Wednesday, February 3, 2016

'. . . a place to rest my weary head' *

We went to a concert on Sunday afternoon. I dragged myself out of my sick bed, put myself together and fixed myself up by increments: as long as I could stand at the bathroom mirror, I'd style a bit of hair, paint a bit of face until I had to rush back to sit on the bed long enough to regain my strength to carry on. When I was ready, off we went.

I was let off right at the door and went directly to my seat — no milling around in the lobby. My seat was on the aisle so I wasn't a problem for anyone. We managed to leave the theatre just as efficiently; we didn't see anyone we knew so there was no social component to our afternoon.

Was it worth it? Yes, it was. I wouldn't put myself through that for just anyone but it was a special concert. It was Symphony Nova Scotia with special guests, the Vienna Boys Choir. I figured I might not get too many chances to see the Vienna Boys Choir — at least until we go to Vienna — so I made the effort.

(I borrowed this photo from their visit to Manitoba last year — same conductor, and we recognize several of the boys in this photo.)

There's been a Vienna Boys Choir since 1498. Today, there are 100 active choristers who make up four touring choirs. When we were walking to our car post-performance, there were people behind us and one asked the other, "How do you get into the Vienna Boys Choir?" Of course, Dan and I — very quietly — said to each other, "practice, practice, practice."

In fact though, there are rigourous auditions, demanding academic standards, and yes, lots and lots of practice. The boys start training at the age of eight, start touring at 10, and must leave the choir when their voice breaks.

The Vienna Boys Choir was here to perform with Symphony Nova Scotia under the sponsorship of David and Margaret Fountain. The Fountains are very rich. This is their house:

Their money is inherited but they must be doing something right because they don't seem to be running short. (A couple of Christmases ago, they flew Tony Bennett in to entertain at their Christmas party but he was only for their invited guests. The Vienna Boys Choir was available to anyone who could buy a ticket — before they sold out, which they did very quickly.)

The Fountains are patrons of the Arts which I appreciate. I think the Arts should be generously supported and the Fountains have definitely come through with that. They have given millions of dollars to the Symphony, to Neptune Theatre, to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design — and to many other art-centred institutions in Halifax. They have things named after them too: the main-stage auditorium at Neptune Theatre, for example, is called "Fountain Hall." At least they have a nice name. I'm told they're nice people.

When I got home from the concert, I got back into my bed and was tucked in once again. As I lay there, feeling cold and shivery and very unwell, all I could think was how grateful I was to be in my warm — my heated! — bed, with extra blankets when I was feeling this way. I tried to imagine how I would feel if, instead of my bed, I was on the street. In a stairwell. Even in a shelter.

Because the homeless must feel ill a lot of the time. What must it be like, to feel the way I was feeling, and be lying on a grate on the sidewalk? I could hardly bear the thought.

"I wish David and Margaret would build a lovely place for street people to go, where they would find a soft warm bed with lots of blankets and someone to ask if there's anything they need," I said to Dan. Because he likes to humour me, he said, "And David could have wonderful music piped in and Margaret could hang beautiful art on the walls."

But I know that it's not David and Margaret's job to provide that refuge. It's our job, the people's job, working with our three levels of government to take care of each other, especially those who are most vulnerable. And a pleasant place with warm beds (and good music and fine art) is not enough — although it's something. What's needed is a comprehensive program to provide safe housing for everyone who needs it. It should be the most fundamental thing there is: a roof over one's head.

The former NDP government had launched a Housing Strategy which disappeared when the government was defeated in 2013. It's shameful that we can continue to walk down the street and step over the misery at our feet and pretend we don't see it.

I hope David and Margaret Fountain continue to give generously to the Arts and I hope they pay lots and lots of taxes. They can afford it and the rest of us should not complain about what we're chipping in too. There are many big issues that need taking care of but the next time you're sick and you're feeling cold and shivery and you snuggle deeper into your blankets, try to imagine yourself in a threadbare sleeping bag on the street. How can we live with that?

Just so you know: when I started writing about going to see the Vienna Boys Choir, I had no idea it was going to turn into a plea for affordable housing. Sometimes, that just happens.

* I would love to be able to offer an attribution for this line but it seems that many poets and song-writers and story-tellers have used it in one way or another so I'm going to consider it to be in the public domain.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, it seems our meeting is postponed again. Let me know what works best for you, and I do hope you are feeling better. Sounds like a nasty bug you've got. Did you send me a FB message? If so, I did not receive it. XX L