Friday, 30 May 2008

Run, run away from the tour guide

Sunny, warm, highs 20

Lovely day. We're in Montreal and it feels like early summer. So great to walk out with just a light sweater. One of the delights of living in a climate with such extremes is appreciating things like that.

Had a busy day yesterday. Drove to Ottawa for the Crime Writers of Canada event at the Ottawa Public Library. It was a really fun event - lots of people out. Extremely interesting panel discussion moderated by Barbara Fradkin (a great crime writer) and featuring Robin Harlick, JD Carpenter and Adrian de Hoog. They talked, among other things about the difference between a crime novel and a mystery novel. Really got me thinking. And reminded me of the definition I once heard of the difference between a hard-boiled and a noir novel. In a hard-boiled you're screwed, in a noir I'm screwed. After the panel I spoke for about half an hour.

Michael and I arrived in Ottawa quite early so we sat in a coffee shop and read the proofs for book 4. YES! More proofs. For the same book. We just got rid of the US copy edits and now the UK is back for more. These aren't editorial changes, this is about reading the manuscript for typos really and any small thing that might have been missed.

I think it's karmic. Payback for having been a mass-murderer in a past life. I'm pursued by proofs.

I hate proofs. I'm not a detail person. This stage is slightly easier than the last one, but what amazes me is that it never seems to end. Everytime I go to the mailbox there seems another package of proofs to read over. And the funniest thing is after all this, going over and over the various versions, there will STILL be mistakes in the final version. Oh well, we do our best.

So there we were in the nation's capitol, proof-reading THE MURDER STONE (the UK/Canadian/Commonwealth name for book 4). Michael, dear soul, took a batch of pages and I took some - each with a red pen - and off we went.

After a couple of hours we decided enough of that - we'll go for a walk. So we walked over to the Parliament Buildings. Very impressive. I must admit to getting a swelling in my chest standing there and looking at them. We had about 2 hours before the Crime Writers of Canada event started so we decided to go on a guided tour of our Parliament Buildings.

Have you ever been?

I'll tell you - it was the dullest experience of my life, and I spent a holiday sorting mail. This was worse. Oh, My, God. If I ever wanted to commit murder I'd send the person on this tour. If I ever wanted to end my own life I'd go on it again. In fact, I think I'll contact the Hemlock Society. They should hear about this.

I could feel the will to live sucked right out of me. I think a little part of me died when the guide (wearing a Pan Am uniform from the 1950's) brought out what looked like a large dish towel, held it open, and explained that we couldn't (for reasons that are a mystery) visit the actual House of Commons, but we could see them, as reproduced on the dish towel.

We were then led past rows and rows of official portraits stopping at exactly none of them (I counted) for amusing/stirring/informative anecdotes that might bring Canadian history alive. Instead we were guided into the Parliamentry Library and told we couldn't speak because Members of Parliament were in there working hard.

It was empty. Except for us. Dying of ennui. Quietly.

I was livid when we left. How dare the actual Parliament Building tour people make our parliamentry history so dull. We had more passion, more pride, in a single block of our Boston bus tour than on the entire Parliament Building tour. It was pathetic.

This really does get me angry. I don't expect an entire Canadian history lesson, but I do expect some passion - some wonderful, colourful stories. Because they exist. Arrrghh. No one taking that tour could possibly come away feeling informed about Canada - our history of social justice, our struggles and sacrifices as individuals and as a nation to reconcile democracy, a free market, universal health care and education, the French and English facts, huge immigrant populations that enrich and challenge. The wars both internal and international that have been fought. The personalities.

Good God - they invited us to celebrate women getting the vote by joining Nellie McClung and others at a tea party! Who does this? Where's the pride, where's the heart and soul? The compassion, the courage, the doubts that make Canada such a remarkable place?

Because it is, you know. Flawed, and maddening, and marvelous.

The only ones who seem oblivious to this great history, parliamentry or otherwise, live and work on Parliament Hill. Let's get some historians together and re-configure that tour. Let's give those young men and women who are guides something to be excited about.

I say, throw away that dish towel!

Phew - that feels better.

After the CWC event we drove back to Montreal and got to the apartment about midnight.

Today was exciting. Had my hair done and my face waxed. Never done that before. It was excrutiating (though not as painful as the Parliament tour). I decided my moustache wasn't invited to England with us tomorrow. It was staying behind. So off I went and had hot wax.

It was REEEEALLY painful! Had my eyebrows done too. That wasn't quite as bad as the upper lip.

Sure gives a lot of power to the young esthetician. Reminded me of my good friend Wendy. When she was having treatment for breast cancer, and she suddenly had to host a special report on CBC TV, nationally. No on else was around. She was in the middle of chemo and had lost all her hair, so she slapped a wig on, and a new make-up person quickly did her makeup and she ran into the studio and did the report (can't remember now what the emergency was), only to discover in her dressing room later that the make-up person must have either been very nervous or malicious. She gave Wendy big, thick, arching eye brows, so that she spent the entire report sounding re-assuring and calm, but looking very, very surprised. On top of that, her eye lashes stuck to the top of her eyes, so that it looked as though she never blinked. Adding to the 'shock and awe' look.

We're going to see Wendy in a few weeks in Toronto - her cancer's gone thank God - and her brows are back.

Too late in the process did I think to ask if there'd be any side-effect to this hot wax thing. She explained, as she ripped, that yes, there'd be a little redness.

Now, 'a little' is clearly subjective. It doesn't seem much to her because she doesn't have to be seen in public like that. I'm now walking around for what she assures me will be less than 24 hours looking as though I just gulped Grape Crush, then spread it on my eye brows.

It's a new look. Really. You should try it.

Be well - talk to you tomorrow unless I go on another Parliamentry tour. Sauve qui peut.


Elizabeth said...

Sorry to hear about the parliamentARY tour (sorry, blame the four years I spent editing reasons for judgment). If you had two hours, you would have done better to drive to Rockcliffe village and walk around MacKay Lake, drive to the Gatineau and have a snack at the Pot-au-feu railway station in Wakefield, wander around the Byward Market, potter about New Edinburgh, and on and on. When we were in Washington, Isabel, then in 2nd grade, went with her class on a tour of the White House. Dull, dull, dull. The only tour I have ever REALLY enjoyed was 7 years ago when we visited Sir John A.'s home in Kingston, ON. We were almost the only ones there, the tour guides/university students wore authentic 1840's clothing (including something like 7 petticoats despite the summer heat--this was the era pre-hoop skirts) and the tea we had afterwards in the garden was lovely, and featured historically authentic foods grown in the on-site kitchen garden. Unfortunately, when we visited 2 years ago, the food was commercially prepared and gross. At least we have the memory of one fantastic tour.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Elizabeth,

Always happy with your editing help! One day some of it might sink in.

I'm also grateful for your suggestions on what to do visiting Ottawa. That tour you took of Sir John A's home sounds wonderful. So sad to hear it was changed. Why do they do that? Save us from 'common sense'...let's have some uncommon sense, some decisions based on intuition and human experience that tell us a lovely, genuine leisurely experience is far better than a rapid, canned one.

There's probably a reason I'm not in business.

Anonymous said...

Tragic tour--sorry not to be more sympathetic, but reading about it & the hot waxing was just so hilarious!

So thanks for posting it--I was visualising you looking at that dish towel held by a 1950's Pan Am lady--priceless!

Glad your friend's cancer is in remission.

Suggestion: For the redness, if it lasts & you have to be 'on stage', try an olive or yellow concealer stick (depending on how red you are vs your normal skin colour). Blend it in with moisturizer beneath & coat--lightly--with undereye concealer.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Ovidia,

Wow - award winning dramaturge and esthetician! Thank you for the tips - it's a little better today, but meeting my agent for lunch Monday and if it isn't better by then and I look as though I now have a red moustache, I'll definitely try your suggestions.


Larry Marshall said...


Thank you so much for your funny and yet frank description of the Parliament tour.

As an American who has lived in Canada for some time, I've always been surprised at how blaise Canadians are about their history and institutions, while at the same time holding a love/hate relationship with the US and its overt Nationalism.

I find Canadian history not only very interesting but often inspiring and yet most Canadians seem ignorant of it. Go figure.

Cheers --- Larry

Louise Penny Author said...

Hi Larry,

You put it so well - that's exactly what I've noticed (and struggled with) myself.