Monday, December 1, 2008

They Never Got A Giller

They Never Got A Giller

Last week I was sipping water at the Gillers, trying not to look down Camilla Gibb’s dress. She was wearing something with something else underneath, and at one point she turned around and there was a refrigerator magnet stuck to the fabric just beneath her left breast. I picked it off, and she turned around, chuckling. “Underwire bra?” I said.

“No; American quarters.”

She’s a beautiful woman, and I’ve always enjoyed her writing. Now a Giller staple, her role is to make sure that everyone finds their seat. She also took Alice Munro’s drink order, and was a Copenhagen butter cookie richer for her effort.

I can joke about her, because Camilla and I are great friends. I know that’s strange: you wouldn’t assume that Camilla and a Jewish, twenty-something academic would be friends. But she really likes garlic. We met at a Loblaw’s. She was trying to return a complete set of the New Canadian Library, and I had to tell her, politely, that the express lane was for ten or fewer items only.

Camilla’s skin is flawless, and, with the exception of Joseph Boyden, she has the nicest hair of any Canadian writer. She told me her secret: Hellman’s. “Mayonnaise?” “No, Lillian. I just comb it out every night and leave it on a Polystyrene head.”

But I love the Gillers; I love the atmosphere, the excitement, and the concentration of all that talent. And the fashion. Sears must’ve done well this month. I know they don’t sell evening dresses, but it’s amazing what Margaret Atwood can do with some time and Djanet Sears’s old head scarves.

Looking around at all those terrific artists—Neil Smith, David Chariandy, Marina Endicott—I found myself pointing out winners. A GG winner over here, a Commonwealth winner over there, a W.O. Mitchell winner counting rosary beads under there. And I thought, “You know what, David—a lot of great writers never got a Giller.”

Robert Kroetsch, who said to George Bowering, “Not on the collar, she’ll know,” never got a Giller.

Norman Levine, who said, “Sure, it’ll come out, Mordecai. It’s just pea soup,” never got a Giller.

Margaret Atwood, who whispered to Alice Munro, “Sure, Hage is a great artist, but, Alice, Lam can write prescriptions,” never got a Giller.

Emma Richler, who said to Florence, “Where’d the mezuzahs go?” never got a Giller.

Barbara Gowdy, who said to Jack McClelland, “Do I look like Carol Shields?” never got a Giller.

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