Archive for the ‘ecology’ Category

The Conference Workshop with the three amigas…

January 23, 2010

We were as ready to lead the workshop for teachers as any oveprepared presenters might be. In fact, we were so nervous in anticipation we thought we should arrive at the conference venue two hours before our stint was to begin. Then, we found out we could only arrive just an hour prior to star time.
The evening before we went over our materials and equipment checklists, trial ran CDRs on the laptop we were to use and almost added to our burgeoning boxes items we deemed essential for workshop participants to have.
Lee conjectured, “Should we take pencils and pens for the people?”
“Are you kidding me?” I snapped back. “We are not dealing with high school students here. Surely to God no self-respecting teacher would dare turn out to a workshop sans writing equipment!”
I did think having rice-powder on hand for the participants to try out making Kolams and Rangoli was essential, so I busied myself with the trusty Braun coffee grinder and ground up a whack of rancid rice that was about to be heaved into garbage. The jar of rancid rice-powder was large enough to provide coverage of Kolams over a large area of pavement. I didn’t think people would be overwhelmed by the smell of it. Besides which, “waste not, want not” is my motto. Rice Powder, check!
Meanwhile Louise was pasting labels on all items to remain in the teaching kits, and double checking contents. Lee was reorganizing the workshop handouts and making sure all was in order. We did this in the kitchen. Rumpole came home to find the place a disaster zone and kicked his way to the bedroom to change into his grubbies. We finished our labours, drank one more cup of cold tea, loaded our stuff into two cars and parted company with plans to meet up at the Conference place with all our stuff the following morning at 7am. Lee was to pick me up at quarter of seven, practically the crack of dawn.
The morning of, I scrambled around half-asleep after a largely sleepless night, washed, dressed, got the kinks out of my hair and bolted back a couple of cups of coffee. Waited beside Rumpole’s snoozing Hyundai as I waited for Lee to arrive in her red Mustang. Bless that youngster, she had brought me a Starbucks latte. As we drove toward the Conference place Dawn broke over the horizon in a milky iridescent pearl-grey band. The day promised to be mild and dry.
When we arrived at the parking lot, Lee nipped into the building to find a dolly to haul our gear, leaving me to call Louise and let her know exactly where we were parked. Louise arrived just as I was unloading the stuff from the Mustang’s trunk. Soon, Lee returned with the dolly in tow and we loaded the containers on to it and went to find our workshop room.
Luck was on our side. We were booked into a science lab with many electric outlets, a big screen and gererous white-boards as well as two sinks. Perfect for an art workshop.
Lee proceeded to set up the electronic equipment, and much to our relief it all promised to work as required. Louise set out the handout material and placed printed visuals onto the whiteboard with stick-um. I set out art materials into stations adequate for a large group to work at without a hitch. We were so organized we had a half- hour to spare before deadline for start. We went in search of muffins to feed on. These two gals were an absolute joy to work alongside!
When teachers straggled in, with no one late ( they are so conditioned to time dictates) I was surprised to note there were no men in the group. All women, mostly young ones who looked so very young. Just three retirement-age ladies in a group of 19 souls. I suddenly felt like a creaky antique.

Lee opened up the workshop with having everyone introduce themselves. She looked glamorous in her Punjabi suit outfit of Royal blue with gold embroidery.. On her wrists she wore Indian bangles with bells attached – so whenever she needed to call people to attention she only had to shake her arms. Louise overlooked proceedings like a fond aunt. I sat by the side as grannie types are wont to.
I had prepared the lesson plans on Kolams and Rangoli and figured if someone else could present and lead the lesson, any teacher attending the workshop could also follow the information for successful presentation. The workshop participants got right down to work, experimented, made permanent examples with chalk on black paper for themselves and experimented with rice-powder Kolams on the floor. They got so involved that they worked right through the half-hour rest period. I helped with making Kolams on the floor, showing how to hold the powder in the palm and trickle it to the ground and make gestures whilst doing so. Participants made amazing patterns and expressed eagerness to show the process to students. Lee glowed with pleasure. Louise went around the room documenting people at work, so much so she went through two sets of batteries. We all had great fun, largely in silence.
We were all so occupied with making Kolams we ran out of time for the presentation of the second half of the workshop. The keeners wanted us to carry on, so we showed CDRs on Navajo sandpainting, discussed similarities and differences for those two types of imagemaking, emphasizing the ritual differences, showed the sand which to use in making sandpaintings and discussed techniques for making permanent examples with students. It helped to have two permanent sandpaintings Lee had brought back at Christmastime from Arizona. The principle of Symmetry exemplified in both types of images was a huge topic of discussion, as was the abstraction inherent in both. The teachers expressed that they could use both to teach mathematical concepts, and also to have students use symmetry in their expressions of beauty and story telling.
They also stated that since we had made teaching kits using the internet for much of our research, they could further have students continue to research and compare information found on the net.
Overall the workshop was a success. We packed up our supplies and headed back to my kitchen to decompress over a couple of pots of tea. Louise planned to take out one of the kits for high schools and use the information for teaching art during the next semester. She also decided to extend the scope of the kit by designing further lesson plans and units. She has much to work with from the kit – on Contemporary Ephemeral Art and its practitioners – with DVDs added to explore in depth the work and its underlying concepts.
Lee called me this afternoon while I had my head down for a nap. She had begun to teach the unit on Kolams and Rangoli and reported her kids were tremedously excited by the potential for making ephemeral art in public spaces. Maybe the future grafitti taggers ( taggers give such pain to the maintenance crews in our town) will make practice of leaving their mark using ephemeral materials which disappear in short time.
It feels terrific to have brough this project of ours to such a succesful conclusion. I am anticipating seeing concrete results from our project by school year’s end. The project has been a form of therapy for me, useful, encouraging, engaging. Being part of it reassured me that I still have the “stuffing” left in me with which to contribute in my small way to my community, vision problems be damned.

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.

Is it a vole…or is it a rat?

July 28, 2008

Our last morning on the island, Jeanine was unloading the dishwasher, Martha was organizing the recycling, and I was folding dried bedding. We were cleaning up our traces of a week’s habitation in Ron’s house. The sky was leaking fat dollops of rain, the first rain we had seen in several weeks. Our stay on the island had been full of sunshine and miraculous sunsets. The day’s rain made it easy to leave such idyllic a setting, to return to our suburbian lives rife with traffic and the roar of lawnmowers.

I was mentally reviewing a magical sighting of ravens winging overhead and calling to each other with their stones-dropping-into-water knocking sounds, when Martha’s urgent call beckoned.

“Quick, you guys, get over here, RIGHT NOW!!”. She had her nose plastered against the sliding glass door of the dining room and was gazing fixedly toward the outdoor bird feeding station. Jeanine and I converged and pressed our noses to the glass as well, eager to see some exotic new bird. Some rosy headed finches were chasing each oher around the feeder. A rufous-sided towhee muscled its way to the preferred area of the platform and put the finches to flight into the surrounding hedge.

“It’s the same old birds,” complained Jeanine brandishing a fistful of mixed cutlery. “Nothing new here. I’m going back to my labours.”

“Stay a moment and watch,” suggested Martha, “Just keep looking at the bottom of the feeder post.” We stayed put and watched, waited.

Soon a low rodent slinked out of the shadows at the bottom of the hedge, made a run to the base of the feeder, curled its body into a ball and proceeded to chow down on fallen seeds. It had cute round ears and button black eyes, a rounded head and fawn-coloured fur. I opened the sliding door, whereupon the beastie scurried back into the safety of the hedge. It flashed a longish tail.

“Eeuw!!” exclaimed Jeanine. “It’s a rat!!!” She slammed shut the sliding door. We stood on the inside, gazing out to get more sightings of this rat.

The animal made several forays into the grass around the bird-feeder’s base. It sat there munching away, undisturbed by the birds above, and by us shut safely behind glass doors. At every opportunity I studied its movements and conformation. While it shared rodent characteristics with rats, it looked distinctively different, shorter and rounder in body and with a compressed face that reminded me of a gerbil’s. Its eyes were bigger and more button-like, not beady like a rat’s.

“That might be a vole,” I conjectured. “There are voles living out in the wilds here. While it kind of looks like a rat it is too rotund, and its belly is a lighter colour.”

“Pshaw,” said Martha. “You are half blind, G. You can’t mean to tell me you can actually see it has a lighter underside. It’s got to be a rat!”

“Well, I can see flashes of beige.” I asserted. “Go look it up on Ron’s computer.” Yep, we were on an island, but the internet has extended its hooks even here, even if it was only by dial-up.

“We don’t have time to check,” said Martha, peevish. “We have to get our garbage down to the transfer station. I still say it’s a rat.”

“Yuk!” uttered Jeanine. “Just think, here we have been lolling around in the mornings and evenings with all the sliding doors open, and these rats may have taken up residence inside the house. What will Ron think when he comes home and finds his house infested with rats?”

“Well,” said Martha in her reasoning manner, ” he may rethink feeding birds outside. I had to stop doing that at home when I saw rats that were getting fat on fallen seed from my bird-feeder.”

“No kidding, you guys.” I repeated. “There are such things a voles. It’s probably just a vole who has discovered an easy source of food.” I opened the sliding door and returned to my chore of folding sheets and towels.

Here I’m back home and after greeting Rumpole and having a coffee with him, after playing with Jessica and giving her a dog cookie, after picking up the General and ruffling his fur, I repaired to Google the flora and fauna of the island we had been staying on. Sure enough, there are both voles and rats on that island. But after looking the photographs I am only halfway convinced that what we saw there was a vole. How can I be sure, me with my poor vision?

But, whatever it was, it was doing a fair job of fattening itself for the winter ahead, and also had secured itself a source of ready food for the leaner months. This is all to the good, providing it was a vole and not a rat. Ron may not be happy to have a whole population or brown rats he is feeding in perpetuity. And heaven help him if they take up domicile in his garage or basement. He will be inundated.

Surely he must be aware of that possibility. Maybe its us squeamish suburban matrons who need to take  deep breath and relax about the whole thing. Maybe I need to convince myself that it was just an innocent vole who we had sighted. Who knows?

Studio visit with Anarchist/Artist…

June 12, 2008

Flora and I had been planning this trip up the coast for a couple of weeks. We intended to visit Anarchist/Artist, take him for lunch, see his local exhibition and then visit his studio. I was pumped, and not only because for a shut-in, like me, a trip like this is a special gift, but also because I so much enjoy spending time with Anarchist/Artist and see him pull out of storage one remarkable work after another. Prissy german Tourist, who is also friends with him, and I, both consider Anarchist/Artist one of of B. C.’s underappreciated artistic treasures. He is absolutely committed to his work and to living within certain stringent principles which he espouses. A man to admire, in the complete sense of admiration of coherent belief and practice as exemplars in living. He does good, does no harm, and lives gently with great respect for the gifts life bestows upon him.

Taking a ferry to get to his community is such a production. Because Flora is such a fine and intelligent companion, time travelling didn’t seem so onerous. En route, we discussed various points of politics and practice of the publicly funded gallery system. We admired the views from the ferry’s lounge, even though the day was one of lowering skies, greens, and misty greys. We watched a small motor boat struggle to cross the bow of the ferry up ahead, quite nervous and anticipating a small marine disaster. Some operators of small craft have little awareness of the speed of larger vessels. Our coast has a history of many accidents during such attempts to not lay by and let a larger boat have right of way. We were quite relieved to note the smaller boat scoot out of danger, by a hair, it seemed.

Once debarked, we made good time on the Coast road, and soon turned off the highway onto the dirt track where Anarchist/Artist’s cabin and studio nestled among a profusion of Rhododendrons, past bloom, and tall evergreens. An eight foot cairn marks the parking area. A bonsai-ed horse-chestnut tree in a planter stands near the front steps; its leaves perfect and tender green. Sweet woodruff carpetsthe foundations on either sides of the staircase. We peeked through the glass door to see Anarchist/Artist upright near his vomiting skeleton sculpture, happily sipping from a ceramic mug with a temmoku glaze. We tapped on the window. He came and let us in; greeted us with warm hugs and kisses on the cheek.

I invariably feel good whenever in his company. He is courtly, charming, beautifully spoken with an educated British accent. In his mid-sixties, he is aging as only men who have led a healthful and considered life age – gracefully and well. He lives a simple and aesthetic life surrounded by his work, by books, music, and growing things which he propagates for his survival and consumption. On his easel was a recent still-life study of a clutch of beets and their greens. This glowed in jewel-like splendour, made with reverence, vigour and beautiful marks. When asked if he got his vegetable garden in ample time this spring, he bemoaned that he had been reluctant to set out his cucumber seedlings because nights, even in June, have been so cold this year. He is fearful he will not get in his usual crop. He grows an organic cash crop, and exchanges for meats and other supplies. We wondered what kind of crop he might get this year. The weather has been so unusually somber and lacking in hot sunny days.

Flora sked him wher he migh want to go for lunch. we decided to blow the budget and go to a restaurant where there was a good chef. However, after we drove there we found it closed. We went off to a waterfront pub and sat outside under propane heaters ( a most unusual necessity in late spring at this latitude). We ate, drank wine with our pub fare and discussed his long career. Flora demonstrated by her demeanor that she much enjoyed his company. I listened and posed some questions and small observations. After all, our intention in visiting with Anarchist/Artist was to have the two of them meet and discuss further exhibition possibilities of A/A’s works.

After lunch we drove to the local Municpal Gallery, where A/A’s plein air paintings of local industrial landscapes were exhibited. I should hesitate to label them as “plein air” because they are qualitatively much different with what is associated with plein air paintings. They are really direct studies of industrial constructions in the landscape, and as such differ from the flabby, inchoate landscapes that are lately characterized as plein air paintings. A/A has an acute manner of distilling industrial forms, and way of notating the characteristic land, water and sky patterns of our region. As a collection, this exhibition should be bought by a local museum, as examples of a painter’s recording of the economic activities of a specific region. But, by God, there were several I would have loved to have for myself! We stayed in the gallery for a long time. I entertained myself by getting nose-to-painting looks at the marks he had made the paintings of, and studying his truly idiosyncratic use of colour. What a treat!

We drove back to his studio afterward and stayed for a couple of hours more. He pulled out from storage his more controversial and political work, some drawings and studies. We looked at his collection of seed-pods, bones, roots, a remarkable desiccated skunk, stones and dried insects. Much of his graphic work is inhabited by the presence of these objects as part of the symbolic vocabulary he uses. He has obviously developed his visual language over many past decades of consideration and study, and in his work offers permutations and combinations of them much as a poet does of words and metaphors. The energy and control with which he makes his marks is masterful; his skill developed by years of trial and practice. he is a remarkable colourist. While his political imagery is disturbing, it has the conviction of thought and belief, long considered, as underpinning. One may or may not like his paintings, his prints, but they seep into the brain, into memory, under the skin and won’t let go. Flora looked and looked, commented, asked questions. I asked to buy a book of his prints and one of his more anarchist print images for myself. But there is one remarkable painting i am going to save my shekels for, now. I know Rumpole wont necessarily like it, but usually he assents to my decision to acquire art that means something to me.

Flora and i realized after a time that we were almost going to mis the ferry home. So we said our goodbyes to and appreciation of the time Anarchist/Artist had given us. On the trip home we discussed how Flora might be able to raise funds to have an exhibition of Anarchist/Artist’s work at our Municipal gallery. We brainstormed over coffee and muffins and filled paper napkins with copious notes of our fundraising ideas. We agreed it had been a day spent in the best possible way.

Today I am exhausted, but happy at having had such a wonderful experience and opportunity. I just hope Anarchist/Artist doesn’t feel like we have wasted his time. And I am hoping that a local exhibition comes about from the meeting between him and Flora.

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

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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.

The Old Forester…

August 30, 2007

Last Saturday, Rumpole and I were babysitting Mousey.  She had just gone down for a nap, he and I were sitting on the pation writing up the grocery list so Rumpole could go off shopping. We were expecting Andras, an old friend of Anyu’s to come and bunk with us for the weekend, and were concerned about feeding him the right Hungarian foods during his stay. Rumpole insisted on Paprikas Csirke (Chicken Paprikash) with Voros Kaposzta and Nokkedli. This is an old standby recipe that we have fed to many friends and visitors. Poor Andras, he not only had Hungarian food to look forward to at his Sopron Foresters Picnic on Sunday, but also for the main meals at our house. Rumpole went off, humming, to buy the necessary groceries.

Later that evening, with dinner assembled and slow cooking in the oven, we waited for Andras to arrive. He was two hours later than anticipated, so we were beginning to worry that he had troubles with traffic or had got lost on his way to our house. When he finally showed up, we were relieved and made him familiar with the facilities of the house, got him settled in his room and poured him the glass of wine he requested.

I had not seen him for twenty years, and during that time both of us had changed considerably.  He was shorter than I remembered, his hair all white yet he was straight and spry and full of energy at 78 years of age. The last time we had met at Anyu’s I was bald and skinny, having just got out from the Leukemia ward. He now expressed amazement at my shock of curly grey hair.

After dinner, Rumpole and I asked him questions about his early years in Canada, and of how he and an organized group of students and faculty from the Sopron School of Forestry managed to arrive en masse after leaving Hungary. He talked about the differences in forestry practices in these two regions, and of the impact a European model of forest management had on Canadian methods. My head was reeling with so much information later that night after we had all gone to bed.  I lay in bed, tossing and turning, thinking, trying to process all he had told us.

The following day, he went off to his day-long picnic.  When he returned later in the evening he was full of stories of friends he had seen there, of how they were coping in retirement.  He was full of energy and wanting to share his impressions of his day. He shared with us a video of the 50th Anniversary of the Sopron arrivals; showed us photographs of his latest horse-back riding adventures in the Coastal Range.  There he was, in these pictures: looking dashing on horseback as befitted a man trained in the Hungarian Cavalry more than 60 years ago; energetically pitching a tent in the wilderness; and poking about among the vegetation on talus slopes, studying the flora. I brought out all the Hungarian books I had retrieved from Anyu’s book collection after her death and showed them to Andras.  He picked out two that were classics of Hungarian literature and which he did not have a copy. “Take them to read” I suggested, “returning them will give you an excuse to come and stay with us again”. Andras was frustrated that he couldn’t read them in bed that evening because he had misplaced his reading glasses in his travels.

On the way to bed Rumpole whispered to me “That Andras is indefatigable. I just hope I have that kind of energy when at his age!”

The following morning, as Andras was loading up his car and warming it up, Rumpole and I were sipping our morning coffee. Andras came in all aflutter and announced there was something wrong with his car.  Rumpole went out in his pajamas and discovered that the car’s radiator was leaking like a sieve. We conferred in the kitchen, made phone calls to our local garage and determined that Andras would have to stay one more night with us.  The old fellow dithered about not getting home, after all he had been away visiting for the past 9 days and was missing his footing. “You go with Rumpole to the garage, and I’ll figure out a way to entertain you the rest of the day while we wait for the car to be repaired” I told him.

Andras and Rumpole went off in convoy to the garage.  Meanwhile Martha called and we discussed what might be a good distraction and entertainment for Andras. We hit upon the solution to take him on a hike at a local nature trail, and then afterwards walk the shores of a nearby lake. Martha was going to drive and accompany us on this excursion after lunch.

Andras was thrilled to be taken on an outing outdoors.  Later, as Martha was driving us to the forest, Andras identified first and second growth forests for us. At the nature trail, he hopped and cavorted like a delightful wizened child, loped along from one fallen undergrowth to another, identifying mosses, fungi and other understory vegetation. He was in his element, enjoying himself tremendously and being a patient and informative teacher.  Martha and I poked along behind him inspecting and touching tha various natural growths. It was magical. The filtered light dappled the rich green of the mossy forest floor; the coolness of the forest was a welcome relief from the hot day.

Afterward, at the lakeshore, we wandered around enjoying the many small brooks that meandered off the mountain and learned from Andras the identity of the mixed vegetation. We basked on the shore and took turns tossing bits of wood for Martha’s Jack Russel to fetch from the water. On the walk uphill to the parking lot, Andras got out of breath and we stopped frequently to look around at all the life around us.

On the way home, Andras was quiet, his energy run down. Once we arrived home I made him a good pot of chai, which he had never tasted before and found much to his taste. Then he lay down on the couch to rest, and fell into a snooze. The garage phoned to let us know his car had been fixed. I arranged for someone to come and fetch him and take him to pick up his car, and woke him from his nap.

By the time Andras came back with his car, Rumpole had arrived back from work.  They were both peckish, so we sat down to a simple bableves, salad and fruit.  Andras was quite tired after supper, took a walk around the neighbourhood and went to bed upon his return. I went for an evening walk with Kay and her sister and Rumpole retired to read.

The following morning, Andras left us early in the morning.  He had a 250 mile drive ahead of him. He gave us both vigorous hugs, popped into his car, waved and drove away.

Rumpole and I sat over our morning coffee, ruminating.

“There is something amazing about persons who live their lives following a passion. It fills them with so much energy and love of life.  Andras is one of these fortunate people” I said, and described to Rumpole the walk in the woods with Andras.

As I do, Rumpole also hopes we again, soon, have the pleasure of Andras’s company. Twenty years is too long a time between visits,

Palimpsest…

August 11, 2007

The blackboard hangs on the wall, one half smeared with the white dust of last day’s markings: equations erased sweeps of chalk, conjugated verbs yesterday’s faint powder tracery or, perhaps, listed assignments an obscured scrawl.

I have been out of the class room for the past twenty-two years. Yet, every August about half-way through the month, my thoughts return, like migrating geese to their winter home, to the class-rooms of my fourteen year career as a teacher.

The other day I was in Staples looking for a mechanical pencil, of the type I like to keep in my purse and with which to make scratchy diagrams and drawings to illustrate points of discussion whenever I am having coffee with friends. Down one aisle of the store were cork bulletin boards and small blackboards that could be hung on a kitchen or office wall. It occurred to me that a medium sized blackboard would come in handy for my at-home-studio teaching of drawing and painting.

When I taught high-school art classes, I loved to go into school early in the morning and lay out with white and coloured chalks notes and drawings of ideas we were involved in exploring. The previous afternoon, before leaving the class room my last  act would be to sweep aside that day’s scrawled and drawn information. Often, I would pause and study the cryptic comments made by students in the margins of my own marks – these were signs of their engagement, or not, in our mutual mind activity of the day. Sometimes, I would be careful to preserve little islands of student scrawls and leave them on the board for days; this mystified the kids.

I always loved the immediacy and casual nature of the black-board – its impermanence, its vast empty space for mind-markings, its pentimentos of coloured chalk echoing through newly printed and drawn information.

I think I’ll go to the lumber yard and buy a 4ft by 4ft slab of masonite, buy some chalkboard paint and make my own blackboard for my studio.  On it I can then rehearse ideas, work out images, play and elaborate to my heart’s content, have a space for students to also work out their own concepts and carry forward in the present this fondness for that matte-surfaced, valuable palimpsest.