Archive for the ‘interiors’ Category

Jam-jar aesthetics…

October 23, 2008

If people were generally more knowledgeable about the resources used and labour expended in the fabrication of the simplest items of daily use we would find the contemporary privilege of unchecked choice horrific, wasteful and counter to our need for self-preservation as a species.

One day, while waiting for my friend to complete her banking business, I wandered around our local Value Village. In several long aisles there were a staggering variety and number of flower-vases, lined up higgledy-piggledy, cheek to jowl – vases that householders had found lacking in currently favoured taste, and which then they had discarded or otherwise removed from their consciousness and environs. Mind you, there were no un-noticed Daum or Lalique vases with which to tempt the tightwad person of bourgeois aspirations. There were however many acceptable containers in which to temporarily house flowers arriving at our shore from overseas flower growers. Yes – there was that delicately cut bud-vase in which to display that red rose from Colombia, the one that would make its way home from a refrigerated container at the harbour’s edge, to the auction house on Marine Drive and then from the local florist or grocery store. A visitor to the house, where such rose is displayed in its hot-house glory, might sigh in appreciation at the unblemished perfection of the flower amply displayed in the tasteful and delicate cut glass bud-vase. The fact that it is the last gasp of autumn here and no roses can thus bloom on their shrubs would simply not occur to the visitor, the magnificence simply erases all practical and logical thought.

And such is the case with most of North-Americans’ aesthetic manner of living. Special containers need specimen and uncommon flowers to display, and there must be a variety of containers available – to suit every taste and personal economy. It is somewhat doubtful that a fashionable matron in the British Properties, or in Shaughnessy would walk along ditches and fields, collect wildflowers and display them in an empty Smuckers Strawberry Jam jar. No, for such a lady the Meinhardt’s on South Granville or a flower selller on Granville Island or in Kerrisdale might provide the exotic blooms for which the vases are purchased from Atkinson’s or Martha Sturdy on Granville or even Birks, downtown. The aspiring middle-class housewife might purchase her flowers from the local flowershop, or the grocery store, and her vases from Bowrings, Ikea or Homesense. Women, disparagingly classified as granola-munchers, the frugal or the poor ones might just do with a second-hand vase picked up at a garage sale or thrift shop, and if really skint, then put into service the good old jam-jar or milk bottle.

I have to confess that I have often displayed downwardly-mobile tendencies in the past, and continue to do so to this day. While I love beauty in its myriad forms, I feel no pressure to own it. It is enough that it merely exists, everywhere, commonplace hard-wrought beauty. Of particular value are the tools with which life is carried on; they need to be functional and long-lasting – in that resides their beauty. The term, “gilding the lily” comes to mind. One does not have to apply flourishes to something whose inherent beauty is enwrapped in its perfect functionality. The field daisy can vie with the lily; both are beautiful, each in their own way and neither needs embellishment and both look spectacular placed in a plain tall drinking glass, or a tall narrow pickle-jar. An ornate carved crystal vase diminishes the flowers, in my opinion. Possible contemplation of the marvel of nature that is a field daisy is distracted by the context of man-made tour-de-force of elaborate craft.

One of the few wedding presents Rumpole and I received was a gorgeous carved Lalique vase. It sat on our mantle for three years and never once housed flowers. It seemed to overpower the kind of flowers and grass stems I picked up in my forays about the neighbourhood. It never loooked right, and seemed to me a reminder of the kind of rarified life I was to aspire to – one of ease, leisure, and material comfort and a distancing from visceral pleasures of a rather grubby life. Never having been a young woman to whom were given flowers, but rather tin snips, wire cutters, metal files, carving tools and prosthetic arms and other strange, unfeminish items such as strange rocks and concretions or dried dead things. The joke in our house was that if it came from a ditch, field, or midden it took pride of place on the mantle; however if a glorious bouquet of flowers came from a flower shop or decor shop it was left to decay, deform and otherwise gather dust and then it was of value. That poor Lalique vase never had a chance for long survival. Whilst packing up the house to move up north to our acreage and log house in the bush, I was carefullly sorting and determining just what objets deserved careful wrapping and placing into packing boxes. The concretions, shells, bits of bark, twigs, stones and seeds were carefully wrapped and set aside. Similarly, any old and roughed up glass medicine jars picked up from dusty second hand stores and jars of pleasant proportion, with or without lids, were lovingly seated among crumpled nests of newspaper and insulated against brakage. I had left the Lalique vase to the end, considered giving it to my mother, who might have been horrified at what an unsentimental ingrate I was to not value such a beautiful gift. I held it nestled in my hands as I stood above the flagged stone apron of the fireplace, contemplated the vase and what it meant to me,to the giver, to any other recipient who might have valued it; decided that I had neither the inclination nor energy to spend time in seeking a new home for the vase, opened my fingers and dropped it onto the stones. It shattered into fine pieces, which I then swept up and put into the dustbin.

The last item I packed from the mantle was a small plaster plaque which six-year old Renaissance Man had made for me of an impression of a leaf. I still have that sitting on my studio window, next to an empty jam-jar ready to hold a foundling weed flower, and alongside a toy firetruck and some retrieved circuit boards. Oh yes, and a cardboard cut out of a brocade bedecked Renaissance Queen.

That is what I consider jam-jar aesthetics; a not very fashionable one, but which gives me far more satisfaction than the Lalique vase ever did.

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.

The hanging…

January 14, 2008

The rickety aluminum ladder spanned five feet on the floor and ascended ten feet in height. Terry scaled it like a young chimp, sure-footed; she perched herself at the top. Imperious, like a surgeon in surgery, she held out her hand and demanded “yardstick”. She steeled herself, centering her mass. She pulled the pencil from above her ear with one hand, with the other she measured a distance down from the ceiling and ticked a mark on the dove-grey gallery wall. She, then, aligned the yardstick horizontal from that pencilled mark and measured off a distance. Then she snubbed the yardstick up to the ceiling vertically and marked off a measurement equal to the pencil mark on the other side. She poked the pencil above her ear, and held down the yardstick. “Hammer” she called out.

Flora, the curator, hopped to it; she grabbed the yardstick and placed the hammer into Terry’s outstretched hand. She stepped back and joined Looking-for-Beauty who was standing back photographing the proceedings with her digital camera. I slouched beside them and watched this young woman perching so surely on that ladder. LFB showed me some shots on her camera screen. Great photos, even if Terry was shown from the back. She took some balletic poses; her oversized black t-shirt and black tights made wonderful, unexpected, shapes against her outstretched arms.

Terry fished some nails from her waistband, held one between her lips and made to fasten the other into the wall. A couple of efficient slaps of the hammer seated the nail. She stretched to the other side, plucked the nail from between her pursed lips, positioned it with a deft touch and pounded it into place. “OK, you guys, bring the scroll,” she said and turned from the waist to watch Flora and me roll up either end of the ten-foot paper scroll and position it between the ladder and the wall.

Flora and I unfurled the top part; Terry pulled it into place at the top of the wall and secured the hanging clips to the nailheads. She scooted down from the ladder and pulled it back a few feet. Flora and I unrolled the bottom of the scroll and let it hang. Terry stood back and appraised the level of the top edge. “It’s off level,” she said. “G, please bring me the big level.” She pushed the ladder back into its original position, scaled the rungs, grabbed her pencil with a flourish and held down her other hand to receive the level. She calculated, made a corrective pencil mark on the wall to raise one side of the scroll, handed down the level and exchanged it for the hammer Flora handed up to her. Within seconds she corrected the position of the nail and rehung the scroll,  now perfectly horizontal and vertical.

Once she had climbed down, we all stood back and admired the tall multi-media painting/drawing. We scanned the overall impression made by the rest of the works on the gallery walls. Terry had hung the large works with use of the tall ladder. Sarah and I had hung all the medium and small sized works. LFB had documented the process, and Flora had overseen the positioning and sequencing of the whole exhibition. We had worked largely in silence as a team and the installation seemed to have taken hardly any time at all.

I was so happy that I could do my little bit, in spite not being able to see clearly the measurements as Sarah and I worked with the tape, level, hammer, hangers and pencil. But it was Sarah’s first time in doing an exhibition installation, and I could help her routinize the system of hanging a series of same-sized works. It is a method much like riding a bycicle – once you have mastered the skills and routines, doing it once again even after a long absence is the same as getting back on the bike and riding off. I must say, I returned home afterward with a certain feeling of satisfaction. I like being part of a work team; it feels great to accomplish such a job.

At the exhibition opening next Saturday, Sarah, LFB, I, Terry and Flora will have the pleasure of seeing the young artist’s reaction to seeing his works hanging in the gallery space. We know his studio is not large enough to permit such a preview of how his series looks, up all together in a space designed for viewing the impact of this body of work. I know we are all hoping he will have a spurt of pleasurable satisfaction and pride when he first casts his eyes on all this. His work, after all has been a labour of love and deserves love of labour from all of us in bringing it to public viewing.

The Blackamoor in the bathroom…

October 11, 2007

As  a young child I was generally unafraid of the dark and of night. My older sister Ildiko and I shared a room, somewhat large, where we slept at night in a trundle bed that rolled out into separate sleeping pallets. During the day, this arrangement reverted to a day-bed. The grand piano hulked beside this. It made a perfect diving board from which to play swimming pool whenever our friends came to play. Naturally whenever we played swimming pool, Anyu was busy out in the kitchen or handwashing our laundry on the back balcony. Ildiko finally told on us. She always sought to separate herself from naughty activities in which I gleefully partook (and most likely instigated). She was the family’s good girl; my role was that of the bad girl. I didn’t mind this too much as it seemed Ildiko enjoyed  life a lot less.

Ildiko was an anxious, nervous young girl. At night, when I was hunkered down in my blankets drifting into sleep, she would hiss in the darkness. “Quick, look toward the piano, something is moving there!”

Annoyed, I sat up in bed and looked. It was dark, a faint light filtered in through the lace curtains and highlighted a chair draped in our clothes. “It’s just the chair, see? Now let me go to sleep ” I reassured her.

Ildiko was always fearful that something terrible would happen, some unforseen disaster or punishment for an imagined wrong-doing. She was especially in her frightened glory when we visited Nagyanyu and Dedike in Budapest. There was a Blackamoor Anyu called Dezso in the bathroom. This bathroom was closet sized, without windows to the outside. It had black and white tiles on the floor and intricate pressed white tiles on the walls. The light switch was on the outside beside the door-post.

Dezso hulked in the corner, black as sin. He was an ebony sculpture almost as tall as I was then. He wore a white turban of enamelled wood. His eyes were wide open and fierce. The whites of his eyes were inlaid ivory, as were the large teeth in his leering, grinning mouth. His muscled arms were raised at chest height, hands to elbows, and here the bath towels were draped. His massive powerfully-muscled chest rose from a plinth. (I now know what this kind of sculpture is called – a herm.) He looked like I imagined the genie rising from the bottle to look, legless, hovering with a glamorous, dangerous power.

Ildiko never wanted to go to the bathroom alone, and made me go with her to stand guard whenever she had to use the facilities. This was so tedious!

One day I decided to pull a prank on her.  I was bored. On one of her accompanied visits to the bathroom, I waited until she had her pants down and was squatting on the toilet, then quickly ducked out the door, flicked off the bathroom light and held the door closed with all my skinny weight. Ildiko asked me to turn the light back on. I stayed silent and didn’t respond. She pulled on the door to open it. I clung on for all I was worth. It stayed closed. She began to panic; she begged and pleaded for me to open the door. After a while, she began to sob in earnest and whispered in between sobs that Dezso was going to eat her alive, that she could feel him creeping up on her in the dark.

“I know you don’t care. You want me to die!” she accused, her voice becoming panicky.

I didn’t respond. Ildiko began to shriek and wail.

Anyu poked her head into the hall from the salon. “Gabi, what are you doing now? Why is your sister crying?”

“We’re only playing. ” I said, “and Ildiko is taking it far too seriously!”

Anyu plied my clinging hands from the door lever and liberated teary faced Ildiko. She came out of the bathroom sobbing and shaking. She rushed into Anyu’s reassuring embrace. In between sobs and gaspings for breath she suggested, “Punish Gabi. She needs to know what it is to be fearful for her life. Let Dezso eat her now!”

Anyu ordered me into the dark bathroom. I strolled in, full of bravado. Ildiko closed the door on me; complete darkness enveloped me, the bathtub, sink, toilet and Dezso. I sat down on the cool tiled floor and waited. Dezso made neither sound  nor movement. I crawled over to where I estimated he was standing and ran my hands over his form. He didn’t budge or waver, and his teeth and face felt smooth to the touch. He did not chomp my exploring fingers. Then I had the idea that I should pretend to be afraid, so I started faking sobs and cries and what Ildiko might think were appropriate terror sound from someone who was being eaten by monsters.

At first, she gloated from outside the door. “Now you know what it is to be so afraid!”

I redoubled the dramatics. “Help me, please! Oh, help!! Dezso is eating my hands!”

“Are you bleeding?” asked Ildiko.

“Yes, yes, the towels are getting soaked”, I moaned piteously, “Anyu will be so upset with me getting the towels bloody.”

The bathroom light came on suddenly. Ildiko rushed into the room to save me. As she realized there was no blood on the towels hanging from Dezso’s arms and spied me sitting on the toilet with my legs crossed and swinging, not a panicky tear in sight, she stopped in her tracks and looked at me with disgust.

“Oh, you are so awful! Such a faker!” she announced as she turned to leave the bathroom. “I want nothing more to do with you.”

I patted Dezso on the turban, and went off to do other things.

Dezso was a sculpture that Nagyanyu and Dedike took with them from the family’s estate in Esztergom, as one of the remaining treasures of their previously rich life. After Nagyanyu’s death in 1976, Dezso was removed by relatives. I often wonder what kind of scary play recent generations of children make with Dezso.  Maybe he is given a well lighted room to stand in these days, where he cannot scare young children.

…and tenderly kissed the picture…

September 19, 2007

On a sunny August mid-morning Dedike and I sat alone on the threadbare fauteuil  in the salon. On her way out to go shopping with Ildiko, Anyu reminded me to be polite and careful while keeping Dedike company. She really didn’t need to remind me to behave as I hung on every word uttered by Dedike and always felt privileged to spend time with her. It made me feel special to keep company with her, to witness her strange manner and customs.

This time the novel way Dedike ate grapes was to be the treat for me. Anyu had brought a bowlful of reddish grapes from the kitchen, and placed them to warm up on the opened window’s sill outside the softly billowing ecru lace curtains. Two plates with two small sharp knives and forks sat on the table in front of us.  This table was covered in a fine cut-work and lace cloth that Dedike had made by hand during the time she was pregnant with Nagyanyu (grandmother) before the last decade of the 19th century.  We basked in companionate silence, dappled light shifted across this table and made patterns on her face and hands and alternately caused her marcelled silver hair to gleam or tarnish as we waited for the grapes to warm to the temperature she considered perfect before she deigned to begin the eating ritual.

“Gabi, bring me the grapes, please”, she requested. I jumped up, carefully eased the curtain aside,retrieved the bowl and held it near her.  With fingers trembling she felt the grapes to test their warmth, then imperiously gestured for me to place them in front of her. I sat down and waited. She picked up  her knife, plucked a grape and began to peel it slowly, carefully piling the peelings to one side of her plate. I picked up my knife, plucked a grape, popped it into my mouth and started chewing. I swallowed my grape before she even had hers peeled. She glanced at me, lowered her eyes as she  speared with a fork and placed the naked grape into her mouth.  She chewed with barely a motion of her jaws. To me it seemed like she was taking a communion wafer, what with the ceremony and care with which she went about eating. No-one else I had ever met ate in such a decorous fashion. I tried to copy how she prepared a grape, and didn’t much care for the process.  The knife slipped and took messy gouges out of my grape. The grape was slippery and slimy in texture as it’s skin came off. When I popped it into my mouth it seemed that I had the sensation of eating an eyeball. Peeling grapes also seemed like a huge waste of time, but because I did not dare to continue to consume one undressed grape after another in front of Dedike, I just stopped and watched her, utterly fascinated.

I asked her if she had insisted Nagyanyu and Anyu always eat grapes this way in her presence, She admitted that she tried to instill this habit in both of them, however they reverted to modern manners when not in her company. “Such a pity, the old ways of doing things was much more graceful” she stated.

As we talked, while fingering the table-cloth I asked her if she had taught Anyu to make all kinds of clothwork. (Anyu had no patience to show me how to do crocheting or lace-making and always sent me on my way whenever I asked her to show how she did certain things with needles and thread). I admired the pattern of the cutwork on the table-cloth and asked if she might show me more of her handywork.

When she had her fill of the grapes, she led me to the bathroom where we washed and dried our hands. On the way back to the salon, she stopped in front of the large cupboard and that housed all the linens. ” Come see”, she said as she took down a stack of folded fancywork, carried it into the salon and placed on the old leather sofa under the front window. She had me take each folded piece in turn from the top of the pile, and hand them to her.  She carefully unfolded, smoothed them out and talked about how she, Nagyanyu or Anyu had worked each piece and how long ago. These were beautiful treasures, elaborate, delicate and varied.

There was a framed picture in the stack, and I turned it over to look at before handing it to Dedike. It was an old photograph portrait of an unprepossessing man with a black mustache much like the short bristles of a nail-brush and slicked-down  short dark hair.  His jacket was a uniform of some sort, but rather than looking like some kind of general he looked like a boring old school-master. As I passed this over to Dedike, I remarked “So this is what great-grandfather looked like.”

“Oh, no”,she said gazing at the portrait with a soft smile on her lips. “This is the man I thought to be the ideal husband for Erzsike. (Erzsike was Nagyanyu’s name) He would have made a wonderful grandfather for you.”

To me, he looked decidedly unapproachable and uninteresting, not anyone I would care to have as a grandfather. I asked who he was.

“He was a great man – Hitler – and I adored him” whispered Dedike, pursed her lips, brought the frame up to her face and tenderly kissed the picture. “This is my big secret. And, now I have told you, it is our big secret.” She placed the frame face down on the pile of handwork we had already looked over, patted it and picket up another piece of worked linen.

I suddenly lost interest in looking at the rest of the hand-made treasures and wanted to know more about this Hitler character.  Why did she not put his picture up on the wall beside her bed if she liked him so much? What was it about him that might have made him the perfect husband for Nagyanyu? Where was he now, what happened to him?  Was he a Catholic?  Because if he was would he ever have married Nagyanyu – she had been divorced and was now excommunicated? I badgered her with this series of questions and she answered them with skilled evasions and reiterations of his greatness. She told me he was a great leader of men, a gentleman, a German who loved flowers, children, dogs and art and, that he had died near the end of the Second World War. She was obviously soft about this man, and her answers to me lacked the detail I might have found believable or convincing.

Dedike didn’t realize that Apu had told us some things  about this Hitler.  What he had detailed countered her admiring description.  Apu had described Hitler as an embodiment of the devil. How could Dedike believe someone so obviously evil deserved her love and adoration, or her regret that he never married Nagyanyu?

To have her love of Hitler become a shared secret with me I resolved not to accept. I needed to know  and understand why this ought to be hidden, locked not only in her linen cupboard but in a recess of my mind. This was something that wanted discussion and airing with Apu and Anyu. a mystery that must be studied.

When Dedike returned her treasured handywork collection to the linen cupboard, the picture of Hitler was hidden among layers of cloth. She shut the cupboard door  upon all this, little realizing she had nudged the door of my mind open and left it ajar.

The Dream Home…

August 21, 2007

There is a song from the 60s musical “The Fantasticks” that I particularly loved and these days still sing in a cracked-alto version whenever I am doing mundane chores around the house.

” Hear how the wind begins to whisper -see all the leaves go swirling by – smell how the velvet rain is falling – out where the fields are warm and dry.

Now is the time to run inside and play – now is the time to find a hideaway – where we can stay.

Soon it’s gonna rain, I can feel it; soon it’s gonna rain, I can tell; soon it’s gonna rain, what are we going to do? (Girl)

Soon it’s gonna rain, I can feel it; soon it’s gonna rain, I can tell; soon it’s gonna rain, what’ll we do with you? (Boy)

We’ll find four limbs of a tree; We’ll build four walls and a floor; we’ll bind it over with leaves and run inside to stay.

We will let it rain; we’ll not feel it; we will let it rain, rain pell mell, and we’ll not complain if it never stops at all.

We’ll live and love in these four walls; happily we’ll live and love, no cares at all; happily we’ll live and love, within our castle walls. ”  (Boy and Girl, together)

This romantic song contains all the idealism and lack of practical experience of the young, the yearning for a love that helps one transcend all difficulty. I find its delicious naivete appealing. The Girl and Boy in the musical are supposed to be in their late teens, innocent, inexperienced and full of hope.

There is no hint of the Girl spreading tried-on and discarded brand name clothing on her bedroom floor and on every available surface. Her mother does not call her into the family room to catch the latest HGTV program on tacking together a fun and fashionable teen girl’s room with cool colours and kicky accessories. No “House Porn” for the Girl in The Fantasticks.

I often wonder what kind of longing is set up in sixteen-year old girls when they peruse the flyers that fall through their home mail-slot regularly, the flyers advertising the XXX Hospital Lifestyles Lottery, where the top prize is a million dollar Dream Home fully outfitted with the latest must-have luxuries and gadgets. And only $50 to $100 buys a chance at winning this Dream Home. Of course, the money goes to a good cause – Hospital Funding – so when one gambles one has expiated lingering feelings of guilt by being assured of gambled money going for “The Public Good”.

Some good friends bought a Dream Home from a lucky winner, who really couldn’t make a life in that house, for a variety of reasons. The house was designed by an architect, had soaring windows the three floors height, was situated in a semi-rural setting and had a gorgeous view of the ocean and islands. Outside, deer wandered by and had their way with garden plantings; racoons visited after dark to search for handouts; ravens flew by in the forest during the days, calling to each other and eagles soared in the sky.

There are unexpected downsides to Dream Homes, designed for a generic Mr and Mrs Average. The location of my friends’ house necessitated a two hour commute to and from work. They lived next door to another lottery home whose new owner left the house uninhabited.  Most of the neighbours were retirees.  Provisioning the home required trips into town a fair distance away. Power outages were frequent in the wintertime.  However, they lived there for five years, until the long commute to and from work became tedious, and the children needed to be closer to amenities, jobs and friends.

Lately, lottery homes are being built in suburbs, near amenities and schools, often on golf-course developments. My sister lives in such a community, and there are a few Dream Homes built on recently developed streets in her enclave. The new row of these lottery homes goes by the name of “Street of Dreams”. 

I toured a couple of these with Martha and Jeanie, and a crowd of other people, a couple of years ago. For the life of me I could never picture Rumpole and me living in one of these houses – we’d be like the Beverly Hillbillies and never fit in. The houses are tricked out to look like a hotel of sorts. People are expected to transport themselves via their imaginations into these places. All I could imagine was endless washing and cleaning of the granite counters in the kitchen and maybe occassionally chiding Rumpole for leaving acid rings etched on the granite from his orage juice glasses.  And the bathrooms! What sane woman wants to spend her time loping around the numerous bathrooms shining chrome taps. Besides which what woman could ever keep her eyes open watching Oprah  whilst slumped on the leather theatre chairs in the Media Room, exhausted from her rounds of incessant household maintenance!

Some dream! More like a nightmare wished on the unthinking and unwary women of North America! I think The Fantasticks version of castle is much more attractive and although the song didn’t mention ensuite bathrooms with rain-head showers and water-saving toilets, one can safely assume the idea of outdoor biffies never even crossed the librettist’s mind as he plinked away on a piano trying to fit words to the melody of “Soon it’s gonna rain”.

Troglodyte life…

May 18, 2007

There is a wonderful snippet of a scene in the movie “Delicatessen” where troglodyte dwellers in a subterranean service and sewer world  arrive at a momentous decision by playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors”. This quirky and charming bit of goofiness is but one of many surprising elements that play through this movie of dark humour. The idea of troglodytes was rather fascinating to me, as I do recognize pervasive troglodyte tendencies in myself and have experienced a number of years of below the surface living.

When we first arrived in Canada, some charity agencies that provided hard goods to newcomers delivered a wooden apple crate full of comic books and magazines among which were several issues of National Geographic.  It was in one of these where an article on the cave dwelling people of Anatolia accompanied by strange and wondrous photographs of an alien terrain provided many hours of fascination and rumination for me. In my imagination, I could feel the dim moist coolness of the hollowed out sandstone chambers, the hard-packed grittiness of sandstone floors on my bare feet and the abrasive brush of stone walls agains my exploring hand and fingers. A bed could be a ledge hollowed out from the wall, small niches could support necessary utensils – a lamp, a jug, a few tools.  I entertained myself for a long time, elaborating on what life might be like living in such caves.

It was during high school years that I began to study art history. Particularly fascinating to me were the early Renaissance paintings of saints who had withdrawn from the hubbub of common life to live in ascetic solitude, in landscapes sere and harsh. The illustrated terrains were rocky, austere and uninviting. One could imagine  a saint’s life being stripped to the bare essentials of daily survival. Yet, the various saints looked beatific, serene and satisfied, content to find themselves in such forbidding settings.

At age 23, having fallen from grace, a single, unwed mother, I embarked on a number of years of living below the surface.  The only accommodation that I could afford for baby Renaissance Man and myself were basement suites with minimal services – electricity, ambient heat from the central heating of houses, rudimentary stove, shared fridges and bathrooms and tiny sliver-like windows set high up on walls that allowed watery light into these cave-like environs. In the first few years, these basement apartments were furnished by the landlord.  Table with mismatched chairs, a box-spring and mattress, a bookshelf and an old overstuffed chair perfect for lounging on to read and study late at night. To these dwellings I brought Renaissance Man’s crib, then bed, his clothes, books and toys, my clothes, dishes and cooking implements, my text books and school stuff and an alarm-clock-radio. We spent much time out during the day, enjoying weather of all kinds, the neighbourhood, the playground and sometimes longer treks to the beach a couple of miles away.

One such abode, one favourable and comfortable to recall, was a tiny two room basement suite in the area just outside the University gates. It had tiny windows, cedar clad walls with built in shelving and cleverly concealed built in closet which house all of our clothes. There was a small alcove built into the wall separating the two small spaces – in this was a fitted mattress which became Renaissance Man’s little bedchamber. One little room became his playroom, with rolls of large paper taped to the long wall where he could draw with crayons and pencils to his heart’s content. His books were accessible from the small book-case, and his toys were placed about here, ready for play. My mattress and box-spring bed I dragged into the space adjoining the two rooms and this gave an illusion of privacy for both of us. The large abstract painting my art schoool friend Barry gave me for my 23rd birthday, provided beautiful jewel-like colour on the dark wall above my bed. On the door hiding the closet hung my friend Carol’s hard edge painting from one of her series of closet abstractions. The book-shelves in the kitchen housed my collection of text-books, few art books and some of my pottery dishes and mugs.

We lived a quiet life here, cocooned and comfortable.  It was spare living, but very comforing. There was a park with lovely shrubbery and trees across the street, a playground, a view of the North Shore mountains. Grocery shopping was close by, in fact, my University, RM’s day care provider, doctor and friends were within walking distance. My Statistics prof lived two houses over from us, and her little daughter was RM’s age.  Her nanny would bring her over to the playground across the street in the park, where she would stand transfixed and terrified to move and get herself dirty, arms upraised in a “Yuck” gesture while Renaissance Man did his best to entice her to play with him by demonstrating how to make sand landscapes with his little shovels and pail. He reveled in the unrestricted freedom of the open spaces, while she recoiled from them.  They never managed to connect in play, in spite of all his friendly overtures toward her.

I loved our little lair and its environs. My Mother, on her occasional visits would curl her lip, disdainful of our apparent comfort. My Father said it reminded him of a hermit-in-the-woods cabin.  To this day, I recall fondly this marvellous cosy underground home.

Fifteen years later, Rumpole, Renaissance Man and I travelled by car to the Four Corners area of the U.S. southwest where we were completely fascinated by the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde and spent several days wandering about and considering how a population of people could make safe homes for themselves in close communal groups using the natural features of the landscape to provide the basic structure of their living spaces.  These cliff-dwellers were New World troglodytes.

When we travelled to Moab in Utah I was struck by the gorgeousness of the landscape.  It did seem rather strange to me, however, that the town of Moab was built out of materials that obviously had to be transported from a different landscape; ther was no attempt whatsoever to use the indigenous red sandstone to build this community.  Was it a collective failure of the imagination that caused this poor integration of built environment within its given landscape? There were no pioneer builders with troglodyte tendencies?

I have developed a natural abhorrence for voluminous living spaces, of the kind that are much desired for living in North America. The outdoors seems to be more than adequate to experience feelings of expansiveness and freedom.Needs for privacy can be met within small, intimate spaces; the need to let one’s spirit and mind soar freely can be fulfilled by moving about outdoors. I suspect there is a duality operating in human nature – one aspect, to contain and distill into concentrate  impressions, and the other to let range and roam gathering information and sustenance. A troglodyte needs sun, wind, rain and stars, food and water, the companionship of others as well as comfortable enclosure in small private spaces.

Do you have a bit of the troglodyte inside you?

Pozzi and Amelie Gautreau

February 20, 2007

Visitors are coming by

continuously, lounging on the fauteuils,

smoking cheroots as if to send

up-towering clouds into the red and gilt

cage that is Pozzi’s lair.

Pozzi stands,  a carmine shrouded potentate,

holds court, his tapered surgeon’s fingers

twist and turn the belt of his robe

in unison with the rise and

fall of murmured conversations.

Amelie shifts briefly, a stilled

Venus de Milo one moment,

her swan neck rising out of her fichu ,

painted pallor a lapidary gleam.

She distracts my eye!

She moves, the next instant, and

alters into a Canova nymph,

russet hair burning against her lavender brow.

Pozzi follows her motions with eyes

captive to her restless posing.

These breathtaking people are coupled.

Gossip follows their every action.

Their glamour seeps into me,

holds my thoughts in their snare.

They are my Venus and Adonis.

GM 02/02/2005

(This written in response to reading about J.S. Sargent’s painting of Dr. Pozzi, and finding out that it was while painting Pozzi that Sargent made first aquaintance with Amelie Gautreau.  Apparently while modelling for Sargent, Pozzi also entertained visitors, so that must have been a difficult circumstance under which Sargent had to work!)

Mr. J. S. Sargent deliberates…

February 17, 2007

M. Gautreau welcomes me into his gilded salon

where his pallid prize of a wife reclines

on a recamier

amid bombazine drifts of insipid mauve.

He is eager to memorialize his passion

for this limpid creature

with her sharp-nosed profile

and pronounced overbite.

“Capture her glamorous essence,

her entrancing simplicity”

requires this amorous husband.

He wishes for tout le monde

to celebrate his good fortune, indeed

to smite them in the face with this fact

by entering the portrait in the Salon d’Automne.

The title is to be “Madame Gautreau”.

How best to present this white-skinned beauty?

She has spent her life indoors, it seems.

No sunshine has sullied her cheeks

with lively freckles or vital blush.

No exertions have strengthened

her slight supple body, for

she moves like a languid wraith

through a sluggish atmosphere.

How to express the value of this creature

to a man whose every act is

of acquisition, amassing treasure?

She cannot be presented as a bon bon 

set amid frills and laces,

to be selected at whim from among

many other such sweets.

She needs a more beguiling setting!

Ah, a glowing, lamp-lit, pale lunar moth,

whose vellum wings are dusted

with a powdered light.

She needs to touch upon the ground,

as if pausing, silent, soft, in mid-flight,

yielding a glimpse, a glance

of fleeting elegance

that will quickly disappear into night.

25/11/04   GM