Vienna, Pangnirtung, Remembrance

Today is the birthday of my friend Sherie Kaplan who died earlier this year, so this is the first time that she and I are not exchanging emails and phone calls in order to arrange a birthday dinner. Instead, I have resolved on my own to start this blog again.

Sherie and I were born within eleven days of each other, in 1947, she in Vienna in war-torn Europe, and I in Pangnirtung on Baffin Island during the aftermath of the sinking of the supply ship Nascopie. We met when we were 21, in 1968, and my early memories of Sherie inform my remembrance of that defining time of the early seventies. The night before her funeral I was reading Jeff Wall’s wonderful new book (Jeff Wall: The Complete Edition), and came across a magnificent photograph of the Jewish Cemetery in New Westminster, where Sherie was to be buried the next day. As I studied the photograph I understood that Sherie’s resting place (so to speak) now belonged (among other things) to the history of art. Jeff Wall writes:

A picture of a cemetery is a “perfect” type of landscape. The inevitably approaching, yet unapproachable, phenomenon of death, the necessity of leaving behind those who have passed away, is the most striking dramatic analogue for the distant – but not too distant – viewing position identified as ‘typical’ of the landscape. We cannot get too distant from the graveyard.

This afternoon I looked over a selection of books set out for sale in plastic bags and arranged against the wall of the Bank of Montreal on Commercial Drive. There were several literary titles on display, and one of them, The Parabolist by Nicholas Ruddock, I had seen in the Geist office a few months ago and then it disappeared before I could read it. It was an advance reading copy from Doubleday; I took it out of its bag and opened it to find the Geist date stamp on the front page: this same copy had made its way from our reviewing desk and out to new life on the street. It was the perfect gift for Sherie, who was a great reader of great books, and whose copy of Hellbox by John O’Hara, written in 1947, I had read twice during the summer. The street-vendor in front of the Bank of Montreal told me I looked like a reader or a writer, and in either case, he said, it was a wonderful day for Nicholas Ruddock, the young author whose book I was buying from him for $4.00. “These young writers get squeezed out at the top,” he said. It’s very hard for them to find readers. So today is a good day for this young writer because now he has another new reader.”

A few years ago I wrote a story for Geist in which Sherie and her parents (who survived the Holocaust) make an important appearance. That story can read on the Geist Website.

A review of Nicholas Ruddock’s book by my sister Patty can also be found here on the Geist website.

My review of Jeff Wall’s book is somewhere on the Geist website too, but I can’t find it tonight.

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