Monday, April 24, 2017

bathroom reno / old houses

Might not look like much to you, but this lovely: clean, flat drywall (emphasis on flat because the walls in this house feature nicks and bumps), a professionally plastered corner (no, R, that's not a dig at your attempts, merely a fact), a plug and a light switch where there wasn't one a month ago.

Sure, the wall needs to be painted and I'll get to that once it's warm enough to keep the windows open all day. For now I revel in the new, just up and functioning bathroom.

What used to be in this corner was a grotty sheet of plastic around a curry-yellow tub hardly large enough to turn around while taking a shower. We never used it as a bath. We knew when we moved into the house in 2001 that we would have to redo the bathroom, but change takes time and $$$ and there were more important changes to be made first.

So it was only now that the tub was carted to the dump. Upended, it was an even poorer tub than I'd thought. It was made of tin. Enamelled tin. The man doing the work could pick it up with one hand.

Demolition revealed yet more.

In 1902, houses in Pointe St. Charles weren't built with indoor bathrooms. People had outhouses in the backyard and went to the famous Hogan Baths (now private property -- condos from the looks) for weekly hygiene.

It hadn't occurred to me to wonder what the room that's now the bathroom used to be. Behind the grotty plastic the wood was rotting. Behind the rotting wood was a pink plaster wall with a darker pink carved wooden archway. The bathroom used to be part of a double living room. (No pic, sorry. I took a few but lost them in the upheaval of renovation.)

In addition to changing the layout of the room so the toilet and shower were no longer cheek by jowl, we had the pipes which were above the floor put under the floor. That required lifting the pine floorboards which we wanted replaced again.

Throughout the house we've kept the floors from 1902 which means that our floors are even bumpier than our walls and wouldn't be to everyone's taste, but we like the warmth of the old wood. R will have a couple of days of sanding ahead of him.

For now, the shower works hot and cold (which it didn't at first), there's ample room to turn around, the cabinet accommodates the P-trap (another story), and the toilet is off against its own wall.

What luxury. I am aware of it and I am happy.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Five Roses goes to Quebec City

Who would not want to talk about their book in such a lovely library, in front of an attentive audience? Thank you to CBC's Julia Caron who interviewed me, the Morrin Centre and ImagiNation 2017 who invited me, the people who came and listened with such interest.

Note that if you're at all interested in Canadian history or the history of old buildings in general, the Morrin Centre in Quebec City is well worth a visit. The stone building was the meeting place for Canada's first learned society; it was Quebec City's first jail; it was the once-upon-a-time Quebec City campus for McGill University... among other things, and not in that order. There are tours to take you from the chemistry lab to the ballroom to the jail cells.

Although there are more academic ways to discuss the age of a building, I like to look at how wood, stone, and metal are worn. Here's a doorstep on the fourth floor. That's a lot of foot traffic.

I had my interview in the library, overseen by a statue of James Wolfe--Wolfe of Wolfe and Montcalm fame, Battle of the Plains of Abraham, 1759.

Afterward, I went up the stairs to have a closer look at the statue, which has a long history that includes vandalism, a sea voyage around the world, a stint holding up a sign outside a tavern in London, England. I'm assuming the statue is not life-sized.

R and I spent some time at the festival and enjoyed ourselves, but we were also looking forward to walking around Quebec City where he was born and lived until his mid-20s. That's a few years ago now. He was telling me the stories of how it used to be.

This building was once a Kresge's where, as a high school student, he sat at the lunch counter and ate fries.

The yellow brick building across the street was a brothel. The staff ate at Kresge's too.

This large boulevard figures in a story his mother used to tell about living at the bottom of the hill. One day a delivery cart was going too fast and the horse crashed through the kitchen window and ended up with his hooves in the sink.

Quebec City is known for its steep roads.

And, of course, the Plains of Abraham where the fate of Canada--English or French--was decided.

Yes, that's snow. Early April but it will be a while yet before anyone sits on this bench.

In memory of Kresge's, we had some fries.

Though I had mine with a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

montreal april 2, 2017

This, too, is Montreal.
A 30-min walk from where I live, four subway stops from downtown.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Oaxacan dogs / Mexico Jan 2017

He's not dead. He's just hanging out.

When I was in Oaxaca, Mexico in January, I took a lot of pictures of dogs. Why? They have perfected the art of relaxing even on a busy street or with a constant pedestrian traffic mere inches from their bodies.

You might think they're flaked out because it's so hot, but in January, on the hottest day, it wasn't over 28C (82F). These dogs were simply a-okay where they were.

The owners of these dogs are clearly very good to them. I always like a person when their pet is good-natured.

Even the guard dogs keep their cool, watching but not barking if not necessary.

Mexicans have a long tradition of appreciating canine company. Ceramic dogs have been found in archaeological burial sites. These were in the Rufino Tamayo Museo of Pre-Hispanic Art in Oaxaca.

Here's a dog asleep, then having a good stretch. Not all bothered by the foot traffic on market day.

I also took a lot of pics of VW bugs. I think I wrote in a story once that Mexico is where old VW bugs go to retire, but in fact they keep running for a few years yet in Mexico because the dry climate and those VW engines allow it. It might be more accurate to say that Mexico is VW bug purgatory.

Here I got a pic of a dog + a VW bug + a mop.

Why is the mop on the car? Good question.

Friday, March 24, 2017

leap of faith / planning a garden when there's snow on the ground

At the beginning of the winter a friend, who moved to Canada from a warmer climate, called with some alarm the first day it snowed. Sure, she knew about snow. But this kept coming down and coming down, and she was watching the garden she'd planted freeze. How could her plants survive?
I explained that, except for perennials, they wouldn't. She would have to plant a new garden next spring. She thought that was ridiculous. I agree. But there it is.

A couple of weeks ago, when it was -25C and the city hadn't cleaned the sidewalks yet and going for a walk meant floundering and slipping through snow, I decided what to plant in my garden this year. Ordering packets of seeds even though there's still snow on the ground, feels like an existential, yet necessary exercise.  

Understand what I'm saying here: I'm not even a very good gardener. I do it for the idea--and the taste of what I do manage to harvest. I believe, too, in eating what's grown locally.

I don't even live all that far north in Canada, but most of the vegetables and fruit I buy from November until the first harvest the following summer is imported. Fruit has often been picked unripe so it can be shipped thousands of kilometres to get here. How can you compare asparagus from Peru versus asparagus cut less than an hour's drive away?

Last September I took pics at the Jean-Talon market. What a wealth!

When I was growing up, we ate buttered bread with sliced radishes on top. It made for a crisp, peppery sandwich.

At the market, some stalls had a cauldron of boiling water and a bowl of melted butter for cobs on the go. 

My father-in-law once told me that Shepherd's Pie was invented in Quebec. Not true, I know, but his rationale was that in Quebec we had beef, corn, and potatoes. Shepherd's Pie was the dish that resulted. He had no explanation for why it also had an English name. He called it Pâté Chinois which translates as Chinese Pie. I think that has to do with the dish being layered. Instead of meat, veg, and starch being served in distinct piles on the plate, it's mixed. For a rural mindset, that means it's exotic. I base that linguistic deduction on experiences in my own family where food that was tossed or layered or mixed was considered to be weird.

I never saw ground cherries before moving to Quebec. Here, they're popular. You can buy them in a regular grocery store. They taste like a mixture of tomato, mango, and...? They taste almost too tropical to grow in Canada.

Cauliflower comes with a flower in its name, but this was the first time I ever saw it sold in bouquets.

In my garden, I'll be planting lettuce, green beans, arugula, tomatoes, snow peas, parsley. I keep it simple. With luck my rhubarb fared well this past winter and will be there again once the snow has melted.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

plumed weaving / Museo de Textil de Oaxaca

I have a long-term passion for fibre: what it's made from, how it's spun, dyed, woven, what's done with it, what can be done with it.
In another life, I'd have devoted myself to textiles entirely. In this life, I got waylaid by words, reading, languages, books, writing. No regrets.

The yarn detail above and the sculpture below by were made by the fibre artist, Judith Scott. I had read about her and then saw her work at the Oakville Galleries in Oakville, Ontario in 2016. Judith, in particular, interests me because of research I'm doing for a new novel.

Ditto clothing by Jean-Paul Gaultier who designed the pink corset with the cone bra Madonna wore during her 1990 Blond Ambition tour. I'm lucky there was an exhibit of Gaultier's créations at the Musée des beaux arts in Montreal in 2011. I took LOTS of pictures. I mean... a dress with suction cup/button nipples and sequined pubic hair? Who wouldn't?  

More recently I spent an entrancing afternoon at the Museo de Textil de Oaxaca in Mexico. They were hosting an exhibit of weaving that incorporated down from various indigenous birds. One doesn't usually think of feathers as yarn, but down has the flexibility to allow it be spun and twisted with another fibre such as cotton.  

Plumed weaving is a technique that was almost lost. There are only six known pieces of weaving with down, all of them Mexican, dating from 300 years ago. Contemporary weavers have resurrected the process and I was astounded by the beauty of the hangings on display in the museum. The pieces were accompanied by an excellent video. A small but unique and well-curated exhibit. 

What I also appreciated about the exhibit was how the space was divided with textile walls. Fitting, no?

Did I mention that the fibre artist up top, Judith Scott, had Down Syndrome? It shouldn't matter when looking at her work, though it raises the interesting question about the relationship between intelligence and the making of art. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

snowshoeing in the mist

If you happen to have lost your yellow enamel cooking pot, I can tell you where it is.

The forecast was rain but we decided to go snowshoeing because that was what we'd planned to do. Rented a car, booked a room in a B&B, packed an overnight bag.

R asked why I was snowshoeing in a dress but that's not a dress. It's one of those jumper thingies that adds a layer of warmth and gets pulled over leggings.

We were lucky. It didn't start raining till 2 pm when we'd already been scraping along on the crusty snow for hours and were ready for a cup of hot tea and a thick-cut sandwich. The fog was so heavy that if I lagged too far behind, I lost R lost among the trees.

There was a constant patter like rain but it was only the ice on the branches melting: a syncopated water percussion through the hush of the fog.

The tender colours of birch bark in the winter break my heart every time. Strip the bark away, and yes, you are peeling skin.

The morning among the snow and the mist was magical.

You can't always listen to the forecast. Just go.