Friday, 29 July 2011

Rock 'n' Roll and a Red Convertible

I’m in Canada for four weeks. I haven’t made a summer visit in three years. The cedars in my brother's back garden are much bigger and my father has moved out of his five-bedroom house into a condo with breath-taking views; a wide-expanse of river and clouds of tree-tops spread out below his top-floor balcony.
I write, eat and take long trips along the cycle path that runs beside the river. The sky is laughably big compared to my London horizon and the air is heavy with pine and poplar. I pretend I am on a horse or racing across the badlands of Utah on a dirt bike. Sometimes I sing.
I can go kilometres without seeing anyone.
After living 21 years in Europe this space, light and air feel as exotic to me as anyone. I notice things, like a visitor - 'The waitresses are so friendly!' - and find I have forgotten local pronunciation (is project 'prohject' or 'prahject'?). My sister's neighbour stopped in mid-conversation to look at me and announce, directly - 'You have an accent.'
I tell myself I am not a tourist. I love and understand hockey, and I don't call it ice hockey. I know the combination to the garage door.
But I'm not always convinced.
Last night I watched the sun setting on the river to my right and, standing on my pedals, raced home, trying to imagine my London friends cycling with me. Would they be impressed by this river? How big is this river? Is it as big as the Thames? Is it better than the Thames? Which kind of river is more influential in my life - this blue, sun-shot river or the urban, barge-filled river? I felt a growing schizophrenia and was glad to get into my brother's house and find him in the sitting room, watching dusk fall over his garden. Crickets sang. I sat.

We discussed his hockey match and my evening on our father’s balcony. The air was still warm from the 29 degree heat of the day. Graham suggested we go for ice cream.
I put my sandals back on.
I don’t know why I was surprised when he opened the door to the garage and headed towards the red convertible Miata I’d been looking at every day for a week as I parked my bike. Maybe because it looks like a Dream Car – something you see in Hollywood films, driven by unspeakably beautiful blondes in Wayfarers speeding towards Beverly Hills.
No one I know in London has a convertible.
This car, 'Ruby', is my sister-in-law’s pride and joy. She also owns a Trimuph Bonneville 1978 but I won’t go into how cool that is now, I want you to imagine the terribly un-English picture of my brother, in shorts and sunglasses, loping towards the trunk of the sports car to drop in jackets - 'It gets cool with the top down' - and heading to the driver’s seat. I hadn't moved from the doorway.
‘We’re taking Ruby!’ I shouted.
He smiled. ‘It’s the only car here,’ he said unlocking the passenger door.
I hadn’t been in a convertible since I was ten years old, driving in my Uncle’s white Cadillac down the streets of Vancouver. I was with my brother then, too. He didn't own that car, however. He was only 13.
He's obviously been growing up in Canada and buying sports cars without me. 
‘It’s like we’re inside, when we’re outside!’ I shouted as we eased our way out of the tree-lined suburbs onto the highway, the air blue with twilight. I caught glimpses of myself in the rear view mirror and cursed that it wasn’t bright enough for me to have brought sunglasses.
I glanced to the left and shouted (I spent a lot of the evening shouting)
‘Graham, the moon, the moon!!’
He glanced east and rising up over a ridge of trees was a soft, white medallion.
‘But look, look, Graham, the sun!’
He glanced west where the horizon was soaked pink and red, silhouetting the pines and poplars. Maybe the ones I passed on my bike.
I gave in to feeling like an awe-struck European, stumbling onto the New World. I couldn't remember a time when I lived in this natural beauty and took it for granted. Had I? My centre was shifting, I felt ungrounded.
Perhaps, instead of having two homes  - which I'd been telling myself for the past twenty years - I didn't belong to either.
There was a long line-up at the Dairy Queen. Young men in shorts, girls with tattoos on their shoulders, older couples with grandchildren were all served with efficient good-humour.  I chose a peanut-buster parfait. Graham had a chocolate dipped cone. We sat in the parking lot and he talked about the new album he’s produced, – a searing, dance-compelling rock ‘n’ roll CD of mad guitar licks and heart-sore singing. I talked about how much I still love the director of my first short film. We finished each other’s sentences about the alchemy of sharing work and art with other people.
We drove home and I watched the stars swivel above our heads. Turning right, then left, constellations spilling from one side of the sky to the other.
In the sitting room Graham slid his newly mastered CD into the stereo. The garden was neon-bright in moon glow. I lay on the floor. The music charged out of the speakers, grabbed my ribcage and shook me.
I danced. Well, on the inside. My brother and I talked between tracks, sometimes shouting over each other, stories about working. How he chose his singers, how on his birthday he was in a Nashville recording studio, playing guitar with two heroes of his youth. How once I wasn’t cast in my own play. About someone seeing more in your words than you see yourself.

The lead guitarist wailed and I could hear Graham exhale.

‘Jeez! he’s intense. I hear him play that riff and I think – he’s going to run out of neck! He tangles the notes, like spaghetti, and you think, He’ll never get out of this, and he always does.’

I smiled and allowed the music, sometimes keening, sometimes thumping – slinky, primitive, sad. I closed my eyes and imagined barreling down the Driveway, the river bright beside us, Graham’s creature, this album of insistent, gut-yanking sound, blasting out of speakers under Ruby’s topless hood.

I felt it, then, like a wave. The frequency of beauty, the communion of art. It’s never exotic, you bring it with you.

I’d been confused.

I was asking the wrong question.

Not ‘where is home?’.

But – where isn’t?

I have two more weeks here. If you want to reach me, you know where I live.



  1. Very, very satisfying. Love the picture. I know that feeling of big sky. It is extraordinary. Thanks for taking us with you.

  2. I love you Stephanie! Who's the babe with the red car?