What’s Happening on Planet Zale

My last couple of posts have been about having cancer, and the side effects of the hormone therapy. Since this is my homepage on my browser, every time I fire up this computer I’ve been greeted with the headline: I’m Growing Tits Now. That’s getting to be a drag. Not that I’m likely to forget the fact.

While having cancer is always on my mind, like the background hum from the big bang that we hear as radio static, it’s far from the most important fact of my life. I shall make a list:

  1. Today I bought a new router bit. I’m putting a chair back together for Sadie, my former sister in law. It fell apart because somebody left it out in the weather. I’ve glued the seat back together, but don’t trust it to not crack at the glue joints. That seat was originally built in the factory from nice blocks of oak, with four parallel surfaces, which made gluing it easy. Now that it’s contoured, it’s difficult to clamp without having gaps at the joints. I bought the router bit to let me inlay a piece of hardwood on the underside. That should guarantee that it won’t split. I’ll spare you the details, but this turned out to be more complicated than I hoped, and it still isn’t completed.
  2. We had had another Stagefright Cafe open mic night at Wellington Hall this week. Ruth and I put that together once a month, recreating a 1965 coffee house. Every event has been different and great fun. We sell coffee at ten cents a cup. I bake banana bread and Ruth bakes chocolate chip cookies.
  3. We replaced the roof on my workshop shed this week. It was leaking slightly, and that kind of thing has to be stopped. So we bought corrugated steel sheets and covered it. Ruth did the work on the roof. I did the cutting and handing stuff up to her.
  4. I had a rehearsal with the new Vacant Lot Band. The name is reclaimed from my jug band in the sixties. Great rehearsal. I’m excited about getting a group going again.
  5. The rehearsal was followed by a drive to Qualicum Beach to play with the Oceanside Jammers, my fiddle group.
  6. I’m getting excited about the trip to Scotland. That happens this coming Thursday and will keep us away until December 26.

All in all, there’s a lot going on in my life. Each item on the list above deserves more details and pictures. Maybe later. For now, this gets rid of the headline that I didn’t like.

Now I’m Growing Tits?

The injection I had during my appointment with Dr. Atwell in Victoria is a drug intended to block my production of testosterone. The new drug, the apalutamide, is an AR antagonist, which means it blocks the action of testosterone. Between the two of them I’m getting to learn what a thirteen year old girl experiences. My breasts are swollen and quite painful.

At least I don’t have some horny teenaged guy trying to fondle them. On the other hand… no, let’s not go there.

The thought crossed my mind that since I can’t have an erection any more, not since the brachytherapy blasted the nerve that runs through my prostate, and now that I’m developing breasts, maybe I should go all the way and transition. Now that would be an adventure.

Unfortunately, I would be a six foot two monster of a woman. Far too ugly for any man to find sexually attractive. So I guess that’s just not an option. I have no interest in becoming a “two bagger”.
Shit. I can’t believe I thought that, much less wrote it. The culture I grew up in was so very misogynistic and that’s reflected in the jokes we told each other. So in case you lead a sheltered life, I’ll explain what a two bagger is. That’s a woman who is so ugly you need to bags to fuck her. One to put over her head, and one for you in case hers falls off.

I have mixed feelings about using profanity in these posts. But generally I’m giving myself permission. The five stages of dying, according to Kubler-Ross, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I’ve always felt that the first four of these are a complete waste of emotional energy. If this is my new reality, I might as well skip the drama and go straight to acceptance. But the first four stages come to the surface sometimes, and in unexpected ways.

Denial: I do find myself thinking, hey, I’m not sick. I don’t have any pain. Why did I listen to the doctors and allow them to lock up my mojo. This isn’t really happening.

Anger: Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck and shit and cunt and asshole too. I will fucking swear if I feel like it. Why the fuck not. This sucks and I have a perfect right to be pissed off about it.

Bargaining: Okay. I will accept treatment. I can put up with losing my masculinity, losing the ability to have an erection, developing secondary female sex characteristics. It’s a deal. I just want to live.

Depression: I’m going back to bed. Yeah, I know that these times of consciousness a not going to last. I know I should be enjoying every minute while I still can. But I just don’t care. Why should I. It’s game over anyway and I like sleeping.

Acceptance: I’m not alone in this. I have a wonderful community of supportive friends and a loving wife I can talk to and cuddle with. Every day this side of the grass is a good day. Look at how beautiful the world is, how intricate are the forms and variety of life. I’m just a part of a very natural cycle that we all share.

I said in my last post that there is no escape from this. I’m constantly reminded. Last time it was a message saying I have a bone scan scheduled on February 13. Yesterday it was a letter from the Medical Imaging Department of the hospital letting me know I have a “CT Chest, Abdomen, Pelvis w/contrast” scheduled for February 21. Looking at my calendar when I entered this latter date, I notice that I have another Lupron injection due on February 28. Nope. Can’t forget for a minute that I have cancer.

But I’m not dying. Not yet. Not for years and years, they tell me.

Fuck.


My Life is About Having Cancer Now

Okay, maybe not JUST about having cancer. I do have my fiddle practice and piano practice and house renovations and getting ready for the December Stagefright Cafe open mic night that happens this Monday and the fiddle workshop I went to on Wednesday and getting ready for my trip to Scotland and… when I think about it I do have a very full life. But there’s always something. Always a reminder.

Today it was the Fedex guy at my door with an unexpected gift from the cancer society, My Treatment Journal. It’s a calendar with prompts about appointments and medicine and symptom notes. It includes stickers to put on the pages for appointments and lab tests. They make me feel like a kindergarten kid again.

The Fedex guy was at the door when I arrived, having just picked Ruth up at VIU (Bancouver Island University where she teaches) and dropped her off at FUFON (First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaim where she’s chairman of the board of directors) for a board meeting. I was desperate to get into the house and have a pee, so I grabbed the envelope and unlocked the door, asking if he needed a signature. He didn’t. But I didn’t make it into the house in time and peed my pants a bit before I could get to the toilet. This is the first time this has happened, but it’s been a close call several times. The prostate treatment has caused me to urinate frequently, and when the urge to pee comes on, I have a very short time to get to a toilet. I think this means I better check into Depends, or a generic adult diaper. Fuck. There’s no dignity to this situation.

I had a meeting on Wednesday with Dr. Katherine King at the palliative care ward at the hospital. She asked me all kinds of questions about my condition. I talked a lot. The meeting included Katrina, a nurse, and a young medical student from Taiwan whose name I didn’t catch. I told them about the coming trip to Scotland, and why it is happening. Katrina said she’s been there for a highland dance competition.

Dr. Atwell in Victoria has referred me to Dr. Marback here in Nanaimo. My new drugs have arrived, and I’m to take four rather large tablets of Erleada (apalutamide) at the same time every day. So they go into my pill organizer with the daily compartments to help me keep track of whether I’ve taken my meds or not.

The Erleada comes from Bioscript Pharmacy on the mainland, where my contact person is Pat Quon, R.Ph. Apparently a one month supply costs close to four thousand dollars, but the manufacturer is providing them at no cost “for compassionate reasons”. I’m grateful. Because the drug is so expensive, they will only send over a one month supply, so I’ve given Mr. Quon a heads up that I’ll be in Scotland when I’m due for a fresh batch.

Speaking of being in Scotland, I also got a notice that I have an appointment with Dr. Marback again on December 16. That obviously is not going to happen since I’ll be in Scotland until the 26th. I’ve also got a requisition for another blood test that’s supposed to happen a week before that appointment, and that’s also not going to happen.

Fuck this is boring. I hope nobody is actually reading this.

Oh yes, I also got a notice that I’m scheduled for a bone scan at the department of nuclear medicine on February 13. At least that one should be possible. This is the first time I’ve felt like there’s a significant wait for any test, but I suppose they don’t expect my condition to be changing rapidly, and even if it is there’s little they can do about it. So a three month wait for a bone scan is not unreasonable.

Oh, the good news. After the resumption of hormone therapy following the PET scan results, my PSA level has dropped from 23 down to 9. That’s quite an improvement.

Update on Cancer and Treatment

Aberaterone acetate. Looks simple enough, eh

Things are happening, though a little slowly.* I have been seeing Dr. Atwell at the Victoria Cancer Center. But this week I got a call from a nice lady named Susan who told me that Dr. Atwell has referred me to another oncologist in Nanaimo, Dr. Randy Marback. So next Monday I’ll show up at Life Labs at 8:30 in the morning to give another blood sample and on Wednesday at 2:10 in the afternoon I’ll report to the Ambulatory Care entrance of the Nanaimo General Hospital for an appointment with the man himself.

Apparently I’m to be given a new drug, aberaterone acetate, delivered straight from the manufacturer. Dr. Atwell tells me that it would cost $3,000/month but because it hasn’t been officially released yet in Canaada the company will provide it for free. Whew.

It’s good that I will have an oncologist to talk to locally. I have questions. Going over my notes from my meeting with Dr. Atwell I see that he gives me 2 to 3 years (????) with no treatment and 5 to 7 years with treatment. Right now the cancer is turning me into a hypochondriac. Every ache and pain which is most likely just a result of old age now sets off alarms. Is this how it starts? Is this a first symptom. Maybe I can get some answers.

*Okay, not all that slowly. I saw Dr. Atwell on October 25 and I will see Dr. Marback on November 20. I think waiting less than a month to see a cancer specialist is not terrible. Let it be known that I’m again grateful for the Canadian health care system.

The PET scan and the Oncologist Meeting

Now here’s something you never want to see on a PET scan.

This is a still from my PET scan looking at a cross section across my pelvis.

That bright yellow dot just to the right of the center is cancer. It’s in the bone of my pelvis, which is not a place I want to see it.

Ruth and I had a long conversation with Dr. Atwell, my new oncologist to whom I was referred by Dr. Pai, the radiologist. I wanted to know what comes next. What symptoms should I expect. When should I start to see them. And most of all, how long before this kills me.

Dr. Atwell was very comforting. He said he expects me to live for several years, with treatment. He said I will probably die of something else. He said he’s going to put me on a new drug that would normally cost $3000/month but because of some ongoing review process I will get it for free.

“I have no interest in spending the last years of my life being miserably sick,” I told him.

“I have no interest in making you miserably sick,” he replied.

He said I will probably have a better quality of life with treatment than without. So for now, I’m accepting treatment.

After Dr. Atwell finished talking to me, he left and a nurse came in to enroll me in a study that involves giving samples of blood so they can do a genetic analysis. She gave me a kit with three test tubes in it and told me to take it to the lab before my treatment starts.

Then a nurse came in to stick a needle in my buttocks to inject a drug that will shut down my testosterone. The needle didn’t hurt, but it left me with a bruised feeling right cheek.


My own Me Too

Lately I’ve been posting obituaries and eulogies for people I’ve worked with, people I’ve known, friends in the film business who have died. All the time, thinking my turn is coming up

And now it’s here. I had a PET scan yesterday because my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) level is high and has been climbing. It was supposed to drop after my prostate cancer treatment – hormone therapy, radiation therapy, and brachytherapy (the implanting of radioactive seeds in my prostate) – and it hasn’t. It’s been going up, which meant that the prostate cancer is active someplace. Hence the PET scan.

The PET scan involves the injection of a radioactive soup that will only stick to prostate cancer cells. That’s amazing. Unfortunately it revealed a whole bunch of cancer cells in my lymph nodes running from my groin up into my chest area. Worse, it revealed cancer in the bones of my hips.

I got the call from my oncologist this afternoon. He tried to put a positive spin on things, emphasizing the improvements to treatment that have been made recently. But I know what this really means.

The party is over. I am dying.

Damn, eh. Just when the world is getting really interesting.

That was written on Friday, September 27, 2019. I didn’t post it then because I wasn’t sure I was going to go public. But there’s been a lot of processing since then, a lot of hugging my wife and seeing friends break down in tears, and talking about what comes next. It’s now Wednesday, October 2. I have decided to let it all hang out. Why not. This is a process not everybody will get to go through. For many people, death will come as a big surprise – an accident, an embolism, a suddenly exploding heart. They will barely have time to think about it before they stop thinking about anything.

I have the privilege of contemplating my situation. This is not something I thought I would want to do. I liked what Woody Allen said about dying: “I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” But now that I’m into this, I’m finding it interesting, almost fun. It’s so intense. The emotions are so vivid, both in myself and in my friends. So I’m going to blog this. It doesn’t really matter to me whether anybody reads it. But if this is the last experience I’m going to have, blogging it will make me think about it. Hopefully honestly. Realistically. Maybe even bravely.

On Saturday I contacted my sisters to let them know what’s happening. They are so solid. They love me, and are very sad to hear the news. But they also understand and accept that this happens to everybody and will happen to them. As my older sister put it, “When the party is over, I don’t want to hang around.” So nobody is arguing with my decision to ask for Medical Aid in Dying.

I also started contacting old friends and former lovers. Here’s my letter to Bonni:
“Hi Bonni:
I wrote to you back in July but have had no response.  I’m starting to feel like a stalker.  I hope everything is okay with you.
I mentioned in my last message that my PSA level (Prostate Specific Antigen) remained high and rising after my prostate cancer treatment.  Not a good sign.  Well, it gets worse.
On Thursday last week I went to Vancouver for a PET scan.  That involves being injected with radioactive soup that will bind only to prostate cancer cells, and the being slid into a big metal donut with flashing lights.  Yesterday I got a call from my oncologist.  Bad news.  My cancer has metastasized into my lymph glands from my pelvis all the way up into my chest.  That might have been treatable, but it has also gone into the bones of my pelvis.  That means I’m a gonner.  Terminal.
Right now I feel fine.  I’d never know I was dying if it weren’t for the doctors telling me about it.  I may get a couple of good years before things get bad, and then they will get really bad.  I don’t think I will hang around to see how bad things can get.
So, Bonni.  Sorry to be laying this on you, but I thought you would want to know. If you have anything you want to say to me, now would be a good time.
Please write and tell me how things are in your life.
Love
Big David AKA Zale

I was relieved to get this immediate response:

” My Dearest Big David
I am so sad to hear this ‘report’.I can really only ‘imagine’ how you are ‘feeling’.
Actuarially speaking, I know I’m at that point in lifeWhere it really is Any Day NowNot just the kind of Carlos Casteneda thing with Death on your shoulder watching all the time.
I am sorry I haven’t responded since your July email.Did I at least get right back to you to say ‘later’?I usually do before I put it on my ‘later’ list.  lol
But Life has been  very full lately.Epiphanies, Lessons Learned, Red Flags, Principles and Priorities etc. etc.I am very grateful for the opportunities I’m having these days to at last be able to face some of these and make sense of them.
This is one of those ‘short’ contacts with the promise to get back to you.But this promise is ‘sooner rather than later’.I have much I want to say and share with you.
Right now, I’m just getting food ready for Lloyd’s visit this afternoon,And at the same time, dinner for my Japanese student later in the evening!Yes Busy.   But it’s a good busy.   Focussed and Calm I would say…:)
Till later,Take careMuch Love to you
Bonni

Since then I’ve had several exchanges with Bonni. My imminent departure has certainly stimulated our correspondence. I won’t post all of those message. Suffice it to say that it’s really good to get our feeling for each out out in the open. Bonni and I were lovers for some years when I was working in Toronto while living in Gibsons. I remember being serenely contented, being with Bonni and her daughter, who became like another daughter for me. That went away when we both realized there was no future in the relationship. I think Bonni started to resent the fact that I was committed to my wife and children back home. She and her daughter would never be my primary relationship. So things stopped being fun and we stopped sleeping together. But I will always love her, and have tried to keep in touch.

Dear Zale and Ruth,

   We just learned of your serious cancer diagnosis Zale and were shocked and saddened that this has been handed to you.  Words kind of fail us at this point.  I cannot believe that a man larger than Life and so generous with his Life and heart with everyone he connects with has to endure such a serious diagnosis.  I am so very sorry.

   Hugh and I both have been sending little bursts of Love and care to you both ever since we got the news.  We have you both in our hearts big time.

    I hope there is some treatment that can bring you some relief Zale and if there is anything we can do for you both, please let us know.

     We are thinking of you and hope that our caring and commitment to support you both through whatever this journey involves, helps a little to ease stepping into such vulnerable, uncharted territory.

    Our Love and warm hugs to you both,

            Anne and Hugh

Dear Anne and Hugh

Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts.

Ruth and I have been on what we call our “crying tour” since getting the diagnosis.  It’s been hard watching the sadness overwhelm our friends, and I’m beginning to feel like a drama queen because this all feels unreal.  I have no symptoms at the moment and feel quite fine.  Meanwhile, everybody has their own problems they are dealing with, and most don’t need anything additional from me.

For example, Moira Carlson, the wife of my old friend Barry Carlson, got right back to me when she got my email.  But she had returned the day before from the celebration of life for her older sister, a woman who was very health conscious, kept her weight down, ate carefully, and died of a massive heart attack.  She was only two years older than Moira.  So Moira gets home from that to get my news.  Not something she needed.

Here’s Moira’s website.  You should sign up for her sketch a day.  They are amazing.  :  http://www.moiracarlson.com/

On Sunday we went to see our friends Rod and Chao.  They are two of the greatest people I know, just amazing.  They have an amazing family too.  Their daughter, Akela, was recently in Miami for a Judo competition.  She then flew to Beijing for a classical voice competition.  She’s now in Edinburgh studying medicine. Their younger daughter, Kipling, has been my fiddle buddy since she was seven.  She’s now twelve or thirteen, and a very accomplished violinist, though she prefers playing classical and we don’t get to fiddle together very often.

I gave my news to Kipling’s mom and dad,  Chao and Rod. They both looked devastated.  Rod immediately rushed out of the room and came back with a three hundred dollar bottle of scotch, which he cracked the seal on and poured me a shot, saying I should take the bottle home with me.  I declined.  I will visit them and drink it with him, because it really is exceptional scotch.  Then Kipling, who had just awakened, came into the kitchen.  When she saw the looks on her parents faces she knew something was going on, and she wanted to know.  So I told her.

Up to this point, I’ve never been really sure that Kipling liked me.  She’s a very reserved young lady, and I always felt I was pressuring her to play the fiddle with me.  But when she got my news she just broke down.  She came to me and hugged me, sobbing.  When she calmed down, we got out our fiddles and played “Calum’s Road” and “The Ookpik Waltz” together.  She is just amazing.  She’s the only person I’ve ever met who can learn a tune faster than I  can.

Rod asked me if I wanted to go to Scotland with him.  Of course I’d love to do that, but I’m reluctant to have him spend the money to take me, and I certainly can’t afford the trip.  But then I realized that I want to give Kipling my violin.  It’s a very special instrument, and was quite expensive. I told this to Rod and Chao and they said they want to buy it from me.  I said it’s not for sale, but it makes me feel okay about accepting some scotch I could never afford, and a trip to Scotland. I want to play “Calum’s Road” on Calum’s Road.

Here’s the violin story if you haven’t heard it before.  http://www.zaledalen.com/zaledalen/?p=1640

Here’s the story of Calum’s road:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calum_MacLeod_(of_Raasay)

Chao told me that Kipling ran in the Terry Fox Run on Monday.  Here’s what she wore on her shirt:  I’m running for Zale”


Yesterday I picked up a prescription from the cancer pharmacy. My oncologist wants me back on testosterone blockers. I hate that, because the side effects are subtle but nasty. But right now I have no symptoms, and I’d like to keep it that way.

I’m expecting a call from my oncologist and I’m tired of trying to organize my thoughts. If you have anything you want to say to me, now would be a good time. Assuming the comments still work.

Four Stories – The Italian Violin, Barry, Naked People and vandalism, and Cancer

Things seem to be happening in my life that are extremes.  First the good stories.

Zale with Il Canone

              Zale with Il Canone

Story #1: Il Cannone, my Italian Violin

Let the Good Times Roll
Back in 1992, I fell in love with a pedigree violin, Il Cannone, made by Maurizio Tadioli, an award winning violin maker who learned the art from his grandfather, Carlo Pizzamiglio.  Perhaps it was the names that grabbed me, or the story Maurizio had posted about colouring the violin “with the propolis of the bees of my father”, but mostly it was the amazing tone, especially on the D string.  I was a working freelance film director back then, and making good money.  So I paid $14,000 U.S. dollars and Il Cannone and I became inseparable.

Of course the first thing I did was badly scar my new violin.  The violin shop sold it to me in a case with a catch on the lock that stood up like a knife blade.  I told myself that I would have to be careful not to scratch my new violin on that catch.  What I should have done was reject that case and demand a different one, because within days of taking the violin to my hotel I had music in the lid and when I lifted the violin, the case flipped and that catch ripped a large, ugly gouge in the back of the instrument.  I told myself that it was like buying a new car.  Sooner or later it would get a dent.  Might as well get that over with.  But as soon as I got home I took an angle grinder and cut that catch flush with the case rim., relying on the zipper and Velcro to keep the case closed.

Hitting the Bottom
Come the new century, my life did a crash and burn.  My first marriage was over.  My kids were adults and didn’t need me anymore.  I went bankrupt.  Back in the late seventies and early eighties, I had been the enfant terrible of Canadian film making, the up and coming director to watch.  But I wasn’t getting any support for my feature ideas and I had a family to support.  So I went into directing television and, after thirty some years of that, I was no longer the hot young kid.  I was the old television hack.  My regular clients aged out of the business or lost their shows or got in trouble with the IRS.  The phone stopped ringing.  I was trying to be a film maker in Nanaimo, which is a bit like trying to be lumberjack in the Sahara Desert. I thought about moving to Los Angeles, or even Toronto or Vancouver, and going to parties and schmoozing.  I was pretty sure that somebody would give me a job directing television again.  But I’d been there and done that.  I just couldn’t face doing it again. So I ran away to become a teacher in China.  Of course Il Cannone, my violin, went with me.

And Bouncing
After my first  year in China things were looking up.  I had already found the wonderful woman who is now my wife, ironically a Canadian from Winnipeg who taught me a song about Departure Bay in Nanaimo.  We were preparing to move to a university in Weihai.  I got established in my new apartment. Then I went to the airport to go back to Canada for the summer.

Music Up: Minor key.  Impending disaster.
On a very hot summer day in Weihai  I put my luggage in the trunk of a cab and my Il Cannone on the window ledge above the back seat, where it would be safe.  At the airport I paid the cabby, declined a receipt, and grabbed my suitcases from the trunk.  Ten steps through the entrance doors I remembered my violin.  Dropping the suitcases I whirled around and ran back out, just in time to see the taxi in the distance driving away.  I didn’t even have a receipt for the fare.  No idea which cab I had taken.

As soon as I got off the plane in Canada, I send an urgent email to a Chinese friend in Weihai begging for help. Next day I got an email back.  She had called the radio station and put out the word.  Could she offer a reward?
“Of course.  Offer two hundred yuan ( probalby as much as a cabby would make in a week). Whatever it takes to get my violin back.”
The next day she emailed exciting news.  The cab driver had finally noticed the violin and returned it.  He refused to accept the reward.  My relief was intense. And my gratitude.

Plot Turn
The relief turned to horror when I returned to Weihai at the end of the summer.  Weihai has heat like a pizza oven in the summer.  My violin had been riding on that back window ledge in the intense  heat  for two days.  When I opened the case and pulled back the plush cover, it made a sound like ripping Velcro. The finish had melted into the plush fabric of the case.  The finger board had melted off the neck.  My beloved violin had fallen apart.  It was ruined.

The following summer I had the violin put back together by a Canadian technician. That’s when I learned that the nut was missing. Also, it had developed a wolf note on the G string and the finish was a disaster.  I contacted Maurizio to say that I wanted to refinish the instrument and ask for advice on the kind of varnish to use. Here’s his reply:

Hello and thanks for your message.
I’m very afraid to what’s happened to my/your violin…. Please, don’t make any work and don’t give the violin to any maker to retouch or above all to revarnish!!! This is a special work that has to be done by the maker of the instrument. I’m sure that we can find the way to return the violin to me to fix the work. Don’t worry about the cost. I can make something special because I’ll be happy if my violin will return as before.
Let me know.
All the best,
Maurizio

I should have expected this. Maurizio is an artist making pedigree instruments. But sending it back to him turned out to be far from easy. A pedigree violin is not something you can just drop into the mail. It should be treated like a vulnerable child. Somebody would have to bring the violin to him. So Il Cannone  hung on my wall as a decoration while I waited for an opportunity to get it to Italy. I thought about Il Cannone every time I looked at my wall, but I played a Chinese violin.

Act Three – Something Must be Done

Moon cake festivals melded into tomb sweeping festivals. Seven years slipped away. Finally, preparing to leave China for good, I simply had to do something. I contacted Maurizio again and asked him for instructions. Here’s his reply:

Thank you so much to be back with the update of the violin.
In October I’ll be in Shanghai.
Keep in touch.
All the best,
Maurizio

October?  Oh no..  We were leaving China at the end of June with no plans to return.  Zenma ban, zenma ban. (what to do? What to do?) This turned out to be simple, though stressful. I left Il Cannone with another trusted Chinese friend; she got it to Maurizio when he arrived in Shanghai; and my violin went home to Italy.Maurizio emailed me to say that the wolf note was caused by the bass bar melting loose inside the violin.  As well as refinishing it, he would have to take it apart and basically rebuild it from  back to front.  He would have to make a plaster mold and reshape the top using bags of hot sand to weigh it down. That was the bad news. The good news was he could make it like new again.

And Now the Happy Ending
Now, almost three years after getting the violin back to its maker, and more than a decade after the disaster in Weihai, the repair and refinishing is done.  I have returned from Italy with my violin. My big worry was that a repaired violin might not sound as good as I would want, or that for some other reason I would not like it.  But Il Cannonet looks beautiful and sounds better than ever.  Maurizio even managed to hide the scar from that first misadventure with the case.  I am so happy to have it back. It’s about time.

Maurizio Tadioli in his worshop in Cremona

Maurizio Tadioli in his workshop in Cremona

 

Maurizio with Il canone

Maurizio with Il Canone restored to like new.

Story #2 Old Friends are the Best Friends

Here’s the reason I could do the trip to Italy without too much financial pain.  This kind of thing doesn’t happen in real life.  Except it does and did.

Back in the late sixties I was a starving university student.  Those were lean times.  I was playing in a jug band called The Vacant Lot, and a fifteen dollar gig meant I could eat for a week.  One of the other key members of the group was Barry Carlson, a charismatic fellow hippie and great guitar player.  We were good buddies.

After I left university, I lost touch with Barry for about forty-five years.  But thanks to social media we reconnected recently and I learned that he had moved to Victoria, a city not far from Nanaimo where I now live.  So we visited him there, and he visited our home here.  At the end of his most recent visit, just before he hit the road back to Victoria, Barry announced that we had one more bit of business to take care of.

“We do? That sounds ominous…”

“Yes.  About forty-five years ago you worked in the fishing industry for a summer.”

“Yes?”

“You made a bit of money, and you lent me four hundred dollars.”

“I did?  Completely forgotten that.  Nope.   No memory of that at all.”

“Well, I said I’d get it back to you so here it is.”

He handed me an envelope.  A thick envelope.

“That’s with compound interest for forty years.  Four thousand dollars. I looked it up.”

Inside the envelope were 40 crisp new hundred dollar bills.

My wife, who witnessed this event, says she has never seen me quite so blown away.  I was stunned.  And this couldn’t have happened at a better time.  I’d launched a GoFundME campaign to try to finance the recovery of my violin (www.gofundme.com/ilcannone), and many people had contributed.  But it was still several thousand dollars short of what I figured I needed.  Barry’s long memory, and generosity, allowed me to make the trip without going back into debt.

I wrote to Barry and told him that I appreciated the money, but I would have been happy just to get the four hundred back.  The four thousand was… okay, I’m still trying to get my head around it.

“I was happy to close the circle.” Barry wrote back.

Story #3 Naked People and Egregious Art Vandalism

When I was about six years old I was very interested in naked people.  I’m told that many children share this interest.  But in those days, the mid fifties of the last century, porn was not as close as your smart phone. Pictures of naked people were only available in National Geographic Magazine, which seemed to include bare breasted African natives in every issue, and in art.  My mother had a big coffee table book, put out by Life Magazine, entitled “Great Art of the World”.  It included details of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  And in those pictures I could see at least two naked people, Adam and Eve on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  I poured over those pictures.

If you imagine the Sistine Chapel through the eyes of a child, it’s like a horror movie.  You have the mother holding her infant above the rising flood waters, the boatman on the river Styx with his glowing red eyes, and of course Adam and Eve being driven from the garden of Eden.  Strong stuff.  I was fascinated.

The first time I went to Rome, in the mid seventies, I had the good fortune to meet a beautiful art historian.  We had a love affair worthy of a Hollywood movie.  I told her of my fascination with the Sistine Chapel.  Let’s go see it.  But she had seen it many times and wasn’t interested in seeing it again.  She advised me to get to the ticket office early, and don’t spend time in the Vatican museum, but march the kilometers to the chapel without looking left or right, else I would find myself crowded in with other tourists.  So that’s what I did.  I got to the chapel long before anybody else.  I got to lie down on the floor and spend an hour, undisturbed, soaking up the images of that famous ceiling.

After I had my fill of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, I spent a couple of hours wandering the museum hallway.  I was struck by the fact that all of the male statues, hundreds of them, were all missing their penises.  Sometimes an obviously mass produced fig leaf was cemented in place of the missing member, but as often there was nothing left of the genitals but scarred marble.  Who could have done this?  This is the worst art vandalism I can imagine.  What kind of kinky penis fetish could have caused this?

Naturally I asked my art historian friend.  She told me that during the Reformation, when Luther nailed his criticisms to the church door, the pope and his buddies were being accused, rightfully, of decadent and immoral behavior, wild parties, orgies, boyfriends and girlfriends.  In response to this criticism, the pope of the day launched the Counter Reformation.  And as part of the Counter Reformation, needing a visible symbol of his reform, he ordered all of the penises to be knocked off the statues.

Now think about this.  Somebody was assigned to this task.  Somebody went from statue to statue with a mallet and chisel.  There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of statues.  There must have been a wheelbarrow or two full of marble penises.  Where did they go?  were they burned to make cement, the actual fate of the glory of Rome, or are they buried in a landfill someplace in Vatican City.  I can’t help imagining an Indiana Jones parody – “Raiders of the Lost Dicks”.  The bull-whip would fit in nicely.

What brought this all back to my mind was, of course, my trip to Cremona to retrieve my violin.  I accomplished that task within two days of my arrival, which left five days at loose ends.  I have wanted to revisit the Sistine Chapel ever since I hear that it was being cleaned.  I was reluctant to put out the effort or spend the money, but I hopped the fast train to Rome, found another ostello, and tried to repeat my memorable visit.

This time was quite different.  As before, I arrived well before the opening time at the ticket office.  But by eight in the morning there were already thousands of tourists following the tour guide flags, lining up, waiting to get through the entrance doors. 

Lineup at the Vatican Museum

I paid a premium to allow me to jump the queues, and tried to push my way through the crowds in the hallways preceding the chapel.  But by the time I got there, the space was shoulder to shoulder.  No lying down on the floor this time.  Every few minutes a voice with an strong Italian accent would demand silence and remind everybody that no photos or videos are allowed. Somehow he did not add to the sanctity of the place.

Restored Sistine Chapel cieling.

You can see a tiny square of the un-restored ceiling at the top right.

Still, it was worth it.  Unbelievable colours, especially the flesh tones.  Gorgeous.  They left a tiny square in the top corner uncleaned, just so we can see the difference.  And the difference is beyond dramatic.  What I saw on my first visit was like looking at the ceiling through dirty sunglasses in dim light.

Of course I am no longer looking at those stories through the eyes of a seven year old.  Now they seem horrible, and stupid beyond belief.  Especially the whole ark thing.  It has the credibility of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”.  So strange that there are people who believe it is an actual historical event that really happened.  Strange world we live in.

Story #4 And Now for the Bad News

The bad news was cancer.  I was diagnosed about a week before my trip to Italy.  First came the routine medical and blood tests.  My doctor said my PSA level was a bit high at seven.  He ordered me to wait a month and get another test.  That one came in at nine.  So my doctor ordered a biopsy.  Just the biopsy, the urologist called for another PSA test.  That one came in at fifteen.  So things have been developing fast.

The biopsy came in with a Gleeson rating of seven to nine, which means high risk cancer.  Time to meet a urologist.  He explained my options, none of which are very attractive.  But before we can start any treatment he called for a bone scan and a CT scan. The bone scan will let them know whether it has metastasized into my bones.  The CT scan will let them know if it’s in any other organs.

They injected me with radioactive marker and ran the bone scan.  Then I went home and Googled what it might mean.  Yikes.  If it’s in my bones, the one year survival rate is 47% and the five year survival rate is less than 1%.  Ima gonna die.  I spent a tense weekend trying to climb through the Kubler-Ross stages of dying, hoping to skip denial, anger and bargaining and jump straight to acceptance.  Then the results came back.  The bone scan is clear.  Not yet time to give away all my cherished possessions.

Then came the CT scan, followed by a visit to an oncologist in Victoria.  Again a sigh of relief.  The CT scan is also clear.  So death is not imminent.  What I have instead is discomfort and inconvenience.  I can live with that.

My oncologist, Dr. Pai, is recommending a triple treatment – hormone therapy, focused radiation, and implanted radioactive seeds. With all three at once, the chance of curing the cancer completely is very high, someplace up in the nineties as a percent.

This doesn’t mean it’s going to be fun, or a cake walk.  I’ve started taking pills to counteract my testosterone.  Next week I’ll get an injection to shut my testosterone down completely.  I’m not quite sure what to expect of this, but suspect that it means the end of having a sex drive, which means the end of sex.  Damn.  I’ve always loved sex.  There is a good probability that my sex drive can come back after treatment, but that’s a long time in the future if ever.

In three or four months I’ll need to make my way to Victoria for radiation treatment five days a week for seven or more weeks.  That’s an hour and forty minutes from my home.  So although the treatment only takes fifteen minutes, the inconvenience will be extreme.

And with all this, I don’t even get to hold a pity party in expectation of dying.  I do get to stay with Barry and his amazing wife, Moira, during my treatment.