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The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

The discarded Christmas trees lying beside the road say it all: Christmas has come and gone.  Inside the house we are still sweeping up spruce needles, putting away wrapping paper and finding homes for new possessions. On top of the piano a thoroughly picked-over box of chocolates offers a dwindling number of pink-cream-filled confections. The fridge gradually empties. A turkey carcass lingers waiting to be made into soup, while a few onions swim listlessly at the bottom of a jar of pickled herring. What about the remains of that cheese log? Throw it in the compost? I vote yes. And don’t offer me one more clementine.

In the Cove we are both relieved and sorry that December is over. The Women’s Institute Christmas Potluck on the first Monday of the month featured the best casseroles each woman had to offer, plus generous desserts and agreeable conversation. Later that week the Christmas Concert came off without a hitch, with carol singing, choirs, tinwhistles, guitars, recitations, a stepdancer, a homemade skit and of course, Santa; and lunch. All those rehearsals and cookie-baking for such a brief shining moment.

The next week the Advent Open Houses began. How wonderful to stroll through a star-filled night, with Orion in his full glory, to a neighbor’s place and walk right into the house without knocking. Make yourself at home! Have some cider. Look, Bill’s getting off the couch to make room for you. Stay, stay! What’s the hurry? Food and friendship are the best companions, and there’s no such thing as too much togetherness during the Christmas Season.

All those open houses, then Christmas Day itself…and we immediately started planning for our New Year’s Levee. Levee comes from French lever meaning “to raise.” It came into use in the time of Louis XIV when that noble personage held court in his bedroom (men only) first thing in the morning. “What a jolly idea,” thought other kings, and so the custom spread.

Three hundred fifty years later here on Prince Edward Island, a levee is a New Year’s Day reception held by the lieutenant governor, the premier, the military, city mayors and more to mark the start of another year. Women are wecome, too. Maybe you get a glass of wine or a cup of tea. Here in the Cove we are right in step with tradition but our levee features a veritable smorgasbord of tasty treats (it seems everything we do here involves eating), followed by an inter-locking of arms and a soulful singing of Auld Lang Syne. The soft light of the midday winter sun streaming in through dusty windows adds a mellow and memorable glow. It’s winter, it’s a New Year, and here we are all together again.

Christmas Traditions

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Whoever invented LED outdoor Christmas lights deserves a medal. We can cast off guilt and illumine the great darkness with great energy-saving swathes of color. There are some fancy lighting jobs in the Cove, in particular the lights that flash in time with music. Be sure and stop if you’re going by, roll down your window to have a listen. It’s kind of stunning—not in a Seven Wonders of the World kind of way—but all the same it’s not every yard that has flashing musical lights. It must be a devil of a job to string them up. Everyone in the Cove has given up trying to win the district Christmas yard decorating contest. The flashing lights have it every time. Only one other house even comes close. It’s all good fun and we love every sparkling ray of light that cheers us on our way home during this season of long nights.

Christmas shopping panic has set in. It’s always the same, we think maybe this year we’ll just give to charity. But a tax receipt doesn’t look nearly as attractive under the tree as a big pile of presents. On the other hand, who needs more stuff.  There must be a happy middle ground. I think I’ll buy a few things while I mull it over, some chocolate, some socks and underwear. That’s not hurting anybody, is it? You can never have too many of those things. And I’ll pick up a few items at the craft sale down at the hall, some beeswax candles, fruitcake, mittens, anything to help keep the economy moving along here in the Cove. And maybe some of those Christmas cookies, the ones with the frosting and sparkles that look so nice for company.

Our community concert comes early this year. It’s a challenge to get all the acts lined up and rehearsed with no particular director in charge, but rather a loose Committee of the Willing. The stage at the old school consists of four folding tables stacked two on two, raising the sight line for the folks in the back by an imperceptible amount. It’s a stage nonetheless and is good enough for our modest aspirations. This year we will feature our typical children’s choir singing familiar songs of the season; a reading of the Christmas Story with Mary and Joseph and the usual suspects (stylishly garbed in bathrobes, bath towels, wings or haloes); some solos; a short play; instrumental numbers; and Santa—he’s a good one too. This concert is always standing room only, so if you plan to attend, arrive early.

The audience will also be singing Christmas carols. Thank goodness for Christmas. It’s the one time of the year that ordinary Islanders let themselves sing. Quavery voices feel their way into the familiar carols, gaining in strength and confidence until the roomful of plain country folks sounds like a well-groomed chorus celebrating with one voice and one breath the great human spirit common to us all. Merry Christmas.

When the Work’s All Done

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

The Cove made front page of The Guardian last month when the Mounties swept down on our quiet backwater and discovered five pot plants growing in the woods. What they did with this modest cache, and who perpetrated this deed, is the subject of on-going interest and speculation. Needless to say, we did not serve brownies for dessert at our recent community supper.

In the news article concerning this dramatic “bust,” all Islanders were advised to keep their eyes open for anyone going into the woods carrying gardening tools (trowel, knee pads, spade, clippers, watering can, sacks of manure, trays of seedlings, wheelbarrow, garden cart).  We were also warned to be aware of plants with a “skunky smell.” There is no shortage of skunks this year, as evidenced by lawns up and down the coast which have been thoroughly cultivated by skunks and crows. Skunky-smelling plants are less common. A strong odor is coming off a pile of seaweed in the marsh that is rotting more enthusiastically than one would wish, but this cannot be illegal.

The edible fungi crop this fall was outstanding: boletus, chanterelles, shaggy main, puff balls. Mushrooms plucked from the moist earth, sliced, fried in butter, served on toast with a dash of hot sauce—mmm. Those days are past. The ground is crisp and frosty in the morning, car windows need scraping, chestnuts have crashed to the ground, winter clothes (warm old friends) are being dug out of storage. Strange how teen-agers can wait for the bus at 8 am with jackets open, no hats, no gloves; and here come us middle-aged folks practically swaddled in furs. Thank goodness for the heat and energy of youth.

Potatoes in the Cove are safely in warehouses and the potato trucks have stopped rumbling by in the night. It’s been such an excellent harvest season that people aren’t even talking about it. What a busy time it’s been with roads re-paved, bridges re-built, roundabouts unveiled, new houses popping up overnight, other buildings torn down; plus concerts, ceilidhs, socials, community breakfasts, fairs, races and regattas. Things are winding down and soon road crews, fishermen, beekeepers and tourist operators can take a well-deserved rest.

Woodpiles in the Cove are disappearing as firewood is moved into sheds and porches. It’s true that wood fires produce greenhouse gases, but at dusk it’s comforting to see smoke wafting up into the heavens. We’re part of the Canadian landscape and know how to survive and enjoy every one of our seasons. What do we do with these long evenings? Some of our neighbors go to community school, others attend card parties. Good books are traded around among friends, travel websites are checked for winter get-away specials, plans are firmed up for—yes, it’s true—for Christmas.

What with homework and text messaging for the young, and chores, television and movies for the older folks, this month too will pass. And let us not forget to sing the praises of early bedtimes!

Quiet Routines

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

One by one along the shore the lights go out as cottage folks pack it in and head home, leaving us year-round Cove dwellers to slip into our quiet autumn routines. Traffic to the beach is down to two or three pick-ups a day, a far cry from the heat of summer when dozens of cars headed to the shore every hour, filled with boisterous children crying to be let loose on the warm sand bars of the Cove.

Those days are now happy memories, and we embrace the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” What a bountiful season it has been, in spite of earwigs, cabbage butterflies, slugs and the odd raccoon. Pantries in the Cove are filled with jars of strawberry jam, mustard pickles, tomato relish and chow chow, plus dried apples, parsley and summer savory. The chicken man will soon deliver his winter’s supply of heavy roasters.  It’s going to be tricky fitting them into freezers already bursting with blueberries, applesauce, chanterelles and other tasty edibles (which will sink to the bottom and get lost by spring).

Good wild apples are still out there by the roadside waiting to be picked. That tree down by the bridge has late apples, good keepers, so help yourself. We’ve already picked enough to make apple pies for the Bean Supper at the school this month. What’s the secret of good baked beans? “Follow the directions on the package,” says our local baked bean expert.

Some of us put garlic in our beans, but garlic isn’t a common flavor in the Cove. All the same, a lot of folks are growing it and this is the time to go down to the shore and get seaweed for mulch. Garlic needs thick winter cover and any kind of seaweed—or leaves or straw—will do nicely. Surprising how little seaweed washed in when Hurricane Earl made his brief visit to our district. There were some piles of driftwood shoved up against the banks and a few clusters of crab bodies, but no mounds of eelgrass or kelp. Still, you can always find what you need if you’re willing to carry it in small loads.

We don’t see farmers putting seaweed on their land any more and it seems a shame, all that free fertilizer just sitting there. Still, how can farmers find enough time to do what they do? Not just growing and harvesting crops, fencing, tending livestock, repairing barns and farm machinery…but taking time to pull over and have a little visit. There aren’t many farmers left in the Cove but we cherish each one.

Someone brought a pumpkin chiffon pie to Women’s Institute last month. Exquisite. People, don’t throw those pumpkins away! Don’t crash them on the road! For that matter, don’t smash my mailbox either. I don’t remember anyone smashing mailboxes in Anne of Green Gables. I think I’ll take mine in on Hallowe’en, just to be safe.

The Buzz welcomes JoDee Samuelson to our regular roster of writers. JoDee is an artist, filmmaker, musician and, now, columnist.

My Eagerly Awaited Film

Island premiere of Uncle Bob’s Hospital Visit

by JoDee Samuelson

Uncle Bob's Hospital VisitEvery time I start another film it seems like I’ll be working on it forever. My life gets swallowed up in frames and seconds. I don’t even dare think of getting to the end because it seems so impossibly far away.

Yet here I am with another film “in the can.” When I started this filmmaking lark, footage was sent to the lab in a canister and came back in a can. Those days are over for me: I have entered the digital age. My new film Uncle Bob’s Hospital Visit was created on a Mac computer using Photoshop, AfterEffects and a Wacom tablet. After writing a story and creating a storyboard, I worked my way image by image through 20,160 frames. How did I ever do it?

It was my mother who gave me the idea. She was having the final hospital visit of her life, and from her sickbed she whispered, “You should do a film about Rules For Visiting Sick People.” “What rules, Mom?” I asked, grabbing a pen and paper. “Don’t,” she said, “wear perfume. Don’t bring smelly flowers. Don’t talk about troubles…are you writing this down?” “Yes, Mom, I am.” “Good,” she sighed, and continued on.

Several years later, having finished my film Mabel’s Saga, I was flipping through my sketchbooks when I came across Mother’s list of hospital do’s and don’ts. Somehow I knew it would make a good film. Kent Martin of the NFB agreed. Uncle Bob started to turn into a real character.

A short animated film usually takes three to four years for one person to complete. Uncle Bob was no exception. I started in 2005 and here we are in 2008. Along the way I’ve had the most important help of all: interest and encouragement from my friends. My son Hans took care of technical details. Echo Lau played a Debussy piano piece for an important part of the film. Sylvia Abikattar-Mutch, Cef Pobjoy and Jon Matthews sang the lovely round which accompanies the end credits. Laurel Smyth and Rob MacLean created all the women’s and men’s voices. Dave Ward recorded Rob and Laurel in my kitchen, with squirrels and crows competing for attention outside the window. Amelie Gallant pipes in as Uncle Bob’s little granddaughter.

The sound track was created by veteran composer Norman Roger and his talented assistant Pierre-Yves Drapeau. Stan Carew of CBC’s “Week-End Morning” narrated the English version, Quebec folk musician Tex Lecor narrated the French. Both versions will be shown at the up-coming screening.

I’m looking forward to seeing Uncle Bob’s Hospital Visit on the big screen! Hope you’ll like it too.

There will be two free public screenings of Uncle Bob’s Hospital Visit, in English and French, at City Cinema on Sunday, June 22 at 2 and 3 pm. Reception to follow at 4 pm.

Uncle Bob’s Hospital Visit is a production of the National Film Board of Canada. Producer Kent Martin.

First Prize in Torino

by JoDee Samuelson

JoDee at the Roman gate in TorinoIn the heart of every filmmaker beats the desire to have her film shown at Cannes. Or Berlin. Or London, Copenhagen, Rome…or Torino? Yes of course, why not? So when the announcement came that Mabel’s Saga was in competition at Festival Internazionale Cinema delle Donne in Torino—and by the way, would I like to attend, all expenses paid?—I couldn’t say no.

Italy In October! Chestnuts strewn across lawns and highways, International Harvester combines blazing wide swaths through golden corn fields, olives, grapes, pears, kiwis! Everything is being harvested. Around Torino wet, glistening rice fields stretch in all directions because Torino is situated on the flood plains of the Po, a meandering river that begins in the Alps and ends its journey at the Adriatic Sea near Venice. A flood plain is the perfect place to grow rice, and rice becomes risotto, the delicious sticky mainstay of the northern diet.

Torino is a city of a million industrious Italians on the western edge of the Alps. It was founded in Roman times and has one Roman red brick gate still standing. Mostly it is a practical city that has grown with the times, meaning that old stuff has had to make way for the new. There are still enough palazzos, cathedrales and museos to satisfy any curiosity seeker, plus a world record number of porticos (covered walkways)—eighteen kilometers of ‘em! Apparently the kings of Torino didn’t like to get their feet wet when it rained, and it rains a lot in this northern city. When Italy was unified in the 1800s Torino was the first capital of the country, and it was also the Italian film capital before filmmaking moved to Rome. There is an excellent film museum, Museo Nazionale del Cinema, situated in what was once the world’s tallest building, the Mole Antoneliana. So, should you get tired of huddling at the bottom of the ski jump at the Winter Olympics, you won’t lack for cultural options.

Now a few words about the film festival. Well, I didn’t get to the film museum because there wasn’t time. Too many films to watch, too many parties. We filmmakers all stayed at Hotel Bologna in the heart of the city. (“clean and comfortable” but so much more: we actually had a fresco on the ceiling!) We ate delicious meals together at Ristorante Conservatorio, then wished each other well and sauntered across the piazza to the film festival theatres. There, for one short week, women filmmakers of the world showed their work to an adoring public. Films from just about everywhere, Russia, the Netherlands, Brazil, England, the U.S., France, India, Canada, Sweden; about love, lust, violence, immigration, old age, adolescence; short films, features, documentaries. Seven wonderful days of cultural overload.

Then it was closing night. Directors were escorted to the front of the beautiful theatre to sit in reserved seats. We sat through speeches by politicians and dignitaries, special mentions, mission statements. Awards were given out. Third prize, second, then first. When it came to the short film category, a film from Norway got third prize. I thought, good choice, she deserves it. Second prize went to a film from Korea. Oh well, I said to myself, at least I got here. Then first prize was announced. In a daze I heard Ma-bell’s Saga and “Jo Dee’ Sam-uel’-son.” Can it be? Yes, they’re all smiling at me. Mari beside me is jumping up and down and hugging me. Someone is handing me a bouquet. I’m up on stage making a speech. A pretty nice moment, one to keep warm on the back burner for a long time.

Here is the jury citation: “At long last a film that dares broach with irony and optimism an issue which is still delicate and taboo both for females and males: menopause. We appreciated the graceful and in depth touch of presenting the difficulties linked to this particular moment in a woman’s life which doesn’t represent the end but the beginning of a new phase. Moreover, we wanted to award a prize for Mabel’s Saga’s simplicity and essentiality which are rarely brought on screen.”—

What a gracious piece of writing. Gracious just like the Italians. I hated to leave that gentle beautiful country. Islanders, for a magical unforgettable time, get thee to Italy!

JoDee would like to acknowledge the assistance of The Canada Council for the Arts and Technology PEI in making this trip possible. As it turned out, all travel expenses were not paid: Arts funding in Torino was diverted into sports funding at the last moment.

Mabel and Me

by JoDee Samuelson

JoDee Samuelson at her Canoe Cove home

Mabel’s Saga, my new animated film, will be officially launched on Sunday, June 20 at City Cinema in Charlottetown.

Now that I see these words on paper, I realize that the film is actually done! Mabel has been a five year 20,000 frame project, which explains why I more or less disappeared off the face of the earth.

Here’s how it all got going. I’m in that time of life called menopause and so are many of my women friends. Out in Canoe Cove one night, some of us middle-age-type women were sitting around comparing notes, you know, heavy periods one month and nothing the next, hot flashes, moodiness, anxiety. Before the evening was over, someone suggested that I should make a film—an animated film—about menopause. And it should be funny.

That got me thinking. There are over twenty million North American women in menopause at this very moment. Hmmm. I’d already made two animated films, The Bath and The Sandbox. Maybe I could make one more. I applied for and received a Canada Council grant, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mabel’s Saga is a short film about getting through the “change of life” and moving on. Of course it’s not that simple. For my own part I found that, apart from hot flashes and other bodily discomforts, what I minded most were the losses in my life. My sister died, my mother, aunts and uncles, friends, and now this does not stop. For many of my friends too, support systems shift and sway, marriages break up, there is anxiety about children, and then grandchildren...

Still images from Mabel’s Saga

It’s distressing to hear the bad news about Hormone Replacement Therapy and know that millions of women have been led down a garden path. Who can you believe? HRT was supposed to cure osteoporosis, heart disease, wrinkles, bad moods. But there just aren’t cures for some things—like growing old. Once we’re born we’ve signed up for the whole package. Women get breasts, we have periods, our hormones go crazy and some of us get pregnant, and suddenly—it seems sudden anyway—it’s all over! We’re got gray hair, we’re drying up, our joints are loose, we groan when we stand up and we creak when we move... and maybe that’s okay. Our mothers and grandmothers, every woman who ever lived to old age went through this. Hey, menopause is just a word meaning the time of life when we don’t have to hatch any more eggs. No more periods—who wouldn’t want that!

Now, some Island folks who helped with this project: Don Ayer, Mari Basiletti, Donna Davies, Rob and Jen Drew, Roy Johnstone, Kent Martin, Gail Mullen, the Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra, Hans Samuelson and Dave Ward. Lesley McCubbin of Montreal created the wonderful funky backgrounds. Thanks everybody.

I hope you’ll come out and celebrate the birth of Mabel. There will be two screenings at City Cinema on June 20, at 2:00 pm and 3:30 pm, with a reception from 2:45 to 3:30 pm. Admission is free.

Mabel’s Saga was made possible with the generous assistance of The Canada Council, and was co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

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