Friday, August 22, 2014

A L.M. Montgomery pilgrimage

(c) Ruth Latta, 2014


Many Canadian women, and Canadian writers, read Anne of Green Gables and other novels by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery. Some years ago a girlhood dream came true for me when I visited Prince Edward Island and toured Green Gables, the tangible creation of the fictional home of Montgomery's best known character. Unfortunately, for many Montgomery fans, distance makes a trip to P.E.I. an infrequent pleasure.

Montgomery devotees in central Canada, however, can make a literary pilgrimage to Leaskdale, Ontario, a village north of Uxbridge, where "Maud" Montgomery moved as a bride in  1911 and lived for fifteen years. Her husband, the Rev. Ewan Macdonald, had been called to the ministry of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church there. In Leaskdale, Montgomery's sons were born, and there she wrote 11 of her 22 books.

This past August 10, 2014, when my husband and I were driving north of Toronto, we made an impulse detour in the direction of Uxbridge to find the Montgomery historic sites in Leaskdale. The verdant hills and woods were as beautiful as those described in Montgomery's novels. On reaching Leaskdale, we spotted the church on our left, where the signage indicated that there were tours, teas and theatrical performances based on Maud's Leaskdale years - but not on Monday. I quietly resolved to be content with having my picture taken on the church steps. Then, as we drove slowly down the hill I glimpsed on the opposite side a gracious old house with a blue and gold historic site plaque on the lawn.

As we were approaching to take a picture, a young woman planting some perennials along the fence got up and greeted us.
"Hello. Are you local people, or from far away?" she inquired.
"From Ottawa."
"Would you like a guided tour of the house," she asked. "It's closed on Mondays, but I have my key."
"Wonderful!" I exclaimed.

Clearly she was a "kindred spirit", to use one of Maud's terms. We followed her into the front hall where a portrait of "Maud", in her thirties, hung above the guest book. Our guide's keen interest in Montgomery was apparent as she toured us through the house. She showed us the study, where Maud wrote, and recounted what I knew from Montgomery's published journals, that her little boys used to push notes and flowers under the door to get her attention when they were supposed to be in the care of the hired girl, allowing their mother to do her writing uninterrupted. All the rooms have been carefully recreated as to period details and layout. A photo shows Maud seated in the kitchen, and there, in the same location, a chair is positioned so that a visitor can sit in her place.

Although most of the furnishings were not used by the  Montgomery/Macdonald family, they are "of the period" and show a dedication to detail.  Two china dogs in the parlour remind us of Maud's china dogs, Gog and Magog, which she wrote of in her journals and used in one of her novels. A white crocheted bedspread upstairs was lovingly created in recent times in the same pattern as one that Maud made.

In the upstairs sewing room, our guide turned to the window, indicated the landscape of rolling hills, and said, "That's Rainbow Valley." Rainbow Valley, one of Montgomery's novels, is set in P.E.I., but it is very likely that Maud used a beauty spot of Leaskdale, where she was living when she wrote this novel, as inspiration for her setting. In a letter she described the village as "a very pretty country place - would be almost as pretty as Cavendish if it had the sea."

Montgomery is a novelist of the "sunshine school"; her books encouraged loving kindness and favour happy endings. The charm of her Leaskdale home and of our guide made our impulse visit a very "Maud" experience. Someday we'll return, first checking the website of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario to see what events are scheduled. For further information, contact or phone 905-862-0808

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Arborealis; A Canadian Anthology of Poetry, was published this summer by the Ontario Poetry Society. Its International Standard Book Number is 978-1-897497-99-9 and it is available from
 The Ontario Poetry Society, 710-65 Spring Garden Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M2N 6H9

I was thrilled to have two poems in this collection, and here they are:

by Ruth Latta

It went beyond a little lovers' spat.
He cursed his girlfriend in the crowded bar.
I couldn't just ignore abuse like that.

Some sleazeball who was drunk on his Labatt
We all could see that he had gone too far.
It went beyond a little lovers' spat.

"Girl, go on home before he knocks you flat."
It wasn't that I felt the need to spar.
I couldn't just ignore abuse like that.

"I wouldn't use these words on dog or cat."
Such vileness cannot help but leave a scar.
It went beyond a little lovers' spat.

"You can do better than this slimy rat.
Why don't you leave, just go out to the car."
I couldn't just ignore abuse like that.

"Swing at me and I'll squash you like a gnat.
You ought to be ashamed of what you are."
It went beyond a little lovers' spat.
I couldn't just ignore abuse like that.


by Ruth Latta

Out here in our garden, our tiny back yard,
I sit with my work left undone.
Alone with the flowers - for people are hard,
I let my feet warm in the sun.

Though late in October, quite near Hallowe'en,
the day is unusually fine.
Long winter confines us before the big screen
but Indian summer's divine.

One friend cancelled out, or it just slipped her mind.
Another, afraid it would rain.
A third sent an email, or really, a whine,
"Poor me," is her constant refrain.

A lady bird beetle, a fat bumblebee
fly past me on currents of air,
as leaves flutter down from the red maple tree
the wind seizes strands of my hair.

I take disappointment and give it a shove.
Balloon-like, it rises on high,
like the white milkweed parachutes floating  above
or the vaguest jet stream in the sky.

One Evening in Paris

The book review, below, is the latest that I have written and published in the online magazine of book reviews, Compulsive Reader (current issue.)

One Evening in Paris,
by Nicolas Barreau
(New York, St.Martin's Griffin, 2014, 978-1-250-04312-2)

translated from French by Bill McCann

reviewed by Ruth Latta

One Evening in Paris, French author Nicolas Barreau's second novel, is a sweet romantic novel in which the owner of a small art cinema is "catapulted into the greatest adventure of [his] life."

Alain Bonnard, 39, inherited the Cinema Paradis, an historic movie theatre, from his uncle. Raised on the films of Cocteau, Truffault, Malle, and others, he was glad to leave his boring but lucrative business career in plumbing fixtures for something more satisfying. His cinema is his work of art; he restored the building and he forbids popcorn or any of the other features found in modern cineplexes. He takes an interest in his clientele and invents dramatic backstories for them. Late Wednesday nights he shows romantic films as part of his "Les Amours de Paradis" film series, which draws a full house.

One Wednesday night regular is a pretty blonde woman who always sits in the 17th row. Alain finally summons up the nerve to find out her name (Melanie) and ask her out, and they establish an immediate rapport in a bistro after the movie. Melanie says it must be wonderful to own a "dream factory" like the Cinema Paradis, and that she always goes there when she's "looking for love". Her only family, she says, is an aunt in Brittany, whom she is going to visit for a week. Though single, she wears a distinctive gold ring with raised pink gold roses, which was her mother's. When Alain walks her home, they promise to meet at the cinema the following Wednesday.

"We won't lose each other," she says - but they do.

The following day, Alain finds a tender love letter she left for him at the cinema, and shares his happiness with his buddy, Robert, a womanizing astrophysicist. Robert is astonished that Alain failed to get Melanie's telephone number. Then a "weedy little man in a trenchcoat" with an American accent, turns up with the well-known movie star, Solene Avril, to talk to Alain after he closes up the cinema on Friday night.  The weedy man is Allan Wood, an American film director, looking for an historic art cinema in which to shoot a movie about a woman finding a long lost love in Paris.

Confident that he will meet Melanie the following Wednesday, Alain enjoys getting to know these famous visitors in famous Paris restaurants and bars, and learns something of their personal stories. Allan Wood has an estranged grown-up daughter in Paris. Solene reveals in a private conversation with Alain that she was born in humble circumstances in Paris and, when young, ran away to California with a young American. Once she got into the movies, she provided money for her parents to take the first holiday of their lives, which ended in a fatal car accident on their way to St. Tropez. Solene subtly flirts with Alain, but he finally tells her that "it's not the right moment," and mentions that a woman has recently come into his life.

The paparazzi descend, and soon there are media reports not only that Cinema Paradis has been chosen for the filming of Allan Wood's new movie, but also that Alain is Solene's latest lover. He receives congratulations and a boost in business, but, much to Alain's disappointment, Melanie does not show up at the cinema on Wednesday night as she promised.

One Evening in Paris takes twists and turns like a mystery novel as Alain, helped by Robert and his new film-industry friends, try to find his Melanie. Two other Melanies turn up, but not the right one.

Barreau's novel has some coincidences that strain credulity. Also, the occasional sentence is vague, perhaps due to translation, as in the statement that "a good film...worked with [people] in the difficult task of being." In general, though, One Evening in Paris is fun and full of life. The Paris landmarks and locations will attract anyone who has been there.The narrator/central character, Alain, is the sort of romantic, sensitive man that many women readers wish they could meet in real life, and the other main characters are fully rounded. "Allan Wood" - does his name sound familiar? - is a warm person with no apparent neuroses.

The discussion of film elevates the novel above and beyond category romance. Alain's Uncle Bernard liked films that "had an idea... moved people...[and] gave them a dream to take with them" - all elements necessary for a good story, whether on film or in print. Through Alain, Nicolas Barreau lists the "golden rules" of good film comedy: "a chase is better than a conversation"; "a bedroom is better than a living room", and "an arrival is better than a departure." Barreau uses these storytelling principles to good effect in One Evening in Paris.

Film buffs will like the list of the twenty-five movies about love that were part of Alain's  Wednesday night series at the Cinema Paradis. The list three of my favourites: Casablanca, Room with a View and Pride and Prejudice. Readers who liked Woody Allen's movie Midnight in Paris, will enjoy Barreau's novel, One Evening in Paris.