18 July 2006

The House of Mathilde & Happy Birthday to Me

When I worked at NOW, years that I remember fondly, I was invited to write for the paper a few times. My only contribution to the Books section was an interview with Hassan Daoud, the Lebanese author of the novel The House of Mathilde. I conducted the interview with Hassan long-distance. I was in my little apartment here in Toronto, and he was in the office of the newspaper he wrote for in Beirut. He was warm, fascinating, humanist. When he read at the Harbourfront International Authors Festival a couple of weeks later, I went up to introduce myself afterward. He clutched my hand, said he enjoyed the piece in NOW, wished we had met up earlier in his Toronto stay, and invited me to visit him if I ever got to Beirut.

Here is an excerpt from Hassan's beautiful, sad novel, which takes place in a single residential apartment building during wartime:

"She and her husband were sleeping in their separate beds when the bomb exploded. Abraham was the only one in the building who headed for the big balcony. He saw nothing there. He assumed that once again he had been mistaken about where a shell had fallen. His wife called to him from the door, and when he brought his head closer, peering down, he saw a dense dust-cloud that blocked his view of the ground-floor entrance. He shouted down, but no one replied, though a few moments later he heard the second-floor man land on the pile of masonry and plaster.

"Abraham wanted to help but there was nothing he could do. The stairs to the lower floods had collapsed or been smashed, and when he tried to go up, to the fifth floor, his wife prevented him, afraid of more collapses. The al-Siblini flat near him was still locked despite the fact that two panes of glass had fallen from their frames in the door. His wife grabbed him and pulled him inside. They stood in the kitchen, looking from the doorway out at the big balcony. A cool breeze blew. He told his wife to shut off the butane-gas canister.

"The explosion had come two full hours after the shelling had stopped. When he heard voices in the street, he knew that men from the al-Munla district had come to see what had happened to the building."

It's a quiet novel. The "enemy" is never named, a very deliberate choice on Hassan's part. Violence is faceless, inherent. Hassan inscribed the title page of the book for me: "To stuart / with my friendship / Hassan / 27/10/1999"

I've been thinking about Hassan lately. Is he OK? Is he still in Beirut? Is his newspaper office still operating? Is his family OK? Would he still decline to name the "enemy"? Somewhere, in a little notebook, I have Hassan's phone number still. I imagine the phone lines are down.

What else?

On Saturday, I took Dana out for her birthday, which was Friday. We drove up to North York, just a few blocks from where I went to high school at AISP, to a small French restaurant called Pourquoi Pas?, which I had passed on the way to school a thousand times, but had never gone into. It was really nice. The owner kept addressing me as "Mr. Ross." Our food was really delicious. I think that's the fanciest restaurant I've been to, but it was cozy and living-room-like, because we were in fact in a living-room. Happy birthday, Dana.

About an hour ago, I turned 47. Happy birthday, me.

Last week, I met with Walmsley, the only person to read the current state of my novel. He offered some excellent feedback, some very practical things. The great relief was that he had no problem with the structure, which is what I've been most worried about. Tom didn't seem to love it, but he was interested and encouraging. I'm buried in editing right now, but I'm looking forward to a couple of weekends in the motel in Paris, Ontario, where I can finish the damn thing already.

The week before, my friend Mary and I drove to Guelph for the day. That's a great little city. I told the guy in Macondo Books, one of the best used bookstores I've ever been to, that he looked like Ray Robertson, because he really does. He says he gets that a lot. Thing is, he sings lead for a C&W band, which Ray would probably like to do. Over at the Bookshelf, Dan gave me an advance reading copy of the new poetry collection by Patti Smith, which looks pretty good. Dan's such a sweet guy. At the little thrift shop on the main street, the girl at the cash turned out to be Jenny from the Bar Mitzvah Brothers. I bought two BMB CDs, plus a few thrift items, including a copy of Doug Melnyk's Naked Croquet. It was a fun trip.

Today (yesterday), brunch with Sam Andreyev, who is visiting from Paris (France). I always find it inspiring to visit with Sam. He is so incredibly devoted to his music. He works so hard at it. If I had worked as hard at my art from such a young age, I'd have written 27 novels and 1,672 books of poetry by now.

Over and out.


At July 18, 2006 2:05 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

happy birthday nelson mandela, william makepeace thackeray, chill wills, hunter s. thompson, screamin' jay hawkins, and stuart ross! that might make for a lively dinner party. btw, good to hear tom is alive and kickin. send him my best. and to you...wish i could take you out for a pint and an indian buffet. harold and maude cheers!

At July 19, 2006 8:17 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a beautiful and chilling excerpt.

but my main reason for leaving a comment is,....there's a motel in Paris, ON???? I guess I never see the area outside of my cousin's house. But good area for inspiration.
Good luck with the novel stu. Happy writing!

At July 19, 2006 10:43 am , Blogger Amanda Earl said...

happy birthday!

At July 20, 2006 12:40 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bonne FĂȘte Dana et Stu.

Off to Magog, PQ.


At July 20, 2006 10:25 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

happy birthday, man! give me a shout & i will buy you a beer...


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