Last week I had lunch with Michael Ondaatje.
Lunch in a warm, comfortable pub in Toronto’s Cabbagetown. House On Parliament is the kind of place where old friends linger and talk into the quiet after-noon. Across from our table tucked into a corner sat two elegant white-haired gentlemen. One looked very familiar. “That’s Michael Ondaatje”, said my dining companion. My heart skipped a beat. Sitting just a few feet away from me was a writer who had written books so extraordinary, so evocative their imagery has become part of me.
“She had always wanted words, she loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.” -Michael Ondaatje, THE ENGLISH PATIENT.
Set in Tuscany THE ENGLISH PATIENT is the tale of a passionate love affair during the brutal conflict of the Second World War. It was awarded The Booker Prize. The movie received nine Academy Awards.
Lankan-born Canadian Michael Ondaatje is a poet, novelist, filmmaker, editor. He is five times winner of the Governor General’s Award, The Giller Prize, The Booker Prize, the Prix Médicis étranger. He is an office of the Order of Canada, making him one of Canada’s most celebrated living author.
“He came to this country like a torch on fire and swallowed air as he walked forward and he gave out light.” -Michael Ondaatje, IN THE SKIN OF A LION.
In l989 I was riding the ferry to Salt Spring Island. Desperate for something to read I searched the book store shelves for a novel to fill the hours of travel. IN THE SKIN OF A LION – the title intrigued me. A love story and a mystery set in the turbulent 20’s and 30’s in Toronto. I began to read and left behind the boat passengers, the flapping sea birds. I was IN THE SKIN OF A LION.
I passed by his table as we left the pub. I stopped and quietly said “Thank You”. He smiled and replied “Your welcome”.
On my bookshelves a few of the novels by Michael Ondaatje – The Cat’s table, In the Skin of a Lion, Anil’s Ghost, Divisadero, Running in the Family, The Collected works of Billy the Kid, Coming Through the Slaughter. And …
“If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.
Your breasts and shoulders would reek.
You could never walk through the market
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind
would stumble certain of whom
though you may bathe
under rain gutters, monsoons.”
– Michael Ondaatje THE CINNAMON PEELER