Archive for the ‘anti-consumerism’ Category

What do you want from me?

January 29, 2016

The heading above was the teaser line in my inmail box this morning.  It originated from the author of an ‘environmental memoir’ blog from @2006 -07”,which blog he morphed into a published book and then into a documentary which was shown at a Sundance Film Festival.  Out of curiosity I had followed his blog and had expressed to Rumpole then “Just wait, me dear one, here’s a fellow who plans to gain monetarily from his writing this stuff.” Well, reading between the lines, and of possible sub-text of potential intentions isn’t exactly as demanding as, say, brain surgery or understanding quantum physics, but I think I was quite right in my prediction.

Now, he asks, nicely, what it is I, and other persons whose virtual mail-boxes he regularly fills with news of his latest efforts to save the world, want from him. It appears he has written yet another book  ( he hopes a best-seller?) which he thinks an unthinking public with an unquenched thirst for yet another feel-good-or-better self help book eagerly hangs awaiting. He wants to form facebook  support groups, and is planning an eight week online course, complete with work book to accompany the new tome. The worst part of his solicitation letter is how he plays to the reader’s emotions with a fake candour, just-us-folks tone and appeals (subtle) to be crowd-funded. Ah, snake oil by any other name.  I suspect he must have close relatives in Nigeria.

It is pretty obvious there is a long history of soft-sell being a success in separating people from their hard earned resources, and for their often insightful ‘spidey sense’. I have, for years and unsuccessfully tried to have my contact information removed from his mailing list.  And, that is the only thing I want from him And, no, I have not paid for his first book, nor do I intend to read a library copy of it, ever.  As to crowd fund his endeavours, or to take him for any source of learning, thanks, but no thanks, not because I need not learn any more, but because I do, indeed, but not from the likes of such a smug, fake and glib source.

Fussy eaters…

September 7, 2012

Glasgow Girl, my daughter-in-law, is one of the most fussy eaters I have encountered in my lifetime. She will not eat organ meats, or any meats with bone in. One cannot even present to her a dish of cooked meat without bones first removed prior to cooking.  As a result of her predelictions Mousey, also is demonstrating tendencies toward unreasonable fussiness, and it seems this dislike of bone has become one of her peeves as well.

Fussy eaters are made, not born. If one has unlimited choice, the tendency is toward refined, adulterated tastes I expect. Is there anyone out there in blog-land who might share with me great delight in eating the marrow out of soup bones.  This common fare is best served on substantial toasted bread, lightly salted, and is in my opinion absolutely delicious.

Cavemen in early days were the first to discover the delights of cracking the long bones of their killed, roasted meats, and extracting the delicious bounty of cooked marrow. As a modern suburban woman I am finding it increasingly difficult to acquire soup bones.  Poor people in my neighbourhood might utilize a good supply of these to prepare delicious broths as base of soups and stews.  However modern urban people, especially the poor, do not know of this plentiful enriching ingredient, and instead rely on purchasing highly processed, over-packaged and unhealthy junk foods.

It is to me a sad state of affairs, that in these times of seemingly unlimited plenty so many of us have forgotten a most basic rule of making use of every available part of animals we husband as food. As animals, we humans can share the seeming pleasure of dogs in extracting from animal portions every bit of taste and nutrition they might provide There is basic deliciousness in cooked connective tissue, the gelatinous portions, on the ends of soup bones well stewed, in the taste of marrow, the greasiness of which is necessary addition to help process vitamin nutrients from vegetables accompanying our meals. Such simple unfussy enjoyment seems to ba a matter of repeated experience through which taste acceptance is gradually acquired through familarity.

Twenty years ago, I provided room and board to a young native fellow from Kitkatla.  He had been raised on an Northern Island, where much of the foods eaten were obtained by fishing. When he first arrived in my home, he had broughtwith him several big cardboard cartons which smelled intensely of smoked fish.  He explained that his mother was most concerned that he would not have easy access to his favourite snack – dried salmon roe on dried seaweed.  Also in his stash of goodies from home were many cans of home-canned salmon.  He shared some of his roe and seaweed snacks – and they were surprisingly delicious, but foreign tasting to me, and I expressed to him my idea that favourite foods became such through repeated experience, and that sometimes he might not enjoy some of the foods presented to him for suppers. He said, it would be all right, because  his supply of familar foods might help allay his nostalgia for comfortable, familiar fare. And being a very young man of healthy appetite, he openly sampled the variety of foods presented him at meals.  Some he found more to his taste than others, and would gladly verbalize his analyses of flavour impressions. He most definitely wasn’t fussy. I expect this may have been on account of growing up in an environment where food sources were limited, and he did not develop a jaded, world-weary palate.

Too much choice tend to spoil our possible pleasures, I feel.

Confession about acquisition…

February 28, 2010

Let me begin by stating I have few needs and wants. This does not mean that I am without desire, or prone toward acquiring objects which have little usefulness in my life. This afternoon Martha and I attended the opening of the “Out of the Ombu” exhibition which Looking For Beauty and I did installation last Thursday. I am such a sucker for quiet, tactile beauty, and should have realized I was in trouble when the first area of concern for exhibition to me was for six examples of Shino ware. While the curator was explaining the need to display 6 sculptural pieces against the main wall, I was ruminating about where to display these gems. In less than three minutes, I had dragged over the display plinths and placed the beautiful, quiet-as-a-whisper pieces – two tall slab bottles with diagonal carved stripes, two small bottles, beautiful examples of Tobigana with subtle blue soda glaze, and two Tobigana bowls with Shino slip decoration.
One of the pleasures and privileges of mounting an exhibition is the opportunity to closely look at and handle art objects – on a more intimate level than is available to the gallery goer. When I upended the Tobigana bowls and happened to see the accidental glazing due to the vagaries of wood firing on the surface of the chattered ware and the subtle beauty of the foot finish, I should have realized that the demon of acqusitiveness that lurks in my otherwise modest person would set up a persistent chant in my unconscious – “these are meant to be for you!”
Barely one minute into the opening, my feet took me to this part of the exhibition, and immediately to the curator to beg for a red dot to place by the two Shino Tobinaga bowls. I did not care whether these items were of collectible value, nor that the potter was a relative unknown. That doesn’t figure in my estimation of the desirability of these beautiful bowls. What did was their quiet insistence that existence is very much dependent on the vagaries of chance acting on material, and that these items had been blessed by the character of heat and fire carefully tended by the potters, and the happenstance of these objects’ position inside the ombu and the introduction of soda ash at a particular time during the firing. Nothing is guaranteed! That is of what these bowls speak to me – and of unexpected gorgeousness.
Now, I have put myself in the position of bringing these items into my home. How do I explain this compulsion to Rumpole? Me, who prides herself on wanting little. But, by gum! I can hardly wait to bring these beauties home. I know I was meant to have them. Earlier this week, as I was dusting the mantle I picked up the beautiful Tobigana decorated vase I had picked up a couple of months ago from the Sally Ann. It has a gorgeous salt glaze, a simple form and a subtle chatter decoration around the shoulder. It cost $1. I googled the decorative practice and did some reading on the technique this week. And, behold, this opportunity has occurred.
I feel very fortunate to be able to afford such an act of whim. Maybe Rumpole will understand.
But I have plans. I talked with the potter at the opening – an older Japanese lady. She was pleased I so wanted these two bowls. As I was gazing at them and lifted them up to run my greedy fingers over the surface, I decided to paint them as a still life from many aspects when I get them home. What a challenge to paint using earth colours to approximate the feelings which these objects yield to me. I can hardly wait for the six weeks of the exhibition to be over.

Really tall blue people with mobile ears…

February 17, 2010

So, it has finally happened. Rumpole took me and Lookingforbeauty to see Avatar in the 3D version. The result of this screening has been an ongoing argument between Rumpole and me. He firmly states that my “inner child” has gone and left the building, leaving behind old husk of crone who is impossible to amuse. I keep telling him my “inner child” is very much with me, thank you very much, but perhaps it is a much more discriminating and discerning “inner child” than is his.

“What you really are saying, “Snakebite” (his pet name for me when he is not pleased by my reactions), is that you are of superior intellect, aren’t you?” he snarls back at me.

“Not at all, my dear one. I am just merely being me.”

Apparently this critical me is one of which he is not at all fond. You see, I committed the grave error of uttering a loud guffaw during the screening when the term ‘unobtainium’ was used to refer to a chunk of glowing, floating hunk of rock. And of course, from that point on my reactions travelled south rather quickly, to the point that no amount of visual splendour and technical brinksmanship saved the movie for me. I felt stupid being a one-eyed woman wearing 3-D glasses along with the rest of the crowd in the dark. My derriere grew roots into the plush seat and my legs started jiggling along to the beat of the Disneyfied music, all on their own. I experienced the weird sensation of sitting through a tedious video game I was never going to be able to win.

But what really got me was the blue people of attenuated Barbie and Ken physiognomy with their Anime-styled eyes, their o-so-cute mobile ears referencing their status as animal-like aliens, their cat-walk fashion loin cloths and their stylish dreads. I so lusted after an elegant and mobile braid which could magically link me with all other living creatures, like the plug on my lamp connects to a mysterious-to-me electrical source.

“Keep watching their tails,” urged Rumpole, “They are somehow important.”

I watched and watched, but could only see the tails registering various emotional states in the blue people. This was Rumpole’s second viewing of Avatar, and boy, did he get that business of the tails being important wrong!

References to Transformers, Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas abounded. The dialogue was truly lame. The story arc comic booky. The acting predictable. I confess to being thoroughly bored and made the error of telling Rumpole so.

“Well! I won’t be going to the movies again with you any time soon. This was supposed to be entertaining.” He is adamant. He will not go to the movies with me again.

Oh well! I am so shattered…Not! Those blue people did me in for popular movies. Now, if James Cameron had somehow mixed in a story line with a blue Mr. Bean or a blue M. Hulot, or the overacting goofball antics of a blue Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, there might have been some snorts of needed laughter from little old me, squinting like Popeye’s mother through the 3D Glasses.

The Auld Sod – here and there…

July 20, 2009

Rumpole, Renaissance Man, Glasgow Girl and Mousey have travelled to the Auld Sod, Scotland, to visit Glasgow Girls mother and to make the pilgrimage to the Gathering of the Clans in Edinburgh. I am left behind, thankfully, to tend to the animals and the garden, in its current incarnation.

Rumpole has been keeping me updated with news of their various doings via e-mail. Mousey is not acclimatizing at all to the time change and she keeps them up until 3am at night. Rumpole finds himself having to drive the busy streets of Glasgow in a hire car; he is terrified of driving on the left hand side of the road, which, surely, takes some getting familiar with. Glasgow Girl is partying with her school mates, and Mouse is entertaining the neighbourhood matrons and little children with her own peculiar brand of Canadian wild childhood. Rumpole and Renaissance Man are doing father and son bonding and trekking around Glasgow taking in the sights and getting lost. I am happy watering and critter entertaining, so all is well with the Stepford-Rumpoles.

Yesterday, Lookingforbeauty, Moira, OurLady of PerpetualCrisis and I had a yard sale chez moi on what had to be the hottest day of our summer yet. I tried to offload such interesting items as Rumpole’s old pre-amp, kitchen chairs, crystal, my favourite conversation piece – my Osama Bin Laden Zippo-clone lighter, some jewelry that hasn’t seen the light of day in 20 years, rubber boots, a vintage 1930s pedestal ashtray of interesting provenance ( it comes from a demolished funeral home and has been the repository of many extinguished cigarette butts from generations of mourners), a crab trap, a dressage helmet and hand-painted mexican tiles.

Osama got a lot of varied responses from the die-hard Garage salers out and about on this hellish morning; some outright indignation, some chortling and some questioning – “Where on earth did you get this?” I managed to offload…er, sell, Rumpole’s pre-amp, and have already decided what to do with the loot gotten for its sale. He may not exactly approve, but he won’t be here to weigh in with negative comments on what I plan to do with the money. I also sold some jewelry. And that was that.

We girls decided that our Yard Sale was a bust. None of us did at all well for all the work involved in hoisting stuff outside, setting up and sitting sweltering in the sun for 4 hours, let alone the bringing stuff back inside when the sale time was up. We figured our timing for the sale was off – too hot, wrong time of the summer, we didn’t have stuff people wanted. But who’s to know? Except for Lookingforbeauty, the rest of us were Garage Sale beginners. Honestly, I didn’t like the whole experience, not being cut out for the badinage required to engage prospective buyers. I hate stuff, anyway, and the less stuff I have the more at ease I find myself.

Today I languished, wiped out by the experience. So I did three loads of laundry and cleaned the basement floor. I hung out the laundry to dry, which happened really fast, it being infernally hot again today. No complaints here.

This afternoon, I invited Lookingforbeauty over to harvest some zucchini, while I harvested some lettuce about to bolt and some sorrel for dinner to which Lookingforbeauty invited me and another friend. We got a good crop; especially one spectacularly large zucchini which I plan to wrap, Furoshiki style and gift, anonymously and with great night-time stealth, to my neighbours Gary and Laurie.

Boy, will they be surprised tomorrow morning. And will Rumpole be delighted that I have less zucchini to process and freeze to augment winter dishes, unbeknownst to him, and ostensibly to convert him, although he is completely unwilling to become a zucchini consumer.

Thirst…

March 20, 2009

Captive in the padded bucket seat
you peer ahead through metronomic sweeps.
Windshield wipers clear arced fans,
dry apertures, through cascading rain rills.
Your right hand swipes and smears
exhalations which fog the glass.
Water outside; water vapour inside,
yet, your mouth is parched.
On impulse, you turn the car into
a Petrocan lot, exit and forget to
turn your seeking lips toward the offering sky.
You dash inside the station, and
buy a plastic bottle, full of tap-water.

GM, March 2009

How do I love you…

February 14, 2009

Last Saturday, when Rumpole took me to shop for fruit and vegetables at the local farmer’s market, we spied a pile of Blood Oranges. Now, Blood Oranges are a spectacular seasonal treat, only available this time of year. They are my February obsession; I have to purchase 5 to 7 of them to hold, admire the variegated peel colours and to strip, cut open in different ways and assemble for a painted study. Then wolf them down, smacking the lips all the meanwhile. They are an acquired taste. This year’s selection, which we picked up, did not have the peculiar bitter sweet tang of previous years’. But their peel was so beautiful, that I decided to make a Valentine’s treat of candied orange peel for friends and family.

Mousey has never tasted candied orange peel before. So I am especially excited that my little labours will provide a first taste ecperience for her. She may not find the flavour exactly to her liking, but it will be a first exposure to a new taste sensation.

While Rumpole was off on Wednesday evening to his weekly guitar lesson, I carefully peeled foor blood oranges. The white spongy inner membrane required cutting off. None of my paring knives were sharp enough to be up for this task, so I had to sit patiently sharpening the blade of my favorite small knife to razor conditions. That in itself is a relaxing, meditative task – honing the blade, testing it, resharpening until the perfect cutting capability was achieved.

Once the knife was capable of slicing the peel from the pith with ease, I took off my glasses, took up one quarter peel at a time and, taking a deep centering breath, made tidy work of stripping each section of peel. Since I can see up close with one eye, it was fine and calming work, that suits well my degree of sightedness.

After all the work of separating pith from peel had ended, I sliced each peel into thin slivers. Then a liquor of supersaturated sugar solution is required to be made, for slowly simmering the peelings for about three hours, in order to reduce the sugar solution considerably. I kept a close eye on this process to ensure no burning could possibly occur. The pot on the stove smelled delicious. I know this as I frequently hung my head over to sniff the citrus scent evaporating from the batch. MMM!

At the conclusion of the simmering process, I drained the sugar-saturated peels and laid the slips onto parchment covered cookie- sheets. (They sat out overnight to dry and harden.)

At breakfast, the following morning, I dredged the bits of sugared peel in a bowl of sugar. Rumpole snagged a slip and munched it with his coffee. Then he took a second sliver and pronounced it “addictive”.

During the morning, Jessica and I hiked to the local grocery store to buy some chocolate bits, which when melted might coat the ends of each sliver of peel. I came home with the dog after our walk, energized, full of resolve to do a bang-up job of coating the orange bits with chocolate.

(Now I am not a chocolate-loving person, and don’t cook and bake with variations of cocoa and chocolate. Why, the one time I ordered Mole Chicken at the Mariachi Restaurant in Tucson, on New Year’s Eve, twelve years back, I was horrified at the taste of a spicy chocolate coating on that fowl which should never, in my opinion, be treated with extreme flavours. So need I add at this point that chocolate is not a staple in my pantry or a favoured taste?)

I nuked the half the chocolate in the microwave and it came out a mess of steaming pumice textured stuff. No way was that flowing and liquid enough to coat the ends of my bits of candied peel. (I am still soaking and chipping out the bowl from the mass of vulcanized chocolate, and that, three days later.)

That endeavour being a complete failure, I settled on the tried and true double boiler method of melting chocolate. Yay! It worked.
Just at the point where I was ready to start dipping, Flora arrived at my studio door. She breezed in, uncoated herself, snaffled a candied peel, then another and yet another. So I poured her a coffee to slow her down. Instructed her to wash and dry her hands and to start dipping the peels one after the other in the chocolate.
Every fifth one she popped into her mouth and mumbled, while chewing, “God, I’m going to have to work extra hard at my spin class this evening to work off all these calories! Slap my hands, if I take any more of these to eat.”

“Just keep dipping.” I ordered her.

Flora made short work of dipping half the peels. We figured some of my loved ones and friends may have allergies to chocolate, So they should be able to partake of naked peels. She popped the chocolate coated peels into the fridge, and we sat down to discuss Gallery business and ideas for bringing in the public in numbers, over another cup of coffee.

Before Flora left to go on to the rest of her late afternoon, we packaged up the naked peels, and then the cooled chocolate ones. One batch was to go to Amy and her sons; one batch was to serve as after Valentine Day’s dinner treat for Martha’s do tonight; a group of us to eat a fabulous meal prepared by Martha, after which we will look at her photos from her trip to India over Christmas.

Tomorrow Mousey, Glagow Girl and Renaissance Man are coming to our house for Valentine’s dinner. Mousey will get her first taste of the third package of candied orange peel. Glasgow Girl gets a reprieve from having to cook Sunday dinner after working 5 evenings this past week. And Renaissance Man has a taste treat which is a blast from the past.
No trite Hallmark cards for any of us. No over-packaged commercial chocolates or flowers from far away places. Just each other’s company for pleasure, and a tiny bit of labour from me to show they are important in my life.

And, as added bonus, I learned how to and not burn chocolate. This old dog continues to keep learning.

The Green Dress…

February 11, 2009

Twenty-three years ago, after seeing an afternoon client, I made my way to the fabric store to browse through the selection of swing-season fabrics. These to me were fabrics that might see one through Spring and Summer, of the colour temperature suitable for those burgeoning, bright and longer days. “Saturated, jewel colours” I kept in mind as I parked my Toyota Landcruiser a block from the fabric store.

It was the beginning of February, which up North meant sunny cold days, hoarfrost on the trees, with a hint of the promise of lengthening days and hence the arrival of Spring. Third Avenue was slick with ice. The berms at the side of the parking spaces had much reduced due to alternating days of warm and cool. A habitual hangover from driving lessons more than twenty years before, I turned the front wheels of the truck toward the edge of the sidewalk, disembarked and walked in my mukluks up the block to the only fabric store in town. The sky toward the west had a warm glow. It promised another clear and gorgeous winter day for tomorrow. The street was mostly deserted of pedestrians, and on my brief walk I ruminated over just exactly what I wanted to buy.

I had earlier determined that I wanted to make two dresses to serve as a sort of formal uniform for dress-up occasions. I hated the selection available at the local dress shops. They had nothing to suit my austere taste. I liked clothing which skimmed my body loosely, allowed for free movement, a certain modesty, simple details, well made, of beautiful colours. No elaborately opulent patterns for this simple middle-aged woman, Thank You. I also like materials which were of good quality and had good weight and drape.
This was a tough call for a Northern City, where most of the stores had the recent styles on hand, but little of classic nature which might outlast the switching diktats of the fashion world. The closest one could come to acquiring this kind of clothing was to find a skilled dress and pattern-maker, cloth of good quality and have something tailor made. I didn’t have a lot of money to hire this chore out, so decided to wing it, buy and alter a pattern, myself, and do the cutting, fitting and sewing over a period of months.

Once I entered the fabric store, I headed directly to the pattern section. I liked Burda patterns at this time, and spent some time browsing the selection of dress patterns available. The right design presented itself, fortunately, and it promised to be one which could be altered in different ways, as a sort of variation on sleeve lenght, neck detail and skirt length. It was classic, subtly constructed and attractively austere. It just needed the cloth of the correct weight and drape and colour.

It took me less than 5 minutes to find the correct cloth. Beautiful mid to light-weight rayon, solid coloured in the most delicious jewel colours. I stood and drooled over the colour selection, playing with the drape and the sizing in the fabrics. In the end a marvellous Winsor Blue solid and what might be called a Grass Green solid were the ones I selected, hauled up to the cutting counter and presented for measuring into the needed lenghts. I also found some muslin which I bought in the same amount. I needed to make a muslin variation to practice altering and revising the pattern before committing it into the final versions. Then found some thread and zippers, interfacing, buttons and seam binding to match both colours of cloth.

I was so thrilled to have this project to begin working on. Rumpole and Renaissance Man were treated to a fashion parade of me, flouncing about, bedecked in the two fabrics. The Grass Green fabric was for a dress to be worn for weddings, engagements, bridal and baby showers, and the Winsor Blue was to be made into a dress to serve for more emotionally somber occasions – funerals, memorial services, retirement parties, partner dinners. I figured to have my formal dress needs looked after for the next fifteen years.

Diagnosis and treatment for Leukemia (AML) intervened and put stop to my sewing plans. However, two years later, after we relocated back to the Lower Mainland, on a sunny February morning, I pulled out the pattern and the muslin and coloured fabrics. I took and noted my measurements with my Anyu’s help, and began cutting and constructing the muslin version of the “dress”. Lots of pinning, unpinning, altering, basting and pulling of stitches – until a pale facsimile of the dress took form. And – it fit and flowed and draped beautifully, reassuring that the making of the Green Dress would result in a successful Garment – one which would have an extended and valued life.

By the end of March, the dress was complete, with an inside worked by hand to be as beautiful as from the outside. It gave me enormous pleasure to work the unseen parts of the dress, and the pleasure of hand-stitching a beautiful edging repeated in the observation of the same. The dress, finally hemmed and pressed, was beautiful. It hung from my shoulders gracefully; draped over my poitrine modestly; flowed with movement and its hem was a perfect edge.

The following summer I wore that green dress to two weddings; the following fall to a memorial service. Every year for the next fifteen years, that Green Dress took me to many weddings, christenings ,bridal and baby showers, summer trips to the theatre.
I always felt like a million dollars in it. I dressed it up with inherited jewelry, scarves and costume jewelry from second-hand stores, shawls and a variety of shoes to suit the occasion.

Finally, last year ,my body had changed enough in its conformation that the dress no longer looked so great on me. My breasts had settled to a lower part of my torso, and the fit of the Green dress no longer seemed the same. The fine handwork I had done on the unseen side of the dress had held up well during the many years it was worn. The cloth also had maintained well, and still hadn’t broken down to seem old. I took the dress down to the Salvation Army Store, hoping that some younger woman might see in it a labour of love and good use, with still some useful wear in it. It had served me well, as the only Spring, Summer and early Fall dress that I owned and wore for well over a decade. I loved that dress, and then released it.

The beautiful Winsor Blue material I made into a cullotte and blouse outfit. That lasted me for fifteen summers, before being relegated to the resale aisle of the Salvation Army Store.

I have always felt that clothing was to serve as a beautiful second skin; that it should be comfortable enough to forget while wearing; that it make us add colour and pattern to the world in the manner of butterflies and; that they should be made beautifully and last a long time. The Green Dress saw me through a period of my life – from the age of a young matron of 43 to an older woman of 60. it was time to let it go, and for me to find a new uniform more appropriate to my current chronological age and my ageing physical appearance.

Now I am on the hunt for a pattern and colour of a dress to make as a uniform to last me into my mid seventies. This is my February and March Challenge this year. And I look forward, with the help of Rumpole this time, to construct this new all-purpose dress.

I figure owning two dresses in thirty years is an accomplishment of a modest sort.

Saint Nicholas Eve…

December 3, 2008

November 5, 1952. Anyu held the heavy carved church door open for us to precede her out into the dark of a lightly snowing evening. She retied her scarf snug under her chin and pulled on her knitted gloves. She fussed with our jackets collars, pulling them up to sit jaunty against our cheeks. Ildiko hopped from one boot-shod foot to another, trying to keep warm. I gazed in silence at the Cathedral square, its cobllestoned dark perimeter lit up by lamps which gave the illusion of dandelion seed-heads against the gloom. Snow coasted in fine specks as we negotiated the cathedral steps to the square. The snow squeaked under our boots. It was as if both we and the night held our breath this eve of Saint Nicholas.

It had been our family custom to attend Mass on the eve of Saint Nicholas. The priest had made a lovely sermon of the story of the three little boys the Bishop had brought back to life and of the story of the dowry he had provided for the three daughters of a poor man. He told about Bishop Nicholas being an intermediary with God for the safety of sailors on the sea, and on behalf of the poor. It was a story long familiar with yearly repetition, and as usual we had sat solemn and silent hearing yet another retelling.

The half-hour walk on the way home to our apartment took us through the ancient part of our town.
In some of the small side streets we stopped to look at candle-lit windows where children’s shoes were lined up, well shined, in anticipation of a visitation by Saint Nicholas sometime during the night.
Ildiko and I skipped from one house to another, thinking of the children inside who were, the same as us, eagerly waiting to creep to their window at first light to see what had been deposited innside the shoes – whether chocolate coins for children who had been good during the previous year, or a lump of coal and a switch of broom for the bad ones.

The closer we were to our home destination the more subdued I became. I was not at all certain that I had been a consistently good child the previous year. I had taken any and all occasions to torture Ildiko, spoke back to Anyu, argued with everyone, actively resisted practising the violin and had sneaked around spying on any adults who visited our home.

Meanwhile, as my doubts were starting to weigh heavily on me, Ildiko positively glowed with goodness and virtue, her face alight with a confident expression reserved for the truly wholesome and self-satisfied child. As soon as we arrived home, no sooner had she unlaced her boots, but she went to fetch the shoe-shining kit Apu kept in the bottom of the hall armoire.

“Hurry up and take your boots off, Gabi,” she ordered. “Dry them off well. Then I’ll show you how to use the shoe paste and brushes.”

I fooled around struggling out of my coat and mitts, and ran off in my wet boots into the kitchen to snag a cookie or two. Busy stuffing my face with a Speculaa and munching away, I began unlacing my boots and drying them off with a cloth.

Ildiko sat on the settee, poked her finger inside a flannel bit and started to smear her boots with an ox-blood coloured paste which smelled really pungent. She showed me how to wrap my forefinger into the flannel and how to scoop the right amount of paste for my one boot. By this time, she was busy swiping her own boot with the shoe brush, sending up that nice aroma of wax and tar. I was smearing my boots carefully with the stuff.

“Make sure you work the paste into the lines of sewing in the leather,” Ildiko instructed in her best school teacherish tones. “If you don’t do a good job, Saint Nicholas will leave you coal and broom inside them. Which he should, anyway, because you are usually so awful to everyone.”

What did I know, anyway? I was a six year old brat. Ildiko, the golden child, was only eight herself. But she seemed so sure of herself. She buffed her boots with the brush in confident strokes, and then segued to bring up a high shine on the dark red leather. She passed the implements down to me so I could bring my boots to a semblance of decency, but was critical of how streaky my buffing job had been.

We took our boots into the salon. In the window seat, Anyu had set up two taper candles in candlesticks. We placed our boots, shined and laces looped, beside the candles.

“After you dress in your pajamas,” Anyu said, ” you can come and light the candles before you say your goodnight prayers.”

We scurried off to wash our teeth and change into night wear. When we returned to the salon, Anyu had dimmed any overhead lights. She lit the tapes and Ildiko and I knelt in front of the window, hands clasped. We said our prayers, quietly, privately.

I prayed and hoped Saint nicholas might not find me altogether horrible and maybe a little bit deserving of a scrap of chocolate. I fervently wished my lot would not be to find an iridescent dusty lump of coal, and a desiccated scrap of broom inside my shoe the following morning. If that would be my lot, I’d never hear the end of how bad I was from Ildiko, for the rest of my life, even.

What is liveable…

October 3, 2008

Yukon homestead, circa 1983

Yukon homestead, circa 1983

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