On to the beach

A to Z challenge

Day 15: O is for On to the beach


Photo by

On to the beach move.
No phone
No hot water in the kitchen.
My family is horrified.
My daughter afraid,
until she saw the frigates on the beach.
“I wish I could hang on the wind like they do,” she sighs.
“Soon,” I repl

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Neatness leads to perfection

A to Z challenge

Day 14: N is for Neatness


Neatness has always meant perfection to me. It was just within reach. If only I try a bit harder. Oh, to be able to colour perfectly between the lines. Oh, to be the girl with perfect ringlets and crisp dressed instead of the one with flyaway hair and wrinkled that wrinkled the minute I put them on.

I was the kid who spilt pencil shavings on the floor, who knocked over the painting water, trailed breadcrumbs from her lunch, and who said the wrong thing. Oh, the shame going through the whole day with my cardigan buttoned the wrong way. Somebody had noticed. So, that’s what they were laughing about during recess.

Most of all I wanted to be emotionally neat. I wanted to stop my tears and hide when I was angry or upset. My mother was so controlled she would not call out when she burned her hand while cooking. Silent, she would run water over her hand. My youngest sister had inherited this ability to cover her feelings. “Still waters run deep,” said my grandmother to my mother one afternoon when they were watching my sister doing her printing for school. I wanted their admiration for being still and silent. Instead I felt like a silly, babbling brook. Stupid and messy.

Being neat meant being reliable. Being neat meant pleasing people. Being neat meant not taking up too much room. Being neat meant being loved and accepted. I decided neatness would begin with my room. I spent hours each night folding everything in my drawers, making sure everything lined up perfectly. I would not be able to sleep unless everything was in place. Neatness on the outside would seep inside and I would stop losing control and finally be accepted by my mother.

The plan worked for a while but I forgot about my hair. Not my whole head, just the back of my head. What started off as a small knot of tangled hair grew to the size of a grapefruit. I covered it up for awhile but eventually it was too large to hide. It was itchy as well and one day my mother noticed my scratching. I cried when my long hair was turned into a “pixie” cut. I hated my hair but my mother was right. It was neat and easier to look after.

I began to cancel out activities. No more colouring – too messy. No more baking in the kitchen – too messy. Reading was ok since nothing would be disturbed. I would practice my perfect hospital bed corners instead. I created a schedule for improvement in intervals of 15 minutes. Most of the time I didn’t keep to it.

The neat room did not stop the madness of my family or my own. It proved a great distraction until I was old enough to escape.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mothers and daughters

A to Z challenge

Day 13: M is for Mothers and Daughters


Mothering came easier to me than being a daughter. It seemed more straightforward. I didn't have to walk through a landmine of unknown rules and confusing messages. I simply loved my daughter and she loved me back.

It was more complicated with my mother. I never seemed able to please her. I have not been a good daughter.

My one tender memory of my mother is her showing me how reflections work in a mirror. I had written my name in my Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit book. The letter S backwards and I was inconsolable because my favourite book was ruined. My mother sat me in front of her vanity and showed me how the letter was the right way in the mirror. I calmed down. I was four years old.

Most of my memories are more difficult. They still colour my reactions to my mother even though I now understand her better. She was suffering and overwhelmed: A girl with too many babies to look after and a drunkard husband who never brought home his pay cheque.

Now, I understand her behaviour the day I came home with half my knee sliced open. I had that same reaction when my daughter ran out into traffic and I snatched her out from an oncoming truck. I had never been so frightened and so relieved at once. When my mother saw the blood on my tights she slapped my face. I had broken her rule and not saved them for Easter Sunday. Her face became white when she saw bone through the tights. To this day, I can't remember where I had fallen or what had sliced through my knee. I don't even remember the trip to the hospital. I wanted my mother holding my hand as the surgeon worked on my knee. I was alone and sat up once to see the green cloth covering my knee and the black line of stitches. I fainted and when I woke up my mother was still not there. She managed to get the blood stain out of the tights; I wore them to church, my stitches under the bandage pressing against her stitches in the tights.

Emotions have always terrified my mother. Her instincts is not to console but to suppress. I was not a calm child. I had a temper and my emotion usually overwhelmed me. The wet washcloth against my neck usually stopped my uncontrollable sobbing. I'm not sure when the washcloth turned into a sink full of water. I don't remember when the sink turned into the toilet bowl or even how long this punishment went on.

I do remember the day it stopped. It was August and we were at the annual exhibition and fair. We looked forward to the "EX" the entire summer. Our Dad took us all on the last day. We arrived at noon when the heat was shimmering over the pavement. Immediately, we all started pestering our Dad for money and bickering over which ride to take. Eventually our hungover father had had enough. He dragged my younger brother and me over to the ride called the Bullet. The sleek ride started off like a pendulum gathering more and more speed until spun over itself in a continual loop, each one faster than the next.

Money exchanged hands and even though neither my brother nor I reach the height requirements, we were strapped inside. I don't remember if my mother was there or not. The Bullet started and it was not fun. Halfway through the third loop, my brother threw up and the cabin was soon slippery with his vomit. My seat belt was too loose and I banged from side to side, my elbows slamming against the moulded plastic. My brother started crying and the snot from his nose was soon splashing in my face as well. We called to our father to stop the ride. My father had bribed the carny to keep the ride going for an additional five minutes. I glimpsed my Dad laughing on the ground below. Just before the Bullet stopped, my brother passed out.

I lunged at my father as soon as the door opened and started hitting him. When he laughed, I kicked him hard in the shins. He slapped me up the side of the head and I started to cry uncontrollably. My mother dragged me off the the public washroom by the back of my neck. With her free hand she opened the tap and shoved my face under the water.  I was still crying. My aunt stepped into the washroom. She had been given a day pass from her convent to come with us.  I watched her cross dangling against the brown fabric of her habit as she reached up and turned off the tap. She grabbed my mother's wrist. '"Stop. Go for a walk," she said to my mother.

When we were alone, my aunt washed away the sweat, vomit and snot off my face and out of my hair. She took off my shirt, washed my neck and arms and then gave me her tan cardigan to wear. She took a brush out of her purse and combed my wet hair. Finally, she gave me lemon candy. We walked out together to join the rest of the family. My brother stood beside my mother, looking tiny and pale. My Dad threw his cigarette onto the pavement and twisted his foot. "Ok, time to go home," he said, "Some people can't handle the rides."

After that day, my mother never touched me again.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lady friend

A to Z challenge

Day 12: L is for Lady Friend or Love makes me angry


Why did you fuck me the night before your “lady friend” came to town?
Will you introduce me as your other “lady friend?”
The one you fuck when she’s not around. 
Or will I remain your friendly neighbor?
The one you say hello to while
you sit and kiss your “lady friend” on our shared porch.

Will you beg your “lady friend”
The way you begged me
To take you in my mouth?

Did you change the sheets for your “lady friend?”
Oh, right. I didn’t get sheets. I got the couch.
But then I’m not a lady friend.
I’m just the woman you fuck the night before.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kindness and Karma

A to Z challenge

Day 11: K is for Kindness and Karma


Kindness doesn’t come naturally to me. I come from a long line of mean women. The type of warrior women who enjoy revenge and get satisfaction from digging the knife in a little deeper.

Maybe it’s because we are from a working class background where you fight to survive, maybe it’s from being scared or maybe it’s our misguided way of snatching back power from a culture where women are not appreciated.

Truth be told, Irish women hold the family together but are not often celebrated for doing so. In our family, there were lots of jokes about the “ball and chain” and family life was peppered by my Dad’s underlying resentment towards my mother for making him grow up. We all jockeyed for approval from him and if participating in his put-downs of my mother was part of that we were all too willing.

It must have been lonely for her at times. She was from the era where it was unladylike to protest so her anger went underground and she got mean. She is the master of passive-aggressive and can control a whole room without ever getting pinned as being the one who started it all. My mom is not a bad person. She just has some bad habits.

There is also this philosophy in my family that nice guys finish last and to be successful you had to come out fighting. If you don’t trample your enemies you don’t achieve fame or fortune.
Since I learned from a pro, I’m capable of fighting dirty and manipulating people around like chess pieces. I can zoom in on someone’s weakness almost unconsciously and then – BAM – use it against them when they aren’t looking. They don’t know what hit them.

This may have served me well in the corporate world but I’ve screwed up many friendships and relationships with this behaviour. My payback has been loneliness and the knowledge that I behaved badly.

Office politics is like crack for me – I get high from the power of out-manoeuvring people. However, I can never completely follow through; when it comes time to finally shove that knife in the back there is always my moment of hesitation and doubt. When I’m winning a dirty fight, there’s a part of me not fully engaged, the side who secretly steps in and causes a miscalculation so I would blow it and lose the fight. Then the high would be over and I would be standing wondering what the hell had happened. Why did I even get involved in the first place? I think that secret side of me working in the background was actually healthier and stronger than the crack side of me.

Being kind towards people is easier for me. I don’t fool myself though. I’m not a saint. There's still a part of me who wants her fix of mean. If I had been just a tinier bit better at cutthroat corporate politics I wouldn’t be moving towards kindness and compassion. I would have been seduced by all that power and money.

No, it's not kindness stopping me from fully participating in the whole mean-girl routine and achieving success as the biggest bitch on the block. It's lack of energy. I’m weak. I don’t have the stamina to keep up the whole hyper vigilance, the constant search for hidden enemies and agendas, the plotting of counter measures and strategies that comes from living life mean and hard. I couldn’t maintain it while playing monopoly with my siblings and I couldn’t keep it up in the corporate world.

 So, maybe being a failure at being mean is a kind of success in a weird round about way.

Working on being a good person seems like a better long-term goal. I've also come to believe in Karma. Not the simplistic New-Age version, where there is instant delivery on your good deeds. I see Karma as more of a collective pot, a universal source for everyone to draw on that offers compassion and kindness to those who need it most.

I throw in my act of kindness and the pot gets a bit fuller. Maybe I don’t get to draw on the pot immediately but it’s not being drained. The path of kindness is not exciting as vanishing enemies or engaging in power struggles but I do sleep better at night.