Columns: “Culturescape” and “Grandparents”

Adelle Farrelly asks the age old question “What is love?” in this month’s “Culturescape” column. The Glebe Report is also introducing a column that focuses over the next few months on grandparents. It will consist of Clive Doucet’s “As Grandfathers…” in February, April and June, and Barbara Coyle and Carol MacLeod’s articles on grandmothers in March and May.

Where’s the Valentine lovin’ in 2014?
As Grandfathers…

Where’s the Valentine lovin’ in 2014?

By Adelle Farrelly

Picture a classic Valentine’s Day date. Do you see candlelight, a multi-course meal, wine and flowers? Does it take place in an exclusive restaurant, booked weeks in advance? It is entirely possible that it does not, especially if you are relatively young. Where once the ideal might have been a pull-out-all-the-stops romantic evening, the goal now tends toward the uniquely personal. Fine dining will always have its place, but more and more, Valentine’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries are more about providing a unique experience designed to reflect the couple in question.

So what might a 2014 romantic evening look like? Well, anything or nothing. For the most part, however, forget the expensive jewellery and pricey champagne. Whether it is due to changing cultural preferences or simply due to new economic realities, flashy spending seems to be out. In its place are a preference for home-cooked meals and local music, handmade cards and Facebook declarations of affection. Of course, frugality and a quest for uniqueness are not necessarily marks of one generation over another, and it is important not to rely too heavily on stereotypes. It might be safer to think of these shifting romantic preferences as “signs of the times” rather than being due to a particular age division. It is interesting, nevertheless, to think about what the digital era has wrought and how romancing happens, now that most people no longer send anything by mail, never mind greeting cards.

The Internet has changed relationships. Not only are more and more people looking for love online, but once they’ve found it, they rely on the web for the majority of their communication. Remember e-cards, the animated greeting cards sent through email not so long ago? Most millennials eschew even those now; the only person who still sends me them, believe it or not, is my 83-year-old grandmother. Instead, communication between both friends and lovers has become ever more casual and ever more instantaneous. Plans are made through Facebook’s instant messaging application (or app) and declarations of love through the briefest of tweets. Want to express your affection for someone? Shoot them a < and a 3, which together makes a little sideways heart:

It is important not to get the wrong idea about this online casualness. As mentioned above, romance these days for special occasions tends to seek out the unique and personal rather than the generically romantic. Perhaps because of the online deluge that currently floods modern life, couples seek to carve out something private for themselves every now and then. It’s easy to see why, in an age where guests are uploading wedding photos before newlyweds have even cut their cake. Again, there is nothing wrong with a traditional, elegant night out – but if romance can incorporate something unique, why shouldn’t it?
As for me, I have embraced both the traditional and the quirky for my Valentine’s Day experiences. Nights out enjoying fine dining and good wine are a real treat, but they can also be loud, crowded and lacking choice due to special, set Valentine’s Day menus – exquisite, yes, but definitely a once- or twice-a-year event. It may be due to age, or perhaps to a more introverted temperament, but I have found that a quiet night in, watching Netflix, exchanging silly poems and cooking something special together can be just as memorable. Is this true across the board? Probably not, but from an informal survey of friends and family, uniqueness and home cooking come in as high priorities. Not bad for the Internet-obsessed generation.

Writer, editor and mom-to-be Adelle Farrelly aims to capture the essence of her peers’ experiences in her essays on contemporary urban life.


As grandfathers…

By Clive Doucet

Editor’s note: The Glebe Report is introducing a column that focuses over the next few months on grandparents. It will consist of Clive Doucet’s “As Grandfathers…” in February, April and June, and Barbara Coyle and Carol MacLeod’s articles on grandmothers in March and May.

Photo: Courtesy of Clive Doucet
Photo: Courtesy of Clive Doucet

We are born old and young at the same time.
We are born with great loves and great pains,
that grow like an acorn grows into a tree;
like god grows into the universe.

I don’t think it ever occurs to grandsons that one day, they might also become grandfathers. It certainly didn’t to me. Grandfathers were like unicorns. This immensely old and interesting creature that knew everyone and everything but were apart from the hurly-burly of your young life – or at least that’s the way I saw them.

I had the good fortune to have two wonderful grandfathers and am now the grandfather to one grandson and three granddaughters. When I was bouncing around my grandfather’s farm on Cape Breton Island, delighted at everything my grandfather and I did together from milking the cows to making the summer hay, it never occurred to me to think what it was like to be on Grandfather’s end of the day. I was too busy discovering the world. Now, when I take my grandchildren for an outing, be it something as simple as a hot chocolate on Bank Street or sledding at Brown’s Inlet, I think of my own grandparents and I know that they were having as much fun as we children were. There is something timeless and joyful in the company of grandchildren that no other relationship can equal. It is the very years that separate us that make it strong. Both the grandparent and the grandchild instinctively understand it will not endure forever. Time and age will separate us but in the meantime, it is as vivid and purposeful as the sun rising.
There is an old joke that goes, “if I had known how much fun grandchildren were, I would have begun with them and skipped the middle part.” The problem of course is you can’t. Being a parent has its own rewards, not the least of which will be grandchildren of your own one day, but parenting is also a fraught time. As a young person, you’re desperately running to make your mark in the world and at the same time, you have this tremendous responsibility for these young lives. Fatigue clouds many days and a desperate sense of never-enough-hours in each day is often one’s principal companion.

Clive Doucet and grand-daughter Clea on a Cape Breton Beach. Photo: Courtesy of Clive Doucet
Clive Doucet and grand-daughter Clea on a Cape Breton Beach. Photo: Courtesy of Clive Doucet

It’s different being a grandparent. Very different. You’re not the principal. You’re just a supporting actor and like it or not, one’s principal responsibilities are gone. My grandfather still had his farm but it had become more a hobby for him than a pressing reality. He had a few cows, one mare, one colt, a few hens, a small garden, and some hay fields. He used to say “enough to keep me entertained.”

Farm chores had not been a delight for my father and his brothers because there were many of them and the work was always waiting. The world had changed. I can’t remember Grandfather ever being in a hurry to do anything. Even rain at haying time wouldn’t bother him. He’d just look up at the sky and say, “tomorrow will be fine.” And it was.

I find myself in his boots today. The world has changed. I used to be running from sunrise to sunset, from meeting to meeting, and if I had time for anything it was carved out of the day with a penknife. No more. If Felix, my grandson, wants to spend some time being Spiderman, we’re Spiderman, and we find some crayons to draw Spiderman, or walls to climb or books to read or films to watch. The simplest things are now coloured in a different light.

I’m sitting in a Bank Street café with Felix, Clea and Evangeline, who are noisy and uncertain about what they should order. In the end, they order lemonade, and I order a coffee. Clea would like to know if I believe in heaven. I reply “of course, there are many heavens” and we talk about heavens for a while; and when I stop to think about it, my thoughts are mostly not about how terrible the world is, but how wonderful.

Clive Doucet is a writer and former city councillor. His last book was the novel, Shooting the Bruce.


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