Sunday, July 15, 2012

Eating Yogurt in Snowdon in 1967


This is a huge display of yogurt from someone's YouTube video, grocery shopping in Switzerland.

Yes, it's true, I don't have much to do these days, it being the dog days of summer. And yes, I have an injury to my neck which precludes hard physical labour :)

But I've discovered YouTube isn't the vast vulgar wasteland my son suggests it is, when he tells me about the most popular videos, most of them outrageous, vulgar or silly.

As it happens when I travel in real time, I enjoy checking out grocery stores. I love to see what the rest of the world eats and  compare it to what we eat, here in Quebec.

So I liked this video. The rows of yogurt reminded me of 1967, when my grandmother came to visit for the first and only time. (I wrote about it in Looking for Mrs. Peel.)

In Looking for Mrs. Peel I wrote about how we didn't get along that summer (from memory and stories my mother told me)  and then I wrote about my grandmother's life as British Colonial wife of a Rubber Planter and Librarian at the Kuala Lumpur Book Club and about her experiences in  WWII, interned at Changi and tortured in the Double Tenth Incident. (It's a play, actually.)

I didn't write about our preparations for her  one and only visit to Canada.

In 1967, my family  lived in a three bedroom upper duplex apartment in the Snowdon district of Montreal - and in honour of her visit we cleaned out my older brother's room and redecorated. My older brother was 15, and I vividly recall the bags of dust and dirty magazines we pulled out from under his bed. And I recall the new curtains we bought: nothing special really, mustard coloured synthetic net curtains of a sort. Very cheap.

My brother's room looked out onto the back yards and alley of our street, Coolbrook it is called, so the bedroom window faced the brand new Decarie Expressway.  (The front of the duplex was prettier with the over-sized maples that threw a canopy over the road in summer. That fact figures in my play.)

Dorothy VO: Bakelite ashtray in her left hand, Rothman’s unfiltered in her right, the cranky old crone paces up and down our cramped apartment , absurdly overdressed for late July in black stretch pants and a thick brown turtleneck sweater. Her boobs sag almost to her knees like two spent balloons and her bum is wide and flat like a giant burnt pancake.She shuffles past the dining room where I sit cross-legged on my cot stroking my library books: Ring of Bright Water, Born Free, King of the Wind and Silent Spring, all about animals,all borrowed from the NDG Library for boys and girls, all books I've taken out many times before, and listening to music on my brother's battered Realtone transistor radio.

(Sx Wonderbra jingle: Back ground music:To be free and alive, everywhere that you go.Is to wear what you dare anywhere and to travel with flair and style that will show wherever you go...)


She veers right into the adjacent living room taking eight more slouching steps to the window, and pauses for a spell,above Mummy’s mildewed African Violet on the sill. She scowls at the wind tossed branches of 
the Maple outdoors.
 She taps her cigarette ash into the little yellow dish in her opposite hand, then she whips around to look me in the eyes,through the crack in the French doors separating the rooms, the very moment a bolt of lightning rips open the murky slice of Montreal sky behind her. (Sx Thunder) She opens her miserable marionnette-lined mouth as if she is going to speak
Granny: What are yoooou reaaaad...?
Dorothy (vo)but I’m saved by the bell, or more precisely by the buzzer


Suffice it to say, before my grandmother showed up, I had great expectations of her visit. I had never known my maternal grandparents, Montrealers, who figure in my play Milk and Water and both British grandparents were complete strangers. (My father hardly knew them either, being a child of the Raj.)

My father's mother lived in a weird far away place called Kuala Lumpur and his father lived in England with my Aunt. My older brother had known them both, for he had gone to prep school in England and spent summers with them.

Anyway, yogurt figures largely in my memories because beforehand my mother had asked my grandmother, by letter I guess, what she liked for breakfast. She had said she liked breakfast in bed and one boiled egg, half a piece of toast and a container of this stuff called yogurt.

I was the one sent to the Steinberg's to buy this yogurt and I could only find a tiny little shelf of the stuff, about 3 containers wide. Tiny little display.  I bought a few containers, brought it home and tasted one. Yuk, so sour.


(There's a metro where the Steinberg's used to be on Queen Mary)

Well, today, in 2012 there is no Steinberg's anymore, but the local grocers carry all kinds  of yogurt. Indeed, the product became popular soon after my grandmother's visit and my family had a favorite, the coffee flavoured Yoplait. It was more like a dessert I think.

Anyway, after I discovered this video I looked for similar ones from other countries, but couldn't find many good ones. (There are a lot of outdoor market videos, however.) But the next day I stumbled upon a Supermarket visit to Japan, a video with almost a million hits.

What vulgar stuff was happening here, I wondered.  But I watched the long video and you know, it wasn't in the least vulgar. A young telegenic New York Man with a very subtle sense of humour has made a YouTube video showing viewers the products in a typical Japanese grocer and happily he got someone else to do the camerawork and it is very good. Not too slick but not too messy. I guess the perfect grocery store video. He could speak Japanese too.

Of course, my grandmother didn't like the Japanese, having being tortured by the Kempetai, their secret police, in Singapore in 1944. However, my grandfather, who was also interned at Changi and was forced to work on the Thai Burma Railroad, visited Japan once a year after the war, or so I have been told.

Anyway, as it happens, my grandfather died in October of 1967, while my grandmother was visiting. He fell off a ladder and broke his neck. I remember the telegram my aunt sent from England.  My grandparents had been estranged for years, even during the War she had had a lover, but she wiped away a few tears with a kleenex as she passed me in the hallway.   I seem to remember, anyway.


Teesdale, where my grandmother grew up in Durham UK.


Me in 1967 ish. My mother cut my hair and I always had terrible bangs. A cat on my lap and a copy of Big Red in my hand. I read alot, but not during the time my grandmother visited. That was the summer of Expo67. The TV appears to be in the dining room, probably in honor of my grandmother it was taken out of the living room.