Archive for the ‘Luxury’ Category

An insurance claim…

October 22, 2007

Life in suburbia can be so surprising. Yesterday morning, when Kay from next door came over for a coffee break, as she came in the front door she said, “G, take a look at your hedge.” So, poking my head out the front door, I took a look. There was a gap in the hedge, five cedars worth. It looked like the gumline of an aging derelict. The downed cedars lay crushed inward on what passes for our lawn. I called Rumpole out to look.

“A hit and run, fly-by-night kind of thing, ” he announced, “it must have been some drunk”.

“Yeah,” I grumbled, ” whoever it was sure took the corner early, like 20 feet early.”

Kay says, wisely “you need to put some great massive boulders out there. That might save your cedars and give injury to sloppy drivers’ cars.” Sure, and look like we have landscaping a la Flintstones, I’m thinking. What we need is a suburban fortification? A neighbour a block away has a course of huge rocks lining the edge of his property. Every time I walked by with the dogs it would not have surprised me to see a TV shoot for the original Star Trek with Captain Kirk and Bones huddled fearful behind a boulder, requesting Scotty to beam them up to the Enterprise. It is that kind of cheesy effect that one might like not to emulate on a suburban plot. Rumpole likes the idea of rubble out front. But over my dead old body will this happen!

Once back inside, Rumpole leaves it up to me to problem-o-solve. As he maintains “I do Law, you do House.” I search out Bob’s phone number from the side of the fridge.  Bob does the yearly cut of our vigorous hedges, and has done so since Rumpole ended up in Emergency after tackling the hedge trimming with his brand new electric hedge-clippers a couple of years back. Bob is very efficient and not nearly so dramatic as Rumpole at carrying out this task.

As Kay and Rumpole sit and drink their libations, I phone Bob.

“Is it an insurance claim?” he asks. What, for a hedge, is he kidding? I’m thinking. He arranges to come over next day to quote on the replacement of the missing cedars.

I mention the possibility of an insurance claim to Rumpole and Kay. We sit around sipping coffee and scratching our heads. Hit and run hedge killing? Seems a bit far-fetched. We go on to discuss more interesting things.

Later in the evening Dry Sherry calls. She has now a permanent job at the big Gallery as an animateur. Happy with this posting. I pass on to her Martha’s compliments on how well she led a group of high school teachers through the latest exhibition on a workshop. DS is glad of positive feedback. We talk about how difficult it is for DS to continue to train her horse for dressage competitions, now that she is working full time. For some strange reason I bring up the downed cedars and just how irritated I am at this turn of events.

“You have an ICBC insurance claim”, she says. ” My father-in-law, just down the street from you regularly has to replace parts of his hedge. When drivers lose control of their cars over the bridge before his property in the wintertime, he has the same dilemma. Make your claim through ICBC.”

The penny dropped. After I ended the call with Dry Sherry, I mentioned the possibility to Rumpole in his den. We kind of gazed at each other, somewhat stupefied. We can do this? It seems so frivolous an action. We finally crunch numbers on the cost of replacing the cedars and determine since our insurance costs are so high we may as well make use of them somehow. Still, it seems somewhat an odd claim.

Today I phoned ICBC. It is not such a simple matter as talking directly to an insurance adjustor. You call, get put on hold to listen to Wayne Newton crooning “Feelings”, then some other elevator music for about a half an hour until “Thank you for continuing to hold. Our operator will be shortly with you” is announced, and you hold onto the phone with a death grip, waiting and waiting. When you “do house” and arrange for help for anything, you tend to do a lot of this holding for the next operator.

The Adjustor finally comes on line. “Have you callled the police?” he asks.

“The only living thing that died was a number of hedging cedars. Do the Police care about this?” I ask.

“Madam, we will determine whether you will need to call the police.” he replies. What? What? Do the police really have time for this, I’m thinking?

So the upshot is, later this week an adjustor will come out to take pictures of our downed cedars, make or not make a suggestion to have the police involved in a drive-by cedar downing. The whole thing is ridiculous. Surely there are better ways to spend one’s time than on something this frivolous. I mean it’s just a bloody hedge.

I am really having a hard time with this. In suburbia, one does what is required to keep up appearances, and has an insurance claim to be able to do so.  There are people who cannot afford medical insurance. I feel as if we exist in some weird dream world with skewed priorities that make no sense.

The Fur Coat…

September 15, 2007

A long time ago, I read somewhere a movie review where the shortness of the lead actor was compared to the willowy height of the leading actress as “he looked like a midget walking in a trench”. This describes perfectly how I look when wearing a fur coat.  I said so to my friend Jane when she insisted on dragging me to the furrier’s located on the first floor of Rumpole’s office building. This was back some 28 years ago, up north – a place where it made sense to wear fur coats in the winter-time.

Jane was a fashionista who loved clothes of a luxurious cloth and cut. She badly desired to own and wear a gorgeous fur coat of the latest design. She did own a dilapidated mouton coat inherited from her grandmother. It had leg of mutton sleeves which added football-player proportions to her otherwise slim build. When wearing this “poor woman’s mink” coat she looked unsteady on her thin legs which looked like inadequate stilts with which to support a bear-like bulk.

On a cold December Saturday, after having done her sheep pen  and meat rabbit hutch cleaning chores, she phoned me to request my assistance in negotiating a trade of her lamentable mouton coat for a brand new, luxe, fur coat at the downtown furrier’s. We were to meet at a nearby coffee shop to prepare ourselves for the fur-trading process.  Jane was a keen and experienced bargainer and rehearsed her methods well in advance of the actual dickering.

I buttoned myself into my favourite winter coat for casual wear – Apu’s old plaid hunting jacket that hung to below my knees and with twice rolled up sleeves kept me snug and warm at -25F winter temperatures. At the coffee shop, Jane picked her jaw up from the table surface and announced “you can’t go fur shopping looking like that!” Her grandmother’s ratty mouton coat hung from the back of her chair like a forlorn dead thing.

“Well, no matter how you look at it, we are going to a place where the hides of dead animals are displayed.  There is no sign of the carnage that accompanies the production of furs. The least you and I could do is to attend there in the roles of both the hunter and the hunted,” I responded in my best sarcastic fashion.

We drank a couple of cups of coffee. Jane rehearsed approaches toward the clerk which might incline him to give her a good trade up to the desired fashionable fur for her disreputable old one. We worked up the nerve to cross the street and brave entry to the fur salon.  I trailed after Jane into the showroom like a hunter stalking prey.

An effete young gentleman greeted us effusively as if we were “grande dames” wearing the latest in winter furs. He gave no hint of what must have been going through his mind (These two characters look fresh off the farm… if not the farm then the trap line?) Jane, in her best shopping manner, told him what kind of coat she had in mind, the colour, the cut, the kind of fur, and the occasions it was intended for.  The young clerk swanned about bringing with elegant flourish one amazing fur concoction after another. Jane tried them all on and posed graceful as a fur model in front of the three-way mirror.  I stayed in the background, unbuttoned from my hunting coat, trying to sit as prim as possible, mukluks crossed in a lady-like pose and twiddling my fingers.  My mind strayed from the fashion show on hand to the contrast of smell between the perfumed fur sales room and my memories of the reek of mink and chinchilla farms as my family had driven by them many summers ago on the way to the local swimming hole.

Jane mentioned trading up from her mouton to a new below-knee length blonde mink coat. This smartly brought my wondering mind back to the situation at hand. She handed over her coat to the young man.  He appeared reluctant to lay his hands on it and held it out between his pinched thumbs and forefingers as he looked it over. With a disdainful expression on his face and holding out the coat as if he feared being sullied by its proximity to his person, he smartly marched over to a garbage can and dropped the mouton coat into it.

“No trade-in value here!” he announced as he wiped his fingers in fussy gestures against his pant legs. Poor Jane was mortified as she retrieved her coat from the garbage can, put it on and buttoned up.

The clerk turned his back on us, dismissing us. As Jane was shepherding me to the shop door, I could not resist a parting shot.

“I do need a good casual fox jacket to wear while mucking out the barn. Can you suggest a little something for me?”

To this day, Jane still has not replaced her grandmother’s mouton coat, as far as I know. It does keep her cosy and warm on those bone-freezing mornings when she does her farm chores.

The Blockbuster…

September 5, 2007

“Dry Sherry”, my friend who works at the VAG, kindly drove me to see what has been billed as this summer’s blockbuster exhibition.  The whole first floor of the gallery is occupied by this show, laid out in chronological historic order starting with Courbet and ending with Ben Nicholson and Mondrian.

The rooms seemed packed to me, but “Dry Sherry” assured that the volume of visitors expected did not materialize. Martha and Elsa had gone a couple of weeks ago, on the evening of the “cheap night” where there were cheek to jowl people squeezed into the spaces, and looking at the displayed works was made difficult by the crowds milling about. Apparently, that evening the lines waiting to be let in stretched the length of several blocks, and they had to wait in line for over an hour before being let in. DS and my visit was fairly comfortable, and we took four hours to go through.

A problem for me was that I couldn’t read the title plates nor the didactic panels unless I got really close to them, and this was made awkward by the stanchions delineating space that prevented closeness to the walls.  DS read titles, media and other bits of information out loud to me while I juggled wearing two pairs of glasses in order to discern the surface of the paintings, and the marks of paint handling which is a particular pleasure for me..

DS is a great companion with whom to see an exhibition. She has an extensive art history background and a truly open mind about what constitutes compelling art work. We discussed each painting at length and she had an interesting way of providing opinions and impressions of what she was looking at. We each made a note of which paintings we would like to go home with, to live with and which would provide many years of viewing pleasure. There were some pleasant surprises, such as the Manet portrait of Berthe Morisot painted in an austere tonal pallette of blacks, coloured greys and a rich variety of browns with a most assured, direct and economical manner of execution. It was extremely casual in feel when compared with a Tissot confection that was highly polished; and yet it was the Manet which I loved.

The Renoirs in this collection (Cleveland Museum of Art) seemed vapid, flabby and sugary to me and reinforced my strong aversion to paintings by him. The one Degas portrait exhibited, a sober portrait of one of his Italian aunts, reminded me of why I have revered Degas as painter; yet this painting did not have the polish of the Renoirs. What it did have was a wonderful series of painterly decisions  and false starts, a record of a process taken by Degas in realizing this study. I felt like he was talking to me about why the veil of grey halo around one side of the head was necessary to try out, and why the placement of the reds in the composition he decided to place in the apices of an implied triangle in the composition. It was as if his thought processes were being transmitted by the construction, and I feel fortunate in being able to have this privileged experience.

The three Cezannes provided so much satisfaction. The Monets nearby did not fare well in comparison with the Cezannes, to me they seemed to lack an coherence, an overallness that was convincing, and their construction lacked rigour to me. They were paintings that would yield me a lifetime of absorbed contemplation – I loved them!

Van Gogh shared space with a delicious Redon. I am not a lover of floral still lives, yet this Redon gem captivated me with its effervescent and fresh colouration – we stood in front of it in discussion for a long time. Of the three Van Gogh pictures, two were gorgeous landscapes with all the beautiful casually cloisonnist shapes and spaces characteristic of Van Gogh’s mature style and with the brilliant matrix of brush marks with which he guided the eye through and around the composition.  And the colour was joyous and celebratory. Van Gogh is one of my painting “gods”, has been ever since I was a young girl and these paintings reminded me why I have held his works in the highest esteem.

There was a restrained and austere Braques Cubist construction that allowed for sustained contemplation that was most satisying.  This one, of somber browns and greys, reminded me of the meditative cadence of a fugue. Nearby hung a Cubist Picasso painting of a Pierrot, audacious and dramatic in contrasts of light and dark, pattern and plain, full of an inventive variety of pattern possibilities.  While I admired it, it was not a painting I would want to tuck under my arm and abscond with, were I so larcenously inclined.  But the Braques – oh, now that might be a painting for which I would risk my reputation as a law-abiding woman!

Of the sculptures, there was a lovely subtle head of a child by Medardo Rosso, which I had seen in reproduction many years ago – it sat there quietly seeming to elude stillness. A number of Rodin studies in bronze, patinated almost to gleaming black, were a treat to see. I like to see the struggle of Rodin to realize form, captured in these sculptures and it is so great to be visually invited to partake of his enormous efforts.

“Dry Sherry” really liked the two Dali  variations of St George, one a pen and ink drawing, the other an etching.  We agreed that Dali had probably studied Ucello’s “Rout of San Romano” because  the echoes of horse physiognomy were so reminiscent of Ucello’s prancing horses.  In the gift shop, we searched for reproductions of these two pictures, but alas, only the mainstream masterpieces were represented by the offerings there.  DS is an equestrienne and she was particularly take with these two Dalis.

It seemed to me that the didactic panels for the works in this exhibition gave only cursory smatterings of generalized information, regurgitation of art history canon, and predictably familiar brief descriptions.  A few people wandered around with large telephones held to their ears, listening to the canned explanations. At the sound of beeps they moved from painting to painting. We had a marvellous conversation with a couple from the north of England who had an interesting bit of information to share about a Dali painting in which a group of three men seemed to be engaged in a not very vigorous tussle.  They said the men seemed to be doing Cumbrian wrestling, a form of stylized and restrained gentlemanly sport. So now “Dry Sherry” and I can Google up some interesting bits about this.

I feel thoroughly energized by this time “Dry Sherry’ and I have spent at the VAG.  The whole experience was such a treat, and I am delighted that I am still able to see well enough to have made a direct face to face with some wonderful paintings. And the companionship of a knowledgeable and sensitive viewer like her was a special treat!

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”.

Personal colour…

July 26, 2007

Ten years ago Prissy German Tourist and I audited an experimental painting course at a nearby college. We loaded up his van three times a week with piles of gear and materials and drove the 30 or so kilometers for our afternoon studio sessions. I had the dubious honour of being the oldest person in the studio and the students gave me wide berth.

We always arrived about an hour early in order to be able to carve out our own working spaces, array our supplies and ready work surfaces. PGT always prepared his colours at home. He decanted colours from off-tints  he bought at paint stores and put them in squeeze bottles.  In a previous incarnation he had been a commercial illustrator/designer and had defined his personal colour palette from his close knowledge of the Pantone colour system. He favoured clear pastel colours, both warms and cools and juxtaposed them with greyed colours which I associated with persistent depression. All of his work demonstrated a frayed, slightly morbid colouration, but could he ever strike a strongly individual temperature and mood in his use of colours. At the end of studio sessions, while we all walked about looking at each other’s productions, his work would be striking for its amazing colour pallette.

My own work tended toward the highly saturated, with jarring contrasts. I rarely used blue, red or yellow, and my colour preference leaned toward the secondary and tertiary colour combinations. I like modifying colours with their complementaries. The grey scale held its particular attractions for me, as well.

The rest of the students in the studio also demonstrated truly individual colour preferences.  Some liked tinkering with colour mixing; others just squeezed colour directly from tubes or ladled from jars and rarely mixed.

Our instructor’s colour pallette preferences remained a mystery to me until I made a visit to his studio downtown, later in the academic year. He never discussed our use of colour in studio during critiques and individual advice sessions, and this I thought very peculiar, given that we all laboured away, individually trying to come to grips with colour as it related to expression of ideas. So visiting this fellows studio proved completely surprising, especially in his personal use of colour in his paintings.  He favoured what I considered mildly adventurous men’s shirt selection colours – the kind that would be arrayed for a spring sale in a men’s clothing store, whisper colours, not outright declarative ones. “You like candy colours, but washed out ones!” I said to him.  But then his paintings were of classical, nubile female nudes, vaguely erotic in a chaste sort of way, painted laboriously with little hint of gesture in the work. “You use a conflicted Catholic palette!” I tentatively ventured.  This comment led to a discussion about temperament, emotional colourings in expression, and how to discover a personally meaningful way of making art for oneself.

Colours to me have the capacity to evoke taste and sound – this may seem weird, but then I also consider sounds to have texture, colour, sheen and weight. There is a term for this tendency to perceive sensory input in an intertwined and not separate manner – synaesthesia.  PGT experiences like this, and so did our college instructor.  I have had many friends who experience colour in this manner.  Over the years, discussing colour with people with this capacity has yielded some poetic descriptions, unusual ways of describing colour sensations.

In the scheme of things, of living in a complex world of strange phenomena and happenings, paying attention to colour expression and potential may seem frivolous to some.  However, it pays to be attentive to how much information colours can reveal. Scientists and doctors glean important information from colours they perceive. Ordinary people do as well discriminate about the ranges of experience frome pleasant to unpleasant, desirable to undesirable, safe to unsafe, based on their association with a range of colours and tones.

Colour is important to me, in that it influences my moods so much and yields so many moments of amazement and surprise.  Life is rich, and even as my abilty to see acutely and with clarity has been so hampered lately, colours retain their powerful presence in my life.

Jupiter and Io…

April 15, 2007

We grew up eating breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks under a number of old paintings. If conversations tended to be limited during meals, due to Father’s insistence on quiet, one could be distracted and occupied by looking up at the paintings. So, often, my gaze would linger on a smallish picture of a naked, zaftig woman embracing and being embraced by a cloud, as she sat, looking languid, her head thrown back in pleasure.

“Who is she?” I asked during one miserable, tense dinner. “Io,” replied Father.

“What is she doing?” I persisted. “Being embraced by Jupiter.” said Father, after swallowing some nokkedli, sauced livid with paprika.

“And is Jupiter a cloud?” I pressed further.

“Eat now,” he cautioned, ” you can look in your book on Greek and Roman myths after supper and find out for yourself.”

So, after dinner, while Mother and Ildiko cleared the table and Father went off into the waiting room to practice his violin, I took the thick book from the bookshelf and searched out Jupiter, then Io, in the index at the end pages. I learned that Jupiter tended to like many different beautiful women, and took different forms to visit and seduce them.  But the Io on our dining room wall was not particularly beautiful to my mind.  She had a dead fish complexion, ripply naked body and ridiculously small feet which didn’t appear to be able to support her bulk if she stood up. Oh well….I thought….she looked a lot like Mrs. Toth, a fattish lady who lounged about naked on the lawn at the naturist camp we visited every summer, and Mrs. Toth, although a blonde, didn’t seem to get much attention from men, unlike Mother who was slimmer and more athletic in build.

Despite not being to my taste as a picture, the little painting was a beautiful object. It had an eerie greenish glow. The surface was covered in many fine hairlike cracks. Finally, one day when I was alone in the dining room, reading, I took it off the wall to get a good close look at it.  The paint surface looked like enamel, very smooth. Overall the colour reminded me of the springtime “nyarfa” tree foliage that could be seen outside our apartment window, tender, soft green. I did not dare run my finger over the front surface, so turned the picture over and gently tapped the back with my finger-nails. A complete surprise, the painting had been made on metal, copper to be precise, that had turned a mottled greenish orange with time.  I was delighted with this discovery, but fearing admonishment if found handling the painting, quickly hung it back up on the wall.

In November 1956, I carried “Jupiter and Io” carefully wrapped in newspapers and string, and a violin, while traversing the stubble field separating the Hungarian and Austrian border. These two objects had been entrusted to me to carry, and I took care not to stumble and fall during our long walk. They were my baggage, to carry to the fugitive laager in Vienna, onto the train that transported us to Genoa for our embarkment on the Ocean-going vessel that was to take us to Canada.  I carried them when we disembarked in Halifax, then on the train to Toronto. Father and Mother knew I loved these two objects and would care for them well.

After some time, our family settled in British Columbia, and “Jupiter and Io” was always hung in our dining room in the various places we moved to.  This wonderful painting was the thread of continuity binding my past to the present and I treasured its reassuring presence.

Many years later, I found out that it was a copy of Correggio’s “Jupiter and Io” on copper. Its provenance was murky, obscured by the chaos of World War II.  I never cared, that it was obscure and an orphan – it held a pervasive grip on my imagination, and still does, even though it and the violin I carried were gifted by Father to a budding young violinist, years later.

I own it in memory, and this gives me great pleasure!

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

Ceramic Rescue – Undercover Division

January 23, 2007

 I love things CLAY. Walking barefoot on a tamped-down earth path during and right after a warm summer rainfall  is an experience that yields distinct pleasures. Simultaneously one smells that fresh, humid and slightly metallic scent (“Rumpole” defines it as ozone smell) that accompanies summer rain. Each step taken along the wet path is an adventure of trying to remain upright; the slippery clay  squishes up between the toes – a sensation that can be enjoyable or uncomfortable. On some places along the path the combination of water and earth creates a clay that one easily slips along. One comes upon potholes where the clay is heavy: each step is hampered by the grip of the clay on the foot – one has to struggle to extricate oneself from  being mired. Falling down means becoming covered by a layer of clay.  This, at first, feels nice,smooth, however, water begins to evaporate from this covering skin of clay. The more water evaporates the tighter the clay skin becomes. It shrinks, cracks and becomes dry and brittle – as this happens one’s skin feels pinched, dusty, itchy. But, one can wash the clay off – just run enough water, sometimes more, sometimes less – depending at what stage, from slip to dry, the clay is.

These things I learned about clay while visiting with my paternal Grandmother who lived in a clay house in a village 3 miles from the Hungarian/Ukranian border.  There I learned that clay also had utility – her house had clay floors. In the summer these clay floors were cool to walk on. During the winter the floor warmed up from the heat of the woodstove. Mixing bowls, pitchers, mugs and plates here were different from the ones we had at home – they were made by a potter who lived in a nearby village.  These were decorated with strange and unfamiliar patterns, rather curious symbols of flowers, bands of dots, chevron stripes, straight and wavy lines and checkerboard. My Grandmother’s house was one which I recreated in my mind while reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales. In my imaginings the Witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel also had clay floors.  The Witch walked on clay floors and drank her water from a mug decorated exactly like one my Grandmother used.

Later, pleasant associations with this material, Clay, were added to  and reinforced. In high school came my first opportunity to make things with clay.  Mr. Waldie was the teacher in this Ceramics class. He loved clay too – a lot! He showed us how to use a kick-wheel to throw cylynders. I soon learned that clay can be an accommodating, forgiving and co-operative material but also had characteristics that must be understood and respected. Awareness, patience and perseverence were virtues, if practiced, which helped one learn to make more successful results. Learning through trial and error, we learned to make clay cylinders on the wheel that with time were straighter, less off-center and had thinner walls. Mr Waldie taught us different ways to make handles for mugs, how to apply these firmly, how to dry the finished mug so the handle wouldn’t dry before the cylinder and thus crack and fall off; how to apply glaze; how to load a kiln. He shared our delight or disappointment when our mugs came out of the kiln after the firing.

My idea then of what a hand-made mug should be was much influenced by my memories of Grandmother’s ones.  The first ceramic mug I made was a poor imitation, but I was encouraged by the fact that it could be comfortably held and that it held water. It was no beauty! Mother, however, liked it ( for reasons I could not then understand, but which I now do). She placed and kept it on her coffee table.  There it lived!  Going through and dividing among ourselves Mother’s collections after she died  i found my first mug among her collection of teacups. I took it home with me, otherwise it would have been donated to the Salvation Army Store to be put among many other mug foundlings.  No one would have wanted it to take home – it was too ugly!

This simple act of taking back my ugly mug caused me to think about beauty, utility, sentiment, encouragement, desirability, boredom, novelty and fashion, ego and feelings of self-worth.

I know, as a “maker of things”, of the feelings  I experience whenever something I produce is greeted with various reactions. While I am browsing the mug section in the Salvation Army Store, and come upon a mug which has a pleasant form and weight,  a smooth rim that feels silky to the touch, a handle which allows a firm and comfortable grip, a beautifully finished foot,  which isn’t cracked and which has an interesting glaze without many flaws and which holds the right amount of liquid without leaking I wonder.  Who made it, when it was made, who used it and why  did it end up remaindered at this second-hand store? It is still useful and can serve well for its intended purposes.  I like to think that the potter who made this mug would be quite pleased to think that this mug was making its way out in the world being valued for its usefulness and beauty.

There is an organization that I would like to initiate.  There is a need for such an organization. It is one I would like to name SCAM ( Society for the Conservation of Abandoned Mugs) There are many people who are likely candidates to belong to this group, but they are not yet organized. Currently they operate informally, solo, if you will.  This is very good and they do valuable work. Some of them are my friends and family. These people have undertaken to work as seekers to collect unwanted hand-made mugs.  Our mission is to find the beauty in whatever hand-made pottery mug we find, to rescue it from an eventuality that it may not be wanted and be discarded. My clever sister has come up with a name for this group of rescuers – CRUD (ceramic rescue – undercover division).  I like this name – it has a truthful quality!)

As members of CRUD, each of us is casually but persistently engaged in our mission to rescue unwanted mugs.  We happily compare our finds and share our pleasure  and satisfaction with our efforts to rehabilitate these to let them carry on their purpose.

Over the past two years my CRUD activities have resulted in collecting and using, so far, 10 mugs. They are my prized possessions and when friends come for tea, on every occasion they can select the cup they wish to use. We negotiate who gets to use which cup.  This can be a enjoyable time spent with each other, before we settle down to drink tea and converse..

I have noticed a curious thing – many of these friends have broadened their recue efforts.

Their operations involve rescue of what they value, and what they value is varied.  Being in such an organization brings many benefits to all of us.


December 23, 2006

I have the luxury of time to read, swaddled in a warm duvet, by lamplight, sipping of a cup of Rooibos imported from a far away place and grown and picked by strangers who more than likely do not have access to the same luxuries, let alone the essentials for sustaining life.

So I ponder, after just having read “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry. This book has done what good writing does – transport a reader into the details of life, thoughts, habits, customs, beliefs and trials of others from a distant place and culture, which superficially have differences from the reader’s experiences and yet reveal a universality of concerns and ways of living.  This book made me care about the persons written about, helped me examine my prejudices and faulty thinking and made me realize that my life has been, and is, one of immense privilege and luxury.

I have just had my shower, of hot water, with horse shampoo to wash my hair, and Mrs. Stewart’s bluing to bring out the white of my greying mop. The twelve year old ratty towel has absorbed the excess water from my body. I am luxuriating in the feeling of cleanliness and mulling over the scene in “A Fine Balance” where the young student boarder of Dina Aunty has his first shower in the bathroom where a hoarde of worms crawl from the drain as he is trying to bathe in cold water.  No host of worms craw from my bathtub drain – the water flows away with a satisfying slurp – no feelings of disgust mar my regular ablutions!  This is immense luxury!

I have clear memories of bathing in a cold, white-tiled bathroom in 1950s Hungary. Friday night was bath night.  Mother heated buckets of water on the coal stove, poured it into the bathtub and thus would begin the ritual family cleanse, first with me, the youngest one, then sister, then Mother, and at the end, in greyish water, Father. Handsoap served as shampoo, and one set of two towels for us children, and one set for Mother and Father.  As we convened, all clean, in the parlour in our pajamas and socks, we snacked on bread with home-rendered lard as a treat. This memory brings back incredible feelings of comfort and luxury!

In the book, Dina Aunty pieces together a quilt over a period of time, from leftover fabrics from her sewing commissions.  The chapters in the book are also fragments of the quilt of a complex story, of the fragments of stories of what happens to people on their journey through life.  It is an apt metaphor.

The conceptual artist, Joseph Beuys, employed the block of lard as his metaphor for life-giving sustenance, and lard is a magical, luxurious substance to me. Rendered properly, it is beautifully translucent, has a silken feel, smells pure, functions as lamp oil or as an ingredient in candles – hence supplies light, and is a necessary ingredient for preparing food.  It is an ultimate essential for sustaining comfort in life – pure luxury!

I am curious to know what others’ ingredients for luxury are…..