It's been many a long week since I last joined you for Sunday Salon. What have I been up to since then? A welter of teaching and grading. Somewhat less pleasure reading and film watching. I became obsessed with the Miltonic television triumph of last spring, Justified, and with Timothy Olyphant's performance in it. I turned 30, and that seemed like a good moment in my life to decide what kind of character I would be. And I am deeply in thrall to the Canadian reality show Battle of the Blades, in which ex-NHL players are taught to become pairs figure skaters, to the extent that I now use it to demonstrate theoretical principles in my classes.
And reading? I just finished Jennifer Crusie's exceptional good comic novel Faking It, in which an art forger falls in love with a con man only after the most numbingly awkward sexual start. It's all about the forging of identities in more senses than one - the fabricating of separate selves for separate circumstances and the paralyzing (or sometimes eroticizing) effects of these performances. And it is so unspeakably witty, and utterly uninvested in the cliches of the romance genre, except as an object of light satire. Consider this early moment, when the hero meets the niece and mother of the heroine (whose name he doesn't yet know, although he has decided that she bears a certain passing resemblance to a woman named Boop):
My favorite of the three Crusie novels I have read so far - I can't wait to read more.He grinned a little to himself, thinking of Nadine's curly hair and pale blue eyes; clearly she was someone who swam in Betty's gene pool. And Gwen, too. If you lined them up, all three of them with those weird eyes, they'd look like an outtake from Children of the Damned.
Other news: last week, I discovered that a delightful (and previous unknown to me) colleague at a major university well to the south of me has structured huge parts of a graduate seminar around my (unpublished) dissertation and its framework. And then my brain crawled out giddily out of my ear.
Three weeks ago, I began to write a Sunday Salon post about the most extraordinary event of the previous week, but I never had time to finish it. Here it is, better late than never:
This time last year I was oppressively exhausted. D called me up and said, "You know that town we just visited on the northern shore of Nova Scotia? They are having a pumpkin regatta tomorrow, and you have to go."
"I don't know," I said, "I am just so tired."
"Ariel," he said sternly, "If I was lucky enough to live an hour away from a pumpkin regatta, nothing could keep me away."
So I went, ploddingly, and (you see where this is going) it was sublime. I had always thought that small towns as idyllic as the ones we see on television shows like The Gilmore Girls were the stuff of Hollywood fantasy. Nowhere could be that charming. Nope: Windsor, NS, with its main street just waiting for a film set in the 40s to take up shooting, is that charming. It is known for two things: its claim to be the birthplace of hockey, and its unusually plump breed of pumpkins. So plump are these pumpkins that two adults can sit inside a carved specimen and paddle it about like a boat.
There are generally two events: the motorized pumpkin (an outboard motor is attached to a raft made of two or three giant gourds) and the paddle division (one or two rowers propel a hollowed pumpkin). Last year the motorized division included just three vessels. The local head shop had sponsored one boat, which promptly stalled in the middle of the race. "I don't want to draw any conclusions about the effects of marijuana use on your performance," drawled the announcer, "but there appears to be a bit of trouble out there." The winner of one of the two races last year was the headmaster of the local school. The whole town seemed to have brought their dogs - in Halloween costume - for some sort of contest that just precedes the regatta. The whole thing: totally winning, utterly charming.
D arrived in Halifax late last night - just in time to go to the regatta today. It was bitterly cold, but we braved the elements with my friend S and perched on damp, windswept rocks with the rest of the crowd to eat our poutine and hotdogs and watch the rotund pumpkin shenanigans. (S was felled for the rest of the week by a racking illness that I couldn't help but feel partially responsible for, and mentally dubbed the "Giant Pumpkin plague".)
D and S began to plot for next year, when they would carve their own vessel and take up regatta piracy. "We could run up a skull and crossbones and wreak havoc among the other contestants," they cried, "we will bring tiny cannons that would shoot those miniature pumpkins instead of cannonballs!"
"Yes," I added, "and instead of being boarded, your victims would be gourded."
Groans all round....