A Michael Ondaatje Anecdote:
I'm back home after seeing Michael Ondaatje and what can I say? I had a blast! Before going to supper at "Bonaparte's" my mother and I took a little walk near the restaurant since we were a little early.
While casually strolling and looking at other restaurant menu's I noticed a man behind us, looking at the restaurants as well. At first I paid little attention to him. It was only after doing a double-take that I noticed that the man looked remarkably like Michael Ondaatje. I still wasn't quite sure it was him because the only time I've seen a photograph of him was from the posters advertising the show - and even then I didn't quite know what he looked like.
So I kept sneaking glances at him. He had white, unruly hair on his head that looked like it was in a perpetual wind storm. He had a stocky build and was wearing a light brown checkered suit jacket. He had a bold white beard and what I noticed most of all were his piercing blue eyes.
We made eye contact a few times, an awkward smile here and a slight nod of the head there. I just couldn't tell whether it was him or not. He was with a woman and they kept walking in and out of restaurants and also stopping every once and a while to gaze into an art gallery window. "Must be a picky eater." I thought. Eventually we lost him after going into our restaurant and soon I forgot about the man who looked remarkably like Michael Ondaatje.
Fast-forward to the show and honestly, I didn't care too much for the modern dancing that preceded as well as proceeded the readings. It's not that they were bad - I just didn't really get into them. The show started with two dancers doing an interpretation of Ondaatje's story The Skin of the Lion. Unfortunately, I've never read the book so I was a little lost. The choreography was beautiful though just a little too abstract for my tastes. They even had slabs of real ice on stage. I don't know their significance but I'm sure they had one. I think.
Sitting a few rows away from us was the man who "looked" like Ondaatje again. This time I had a picture of him on my program and lo-and-behold it was him. Hair a little messier, his face looking a little older but it was definitely him. After the intermission Michael Ondaatje came out and proceeded to thrill the crowd with his haunting voice.
Now there are some writers who speak like writers and look like writers. There are also other writers (like George Elliot Clarke who apparently sounds like Steve Urkel) who have no business reading in public. Sure it reads well on paper but the beauty and mystery of their words become lost when they open their mouths. Michael Ondaatje is NOT one of them.
He is just what I envisioned him to be like (maybe even better) and that is a good thing. He had such a calm aura to him and his low, rumbling voice was perfect for his selection of readings. He read excerpts from: Handwriting, Anil's Ghost, In the Skin of a Lion, Running in the family, and a hilarious bilingual reading of Elimination Dance.
When he read, he had the audience in the palms of his hands. They howled at the funny parts, fell silent during the moving ones, and clapped and hollered when he was finished. I was in complete awe of this man.
After the show we had an opportunity to buy some of Mr. Ondaatje's books and also get the books signed by him. While I waited in line to pick up copies of Running in the Family and Elimination Dance, my mother got him to autograph Maryn's copy of Coming Through Slaughter. After I got my books I went up to him and as he was signing his name in my copy of Running in the Family, he gave me a funny look. Taking a chance I said "I saw you earlier this evening when you were looking at restaurants." He smiled and replied "Yes I know. That's where I recognized you from." Before I moved on I asked him "What is your advice for a young aspiring writer?" He paused for a moment and laughed as he said. "Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite."
I turned to leave when my mother stopped me and said "You didn't get him to sign the other book." I looked in my hands and my mother was right. In my state of awe, I forgot that I had another book for him to sign. Embarrassed to be going up twice I almost didn't go. But luckily I changed my mind and went again. I got back into the line and when he saw me again I blurted out "I forgot to give you this other book to sign." Then he casually said "Hey, no problem." He asked me my name, I told him and he wrote:
I was smiling from ear to ear the whole ride home.