George McWhirter's The Gift Of WomenFriday, January 02, 2015
Lily of the BellyLily’s debut engagement was at the Candia Taverna on 10th Avenue. Initially Candia suggested vouchers and Herbie said okay. The Taverna did a good pizza, great chicken and Greek Salad. Herbie liked the wooden booths – maybe stalls described them better – for four or four two people. One served a party of twelve by the window; the cops used it, which added an aspect of public safety to the cuisine.
This double sided row of dining stalls ran from the front door down to the bar at the back. To Lily, her Candia Taverna performance – swinging her hips, raising her arms, clicking her fingers and looking down at the diners, who looked up at her from their fodder at the stalls – was like belly dancing at the stable. Too much wagging in the aisle and Lily’s lace skirt would be soaked in sauce, but the cash was easily stuffed into Lily’s belt as she passed. Even the city police came back and poked in the odd five spot for her seven o”clock show…
While Lily danced,, there was always a pause while the guys got over their embarrassment and pegged a bill to her belt. It happened as soon as they saw the women were more enthusiastic about Lily than they were. For Lily always danced to women, demonstrating what women of her age had, what they could do with their own belly, if they had a mind to.Lily of the Belly from The Gift Of Women by George McWhirter
Seen above is Sarita the most beautiful belly dancer that ever danced in Vancouver during the belly dancing boom of the last century in the 80s. She will more than do to illustrate the idea of McWhirter’s stupendous Lily of the Belly who danced in restaurants, given fictitious names but restaurants that did indeed exist and may have been venues for Sarita.
The book arrived at my doorstep in the hands of McWhirter, Vancouver's first Poet Laureate a month ago accompanied by a fine bottle of Spanish Tempranillo wine. Both were a gift for the use of my photograph in the back inside cover of this splendid collection of stories featuring (except possibly for two) wayward, assertive, modern, and a ribald, a word I have no memory of using since reading the Playboy Magazines of the 80s. The cover of The Gift of Women, an illustration by Olena Vizerskaya, harks back to the smooth, air-brushed record covers of Roxy Music with their languid women and in particular that one in Roxy Music Siren.
In those middle years of the 70s I opened doors for women and called some of them girls. Nobody browbeat me for doing so. And it was a bit later when one of the most beautiful women who ever danced (and then took it all off) would specialize in swinging her long hair so that it would hide her rear while tickling it. It was Samantha Rae and her song was Roxy Music's Avalon.
As I read The Gift of Women some of the stories reminded me of the erotic stories of Michele Slung's Slow Hand: Women Writing Erotica. Like in Slow Hand McWhirter's women always have the upper hand.
Some of the other stories, are ample proof that magic realism is not limited to Latin America or in Saramago’s Europe. Perhaps some of McWhirter’s flights into this realm ( Lily of the Belly features a family of raccoons and an extremely erotic bath in tub full of tomato juice) may have come via his friend, Mexican poet/novelist/environmentalist Homero Aridjis, whose many collections of poems have been translated by McWhirter. I must assert here that Afran the Kurd barber’s abilities to make bald post grow as he snips or an ancient aqueduct in Mexico in a land locked state that is able to flow into the sea are inventions that have no precedent for me.
And the humour of McWhirter, a story, Cup-W, featuring a French Canadian couple (she is stacked and so is he) and an Anglophone inside worker for CUPW in Hull written in the English spoken by a French Canadians reminded me of the poems of Cuban Nicolás Guillén which when read out loud sounded like the Cuban accent. And if that were not enough there is a ghost story set in a nun’s school for girls in Ireland.
Easily this local book has to be one of the liveliest,
funniest and best written books of 2014 which I have read this 2015. Like many
novels or short stories written by poets (Homero Aridjis is one example) I
found myself reading sentences and paragraphs over and over with McWhirter’s
Ulster accent and cadence in my head.
I had to call up McWhirter to tell him how much I had laughed reading his book. He answered thusly in an email:
Thank you for your phone call. Making someone laugh makes my work worthwhile. I’m in the line of James Stephens, Flan O’Brien and that strain of Irish storytelling. Particularly, Stephens in his autobiography, which is hilarious. When I read his ‘a horse, some ladies and a rhinoceros’ episode, I was smitten with the spitting image of my own imagination and hyperbole wielding wit, which I didn’t need so much as emulate in words as to slow similar words down and write them to a piece of paper. In short, the words came tripping out of me and I tripped over them.I’m glad the wine was palatable, but most of all the stories, and that they tickled you beyond the chuckle into a laugh.