Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas At The Manor

For the first time in some years, my entire little family will be together. All four brats are now here, and happily playing hockey on the rink (we flood the tennis court in winter). As for the kids' genders, well, let us just say, one of each. More on them in future posts; for now, I am content to enjoy the afternoon from the conservatory window, taking occasional sips from a very serious martini.

From that vantage point, I can watch Consuela, my Mexican groundskeeper, enjoying plowing snow along the driveway to the front of the manor. She loves the big John Deere, and delights in making huge snowbanks at each side, then ramming even more snow into the banks. The girl was not always so happy, and had to be retrieved from a Ciudad Juarez drug cartel moments before she faced beheading. How that rescue occurred is still under official wraps, so to speak, but when I learn that that the cartel is no more, I will relate the story.

Ahmed, my driver, is quite smitten with Consuela, but the courtship is not going well. Ahmed is an observant Muslim, and has trouble with Consuela's attitude towards life. Oh, she is modest in her dress, and would never be caught dead in a tight sweater and mini-skirt. Well, she dressed this way once, but that was a special occasion where I had directed some undercover work in San Diego. For the most part, however, she dresses sensibly, yet adheres to the song lyric "I enjoy being a girl." She quite likes Ahmed, but when he suggested that she wear a hijab, that was a bridge too far. Consuela has glorious raven tresses, and wants then to be seen not just by Ahmed, but by anyone else. Religion making things difficult again. As when does it not?

I suppressed any further thought in this direction -- the moment was too peaceful for religious irritation -- and focused on the imminent arrival of my good friend and quondam lover, the Compte de Rienville. The roads being an icy mess, I had sent Ahmed in the Hummer to pick him up at the airport. The Compte would be bringing a case of exquisite burgundy from his estate, and with his connections to the French D.G.S.E., would have no trouble at customs. A shiver of anticipation ran through me, and I was, for the first time in years, looking forward to Christmas.

And no regrets at all for having to turn down Stephen Harper's kind offer of a Senate seat. Way too public, and given the number of contracts and fatwas out on me, well, the appointment was just not on. So I declined, but not without first urging Stephen to come to terms with the Russian, Ignatieff, and leave the Canadian electorate in peace for a while.

Now that would be a FINE Christmas present!

But I see that the Compte has arrived, and I must do something with my hair.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wherefrom The Wherewithal?

I have had a number of queries recently about finance, more specifically, my own. It appears that few have a staffed manor house in Toronto, complete with helipad, or a beach house in California, a villa on the Costa Del Sol, apartments in Paris and London, and a neat little condo in Tokyo. Maintaining all this, of course, makes certain fiscal demands, but to me these are not onerous. The reason is a simple one:

Ecce beta vulgaris.

Or put another way, "Behold the sugar beet."

My late husband, dear Lord Strunsky, had spotted the utility of this useful vegetable some decades ago, and had quietly bought controlling interests in major plantations in the prime producing countries, Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and Germany. Now I will admit that the sugar beet is not talked of often, and rarely appears in novels or stories. (One remarkable exception is Tom Robbins excellent Jitterbug Perfume, although Lord Strunsky thought that Robbins terribly abused the sugar beet by turning it into a perfume base.)

I should note as well that France is also prominent in the area of sugar beets, but Lord Strunsky was unsuccessful in moving into this particular market. Apparently the Elysee Palace sees the production of sugar beets as a "National Champion" and therefore opts for total control. Such production is also seen as a national security issue. Baffling, but we are dealing with the French.

Now even in this time of credit horror, with even large banks staring into a ghastly abyss of debit, the sugar beet continues to add to its value. After all, it supplies 30% of the world's sugar. But there is more.

The Czechs, always an enterprising folk, have developed a rum-like beverage from the sugar beet, called tuzemak. I first sampled this some years ago at a party in Prague, and had a great time. I think -- the details are a bit hazy. When I woke up, I was glad to see that clothing, cash and jewellery were all intact. Not so my virginity, but that didn't matter. That "intactness" went during my teen age years, and that's enough of that.

The Germans, being somewhat down to earth, made a syrup from the sugar beet, and then went on to develop a very fine soup called Zuckerruben. But it is the Brits, bless them, that have really sent the price soaring. British Petroleum, along with Dupont, are working with various agriculture authorities to create a fuel additive, and the enterprise shows much promise, as well as being on the side of the eco-angels.

So there we are, and it's amazing how the money rolls in.

I should confess that I do supplement my balance book from time to time by undertaking assignments for various governments that, well let us say, are somewhat beyond the remit of the average civil servant. Can't really elaborate here, the Official Secrets Act being what it is. But, where finances are concerned, one must think carefully, and I leave you with a comment made by my second cousin, Simeon: "Money is that element that makes stupidity shine."

Wherefrom The Wherwithal?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Busy Day At The Manor

As indicated in my last note, I reached the Prime Minister this morning without much fuss. No doubt visions of funds being deposited in Conservative coffers danced in his head, but he was quickly disabused of such largesse. In fact, if he wanted further Strunksian contributions, he must give serious consideration to the following:

1) Confess error in removing the arts funding in Quebec. I mean, who cares if a number of Quebec soi-disante artistes are swanning around Europe on the Canadian taxpayer's dime? This action, I assured him, cost him the Quebec votes that could have resulted in a majority. I mean, could you not have waited until AFTER the election?

2) Confess further error in removing the political funds from the opposition parties. Yes, they are rats, and usually run and hide, but even a rat will fight when cornered. Forgot that, eh Stephen?

3) If it was not you, whoever suggested these two things should be fired immediately.

3) After accomplishing these little exercises in humility, make a real effort to get together with the new leader of what is now a rather bedraggled Natural Governing Party. Michael Ignatieff is, in my opinion, even further right than you are, so it shouldn't be difficult. And the current economic mess provides the perfect excuse. So get with it.

Well, the man didn't hang up.

At this point, the Bishop of the local parish dropped round for lunch.My chef, Giacomo, had prepared some wonderful quiches, washed down with a stunning Chardonnay. The Bishop was appreciative. What had prompted his visit was his awareness of a Foundation established by my late husband, Lord Strunsky, entitled The Creative Challenge. This Foundation provided grants to young artists and writers in various countries who were finding it impossible to crack their local Arts Mafias. (In Canada, this is called the Canada Council). The Bishop was attempting to fund the creation of a new stained glass window in a small but historic church, Our Lady of the Sorrowful Chains. He wanted the window to commemorate the martyrdom of St Perpetua, an early daughter of Holy Mother Church who had seen the Light and was determined to walk into it, aided and abetted by some gladiator or other.

I had no quarrel with this request, other than to make the point that all too many women were looked upon as victims, and that the Church should at least be giving some thought to bringing the Magdalene into a more favourable place in the canon. Ignoring the Bishop's blanched face, I did insist that there be some kind of competition to select the artist, and that I be one of the judges. One must do what one can to help the unknown become known, when possible.

I should add that while funding artistic endeavour is one thing, funding organized religion per se is quite another. Lord Strunsky was adamant on that point, and I agree. The historical record of organized religion is appalling in terms of vicious behaviour and lives lost -- the "my sacred stone is better than your sacred stone" type of thing. We really have to grow up.

The Bishop was hardly out the door when George Lucas (of all people) dropped by for tea. George was seeking backing for a possible film focussing on Anne McCaffrey's Dragons of Pern series. Since I was enamoured of old Ramoth and the versatile Ruth, I ageed to forward the odd million or so, depending on other contributors and an appropriate number of equity points. (I had done very well indeed on George's Star Wars efforts). He enjoyed the scones I had provided (or Giacomo had, to be fair) and amused me by casting the Canadian political scene in terms of that epic. The Jedis had all fled to the south (although one might be re-appearing there on January 20th) and the northern Empire was now in the hands of Darth Vader (Ignatieff) with the Evil Emperor still lurking in the shadows, man by the name of Chretien.

"And Stephen Harper," I asked, "what of him?"

"Oh, that's easy," replied George. "He's Ice Planet Thoth."


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Return From Chicago

To Chicago, where I had an enjoyable lunch with Michelle Obama and the girls. (A $2 M campaign contribution has its rewards). The girls were delightful, as was Michelle. Soft-spoken, to be sure, but I sensed steel there. It will be needed, given the media maelstrom that is Washington. Barack wasn't available, and was actually in Washington hammering out some policy issues with Hillary. I wondered where Bill was, and made a mental note to call him. Must be careful, though. Past experience has taught me not to phone him from an hotel room, and when meeting, dress down. Bill Clinton and a tight skirt is a recipe for disaster.

On the plane back to Toronto, I had some thoughts about Americans. Although my home base is Canada, I have dual citizenship (actually quadruple citizenship, but that's a story for another day) and have always enjoyed my stays in the U.S. Americans are the most generous people on earth, but it is unwise to cross them. They possess a streak of violence, and are armed to the teeth owing to a terribly botched reading of the Second Amendment of their Constitution. The Supreme Court really doesn't understand either comma placement or the ablative absolute, something the original framers knew intimately. So it goes.

I had some trouble when boarding at O'Hare. I had to remove my shoes, and when the conveyor belt ate them, I knew instantly what had happened. The security officer, a thin, hatchet-faced woman, tried to pretend that she didn't know what had happened. This was bullshit. The shoes were Manolo Blahniks, and the closest this woman would ever get to them would be looking through a showcase window. I spotted a golden heel protruding from one of her trouser pockets, grabbed her bicep and applied pressure in a certain way. She collapsed of course. I was all concern, calling for medical assistance, creating a great fuss, and was commended for my fast action. Got my shoes back too.


Upon deplaning in Toronto, I became aware that the government was about to fall, Jack Layton, Stephane Dion and Gilles Duceppe were beside themselves with joy, and worst of all, learned that someone had unsealed a coffin and Jean Chretien was abroad in the land. What had Stephen done? I will call him immediately (a $2M campaign contribution has its rewards) and get to the bottom of all this.

Stay tuned.