Archive for the ‘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.

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.

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.

Gift giving and Gift wrapping…

August 5, 2008

June and July have been the gift giving season for us. Several family members and friends have had birthdays; this involves gift giving, and the inevitable gift-wrapping that accompanies it. This year for the Junior Rumpole family, Renaissance Man, Glasgow Girl and Mousey the gifts involved artisan-made or artist-made ones. Why not support the creative community, I figured.

The giving of gifts necessitates camouflaging them with wrappings to make them a ‘production’ of a present, to add glamour and mystery to what may in the end turn out to be an ugly pair of socks a recipient might only use to dust ceiling corners in perpetuity. There have been volumes of books published which are devoted to the fine craft of wrapping presents. The whole procedure becomes a painful chore to which proles, like yours truly, carry a life-long deep-seated antipathy, never being interested in developing refinements, which, when considered in seriousness, border on the frivolous, excessive and wasteful. Conventions of gift presentation carry with them a whiff of the bourgeois.  Ever conscious of my ‘pinko’ characteristics, I have made many attempts to down-play gift-wrappings, by giving presents which are awkward to box, bag or otherwise wrap.

Why, once, I decided to gift my younger sister, Margaret, with a lilac shrub. This item is rather challenging to camouflage. Rather than festoon it with wrappings of hideous patterned gift wrap paper, I chose to go ‘au naturel’, as in “what you see me dragging in is what you get so be prepared to do a superlative bit of acting and look absolutely surprised AND delighted”. Once I had arrived at Margaret’s house,  wrestled the shrub out from the car’s back seat, fluffed it up a bit to negate the dishevelment it had suffered during a twenty mile drive, I presented it to her with a flourish from behind my back ( as if she missed identifying the shrub as it poked out around my blocky body). Ta Daa! Surprise!!! Margaret can give Meryl Streep a run for her money as an actress, she faked surprise and pleasure so well. And the lilac has grown to monstrous proportions in the intervening years. It has given her scented blooms for her vases, or for her afternoons out sipping tea in its magnificent shade. And no gift wrap had been wasted or sent to the land-fill.

I was thinking back on this while considering exactly how I was going to ready the Junior Rumpole gifts for this year’s presentations. Renaissance Man’s gift of a silk-screen print by Anarchist Artist of the ‘Battle of Seattle’ was a cinch to prepare. I slipped it into a huge archival plastic envelope, one of those I use to store large drawings, rolled it into a large tube and wrapped a strip of fine drawing paper around its middle. A small tidy snick of tape to secure the paper strip, and it was good to go. Renaissance Man shares with me a mania for collecting art works on paper, so he will make good use of the archival plastic envelope for his own storage purposes. He didn’t seem crest-fallen in receiving a gift so casually presented. Score: proles

Glasgow Girl has enough residual bourgeoise tendencies to want a somewhat more fussy presentation. Eage to oblige, I scratched my grey head while considering solutions. Her gift, of a pottery serving-bowl, was a tad too small to place inside a flowery pillowcase and enclose with a length of ribbon from my sewing stash. Of course, I could have stuffed the pillow-case with shredded bills from the paper shredder, to disguise the contours of the gift, however it did not seem appropriate to accompany such a lovely present with slivers of paper bearing hidden evidence of my family finances, so, instead, I opted to use furoshiki.

For those unfamiliar with this term, using furoshiki involves wrapping and carrying objects inside a knotted, square, patterned cloth of cotton, rayon, or silk. I have long admired Japanese craft, aesthetics, and their national tendency to marry practicality with beauty. This seemed a perfect solution. I remembered that somewhere in the distant reaches of my bedroom closet was a box full of new, never used silk and wool scarves that I had recieved over the years as gifts. You don’t know what to get a man as a present? heck! Buy him socks – he always needs them. For women the equivalent of socks-for-all-occasions of gift giving must be scarves? However, for me, once I became aware that my idol, Isadora Duncan, had met her untimely and dramatic end by being choked to death when her long scarf wrapped around the wheels of her Bugatti, scarves had lost their lustre and glamour. Into the closet box all scarves were relegated, and some were real beauties.

So, out came the box of scarves, from which I selected a delicate orange and yellow silk one with sketchy flowers. I wrapped the pottery dish in several layers of newspaper,ensuring the wrapping had square corners, placed that bundle kitty-corner onto the silk square and alternately square-knotted opposite corners, leaving a lovely four-square petal of cloth at the top. It is possible to carry this package securely and without disturbing the decorative top by slipping fingers through the top knot. Glagow girl was delighted when she received this bundle.

“How on earth do you come up with these ideas?” she asked. “This looks too elegant to open.”

“Oh, the internet,” I said, modestly casting down my eyes, “but, do open it and see what’s inside.”

She opened the knots and unveiled her present. Then she asked what she should do with the scarf, as she, herself, didn’t wear them.

“Well, you can keep it, and use it to wrap a gift for someone else. That scarf should get around some!”

“You know, I have a huge stash of scarves, that just keeps growing yearly,” she commented. “This is such a perfect use for them.”

I ended up doing a same kind of wrapping for Mousey’s birthday present of mother and baby opossum hand puppets. She happily unwrapped her gift, and then toted it off home in her scarf furoshiki.

The other day when Jeanie was here for dinner, after we polished off a bottle of wine, I showed her how wine bottles can be wrapped singly or in pairs for gift-giving. She practiced furoshiki wrapping bottles on the coffee table and pronounced her results ‘brilliant’. She was going to drag out her collection of scarves, once she got home, and practice on all kinds of things to wrap up.

I feel I have been doing my level best, in an underground sort of way, to kill off custom for Hallmark and other purveyors of gift-wrappings. While I have never watched Martha Stewart’s shows and learned of those  modes of presentation which she pronounced “Good Things” this one might be right up her alley as a purveyor of domestic niceties.  Furoshiki – a good custom to practice.

The hunt for strawberries…

July 11, 2008

Martha and I had our dinner and movie night a couple of days ago. On Wednesdays, I am a guitar widow;  Rumpole goes from work directly to dinner with a friend and then to his standing weekly guitar lesson. Martha rented “Death at a Funeral” for our movie treat. She made a supper of ribs, salad and for special dessert, strawberries and raspberries au nature. This time of year is special for it is when that yearly gift of strawberries can be so briefly savoured and treasured.

Last week, Looking For Beauty, dropped by after one of her local shopping forays and shared her treasure trove of local organic strawberries with us. They were perfect, blood red throughout, plump and sweet. it occurred to me that it might be so pleasant to pull out of the freezer a little bag, during one of those cold, overcast winter days when root vegetable stews are a customary diet. So off this gift of strawberries went into the freezer.

The local  strawberry crop had been much reduced this year, due to inclement cold early summer days and rains. The farmers are hurting; their crop yield is more than halved. So acquiring a small amount of this fruit to put up for winter delight has become a challenge. Today, Martha and I are trekking out into the valley to farmer’s stands, on the lookout for a small amount of strawberries by which to remember summer during those long dark winter days. It seems, that, once in while, a ration of a couple of berries, thawed out, sprinkled with a small dusting of sugar  will be such a bounty to share with friends and family.

This is far more meaningful, in my opinion, than purchasing unripe strawberries at the supermarket; the ones that come from Chile or  other far-flung places during our winter season are inedible and a waste of resource to import. Better to appreciate small amouts of what our land and weather provide, closer to home, than to vainly pretend that the seasons do not in any way affect our lives and pleasures.

Strawberries are a luxury, a gift and a delight. Maybe the ones we find today will have come fresh from the fields, warm from the reflected heat of sun on soil. And then, tomorrow, when Byline Woman and The Engineer come for supper, we can celebrate 40+ years of friendship by ceremonially tasting a touch of a shared summer.

Rationing…

April 24, 2008

A person doing scuba diving is equipped with oxygen tanks which limit the amount of time one can safely stay alive underwater. That is a form of rationing; only a fool tries to go beyond the limits provided by the existing oxygen tanks.

In many parts of the world, but not where I live, people consume rations of food-stuffs. Some rations fall short of maintaining people’s health and well being. Meanwhile, where I live, the most exotic foods are readily available to people of average means. Variety of food is naturally rationed by seasonal availability, by the commonplace transport of foods from all over the world, and cost.

All of a sudden, news has arrived that Costco is limiting the amount of rice that can be purchased by individuals and small businesses. The reality that finally we may have to pay “actual” cost for food – the cost of transpost, storage, middlemen, producers – unleashes the first signs of panic in our carefully orchestrated  unreal reality, our waking dream life. No, I have not made my way to Costco to pick up several bags of Basmati, or brown rice to stockpile in our spare bedroom as a hedge toward scarcity.

I remember walking out with my Mother as a young child and waiting in line for the family ration of rice, which had to be taken in a pillow-case, and once brought home we spread out on the kitchen table to take out the chaff, gravel, and other components of the ration. Flour was rationed; as were sugar; coffee; beans and lentils. We live; we thrived; we played; we bemoaned the shortage of fresh fruit and vegs; we worked. Seasonal offerings were cause for joy and celebration. Living meant labour – daily doings which helped sustain us, offered us amusement and distractions from the rigours of living.

In comparison, my life has been one of almost unremitting ease and, yes, luxury. A suburban woman, I don’t perform one quarter of my mother’s labours. Yet I don’t view her life from the heights of condescension – she certainly didn’t lack in appreciation of the “refinements” of life; her tastes were not less sophisticated nor more pedestrian than my own – her ease, appetites, opportunities, ambitions  and labours were rationed in a balanced way.

I think it is high time to consider rationing my activities, appetites and expectations. Just enough, and no more, will most likely be a pleasing way to live.

Toilet-seat trials and tribulations…

March 23, 2008

Such a world we live in, a world of almost unlimited choice of ‘things’. Such a ‘free’ world where choosing which pair of socks to wear today, right now, takes on momentous proportions. In hindsight and memory, I can’t remember Anyu agonizing about which socks went with which of our shoes when she was readying us for the day. Maybe she was too much preoccupied with mental exercises involving what she might cook for our family for the rest of the week depending on what might be in stock at the various grocery stores. Perhaps choice of white, pink or striped socks for us didn’t register on her housewifely radar of ‘important things to be concerned about’.

I know. I sound like the stereotypical little old lady bemoaning the passing of the ‘good old days’. This is my version of “when I was young things were thus and such…”. Of course, all my life, I have been a prematurely old woman, whether at twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years of age, given my tendency to question the manner in which life in Canada has unfolded in my experience. This Canada, this ‘Xanadu’ to which foreingners from all over the world seek admission. This Canada of almost unlimited consumer choices – kiwi fruit the whole year round, strawberries out of season, exotic cheeses from all over the world, case-goods from everywhere – a sort of consumable material cornucopeia. Little did my parents think that this selection of available choices not only were of food, consumables, education, health care, transportation and housing but also of toilet seats.

 I have recently run afoul of the availability of choices and the weighty weighing of pros and cons before being able to purchace a replacement toilet seat for the only bathroom in our house. Naively, I assumed that replacing this worn out toilet seat was a simple matter of visiting the neighbourhood building supply store from whence came out toilet and its simple seat a mere five years ago. The old one died. It broke into four pieces as the plumber was pulling it up when we were replacing the bathroom floor lino. The replacement toilet was an American brand, made in Texas, fairly inexpensive and low-flushing. It was a ‘moped’ toilet, not a ‘Rolls Royce’ toilet and entirely appropriate for our downwardly mobile life. I mean we were not ever contemplating having royalty using our facilities. It functioned, and therefore we were rather pleased.

Th old toilet seat is in process of giving into the forces of entropy. So, Rumpole and I decided to zip down to the local RONA and buy a replacement. Easy, what? Nope, we were not so lucky. In the plumbing section and bathroom aisle we came upon a marvellous array of toilet designs. If Marcel Duchamps were alive today he would have a field day coming up with variations on a theme of his famous urinal – a veritable galery exhibition of things toilet. Wow! The choice was staggering. But, alas, in no dusty corner could we find our home toilet, nor any toilet seats that would fit it. If had become extinct, like the Dodo. The toilet seat varietals were amazing in their differences. But whatever happened to just a one-for-all type of seat. No such a thing.

Disgusted, we next drove to Home Depot. Before entering the football-stadium sized store we decided to give our quest exactly ten minutes. No luck here either. Only even more elaborate toilet sets to be had here. We left, defeated, and returned home.

On the way across the bridge, I expressed to Rumpole, “If I were Queen, or whatever leader, there would be standardization in toilets, cars, etc.,etc. There’s too damn much choice, or illusion of choice about unimportant things. And this obsolescence business makes us all sitting ducks to the guns and whims of fashion. Aaaargh!”

“Calm down, my commie-pinko love,” reassured Rumpole as he blended into a lane entering the bridge. “Once we’re home  you can grab a nice glass of wine and we’ll connect into E-bay. Maybe we’ll find the ‘seat of our dreams’. ”

Sure enough. Here we sat in front of the computer, me with my wine, Rumpole with his pen and paper. And, yes, we did find a limited number of our toilet seat on E-bay. We made the order and now await the package. It’s coming from a plumbing supply place in Utah.

One small consolation is that it’s not made of plastic or coming from China. I think when the new seat arrives, I’ll set Rumpole to making a home-made wooden seat with all the tools he has amassed in his workshop. It’ll keep him from being bored and off the streets.

Killing time…

February 4, 2008

A rosy mackerel dawn sky, fractured between the spaces of the winter-bare apple tree, beckoned me outside this morning. I drew my housecoat around me, ran my fingers through sleep tousled hair and stepped out to stand beneath the tree. The dawn silence, so precious, was interrupted by the jet drone of a large passenger plane headed south-west to land at Lulu Island.

How strange the world looks from up there. If, indeed, passengers are not busying themselves with stashing books and magazines in their bags, pushing their folding-tables back into place on the seat-back in front of them, steeling themselves for the change in engine sounds as the plane descends or as the plane’s wheels thunk down from the wheel-wells and brace for the landing impact.

I took bracing breaths of the chill morning air, lingered briefly in the slowly changing light, then went back inside to read the paper with the first coffee of the morning. This is not a copy of our regular newspaper, but of the other daily which has today a section of the Weekend Thriller Contest, to which both Martha and By-line Woman sent in  a second chapter installment. Had to have a look-see at what second chapter was chosen to continue the plot. Otherwise this paper I refer to, disparagingly, as a “rag”. There is of course no news of what our neighbours to the South are undergoing in their selection of Presidential Candidates. There was a heart-rending write-up of a family dog who gave her life to a cougar in exchange for her master’s. I browsed through the various sections until I reached the travel section. At this season of the year people who travel by plane often encounter long lay-overs, flight cancellations and rerouting – all due to winter weather conditions. The article that caught my eye and attention was:

“Tips on ways to kill some time at YVR

TRAVEL B.C.: There is a plethora of creative activities awaiting you at the airport”

by Rebecca Stevenson, CANWEST NEWS SERVICE

It’s like a sudden loss of altitude in the pit of your stomach: that sinking feeling when you hear your flight is delayed indefinitely.

In the blink of an eye, you’re reduced from a peppy jet-setter to an aimless loiterer.

Stranded travellers, don’t despair. Beneathe the surface of any airport lies a plethora of creative activities to while away the hours.

Here, we discover the secret world of Vancouver International Airport, or YVR.

*The sound of music: Instantly nix about 225 minutes in the domestic terminal by getting thyself to Virgin Books and Music’s CD listening station, where you can sample three full-length CDs.

*The medical/dental plan: Proceed downstairs to the dental clinic, where you can get a one-hour tooth bleaching session for only $375. next door, at the medical clinic, travel vaccines and flu shots are on order.

*Massage or a manicure: The next best thing just might be a treatment at Absolute Spa, which provides hair, make-up, massage, facials, manicures and the rest. There are three specialty “flight-delay” packages ranging from $75 – $95.

*The next level: And once you’re reduced to molten flesh, there is no telling what you might do next. Potential inductees to the famous “mile-high club” might want to pick up some condoms or lubrication at Pharmasave.

*Looking Good: Don’t forget to beautify at the Body Shop’s make-up testing counter.

*Food and drink: Gorging on calories and boredom often go hand-in-hand. But instead of defaulting to a personal dozen at Tim Hortons, why not add some flare to your consumption? Saunter down to the 7-Eleven in the Domestic Terminal and relive childhood by making your own root-beer float, or sipping a slurpee.

Treat yourself to a swanky meal at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport’s Globe @YVR or jetside Lounge restaurants, where you can sink your posh derriere into stuffed armchairs and take in the executive view of the runways.

*Drag your bloated body back to the Fairmont and use the Health Club ($10 for just the shower and sauna, $15 for the gym and pool). You can even drop into yoga and pilates classes.

*Shhh. had your fill of these sushi-eating, downward-dogging West Coast health maniacs? The Fairmont’s Quiet Zone Day Room ($99 for four hours) is literally the stuff lazy dreams are made of.

*Culture Vultures: Refreshed travellers can flit about the airport and soak up a bit of culture. First Nations art installations – including a massive Haida jade sculpture – are scattered throughout both terminals.”

(Sunday, February 3, 2008   THE PROVINCE)

After reading this article I realized once again why I hate reading newspaper Travel Sections (among other sections) where what purports to be an article is really nothing more than editorial advertising with copy-writing of the most breathless order.  Even the headline’s “ways to kill time” phrase panders to the most unthinking among us. Oh, sure, I know it’s just a figure of speech, but what a profoundly mindless one it is. But to couple it with the phrase”plethora of creative activities” and then to follow that up with a list of “consumer” services which cost a small fortune really insults a reader’s intelligence.

Nita at http://nitawriter.wordpress.com  posted on February 2, 2008 her writing about a truly creative act related to travel and flying, by a former Indian Airlines flight engineer, Bahadur Chand Gupta who created an opportunity to experience what it is to be inside a plane for people who would otherwise never set foot in an airport, enter and sit in a plane or rise above the surface of the earth. Nita’s piece, titled “A dream come true for those who will never fly.” is one which throws into painful contrast the attitudes we in developed countries have toward travel, particularly of the resource-consuming sort we take for granted such as air travel, against the realities of limited access to creature comforts, let alone opportunities for travel experienced by people living in  other parts of the world.

Here, where I live, to buy into so much sybaritic comfort made possible so that I and others can while away or “kill time” in superficial pleasures  requires a suspension of disbelief. The modern airport is an extension of the modern shopping mall, if I interpret The Province article correctly. Waiting, in transit between one place and the next, I must be entertained, pampered, pandered to in order to be lulled into acceptance of the “urge” to keep in constant motion around the world, otherwise I may have a spot or two of time where I may begin to think for myself and realize that travel is not what I would rather want or need to do.

Cement Plant…

December 13, 2007

file0002.jpg

In 2004, on an August summer evening, Rumpole took me to take reference photos of the local cement plant. I planned to do a painting of the plant for a fundraiser for the local municipal art gallery the theme of which was – “Paint the Town.” To my thinking, local historical buildings and scenic views did not represent our town of suburbs, downtown core of cement buildings, malls with their massive concrete parking lots, the hard paving that we travelled on daily and were surrounded by, everywhere. For some reason, the cathedral of cement, from where all this suburban skin originated – the local Lafarge Cement plant – seemed an appropriate icon for ‘our town’.

So there we were, the two of us, at dusk. We wandered around the plant grounds. It felt abandoned, with a few cement trucks parked, ready to resume their next morning’s labour of moving wet cement to add yet more hard surface to the steadily encroaching spread of our community – bridges and overpasses, house basements, driveways and walkways, streets, mall parking lots – all multiplying like a grey mold. Rumpole didn’t seem to be as excited as I was by this place. He was more interested in making sure I took “The Proper Picture” and followed me around, taking the camera from my hand to see what the photos were like, and giving instruction on how best to take pictures. After all, it was his camera that was being used, and he has strong ideas as to what constitutes “good photos”. I was pretty pig-headed, myself, as to what kind of reference I needed to work from, so as we walked about in the failing light, we engaged in our usual heated discussion. Finally, I growled at him to back off and let me do my visual note-taking by myself.

There was something engaging about the persistence and vigour of the tall evergreen that flanked the plant. It suggested the power of nature to endure, to reclaim its primacy over any attempts to supress it. Thus it was this picture which I felt the most useful to work with and from.. It also approximated my idea of what constitutes the notion of “picturesque”.

This cement plant sits alongside a road many townies take regularly to access the ferry across the river. It is a landmark that goes largely unremarked, I suspect, not of as great importance or noteworthiness as the mountain that looms over our community, and which has been painted and photographed innumerable times. And yet, there it perches, this amazing structure, and has persisted in its peculiar architecture for over forty years. In terms of time, this is not so long a period, and yet as far as history of our town goes, its presence has been pivotal to the steady growth and spread over this region. So, how could it not be an important landmark, of sufficient interest to be used as an image representing the specifics of our town? I went with it, whole hog!

The painting, in oils on canvas, was three feet square. The scale was an important consideration to me. The painting grew apace, with a lurid and angry reddish sky. I delivered it to the gallery, still slightly tacky, as reds take a longer time to dry. It sat among the rest of the fundraising paintings and photos, like quite an odd man out. The mountain was represented at least in ten works; the parks, the dykes and historic buildings, nostalgia inducing, made up the rest of the images on offer. I could see that my painting might be a hard sell – not many people could live with a painting of an industrial subject, say, above their floral couch or looming over their dining room table.

At the fundraising auction, my painting did not incite vigorous bidding. A lady picked it up for $300. Well, at least it got some money for the art gallery, so that was fine. One thing though, I never took a picture of the painting for my own records, but that’s not so big a deal – it’s out there somewhere, even if it takes up a spot under someone’s bed.

A year ago, I was browsing through a second-hand store in town. Tucked in a corner, between a bookshelf and a ratty armoire was my painting of the cement plant. No price tag on it. I hunted down the clerk and asked him how much was being asked for the painting. $350, he said, “and it’s by a well known local member of the Mountain Club. It’s an original, you know – a real steal.” Later, that evening, I casually mentioned to Rumpole that my painting ended up in the second-hand store.

He studied my face, looking for signs of disappointment and dismay. “I’ll go buy it back. I like that painting.”

“Nope,” I said. “Once a painting is done and out in the world, it needs to find its way on its own. It has its own legs; let it end up where it ends up.”

“But, aren’t you feeling somewhat sad about it being remaindered?” he asked.

“Well, this is a good lesson about ego, self-importance, preciousness, letting go – it is a good lesson for me to think about.” I said.

Come to think of it – all those men who make roads, foundations, cement buildings do so in anonymity. I have my funny little signature appended to a part of my painting of the plant. The painting is one of many out in the world a mere speck of colour on a stretched sheet of canvas. It has served its purpose for me as its maker. It may, in its small way, cause people seeing it to wonder why someone might have lavished so much time and attention to crafting such an image. If it makes anyone, just one more person than myself, see the meaning, and importance that a cement plant has in our lives, my labours will have served their purpose.